FYI: The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) shows are held each January in Anaheim California and July in Nashville, Tennessee; they are the biggest music gear trade shown in America … historically, most companies announce their new products at a NAMM show. As I pen this blog, I am completely snowed-in and feeling a bit “under the weather” at my home in Nashville while the NAMM convention is in full swing with a sweeeet 72-degrees temp in California. Okay, yea, I might be feeling just a teeny, weenie bit sorry for myself. But, let’s not dwell…
Luckily, every music media outlet in the world is present at the show, and so we can ALL vicariously be at the show in a 2016 virtual-reality world built by modern media/social media. And so it is that every morning I drink my first cup of coffee while virtually walking the isles at Anaheim. Cool stuff, too! Oh, and of course the WGS/Vaughn Skow family IS FULLY represented at the show with David, Dean, and Wayne walking the show floor in the not-so-virtual, legs hurt at the end of the day way. And so, here are some cute little insta-gram shots of stuff that caught their attention. Personally, my fav is the Flux-Tone Plexi amp … literally, all plexiglass :-)
And now, for a little more NAMM goodness, here’s yours truly at Winter & Summer NAMM 2015. A little fun watching for those of you currently snowed-in!
Howdy friends! Here is PART of the story of my long journey to develop truly holy-grail level P90 pickups … the part about treble bleed circuits! Now, most treble-bleed circuit discussions fall into one of three general camps: 1) what values to use, 2) Parallel vs series wiring of the cap & resistor, and 3) how pleasant the treble content is as you roll-down the volume control. My discussion is a bit different, as it primarily is about P90 equiped guitars, I DO NOT recomend treble-bleeds on already spikey single-coil guitars ESPECIALLY Telecasters! And, this blog is mostly about the resultant sound with the volume controls all the way up ... yes, this mod DOES affect the tone of the guitar even BEFORE you start rolling down the volume! The story is kinda long, skip towards the end for the results without the lead-up story.
I INSTANTLY realized that these P90s sounded spectacular, easily the best P90 tone I had ever encountered. And so, I chose this guitar to be the “standard” for my own P90 R&D. What made the tone of these P90s so different was … well … everything. The bridge pickup just felt SOLID, weather bell-like clean tones on classic Tele stuff like the Folsom Prison signature lick or Jazzmaster-ish surf licks … and right up to heavy Marshall Crunch and AC/DC licks … the bridge tone was always impeccable. The neck tone was maybe not quite as spectacular, but still my personal favorite P90 neck tone ever. P90s in the neck can tend to get a bit too “woofy” (or muddy if you prefer), especially with a good bit of gain added. This particular guitar had absolutely NO muddiness at all in the neck position, and practically nailed SRV neck tone. However, I did find myself longing for just a little bit of the signature P90 neck woof … and the combined tone (middle position) was both a bit sterile and boring, and with no RW/RP accommodations, it also buzzed even worse than either pickup on its own. But STILL … overall, the best sounding dual P90 guitar I’ve ever heard! So, the question was: why? Are ya ready for the answer?
For two years I had been making P90 prototypes and NONE sounded as excellent as the previously mentioned Les Paul 60’s Tribute. Early on I took a peek at the pickups in this guitar during a string-change, and found them to be the stock Gibson models (which by the way looked quite nicely made). So, I bought ANOTHER guitar just like the first to try my pickups in for a direct apples-to-apples shootout, and guess what, the “new” one, stock, didn’t sound nearly as good as the first one. What was going on here? That’s when it hit me: I hadn’t even peeked in the control cavity of the first “magical” Les Paul. So I did, and I got quite a surprise!
First, holy cow was it a clean job … and second, it was most certainly NOT factory wiring.
My God, why hadn’t I peeked in hear earlier? Quite an over-sight on my part! So, I opened my new guitar up and found it’s wiring to be stock … and … miserable. By comparison, it was downright ugly. I wish I would have taken a picture … but I guess it’s better to let that horror live on only in my own memory.
