Thursday, May 31, 2012


Well, again it's been a while since I posted. Much has been going on- my wife and I had another boy, Gatsby, and we're proud to announce that he's big, healthy, and happy. I've also been continuing to work on the Yamaha SX 850, and I've been steadily growing my pedal board with new purchases and some original builds. All these are things I've been posting about over the past year, but today I'd like to promote my band; we just released our first EP, and we're pretty excited about it. We're called American Dirt, and we play what might best be described as 'garage country.' Its an honest American rock and roll band influenced by everyone from Neil Young to Nirvana. You can stream and/or buy our record on our website by visiting our LINK. I'll get a new pedal board post up soon along with an update on the SX, but for now, go rock out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


PICKING up where I left off, we'll start with my signal booster...


The Micro Amp is a signal booster, first and foremost, and it does a fantastic job. Basically, by running it before all the rest of my pedals, I get a sparkle that none of my effects have on their own- put another way, it makes my pedals sound more like themselves, I guess. The Micro Amp is also extremely useful as a volume boost for jumping over the mix during a solo, and when it's dimed it creates a crunchy rhythm overdrive that shimmers like crazy but cleans up nicely for bright, sustained lead tones when used with my compressor.

I bought this pedal for 40 bucks brand new on CL, and that was a steal... the guy who sold it to me had bought it thinking it was a distortion pedal, and then decided to sell it after using it once. Even at the higher retail price, I'd say it's pretty essential, especially for a smaller board, because it provides a lot of versatility both on its own and in conjunction with other pedals. It's an MXR, so you can't go wrong there in terms of quality craftsmanship and overall bulletproofness. Also, I dig the white, slightly textured box.

I have few complaints, but when it IS cranked, it gets pretty noisy (especially with a compressor set high as well), but I don't really see how that could be avoided... I'd like to see how it works with a noise clamp like the Smart Gate, also by MXR... That might be a purchase I'll be making soon. Also, I wish MXR would stop putting their 9v DC jacks on the side rather than at the top of the box. It makes running a daisy chain a huge pain in the ass. But whatever.  All in all, this pedal is one of the most integral parts of my board and my sound overall.


This was the first distortion pedal I bought, and I picked it solely on a Gearmandude review on youtube. I really had no idea what type of distortion I wanted, and I was intrigued by the fuzzy roar that this pedal produced in demos. But when I first got it, I had little idea how to use it, especially since I was running it through my solid state Fender, which tends to be really muddy. I got so frustrated with it that at one point I put it up on Ebay, but no one bought it, and now I'm really glad they didn't.

The first thing I think anyone should know about this box is that it LOVES tube amps, and sort of hates solid state, based on my experience running it through both my Peavey and my Fender. Although I eventually got a tone dialed in with the Fender that I liked ok, this pedal never showed it's true colors until I ran it into the Joyo American Tone amp modeler that I recently purchased- now it's probably my favorite distortion/overdrive pedal, producing a huge range of tone that it particularly suited to the neck pickup of my tele. I can only imagine how good it must sound through a real vintage tube amp.

The Dirty Rat takes a basic RAT pedal tone and crams some fuzz and extra body into it. It's not a fuzz pedal though, like the Fuzz Face or similar. It's just a fuller, fuzzier distortion than your average dirt box. The filter knob is the key to this pedal, and it can be used to sort of scoop the mids and highs, taking the tone from a dirty but harmonic metal sort of tone at 9:00 to dark turbid mayhem at 3:00. It also has some extra compression built in, so the sustain is amazing and even oscillates nicely on long bends with the filter knob around the 12:00 position. Built sturdy as a concrete bunker, this box seems pretty indestructible, and has a killer reputation for consistency and durability. The only thing that sort of sucks is that it has a 1/8" DC jack, which requires a special adapter. If you buy the 1Spot power source package you get one that works, but I still think it's lame that Proco didn't just use a standard Boss-style jack.  All in all, this is a box that I'm still learning about, due to it's huge versatility, and every time I use it I discover some new tone, which is a lot of fun.

OK, next up, the Boss SD-1. Coming soon...

Monday, April 9, 2012


OK, so it's been a while. But I'm gonna make good on my promise to explain my pedal board. However, in the couple months since I last posted, it's grown considerably, so this process is becoming increasingly more difficult, and it's made more frustrating since I'm still pursuing a couple key elements, like a reverb pedal (I just ordered the Biyang Baby Boom Tri Reverb) and a custom Valvecaster (which I might just end up building... or trying to build.) So I think, for the next couple posts, I'm going to run through the chain as it is now, and give as thorough a review as possible, based on my experience with each. I'm going to use stock photos for much of this, just for the record. I'll start with the switcher box.


