By Darren Carless

A few months ago the Orange Blog took a brief look at some of the effects that are available to the modern guitarist (Missed it? Check out it out here). Given the vast and varied amount of effects available, the previous edition concentrated on more ‘standard’ effects (if there is such a thing these days) that tend to be seen most often. In this edition however we’re going to shake things up a bit and have a look at the not-so-standard selection of effects that you might like to have a play around with. As per the previous edition, along with a brief description of what each effect is, we’ve provided some examples of pedals that deliver the said effect and signposted a song where you can hear it doing its thing.

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Equalizer (Boss GE7/MXR Equalizer 108)
EQ pedals can serve a number of purposes and have varying effects depending on where they are placed in your chain. They can be used as boosters, to even out discrepancies in tone when switching guitars (i.e. those with different pickups) or even to conjure up feedback or help fight against it. All of this is done by simply manipulating the frequencies that the pedal has access to.

 

 

 


 

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Talk Box (Heil HT-1/MXR Talk Box)
Taking the ululating sounds of the wah-wah even further, the Talk-Box is perhaps the ultimate method for humanising your guitar sound. But how does it make such an unusual sound? Well…the guitar sound is fed into the pedal & then comes back via a tube into your mouth allowing you to shape it by moving your mouth as you would do when talking.

 

 

 

LISTEN TO: Peter Frampton ‘Show Me The Way’ or Bon Jovi ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’


 

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Rotary Speaker (Strymon Lex/Hughes & Kettner Rotosphere)
Based on the Leslie Rotating Speaker (but a hell of a lot smaller and lighter thankfully), the sound created is more commonly associated with the Hammond Organ. The original Leslie sound was created by two speakers being (yup you guessed it) rotated, with the physical movement causing the distinct modulation (varying speeds offered further musical variations).

 

 

 

LISTEN TO: Stevie Ray Vaughan ‘Cold Shot’


 

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Univibe (MXR Univibe/Fulltone Mini Deja-Vibe)
Initially designed to replicate the sounds of the Leslie Rotating Speaker, the Univibe is now an effect in its own right. Technically it’s a phase shifter but it does things rather differently. The Univibe’s distinct sound is created by passing the signal through a series of staggered filters rather than in-line ones that you would normally find in a phaser for example.

 

 

 

LISTEN TO: Robin Trower ‘Bridge Of Sighs’ or Pink Floyd ‘Speak To Me / Breathe’


 

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Octave (Boss OC3/Roger Mayer Octavia)
One of the simplest yet most striking effects. An Octave pedal simply recreates any note played in a different octave i.e. higher or lower or even several variations at once. Usually it works best when used for simple riffs.

 

 

 

 

LISTEN TO: Jimi Hendrix ‘Purple Haze’ or White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’


 

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Ring Modulation (Moog Moogerfooger Ring Modulator/Way Huge Ringworm)
Possibly one of the more out there effects available, Ring Modulators add an oscillated signal to your ordinary signal that results in certain frequencies within it either being boosted or cancelled out. Varying the shape of the oscillation (e.g. sine wave, triangle) creates different harmonic and sonic textures.

 

 

LISTEN TO: ZZ Top ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ or Black Sabbath ‘Paranoid’ (well the solo)


 

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Pitch Shifter (Digitech Whammy/Eventide Pitch Factor)
Used simply, Pitch Shifters allow you to create harmonies or completely change key whilst playing. Alternatively they can be used for insane sounding bends and haunting squeals.

 

 

 

LISTEN TO: Pink Floyd ‘Marooned’ or Rage Against The Machine ‘Killing In The Name’ (you can’t miss it)


 

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Tape Echo (Watkins Copycat/Fulltone Tube Tape-Echo)
Tape Echo is the Grandaddy of any delay-based effect. Unlike the delay pedals of today though, the sound to be repeated is recorded on to magnetic tape (if you were born later than 1990 you may never have heard of this so ask an older relative) which is then passed over several playback heads. Echo created in this manner is generally considered to be ‘warmer’ and more ‘rustic’ than digital delay.

 

 

 

 

LISTEN TO: The Shadows ‘Apache’ or Michael Jackson ‘Beat It’ (well Eddie Van Halen’s contribution anyway)

As with Part 1 this isn’t an exhaustible list…there are still plenty more effects out there that we haven’t covered (e.g. Loopers, noise gates and some that don’t really fall into any category like EHX’s Hog 2) plus someone’s always inventing new ones designed to create some weird and wonderful sound that has never been heard before. That said, if you’ve read both parts of our Quickguide to Effects, you should have more than enough to be getting on with…have fun!

By Guest Contributor Darren Carless

Let’s set the scene…you’ve arrived at rehearsal, loaded everything in and set it all up. You decide it’s time for a couple of riffs. You lift your guitar onto your shoulder and check the tuning. You turn to your amp to make sure that everything’s set at a reasonable level and throw the on switch. You step back and strum a big power chord…silence.

Or maybe you just can't hear because your beanie is too tight

Or maybe you just can’t hear because your beanie is too tight

If you’re one of the very, very few to have never experienced this situation then consider yourself to be lucky…but if like me you have had to deal with this situation the question is…what do you do next?

As guitar players it’s inevitable that at some point something will go wrong or not work as it should. Therefore, the sooner that we can get to grips with that fact and prepare ourselves to deal with it, the better.

So where do we begin? First off…keep your cool! As frustrating as the situation may be there’s no point in throwing your hands in the air claiming that the world is about to end (although it is good to release the pressure a bit). If you do blow your top it’ll mean that you’re not going to be thinking straight and the diagnosis could take longer because you overlook something.

The quickest way to diagnose the problem is elimination. Unfortunately modern guitarists use a lot of things, e.g. amps, guitars, pedals, cables (it’s a big list), so the process can become quite elongated and the potential for your annoyance levels to increase is huge…but needs must. The clever way to do this is in a sensible order that will save time.

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However, in order to problem-solve in a sensible order, one needs a sensible setup

Depending on the type of set up you have you’ll have to adapt your strategy accordingly but whether it’s more complicated (involves pedalboards and / or multiple amps) or simple (guitar straight in to an amp) there can only be so many problems.