A-ha! Now it was clear why my P90 designs were always falling short of my “standard bearer” guitar … even though I wound pickups to the exact same specs, with the exact same ingredients, and with pole gauss numbers at the same readings!
So, I re-wired the “new” Les Paul to 50’s style, added in orange-drop .022 tone caps (I did not have any .033uf caps on-hand), and began to play with different values of treble-bleed cap/resistor networks.
The “standard bearer” first guitar had a treble-bleed circuit consisting of a 470 pico-farad capacitor and a 220K resistor in parallel on both pickups. I experimented with a number of values, and here is what I ended up going with on Les Paul number two … with my vintage-wound P90s installed (which spec almost exactly the same as in the “standard bearer”).
My ‘new” Les-Paul 60’s tribute now sounds BETTER in every way than the original “standard bearer”. The Bridge sounds exactly the same as my holy-grail P90. The neck sounds better; it still avoids being too “muddy” … but DOES allow for just the right amount of P90-ish woof, which was missing in the original. And, possibly best of all, with both pickups on the tone is spectacular! Complex, rewarding, and simply inspiring … and due to employing RW/RP on the pair, it’s also dead-quiet and buzz-free! As a note, as I roll back the volume controls, the tone remains nearly unchanged (that's why most folks install treble bleed circuits), and the taper of the pots are actually MORE to my liking ... more gentle over the travel of the pot. All in all, I accomplished everything I set out to do. Below are some notes on treble-bleed circuits you might want to take into consideration:
So there ya go! Now, go out and experiment for yourselves. The clip-on mod circuit the good folks at Stew-Mac advocate is a great idea if you don’t want to do any soldering on your guitar until you’re sure you have it right! You can even find inexpensive capacitor/resistance boxes cheaply on eBay ... which makes the experimentation VERY easy!
It’s almost Christmas, 2015 as I pen this blog. Over the years I have written a number of blogs on what you could call “Pro-America” topics. I just can’t help it. I feel so genuinely blessed to have been born in the time & place where I was. And, I’m totally grateful for having been born an American. In the history of the world, there has never been a better place. I won’t re-hash old feelings here … at the end of this blog I’ll have a list of OLD blogs for you to get that! So, let’s move on to my thoughts as of TODAY, December, 2015.
We have all heard that overseas manufacturing is getting “better”, especially in China. Quality is still all over the map, but at least is seems as though the Chinese are CAPABLE of making a decent product. Furthermore, we are a decade or so into the Wal-Mart economy of “Always the Cheapest Price, Always”. We love cheap stuff … so why not just have our stuff made wherever we can get it the cheapest? Well, as you’ve already guessed, I happen to have some answers to that question. Here are some compelling reasons.
Darn it folks, when you are buying your Christmas presents, look to see where the stuff’s made, and consider what you want to support and encourage. Okay, that’s it. It’s been a while since I’ve stood so proudly on my lil’ soapbox. For earlier installments, see:
by the time you get to the “v”, it’ll fill in the rest for you … it’s THAT common a question! The two terms “coil-split” and “coil-tap” are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. So, what is the difference? Let’s give the definitive answer right here and right now! Don’t worry, it’s simple, and this won’t take long.
this is what most folks are thinking of when they consider these terms. It is simply when a dual-coil pickup (i.e. a humbucker), has its two coils, which are usually wired in series, split into individual coils … and generally one of those coils is “shut-off” by shunting it to ground. The result: a single-coil pickup!
most humbuckers sound thin and downright terrible when split into a single-coil. That’s because each individual coil was not designed to operate by its self. The one exception I am aware of is my Custom PAF humbuckers. I imagine there are others out there, but I am not aware of them. Here is a picture of the coil-split diagram that comes in the box:
this is when the coil is wound to a certain number of turns and a lead is attached … a “tap” if you will … and then the coil is further wound until another lead is attached, another “tap”. I make these type of custom single-coil pickups for the bridge position in a Telecaster, and for both neck and bridge position P90s. With this method, when tap one is selected you get a standard P-90 (or Tele Bridge) sound, and when the second over-wound tap is selected, you get a hotter, beefier tone that approached the sound of a humbucker.