This pedal was custom built for me by Bryan at Saturnworks Pedal company. I usually switch back and forth between my Tele and my Gretsch a couple times per show, and on a few songs I play the fiddle or tenor guitar, so I needed a way to make all that happen seamlessly and without a bunch of crawling around on stage looking for cables, causing a huge delay between songs. Originally I was running a DOD 270 AB box, but I wanted to have three inputs so I could run both guitars and my acoustic DI. I checked out the Morley ABC, which looked ok, but it lacked independent volume pots for each channel, which I wanted since the Gretsch is a bit quiet and the DI box is hard to adjust the volume on mid-song (not to mention that the passive clip on fiddle pickup I run doesn't have a volume control either.) One day as I was poking around online looking at boutique pedals I found Saturnworks, and got ahold of Bryan just to chat about the stuff he had up on his website. He mentioned that he does custom jobs, and we came up with this pedal, which he built in less than a week for an unbelievably reasonable price!  Basically, the box allows either 3 in / 1 out OR 1 in / 3 out.  In addition, all 3 channels can be selected individually or together, so theoretically you could run 3 amps simultaneously, which seems unnecessary but potentially awesome. I'll stick to 3 instruments run to one amp for now.  Individual green LEDs are a nice touch that a lot of switcher boxes don't have, and all the components are top-notch. If you need something built, contact Saturnworks- great work at great prices. It's pretty cool to have a one-off ABC box that provides full functionality for all my needs.

SO, I've examined my guitars in my last couple of posts, and they take up 2 positions on the ABC, so I'll quickly look at the third channel input- my acoustic DI.


I've played acoustic instruments for most of my life,
and I've always assumed that feedback, uneven volume, and general mayhem just comes with the territory. Then, a few months ago, when I was complaining about the particularly challenging aspects of playing fiddle and acoustic guitar through a solid-state fender in a small club, my buddy let me borrow his Para Acoustic DI; pretty much, my life was changed. After gig testing his a couple times, I went on a quest to land one of my own, and after some ridiculously good luck I was able to score a brand new one for 50.00 (less than 1/3 of the price they go for retail.) I'll admit that I haven't learned all of the ins and outs of this box yet, but what I have found is that while some of the settings can be tricky and time consuming (notch, etc.), even a quick mix using the low, mid and hi channels can make a world of difference in quality of tone and the character of the instrument being played.

Also, the phase inverter is a godsend- if you start feeding back, just push the button and the feedback disappears. Any residual noise can be filtered out with some additional tweaking of the mids and notch.  The box features a 1/4 inch IN and OUT, with an additional XLR out to the house system; this XLR also grabs phantom power from the PA. There is also an effects loop which I haven't used, since this box is in-line with the rest of my pedals and I'm not really interested in running my fiddle with effects... yet. There is also a Gain knob which can add a bit of boost and slight grit- it sounds cool turned up with my very bass-y archtop tenor guitar.

My only complaint is that, if you're not running off phantom power, you have to resort to a 9v battery. This is frustrating to me because I don't want to deal with a battery dying in the middle of a set, or at all, period- that's why all my other gear is powered by adapters. Additionally, if an instrument is plugged into the input, the battery is engaged, so even if I'm only playing acoustic instruments during 10 percent of the set, I'm using battery power 100% of the time. I thought I could get around this problem by using a battery-only adapter cord that came with my 1Spot, but it turns out that the battery compartment isn't wired with a battery clip- it just has contacts similar to a flashlight or lantern. So if you can use phantom power, do it. Otherwise, carry extra batteries. This gripe is small, though, compared with the awesome control and tone shaping abilities that this DI provides.

WELL, now I've examined all three inputs (Tele, Gretsch, and DI) along with the ABC box. But before the effects pedals comes the tuner. I spent a long time deliberating over which one to get, but ultimately I decided to go with the:


Way back in the day I had a Boss tuning pedal, but at some point I sold or traded it to someone. So when I was putting together this board I did a lot of research, mostly focusing on the Boss, TC Electronic and the Korg. I chose the Korg because it's got the best display and it has great sensitivity without being too touchy. Basically, it does what a tuner should- it keeps me in tune, has true bypass, and even provides a 9v out, so you can power another pedal from it. This box is solid as a brick, and very well made. I got mine for 50 bucks on Craigslist slightly used, but even for the $ 80.00 or so that they cost new I'd say it's a great deal. The visibility of the display is key for me, and beats the shit out of the Boss, which is hard to read even when you can really take the time to focus on it, let alone in the middle of a song, drunk, singing backup on a badly lit bar stage. Plus it looks cool and is pretty compact. Not much more to say about it than that.


