Hi, this is Mark Marshall. I'm a NYC based guitar teacher. I believe strongly in communication. Lessons are built from songs that reflect the taste of the student to keep inspiration brewing. You'll never leave a lesson confused or feeling like you can't achieve you goals.
Check our this video I did recently where I explored the Analog Man CompROSSor pedal with the optional Ryck toggle. The Ryck toggle gives you three options for how much treble is allowed to pass through the signal. A lot of do,pressers dull your high end which can ruin the jangly tone with Rickenbacker guitars. The Ryck mod allows you to retain the treble and get a nice compressed tone.
It’s a fantastic pedal. Analog Man really curates great sounding pedals. I’m using mine with a 2001 Rickenbacker 360 12 that I recently retired to 1963 specs along with Gemini hand wound Toaster pickups. A blog is coming soon on that project.
Analog Man CompROSSor pedal with Electric 12 string - YouTube
It may seem strange to say, but one of the best ways to learn the nuances of soloing is by… not soloing. Say what? I’m sure that’ll make a lot of guitarists indignant. How could I possibly suggest that the best way to shine and step out front is to step back?!?!
Well, that’s exactly my point. How are you going to get good at leading or soloing if you’ve never stepped back and listened? The greatest soloists are good accompanists. They know how to support other soloists. They demonstrate a knowledge and awareness of musicality… and they understand teamwork!
Even when you’re soloing, it’s not just you out there. Unless of course you’re playing alone. As soon as another person steps onstage, you both need to start communicating. I can often tell how good a soloist is by watching what they do before they solo. A player’s awareness and sensitivity reveals their ability to connect during a solo. I might even say that technique and music theory are the two most basic (and accessible) skills in soloing. I know, I know. How dare I make such a radical statement.
Many musicians are taught to bow to the god of improvisation, whose commandments include knowing your scales and fretboard positions. And if you don’t know them you are committing a mortal sin against the guitar. But I would say that these really aren’t the ingredients of a great solo. They just embellish it.
Technique and theory are important skills to develop. So it makes sense that they get a lot of the spotlight. We just have to be careful they don’t steal the limelight. Because if we look more carefully,, there is a lot more to the art of soloing.
Some soloists mentally check out when they start to solo. It’s as if nobody else is part of the weave. But a great soloist realizes that it’s about teamwork. Many guitarists lack this skill because they don’t spend enough time supporting someone else who’s soloing.
Having a great accompanist back you up on a solo can really elevate it. It makes me play things I didn’t know I could. I might be driving the truck, but it’s more like a fire department’s ladder truck. I may be driving, but someone is on the back of the truck steering with me. If my fellow guitarist is not good at comping (rhythm guitar) or accompanying, it can really make soloing tough.
Some players think they can check out when someone else is soloing. This isn’t the path to musical success. You have to be as present when you’re backing someone up as you are when you’re soloing. Music is communication. And there is a bit of a buddy system going on when musicians perform. When we’re onstage, we stick together. This means it’s not just about whose turn it is. We’re all there to back up everyone else.
Ways to Improve Soloing and Accompanying Skills
Play with others as often as you can. Jamming with friends or other musicians is vital to building your accompaniment skills. When jamming with others, think about what to play while they are soloing and follow along. Adjust to their dynamics or rhythm shifts.
As I’m writing this I’m listening to Bitches Brew from Miles Davis, and it’s incredibly relevant to this conversation. Even if you don’t listen to jazz, sit yourself down with no devices or distractions and really listen to this album.
This record is all about improvisation. You’ll hear the whole band playing off each other. Everyone is listening and supporting each other. They each have moments where they stand out front. Butit’s very much a team effort.
A lot of rock music might not be this extreme about musical exploration. But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t adopt that sensitive mindset.
Listen, Listen, Listen
What’s the drummer playing? What’s the bassist playing? Is the pianist changing anything? What’s the energy of the soloist?
The answers to all of these questions will greatly change what I play. Sometimes a solo section needs more space. You don’t want to be a bull in a china shop or scream in a library. How you react is key. If you can’t respond appropriately while accompanying someone, how are you going to play appropriately in your solo?
How often do you listen to music? How do you listen to music? Do you listen to what’s happening behind some of your favorite guitar solos? I bet you know less about the accompaniment than you realize. Most likely you know the chord changes and the breaks.
It’s helpful to know if there are any slight shifts in dynamics. Does the rhythm pattern change at all? Any effects changes that alter the texture?
The Chicken or the Egg
Many have this idea that there are people who build the structure (rhythm guitarists) and people who come later to put on the roof (lead guitarists). With a few rare exceptions, the greatest guitarists know how to do both. Some believe the two rarely meet. But it’s not as clear cut as that. I don’t see a distinct border between rhythm and lead guitar.
So yeah, studying without your instrument is vital to your growth. I see a lot of students doing their thinking with their fingers. But a guitar in hand can sometimes be a distraction. I believe that private listening time, without your guitar, is key to musical growth. If you think about it, the goal is to hear something and then play it. Yet many players just want to jump in and speak a language they’ve never spoken. We’ve all had moments where we don’t know how to pronounce a word until we hear someone say it. Music is the same way. By listening, we hear pronunciation.
When I was younger I didn’t understand why people would swap out their guitar pickups. If you liked the way a guitar sounds when you buy it, I thought, why change it?
It wasn’t until a friend showed up at my studio with a guitar that had some hand-wound pickups in it that I had a revelation. It was quite the eye opener. There were elements of my guitar tone I wasn’t happy with but I couldn’t put my finger on. I certainly didn’t think to consider my pickups.
The best I could describe the issue with my guitar’s tone was that it sounded like a blanket was covering my tone. It was dull in a way I couldn’t pinpoint. It wasn’t like there was no presence. The guitar had some bite. But something was masking the tone. This dull or “blanketed” tone is one I now associate with a lot of stock big-box-brand pickups.
Off the Line
Let’s take a stock American Strat as an example. By no means is it a cheap instrument. It’s well-made. But its not exactly in the same tone family as a vintage Strat. There are lots of reasons for this, but it’s mainly in its construction. A lot of big-brand products are mass-produced. Making guitars as they were made in the 1950s requires extra labor and extra expense. Modern mass production does one thing quite well: it delivers a consistent product. But it could be argued that mass-produced guitars are too perfect and a bit lifeless.
The idea with modern production is to create perfect clones. If each guitar sounded exactly the same, I think it would make the big companies happy as clams in mud.
Attack of the Clones
Well, why would you want an inconsistent product? Wouldn’t you want exact copies if you could have them?
Here’s the thing. In order to get to the level of refinement and sound that we love in vintage instruments, guitarsneed to be touched by hands. Human hands. Human production is imperfect. But within that imperfection is perfection. Vintage guitars were inconsistent. One 1959 Strat may sound a little different from another. That’s natural. And we shouldn’t be afraid of that. Don’t be wary of the individuality of each instrument.
