Gibson Les Paul Traditional 2 : A Long Term Review

December 24th, 2013

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro 2

Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro 2

As someone who considers it essential to have a Les Paul in my tonal arsenal. I have sometimes found myself without one. My first Les Paul was a 2003 Classic, the one with ’1960′ etched into the scratch plate. I foolishly bought the guitar with a slim 1960′s tapered neck. Not realising that I found guitars with beefier necks more comfortable. It weighed a ton. Well over 10lbs The grain pattern on the back was akin to a piece of marble. It sounded fantastic but the combination of heavy body and skinny neck meant I was forever trying to keep it in tune.

I nicknamed it the millstone, and after buying my telecaster in 2005, by 2007. It was sold to a guy in a Gary Moore tribute band.

Then a few years later my brother offered me his 2001 Standard in a straight swap for a PRS McCarty. As this guitar had a 50s clubby style neck profile and was around 9lbs in weight a deal was done.

However 2 years later I needed some cash quickly and as he d always regretted letting it go. I sold it back to him for what Id paid for the PRS.

As my main guitar has still been my Fender Kotzen Telecaster for the last 9 years Id just not been playing the Gibson that much. However shortly afterwards I too felt the pang of regret.

After Gibson’s revision of the Les Paul Standard in 2002, there had been little change in the model until 2008, when the body had been chambered and new pickups and electronics came into play, the old standard became known as the Traditional then the design was revised again in 2012/13 and again in 2014.

What I’d really enjoyed was my brothers 2001 Standard. It was a clean example of the last year of the 90′s style Les Paul Standards. After searching around for some used 90s Standards. Last September, I put my overtime to good use when I chanced upon these limited edition Les Paul Traditional Pro 2′s. Built for a year for the American giant Guitar Centre these guitars are basically an old 90′s Les Paul Standard with a few extra bells and whistles. At £1399 for a brand new guitar, It seemed a better deal than taking a chance on a used example, where I may possibly have to pay out for set ups or re frets etc.

The first thing upon opening the guitar case was the impact of the Honeyburst finish. I fell in love with the figured maple top, its nicely flamed, but still has enough imperfections and flecks in the wood to look “vintage” rather than too pretty. The top is full gloss finish nitro cellulose lacquer. The back and sides and neck feature less coats of this for a pleasing ‘Matte’ finish. So the guitar feels playable from the off.

The second shock was the lack of weight. At around 8.5 lbs, this is the lightest Gibson Les Paul Ive played. At first I thought the body had been chambered, but the low end presence of the guitar indicated otherwise. As its a limited special run, specs on the body were scant. But it appears that it actually has modern 9 hole weight relief in the body’s upper bout. I emailed Guitar Centre for the construction specs, but instead they didn’t know and it was up to the ever efficient German retailer Thomann to confirm that they were weight relieved bodies.

After some research it appears that from 2013, Gibson has done a deal with the Fijian government who have the worlds largest managed forests of what we’d call tone woods. As generic South American Mahogany is rather heavy, it appears that the Fijian variety has less moisture content and when kiln dried is considerably lighter. This is why I suspect Gibson have abandoned tonal chambering on the 2014 Les Paul Standard and have instead gone back to the pre 2008 weight relief method.

The chambering debate is a thorny one. Ive played both and a tonally chambered guitar, generally has a better clean articulate voice, so note separation is much better . However for a distorted rock guitarist, playing through a high gain amp. Chambering kills off much of the instruments low end. So riffs never quite have enough low end on them.Some Pro s also complain of feedback at high stage volumes. PRS did make some chambered Singlecut’s briefly, but even they have abandoned the idea.

The 1950′s clubby neck is comfortable and not too clubby. The German automated PLEK setup is nice. Having locking Grover machine heads at this price point is a nice touch too.

The rosewood board on this instrument is of the new 2 piece “Laminate” variety. When Gibson moved over to using a laminate rosewood board, it seemed yet another controversy. It sounds ok, but Im curious to how it will fare when its time for a re fret. Gibson have noticed that people feel a little conned by not having solid rosewood anymore and have moved back to a 1 piece board on the Custom Shop models. Im open minded, Ive always found PRS use much nicer examples of wood anyway. But a Les Paul is a Les Paul…a design classic. Like a Leica Camera, so I guess this is a foible that I will put up with.