In fact, beyond a certain point, the most dramatic change is in the tone; as you further over-wind a pickup, the tone loses its top-end and becomes darker and darker, or again … more like a humbucker.
Okay, so there ya know, see Ya’ll next time around!
Hi Ya’ll! I have a confession to make: I’m not really a “Tele guy”. So the phenomenal Success of my Vaughn’s Velvet Tele pickups might seem a bit surprising … but wait … you haven’t heard the REST of the story!
Let’s start with this little piece that accompanies the product description of my Velvet Tele set:
I mean really, died-in-the-wool Tele players who readily admit that they really don’t LIKE Tele pickups. It seems as though Tele players have long ago learned to accept the limitations of their pickups and work around them. They LOVE the stripped-down serious 1940’s no-nonsense attitude of the world’s FIRST readily available electric guitar, but just ain’t equally smitten with the actual TONE of the Tele. Over the decades folks have turned to many potential solutions for their Tele tone dilemma. Let’s take a moment to discuss some of these attempts:
That’s why we see so many Tele’s with Humbuckers (full-sized and/or mini). They make appearances in both the neck and bridge position. We also see the “Nashville Tele” with a Strat pickup in the middle, and possibly neck positions.
No other guitar has so many options available as drop-in replacement pickups that sound NOTHING like the originals. Stacked humbuckers, single-blade pickups and twin-blade humbuckers, dummy-coils, shoot even no coils at all! The list goes on and on. It seems as though a bunch of folks have decided the only good thing to do with a Tele is to make it not sound like a Tele at all. It seems as though most folks have just given up on Leo’s original design. I wasn’t quite willing to do that.
I’ve been a member of the Nashville music community since 1985. I’ve been a recording engineer, record producer, professional guitar player, and recording studio owner. Oh, I should clarify …a “real” studio owner; from back in the days when owning a studio entailed reel-to-reel tape machines, huge consoles, grand pianos, and legitimate business locations, in my case on Nashville’s famous 16th Avenue. I’ve spent a BUNCH of time with the greatest guitar players in Nashville; shoot some of the best in the world, many of them with legit claims to being a “tele-master”. And, none of them would say they were 100% happy with their true Tele tone.
You see, I WAS a fully indoctrinated FENDER guy, and like most, I flat-out loved the sound of a great Strat. And certainly I was also totally in love with the sound of a great Les Paul. I just couldn’t accept the idea of someone “putting up with” the tone of their favorite guitar … or worse yet, giving up and making it sound like ANOTHER guitar! So you see, it actually HELPED that I wasn’t a Tele guy … because of that fact, I had never learned to “put up with” or “work around” the sound of a Tele. I had no prejudice against, or stereotype of, the TONE of a Tele!
So, what exactly DID I do? First, I listened to all the greatest examples of TRUE Tele tone over the years. From the classic Bakersfield sound of folks like Buck Owens and Haggard to the classic Stax Records/Memphis tones of folks like Steve Cropper and James Burton. From the classic country tones of folks like Ray Flack and Redd Volkaert to the modern Tele masters like Brad Paisley and John “Elmo” Szetela. And, of course so many more! Then, I talked to as many Tele players as possible, and asked: “in a perfect world, what would you want from your Tele tone”. It was surprising how many started out with something like “well, of course we know the neck pickup won’t sound good …” I had to remind them that we were talking about a perfect fairy-tale world, with NO limitations!
What I arrived at was that true Tele players wanted a Bridge tone that was the epitome of that great tone I just mentioned from folks like Burton, Cropper, and Volkeart; a good bit of Tele “spank”, but still nice and full-bodied and meaty with no “ice-pick” that is so common in the bridge position of Tele’s made in the last few decades or so. On neck tone, folks often referenced decidedly non-tele tones. Over and over tele players wished they could get the Stevie-Ray-Vaughn neck tone from their Tele, or a nice fat yet decidedly single-coil Jazz tone that was full-bodied yet still had some sparkle and definition. And, given the opportunity to REALLY dream, Tele players really wanted a truly magical middle position, with the ability to get the sparkle and chime of a Strat in position 2 & 4, and also be able to roll the tone back and arrive at a nice humbucker tone with both the neck and bridge pickups working together.