I own two 1991 Fender American Standard Strats. Even though both were mass produced, each is unique. It’s the wood. You can hear it when you play them unplugged. In fact, my first step in testing an electric guitar is whether it sounds good unplugged. If it does, we’re in great shape. Everything gets easier from there.
Even if you strap the nicest pickups to a bad slab of wood, it’s going to sound like a nicely amplified piece of driftwood. Luckily, my Strats are not like that. I knew that swapping the electronics was going to be a success. As I mentioned, my Strats suffered from that “blanketed” tone. This became even more apparent to me when Farhad Soheili of FSC Guitars brought one of his hand-built ST-M guitars for me to use at a City Winery gig in NYC.
Mirror, Mirror On the Wall
Playing the FSC ST-M against my stock American Strat exposed my guitar’s shortcomings. It wasn’t like I didn’t know. I just hadn’t dealt with it. Well, after that comparison, I had to do something. So I asked Farhad to make me a set of pickups that were like the ones in his ST-M.
The Strat-style pickups he uses in that model are based on vintage 1959 Strat pickups. This is Farhad’s favorite era of Strat pickups. They are scatter-wound and use Alnico 5 magnets, Heavy Formvar coils, and staggered pole pieces. Output of the pickups are anywhere from the high 5k to low 6k output range. You can see the output listed on the bottom of my pickups.
Farhad calibrates the sets, matching them so that starting from the neck to the bridge, they progressively get hotter. Not a major increase. It’s subtle but effective. This of course happened sometimes in the 50s. But, it was inconsistent because they didn’t intentionally calibrate sets back then. . Farhad is curating the sound. It’s a snapshot from a specific model in a specific era of history.
Output values by pickup on my set of FSC ‘59s:
The result is a very articulate and dynamic tone. My fingers feel directly connected to the amp. A lot of mass-produced pickups have that “blanketed” feel, like there’s a glove between my fingers and the guitar. With the FSC ‘59s, the sensation is like direct contact. This changes the way I play. I feel I have more control over my dynamics—the response is faster.
To say simply that the FSC ’59s are brighter just doesn’t capture it. Remember, the stock pickups can be bright but still sound inexplicably muted. The ’59s are brighter in a more complex way. There is more presence, but they’re not shrill. They’re not harsh. How is it that a pickup can be brighter and smooth? You wouldn’t normally put those words together. But it’s true. When I first plugged in my Strat with my new FSC ’59 pickups, it was like a sigh of relief. They had a familiar tone. The one I grew up listening to on records. The stock pickups always felt like they needed something more.
Stock Pickup Damage Control
With stock pickups, I would often pretty quickly plug in a pedal. My FSC pickups don’t need a lot of processing. I’m not saying I don’t use pedals anymore. I still use effects, but to augment my sound—not to compensate for any inadequacies.
Within a week of Farhad installing the pickups, I did a tour and a session where that guitar was the main focus. I had been playing the stock pickups on the Strat for over 25 years. Yikes!! That’s some serious time. So the variance was glaring to me. Like I said, it wasn’t so much an adjustment than it was a relief. I struggled less with the instrument. It worked perfectly with my signal chain and amps. It was the tone I was looking for. The secret? Very simply, pickups wound by hand with high-quality parts.
For the session, I plugged the Strat straight into a Matt Wells rebuilt Fender tube spring reverb into an early ‘60s brownface Pro with 5881s and a ceramic 15” speaker. This particular amp at Brooklyn Recording is a dream. Fifteens are my fave speaker size. Admittedly, this signal chain is pretty ridiculous. But even with this chain, it’s still won’t be enough if the guitar isn’t dialed in.
That’s how it used to be for me. But with the FSC ’59s I didn’t feel compelled to add anything unless I needed a distinct effect. The relationship between the guitar and amp was really great. This makes sense. There weren’t guitar effects at the time this 1962 Pro or ’59-style pickups were designed. It had to sound amazing straight into the amp.
Take Out the Trash?
By now some of you may think I’m suggesting that stock pickups sound like kangaroo dung. Well, that’s not the case. They sound perfectly fine. Just not superb. Stock pickups won’t prevent you from making great music. But if you could make your guitar feel and sound more responsive, why wouldn’t you do it? Especially when it influences your playing. Gear doesn’t compensate for poor playing or a lack of creativity. But if you’re a good, creative player, great gear can make all the difference!
Master of All Trades
I wouldn’t say that FSC pickups do everything. No pickup does. But they get around the problem with a lot of modern pickups, which tend to be too middle-of-the-road. You wouldn’t use the same gear to play Muddy Waters that you would to play Slipknot.
My palate runs from early electric blues like Howlin’ Wolf to the Beatles to U2 and Smashing Pumpkins. I have found that hand-wound pickups work perfect for all of these styles. I love the Buzzcocks, The Police, and Nirvana. I love Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone.
I grew up hearing the Band, Bob Dylan, Bowie, and Hendrix. You’ll find PJ Harvey in our record collection along with Gang of Four.
FSC ‘59s can walk me through all of these eras of tone.
You may need something different from the FSC ‘59s when you start dealing with massive amounts of gain. The tones of Avenged Sevenfold, Pantera, and other genres of metal require a very specific and different setup.
But for all the classic sounds, hand-wounds are your friend.
Each of the following examples include options for clean DI (straight in) comparisons, reamped through amps, and miked with an AEA A840 ribbon into a UAD Apollo with a Neve 1073 preamp.
I’ve also included examples using UAD amp sims, as this has become a regular tool for a lot of home recordists.
For most of these examples I did not add any EQ or processing. This was intentional, so you can hear minute differences without the influence of anything else.
Some examples I treated as if I were making a record. These are be labeled with signal chain.
DI electric guitar is one of my least favorite sounds. The point of these examples isn’t so much to get a pleasing tone. It’s to hear at the most basic level any changes to tone. I didn’t want any amps or pedals coloring the tone.
What’s interesting to me is that I heard the difference in pickups in every example and always preferred the FSC 59’s. Let’s see what you think.
Once in a while a pedal company comes along that makes exceptional gear. This is not to say that other companies put out inferior products. It’s just that sometimes someone is so dedicated to an idea or product that they spare no expense.
Designer and manufacturer Phil Taylor and his company Effectrode produce uncompromisingly good pedals. They’re for people who know what they’re looking for.
You can tell pretty quickly that the sound quality of every Effectrode pedal is in a league of its own. The tone is refined, to say the least. Phil clearly isn’t thinking about cutting corners when designing these pedals.
He’s dedicated to quality and tone. It’s for this reason that Effectrode pedals are made in limited runs. Phil makes them in small batches. Handmade isn’t a word he throws around.
I admittedly own a lot of fuzz pedals. Some would say maybe too many. But I don’t keep people in my life who would say such hurtful things.
