Revamping The Rig

After having not gigged for over 2 years now. Im now relocated, rejuvinated and feeling the itch to play live again. This has also been compounded by moving in with my girlfriend. So with domestic issues of space at the forefront of my mind Ive had a rethink about my gear recently.

I guess my main amps for the last decade have been Marshall JCM2000 TSL heads with a 4 x 12 (in both 60watt and 100 watt varieties). The plus side of the TSL has been its ability to give me both an impressive jangly clean and a choice of modern hard rockin crunch type sound. However nothing is ever ideal, while the 60watt version has a brilliant transparent and footswitchable FX loop, channel 2 is on the whole rather undergained.

The 100 watt version has seperate EQ’s and master volumes for each channel, also the 100 watt has an awful 2 loop FX design that sucks tone from the amp in a rather blatant way.
tsl 100
The good thing about the TSL 100 is that all 3 channels are very useable, the channel 2 is basically a JCM800 sound, while Channel 3 is a little fizzy, but as I never run my gain beyond 1 o’ clock, its a perfectly usable beast, the mid-boost control on the clean channel has always been impressive, especially with my telecasters vintage style neck single coil.

But in a modern new build apartment space is paramount, so the head and 4 x 12 cab idea is gone for now. Sold to a lovely bloke in a hard rock covers band.

With the cash burning a hole in my back pocket, I made a decision to return to the 2 x 12 combo format.

In some ways the 2 x 12 combo is actually much better for smaller gigs. While a 4 x 12 cab with its air sealed back is very directional in its output, plus you don’t really get the sweet spot tonally unless your about 15 feet from the rig. A 2 x 12 combo on the other hand with its exposed back gives a nice even spread of volume across a much wider area, the sweet spots probably only 8 or 9 feet away from the amp. Theres also a psychological advantage when dealing with sound engineers, with its global master volume a TSL60 must be about the most quietest head Marshall currently make, but the sight of such a huge rig always encouraged the majority of sound engineers to tell me to turn it down. Often before I’d even played a note. I’d say the TSL60 was very much a sheep in wolfs clothing

With the decision made on a combo, there was then the question of which one?

At one point i’d decided to go for a single channel amp and just use pedals to get my sound. This would make for less cables and less time on setting up and breaking down. I’d seen some video footage of the band Fiction Plane (featuring son of Sting Joe Sumner) playing live in a club in Holland, their guitarist Seton Daunt seemed to have a very versatile rig consiting of a Vox AC30 or Two Rock head & Cab being fed from a comprehensive pedalboard made up for various Pete Cornish,Pro Co, Sansamp, Eventide and Dunlop pedals. Stylistically he seemed to go between Edge like textures and Frusciante type clean sounds. With the odd heavy moment thrown in. I could see that his solution was useful. Less cable and less faffing around.

Ampwise I was wary of Vox AC30′s. I did play a gig with one once in 1992 and it sounded heavenly, but I’ve heard so many things over the years about “reliability” that I had my concerns. The AC30 Heroes of Switzerland borrowed to make our album was a 1960′s one that had been extensively rebuilt. So again even with the new chinese made AC30′s coming onto the market at very affordable prices I wasn’t sure.

My next thought was a single channel amp like a JCM800 combo or even a 900, 800′s are becoming stupidly priced and I was unsure about finding a decent one. So I even looked at the Vintage Modern series amps by Marshall. But after trying one out I was underwhelmed. I love the look of the Bluesbreaker combo’s but again I wasn’t sure it’d do what I asked of it.

Blackstar Series One

I then got to try a Blackstar series One 45 watt combo, which I liked, although the control knobs felt a bit cheap, it did sound good, but new they are like a grand. My Budget was £600. no more

I went to see the Cult with a friend of mine last month and during our pre gig pint I reflected over my choices. My friend (who’s a bass player) basically thought I’d gotten a great sound out of Marshalls over the last 10 years so why change. He felt the only time I had a bad sound was when I went down the rackmounted route about 15 years ago, when I was “trying to have a rig that was all things to all men”.

