Missing Links

Over the 30 years of playing guitar I’ve owned loads of gear, but there are some classics that I’ve never owned. It was triggered by an advertisement for a classic Big Muff Pi. I have borrowed one and it remains one of my favourite hooligan pedals but I’ve never had one on my own pedalboard.

muff

The set me thinking… what other classic items had I missed out on? First and foremost, given my love for their kit, I’ve never owned a Marshall. I’ve played plenty and can’t think of one I’ve ever come across that didn’t do its job well. Whether I like the job it is designed for is another matter entirely, of course.

marshall

The other big omission is Gibson. I’m not really a Les Paul sort of person, but I love their J-45 and J-200 acoustics, SGs, the LPJr and Melody Maker. And one of my all time favourite guitars of all time mate* is the ES-335. How have I made it through 34 years without ever having owned a Gibson? 10 years ago I could have said it was the price but these days they are turning out some mighty fine, reasonably priced guitars (viz. the 50s and 60s reissues). No excuses. I just never got round to it.

gibsonlogo

Will I ever put this right? Who knows but it feels like a musical life with missed opportunities if I don’t.

So what are the big holes in your gear history?

* copyright Smashy and Nicey.

Where I fell in love with music

I know exactly where I was when I fell in love with music. I can’t date it but I know the exact spot where it happened. It was in a small run-down theatre on the southern edge of Derby’s city centre, Sacheverel Street to be exact. The band playing were Stiff Little Fingers and I was mesmerised by the fury and passion of Jake Burns with his Yamaha SG2000.

jakeburns

The venue had once been the Derby Playhouse which had fallen into disrepair, been converted into a specialist cinema for Derby’s Asian population and renamed The Ajanta. The houses around it had been demolished and were a mixture of unkempt grass and rubble. This was my CBGBs, 100 Club, Whisky-a-go-go and Marquee all rolled into one.

ajanta2

After that first SLF gig the great bands of the time just kept turning up. I’m sure I’m mis-remembering but it felt like every week there was somebody interesting to go and see and, over the following years, many turned into behemoths of the post-punk world, or at least cult icons. The Cramps, The Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Psychedelic Furs, UK Subs, Fatal Microbes, Crass, Slaughter and the Dogs, Throbbing Gristle, Robert Rental and the Normal, The Monochrome Set and Derby’s very own Anti-Pasti. These last ones were the boys that gave me an inkling that doing this sort of thing was not out of reach.

There were bands that played that, for one reason or another (probably lack of cash) I didn’t go and see. The Damned and Simple Minds in particular, but hey, I’ll just be thankful for the great times I did have.

I wish I’d kept hold of ticket stubs and other memorabilia but I’m not a hoarder and those things have been left behind over the intervening years. The one link I have is this picture of The Fatal Microbes with me in the front row.

meatfatalmicrobes

I found these pictures on Johnny Vincent’s excellent blog about AN ALTERNATIVE DERBY. Used without permission but, in the spirit of the times, if he doesn’t like it he can bugger off. Only joking JV, give me a shout if you’d rather I didn’t use ’em.

ajanta

3x3x3 Perfect Guitar Rig

I’ve seen a couple of recent blog posts and forum threads talking about top lists of classic guitars, amps and pedals, and at the same time, in the same places, people talking about uncluttering their rigs. That set me thinking about what my ideal rig would be – restricting myself to three amps, three guitars and three pedals. I’m also going to restrict myself to freely available gear; no customs, boutique or limited numbers stuff. So here are mine:

Guitars

Gretsch G6120DSV
dsv12

Fender Telecaster Standard
tele

Gibson Les Paul Goldtop 56 Reissue
goldtop

Amps

Fender Priceton Reverb Recording
princeton

Roland Jazz Chorus JC-120
jc120

Marshall 1962 Bluesbreaker
bluesbreaker

Pedals

Dunlop Crybaby Wah
crybaby

Fulltone OCD Overdrive
ocd

Strymon El Capistan Delay
elcapistan

Now I want to hear about your perfect 3x3x3 rig. Go!