There are some staples when it comes to fuzz. Many of us have heard of the Fuzz Face, the Big Muff, and the Tone Bender. But very few of us have experienced a tube-based fuzz pedal.
That’s because these fuzz pedals don’t really exist. Well, that is until Effectrode released the Mercury Tube Fuzz, in 2015. For those who don’t know this, all pedal circuits that Effectrode makes are tube-based.
Open the booklet that comes with the Mercury and you’ll get a little history lesson on the pedal’s components. The tubes are N.O.S. Sylvania subminiature twin triodes, originally invented for military radar systems in the 1940s.
In fact, a lot of tube technology was fueled by the military. It’s great that war-funded tech has moved on to more inspirational uses.
The Mercury Tube Fuzz reacts differently from a transistor-based fuzz. One notable difference is the way it cleans up. Some fuzz pedals seem to have a gradual incline, gain-wise (when you use the guitar’s volume knob), until you reach about 8 on the guitar. And then the fuzz just seems to erupt.
In other words, most fuzz pedals aren’t so subtle. The Mercury has an even increase as you dial up the guitar volume knob. Unlike with the Big Muff, the tones of the Mercury with rolled-back guitar volume are pleasing.
The Mercury can scream or be subtle. This makes it quite versatile. The Mercury pairs well with other gain pedals. I love it before the Effectrode Tube Drive. I’ve also had great success pairing it with more midrange-centric pedals such as the Tube Screamer.
Stuck in the Middle
The Mercury isn’t as midrange-rich as other fuzz pedals. I love mine through a Vox or Marshall amp, as well as a blackface Fender amp.
The tone is very round, without the low end getting too woofy. Those who have spent time with a Big Muff know how the woolly low end can sometimes get in the way. The Mercury doesn’t lose control of the low end.
Starved for Fuzz
On the back of the Mercury you will find a switch that engages “plate starving” mode. This allows the second tube stage to be operated at a reduced plate voltage. This creates a harder, transistor-like sound, according to the manual.
This is clearly the “more fuzz” switch. But it’s not as simple as adding more hair. As you can imagine, the sound changes more than if you were just adding additional gain. The pedal’s personality morphs a little, too.
I like that you have not only more gain as an option but also a different character of fuzz.
All examples were recorded using an AEA A840 ribbon mic into a UAD Apollo using the Neve 1073 preamp plugin in the Unison slot.
Ex 1: Gibson 335 into the Mercury Tube Fuzz into a Vox AC15
I’m using the neck pickups on this example, with the plate starved switch on. The fuzz is all the way up.
You can still hear the pick attack, which doesn’t happen on most fuzz pedals when maxed out. It sounds fuzzy but reacts a lot like a tube amp. This makes sense: there are tubes in it. And even though this is in the plate starved mode, it still has more of that tube loveliness than a transistor-based pedal.
Ex 2: Gibson 335 into the Mercury Tube Fuzz into a Vox AC15
I want you to hear how chimey the Mercury can be. Some fuzz pedals have a ring mod overtone when playing chords or intervals. The Mercury is clear, without dissonant overtones. It works well with a Vox for arpeggiated parts you wouldn’t normally associate with fuzz.
Ex 4: Gibson Les Paul into the Mercury Tube Fuzz into a Headstrong Lil King Reverb
I’ve mentioned how the pick attack still comes through. This also means that sometimes the pick can be percussive. It’s an interesting combination of chunky and articulate. Hard to find both in a pedal.
Ex 5: Gibson Les Paul into the Mercury Tube Fuzz into a Headstrong Lil King Reverb
I’m playing finger-style in this example, with the neck pickup. I want to highlight again that even with the sound fuzzed out, there is a clarity to it. You can clearly hear the intervals, with no pesky dissonant overtones.
Ex 6: Gibson Les Paul into the Mercury Tube Fuzz into a Headstrong Lil King Reverb
Digging into punk rhythm guitar so you can hear that the sound is articulate but loose. The Mercury doesn’t feel sterile or tight. Yet the sound is clear. I really like playing rhythm guitar with the Mercury. It’s full but doesn’t get lost in the mix, like a lot of fuzz pedals do live or in a big mix.
Ex 10: Fender Strat into the Mercury Tube Fuzz into a Headstrong Lil King Reverb
One important question when deciding on a fuzz is, how does it clean up? Fuzz pedals don’t all react the same way. A Tone Bender cleans up differently from a Fuzz Face or Big Muff.
The Mercury has the most even response to volume adjustments. Some fuzz pedals seem to jump in saturation between 8-10 on the guitar volume. The Mercury doesn’t. This could be a real plus for players who need more refined volume roll-offs.
Ex 11: Fender Strat into the Mercury Tube Fuzz into the Tube Drive into a Korg SDD-3000 delay into a Vox AC15
I stumbled onto this sound when preparing some tones for my instrumental project Future Relics. This wouldn’t normally be a situation where I would use a fuzz. But you can hear the versatility of the Mercury.
I have the Mercury gain set fairly low. I’m cascading pedals again. The fuzz really adds a stage of compression and slight grit. Later in the chain, we also get a little compression from the analog preamp in the SDD-3000. The Tube Drive smooths the tone from the Mercury.
Ex 12: Fender Telecaster into the Mercury Tube Fuzz into a Victoria 518 Tweed Champ
This isn’t normally a situation where I would reach for a fuzz. But I thought it would be interesting to highlight unusual uses.
The Mercury pairs well with a naturally overdriving tweed. In fact, I dare say that the fuzz on the Mercury has a very tweed-like tone and feel. More so then any other tweed-voiced pedal.
The Mercury isn’t tweed-voiced or trying to emulate one. There’s just something about the nature of the tube’s saturation that reminds me of a cranked tweed. I really loved this combo with my Victoria and plan on using it a bunch more in appropriate applications.
When I’m on tour I sometimes get to do fun things, like visit guitar, amp, or pedal builders. On a recent day off in Portland, Oregon during an Amy Helm tour,, I dropped by Benson Amps to check out their products and construction process.
I was greeted at the door by none other than Chris Benson. Immediately, I knew this was going to be a great visit. I must admit, I like the opportunity to pick the brains of creators. And Chris was nice enough to take some time out of his day and allow me to geek out.
I had first heard of Benson Amps through my friend Pete Lalish, guitarist for the Brooklyn-based band Lucius. We did a session together a year ago and Pete was raving about his Benson. It was his favorite amp. With amps, my first question is whether it’s a Fender, Vox, or Marshall knockoff. The market is flooded with copies of the major names. Some are loyal reproductions. Some take liberties.
Pete told me Benson amps do their own thing. He didn’t have his amp that day, so I didn’t get to investigate. I always kept it in the back of my mind, though. Pete is a great player with great tone. A recommendation from him is a solid one.
Walking in the Door
Within minutes of talking to Chris Benson, I confirmed his amps are not a copy of anything. Chris knows a lot about amps. Before he started Benson, he worked at another amp manufacturer. His own creations are based on experience and imagination, balanced with skill and knowledge.