Start with the simple, quick-fix things…is everything plugged in properly i.e. securely in the socket and in the correct socket? Even if you think they are…double check. Is the mains switched on? Even if it is…is the socket live? (the indicator light on your amp will help you with this). Are all knobs, switches etc where they should be? The classic one is master volume set to zero…Doh!

If you don’t find the problem doing the above that could mean there’s a problem with your amp, guitar or cables themselves. This means you’ll either need to try removing something from your setup (e.g. your pedalboard) and plugging the guitar directly into the amp or replace a part of your setup with an alternative e.g. swap your guitar for another guitar (if you’re able to). Remember…if you’re going to start changing things do them one at a time otherwise you’re going to be there for quite a while as you won’t be able to identify where the problem actually lies.

"The problem is cat hair, kitty litter, fur balls, and also your cat hexed your amp because cats are evil." CatsOnAmps.net is a real website, btw.

“The problem is cat hair, kitty litter, fur balls, and also your cat hexed your amp because cats are evil.” CatsOnAmps.net is a real website, btw.

The above can be time consuming but you will find the problem sooner or later. Whether it’s one that you’re able to fix or not will depend on the actual problem…don’t try fixing things if you don’t know what you are doing…some things can and will kill you! As well as having to diagnose and fix problems on the go there are also lots of things you can do to try and help prevent them from happening in the first place.

For example any problem can be exacerbated by poor quality cables as the likelihood of them failing increases. Other things to consider when plugging up are…are you using the correct leads (guitar cables are for guitars, speaker cables are for speakers) and are the leads long enough (they should comfortably reach where they need to and not be stretched or taut). And don’t be lazy when it comes to running your leads around the stage…passing them through your guitar strap and carry handles on cabs – means the socket and plug won’t take the brunt of the force if the lead gets yanked (we’ve all tripped over our guitar lead) and should the plug come out of the socket it will be easier to locate as it won’t fall to the floor (I’m sure many of you have spent a few frantic moments crawling around a stage looking for that plug).

Sort of related: our New Twister Cable makes it easier to NOT get tangled in the first place. Click the pic for more info.

Do we all carry spares? If you don’t then you should, as well as any tools you may need to facilitate a repair / replacement. I carry a spare lead for every single lead that I need e.g. guitar lead, speaker lead, mains lead, patch cables, microphone lead, spare power plug for my pedalboard etc as well as spare strings, picks, microphone, valves and fuses. I also carry a small toolkit e.g. phillips screwdriver, flathead screw driver, allen / hexagonal keys of various sizes, wire cutters etc. Yes it’s a pain in the backside lugging it all around but better to be prepared and not need it than find yourself in a sticky situation. If you’re serious about playing music you need to be serious about looking after your gear.

It might sound a bit OTT but coming up with a routine for setting up your gear can save time in the long run. Ever forgotten to plug your amp into your cab? I keep my speaker lead plugged into the first pedal on my board when it’s not in use which means that I can’t plug my guitar into my board until it’s removed, thus reminding me to plug my amp into my cab.

It's similar to how I keep my socks on my feet for years at a time. Except it doesn't cost me friends.

It’s similar to how I keep my socks on my feet for years at a time. Except it doesn’t cost me friends.

This guide isn’t a one stop shop for dealing with any issues that you may come across on your musical journeys. There’s no way on earth that it could include a fix for every problem that you may encounter (the list would be endless) but it can get you thinking about how you would deal with a problem if one did rear its ugly head so that you’re prepared for it. Sadly it’s pretty likely that something will happen and more often than not it will happen when you least want it to i.e. in the middle of a set! Unfortunately the biggest cause of problems when it comes to our gear is ‘us’ and as much as we hate to admit it we’re human and will make mistakes, usually with our gear bearing the anger of those mistakes…it’s just a good job it can’t talk back!

*** PLEASE SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT YOUR OWN PERSONAL SAFETY WHEN CONSIDERING OPENING UP AMPLIFIERS. THEY CONTAIN LETHAL VOLTAGES. AND FOR OUR OWN LEGAL SAFETY, DON’T EVER OPEN AN ORANGE AMP SPECIFICALLY.***

By Orange Forum Admin, Billy Claire

Healthy? Unhealthy? Who’s to say – you decide!

It all started around 1978. I had been playing guitar for nine years and had gone through a Montgomery Ward amp; a Sound Electronics amp; an Ampeg VT-22; and had just recently purchased two Marshall Superleads and two Marshall 4X12 cabinets from Dave Amato, who now plays with REO Speedwagon. I played my ’66 Strat through them and I loved it. I used to play small clubs with both heads and cabs – we had to be ridiculously loud.

Vintage Montgomery Ward Combo

Vintage Montgomery Ward Combo

Anyway, I was taking a girl out on a first date into Boston and I was looking for something to do after dinner. I opened the newest issue of the Boston Phoenix and the Cellars By Starlight column mentioned a band called The Streets playing The Club in Cambridge. The column fairly raved about them so I figured we should check them out. Up to that point in the evening the date had been all right but when The Streets took the stage I was completely blown away. One of the guitarists was playing through a Superlead like mine but the other guitarist has this full stack of something orange… never had seen or heard anything like it. The Streets were incredible – fantastic songs with great guitar parts and clever lyrics. And the main guitar player was better than any guitar player I had ever seen or heard. But those Oranges stuck in my mind and I resolved to find out more about them.

After some time had gone by, the girl and I stopped dating, but I went to every Streets’ gig that came along. By this point, I had decided that I was going to start writing songs myself and that the cover band thing was pointless. I was still playing through my Superleads but I was getting increasingly dissatisfied with them. Still, they were the best sounding amps I could have since I had no idea what Orange really was.

After a number of gigs I got to know the guitarist with the Oranges. Come to find out, his name was John A. We got to talking after a Streets gig at The Channel nightclub and discovered that we shared a real love for The Beatles. The Streets were getting more popular and it was common to find yourself sitting next to someone from Aerosmith at one of their shows. Eventually, they joined Aerosmith on the Draw the Line tour as their opening act and not long after that imploded.