The general construction is high for this example, but Gibson are still hit and miss. Ive played R9′s that were lousy and fantastic Les Paul Studio’s. So more money doesnt always equal a better guitar.

The biggest surprise and at the same time disappointment of this guitar is the electronics.

The 2 humbucker’s are a Classic 57 in the neck and an overwound Super 57 in the bridge. The vibe of the bridge pickup with zebra bobbin magnets is hot vintage. A little bit like a Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II.

The big surprise is that the pickups are both coil tappable using push/push controls on each volume pot. Thus giving us a much wider variations. When tapped, the single coil sounds are almost telecaster-esque, especially the bridge.

The other big surprise is the push/push pot on the lower tone control, that activates a 10db+ boost on both pickups powered by an onboard 9v battery, a little bit like the boost on a Fender Clapton Strat. This works well, however. The battery cover for the active circuit on the back plate of the guitar is so woefully and cheaply made that I just wouldn’t put a battery in there for fear of never getting it out. When the battery is not engaged, the pot functions as a killswitch and mutes the guitar.

However this is a lot of Les Paul for the money and where costs have been cut is the pickups, they feel cheap and plasticky and tonally a bit scratchy at high gain. I know its taste but I don’t like Alnico II magnets
they seem to middy to me. I prefer the fat warm majesty of an Alnico V magnet.

My first week of owning the guitar coincided with an audition for a female fronted rock band. The Traditional Pro 2 (long winded name eh?) held up tuning wise and sounded ok through the rented Blackstar amp.

When I joined a band a month later I found myself using my Telecaster as my main guitar. However the couple of rehearsals Ive done with the LP Trad Pro 2 have been good.

My next stage is too change the pickups out for some fatter sounding units. At this stage Bare Knuckle ‘Holy Divers’ are at the top of my wish list.

As these guitars ae a limited run, if your a UK consumer Id get one now. You may like the sound of the pickups, as all of these things are objective. But at these prices, they won’t hang around.

Goosoniqueworx 7thvn Distortion

July 15th, 2013

Goosoniqueworx 7thvn

In recent times Ive noticed the trend away from complex high powered multi channel switching amps and an increasing fashion for guitarists to instead have a pedalboard of varying levels of sophistication running into a single channel classic amp running loud and clean. One only has to spend a few minutes trawling websites like Huge Racks Inc and The Gear Page to see that this is the predominant fashion amongst many players who don’t have the resources to have multi amp rigs and a roadie down the Dog & Duck on a weds night blues jam.. I myself decided to go this way with my rig in 2012 after realising that I was fed up of running four cables between the guitar and amp and that it was a simpler rig to set up quickly on a busy stage.

2012 pedalboard

I put together my pedalboard in 2012 and although I didn’t manage to gig I was rehearsing with a band for several months and as much as I liked my choice of pedals, the main shortcomings were…

1:The weight, going on public transport with a pedalboard this size and weight was akin to carrying a car door around with you. I did have fun when I bumped into an arrogant commuter, it was a bit like a scene from the movie Gladiator…

2: I was never happy with my two choices of distortion, the Suhr Riot is a beautifully made pedal with the construction standards of a Swiss watch however tonally, it was rather knarly, It did cut through a mix well, but at the end of the day it didn’t sound like me.

In contrast my Blackstar HT-Dual 2 channel distortion sounded pretty much like the front end of a JCM2000 series Marshall (my former main amp for the last 10 years), with the added benefit of the ISF control to tighten up the low end. However it was on the whole rather over compressed and if Im being frank, its knobs and switches although robust were a bit cheap feeling. In order to make the controls stay in the same place, I had to rubber band them together. In rehearsals it would disappear in the mix with a cymbal tastic drummer and on the whole felt not up to it beyond living room use. On the plus side it took pedals well. being easily overdrivable by my Boss SD-1

I tried numerous Distortion pedals as a substitute, the most disappointing being the much hyped Bogner Ecstasy pedals, after an afternoon spent at Guitar Guitar in Epsom I hd high hopes for the Bogner, but the Ecstasy Red was on the whole too fizzy and lacking in serious low end to compete with either unit. It had so many controls and yet ran off a 9v-DC supply.

I had high hopes for the Wampler Plextortion, but I tried it against a modern Marshall Guv’nor plus and struggled to find why it was 3 times the price.