He’s so deep into the design that even the transformers are made specifically for Benson, by Mercury Magnetics. A lot of amp builders farm out their materials. For example, it’s rare to find an amp company that makes its own cabinets. What did I see at Benson? They were building their own cabinets and covering them in great-looking fabric. This is one of these situations where style meets ingenuity.
Eye of the Beholder
The amps look as good as they sound. Sure, sound matters more than looks. But we first eat with our eyes. If something doesn’t look appetizing, it’s hard to get excited about eating it. You have to want to plug in and hear it. On seeing the Bensons, I wanted to plug into each one.
There are no automated procedures at Benson. There are no circuit, eyelet, or turret boards. It’s all point-to-point construction on terminal strips. Just as you would imagine instruments being built back in the day. There’s a lot of human contact. Call me a romantic, but I feel this adds to an instrument. A lot of mass-produced amps have an impersonal character. It may seem like a small thing that an amp is hardwired. In my experience, it’s not. I can hear and feel the difference.
And there is no way you can tell me that Fender spends as much time as Benson does testing each amp. I would bet the testing at some of the big box manufactures is very much a matter of, does it turn on? Is the sound normal? Ok then… off to Guitar Center with ya!
With Benson, it’s not just a matter of whether it turns on and is the sound normal. Rather, it’s, does it actually sound good? This is a major difference with the small builders. They devote more time to their products’ sounding good. They listen. They don’t just throw amps together.
Another detail I noticed at Benson is that everyone who works there is friendly and seems happy. Now I know a lot of consumers will say, “who cares?” But I think it matters how invested employees are in making a product. Plus, it’s really nice to see an American company making its full product here in the USA. And giving people real jobs.
I think that says something about Chris Benson’s intentions. He’s clearly not taking the easy path. Benson Amps isn’t trying to produce 500 amps per week. The plan isn’t world domination. It’s making a high-quality instrument. Although I do think I saw a strange map in a dark back room labeled “world domination.” But maybe that was just a coincidence <gulp>.
Ok, Ok, How Do They Sound?
During my visit, I tried a Monarch Reverb 1×12. This amp has 6v6 power tubes and 12ax7 preamp tubes with a 5AR4 tube rectifier. That puts the amp at about 12-15 watts. But don’t be misled. As Chris warned, it’s a very loud 15 watts. And sure enough, it could easily contend with a 22-watt Deluxe Reverb. The Monarch wails!
It weighs in at around 39 pounds, which isn’t bad for an amp that size with reverb. The dovetailed pine cabinets are resonant and light.
If you check out Benson’s online description of the Monarch, you can see it’s more related to the tweed or the British family than the American blackface family.
Benson amps play like no others. It took me a few minutes to wrap my head around what I was hearing and feeling. Not because it was bad. Just because it was a new experience. Chris mentioned that some guitarists are surprised at the fast attack of his amps. The attack is instantaneous. As soon as your finger or pick touches the string, it comes out of the speaker. I’ve heard guitarists refer to the Twin Reverb as “fast.” But in the case of the Twin, I think “clean headroom” often gets confused with “fast attack.” The Benson model doesn’t have to be clean. Its attack is fast, whether it’s clean or dirty.
The Monarch feels like the amp is directly connected to you. You might find this strange at first. And you may not like it. I was into it. Many of the guitar pickups I’ve been searching out have a similar character. I like hand-wound, lightly potted pickups. I want as much expression to come from my fingers as possible. I want to remove any roadblocks in my way. I control a lot of dynamics with my fingers.
I think the Monarch can cut through a loud band in a way that a Vox AC15 can’t. The Monarch doesn’t fall apart as you push it, either. Some amps lose definition as you start to crank up the volume. Unlike a Twin Reverb, which is cold and sterile even as you crank up the volume, the Monarch is very musical from volume 2-10.
I tested it out with a hand-built Telecaster. It was a perfect pairing. I would consider the Monarch to be the perfect amp for alt country, rock, pop, country, blues, soul, reggae, and much more. If there is something it might do, it would be metal and its variants. But that’s not really what this amp was built for. It’s not a matter of short comings. That would be like getting mad at a hammer for not being a screwdriver. But I wouldn’t be afraid to bust out some punk on it with some P 90s!
I know—it seems like I’m gushing over the Monarch. That’s because I really did like it, and I like Chris Benson and his products. Is it the perfect amp for you? I can’t really answer that. Nobody can. That’s why you have to try one. What I can answer for you, though, is that if you order one you’ll get a top-of-the-line product made by good people.
The Rat is one of the earliest distortion pedals, arriving on the market in 1978. Prior to that, there were only a few gain pedals: the Colorsound Power Boost, the Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1, the Sola Sound Tone Bender, the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, the Dallas Rangemaster, and the Electro- Harmonix Big Muff.
Much like we saw a burst of fuzz pedal releases in the late ’60s, we saw a burst of distortion pedals in the late ’70s. The years 1978-79 presented us with the Boss DS-1, the MXR Distortion +, and the Proco Rat.
This accompanied the punk, metal, and hard rock revolutions at that time.
Where overdrive pedals like the yet-to-be-released Boss OD-1 and Ibanez Tube Screamer use soft clipping to create their saturation, the Rat uses hard clipping. This not only results in more gain, but also a grittier sound.
Where fuzz can get lost in a live mix and sometimes sound flabby, the Rat cuts like a warm knife through butter.
Fuzz pedals tend to be mushy. If you play a chord through a fuzz pedal, you’ll sometimes hear a blur. Whereas the Rat somehow keeps the distinction of each note in the chord. It’s like every note in the chord has its own distortion and doesn’t interfere with the others.
So while it can be very saturated, it’s clean at the same time. There are very few distortions that achieve this in the same way the Rat circuit does.
Oldie but Goodie
I’ve been thinking about the Rat. Things come into and go out of style. Nowadays there are so many pedal options, it’s easy to get distracted or want to try the newest pedal.
I’ve been researching classic guitar tones, and as you might expect my exploration led me to the Rat. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve heard it too.
There is nothing flashy about the Rat. It looks simple and leaves no uncertainty about its intention. It’s understated in the best way.
Although in theory the Rat was competing with the Boss DS-1 released the same year, the only tonal similarity is in the fact they’re both distortion pedals. The DS-1 has a very different tonal palate.
The sound of a lot of metal is not that of an amp being pushed to its limits. That’s more the sound of rock from the ’60s and ’70s. Speaker breakup and tube sag aren’t usually the preference for metal guitarists, who like a tighter response.
If we think of James Hetfield’s tone on “Kill Em’ All,” it’s not the sound of a Plexi on 10. His tone is tighter than that. He was in fact using a Marshall Plexi, but with a Rat.
The Rat plays quite well with British amps. Dave Grohl used the Rat with a Vox AC30 on the first Foo Fighters record.