Fast forward to the mid-eighties and I’m trying to find out more information on those Orange amps. Amplifier books started to be published and I noticed some photographs in Ritchie Fliegler’s book, AMPS!: The Other Half of Rock and Roll, of a whole field full of Orange amps and cabinets. He had some good information on there, which I later discovered was taken verbatim from a 1973 Orange catalog owned by legendary soundman, Nitebob Czaykowski. Then, Aspen Pittman’s “The Tube Amp Book” had a small section on Orange with some information. Still, there was very little to be had and not all of it was accurate. I filed it all away, and then in 1988 Guitar Player magazine had an article called Used Amps, Ten Best Buys. In it, the author, David Hicks, talks about the Orange OR120’s and how they are amazing amps for the money, and, at the time, used Oranges were going for $200 – $300. But at the end of his column, he mentions that he has learned of a warehouse with several unsold Orange amps from the 70’s. I ended up contacting him and he told me that he had received so much flak from subscribers complaining that he was trying to sell amps through his column (he wasn’t) and he said, ‘Let me give you the information because it has caused me so many problems.’ I got the information and called John A. John had sold his Oranges a number of years earlier and was playing through Marshalls. His cousin was working for LaSalle Music in Boston as the office manager, and John worked an arrangement out with them to buy all of the Oranges with us getting a deal in the process. I ended up with a “new-in-the-box” 1978 Orange OR80M for $350. Just the smell of it was intoxicating. I plugged it in and was blown away by the sound. It had a master volume and suddenly I could get a great sound and be able to lower the volume and keep that tone. My Superleads only sounded good when they were turned up, and even with two of the tubes pulled, were still too loud for just about anywhere! But my new Orange was just incredible. And then a funny thing happened: people started coming up to tell me how great my sound was after gigs. And not just musicians – people who you might not expect to be able to tell the difference between a good tone and a great tone were coming up and complimenting me. That has been the case now ever since I started playing Oranges.

Orange OR80M Head

Orange OR80M Head

When I bought my Marshalls, I had heard that they could be unreliable. The other guitarist in my high school band, after all, had a Superlead and it was always breaking down. So when I bought my Superleads, I bought two of them so that I would have a back up. That sort of became a mantra in my life, so when I had the opportunity (and the money) I went looking for a second Orange as a back up. I eventually found another OR80M but this time it was a reissue of the original. I had heard that Gibson had something to do with bringing the name back, but I didn’t care because I had my back-up amp! I played out with my Oranges but discovered that my reliance on distortion pedals to boost my sound and thicken it up with gain like I did with my Marshalls wouldn’t work on my Oranges. What was this? It was as if pedals had no effect at all. In fact, I thought my pedal was broken but then I tried it in my Marshall and it worked fine. I discovered that I could set my Orange to the sound I wanted for my solos and then roll back the volume on the guitar and it would clean up nicely. ‘Just like the guitarists in the fifties,’ I thought.

Of course, I needed the matching cabinets. I religiously read through our local paper and the WantAdvertiser, which was the paper craigslist of its time. I would scour the musical instruments section but didn’t see anything. The week that I didn’t buy it, a friend of mine said, “Hey, did you see this week’s WantAdvertiser? Somebody is selling one of those Orange cabinets that you want.” Sure enough, there was an ad for an Orange 4X12 cabinet. I drove a half hour to go see the cabinet and there it was! I paid $200 for that cabinet. Then, within six months, another cabinet showed up and I went and got that one, too, this time for $250. The two cabinets were the same size but only one of them had any logos on the grillecloth. The cabinet without the logos also had these weird little cutouts for handles unlike the other cabinet which had proper metal handles like my Marshalls. Both were loaded with Eminence speakers and I would later discover that the cabinet without logos was an Orange Matamp cabinet.

Vintage Orange Matamp Speaker Cab

Vintage Orange Matamp Speaker Cab

Still, I kept searching for more information and got little tidbits here and there but nothing very comprehensive. Then I started reading that Orange was coming back and putting out a 140 watt amp with two channels! 140 watts! Well, I had to have one. I set aside some money and ordered it from the only store in Massachusetts that was a dealer. After months and months of waiting, my amp came in. It was wonderful to pull it out of the box and smell that same new Orange smell! I plugged it in and was just overwhelmed with the sound – but not just one great Orange sound but two amazing channels of pure tone heaven. It was fabulous but just incredibly loud! I loved it!

After a couple of years, Orange introduced a 30 watt version of the amp in a combo. I contacted my dealer and arranged to swap them an old ’67 Marshall 50 watt plexi head I had acquired for the Orange in an even deal. Again I waited and waited, but when it finally came in, I drove in to the dealer, opened the box, smelled that new Orange smell, and tested it out. Wow. Great tone like the AD140TC but at a lower volume and the output tubes’ contribution to the overall sound was amazing. I started using this amp for everything: live shows, rehearsing, and recording. And the compliments on my tone increased, this time mainly from musicians who were just blown away by the sound.

Meanwhile, Orange had launched a website and started a web forum. I joined because now I was finally going to get the answers about the history of Orange! But a strange thing happened – people were asking questions and no one from Orange was answering them. Fortunately, the information I had gleaned thus far enabled me to answer ninety percent of the questions asked, and when I didn’t have the answer, eventually Jason Green from Orange would answer. After this had gone on for some time, I emailed Jason and asked him why anyone from Orange wasn’t answering the questions on the forum. He said, “By the time we read a topic, you’ve already answered the question – would you be interested in moderating the forum?” I said I’d give it a shot, and here I am 11 years later!

At some point along the way, I remember reading that Orange had made the first digitally programmable amplifier back in the mid-70’s called OMEC. I thought it sounded interesting but no one I knew had ever seen one, and most had never heard of it. I began to regularly search eBay for Orange products. Some interesting things would appear from time to time and I started to acquire some interesting things. Not that I needed them, mind you, but I was becoming moderately obsessed with all things Orange. I bought a horn cabinet because it was there; found an Orange footplate from the drum set they sold in the early 70’s. Along the way I got a Tiny Terror and then decided it was time to get an Orange bass rig as I was starting to play bass for a friend’s band after their bass player had passed away.

