Gear is a big part of rock music and let’s face it, gear is cool! When I was a kid over at my friends house I first saw real Fender amps with their shiny silver grill cloth. I dreamt about those amps. I’d ride the bus into downtown Seattle and just hang around music stores with all the gear. I’d go to concerts and marvel at all the gear being set up, walls of Marshalls, Rows of SVTs, nothing was more impressive! Later on I proudly played the Hollywood club circuit with my two Marshall stacks. Then later, in Andy Taylor’s band I used four Marshall heads along with eight Mesa Boogie 4×12 cabs loaded with EVs. Awesome power! (Between you and me I only played through two cabs at a time.)
Now it’s 2015 and amp size is not as important as it used to be, it’s more about tone, and pedals rule. When I was a kid in the ’70s there were only a few pedals by MXR, Maestro, Boss, Electro Harmonix, Thomas Organ, and a few others. But now, open a Sweetwater catalog to the pedals section, there must be thousands.
A few years back, in this blog I showcased my Yamaha/Soldano combo rig. Sadly, that amp died. I kept having problems with it so I put it out of it’s misery. I took the tubes out, put the amp on my table saw and cut the head section off and threw it in the trash. I attached a new piece of plywood on top of the speaker cabinet, covered it with tolex and metal corners from MojoTone and voila, an open back 1×12 cab. A few years back I built a 1×12 cabinet from scratch so now I have two. The cabs match except the old one has a closed back. It’s the best of both worlds. I get punch, projection and low end from the closed back and I get my sound spread around by the softer, open back tone.
After cannibalizing my combo amp I dusted off my vintage 5150, 100 watt head that I demoed at the Frankfurt Music Mesa back in the ’90s. I re-tubed it with the new tubes from my combo amp and it just sounds great! Even though the 5150 has more power than I need, it works great running my two 1X12 cabs. Fyi, a hundred watt tube head is not really twice as loud as a fifty watt, but it’s a bit fatter and has more bottom end, and I like that.
Some posts back I wrote about young, high level guitarists I’ve interviewed for Boss Tone Radio and to my surprise their willingness to run their amps clean and get overdrive and distortion from pedals. Until now I’ve been in the old school camp where I demanded my distortion come from the tubes and the amp being overdriven. Well, this last year I was blown away by a new, digital, Boss DS-1X distortion pedal. After demoing it at shows and stores I was amazed at the tone! What the heck, I tried the new school style of running the 5150 clean and using the DS-1X for my distortion. I’ve determined overall the DS-1X actually sounds better than the 5150′s amp distortion! The DS-1X even cleans up when I turn my guitar volume down.
The DS-1X pedal uses digital technology to treat high notes different than low notes. The result is fat high notes and tight low notes that is just not possible with pure amp distortion. This pedal is so good, Boss will have to pry it out my my cold, dead hands before I give it back. I would have never guessed this pedal is digital, it sounds so warm and rich.
This blog is not here to praise Boss but those gurus in Japan got this pedal right! Another pedal they got really right is the Boss RE-20 Space Echo. It’s a replication of the old tape delays I used in the 80s. The left pedal turns it on and off, and the right pedal is used to tap in the tempo of the delay. Delay in-rhythm always sounds better. Also I think a tape delay can be run louder than a standard digital delay because the tape echo just doesn’t step on my tone as much as a digital echo. Check out my delay post.
Back to distortion, a further advantage of using a distortion pedal is that I don’t have to use my amp’s effects loop. This will make my new pedalboard simple. I just place my chorus and delay pedals after the distortion, and I’ll have the same result as using the amp’s effects loop along with amp distortion. I just taped the pedals to this piece of plywood, but now I am building a more permanent board so I’ll need a bigger piece of plywood.
One thing I should let you know that I noticed about the DS-1X. Maybe because it’s digital, sometimes there is a short delay when clicking it on. I’ve demoed so many prototypes that don’t really work yet, I’ve gotten used to this. I just click the DS-1X pedal a half second or so before the downbeat and I’m okay. I just love the tone so much this doesn’t bother me.
Btw, “The Reality Distortion Field” is a reference to Steve Jobs’ amazing ability to alter reality, not unlike the Talosiens from Star Trek’s, The Cage and The Menagerie. But us guitarists get to create our own distortion, in reality.