In making Vaughn’s Velvet Tele Pickups, I accomplished all of these objectives. It was most definitely NOT a case of throwing away Leo Fender’s original design and going with something new and golly-gee-wiz … I’ve heard too many of these awful sounding designs! No, it was simply tweaking the design to augment all the STRENGTHS of the original Tele pickup design, while finessing out the weaknesses. The result is 100% TRUE Tele tone … with everything you LOVE about the Tele … but ALSO with everything you dreamed of, but had grown to believe was impossible. And, it took someone who was NOT a Tele guy to deliver it.
I’ve been buying and selling on eBay for over 16 years, almost since day one of eBay; my history on Craigslist is about the same, and like many of you, I have started buying and selling on Reverb. And so I propose that I am about as qualified as anybody to offer up some general guidelines for both buyers and sellers, so here goes!
I’m sure there’s more I could add, but I’m going to resist the urge to beat this drum any further. Now, Ya’ll go out and do some good friendly buying & selling!
I recently composed a blog in response to an email from one of my pickup affectionados in Germany asking a question that I realized is of ULTIMATE importance in Strat tone: “what is the best distance from the pickup to the strings for the best results?” Since that time, I have received several requests to do a similar blog on Tele pickup height adjustment … and so, here we go!
Once again, I need to make it clear that I am talking about real-deal vintage pickups and real-deal quality pickups like the ones made by Jason Lollar, Curtis Novak, Lindy Fralin, And myself. Those crappy Ceramic Bars glued next to steel slug things that come standard in so many inexpensive Tele’s and Tele copies today cannot really be made to sound good, so a trip to the waste-basket is the only course of treatment for them.
I also MUST mention that these are my personal recommendations. You may be going for something totally different, and as such may want to totally disregard my suggestions; if so, I fully understand, and rest assured, my feelings will not be hurt in the least bit.
I prefer to use a digital caliper to take measurements, but a quality luthier’s ruler will do fine if you have excellent vision! Okay, so with no further ado, here are my suggestions and reasons why.
Low E: 4.46mm / 0.175"
Hi E : 5.0mm / 0.198"
(Measurements from the bottom of the string to the top of the magnetic pole piece)
As with Strats … but even MORE so with Telecasters, folks will often place the bridge pickup too high (close to the strings), with a VINTAGE set this destroys the tone, making it sound too narrow, focused, brittle, and harsh. The reason so many folks get used to placing this pickup as close as possible to the strings is because it gives more output; however, this will result in the terrible Tele icepick! Also notice that I generally position the bridge pickup with the high strings just slightly farther from the pickup than the low-strings. Once again, many folks do it the other way around, but I believe my setting results in a much more balanced and uniformly useable bridge-position. As with all truly fine Tele sets, my pickups certainly do NOT suffer from this lack of Tele bridge spank!
Low E: 5.00mm / 0.198"
Hi E : 3.50mm / 0.138"
This is a bit closer to the strings than many folks go with, and I should mention that this measurement is from the metal COVER on a Tele neck pickup to the strings … remember the actual magnetic pole pieces are a half a millimeter or so below the cover … so it’s not really quite as close as these measurements may make it seem. It, by chance you are using a fully un-covered neck pickup, like my Velvet Telecaster set, then you will want to measure to the magnetic pole-piece and add aprx. .5mm to each setting. Okay, there are three goals here. First, we want a great neck tone that sings beautifully and does not fall apart into mud even with a lot of gain added. Second, we want to be able to roll the tone back a little and have a truly rewarding experience playing big Jazz chords and lines. And last, we want to ensure it blends perfectly with the bridge pickup for a rewarding and beautiful middle position..
