Rig Rundown 2016… Digital? …maybe, just a little…

Da Rig... Ignore the Z cab.... it's just a stand!

Da Rig… Ignore the Z cab…. it’s just a stand!

Last night, I had the opportunity to hang with my dear friend Ronnie Douglas and his peeps on the occasion of his birthday, and I got into a little discussion with my pal and monster player, Ian Ross. Naturally, we were talking about gear – guys talk about gear, ladies talk about the family – we did a little of both! But then, my lovely wife was present to ensure the latter.

Anyway, I just sold yet another great amp yesterday – my wonderful 1966 Fender Princeton Reverb – one of the best Fender amps I have ever played (don’t worry, be happy, Brent B.!). And I am kind of getting down to a single, solitary setup for da band. In fact, given that I play in a “3 piece”, and having pretty much given up on Strats as being “too thin sounding”, I’m now back into Strats in a big way due to this latest rig! I had tried the Axe FX in it’s most up-to-date incarnation, and while it was amazing, and while it covers so much sonic ground, it was just too complex for a 3 knob guy like me. Plus, you really need to spend a lot of time tweaking and thinking about it – not my “thing”. Two of the huge byproducts of the Axe, are the ability to play with any tone at any volume, and the ability to simply use the P.A. for one’s signal path. What I have found, that solves quite a few issues, as well as these two, is the Two Notes Torpedo Live. This one rack space box (the other box in the rack is a Furman Power Conditioner to plug everything into) emulates a speaker cab, specific speakers, and a carefully placed mic or mics. You use a simple one screen piece of computer software to set up the cab in a room while you play. As you move the mic around with the mouse, the sound changes as you play your guitar. When you’re happy, you save the setting. Although it does come with lots of factory presets. I have created a very nice Marshall style 2 X 12 that is mic-ed with a virtual ribbon mic, off axis, to give a nice big, but smooth, tone. You can save lots of different cab setups and easily switch between them with one knob on the Torpedo. The second knob on the Torpedo allows me to run my Friedman Smallbox 50 at any level, while controlling the output level – and thus solving problem #2 – any tone at any volume. The attenuated output then goes to my powered QSC K10 monitor, and from there, on to the P.A.

Two Notes Torpedo Live

Two Notes Torpedo Live

I did some A/B-ing and I found that the best tone, for me, comes out of that QSC K10. Heck, I even prefer the emulated cabinet/K10 to using a real cabinet, in terms of what I am hearing. I had an Atomic powered wedge monitor – and they are great – and probably the best thing with an Axe FX, but I honestly preferred the tone of the QSC K10 and K12 monitors with my rig. I chose the K10 because it was a little smaller than the K12, and while ever so slightly less “open” sounding, there was very, very little difference in tone. The K10 also had the advantage of being slightly “tighter” sounding. Another thing is that I can still run my pedals with this rig – and they sound great! Running my pedals with the Axe FX was a bit “glitchy”, plus it added yet another layer of complexity to an already complex situation. So now I’m back into pedals!!!

Pedal board as it has evolved

Pedal board as it has evolved

QSC K10 1000 watt powered speaker

QSC K10 1000 watt powered speaker

The end result, as I sit and play “Third Stone From The Sun” on my Stratocaster, is that the dogs don’t even flinch! The tone is so “right” and I’m a happy camper. You can buy the Two Notes Torpedo Live for under $1500. I got one from my pal Andy Cherna at Diffusion Audio. I don’t work for Andy, but I’m sure hoping that “the cheque’s in the mail!” 🙂 Not!!!




The Railways Guitar Festival … Top 3 Funny Comments from “Lookers”

A few rarified geetars at the Railways Guitar Fest

A few rarified geetars at the Railways Guitar Fest

One of the fun things about this little hobby is when I get asked to do a mini guitar show and sale. My pal Robin Munroe – who set up the Railways Guitar Festival in Barrie, Ontario – allowed me to have a booth. Given that it was Promenade Days, there was A LOT of traffic, but the level of inside knowledge of vintage guitars was, understandably, low… of course! – just like I am lost at a car show – and I certainly can’t fault the “lookers” for their sometimes unintentionally hilarious comments.