Then I saw a Youtube video of the Goosoniqueworx Seventh Heaven or in logo speak 7thvn.

Designed and built in Singapore by the wonderfully named Ravi Goose (a former guitar tech who spent some time in the Aerospace Industry) The Goosoniqueworx 7thvn is a small run boutique distortion being made in very small numbers and only sold in 3 guitar shops in the world at this time.

The 7thvn has a gain, volume and 3 band eq with a presence control like an amp. it has 2 choices of eq shape, or a presence or feedback control

Its most unusual aspect of its design is that it uses JFET (Joint Field Effect Transistor) circuit. Most 9 volt pedals are clipping diodes or in the HT Duals case an actual preamp with a valve based EQ.

The 7thvn on the other hand has a JFET circuit, which is actually very amp like. However it sounded rather mediocre at 9 Volts DC, but when I switched it to 12 v DC, it really came alive, tonally it was more transparent than the Blackstar, but had a full low end fatness than made it blow away the Bogner. It really made the guitar come alive and the switching was excellent.

My only complaint is that it isn’t really a 2 channel distortion, the red mode is high gain, however there is a huge disparity between gain stages, so the green channel sounded more like Peter Bucks Rickenbacker/AC30 tones on REMs Green than anything Ive ever heard. It wasn’t close enough to give the versatility of a Clean/Crunch/Lead set up which the Blackstar exceeded at so well. Its sort of a clean/low warm overdrive/hi gain rig. So I could imagine wanting to use another pedal for crunch tones.

Size wise its smaller than both the Bogner and Blackstar and as Im planning a smaller pedalboard with a smaller footprint, the 7thvn has earned its keep as my go to box for hi gain rock tones.

Price wise on grey import its about the same as the Bogner and its better made.

File under “worth checking out” if you can find one.

new smaller board

Modelling: Not Dead Yet…

September 26th, 2012

Line 6 AX2
A few years ago it seemed as if the whole future of guitar amps would change in a 1950 s science fiction style way with Line 6 s arrival into the marketplace in the late 90 s. Modelling technology offered users the chance to imitate famous amplifiers and effects by digital simulation, some of these simulations were better than others. But the versatility of the technology, coupled with affordable pricing was an exciting new development in a normally conservative landscape of valve based amplifiers.

By 2001 Modelling simulator amps were the buzzword in the industry with quite a few major artists using either the kidney bean shaped recording preamp, the now legendary POD or software processors like Amp Farm on major recordings. The popularity in modelling also coincided with the arrival of Nu Metal and the detuned Mesa Boogie rectifier tone being the guitar sound du jour.

The new modelling products all did a very passible impression of a Boogie Rectifier and so the Line 6 midrange of Spider amplifiers became very popular with young guitarists.
pod

About 10 years ago Line 6 and Fender were releasing mass market amps for the serious gigging guitarst, it seemed that the 2 x 12 combo format was the most obvious format for a modelling amp customer. The most likely market would be guys in cover bands who needed to cover a lot of tonal ground, or the player who simply wanted a lot of sounds in one box. Fenders Cybertwin and Line 6 s Duotone looked like the most promising contenders that would finally tempt away guitarists from their prehistoric valve amps. The versatility of sounds from one box would make channel switching amps redundant and….
Fender Cybertwin

In 2012 the biggest news in guitar amps are now the lightweight “Lunchbox” sized valve heads. Hughes & Kettner, Vox, Orange, Carvin. all make a compact lightweight low wattage valve head from 5-50 watts. As many musicians struggle with new UK legislation on noise and the rise in decibel activated powerbreakers, a generation of guitarists suddenly have realised that the big smoking Massive Marshall Stack in the corner might be too loud for their Sunday night blues set at the Dog & Duck
H&K Tubemeister 36

It appears that the great modelling amp wave never really caught on as far as Giggable amplifiers go. Nowadays many practice amps utilise modelling technology, but for the big 50 watt upwards head or combo?

The Fender Cyber series were actually very credible at sounding like classic Fender clean amps, but other sounds…..?

