Rock And Roll Time, Again


    So, I just went and joined a rock and roll band.  Didn't really mean to do it, honest; it just happened.

Our acoustic vocal group project - working title code name "The Dust Bunnies" - has been going along great, and we have a lot of fun at rehearsals.  But sometimes, life gets in the way; we all have ongoing commitments, and things that need taking care of.  And due to various reasons, the Bunnies were looking at a couple months break; but that's okay, we're not going anywhere.

Last month I answered a craigslist posting for a Danelectro Daddy O. overdrive pedal, and while testing it at the seller's house I ripped a couple licks to see how it did into his tube amp, sounded great, bought it and went home.  A couple weeks later the seller called and said he was putting together a band with a few good players, and did I want to play "lead" guitar?  Well...  I thought, why not go to a get-together and see how it sounds?  And hey, these guys are all really darn good, and every one of them as nice as people get.  The main singer, John, is a solid rhythm guitarist and spot-on vocalist, easy to sing harmonies with; Mike the bassist is everything a bass player should be, rock solid and always on the beat; Donnie is a very good hard-hitting, and musically sensitive rocker drummer; and Brenda the keyboardist is a more than capable singer and keys player.

The basic sub-genre is what's known as classic rock, I call it Jurassic rock sometimes, and it's mostly songs that people of a certain age have heard enough so that they're kind of second nature by now.  Or something.  And I get to play really loud and do my screaming solo guitar thing sometimes, which is fairly easy to do when the amp is turned way up.  It's fun to do that Muhammad Ali thing: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee".  And also play simple shifting chordal stuff while singing harmony - okay, I think I can do this, even though it's been decades since my last real get down and rock project.

A Nice Pair: Classic 50 And Franken-Caster

Compared to me, these guys have tons of nice equipment; Donnie the drummer has a fully equipped recording studio out in the country where we practice, and John the singer has at least a dozen guitars and a few amps.  I have some low wattage home-brew amps laying around, but nothing really giggable, so John has kindly and graciously let me use a Peavey Classic 50 4X10 for the time being, until I can cobble up my own rig.  It's quite a decent amp, gets really loud and has nice cleans - set the master full up, start cranking the gain, and it gets a 1960s silver-face style tone - loud and clean, and ready to get mean.  It sounds just short of great, and I've heard these amps are very rugged and dependable.  Plus, it looks like cool '50s tweed style retro.

Hey - Wahs In The Bag?

It was time to open up the old effects pedal suitcase, dump them out onto the rug, dust the little suckers off, and get reacquainted with all of them, which was a lot of fun in itself.  Made some shorty cables, plugged up a few likely suspects, and gradually narrowed the floor-toy field down.

Whoa - Daddy O.

My pedal setup for now: the Daddy O. is first in chain, always on, gain about 1/3 up, with maybe 40-50% overall volume boost.  Set up that way, it's not so much an effect, but rather a slightly overdriven basic tone generator and general buffer line amp pedal, to keep a wah and other pedals down the chain tone-happy.  It's been said that the Daddy O. is a favorite of some famous name guitarists; well, I'm not a famous name, but I know a good sounding overdrive when I play through it, and the Daddy O. is certainly that.  With the guitar volume rolled back, the tone is fairly clean, with a lot of punch and fidelity; turned up, it gradually gets bigger and fuller, with that gritty edge reminiscent of a low-power tube amp cranked way up.

After the Daddy O., it's into an Ibanez UE 300 multi-effects box, which has a compressor (useful for slide parts) and Tube Screamer (more on this in a bit) before the built-in external loop out.  Then, it's out to a Danelectro Chicken Salad vibrato - a great sounding real optical process Univibe clone, not an emulator - and then the chrome top Vox wah, then into a lady-bug shaped early '90s Ibanez Soundtank delay (digital but sounds totally analog, soft and cuddly like an Echoplex), then back into the loop in of the multi-effect box.  Last is the very fine sounding chorus in the UE 300, and then out the long cable to the amp.

Except for the delay, it's all analog - no modeling, no PCM, no emulation, no modern style tone-sucking digital baloney - and played though a big tube amp, the tone is fat, complex, alive with rich harmonic overtones, and very 33 1/3 rpm.

Yumm - Chicken Salad
UE Dewey And Louie

I tried all the distortion boxes I had, and although each one had its own unique character and tone, none of them had that sort of raging Brit amp stack on the verge of blowing up sound that I had in my head.  But then I tried this: turned the gain way up on the Tube Screamer in the UE 300, and rolled the tone way back, and voila.  The combination of the low level Daddy O. overdrive running into the pushed Screamer gives a really nice wailing distortion, with tons of long singing sustain: pretty darn good enough with the Strato-Parts-O-Caster and '59 Danelectro, and incredibly thick and moaning with the P-90 neck pickup of the '77 Les Paul Special.  Much of the credit for that big tone may be due to the UE 300 being chock full of the famed early '80s 4558 ICs, although - who knows?  Maybe it's just magic.