With that in mind I returned to the idea of the Marshall TSL, but this time in combo format. The Marshall TSl 122 is essentially a TSL100 built into a 2 x 12 cab. Theres usually a fair amount of them in the classifieds and Ebay. Prices range from around £450-700 depending on age and condition. I bought a cleanish one on Ebay for £450.00

New Rig with TSL 122

The big problem with this is basically putting such a huge amp chassis into such a small cab. They weigh around 30+ Kilo’s so its not an amp for the faint hearted. In terms of playing round the house even with the master volume on 1, this is screamingly loud dumping its 100 + watts of sheer power into 2 x 8 Ohm Celestions, also the lack of space for the tubes in such a cabinet means it gets very hot, much hotter than the equivalent head as I recall.

My first thoughts on this amp are that I need to go back to using an Overdrive pedal as it doesn’t seem to like the Pro Co RAT 2 I was using for solo’s before, so my immediate thoughts are towards a Boss SD-1 or similar, maybe a Keeley modified one?

I’d also like to add a compressor pedal to the rig and maybe a chorus/flanger of some description. But my immediate thoughts are towards a new pedalboard. My Electro Harmonix Gigbag style has been ok, but in reality offers little protection and the pedals simply do not bond to velcro pads easily.

I’ll update when Im gigging next.

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.

Tonebone Classic Distortion

Buy the Tonebone Classic Distortion at Zzounds

Radial’s Tonebone range are all over the press at the moment with some pretty big user names (Vivian Campbell, Neal Schon, Steve Lukather, Kirk Hammett, the beardie guy who plays with Genesis etc etc).

I recently spent an evening with the award winning Tonebone Classic pedal, many cans of lager and 2 fellow guitarists (my brother Dom & our friend Nigel). We plugged a MIJ 62′ Strat reissue into the bone and then nto the clean channel of a Marshall JCM2000 head & 4 X 12. Heres whats happened.

The Classic is well made and has a basic level, Gain, treble, bass and a contour control, plus 3 mini switches controlling the EQ frequency curve and the level of gain. Its generally designed to give you that nice sweet Classic Rock Overdrive distortion. Y’know a JTM45/Hi-Watt kinda crunch

Passing the guitar around we got some quite nice sounds….I’ll repeat that again…..some quite nice sounds….. As this is the Classic pedal Nigel went off on a Diamond Head rifforama that made us all chuckle, I played the outro to ‘Who’s Crying Now’ by Journey. Meanwhile Dom gave it some Knopfleresque lead lines and……… it sounded ok nothing was earth shattering or award winning though. When playing staccato lines you could hear the preamp tube sag a little. It sounded organic yes and it was reasonably low noised given that we were playing a strat with stock pickups.

The problem here was that we were playing at sensible volume levels, so nothing the Tonebone did really cut the mustard. We got a nice creamy classic rock overdrive, but nothing better than a pro co RAT pedal, we got a nice lift to an already distorted amp, but nothing you couldnt get out of a Ibanez Tubescreamer or a Boss Super Overdrive.

Nigel was cynical of the 15Volt adaptor giving ther circuit enough juice in the first place. But it sounded okay…..not amazing…..or award winning…..but okay.

The problem is that this pedal costs £170 and I’ve just been comparing it to overdrive distortion pedals costing half as much.

I see what there trying to do, but if your spending this sort of money on organic valve tones with a traditional bite I’d personally go for the Coopersonic Twin overdrive this has had some good reviews and my experience of this was in the studio when I recorded some parts of the HoS album back in 2006, its far more convincing, sounds better, is better made and while lacking fancy endorsees. I think you’ll find it does what it says on the tin with far more aplomb.

The Classic’s manual was a triumph of marketing over common sense, it claimed that it was impossible to get a band sound out of it. Sorry Radial, Nigel found one very quickly and boy it sounded horrible as I played the intro to Journeys ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ if the knobs are turned the right way. Which begs the question, if you throw more money at Marketing and PR than on the actual design and technology, what gets you awards and endorsees????

I wouldn’t write Radial’s valve pedal concept off, the Plexitube and Hot British pedals look like they could be worthwhile. But I’m not sure who this pedal is aimed at. A studio would want something that sounds versatile & convincing at lower volume levels. A gigging guitarist may as well buy a cheaper overdrive unit. The price is Boutique, but I’m not convinced that the sounds are.

