A Tonal Journey and Methodology

Pedalboard 2008

Im Jez……Im a….. a guitarist.

Ive been playing since I was 11, gigging from 17 onwards and for much of that time, like many guitarists Ive been on a quest for the perfect tone.

But Im also a pragmatist. Ive not lived the life of a Rock Star, there are no roadies or private jets for me. My equipment has to work and work hard. Ive always demanded maximum versatility from my set ups and also reliability. The kit I buy has to work…..RELIABILITY!!!!!

In the last studio project I worked on (the Heroes of Switzerland album), Ian and myself used the following amps we collectively owned

Marshall JMP 100 head
Marshall TSL100 head
Marshall DSL100 head
Sansamp Tri AC preamp
Plus Ians sizeable collection of boutique pedals and his Boss ME-10

We also borrowed…

Vox AC30
Mesa Studio 22 combo
Mesa DC-5 Combo
Coopersonics Audio Distortions

Now thats a lot of tones available to use.

HoS recording commitee Sept 2006

Live however, we both used Marshalls. Ian started off with a JMP100 and a 2 x 12, running the ME10 in the front, but as he decided to move towards a more natrualistic guitar tone he later switched to a JVM410 head and 4 x 12, resigning the ME-10 for modulation and delay effects duties in the loop.

Live my rig changed during my time in the band. I’d started off with a TSL60 head and 4 x 12 and bought a TSL 100 on a whim, While the TSL100 had a slightly better clean tone and a brilliant crunch channel, I found the lead channel somewhat overgained and fizzy. But the big issue was the FX loop, it put a film around the tone as soon as it was engaged, even with no devices in the loop. Live it was noticable as soon as it was engaged. Wheras the 60′s seemed perfectly crystaline no matter if it was on or off.

After an experiment with using a DSL in rehersal led to much frustration. I went back to what Id owned previously.

By 2008 my rig was as follows

Guitar—–Cry Baby Wah Wah—–TU2 tuner—-RAT 2 (for solo’s)—–TSL60 (2 delays on the FX loop, my trusty green Line 6 Delay modeller and the brilliant, but badly laid out TC Electronics Novadelay) then out of the power stage into a Marshall 4 x 12

After I’d exited the band in Dec 2008 I decided to have some time away from the guitar. Now in Oct 10, Im starting to feel an itch to try and maybe play again.

One of the big plus’s of having time away from the guitar is that when you return it makes you come back to things with fresh ears. My early 20′s rig evolved out of my teenage set-up. Basically a multi fx pedal into a combo, with a secondary delay on the back end and a good quality Distortion pedal and my trusty 20 year old cry Baby Wah wah on the front end. Ive always found the distortions in Multi FX’s to be useless for a solid rock tone. So I would use them for either warm overdrive tones or special FX, feedback type things etc. The primary distortion device would usually be either a original Mark 1 Marshall Guv’nor, Marshall Drivemaster or Pro Co RAT 2. Every band I played in from 19-24 had a keyboard player and I found this to be a useful way to be versatile and it fitted nicely on compact stages. I build the whole rig into a board and it was quick and easy to set up.

Coming back to my 2008 rig, there were issues

1: Its big, a head and a 4 x 12 take up space and unless your standing 15 feet away from it you never get near the sweet spot. Wheras the sweet spot on a 2 x 12 combo is about 9 feet from the amp.

1a: Its difficult to store especially in a small flat.

2: FX loop and cables, theres lots with the amp footswitch and FX loop, more cables means more shit to go wrong.

3: Its not easily adaptable for others. At the very least Im playing a 3 band bill, sometimes 5-6 bands on and off one after another with no soundcheck, your tripping over each other, shit gets damaged and or broken.

4: Sharing gear, Ive lost count of the number of times Ive had to lend my gear to some pasty faced indiekid, they are always ungrateful and surely, but if you don’t you’ll get slagged off and people will think you are difficult. This is compounded by them trying to negotiate a 3 channel amp with several ways of controlling gain and volume. Sometimes I had to help them with getting a basic clean and dirty tone, showing them how the footswitch worked and perhaps adjusting their guitar strap.

This last issue has put me off gigging the indie circuit quite frankly. Im a rock guitarist, not a special needs teacher. I find this amateurism quite an English affliction. A hangover from Punk and the wanker journalists of whats left of the weekly press.

So my feelings are now that I want to work towards a simpler rig.

My first step was to remove the TC Delay, which thanks to a uk price hike meant I sold it on without losing money and I’ll probably replace that with either a Boss DD-3 or a MXR Carbon Copy, the TC was just too fiddly to use live, whoever designed the user interface has never gigged, every time I tried to change the presets I changed the tempo and viz a viz.

Ive used my Sansamp TRI AC as a backup rig with the TSL and its programmed up with a similar set of tones. So my simple live rig would have been

Electric Guitar—Cry baby Wah—TU-2 tuner–RAT2—Sansamp TRI AC—-Line6 DL-4—-simple delay——–into a single channel 2 x 12 combo running loud and clean.

With a decent pedalboard, this would be a simple and highly effective rig. Also if I had to borrow an amp, it would mean consistancy. If someone needed to borrow mine, it would be simple for them and me.

My basic idea was to use my Sansamp and RAT pedals for distortion and then direct into the 2 delays then into the amp.

So far so good.

In terms of a shopping list. My thoughts were in Staying with Marshall. I love VOX AC30′s I really do, but in terms of consistancy and reliability they have a long way to go, Ive not tried a chinese made one. But I prefer the devil you know. So that really means a Marshall, I loathe Fender amps tonally and didn’t fancy spanking £600 on a beat up Fender Twin.

JCM 800 combos are becoming pricey now, as are bluesbreaker reissues so its either a 900 or a more recent Vintage Modern combo.

So today I tried a VM2266C combo out and…

Marshall VM2266C

To say I was underwhelmed is something of an understatement. It sounded ok in terms of being a clean amp, the mid boost just muddied the sound. When I switched to the higher dynamic range though…..It just sounded awful. I know Marshall amps were based on Fender designs and they didnt switch over to EL-34 tubes til 66, but….

I just thought it was unuseable for me. I think that people will buy them and its a good concept, but not for me.

So this leaves me back at square 1 again……

Perhaps the TSL60 is just the devil I know, it has its shortcomings, I need more gain on the crunch channel and a mid boost on that would be handy too to make the crunch more useable…. but on a loud stage it does deliver. Id like to mod it, but here in the UK most people only mod older simpler designs, so my dream TSL is unlikely.

One interesting aspect of this is that the JCM2000 series is still on sale, yet the JVM and Vintage Modern are well established amps now. The JCM900 was out of production quite quickly after the 2000 series introduction. Yet here we are several years later and the 2000 series shows no sign of being discontinued. Perhaps that answers my question regarding the success of both the VM and JVM.