OMEC

I took a trip to London to visit friends and on a whim, called Neil Mitchell at Orange HQ to see if I could finagle a visit. They said yes, and I took the train up to Borehamwood from London. Neil took me around and showed me everything – I played through a new Dual Terror and saw a lot of prototypes for amps that never went into production. Then Neil said, ‘Hey, Cliff would like to meet you!’ I thought it would be a quick handshake and introduction, but Cliff Cooper invited me into his office and we talked for over an hour about Orange. He showed me a giant pc board that they had found in a closet from an OMEC head. We had a wonderful time – Cliff was just a delight to talk with and such a warm and friendly man. When it was time to go, Cliff asked me how I had gotten to Orange HQ – I said I had taken a taxi from the train station and that I’d just call another. He said ‘I’ll give you a ride to the train’ and we drove down in his car. It was an unforgettable visit and I couldn’t thank him enough for his hospitality.

Back home, I continued my quest for Orange things on eBay and occasionally searched for OMEC. To my surprise, one late night on eBay, an OMEC finally turned up in California. That’s a story for another blog entry I’m afraid though!

After a lot of Oranges and a lot of research, I finally felt like I knew most of the Orange story. When Orange put out the Orange history coffee table book (to purchase in UK go here) the rest of the pieces fell into place. I was very proud to see my name in the book twice; being thanked for moderating the forum; and a photo credit for my OMEC head. The book was done right – it is a comprehensive tome on the company’s history and tells the whole story well. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the wonderful people who I have met through Orange; Neil Mitchell, Mick Dines, Alex Auxier, and of course, Cliff Cooper, are some of the nicest and most helpful people I have ever met!

The Book of Orange Flipbook - Hardcover Edition

The Book of Orange Flipbook – Hardcover Edition

I’ve amassed quite a collection of Oranges now: many of the old catalogs, a Micro Terror, Tiny Terror, OR15, AD30TC, AD140TC, AD200B, a couple of little Crushes, and a bunch of cabinets, too. They’re all fantastic amps and I enjoy playing around and experimenting with the sounds I can get out of them. However, I finally found the amp of my dreams in the AD30TC I have to say. I’ve had lots of different amps along the way: my early Ampeg, several Fenders, and four different Marshalls, but the AD30TC still amazes me every time I turn it on and plug in. It’s simply the best sounding amp I’ve ever played. But I do have to say that whenever Orange introduces something new, I get this little twinge…

AD30 Combo

AD30 Combo

Cheers!

Billy Claire
Marlborough MA

So, you’ve finally done it. You’ve started your band and you guys totally rip. You’ve played out locally, recorded some songs and are finally ready to take your stuff on the road to get your creative endeavor in front of as many people as possible. It’s a pretty exciting time for a band…but it’s also scary and confusing as shit.

Before I ended up working here, I spent the better part of three to four years on the road with various bands. I was a guitar player, a bass player, a driver, a merch dude, and a “tech” (read: if the guitar player popped a string, I’d hand him his backup. That’s about the extent of my tech knowledge) for a bunch of bands. I’ve slept on floors and in vans and in dilapidated squats in Slovenia, and played in basements, attics, boats and pretty much everything in between. I am by no means a “road pro,” but I do have some bits of advice I’d like to throw out to all the bands out there who are ready to make the next jump. These are some general pointers and things I wish I had known the first time I piled a bunch of people and our gear into a van heading out into the vast unknown.

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1. You Need A Van.
This may seem like common knowledge, but you’d be surprised how often I am putting on a show here in Atlanta and band rolls up in a couple of sedans. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but there is no substitute for having a large van that can fit all of your gear and all of your bandmates comfortably. Whether you are spending two weeks or two months on the road, you are still giving up 90% of your personal space and 99% of all the comforts you have at home. You don’t want to sit ass-to-elbows with your drummer for 5 hours a day, 21 days in a row. You will all need some space, so having a decent, spacious van pays off huge here. Also, while we are talking about vans, try to avoid trailers at all cost. I know this seems difficult, but spend time playing Tetris with your gear in the back of your van. Master that shit. I cannot tell you how many trailers full of irreplaceable gear and life possessions have been stolen while a band sleeps at night. Especially if this is your first time out, PLEASE do everything you can to protect yourself (and your gear!) out there.

2. Reconsider bringing “merch guys” and “roadies.”
If you are going on your bands first tour, you probably don’t need either of these two people. Bring a backup guitar and bass and maybe a backup head (like, say, a Tiny Terror or an OR15), and leave your stoner buddy behind on your couch. You’ll be fine, trust me. As for merch, here’s an honest truth: if this is your first tour, you probably aren’t going to have lines of 50 people at your merch stand every night. Take your most responsible member and exempt him or her from unloading off stage at the end of the set. You’re not going to lose any sales in the time it takes for them to dash from the stage to the merch table.

Also, there's this reason not to have too many roadies.

Also, there’s this reason not to have too many roadies.

3. Speaking of merch…you need it. And LOTS.
I’m assuming that if you are touring, you at least have a record or two to promote. Hopefully you have it available on one or two formats, and even better, you have like, two or three albums. Don’t just limit yourself to just bringing CDs or just 7”s and LPs. You might be a vinylfile, but the dude who loved your set in Cincinnati might only have a CD player. Have some options so no one who enjoyed your band leaves your merch stand without something to listen to. And as for merch? Bring lots of it. Have at least two t-shirt designs. I play in a thrash-punk band who once made the mistake of only ever having one t-shirt design, and it was a pretty abrasive thrash-punk design. Looking back, it was no surprise that we never sold many, and it wasn’t until we went and added a much less abrasive design did we start to see increases in our merch sales. Again, have some options for people. But once you have your designs, you need to order enough to last the tour. Generally, for a first time out, about 30 shirts per design should cover you for a 2-3 week tour, but you might want to start spreading that out once you start adding on dates. Also, think about the people you generally see at your local shows to figure out sizing…the last thing you want is to be stuck with a bunch of extra small shirts and no Larges the last week of tour. And lastly, get a bunch of shit to give a way for free. Buttons, stickers, cheap patches, anything. Toss them in free with other purchases, or just put them out at the end of your table with a big thing that says “free.” Even if you can’t push a CD and a shirt on someone, at least let them walk away with SOMETHING to remember your band by.