The Line 6 Duotone was a similar problem, a great clean sound, but the few times Ive seen these amps gigged, players have just used them as a single channel clean amp amd done the rest of the job with pedals. The same evergreen classic pedals people have used forever…

The Fender Cybertwin has had a handful of famous users, Steve Winwood and the Guitarist from Doves. But aside from that big names have generally stayed away. Phil Collen from Def Leppard is rumoured to used the Fender Cybertwin v2 as his impromptu go to small gig amp. But I imagine he s the only guitarist with such an overcompressed FX drenched tone to truly take advantage of the Cybertwins potential.

Cyber Deluxe

I recently bought the Cybertwins little brother the Fender Cyber Deluxe 65 as a house amp I wanted something small lightweight and powerful enough for a small gig or jam session as it was small had a lot of clean headroom and some lovely Fender Twin type clean tones in a compact and lightweight package. The Cyber Deluxe used to sell for £799 new, although its rrp was nearer a grand so I was amazed to pick a box fresh one up for £200 recently. Whole there are some nice Fender Twin and Deluxe Reverb type tones it does do a passible impression of a Vox AC30 warm overdriven tone (Think Peter Buck on REMs ‘Green’).

The Fender Cyber Deluxe has 2 big problems, which from what Ive read on internet forums from unhappy users it shares with big brother The Fender Cybertwin…

1: Its got a crappy user interface and comes with a manual the size of a telephone book. Endless possibilities do not neccesarily make a useable amp. Its a guitar amp, not the Space Shuttle.

2: the power amp stage is simply not credible for serious amateur or pro use, its so impervious to electrical interferance. Ive picked up quite a lot of strange buzzing sounds from my various neighbours washing machines, drills and (possibly) sex toys in a way that my old valve combo and heads never did. I once owned a beat to shit 1970s Marshall that was fond of certain Taxi Radios in Nottingham, but it was falling apart, not a supposed great leap forward in technology.

I dont mind this as I paid peanuts for the amp but if Id splashed a grand on one…….Id be pretty pissed off.

In a way this has been the problem with modelling amps. the manufacturers agenda seems to have been to sell us something that was cheaper and less labour intensive for them to build than a multi channel valve head and yet they wanted to charge us the same money for it? Anyone who spanked £1300 on a new fangled Fender Cybertwin in 2002 would struggle to get £350 for it now, wheras if they d bought a plexi reissue head they d still be able to get at least half its value back used.

Line 6 have recently teamed up with boutique valve amp guru Rheinhold Bogner to rectify this and are now making a top end of amps The DT series with a software front end teamed with a Valve power stage, but this combination of technology means the combo s are incredibly heavy, back breakingly so. Once again if your a musician without a crew, do you really want to move a 42 kilo combo amp with a software driven preamp into your old Volvo at the end of a gig? Fender and H&K have all but discontinued their serious gigging modelling amps. Marshall make a software driven Valve amp the JMD-1, but y know Ive never seen one on a stage yet. Ive never seen a big name use one…

Fractal Axe FX

But as that side of modelling technology appears to be dying off another is growing, the all in one modelling pre amp FX system. companies like Fractal audio with the Axe FX2 and Digidesigns ElevenRack have taken off with a younger generation of musicians not so tied to tradition, the ‘Djent’ movement in metal guitar seems to have been internet based and started from young guitarists using PODs and communicating their ideas over the net and forming bands. quite a few big names have started using software pre amp systems like Deftones Steph Carpenter. Australian band Dead letter Circus have had a hit album in the US that was soley tracked using a Fractal Axe FX 2. Their modernist textural approach to guitars seems perfect for this type of rig.

In addition the Kempler Profiling amp offeredd users the chance to store their own rigs and amp collections digitally and modify them to taste, with massive improvements in processors in the last decade, the future looks bright.

But if one glances at the myriad range of equipment on the indie band photoblog “OtherBandsStuff” the most popular peice of equipment across every band and every genre by far is a modelling pedal, the now legendary Line 6 DL4 delay modeller pedal. Launched in 2000 this has remained in constant production and can be found on many pedalboards, including my own, its list of users range from people who play toilet gigs to stadium heroes.
Its secret is not that it sounds exactly like a Roland 301 tape echo, more that it has a wide range of musical useful sounds and is easy to use.

Line 6 DL4 a popular choice

Perhaps this is the magic bullet for all modelling equipment, build something affordable that sounds good with a simple user interface and they will come.