Ampmaker SE5a Brass Plaque Patina

Since the silverface Twin Reverb arrived a few weeks ago I’ve been neglecting my self-built Ampmaker SE5a. Today I gave it a bit of a clean and cracked out the Brasso to give the etched plaque some TLC. I’m really pleased with how it turned out and the way it is starting to build up a patina. And boy does this amp sound great with the Gretsch’s DynaSonics. It doesn’t have the Twin’s crisp shimmer but it I love the punchy, rounded, but not overwhelming mids.

amp1

amp2

amp3

Fender Twin with 12AT7 in the preamp

Day 3 with the Twin Reverb and I managed to get a couple of hours to explore further. I tried swapping the 12AX7 tube in V2 (the Vibrato channel) for a 12AT7. It’s a fairly subtle change. It means that the preamp doesn’t slip into overdrive as easily. I’ll leave it in for now but no doubt I’ll be going back to the 12AX7 before too long.

I also got chance to experiment with my collection of pedals. As many of others have already documented, the Twin Reverb is a great amp with pedals. I had most fun with this stripped down setup. Perfect for rockabilly twang. The gem of these is Alfie’s Blue Alpaca. It just makes the amp sing.

twin60

Right to left they are: Behringer DC9 Compressor, Nocturne Brain Seltzer, Alfalfasprout Custom Shop Blue Alpaca (inspired by the Way Huge Red Llama) and finally a DigiTech DigiDelay for a bit of slapback.

All of this was with my Telecaster. I’m really looking forward to 12th Jan when I’ll have my Gretsch 6120DSV back home.

Twin Reverb gets a “spring” clean

The Twin Reverb, whilst sounding remarkably clean was looking anything but. Time for a good clean.

The tolex is quite badly knocked about in places so I wanted to make sure it didn’t get too wet.

I dismantled everything, removing the valves and the amp chassis too. While it was apart I took pictures of the valve chart and serial number for future reference.

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

I gather from this site that the “F09” denotes 1979-80.

In small sections with slightly soapy water and a firm nail brush I’d work in small circles, wipe dry and repeat a couple of times until all the ingrained dirt had lifted.

SAMSUNG

Here’s a before and after of the top.

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

Not a massive difference on first appearance until you look at what it did to the water and detergent mix.

SAMSUNG

The reverb bag was particularly dirty but cleaned up very nicely.

SAMSUNG

There had been an intermittent problem with the reverb disappearing which I’d traced to a dodgy connection on RCA Phono plug on the return from the reverb tank. I replaced the whole cable with one I had in my parts drawer.

The interior of the chassis itself was pretty clean but I gave it a light dusting and checked everything looked OK.

SAMSUNG

I put everything back together, returned the valves to their original position and checked that everything worked. Now the outside is almost as clean and sparkly as the sounds it makes. The valves fitted all look pretty recent. They’re Electro-Harmonix in the power tubes and a full set of JJs for the preamp.

SAMSUNG

One last job for today was to make myself a “fake” footswitch for the tremolo. As standard you need to have the footswitch plugged in for the tremolo to operate, whereas by default the reverb is on. I like to keep the tremolo on all the time but at a very low, almost imperceptible level. Rather than connecting up the footswitch and leaving it rattling about in the cavity at the back, I simply took an old RCA Phono plug, soldered the centre to the shield and hey presto, full-time tremolo with no footswitch.

Next job will be to experiment with the preamp tubes. I’ve got a spare 12AT7 knocking about and this can be used in place of the 12AX7 in V1 or V2 for the Normal and Vibrato channels, respectively, dropping the gain slightly, giving even more clean headroom (if such a thing is possible).

Another interesting idea I want to try out is that, because unlike most amps, the two channels are totally independent and can be used at the same time, you can take the return from the reverb tank and feed it directly into the normal channel, allowing you to control the volume and EQ independently of the dry signal. All that is required is an RCA Phone to 1/4″ adapter.