4. Be prepared for some shows to just flat out suck.
This is an inevitability, and especially something you need to be prepared for if you are booking your own tour. Some nights might be homeruns, and some might be duds. I’ve played a fair number of shows to the other bands and the soundguy, and trust me, that shit happens all the time and it happens to everyone. But! You can’t let it discourage you! If a show sucks, still play it like the venue is packed with people who are stoked to see your band. Few things will make a promoter want to not try harder for you the next time around than a band with a shitty attitude because their Wednesday night show wasn’t a banger. Be respectful of everyone who helped put the show together, even if it was a total downer.

The guy who used this picture to demonstrate a "downer show" is not the same guy who wrote this article.

The guy who used this picture to demonstrate a “downer show” is not the same guy who wrote this article.

5. Be prepared for some less than desirable sleeping arrangements
All my bands always had a “no hotel room” policy unless it was a dire circumstance, so I’ve done my fair share of sleeping on hardwood floors with just my sleeping bag next to the cats liter box. It’s a part of touring that everyone goes through. You can avoid this some, though, by trying to arrange sleeping situations while setting up the show. Emailing the promoter or locals before leaving for tour as opposed to just “figuring it out when we get there” could be the difference between a decent night’s sleep and everyone crammed in the van sleeping in a Walmart parking lot.

"We'll just wait until it happens to figure it out." - New Orleans

“We’ll just wait until it happens to figure it out.” – New Orleans

6. Lastly, be respectful of everyone involved with putting on the show.
I mentioned this a little bit in point 4, but always remember that everyone involved in this show is doing you a solid by putting it on and performing with you. Be as nice and respectful as you possibly can to the promoter, sound guy, door guy and all the locals. Show up when they ask you to, don’t play longer than they ask you to, and do everything you can to do your part in pulling the weight of the show. Also, show up prepared to play. This might sound incredibly simple, but a lot of bands will roll out of town without a bass amp, hoping they can borrow one at every show. This is a huge dick move. If your bass player isn’t willing to bring his own amp setup on the road, then your bass player isn’t ready to tour. Same for guitars and drums. Also, if your amp blows out on show three, try and get it fixed before show four. If you absolutely cannot get it fixed, start emailing ahead to promoters and other bands to arrange one to borrow. Few things are worse than some band rolling up to a venue and start asking to borrow bass amps. Be prepared, respectful and professional, and it will take your miles when it comes to touring.

The time I spent traveling with my friends playing in a bunch of dumb punk and hardcore bands was, without question, one of the best parts of my life. Even now when I am sitting on my couch with my wife and our three dogs watching True Detective or Monday Night Raw, I still get this itch to throw everything back in the van and hit the road for a couple weeks. So while it may be pretty trying and overwhelming at times, I totally encourage every band out there who thinks they are ready to do it to quit their job, throw all their shit in the van and just GO. You’ll thank yourself later for it.

By Guest Blogger Darren Carless

Previous blog articles have briefly looked at the types of effects that are available to modern guitarists, what you need to be thinking about when taking your first steps into the world of pedalboards, and the enigma that is the effects loop.

With those previous editions in mind, this article looks at arranging your selection of effects in order to optimise their performance and get them doing what you want them to. The way in which your effects are arranged has a massive impact on your overall sound. This is because they will all react differently depending on where they are placed in the chain due to the signal that is fed into them (i.e. pure guitar signal or signal from another effect).

Deciding upon your setup is a big decision…so how do you know which way is right and which is wrong? Well as you’ve probably come to expect by now (as with everything else when it comes to your setup) there is no right way or wrong way to chain your pedals together…it’s simply all about finding out what’s best for you!

The general consensus on the proper arrangement of effects is as follows…

  1. Dynamic effects (e.g. compressors)
  2. EQ’s and filters (e.g. wah-wah)
  3. Drive effects (e.g. overdrive, distortion and fuzz)
  4. Modulation effects (e.g. chorus, phasers and flangers)
  5. Delays / Echoes (although more often than not these can be found in the effects loop of the amp)
  6. Reverbs (also usually found in the effects loop of the amp

This arrangement means that the raw signal (i.e. from your guitar) is straightened out and refined first, before being distorted and boosted and then made to wobble. Next echo is added to the modified signal and finally it is reverberated.

Here’s a few suggested setups and what you can expect from them…

‘NORMAL / STANDARD’

normalstandard

 

This follows the order above and is a good place to start if you’re trying to get to grips with arranging your effects. This is considered to be the classic setup.

‘ALTERNATIVE STANDARD’

alternativestandard

 

This is a common variation on the standard setup. Here the wah-wah and the modulation pedal are swapped around. This arrangement will make the wah-wah stand out a lot more. When using older (more often than not analogue) modulation pedals it can be worth experimenting and placing them before your drive pedals, as sometimes they can sound a bit mushy when placed after.

USING THE EFFECTS LOOP

using-the-FX-loop

 

If your amp has an effects loop it’s always worthwhile trying your delays and reverbs in it (modulation pedals are often placed in effects loops too). This setup will usually mean that your delay and reverb will sound more prominent. It will also simplify the signal going into the front of your amp.

THE SQUASH

squash

 

Compressors should always be placed at the start of your chain, as their job is to even out the dynamics of the signal. Putting them later in the chain will only amplify any noise built up before them. You could also try this arrangement with a wah-wah positioned between the compressor and modulation pedal.

So there you go…as easy as that. If after reading this you’re sat there thinking it all looks and sounds very complicated (although it can be if you want it to be) don’t be put off as in reality it’s very simple…you get a pedal and plug it in, then you add another to it, then you swap them around and then add others and change the order until you find the sound that you’re after. Some decisions will be made for you (e.g. if your amp doesn’t have an effects loop you’ll have no choice but to put everything into the front of your amp) but for the most part it’ll be down to your personal preferences. Remember when it comes to effects experimentation is the key so get your hands on some and get stuck in!

Contributor Bradford Wolfenden II believes that in order to find the right mix of equipment for your guitar set-up, sometimes you need to keep it simple, sometimes you need to think outside of the box.