The tone knob on the Rat always surprises me. It has be one of the most dramatic pedal EQs ever created. With a subtle twist of the knob, you can really transform the pedal. It really seems like the pedal’s character morphs.
Its tone knob is really a low pass filter. As you turn the knob, you’re either allowing more treble through or cutting it out.
I don’t use the tone knob just to boost or cut treble, though. If it’s the base of my tone, I sometimes consider pulling back on the treble from my amp so I can boost it on the pedal. This seems to change the harmonic response of the pedal.
Strengths and Weakness
The weak spot of the Rat to me is in its cleaner distortion sounds. I often think Tube Screamer circuits’ weak point is with the gain all the way up. Neither weakness is by any means a deal breaker for either pedal, and is very much down to personal taste. I don’t use a Rat to get subtle tube amp soft clipping. I use the Rat to get some nasty, clear saturated tones.
But others feel very differently. Plenty of players have used the Rat as their light overdrive pedal and adore it. It’s not that it’s bad at overdrive. It’s that it excels so much at distortion.
I find most pedals have a sweet spot for my playing. Everyone’s playing is different. I’m much more likely to cascade drive pedals rather than turn one up all the way.
I rarely need to cascade any more drive when using the Rat. I can’t imagine needing more. There is enough gain on it to make classic metal heads give a middle-aged devil horns hand gesture.
Rat of Today
Pro Co has made some improvements with its newest version of the Rat. Whereas I tend to be a purist when it comes to classic sounds, the new features are welcome. They added an LED under the letter A in Rat so you can see if the pedal is on.
Not having a LED isn’t a deal breaker with a pedal. I’ve gotten used to playing vintage fuzz pedals that don’t have LEDs. It’s fine, I just have to remember what I’m doing. But it sure is nice when it’s there.
Pro Co also added a standard 9v power jack. Older models used a 3mm pin jack. These older-style MXR power jacks are kinda annoying. With the new barrel jack, it’s easy to swap the Rat in and out of my pedalboard.
The Rat also accepts a battery. But honestly, I hardly use batteries anymore. The only time I do is with germanium-based fuzz pedals. Otherwise, I use Strymon power supplies. Less pollution and waste.
The Rat is also an affordable pedal. You can find them for $69. That’s quite a steal in today’s world. Especially for something that doesn’t sound inexpensive. I do wish they were still made in the USA. I get it, manufacturing has changed. And there is no way they could make this in America and keep the same price point. But still I like to see products made in the USA.
As far as I can tell, they didn’t skimp on any components. Quality control seems high. The Rat is built like a tank.
A couple of songs I reference to describe the tone of the Rat are Nirvana’s “In Bloom” and Blur’s “Song 2” (the bass guitar is playing through a Rat). But if you dig deeper, you’ll find a lot more examples. It’s not only one of the originators of distortion, but it’s been manufactured since its inception.
As a resident of NYC, it’s the only kind of Rat I like to see at a venue.
Let’s listen to some examples recorded with a Les Paul with Florence Pickups and 50’s wiring and a Vox AC15 pushing out about 96dB in the room.
Solderless cables are not a new concept. They’ve been around for a few decades. George Ls were the first brand I was introduced to.
I tried George Ls a number of times but they’ve always been unreliable. I would make some and put a pedalboard together, only to have cables fail on a gig.
They were never a long-term solution. Not on a pedalboard where all the pedals stay fixed. Nor for a modular pedalboard where I swap pedals out.
I remembering experiencing gig panic when I started a song and no sound came out of my rig. Because my pedals were in a chain rather then a true bypass looper, it was difficult to locate the problem and difficult to fix.
This is not what you want to experience on a gig. Having to get down on your knees and hunt for a bad cable is a mojo killer.
After having this experience on several gigs, I bailed on solderless cables—even though I preferred the tone. I can’t have reliability issues on stage.
I placed an order, made some cables (they were far easier to assemble then George Ls), and wired my pedalboard.
The first tone test passed with flying colors. I really like the sound of Disaster Area cables—not clouded and no loss of high-end detail.
Some guitar players don’t mind the high-end roll-off that occurs with certain cables or with long cable runs, but I do. I ‘m very particular about every part of my chain.
The next test was going to take more time. I would use them on a series of gigs and swap pedals out on my board.
I quickly put my new cables to work. A year later, not one cable has failed.
This is really impressive! It’s something I never achieved with George Ls.
I’ve definitely put the the Disaster Area Designs Solderless Cables through their paces. I’ve toured all over and used them in many high-pressure situations like live TV and and radio tapings. I can definitely rely on them.
They’ve become my preferred cable. They win on all counts: tone, durability, ease of use.
The problem with pre-made patch cables is the size of the right angle jacks.
They tend to be big and don’t allow you to squeeze pedals together on a congested board.
The Disaster Area cable jacks are really small, allowing you to tightly place pedals together, even when the jacks are on the sides.
The cable itself is quite flexible. This makes snaking the cables around your board very easy.
I won’t exaggerate and say I have a perfect record when it comes to assembling Disaster Area Solderless Cables.
Others may have a higher success rate. I’d say mine is about 80%.
For the record, I’m not the most mechanically inclined. If you see me with a screw driver around the apartment, worry. It’s likely something will end up more broken than when I began.
That said, my success rate with Disaster Area Designs cables is much higher than with George Ls.
They’re fairly easy to put together. Their design is more stable, too. George Ls jacks can come loose. But Disaster Area jacks have a set screw design that keeps the cable jack tight. I haven’t had a jack come loose on me yet!
You don’t need a lot of tools to assemble Disaster Area Designs cables. A small screwdriver (which comes with the cables) and wire cutters.
I’ve been buying Disaster Area Solderless Cable packages over time and making a series of different cable lengths.
This saves me time when I’m assembling a modular pedalboard. I’m always swapping out pedals on my board, depending on the gig.
That means I’m constantly changing the number of pedals and their routing. Sometimes I use a true bypass looper so that my pedal changes are accessible from one location. As opposed to dancing all over my pedalboard.
I’ve made cables in about five different lengths, from super short to the entire length of my pedalboard.
This allows me to put a board together pretty quickly. If you’re the kind of person who always keeps the same board, you can cut each cable to length and commit.
Room to Spare
One thing worth mentioning. Until you get the hang of assembling Disaster Area Solderless Cables, I recommend you cut the cables a tad longer than you need.
I’ve messed up a few cables and had to cut a small amount off to try again. This obviously results in a shorter cable. If you’re using exact measurements and have to cut off small amounts like I do, your cable will be too short.
You can buy Disaster Area Designs EVO Solderless Cable Kits, which come in three different packages. Or you can purchase their cable and jacks in bulk.
In the past couple of years there have been a few other offerings in Solderless cables. I still prefer Disaster Area cables for their tone.
Plus, they’re a small business. When I can, I support small businesses.