Revamping the Pedalboard 2012

April 10th, 2012

onstage at a gig

Between 2001 and 2011, my rig was pretty much the same. I used a 3 channel Marshall JCM2000 60 or 100watt head into a 4 x 12 cab, My only effects were a cry baby wah, Boss tuner and a Boss overdrive or laterlly a RAT 2 pedal for solos. On the amps FX loop I would use a delay, in my last band this eventually became 2 delays a Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeller and a TC Electronics Novadelay, sometimes these would be synched together for rythmic passages. I banged the whole lot into an Electro Harmonix Pedalbag which was lightweight and reasonably durable.

The rig was fine, it sounded good and was fairly reliable, The JCM2000 tsl 60 is quite a quiet amp in terms of a Marshall head. So I was able to drive her quite hard at gigs and get that mix of front and rear end distortion, but the big problem playing gigs was the sheer amount of cables to worry about. Even after I had a dedicated FX loop send/return cable made by a friend. There was still the consideration of running cables to a pedalboard as well as the FX send/return, besides that, the TSL’s 5 way footcontroller also had its own dedicated cable attached to it, and that did like to go wrong quite often. So thats 5 cables to worry about. The rigging time was a a pain in the arse, if you were on a 5 band bill, as soon as you had the otherbands gear onstage it was like being trapped in a bowl of pasta. it was just awful. Id gone through a Marshall tsl 5 way controller every 2 years. The amp is great, but the footswitch not so.

So the thought of playing a gig and having to worry about 5 cables failing got to me.

When I had a break from bands 2009-2010 I wasn’t worried. I played guitar occasionally at home and it was no hassle.

However when I started to think about gigging again. I began to reconsider my whole rig. I really wanted to go down the route of a combo amp, maybe something single channel, keep it and let the pedals give me distortion and overdrive tones. But I wanted a pedalboard that would be ready to just plug in and go, no messing, no fuss, no endless power supply issues or cable problems.

Along the way I sold my TC Electronics Novadelay, it sounded great but the pedals multifunctionality was clumsy and awkward and meant I often changed presets by accident onstage. So it had to go.

I replaced this with a EHX #1 Echo, which always sounded good and transparent in my amps fx loop. But as soon as I started to use it directly with other pedals it just seemed to suck tone once distortion was added.

The main consideration was generating amplifier quality distortion, I had intended to use my Trusty Sansamp TRI AC, however this seemed inconsistant from amp to amp. It sounded great into my brothers Marshall JCM800 and we’d had good results both into a desk direct or running it into Random Studios Mesa Studio 22 combo, but in a modern Marshall it was awful, just tinny and buzzy.

After some searching I tried the Blackstar HT Dual. This basically gave me a Marshall JCM2000 front end in a small box. I was sold. The ISF voicing control allowed me to tighten up the low end which i thought would be invaluable if I had to plug into an unfamiliar amp. The fact I could actually overdrive the front end with a Boss overdrive like a real valve amp was a big selling point. Im not sure the HT is a pure valve circuit, but if the shoe fits wear the sucker….I settled on a Clone of a Keeley SD1 and its been great.

Blackstar HT 5

After trying out a few delays without being inspired. I chanced upon and settled on the Line 6 M5 multi FX stompbox, this gave me access to all the line 6 modeller pedal tones in a simple to use format with 24 user defineable presets. One minute it could be a secondary delay, the next a reverb or tremelo pedal, chorus etc etc…

pedalboard Sept 11

In a bit to get away from Marshall JCM2000 type tones tried a John Suhr Riot Pedal and besides being knocked out by it workmanship and build quality. I decided it was different enough to compliment the Blackstar, after rehearsing with a new band, I realised the Blackstars hi gain channel was a bit over compressed with a noisy band so the Riot gave me high gain with added prescence at the top end to cut through the mix.

Suhr Riot

The big headache for me was wondering how to power it all in total I had 7 devices on the board. 4 of those basic traditional 9volt-DC pedals, but the Line 6 pedals are both digital and hi drain, the Blackstar is 18 volts AC at 800 MA?

Looking around I was expecting to have to buy 2 different varieties of Voodoo Lab Pedalpower(s). But even then Id still have struggled and possibly had to run one or more device on a wallplug. The whole idea of this was that I could turn up, drop the board on the stage plug a guitar in at one end, into an amp at the other and just plug in one mains plug in. No messing.