Geartopia

Gear is nothing without you, the player. Your preferences, or lack thereof, determine the entire path your expressive desire travels from the piston-fire of your synapses to the ears of your angry neighbor. One could be just as happy playing through a multi-effects processor into a set of headphones as Gene Simmons feels dripping blood from his mouth in full costume as the fireworks go off. There are may ways to split the wig but it starts with the wig. There may be computers composing sounds for the motherserver somewhere but to my knowledge there is no robot currently destroying a 12-string in front of an audience of discarded kitchen appliances. It takes flesh and blood, a will to play, and the means to acquire the equipment necessary to do what you want to do.

I’ve had state of the art $2000 rigs blow up on standby. I’ve walked into a bar and had a proprietor assume I can plug 70’s amps and gear into the white and red Aux-In cables of their “totally legit” jukebox sound system. I’ve wielded said 70’s gear onstage fully mic’d in a giant theater, living the actual dream, and damn near scrambled my own eggs when my beer moistened beard connected with the microphone as I ignored the ground switch on the back of the amp. Switches matter. Gear matters. The situation governs all. Start planning now on where you want to be and build that bridge step by step. Ask every single question that comes to your mind and talk to as many people as possible about what they play, and why, and why not.

We are almost 90 years from the Hawaiian lap-steel craze that brought us electronic amplification and centuries from the most primitive strings-across-sound-hole contraptions and we have a lot to show for it. From the guy on Venice Beach with the Pignose and roller-skates to Anne Clark’s simulation rigs you can go as large or small as you like but planning is key. If Rollerbro’s batteries die and Ms Clark’s presets reset they both will end up sitting on the wall outside a university jealous of the guy strumming his acoustic for the ladies and gentlemen strolling by. The best advice is to start simple but at the same time going one step further than you assume you need. The second pack of strings at home or the extra cable in your bag at the gig could solve and lead to more things than you’d think. You may want to record yourself on your computer but if you buy the single-input box you are going to have a bad time when you get the band together for the demo recording. Explore your options and use the ocean of the internet to research and contrast ideas and setups.

Lastly, don’t lock the mad scientist in you away but do use caution. Just because you can remove every screw on your amp and see the impossible cities of capacitors and tubes and power boxes doesn’t mean you should cut away like a haircut or pet around like it’s the kiddies section at the zoo. Use discretion in combination with imagination. Put your cellphone up to your pickups sometime. Find an inexpensive pedal and a modification kit and call your best bud with the soldiering iron. Unplug your turntable from your stereo pre-amp and run it through your guitar rig. Check out circuit bending and instead of throwing out the kid’s Fisher Price My First Keyboard turn it into the noise-glitch reverb machine of doom. Run your sister’s flute thru a chorus pedal. The pieces you’ll need to acquire to scratch these mad itches will come in handy another day in a most crucial way. Just keep the volume low while checking the seeds you’ve sewn in the mad lab. It’s a long week when your flanger mod pops off the circuit board and temporarily converts your melon to mono.

So you’ve amassed a small collection of pedals but to be brutally honest it looks a mess when they’re all set out in front of you, takes bloody ages to set them all up and can get a bit confusing. So what’s the solution? Simple…it’s time you got yourself a pedalboard.

Now it’s all well and good deciding that you need a board but where on earth do you start? Hopefully this guide will give you a good idea and shine a light on a few of the things that you may not have thought of. Before we start please remember that very rarely will two people want exactly the same things from a pedalboard. The key thing is to think about what YOU want from YOUR board.

So what should you be thinking about?

‘WHAT & WHERE’
Probably the most important element of the whole process is determining what will be placed on the board. You may think this is easy but don’t forget it can include not only effects pedals but amp footswitches, power supplies and even wireless units.

Samson AirLine AG1 wireless system

Samson AirLine AG1 wireless system

Once you’ve decided what’s going on the board, you need to decide where it’s all going to go. This is a crucial decision as this will affect how the board actually performs. Remember it’s a tool to help you when playing and is supposed to make things easier for you not harder.

Accessibility is the key word here. There’s no point in arranging everything on the board so that it looks good if you can’t use any of it. You need to be able to reach the pedals easily and safely whilst playing, without hitting any of the others or doing yourself an injury. Think about placing those pedals that you use most often at the front of the board and those that you use perhaps only once or twice during a set (or not at all during a song e.g. your tuner) at the back of the board. That said there’s no point in putting something like a tuner at the back of the board if you can’t see the display on it properly. The same goes for any pedal that you may need to alter the settings of mid-song (remember you’ll have a guitar in your hands too). Also make sure that those pedals that need a little extra space around them get it. Any pedals with a rocker, e.g. wah-wah or volume pedal, will need to have space for you to actually work the treadle comfortably.

An example of inaccessibility

An example of inaccessibility

Having taken all of the above into account don’t forget that your pedals need to be placed in a certain order (of your choice obviously) to maximize their performance and each one needs to be powered. Make sure that the cables you have are long enough and have the correct shape jack plug (right angled ones will save space) and that all the sockets (including the power one) are accessible. There’s nothing worse than coming up with an arrangement that looks good and works for you if you can’t plug it all together!

‘THE BOARD’
Having established what is to be included and where it’s all going, you’re now in a position to actually think about the board itself. All of the above will determine the fundamental size and shape of the board. Be realistic – if you’ve got 10 or more pedals and they’re not little ones (as is the fashion at the moment) they’re not going to fit on something the size of a piece of A4 paper.

First off you need to decide whether you’re going to flex those DIY muscles and manufacture the board yourself or buy a pre-manufactured one by the likes of Pedaltrain, Blackbird or Diago. There are several factors that all need careful consideration here and are all interlinked. You will obviously need to consider the cost. Some of the aforementioned manufacturer’s boards are not cheap so that piece of old shelf you have sitting in the shed can look very appealing. That said do you have the relevant skills to craft something from it? Don’t take on something that you’re not likely to complete, will not do the job or end up with you injuring yourself…those fingers are important. Also, don’t forget that you’ll need to transport the board every time you have rehearsal or a show so it needs to be a practical weight, shape and size. You will also need to ensure that everything that you’ve strapped to the board is safe during transit. There are a number of viable options such as flight cases, gig bags or even an old suitcase. Each has its own pros and cons, for instance flight cases may be the best protective option but they can be heavy and expensive.