A couple of final important notes:
First, don’t be confused by the typical lack of adjustment screws showing on the Tele neck pickup, simply remove the pick-guard and you will find them hiding beneath!
Second, if the bridge pickup uses rubber grommets (tubing) as tension devices (rather than springs), and these have shrunken due to age or over-tightening, you might need to replace them. If the tensioning devices on the three mounting screws do not provide enough tension (force) holding the pickup to the Tele bridge-plate, unacceptable noise/feedback may occur. And, if you do replace them, also make sure the copper/steel base-plate remains firmly against the bottom of the pickup, or the same noise may occur!
Hi-diddly do fair blog neighbors! In my first couple years of this blog, I often featured amps that I considered “sleepers” … amps that could be bought for fairly cheap money and deliver more than expected. I think it’s time to revive the sleeper-amp concept! Let’s dig in with this week’s choice, the Bogner Alchemist. Ready? Let’s go!
I clearly remember when the Alchemists first appeared in stores like Guitar Center, and the supporting ads in the guitar mags. Man, they really caught my attention, at over a grand or so, they certainly were not inexpensive, but they WERE a lot less than any other amp to bear the Bogner badge. I’d played other Bogner models and knew they were truly top-shelf amps. However, at the time I already had a stable plum packed full of vintage Fender and Marshall amps and had just started making my own glorious tube amps, so I just couldn’t justify purchasing an Alchemist.
Fast forward to 2015. The $1000+ Alchemists now routinely sell used for in the $400 range, some as low as $250 to $300 … now that’s a DEAL! An Alchemist head showed up in the local Nashville Craigslist for cheap money “or trade”. A deal was struck and I finally had an Alchemist! The amp had a highly microphonic pre-amp tube and a tired set of 6L6’s, so I did a total re-tube and bias. While I was inside her, I checked for sloppy solder joints or anything else that looked sketchy, and found everything looking excellent. I’ve heard stories of these things looking kinda sloppy inside, leading to failure, but I can attest to the fact that this one looks excellent, with a layout and design that seems very tech-friendly; more so than most modern PCB construction tube amps. If reliability is a concern, I’d say just take an Alchemist to a decent tech for a quick look-see, but don’t expect him to find much to “fix”. It’s a good solid design and implementation.
By this time Bogner/Line6 had ceased production on the Alchemist line, and I noticed that Bogner was blowing out empty Alchemist 1x12 combo cabinets for a hundred bucks, so I bought one. I figured having the option of a head or 1x12 combo was a plus. As it’s turned out, I put her in the 1x12 and haven’t looked back. As you might imagine, I tried every speaker imaginable in the cab, and I chose the WGS ET65. This speaker really brings out the uber-rich honest and organic vintage vibe of this amp. It really tips the scales towards making this amp a true top-shelf boutique rig. I can’t help but feel as though the Vintage 30 speakers, with their overly charged upper-mid spike, that came stock really did a disservice to these amps.
Okay, so … apart from the afore mentioned poor stock speaker choice, let’s talk about why the Alchemist never really got the respect I believe it deserved, and still deserves. In a word, the Alchemist is a race car, and those accustomed to driving more pedestrian vehicles just couldn’t handle it. Let’s talk about that.
I’m a Fender guy through and through, and I love the way you can take most any vintage Fender amp, set all the controls most anywhere, plug in, and sound great. The Alchemist ain’t like that! Here is a quick quiz to see if an Alchemist is right for you. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, stick with something simpler!
There ya go! The long and short of it is this: be prepared to WORK a little more for your ultimate tone. If you get an Alchemist, plan to spend a fair amount of time learning the amp before you take it out on your first gig. Here’s what I have found. Yes, channel one in the “clean” setting CAN nail a super fat-n-juicy blackface Super Reverb tone, but ya can’t be afraid to twist some knobs. In the “crunch” setting it can totally nail a Marshall Plexi … but again, don’t expect to simply flip the switch to crunch and expect it to be there. Same goes for channel two; this channel can go from slightly driven singing Dumble Overdrive to full on Scooped Metal … but again, don’t be afraid to do some serious knob twisting and switching.