Enter the CIOKS AC10

CIOKS AC10

The AC10 is probably the best “all in one” power solution on the market. Its able to handle valve based AC pedals as well as high drain digital devices as well as your commonal garden 9v boxes. A quick email to the delightful Poul Ciok explaining my rig was returned 35 mins later with a complete guide to setting up the AC10 and what cables to use.

Then theres the question of the board?

In the end I opted for a Pedaltrain 2, its 2 foot by 1 foot dimension seemed to offer me the same level of space as the EHX Gigbag, rather than use the supplied velcro I went for a variation of 3Ms Dual Lock adhesive (basically a posh hook and loop fastener).

All in all Im pleased, the Line 6 DL4 did have a habit of falling off, but by rebonding it with smaller sections of dual lock and combining that with cable ties, its now firmly seated. The AC10 offers enough flexibility in its design to allow for a radical retweaking of the board.

Soundwise. Im pleased. I still sound like me, but the M5 gives me more flexibility and also its not been too difficult getting used to it all. I bought a Planet Waves cable kit and cut the cables to size for the cleanest signal path possible.

The main issue with this board has been deciding when to stop, at one point I was going to isolate the modulation and delay effects on their own loop, using a Robert Keeley FX Loop pedal. But there was simply not enough space for cables to do it cleanly. The there was the added headache of powering…….

Here is the finished project

finished

Line 6 M5: The Worlds First Multi Purpose Single Stompbox

October 25th, 2011

Modelling Technology is a very weird carrot to chew on, in the conservative world of most guitarists, change can be a dirty word.

Line 6 launched the first modelling amp in 1996. They were shortly followed by others such as Johnson (an amp tech arm of Digitech), then veteran amp firms like Vox, Fender and Hughes & Kettner all followed.

Computer Modeling in simple terms attempts to recreate the unique characteristics of say a guitar, synth, stompbox or amplifier. Early Line 6 products used digital modeling to emulate the signature tone of a guitar amp/speaker combination. Some of these models were more successful than others. Line 6′s breakthrough product was the POD, a simple pre amp processor that arrived just as cheap home recording on computers took off. The red kidney bean gave good enough tones for most applications and in the compressed environment of digital audio, nuances didnt seem to matter. Also it had a USB interface so recording in a hurry was made far simpler. POD and its Pro Tools plug in software cousin “Amp Farm” made it over to countless hit records. But in a live environment with a loud drummer, many felt the PODs sounds just didn’t cut the mustard live.

pod

Modelling Amplifiers are an interesting case in point. In the early 2000 Fender and Hughes & Kettner both launched premium end guitar amps for the pro guitarist. The Fender Cybertwin and the H&K Zentera. But by and large guitarists saw them as nothing more than sophisticated (and fiddly to use) multi FX platforms coupled to transistor power amps and stayed away. Fender Cybertwins probably have the highest depreciation of any guitar amp ever made. A Fender Cybertwin 2 combo was just shy of £2000 retail at its launch, now you can pick one up in the classifieds for around the £350.00 mark. H&K’s Zentera was endorsed by none other than Rush’s Alex Lifeson, he toured the amps, although they were secondary devices to his main valve powered H&K Triamp rig, but by 2007 he’d moved onto the all singing Switchblade valve amps. The H&K Switchblade advertising in US guitar magazines declared modelling amps dead.

The latest modelling amps launched by Line 6 and Marshall feature a valve power stage behind the software preamps, and again the pro guitarists are largely staying away. The accepted wisdom seems to be that the amps of the future will likely be hybrids with a mixture of modeling, valve and mosfet transistor technology. But no one seems to have made this package into a Classic product with the staying power of a JCM800…yet.

line 6 dl4

While Modeling technology has somewhat struggled in the amp market, with regard to effects pedals, its become highly successful. Perhaps the one classic stompbox of the last decade is the Line 6 Delay Modeler DL-4. If you watch many gigs or see live music on TV, you’ll see these curious green boxes on the pedalboards of most touring guitarists in many or any genres. The reason for the DL-4 and to some extent its modelling tech siblings (MM-4= Modulation/DM-4= Distortion, less successful perhaps/FM-4= Filter) is a combination of sound quality, functionality and price. I myself bought a DL-4 back in 2000 and its been with me ever since as my primary delay unit. Even the hotrodders like Robert Keeley and newer guns like Cubist and Drasp (whats with these fucking Americans has everyone gotta sound like a Rapper????) have gotten in on the action. Robert Keeley does some audio modifications for a cleaner tone while the others offer built in expression pedal mods and extra preset functionality as well as new LEDs and a respray.

drasp built DL4

Which brings us back to the Line 6 M5. What you get here is a pedal in a steel chassis with 6 dials and 2 footswitches, dimensions wise its about the same as a Big muff, so not too small, but not massive either. Theres stereo In//Out and also a socket for an expression pedal as well as Midi In/out too.