This is the first pedal I built, and I've kept it in my chain because, quite frankly, I'm proud of it. It's a pretty basic box- analog in the truest sense and totally passive. Basically it passes the signal unmolested until you step on the Normally Open momentary switch. When the switch is depressed, it shunts the signal to ground. This creates a cool 'stutter' effect when you stomp the switch in rapid succession, preferably with the beat. I added a 1000k Ohm pot that regulates how much signal goes to ground; the range is from full kill to slight volume variation, which can create a cool analog tremolo effect or just add some weird layers to solos or open chords. 

This was my first foray into wiring up a box, and my switch ended up a bit noisy... I'm not sure if that's due to my soldering ability or to the switch itself, but once you get up to a decent volume the noise isn't noticeable. It's a cool pedal, and I mostly use it for messing around with feedback during intros or at the end of songs, or as a rudimentary volume pedal for dropping my volume during intros, quiet verses etc- I just select a moderate decrease in signal and depress the switch until it's time to rock out again. I used an old Drilldex bit box for an enclosure and wired the whole thing up with parts from radioshack, except for the switch, which came from Small Bear Electronics.

OK, that's it for tonight. I promise I'll try to keep moving on this topic as soon as I can. Next up, the MXR Micro Amp.

Monday, January 30, 2012


SO apparently in the late 90's to early 2000's Gretsch started making a line (or multiple lines) of cheap guitars called 'Syncromatic.' Reminiscent of a Les Paul in shape, these guitars were made in Korea out of plywood until around 2004 when they were switched to a solid wood body (maple?) and renamed 'Electromatic.' The strange thing is that a Gretsch Synchromatic was previously a totally different guitar- a much nicer, archtop hollowbody guitar worth much, much more. So why did they suddenly put out a line of cheap ($300) instruments? No one, insofar as I can tell, has any idea.  Most of them don't even have serial numbers.

I'll admit, I bought this guitar because, first and foremost, it's a cool looking little instrument. I first saw it on Craigslist before I bought my Tele, and I actually contacted the owner but he was out of town, so I sort of forgot about it for a couple months. Then right after Thanksgiving it came up again. I guess I didn't really need a second electric, but I couldn't stop thinking about how pretty this one was. I did a little bit of research, and everything I found on line about the 2001 Synchromatic Jet Jr was just so-so... plywood body, scratchy pots, rough frets, all the usual low-end guitar stuff. What intrigued me, though, was the single bridge humbucker pickup on a cheap guitar- I felt like it must sound unique somehow. Plus, I like simple things that no one else likes. It's kind of my thing, and this was too interesting to pass up.

So I called the guy up again, went and checked it out, and, of course, bought it. Turns out that even though this is really, truly a shitty guitar in the truest sense of the word, there are a few things that make it completely worth owning.

First, it looks pretty badass, and if you're going to own a low-end guitar, it might as well look good, right? The black and orange sunburst is beautiful, offset with the rosewood (?) fingerboard. The old-school jazz style Gretsch pearl pickguard is a nice touch as well. everything is in really nice condition too- no dings or chips, just a little belt buckle scratch on the back.

Second, the single bridge pickup is still a Gretsch, and even a cheap Gretsch pickup (the "Gretschbucker") sounds good, apparently. It also has adjustable poles, so I was able to raise the low, level the mids and lower the highs to balance out the gratingly bright sound it had when I got it. Coupled with a single tone knob that has a surprising range, this pup is pretty versatile. In fact, I like it for a Johnny Cash/50's style country tone better than my tele. I set the tone at about 4, my MXR DynaComp at 12 on the 'sensitivity' dial and my analog delay with the frequency and time at 1.  I get a nice, warm, slightly hollow, squishy slapback that sounds awesome in open E with a sort of 'chugga chugga' rhythm. Move up to the 12th fret and lay down a simple pentatonic lick with the same settings and you get some considerable tone that sounds pretty unique.