One of the “litmus tests” that my booth secretly presented to me, was that there was a very pretty Gibson Custom Shop Reissue Aged Sunburst Les Paul that was worth a few thousand… but right there… being constantly over-looked… there was a REAL vintage 1956 Les Paul Gold Top “Conversion” with real 50+ year old PAF humbucking pickups… worth about $25,000. Only, one person recognized the REAL gold and went straight to the Gold Top that day!

1956 Les Paul Gold Top "Conversion"

1956 Les Paul Gold Top “Conversion”

So let’s get to the top 3 comments “Letterman” style… I might add that all three of these folks looked supremely thoughtful and pensive and intelligent as they made their comments – as if these pearls of wisdom deserved a lot of weight (and maybe they do – but not for the reasons intended!).

#3 Funniest Comment: A young lady walked up and stared at my Funk Farm “Hughbie” amplifier – an amp brand that my pal Pete Medvick came up with a couple of years ago for his custom made creations – just to give them a name – anyway, as she stared at the amp, she said longingly: “Funk Farm… I haven’t seen one of those in years!”. Ha! Ha! OK…

Da Funk Farm

Da Funk Farm

2. OK.. comment #2 in the list of funniest comments. A young man looked at my ’64 Stratocaster and said: “Those are worth a lot of money because they have a Jamaican Redwood neck!” I said: “You mean Brazilian Rosewood?” He thought hard for an inordinately long and awkward moment and replied: “No, it’s Jamaican Redwood..” and then walked away… Hilarious!

1. And finally, the #1 comment at the booth… Two guys about age 30 were looking at my 1956 Gibson Les Paul Special in TV yellow finish… the guitar was clearly and boldly labelled “1956” and I made a point of re-iterating it a couple of times. Now I should give you the background that I am aged 50 something… and I’ve been told that I look young for my chronological age… SO… The comment from one of the guys? With a straight face… “Did you buy it new?” Ouch!!!!!!! It’s the only time I made a comment back to someone else’s comment that day – because I could tell he was serious – so I actually said … “jeeze, man, I wasn’t even born when this guitar was made!”. But a very funny comment!!!

The "older than me" 1956 Special!

The “older than me” 1956 Special!



Best Amp On The Planet?


I should actually say: “Best REAL Amp On the Planet” because I am still enjoying the tones that come from my Axe FX 2 XL. But let me tell you that the Bludo Drive amplifier (this is the 70s voicing with optional FET channel) has been in my peripheral vision ever since my pal PF got one a few years back. The Bludo really came into focus for me a couple of weeks ago when PF and I had a few “Lugtreads” and proceeded to audition a few special guitars thru his Bludo.

A few years back...

A few years back…

Traditionally, when I start “the hunt”, everything becomes tunnel vision towards the new piece of sonic glory – and this time was no exception! I was fortunate enough thru a happy coincidence and the positive energies of some guy named Todd and some guy named Brandon, to acquire my Bludo Drive amplifier and Loopalator almost immediately! Good karma! Last night, my pal PF jumped in his Prius and headed for the Rancho (more good karma – thank you PF!) – mainly so he could show me the “ins and outs” of both the amp and the Loopalator.

Now these amps already have a huge reputation – you’ll see Santana with a couple, Larry Carleton loves his… there’s a long list. The Bludo Drive amps apparently were inspired by those “D” amps – made by the eccentric and brilliant Howard Somebody… or was it Alexander? I actually played a 100 watt “D” and wasn’t smitten – but, to be fair, I didn’t spend more than a few minutes with it. Back to the Bludo… this amp is like no amp I have ever heard – and I have owned 100s! Even when heavily over-driven, there is a depth of tone, complexity, and a big sound that you don’t hear in other amps. Most amps flatten out and become less-dimensional, smaller, as you increase the amount of distortion – not so with the Bludo. The cleans are also spectacular and very big, with no tendency to be “limited”. The FET channel adds an FET pre-amp and it makes the tone a bit “tougher”, brighter, and more focussed. A nice option. When I got the amp, I immediately flipped the 1/2 power switch to 50 watts, and all my auditions were done at 1/2 power. The 100 watt setting is obviously a tad “bigger”. The Master Volume works exceedingly well too – and I would have no problem using this amp in a small pub. The Loopalator is an impedance matching device that has a 12AX7 tube in it. I makes the amp sound ever so slightly fuller, and the effects loop is killer, I have never heard my delay pedal sound so good. Now I know why I don’t like the sound of my delay on my pedal board “in front” of the amp! This Bludo Drive amp is completely in a class of it’s own… best amp ever? Quite possibly!