File under dissapointing


(my thanks to Nigel for the loan of the pedal)
Buy the Tonebone Classic Distortion at Zzounds


Now even though I play guitar in a band associated with Shoegazing it may suprise you I hardly use any effects…..thats right, a wah wah for a bit of tone shaping, a Pro Co Rat II for solo’s and a bit of echo and thats it for me… many a Gourmet Chef would only use a few simple ingredients to cook with, in order to preserve the flavour of meat or fish. I follow suit and let the tone come from my fingers and the amp. Some guitarists I know sprinkle FX everywhere like Domino Pizza Chefs going mad…piling on dollops of Chorus/Flange and phasing to the point you can hardly hear the original note…..good luck to em, but its not for me.

However I do like a good Echo unit.

Probably the most successful FX pedal of the last decade has been the Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeller. For around £200.00 you got a great delay with a myriad of amazing echoes…………

Now I don’t buy into the idea that modelling works and I don’t think for a minute that the modelled tones of the Line 6 sound remotely like those of a Boss DD-3, Roland Space Echo or EHX Memory Man plus or anything else it claims to emulate.

However it doesn’t matter, the sounds themselves are very useable and the DL-4 has quickly found itself the mainstay of many a touring professional or weekend warriors pedalboard. I bought one myself in 2000 and aside from the tap/tempo button falling off somewhere outside the Buffalo Bar in Islington, ownership has generally been a hassle free experience.

Now recently I’ve found myself needing another delay unit as the nature of my bands music changes and we add to and consolidate the sound. I did try a Marshall Echohead a while back, which is amazing and incredibly cheaply priced, but it seemed a bit “classic rock” maybe.

I then bought a Boss-DD3 off Ebay last year,but it had a fault and I got a refund. It was 50 quid used and seemed ok. But heres my beef…..

Roland have just released the “Space Echo” as a COSM modelling pedal. It probably won’t sound like an Original RE-201 or 301 Space Echo but I bet it’ll be useable and have a range of delays to get you excited, yet there like £120.00 excluding mains adaptor and thats a lot of pedal for the money.

Boss DD-3′s are around £84 new. So for less than £40 more your getting twice the functionality and twice the pedal. It seems mad. Out in retail land there are loads of cheap affordable and excellent didgital delay units that all outspec the DD-3 in a heartbeat. Line 6, Digitech,Marshall, Yamaha etc….all have a delay pedal under or around £100… do people still actually buy the DD-3???? If so………….. Why???

I know its an evergreen classic used on many a hit record, but surely the time has come for Roland to make it really cheap like they have with the SD-1 Super Overdrive. Come on Roland, Time marches on…you make it in China now to save money…so bring the price down;)

Jeztone Pedalboard sometime in 2005

Conservative Guitarists discuss using Whacky Pedals Horror?????????



I was trawling through some web forums the other day, when I came across a conversation between 2 guitarists about Zachary Vex Pedals.  This was of no suprise as in these sonically diverse times, ZVex have managed to corner a market in Zany out there boutique FX pedals. A friend of mine bought a Seek Wah a few years ago and it came in a handpainted box with half a dozen sweets and a girls hairband. The noise it made was… shall we say….out there. But I was impressed.

My personal favourite however is the Nano Head, roughly the size of a Hamster it manages to be an all valve guitar head with monster Marshallesqe tones and powerful enough to drive a 4 x 12 cab. The all valve signal path uses old stock millitary valves from the guidance system of a Pershing missile. A Sonic Weapon indeed.

Yeah Zacary Vex is a sonic mentalist allright, and reading the comments on the webforum of these two players discussing how it might sound, I reckoned these guitarists must be doing some pretty out there things and noticing a link to one of the players bands, out of curiosity I decided to check out their Myspace page.

How wrong I was:(

Without mentioning any names to protect the innocent, why anyone plying their trade in what appears to be a sub grunge Christian Rock band, would need a ZVex pedal for is beyond me. Its like Cliff Richard going to a sex shop to buy a big rubber dildo.

I concluded that this fella was buying a ZVex pedal simply so he could say he had one…..a strange sort of Penis substitute perhaps?

I remember a few years ago playing a support gig at the Toby Jug in Doncaster to a Blues Rock band. The Bass Player had a pedalboard the size of the Ark Royal with various Fuzz’s Overdrives, Delays and a Whammy pedal. As I watced their set expecting to hear all manner of spaced out Funk noise. I noticed the Bass player just playing Root 8th notes with a dry signal to a decidedly unimaginative set. Later on I found out this guy worked in a music shop and most of the pedalboard was “stock” and “open to negotiation”.