Third, I have been using Beefy Slinky's (.11-.54) to darken up the (in my opinion) icy, tinny tone that lighter gauge strings seem to produce with this particular humbucker. I experimented with the same mix of Beefy and Power Slinky's that I use on the Tele (see previous post) but I didn't like that set up at all, especially for lead guitar- this is mostly due to the action that is slightly higher than it could be, but mostly the fact is that it sounds full and warm with heavy strings and tinny even with mediums.

Finally, I love the way this guitar sounds with a Delta Lab Tube Overdrive.  The combo of the Delta Lab TO-1, MXR DynaComp, and Analog Delay is pretty killer.  Oddly, the TO-1 sounds like shit with my Tele.  I don't know why, but it really does. I was going to sell the pedal, which was a disappointment since I got a killer deal on it and most of the reviews I've read were really favorable. I'm glad I kept it, though... maybe it just doesn't sound good with single coil pups? That makes no sense really but it might be true. It's fat and warm as a drunk beagle with the Gretsch though, and it sounds way better with a humbucker than my Boss SD-1 (which sounds great with the Tele...)

So, overall, even though this guitar was probably not worth a penny more than the $140 I payed for it, with a little work and experimentation I ended up with something that can lay down some pretty awesome, unique sounding alt-country licks and look good doing it. Moral of the story? Cheap can be great, as long as you're willing to experiment with different setups; plus, it's a good learning experience, and if you get lucky like I did, you end up with something very few people have- a Gretsch Synchromatic Jet Jr that sounds cool and is fun to play.

Monday, January 16, 2012


THE first thing I needed, when I joined the band was, obviously, an electric guitar. I haven't owned one in at least a decade. This being an alt-country band (sort of) I figured a Tele would fit best; also, I've always wanted one- they look classy, they're simple and you can beat the shit out of them. Fortunately, the lead singer of the band had an old one out in his garage. It was a circa 1999 MIM, with a few dings for character, a warping pick guard, a missing volume knob, and the neck pickup hanging on only by the wires. Also, to top things off, at some point someone (I think a relative?) had scratched an "eye of Sauron" into into the face just back of the saddle with a pocket knife.  Obviously, it was the perfect guitar for me. Dave was willing to part with it for a very reasonable price all things considered, so I took it home and starting fixing it up.

I ordered a new black pickguard off Amazon for about 10 bucks to replace the dirty, scratched and buckling white one. While that was on the way I remounted the neck pickup; turns out the screws were a little stripped and had come out so the adjustment springs were down in the body chamber but it was an easy fix with some tiny splinter-shims. I also made a new volume knob out of a .45 Caliber bullet shell stuffed with cork.  It works alright (sort of too slick for quick volume changes mid-strum) but it looks badass, so it's good enough for now. The eye of Sauron remains scratched into the paint, and gives this guitar it's inevitable name, "The Necromancer," which is, of course, the nickname of Sauron in the Hobbit when he... oh never mind. The important thing is that it's set up fairly nicely, and sounds great.

The last decision I had to make before this guitar was ready to go was what string gauge to use. I've been playing acoustic guitar almost exclusively for about the last 20 years, and I mostly use medium gauge strings. This is probably why every time I pick up an electric I can't help but bend the shit out of every note, making whatever I'm playing sound really sharp. Also, one thing about Tele's is that they have a really nice punchy, twangy, slappy sound to them, but in my opinion the bridge pickup (at least mine) is pretty harsh sounding with anything but a high-end amp. My amp (which I'll get to in a post coming soon) ain't high end, so I figured I would see if I could darken up the tone with heavier gauge strings, and make it easier for me to play at the same time (more acoustic feeling, I guess.)  I strung it up with Beefy Slinky's by Ernie Ball, which colored the tone nicely and gave chording a nice heavy feel that was easier to really dig into without unwanted bends. Basically, I don't want to play lighter, I want my strings to accommodate my playing style. I quickly realized, however, that a lot of the riffs I was writing were requiring moderate bends on the D string and some pretty extensive bends on the G. So I started mixing in the D and G strings from the Ernie Ball Power Slinky's, which are a slightly lighter gauge, but still fairly heavy as far as electric strings go. Thus my string selection for the Tele is:

11   E
15   B
18p G  (switched from 22p)
28   D  (switched from 30)
42   A
54   E

So how does it sound? Some (read 'those who believe that price equals quality) might say that the fact that this is a Made in Mexico (MIM) Tele takes away from its ability to provide reliability, tone, etc; basically the differences are that the body on a MIM is Alder, not Ash, and that the fretboard is maple rather than rosewood. The pickups are some low end stock single coils. Supposedly this combination of cost saving measures kills the 'Tele tone' (the pickups and brighter sounding Alder body) and negatively effect playability (the maple fret board with poorly finished frets) and for that reason a lot of folks on the web are pretty anti.