So I guess there will be some amps for sale! maybe I’ll keep my Black Face Princeton Reverb, my Divided By 13 LDW (for Marshally tones), my Tex EF 86, and, of course, my custom Funk Farm “Hughbie” amp… hey, if you had a model of your own, you’d keep it too!


The Fractal Audio Axe FX 2 XL… the end of amps?

That Infamous Fractal Axe FX2 XL box!

That Infamous Fractal Axe FX2 XL box!


When the man in the brown shorts arrived at my home on Wednesday – two days after I ordered the Fractal Axe FX 2 XL direct from the manufacturer – I was excited and somewhat expectant. There are lots of guitar players whom we all respect – with VERY good ears – who have embraced this particular box and moth balled their “real” amplifiers. This is one reason that I pulled the trigger on the Axe FX.

A second reason is that I have become increasingly frustrated with my “sound” in our band – a rock 3 piece that covers a lot of bases – everything from AC/DC to Stray Cats to ZZ Top to Stones to Elvis to the Hip… etc. I have close to a dozen amps, but finding the right volume, the right tone, the right saturation – especially with this wide range of musical material – well, I looked at my wall of amps and said: “this is not working!”.

I had heard so many positive things about the Axe FX 2 XL, not only in print from the pros, but from lots of great local players (thanks A.D.) – it’s naturalness, it’s response and feel – exactly like the tube amps and cabs and effects it emulates – and the pure and rarified quality of sound – that I decided to “bite the bullet” and get one.

Not being used to a digital box like this, the supposed “user friendliness” was lost on me. But after struggling for a few days, I was able to use the Axe FX in rehearsal today. I would have loved to have an amp and cab to play it through – you use a linear SS power amp and a flat response speaker cab – so that you don’t colour the models coming out of the Axe FX – but they are hard to get due to the demand. The Atomic CLR Powered Wedge Monitor is my proposed weapon of choice – if I can ever get one! So anyway, for our rehearsal, I went straight into the P.A.

I was going to just try the Axe FX for a couple of songs, but I ended up using it for the whole rehearsal!

Here are some observations:

  1. The type of guitar becomes even more important than with a conventional rig. I had thought that it might be less of a factor, but these “amps” sound MORE like the pure article and so the sound of, say, a Strat through a model of a perfect Plexi and a 4 X 12 just sounds “right”… very much like the “Jimi” thing. Maybe “not so much” with a Gretsch Hollowbody through the Plexi!
  2. Although I had my pedal board in front of the Axe FX adding, say, a Plexi pedal just sort of took away from the tone – whereas a clean boost seemed to add a nice grit and a little more volume to the sound – pushing the “amp” harder.
  3. Certain presets gave me more articulation and a better depth of tone with certain guitars, one that I haven’t often previously experienced with my real rig. For example, my Gretsch Phoenix hollowbody with Filtertrons had a certain complexity that was amazing… not less distortion or funky artifacts… just a certain ability to make the nuance of the selected amp/cab/effects very audible. I could hear ”more” in the sound. Thus, it just “felt” right and made me play better!
  4. I felt the same interaction that you feel when your rig is sounding just right and it acts as an inspiration, creating a feedback loop between the gear and the player – inspirational!
  5. As M.G., our bass player/singer said, “there is a sweet spot between the P.A. speakers where the stereo image sounds amazing!”
  6. Another observation… guitar players still like to play too loud!