Eventually I'll add another distortion, maybe a Marshall pedal, right after the Chicken Salad vibe, to get some "Bridge Of Sighs" style swooshing swirly tone going.  And although it wouldn't be used very often, it might be way fun to have some kind of reverse delay whenever the ambient weirdness factor needed to be amped up.  A flanger might be cool, too; gotta get psychedelic sometimes.

They Call It A Tank, But It Looks Like A Bug
Another Fine Mess

The recently put together Fender JapaMexiCaster is about a perfect rock guitar, no problems at all, I got lucky - nothing but good, usable tones right off the bat, no adjustments needed, and the neck is a dream to play.  I like to do a lot of bends and string vibrato, and David's sterling fret work helps to get the job done for that perfectly.  There are no dead spots or the usual Strat yucky staggered pickup too-loud 3rd string stuff, anywhere, all up and down the fretboard - the lowest low E string notes are the same volume as the 15th fret B and E string stuff - what a relief to not have to mess with it.  And the Squier Classic Vibe flat top pickups have just great, great tone, like holy crap great, can't ask for anything more.  They do bright twangy quasi-baritone low E stuff, just as well as thick bendy solos high up, with no tone control necessary to roll off unwanted squeals and shrieks, because there are no unwanted artifacts, no harsh overtones, just fat pleasing tone for miles.

The old Gibson Les Paul Model 55-77 TV Special is a fantastic player, as it always has been ever since it was new; plays like butter as they say, not too much more to say about that.  It's too bad the replacement Kent Armstrong bridge pickup doesn't have anywhere near the complexity of tone that the original neck pickup has, and I use the bridge+neck combo on one song only, and never just the bridge p.u.  Now I have an incentive to finally get around to having the other original pickup rewound.

* Update: Took a close look at the old P-90 bridge pickup, and one lead wire between the coil and the solder junction at the base plate had somehow come loose - it may have happened when a skinny shoulder strap broke, and the Paul took a dive on stage, also busting a tuning key.  Anyway, re-soldered it, and we're back to original pickups again - hooray!  On another level, though, I feel foolish - why didn't I just fix it when it broke, instead of buying a new pickup of unknown quality?

Cute, But It Only Lasted Six Minutes In The Chicken Salad

I went to buy 9 volt batteries for all the pedals, and nearly had a stroke in the store - whoa, they're really spendy now - like $4 apiece for alkalines.  So I bought a pedal power adapter setup, just like everyone else in the world.  However I'm not going to assemble a pedal board anytime soon; sure, almost everyone else in the world has one, and they're really convenient I guess, but...  Instead of carrying my pedals in a funky old tweed suitcase, I'd have to lug yet another bulky ass thing around; and besides, I like to kick the wah into just the right place next to the mic stand so I can wah-wah and sing at the same time.  Plus, loose stomp boxes on the floor just look cool and retro in a historical rock kind of way, and if not having a pedal board is still good enough for Mr. Trower, then that's all I need to know.

Eventually I might do an unloaded (or is that de-loaded, or deluded? something...) cab thing, with just 2 or maybe 3 speakers in an old Carvin 4X12 cabinet (* see update below *).  Maybe even turn it into an open back cab - whatever, though, gotta have the Cerwin Vega 12" on the top row, to rule over everything it sees.  A nice touch would be tie dye grill cloth on the big cab, and get back to my roots - I can't believe I just said that.  If I could find a Silverface Bassman head or something similar, then maybe I'd have the perfect 1/2 stack rock gig rig.  First things first, though - messing around with all this gear is fun, but I really need to put some serious wood-shedding time in, and get my rock and roll guitar thing back up to speed.  After all, in the end, when you really get down to it, it's not about the equipment, it's the music that counts.

*        *        * 

All photos taken with a Lumix ZS25.  Click or tap on any picture to see larger, higher def images.

*        *        *

* Update #1: I took a close look at the old P-90 bridge pickup, and one lead wire between the coil and the solder junction at the base plate had somehow come loose - it may have happened when a skinny shoulder strap broke, and the Paul took a dive on stage, also busting a tuning key.  Anyway, re-soldered it, and we're back to original pickups again - hooray!  On another level, though, I feel foolish - why didn't I just fix it when it broke, instead of buying a new pickup of unknown quality?

* Update #2: Okay, it's not called an "unloaded" cab; the term is "detuned", and it involves removing two of four speakers in a 4x12 cabinet.  The tonal effects are significant - not only do two speakers end up with about the same volume as the original four, but there's also a large increase in the low end response.  That would be great for some players and some styles, but for me, it's just too much boom.  With my admittedly weird, country chicken-pickin' meets the blues, J. J. and Keith and Willie and B. B. and Doc and Wes jamming bossa nova in the club car of a lost train heading out to that mythical hula party in the sky, musical mash up guitar style, I tend to favor a more or less tonally flat, even response amp sound.