Click this picture because this guy actually did build a wood pedalboard in a suitcase for $6

Click this picture because this guy actually did build a wood pedalboard in a suitcase for $6

‘SECURING PEDALS’
Now you know what’s going on the board, where it’s all going and what kind of board you’re going to have, you need to think about how you’re going to make sure that everything stays where you put it…after all none of this stuff is cheap. The usual suspects are Velcro, cable ties and be-spoke pedal fasteners (you should be able to find plenty on the internet). Most pre-manufactured boards will come with their own supply of Velcro (again you can find it online). You need to decide what works best for you given your circumstances. If the layout of your board is never likely to change then cable ties or fasteners will give you the most secure option but if you’re going to swap your pedals around frequently then Velcro is more practical.

This probably wasn't necessary to include

This probably wasn’t necessary to include

‘I HAVE THE POWER’
Like the plethora of choices you have when it comes to effects pedals the choice of power supply is just as varied. The main consideration here is that whatever power supply you opt for it should be able to provide enough juice to power all of your pedals.

The first decision to make is whether you’re going to power everything by battery or mains. Some of the modern mini pedals don’t even have the option of being powered by battery so this decision may be made for you. If you are planning to run everything off batteries then you will need to consider the cost implications as well as performance and reliability (some pedals will be severely affected if the battery is starting to run low and there’s always the chance of one going flat mid-song). A slightly more robust battery option is to go for something like Pedaltrain’s Volto. It’s a Lithium-Ion power pack like you’d find in a laptop or tablet. You simply charge it up and then plug your pedals into it. The advantages of batteries are that you don’t need to worry about locating that elusive power socket or running a huge power lead and it eliminates any problems you may encounter from a dodgy power supply.

Another option is to ‘daisy chain’ the power from one power source e.g. a Visual Sound One Spot or the Pedaltrain Volto to power each pedal. Certain pedals can help you with this (e.g. Boss’ TU3 and NS2) and can act as a booster running up to 5 pedals each as long as they get a good power supply. The disadvantages of daisy chaining pedals are the power draw (you need to ensure there are enough milliamps for every pedal you have) and the fact that you can’t power anything with a different voltage rating (i.e. if you’re using a 9v adaptor you’ll only be able to power 9v pedals).

The ‘professional’ way to power your board is to opt for a power bank by the likes of TRex, Pedaltrain or Voodoo Labs. The only real disadvantages are the cost and the space they take up…other than that they’re a winner. More often than not the outputs will be isolated meaning each pedal gets its own individual power supply reducing any unwanted buzzing or noise. They’ll also tend to support varied voltage outputs i.e. you can run different rated pedals. Power banks provide a steady uninterrupted source of power. One thing you need to be sure of if you decide to go with a power bank is that it has enough outputs at the voltages you need.

Or that it at least looks rad and has a clever name...

Or that it at least looks rad and has a clever name…

Some pre-manufactured boards come with brackets (or can be adapted) to hold power banks underneath. This tidies up the board and saves space… might be room to fit that extra pedal after all!

‘CABLES’
There are a number of options available to you when it comes to wiring up your board. The main one is whether you’ll be going down the DIY route and making your own cables or using ready made ones. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. If you’re making them they can be made to spec as far as length, plug type and quality of components go (as long as you have the necessary skills). If you’re purchasing off-the-shelf cables they should be of decent quality (remember you get what you pay for) but you’ll have to make do with the lengths and plugs that are available. Somewhere in the middle of these two options is to go for custom made ones which although more costly should give you exactly what you need (make sure you use a reputable company).

There is also the solder-free option. George L, Lavacable and Planetwaves all have kits available but they can be expensive. Solder-free kits, as the name suggests, are easy to assemble and can save you a lot of space on the board as the plugs tend to be smaller. You basically make them to the exact lengths you require for your needs. The main disadvantage of solder-free kits is the durability. That’s not to say that they’re not reliable but given their very nature, i.e. no solid physical connection between the plug and lead, there is a chance of them failing more easily than a standard cable.

Lava Cable Solder-free Pedal Kit

Lava Cable Solder-free Pedal Kit

So it’s not as straightforward as you thought is it? But this shouldn’t put you off. Hopefully this guide will allow you to make more informed decisions and come up with a pedalboard that is everything you want it to be. The golden rule is to always bear in mind what you’re trying to achieve with your board. Yes it might look great and allow you to show off your pedals but it’s supposed to make your life as a musician easier and less stressful. As usual there are no right ways or wrong ways to go about it, but common sense and stepping back to consider the bigger picture will pay dividends.

Guest Author: Darren Carless

By Darren Carless

Back in the good ole days the choice of effects available to guitarists was very limited to say the least. Fast forward to present day and the modern guitarist is bombarded with just about every effect imaginable (and some that are not). So what do they all do? This edition of the blog provides a brief understanding of what each effect is along with some examples of pedals that deliver that effect and a signpost to a song where you can here it in all its glory. So here we go…

Overdrive (Ibanez Tubescreamer / Fulltone OCD)

The defining sound of rock guitar. Overdrive pedals produce soft tube-like distortion by distorting the sound wave without flattening it. In essence they recreate what happens when a valve amplifier is ‘overdriven’ producing warm and gritty or crunchy tones.

LISTEN TO: Anything dubbed to be classic rock.

…………………….

Distortion (Boss DS1 / MXR Distortion +)

Distortion is the angrier sibling of overdrive. It’s harder and more jagged, and unlike overdrive will tend to totally flatten the peaks of the signal.

LISTEN TO: Just about anything by Nirvana.

 …………………….

Fuzz (Dunlop Fuzzface / EHX Big Muff)

Taking Overdrive and Distortion to the nth degree, Fuzz totally reshapes the signal creating everything from ‘pure filth’ (that’s a technical term in these circumstances) to a warm woolly sound.

LISTEN TO: ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix

 …………………….

Boost (MXR Micro Amp / Xotic EP Booster)

Generally speaking a booster is designed to give your signal a bit of extra juice without altering its character (which is why they’ll often be tagged as ‘transparent’). They do this by increasing the amplitude of the signal.

 …………………….