I’m a total “newbie” in this new digital world, and I have no idea whether it’s the “end of amps” or not. I definitely have a lot of learning to do with respect to this new box, integrating it into my music, so there’s lots of work ahead. But it’s fun work. We’ve come a long way since those early Line 6 amps and Pods. The road ahead will be rich and fruitful, I’m sure.

The Plexi Hunt… A Ceriatone Surprise!

Ceriatone Yeti 50 - Custom Color 1969 'you know what' below!

Ceriatone Yeti 50 – Custom Color 1969 ‘you know what’ below!

Every so often I re-activate my search for a great Plexi. I’m one of those players who loves the sound that my favourite players get with vintage Marshalls, but I’ve always had trouble bonding with most (including the “knock-offs”). For one thing, I don’t play super loud, so that issue has to be dealt with – either with my Brake Lite attenuator or maybe even with a Master Volume on the amp itself, when available. Also, I find that there are so many variations on this Plexi theme, many of which don’t sound right to me or fit with my band – or perhaps I admire certain amps but just can’t see myself using them for my own sound. One thing I have come to pretty much accept these days is that: “bigger bottles equal bigger tone”! So even though I play with some degree of authority (a little loud!), my amp is often running at only “3” on the Volume knob… but, still, I am currently using more powerful amps. Because I have a 3 piece band, there’s always room for a fuller sound. The last excursion into Plexi territory for me was a Roccaforte with 2 – 6V6s and a Plexi tone (they said) – and I am in no way running down the amp – but it just wasn’t “me” and it was quickly sold. So fast forward to last week, and I begrudgingly took a trade – this Ceriatone Yeti 50 head – something I had never heard of. I was even more skeptical when I heard that the amps were made (or sold in kit form) in Malaysia – not exactly the boutique amp center of the universe. Anyway, suffice it to say that this amp is astounding! I LOVE IT!

Ceriatone Yeti 50 "gut" shot

Ceriatone Yeti 50 “gut” shot

So here’s the “skinny”… This amp is part of the HRP Series – meaning Hot Rodded Plexi… and they have many of the “Jose” mods – Jose being a famous amp tech who modded amps in the 80s for even more famous clients. The “Era” switch has a Plexi mode, an 80s mode, and a “Modern” mode. I pretty much stick to the Plexi mode – the others being a little over the top for my style. But even so, this amplifier is one versatile tone machine! There are 3 volumes at different stages of the circuit – and for a “one knob” guy like me, they are still very intuitive and easy to use. Gain 1 at the first stage, Gain 2 comes after (duh!), and then there’s a Master Volume – easy peasy! There are 2 Bright switches – one at Gain 1 and the other at Gain 2 – and they add lots of different tones – each switch having bright/off/bright with a touch more gain… and because they are at different gain stages, they affect the tone quite differently, and add to the versatility of the amp. The Resonance control adds a low end “thump” that I just love! This amp is certainly more flexible than my real ’69 Plexi… it’s a keeper! Talking tubes with my pal and bandmate Mark G., I just had to open up the amp to see what the heck the power tubes were – KT77s – hmmm. These are a JJ re-issue of a rare 50s tube that is said to be a great alternative to an EL34… more headroom, better balance, less compression, and a little cleaner. Nice!

Ceriatone Yeti 50 Trannies

Ceriatone Yeti 50 Trannies

I am currently running the Ceriatone with one of my 2 PRS open back 4 x 10 greenback cabs. As a footnote, here’s a little anecdote about Ceriatone owner Nik Azam. He’s a bit of a legend for his great customer service, and when I got the amp (used), the jewel light was burned out, but the seller had graciously supplied a replacement. Well this replacement also had a small resistor included, and not being a tech head, I had no idea what to do with it. So I emailed Nik, in Malaysia (!), and within 2 minutes I had an email back (results may vary) instructing me in simple terms how to solder in the new jewel light (the resistor being a new feature to extend the bulb life). Good on ya, Nik! I’ve dealt with other boutique amp manufacturers – one of the feline variety – who needed their cages rattled numerous times to just get a pulse… so there ya go, a Ceriatone surprise that’ll be front and center on my next gig!