I’m a self-confessed vintage tone nut. I’m not hiding in the shadows. I’m fully public with my love of guitar tones of past. That doesn’t mean I don’t embrace new ideas.
I’m open—unless you bring Kemper or Fractal into the conversation. Mostly because for me, the conversation of signal flow and gain staging to an amp is really important.
I do use some digital products. Strymon makes some of my favorite delay and reverb pedals. They’re digital. So I’m not a complete purist. But I also didn’t throw out my real tape echo.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited to receive the Analog Man Beano Boost in the mail. The treble booster is one of the very first gain devices and plays an important role in the history of guitar tone.
The treble booster is not only a rare effect but a widely misunderstood one.
I’m going to avoid getting deep on the circuitry. There is already a considerable amount of info on Analog Man’s website. I would rather talk about its application and sound.
Let’s start at the beginning. Why did I pick Analog Man as opposed to another brand? Because he knows how to tune his pedals. When I receive a pedal from Mike Piera, I know it will sound good. I know every pedal has been listened to. Mike is also an expert on booster and fuzz circuits.
Treble boosters are a peculiar effect. They are meant to accompany an already overdriven amp—not a clean amp. If you plug the Beano into a clean Twin Reverb, your first impression won’t be good.
This has nothing to do with the Beano Boost. It has everything to do with the treble boost circuit.
So if you play through a solid-state amp or a high-wattage, high-headroom amp, this is prob not the pedal for you.
If you play through an amp that breaks up, you’re going to be in lurve!! It’s like eggs and hot sauce. Just meant to be together.
The Beano Boost gets its name from the legend that Eric Clapton supposedly used one on the John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers album “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton,” aka The Beano Album.
There has been quite a bit of controversy over this. Eric says he didn’t use one. To my ears, it sounds like he’s playing through a cranked Marshall Bluesbreaker amp with a Les Paul. It doesn’t have the treble booster flavor. But the argument continues.
Well known uses of the Rangemaster Treble Booster are most of Marc Bolan’s (T.Rex) recordings. Later in Marc’s career he would break the rules and use a treble booster with solid-state amps. This is a very specific sound and isn’t the first go-to for many players.
Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” was a Gibson Les Paul Junior with P90s into a Hornby Skewes Treble Booster into a Hiwatt. You can just imagine the sheer volume!
Tony Iommi used a treble booster on all the Black Sabbath Records until 1979. It was paired with either a Marshall 50-watt or an early Laney amp. It is said that Tony’s Rangemaster was modded. Nobody seems to know how, though. Regardless of the mod, it is a very Treble Booster style of sound.
Brian May (Queen) has used a treble booster as a centerpiece of his tone for his entire career. Paired with his hand-made guitar with single coils and an army of Vox AC30 amps.
Crank an AC30 in the normal channel with a TB, add some chorus or flange to the mix, and you’ll have instant May tone. His tone sings in a way that just wouldn’t be possible without the TB circuit.
An interesting side note about Brian May’s AC30 set-up is that all the control knobs are disabled except for the volume knob on the normal channel. So there is no EQ in the circuit. It’s a one-knob amp.
The normal channel on an AC30 is a little more receptive to the frequency shift induced by a treble booster.
Personally, I really like how a treble booster induces feedback. It bumps all the right frequencies that stir the feedback pot.
I also like how an overdriven amp paired with a treble booster still retains more detail and clarity than when paired with a fuzz.
The Beano Boost (or any treble booster) is not nearly as compressed as a Fuzz Face or Tone Bender.
“Treble boost” is a bit misleading. It’s really a mid-range boost. As well as boosting mid range, it also cuts the low end. This combination can make your amp scream and cut through any mix.
The Beano Boost adds two other options for the frequency range boost: a lower mid boost and a bass boost. The Original Dallas Rangermaster only had one setting.
I’m kind of a traditionalist, but the extra options do make the pedal more flexible. I like them and end up using them quite a bit with different amps. It’s a welcome addition even for this crank yanker.
More Pedal Perks
You can also add some options to the Beano Boost when you purchase it on Analog Man’s website.
I chose the option to turn the battery off when the boost knob is turned fully counter-clockwise.
This saves me time and hassle from having to pull the input cable after every session/gig. The Beano Boost only runs on batteries, as any authentic TB or fuzz circuit should.
I happen to be particular about what batteries I use in fuzz and TB circuit pedals: Panasonic 9v batteries. They’re pretty cheap and sound great in fuzz and treble booster pedals.
A Duracell is a powerful battery. The Pansonic batteries don’t put out as hot a signal. For traditional tone, the lower current batteries sound better. When these vintage circuits were designed, batteries weren’t as high output as they are today.
There are no rules, and you may like an alkaline battery. But for old-school tone, go Panasonic.
A Sea of Booster Circuits
There are a lot of TB circuits on the market. I don’t feel that many truly capture the tone of a real TB. There are a lot of interpretations. Even with the original Rangemaster there were some variations. But not nearly as many as there are today.
For one, it’s hard to get the original germanium Mullard OC44 or OC71 transistors. They’re rare. Analog Man isn’t using the original OC44 or OC71. He is sourcing NOS transistors from the ‘60s. So even though they are not the same transistors, he has tested them to make sure they sound almost identical.
He has found a germanium transistor that creates the real essence of the original.
I compared the Beano Boost to a treble booster with original OC44s. It wasn’t that different. It definitely wasn’t a case of the OC44s sounding better. I didn’t leave wishing I had the OC44s instead of the Beano Boost.
Analog Mike knows how to make great-sounding pedals. These are not mass-produced pedals. Each one gets handled and tested. Which matters, especially with fuzz and treble booster circuits.
The Beano Boost cleans up quite well. It can be left on the entire time. In fact, the original circuit was intended to be left on the entire time.
The Dallas Rangemaster was originally a box that sat on top of the amp. It had a very small switch to turn on and off.
It was not a pedal on the floor with an easily accessible foot-switch. The Beano gives us that practicality now.
One of the reasons the Beano Boost was meant to be left on all the time is because of the massive amounts of gain (boost) it adds—up to 18db of boost.
That’s a pretty big difference between volume in bypass and with the treble booster on.
Many players back in the day just left the Rangemaster on and rolled back their guitar volume.
In order to use this on your pedalboard and interface with other sounds we need to do a few tricks.
As mentioned, it’s best to use the Beano Boost into an overdriven amp. Well, we can re-create this chemical reaction with an overdrive pedal such as the Analog Man King of Tone, Effectrode Tube Drive, Keeley D&M, Fulltone OCD, and many others.
I usually set my OD pedal to light overdrive (about where I would set my amp) and drive the input with the Beano.
I then turn down the output of the overdrive to unity gain with the amp. This way, I can use the TB in context of other sounds without great differences in volume.
Of course, you have to try different ODs to find the pairing you like. My personal fave is the Effectrode Tube Drive.