To be honest, though, I don't give a shit. I've got vintage acoustic guitars with plywood bodies that sound fucking great. The neck is straight, worn in nicely, and the fret ends are smooth. The pickups in this guitar are Noiseless Tele single coils which were installed at some point to replace the stock ones and they sound really good. My favorite tone comes out of the neck pickup. Deep, dark, and hollow- it really howls with a good dose of overdrive and a touch of delay. For straight up, balanced tone the mid position (both pickups) sounds really nice- crisp and dark with just a hint of twang. Of course the bridge pickup  pure country goodness, especially with some compression and delay. Overall, no matter what pickup is selected, this guitar rocks harder than I was expecting. Our songs cover quite a range of tones, and it can do it all handily. I love the fact that I can go from a nice country sound to a low growl with a couple flips of the selector switch and a roll back on the tone knob. Add my new favorite pedal, the MXR Custom Badass '78 to that combo and faces begin to melt.

So do I stick with this awesome axe for all duties required of me as a lead guitar player? Hell no. Not when a sweet deal on a low end Gretsch Synchromatic comes along on Craigslist... but that's for the next post.


WELL, it has, again, been too long since I posted anything on this, my blog that details the shit I build, compile, or otherwise cobble together. The past year or so, I've been focusing a lot on motorcycles, and the Yamaha XS850 project is still in progress: more to come on that soon.  But this blog has also focused, at times, on music; or, more specifically, the instruments I've built/repaired. Lately I've been pouring much of my creative energy into relearning (well, lets be honest- learning) to play lead guitar.  The old time band I was playing with for several years split up at the end of the summer, and about two days later I was sitting at the bar down at Terry's in A-Town with my buddy David who happened to be looking for a lead guitarist/multi-instrumentalist for his band which could best be described as, I guess, ''garage alt-country.'' It's been a LONG time since I strapped on an electric (hell, at the time I didn't even own one) but I was happy to give it a shot, so over the past few months I've been spending a lot of time putting together a rig on an incredibly tight budget. As I've been endlessly researching guitars, pedals, amps, etc, (most of which I'll never be able to afford) I've realized that there's not much out there in the way of helpful product reviews and honest evaluations, especially from the point of view of novice players who are really into trying for interesting sound (and also dead broke.)

Most reviews are written by illiterate assholes who don't take time to mess around with their gear before reviewing it online, or by the same sort of folk who scoff at anything inexpensive or less well known. These are the people with full Boss pedal boards, a Jackson seven string, and a Line6 modeling amp.  Fuck them. So I decided it was high time to share what little I've learned recently about playing secondhand guitars through a some pedals and amps I scrounged up and the sounds I've achieved. Much of what I've learned proves that I have a long way to go, but I think my recent quest to put an extra pair of balls in some alt-country songs has led to a few victories at least. So my next few posts are going to share what I've learned. Hopefully it helps. If not, you're welcome to close the page and go buy a double necked Ovation. Have fun at Guitar Center.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I'm a little behind on my posts right now, so here's an update on a few things that happened with the bike over the past few days; this post'll be a two parter.

First off, I started painting components. I decided on a Rustoleum Satin Black since my buddy just did his Sportster with it and it looks sick. Rather than tear down the whole bike, though, I decided to paint as many parts as I could in place. I pulled out every rag and sheet of packing paper I could find and started wrapping up everything I didn't want painted.

Here's the setup for painting the tank- note the use of an empty organic chicken feed bad to cover the crankcase. Profesh.

The tank came out nice, I think. I debated whether to leave the lettering chrome, but a lot of the finish was flaking off so I just sanded everything a bit and blacked out the whole thing. The paint on the back of the tank was pretty cracked in spots, but the satin fills it out ok... it might not look professional, but it does look badass, which is what counts, right?

The gauges sucked. When I took off the speedometer one of the mounting bolts came loose and fell into the case. I had to take the whole thing apart to get the screw out and put it back on the correct hole. So after an hour of screwing around with that (and the rubber facemounts that disintegrated and the almost slack-less cables, etc.,) I was able to 'mask' them off from the rest of the front end shoot them. Then I did the bars brake levers and lever mounts, top of the triple tree and the headlight bucket, leaving the ring around the lens chrome. I'm still deciding whether or not to do the fork ears and boots... Suggestions? 

the finished (for now) front end