The ’63 Blonde Bassman … the “Setzer” Amp


Famed 1963 6G6B Fender Bassman amp

Famed 1963 6G6B Fender Bassman amp

Being a huge Brian Setzer fan, I have always been interested in the early 60s Blonde Bassman with the solid state rectifier – the 6G6B circuit – the one that Brian Setzer has always favoured. Apparently, the 6G6A circuit had a few bugs, and it is the “B” circuit that fixes all that. I really didn’t expect to own one of these great amps for a while, but it’s certainly been on my radar. The fact that Mr. Setzer has publicly stated that these are his favourite amps, aided by the fact that “his people” buy as many as they can get their hands on, has driven prices up. So I had little hope… Anyway, the other day, one of these amps came up on ebay, and it was located only an hour drive from me! I put in a low bid (the ask was 4k!). Needless to say, I was successful (thanks, Gord!), and in a couple of hours from auction end, I had the the new (to me)amp home!

What I almost always do with old Fender amps, is to take them apart, grab my nylon brush, some Armour All RIM CLEANER, a bucket of hot water, and scrub the Tolex and the grille cloth. The grille actually comes out really well, as it’s a tough synthetic material and it cleans up like new… most of the time, anyway. It’s great to do this on a sunny day so you can dry the cab and head box quickly – particularly the grille. You don’t want this stuff wet for too long. And be careful not to get the paper tube chart wet! Anyway, after an hour or two, my 6.5/10 condition Bassman was now 8/10!

So what’s the story with these amps? Well, you can see from the next pic that there’s a plug where the rectifier tube should be. The SS rectifier gives us a tighter, cleaner tone. I should add that the amp had already been gone thru (and re-capped) by the most excellent amp tech, Tim Dudley at Superfuzz Audio, so I was really pleased about this – added value and a promise of reliability.


Plugging into the Bassman, I was struck by how HUGE the tone was… basically clean at 3-4… BUT HUGE SOUNDING. Of course, the closed back 2 X 12 with a pair of Weber speakers (at 4 ohms) didn’t hurt. Now something I found out was that the “Bass Instrument” channel is basically different in that it has an extra stage of gain, and that some guitar players (yes, this is not considered a bass amp by today’s standards) prefer that channel for it’s lower volume (dunno why it’s quieter, but it is), slightly mushier, rich (cholesterol laden) tone. The “Normal” channel is the classic Bassman sound – nice and tight and chimey and on the clean side – until you get over 5 on the dial… and LOUD (I use an attenuator to knock it down just a tad – maybe 4-8 dB). Another known fact about these amps is that the Treble and Presence controls are very interactive. I found that moving the Treble control from 6-7 changed the whole character of the amp… very useful – and really a huge addition to the versatility of this bad boy!

You can actually get these amps to scream as well… a very convincing AC/DC sound is easily do-able. I’m mighty impressed and I keep saying “best amp I own” with each new acquisition (I said that with my red 1969 Tremolo 50 Marshall – thanks, Nige!)… but, man, this time I MEAN IT!… this may be the best sounding amp I own!!!

Gut shot of the 63 Bassman

Gut shot of the 63 Bassman






Re-visiting The Dark Side… The Creations of The Gov’nor

Marshall Love in 18 watt Clone & The Real 1974X Deal

When I was a young man… actually, not a man yet… I somehow found myself eyeing a Marshall Major (200 watts!) amp and an 8 X 10 cab at my local store. “This would look great in my basement!”  And it did! Unfortunately, something was wrong – the amp was about as loud as the TV set! “This is not right!” I thought. Anyway, I have no idea what happened after that, but the amp disappears from my gear chronology soon after. I did other questionable things (like we all did) – like trading the ’57 Strat I had bought for $200 (I bought it because I had spent endless hours looking at the maple necked Strat on the back of the Layla album) for a “Mansfield” SG copy. Ouch! But I digress!