Is this the same exact tone as driving a Vox AC30 hard with a Beano? Not exactly. But it sounds great and it’s practical for gigs where you need a few other sounds and can’t leave the Beano on all night.
Since the Beano Boost and Rangemaster circuits are catalysts, the amp plays a very big role. Although they can be used with any amp breaking up, I tend to have some favorites.
Marshall, Vox, and Fender Tweed amps are at the top of my list. You’ll notice I like the TB with British circuits or amps that inspired British circuits. It’s not that they will sound bad into a cranked blackface deluxe. It’s that it’s just such a recognized tone going into a British amp.
That’s not to say that it won’t work into your favorite amp. I’m just saying that in order to get certain tones like Brian May’s sound, the amp is as important as the treble booster. They’re happily married.
The Beano works well with pretty much any guitar. I really love what happens to the low end with a Stratocaster plugged into a Beano and a Vox AC15.
I love the authority it has with a Gibson Les Paul. With an ES-335, it can make notes sing. With a Danelectro or vintage Harmony that has lipstick or gold foil pickups, it can bring out some of the funkiness in the instrument. Unless you’re at full stage volume. Then it will scream like a valedictorian at the gates of hell.
So one must approach with care when using hollow body guitars with a Treble Booster onstage or in a loud room. Controlled in the studio, it can be magic. Or at least as cool as balloon animals on senior day for a cannabis conference.
The Beano Boost is definitely one of the major food groups of tone. It’s a sound you’ve heard but never been able to put your finger on.
It may come with a learning curve because we have gotten so used to the idea of a gain pedal having a master output.
The Beano Boost follows no orders. It paves its own path and doesn’t like to be boxed in. Once you’re come to an agreement with its anarchist attitude, it can really excite your tone.
Let’s listen to some examples paired with different guitars and amps.
Ex1: Beano Boost into a Headstrong Lil King Reverb (Blackface Princeton).
I recently paid a visit to F.S. Lutherie
in Brooklyn, NY. They are a small guitar custom shop specializing in repairs and builds, based in the borough’s Greenpoint section. Owner Farhad Soheili met with me to discuss his new line of custom guitars, FSC Guitars.
Farhad worked for many years as the guitar tech at Ludlow Guitars in Manhattan until deciding to go out on his own. He knows repairs.
I’m a self-confessed nut for musical gear that is hand-made and not mass-produced. All of the small details really do matter. That’s not to imply you can’t make great music with a mass-produced guitar. It just means there is some subtlety that gets lost in the assembly line.
This may seem odd, as the original Fender guitars were meant to be assembled fast and affordable.
But times have changed—and Fender has streamlined the process even more and changed the ingredients from its original recipe.
When you buy a modern Fender you’re buying a name. You’re really not buying the same formula that was created long ago by Leo. The pickups are different. The paint is different. As are many other small elements.
If you really want to find a Fender-style guitar that is closer to the traditional sound, you often have to look further than Fender.
That brings us to FSC Guitars. Although Farhad makes Fender-esque guitars, they’re not 100% traditional. They are very much Fenders in regard to tone. But he’s made a few improvements under the hood.
The truss rod adjustment is better than the traditional Allen wrench Fender style. FSC uses a dual-action spoke wheel design. The advantage? It won’t strip and it can be adjusted without an Allen wrench. This is handy for all you gigging guitarists when a quick tweak is needed at a show.
The neck also has two carbon fiber reinforcement rods. One on each side of the truss rod. This keeps the neck straight. Necks can twist a little over time. I’m having that exact issue on one of my Strats right now. The carbon fiber bars prevent that.
For finishes, FSC uses nitrocellulose lacquer. I’m a fan of nitro, as these fishes tend to be thin. You feel more connected to your instrument and the guitar resonates more. It feels as if it’s breathing.
Most modern Fender guitars use a poly finish, which basically means there is plastic in it. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, nitro is bad for the environment. Fender mass produces guitars. If they used nitro on all of their guitars it would be bad for Mother Earth.
Secondly, some guitarists get ruffled if their guitar gets a scratch on it. I see a scratch as a rite of passage. It means I’m using it. Poly keeps those players who polish their guitars off twice a day happy, as it’s more resistant to scratches.
Me, I ain’t got no time for polishing. I’m busy playin’ and making memories!
Poly finishes are very durable. But with that durability comes a finish that suffocates your guitar. The closer I can be to the wood vibrating, the happier I am.
Farhad winds his own pickups. You may ask how good they are. Here’s a story. He brought a ST-M for me to play at City Winery for Amy Helm’s CD release. I often play a Strat on her gigs as well as an ES-335. My Strat is a 1991 American Standard Strat. I’m quite fond of it. It’s a really great- sounding Strat.
It was nice to be able to compare these guitars at stage volume. This is often when gear gets exposed the most. The FSC was quite open-sounding and seems to have extra harmonics sitting on top of the notes and chords.
After playing the ST-M for the gig, it left me feeling like I was missing something on my Strat. This hasn’t really happened before—and I’ve played a bunch of different Strats.
The FSC was refined. The touch response was instant. It felt like there was less between me and the note coming from the amp.
Farhad’s inspiration for the ST-M is 1959 Strat, which is his favorite year of the Strat. He would know, as he’s repaired many a vintage Strat over the years.
The ST-M’s pickups were lower-output than my Strat’s but more defined. Because of this, they were a better contrast for the Florance PAF-style humbuckers I have in my 335. Seems strange, right?
The lower-output ST-M pickups didn’t need any help when I switched guitars. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a volume difference between the humbuckers and the single coils. I’m saying that the tones complimented each other well.
The pickups on my AM Standard Strat seem less alive. I often need to use a pedal like the Xotic EP Booster to get a little more life into it when pairing it with a humbucker guitar in my rig.
I have to say I missed the ST-M and its pickups for the rest of the tour. I kept feeling like I was missing something in my tone.
So even if you’re not looking to buy a new guitar, some investigation into FSC pickups can greatly improve your tone. Yes, I’ve played many other hand wound pickups. I’m telling ya, these are good!
One thing is clear. Farhad is not just getting some guitar kits and putting them together. He’s making a complete guitar from scratch (minus the tuners and knobs).
This is rare, as some manufactures are really making Parts-casters and marking up the price. FSC’s bodies, necks, and pick guards are all custom cut and shaped.
This means you can choose a neck profile, neck radius, and fret size.
Made to Order
The advantage to talking to someone before building a guitar is that they’ll build it to your specs. FSC isn’t just throwing parts together that don’t have a relationship.
He’s clearly matchmaking. He knows what a good slab of wood sounds like before he cuts it. As he’s slowly building the guitar, he’s taking note of the particular character of that instrument and adjusting as he goes along, keeping your interests in mind.
This doesn’t happen often in a factory and sometimes results in an unbalanced guitar. This is where hands-on construction is crucial.