Line 6 M5

Looks wise the M5 is the little brother to the Line 6 multi FX units M13 and M9, but while these units all offer Line 6′s FX modeling technology on a programmable unit offering combinations of effects. The M5′s shtick is that it only offers ONE effect at a time, no combinations, just one flange or chorus, delay, reverb or Leslie simulation.

At first this idea seems quite mad, but then you learn that it can have 24 different individual presets selected from 100 different effects in and it soon makes sense. Most people do not have infinite amounts of space on a pedalboard. My own used to consist of a few evergreen classics (tuner, 2 delays, overdrive & wah wah and my amps channel switcher. Even with modest amounts of effects, its possible to run out of room very quickly (The American guitar magazines call this “real estate”). The M5′s genius is that its simple to use and the effects are all pretty high quality. What if you need an MXR phase 90 for the intro to one song, or a Boss Chorus for just an intro to another ??????….the M5 really is a simple, but clever idea. It has true bypass, but I didn’t detect any tone sucking issues in the context of my board.

The manual and the user guide to the M5′s models are well written and highly readable, giving you the starting platform for each of its 100 effects.


Sounds

Within a couple of hours use Id programmed up a very nice “Portishead” style tremelo effect, plus a few filter and chorus effects as well as a couple of Edge style rythmic 450ms delays. Soundwise these simulations (models) are a generation beyond the DL-4/MM-4 type sounds so some fx seem to work better than others. I actually found I could tweak one of the delay presets slightly better to my taste on my 11 year old war torn DL-4 than on the M5, despite the DL-4 having no display. Im not sure why I preferred the sound on the older unit, it could be a change in software, EPROM chip or just my ears. But aside from this one sound it was an amazing unit. The digital display is pretty clear to read. Although naming presets is slightly fiddly if your in a hurry.

There are various compression and distortion type effects on offer, but as most people will be using this unit as a substitute for a modulation/delay or reverb unit I didn’t explore these in detail. Also Ive yet to see any guitarist convincingly use the gold Line 6 DM-4 Distortion modeler beyond the U2 wannabees of the Christian Rock set, who essentially need various artificial sounding overdrives..

Switching
Basically the footswitch left control is FX on/off, the right footswitch is tap/tempo for delay. Push both together and you go into preset mode and use the two pedals to scroll up and down to get to your choice. Pushing both again takes you out of preset mode and into the unit being a single function pedal. The top left dial is push downb to save functions and scroll through, wheras the other buttons just affect values.

This has become easier over time and Im now confident that I could gig this unit without any issue.

Conclusion
Pricewise this has to be a brilliant buy. With most single use pedals coming in at well over £100 these days. At £169 street this seems very good value. If I hadn’t have bought this unit I was looking at a TC Electronics Chorus/Flanger+ costing £80 more in its own right.

The only downside I see in terms of use is the power supply issue ( Its 9v-DC at 500MA), if you’ve already got a Line 6 modeller on your board then these milliamp hungry units will give you problems powering both on the average generic multi purpose FX power supply. Voodoo Labs do make a few different units, but until the fabled (and still delayed by tech issues) Voodoo Labs ‘Digital’ Power Supply (Designed for high drain devices like Eventide Timefactor/Line 6 Stompboxes/ TC Nova pedals) hits the market you may have to do with the supplied PSU. Im tempted to investigate the GigRigs Generator system, but again always check with a tech before you plug anything third party in or you’ll fuck your warranty. Line 6 are pretty arsey about you using their PSU only so please please please buyer beware.

Im not sure the M5 will achieve the modern classic status of the Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeler, but in terms of useability, functionality, simplicity and price. Its a clear winner and a very clever piece of design. Most people will already own a selection of favourite stompboxes, this unit just plugs the gaps in your sonic palette and does so very well.