Anyway, back to those amps created by “The Father of Loud”, Jim Marshall (BTW, I am sure you know that Jimi Hendrix was always amused by the fact that his first 2 names were the same as Jim Marshall’s… but I digress…again!). I have always had a love/ hate with Marshall amps. Especially the big ones. Now that I play a lot more classic rock, they seem appropriate. But I often find 2 issues with the big boys… they’re too loud for any of the bars that we play in and often the bottom end is just too big to sit right in a 3 piece classic rock trio. My 18 watt 1974X (with replaced Mercury Magnetics trannies) is not particularly glorious on it’s own, but there’s something about that smooth break-up and narrow frequency response that just works with a band! I also have an 18 watt Retro King “Plexi 18” that I have used for a few years… and it just kills!


For Those Who Like To Rock…

It now seems appropriate to “feel my way” back into the Marshall 50 watter waters – although I might need an attenuator to play them. I have a very meticulously wired JTM-45 “Offset” clone on it’s way to me. This is the very early Marshall design… with a tube rectifier rather than the slightly later diode rectifier design that was in those classic Hendrix amps. The JTM-45 will be tubed with Kt-66 power tubes – and that essentially makes it the same amp as the one that Clapton made famous on the “John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers” album (also referred to as the “Beano” album… look at the cover… Clapton is reading a Beano comic). Anyway, GET THIS RECORD if you don’t have it! But you know that anyway!!!

JTM-45 Offset Clone in all it’s Vintage Goodness

Meticulous Wiring That You Might Not Even See In An Original!

So this will be an experiment… but that’s what it’s all about anyway. As long as you’re learning and practicing your instrument, these gear excursions just feed the fire and act as catalysts and inspiration to learn and practice even more!

And on a final note, I picked up a Marshal JCM2000 DSL50 – at one time favoured by Jeff Beck amongst others – for less than $700. Now that’ll be a fun romp! Just gotta wait for the man in the little brown shorts to show up with it!!!





Help! The Reverberocket 2 Just Ate My ’64 Deluxe Reverb!!!

1966 Ampeg Reverberocket ll

Ok, here’s the little devil here! Ampeg’s Reverberocket ll from ’66. I think I paid about $400 or so for this 1 X 12 combo about 5 years ago. Since I’m always keen on the trivia aspect, I should point out that “Ampeg” stands for “Amplified Peg” – a pickup for the upright bass – this was the 1940s… but you probably knew that! It was the company’s first product. But I digress…

Anyway, this little combo, which looks WAY cooler than a Black Face Deluxe Reverb, also, IMHO, sounds cooler! When I first got this little Buck Rogers inpired (well, the “LOOK” rather than the guts, we can assume) combo amp, I also had both a 1964 Fender Deluxe Reverb as well as a ’65 of the same model in the house. I have to tell you that while Leo was saving dough by buying particle board pressed wood, Ampeg was putting together very high quality little amps that included plywood cabinets… take a look…

Back of The Reverberocket… a thing of beauty!

Now isn’t that checkerboard Tolex just an eye-catcher!

Anyway, my point is that there are alot of these little “sleeper” amps around – just killer amps that are “off the radar”, that absolutely kill! My pal PF (Ok, you figured it out… Mr. Peek Frean) just picked up a Gibson 1 X 12 Lancer Combo – and there are lots of other killers out there! This Reverberocket ll has a wonderful open tone, that, I feel, is more inspiring to me than the aforementioned Deluxe Reverb… the Ampeg ‘ll get nasty or stay clean, it has a glorious Reverb… just awesome. It’s around 20 watts – a really BIG sounding 20 watts, I might add! It has 2 weird power tubes – a little like EL84s – that are rare, but findable. I think they are “7591A”s. I put my favourite 12 in there – a Celestion G12H30. If you didn’t experiment with this little beast, you might dismiss it – not all amps work the same – and this one has a few of it’s own quirks. For example, it’s not voiced like a Fender. Set it up like a Fender and you’ll shatter glass. But roll the treble back to 1/4 and it’s gorgeous. Another thing I discovered is that while this amp sounds magnificent through the “Guitar” input, I think it sounds even better through the “Accordion” input!!! A little more gain and richness. That’s hilarious to me! OK I’m a bit weird… So in closing, how ’bout a pic of the “Control Panel”? A look and feel that Buck Rogers himself would be most comfortable with.

A look and feel that would do Buck Rogers proud!