Meeting with Farhad, it’s clear he’s aware of the personality of each guitar he builds.
I’ve played a lot of Strats over the years. So many that it almost makes my eyes glaze over. It’s the most copied guitar in the world.
So I expected FSC’s hand-built guitar to be nice. But I wasn’t prepared for how much I would like it. It was definitely an elevated Strat. It checked all the boxes for me.
It played so evenly. There was a lot of care given to the frets—often an issue on mass-produced guitars. Every fret felt useable and comfortable.
The tone was genuine. When I closed my eyes I felt I was going back in time and playing a newly-constructed Strat from the late ‘50s.
Some modern Strats sound like they need a little help off the line. They seem incomplete without a pedal of some kind. They can be a little generic. The ST-M was far from generic. It’s one of those guitars you can run straight into an amp and be in tonal bliss.
There are no corners cut on this guitar. There isn’t a board of advisers or investors looking for maximum returns on their investments. It’s a small operation that is very dedicated to the art of guitar-making. For the love of the instrument!
FSC Instruments ST-M (HD audio) Demo by Mark Marshall - YouTube
If you chat with a guitarist and mention overdrives, you’ll need to pull up a chair and get comfy. You’re gonna be there for a while.
It’s a deep subject partly because there are so many overdrive pedals on the market. It’s flooded with overdrive options.
You might ask why we need to add one more to the list. Well, normally I would agree. But every once in a while an OD pedal comes along that’s a game changer. Such is the case with the Robert Keeley D&M Drive.
The thing with OD pedals is, you have to try them to hear how they sound. There are really no words that properly explain the way an OD pedal will react to your playing, guitar, and amp.
Generic words are often used to describe these pedals. “Tube-like,” “amp breakup,” “touch-sensitive.” Blah, blah, blah. These terms are numbing by now ‘cause they’re used ad nauseum. Keeley doesn’t do this. In fact, they’re quite understated about how great this pedal is.
Here’s the thing about OD pedals. They’re very personal. For me, I don’t like when an OD pedal is too compressed. I find a lot of OD pedals tend to be overly compressed, which makes them sound small to my ears. I like to keep some of the dynamics. Unless it’s a special occasion, of course.
I also don’t like too much low-end truncation. A little is fine, but if the pedal is taking an axe to my low end, I’m not usually into it. Again, special occasions may happen.
These are my two biggest gripes. I think this is a big discussion for most guitarists. I rarely hear guitarists talk about how much gain an overdrive has. They chat more about compression and low-end roll off.
Let us not forget the midrange bump, though. Many a guitarist can get into a heated debate over whether a mid bump is acceptable or not.
Bands have broken up, marriages have been ruined, friendships broken over the subject. Ok, not really. But some guitarists are very passionate about their functional/dysfunctional relationship to midrange.
What does it sound like?
With that out of the way, let’s jump into the Keeley D&M.
This is a lively pedal. It doesn’t compress the signal too much. I’m not saying it doesn’t compress at all because c’mon… it’s a drive pedal. By its nature, it compresses.
But the D&M doesn’t add gobs of compression. It’s dynamic. It feels good and doesn’t make my guitar feel or sound small.
The drive channel is based on a Tube Screamer circuit. Which by nature tends to be compressed. But it doesn’t feel as soft or compressed as my Maxon OD-9. And the low end is more active on the D&M then the OD-9 and other TS circuits I’ve used.
It holds up at bedroom, rehearsal room, and stage volumes. I don’t find this with most overdrives.
This is often neglected by people trying to recreate vintage tones. There is something about being in the same room with the amp and letting the amp and guitar speak. In any room, there are harmonics that don’t exist at low levels or in the control booth.
Normally, it would take a considerable amount of volume to create this on an amp without master volume. The Keeley D&M allows me to get to this point at about 4-5 on my amp. Yeah, this isn’t exactly quiet. But, it’s a lower volume than it normally takes for me to create this tone.
You can hear some of this in my recordings. Where it seems like it’s almost about to feed back. Like there’s a note hanging on up there, waiting for its turn.
Let’s listen to some samples.
Gibson ES-335 with Florance pickups into a Headstrong Lil’ King Reverb:
The Keeley D&M includes a boost channel and a drive channel. They are independent of each other and you can switch their order.
This is a brilliant feature. Sometimes you want your boost before the drive, to push the drive harder. Other times you want a cleaner boost after the drive, to bring up the volume of solos.
You can also think of it as having two channels. The boost channel can be a clean boost. But it can also give you some grit with the gain knob.
The boost channel is a considerably different tone from the drive channel tone. The gain from the boost channel can give you a bit of that Tom Petty “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” rhythm tone.
So you don’t have to use the boost channel as a traditional boost. It can also be another “channel.”
This also opens up the door for stacking. Note: your placement of the boost channel—before or after the drive channel—will influence the tone. Even if you’re not boosting volume!
I have very few complaints about the Keeley D&M. If I had to pick one just to show I’m not the teacher’s pet, it would be the placement of the power jack.
I wish it was on the side opposite the output jack. Its position next to the output jack makes it hard to use a right-angle plug and keep the plug flush with the pedal.
I don’t want to judge too harshly. The designer might have been abducted by aliens only to arrive to work with a celestial hangover the next morning. Leading to the oversight of the power plug placement.
Or—more likely the case—the designers decided to keep all the jacks on the back, making it easier to squeeze more pedals on the pedalboard. Which means they were really considering its integration onto pedal boards. Ok, Ok, I now see it’s a good idea. Well, I tried to find something I didn’t like!
It works perfectly with solderless cables, which are what a lot of people use these days. I mostly use Disaster Area solderless cables on my boards.
It’s only when I used the Keeley D&M in a pinch with some Fulltone patch cables that it becomes a mild issue. Of course, I solve this by walking to the next room and grabbing my Disaster Area cables instead of being lazy.
Both the drive and boost channels of the Keeley D&M have more then enough gain to juice your amp. On the drive channel I have the output knob at the half-way point just to match my clean sound. This gives me plenty of room to blow things up if I want.
True Bypass Looper
By now you’re seeing how versatile the Keeley D&M drive is. I know this because I keep going on and on about it. I’m almost done, but I do want to mention one more thing.
Since this is a dual pedal, it’s likely you’ll hear guitarists somewhere mumbling about wanting to split the drive and the boost in their chain. Maybe they want their OD early in the chain and the boost last in their chain.
Seems like you would need two pedals, right? Get ready for my rabbit out of a hat trick… Keeley’s got this covered.
You can use insert Y cables to isolate each effect. Meaning, you can set it up to have separate ins and outs for the drive and boost. Two independent effects. Brilliant!
You can integrate this pedal into your true bypass lopping system and independently control each effect’s on and off status.
I really do like this pedal. I think it’s one of the best drive pedals on the market. I don’t say that lightly, either. I’ve played so many OD pedals it makes my head spin. I highly recommend you take this one for a spin.