On to effects. Personally, I find the delay with tap-tempo and digital reverb with hall, plate, and spring settings to be the ultimate choice for a gigging amp … I consider Reverb and Delay to be the “meat & potatoes” of guitar effects … with things like tremolo, phase shifting, etc to be “spice”. One area where folks dis on the Alchemist is in the fact that the Reverb and delay intensity changes with the input gain settings. Personally, that doesn’t bother me a bit, because it’s exactly the same as running a verb & delay pedal in front of a driven tube amp … something I do all the time!
Okay, so is there anything I DON’T like about the amp? Yes, there is one: It’s HEAVY! As a 2 6L6 all-tube amp with big-iron transformers and heavy-duty cabs, these things ain’t light, but the top-shelf tone, combined with the current bargain-basement prices, make it worth the heavy load-in.
Did you hear that loud “Pop”? For Gibson guitar lovers, it was a sweet sound. Word on the street is that it was the sound of Gibson Guitar’s proverbial head popping out of a very, very dark place.
Just in case you, dear reader, are the one guitar player who didn’t catch it, Gibson really screwed the pooch in 2015, imposing “improvements” upon almost every model guitar. It was by all accounts guitar atrocities. The most offensive of which were:
Yep, EVERY 2015 model had those awful e-tuners; and what the heck, an “adjustable” zero-fret nut? Flatter frets?? Man, remember those 70’s “fretless Wonders”? Ugg. And, who the heck this side of 1989 has been calling for wider necks on Gibson’s? I guess the same folks who wanted a compound-radius fingerboard. No one!
To me, the ultimate example of how insane the 2015 line-up was would be the 2015 Les Paul Junior … long the hallmark of striped-down punkish rock energy. Imagine this guitar with its electronic tuners, big adjustable brass zero-fret nut, high-gloss finish, and wide neck with flat frets and a compound radius. Holy crap batman, it looks like an evil guitar villain has been at work. It's like putting automatic transmission, air shocks, and cruise control on a vintage hard-tail Harly!
But today is a new day, as Gibson has just announced a return to the pre-ridiculous 2015 models! Yep, Gibson is gonna scrap such 2015 “improvements” as the Zero nut, Les Paul commemorative headstock inlay and automatic tuning machines on every guitar. The line-up will be similar to that of 2012 including faded finish guitars. Whoo-hoo.
There was one more issue with the Gibson 2015 lineup: the price. All models were priced through the freeking roof, some called it criminal, I just called it stupid, kinda like Gibson saying “we really don’t want to sell any more guitars”. Again, 2016 brings good news; Gibsons will still be a bit pricey, but will be right back on-par with the pre-insanity 2014 models. On average, this will be about 20-30% below 2015 prices. Woo-hoo again.
So there, Gibson fans relax. For now at least, the craziness has subsided.
Okay, this harkens back to the early days of my blog. I’m basically taking you all along for the ride as I search for the best 10” speaker to pair with my new Quilter amp, a MicroPro Mach II. I fell in love with the Quilter stuff at this Summer’s NAMM show in Nashville, and sweet talked them into selling me a head with an EMPTY 10” combo cab so I could choose my own speaker. I’m a tube-amp guy, and I make my own … so my ponying up with some greenbacks on a decidedly solid-state amp is quite a statement! In later blogs I plan to do a full demo on the MicroPro, but for now, it’s all about that speaker!
My main objective is to have the amp be as “gigable” as possible. Here are the key points I’m looking at:
I don’t have to worry about it simply getting LOUD enough, the MicroPro has plenty of power on tap to ensure I’m heard; the question is, will it be sweeeeet?
The speakers I’ll be running through and comparing include:
Okay, y’all watch the video & feel free to gimme your thoughts. I’ll warn ya, this is a 38-minute epic, so settle in for the ride.