Compression (MXR Dyna Comp / Keeley Compressor)

Compressors are intuitive little devices that respond to the strength of the signal that is fed into them and then compensate by either shifting the signal strength up or down i.e. they make loud sounds quiet and quiet sounds louder by compressing the dynamic range. More often than not it’s used to increase sustain when soloing or to increase the punch of rhythm parts.

 …………………….

Wah – Wah (Dunlop Cry Baby / Fulltone Clyde Wah)

Almost human in its sound, a Wah-Wah pedal creates vowel-like, ululating sounds by altering the frequency spectrum of the guitar i.e. how loud the guitar is at each specific frequency.

LISTEN TO: ‘Voodoo Chile’ by Jimi Hendrix

…………………….

Delay / Echo (Strymon Timeline / TC Flashback)

You play a note; the pedal records it and then plays it back after the original note either once or multiple times dependant on the settings you’ve dialled in.

LISTEN TO: Almost anything by U2, but we wouldn’t do that to you, so here’s Tool!

 …………………….

Chorus (Boss CE5 / EHX Small Clone)

Chorus adds a subtle (or not so subtle) shimmer to your tone and is often described as ‘watery’ sounding. It does this by splitting the signal in two and adding delay and pitch modulation to one half before combining with the other half of the signal.

LISTEN TO: ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana

 …………………….

Phaser (MXR Phase 90 / Boss PH2)

Whether you want to describe it as swooshing, swirling or sweeping, a phaser brings a distinct feeling of movement to your sound. Like Chorus it splits the signal in two, altering the phase of one half by oscillating it around the entire frequency range.

LISTEN TO: ‘Eruption’ by Van Halen

 …………………….

Flanger (EHX Electric Mistress / MXR Flanger)

Creating everything from jet engine-esque whooshes to slower ‘wobblier’ phaser-esque sounds. Unlike a Phaser, a Flanger allows for more control over the peaks and troughs created by the oscillating frequency.

LISTEN TO: ‘Walking On The Moon’ by The Police

 …………………….

Vibrato (TC Electronic Shaker / Diamond Vibrato)

Vibrato is a modulation in the pitch of the signal and is very similar to chorus but without the delay element. At extreme settings it can produce very dramatic ululating sounds.

LISTEN TO: Pretty much every Tame Impala song

…………………….

Tremolo (Boss TR2 / Empress Tremolo)

Tremolo produces a rapid variation in the volume of the signal i.e. it simply turns the volume of the signal up and down at determined speeds. Extreme settings can create a stuttering effect.

LISTEN TO: ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth?’ by R.E.M.

 …………………….

Reverb (Eventide Space / EHX Holy Grail)

Used to create a sense of space and more often than not named after the type of space they emulate e.g. room, hall, spring etc. Reverb is a simulation of the reverberations and reflections of sound as it bounces off surfaces and decays.

LISTEN TO: Pink Floyd “Sorrow” (at least the intro guitar)

So there you go. This guide isn’t meant to be the Holy Grail of knowledge about effects. Nor is it meant to be an exhaustible list of what’s available…hell it doesn’t even cover Pitch Shifting, Looping or Ring Modulation! It’s simply a basic guide to get you started. As usual the best bit of advice is to get out there, get your hands on some and see what they can do for you and your sound.

Starting a band can feel like the mountain peeking from the clouds. You can see where you want to go but the path is not exactly clear and it looks a long way off. Today this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are more ways than ever both physically and digitally to meet birds of a musical feather and playing your instrument with others is the best way to further your craft. The most important part has already happened: you have a desire to create music so strong that it conquerors all hesitation and personal sensitivities.

Emphasis on "hesitation and personal sensitivities"

Emphasis on “hesitation and personal sensitivities”

Online there are many ways to connect with others both on social media and static sites. You can find numerous groups on places like Facebook for every single genre of music you can imagine and people post band needs in these groups all the time. Just join them. Want to play mandolin but fear there’s no scene for it? Search for your preferred genre and you will find the group. If anything it will be a refreshing change for your feed to fill up with local music stuff instead of your buddy’s wife’s latest batch of cupcakes (which are wonderful by the way).

In the US Craigslist is also a great place to find musicians but can be a wild ride. You’ll find fellow musicians in the community section of your metro area (community>musicians). If you visit Craigslist it will automatically find the closest city to you based on your IP address. Even if you don’t see something of interest today check back daily. There’s also a whole industry forming involving websites specifically for matching musicians. BandMix is a good example. So is BandFinder. These new websites also allow people to upload music and video to the postings so you can get an easier feel beforehand. But don’t limit yourself by this impression alone. When you join a band you add to it and the music most likely will improve for the better.

But really…there’s no substitute for just putting yourself out there the oldschool analog way. Go to your local record stores and haunt them for an hour. Find the section with the music that inspires you and when someone comes along to browse strike up a conversation. Don’t worry, if they weren’t into talking they’d be purchasing online. Also always talk to the guys and gals at the register for they are the living nexus of the store. They will remember you from this the next time a local band is in the store and lamenting about their tuba player self-destructing on stage.

"If I can't see you, you can't see me, which means I don't have to listen to your mix tape, DJ Tuba Trackz."

“If I can’t see you, you can’t see me, which means I don’t have to listen to your mix tape, DJ Tuba Trackz.”

Also visit the bars most bands play outside of normal show times. Musicians are humans first and need to just hang, talk, and meet new people outside of stages and vans. You’d be surprised who you meet just by living in the world and rubbing actual elbows with it. If that’s not your thing just make sure your circle of friends know you want to play with others and share your music and playing with them. They may be blow away by it and mention it to their girlfriend later, who then remembers her friend’s boyfriend who’s in a band and needs a bass player.

Which leads me to my last point: do not limit yourself. Sign your instrument up for everything you can. Think you don’t like country? You’d be amazed at the crowd engagement and money to be made. Don’t like metal? Again, the crowd and power of the music once you get inside of it is like nothing else. Use the experiences to build not only your skill but your experience and local presence. Joining or starting a band seem like a mission to the Himalayas but once you throw your pack on you’ll be amazed at what you will find and how much harder it is to convince yourself you aren’t ready than it is to take any port in a storm of creative desire.

By Guest Blogger Bradford Wolfenden II

The Orange VT1000 is the world’s first all-digital, portable tube (valve) tester. But what exactly does that mean? Well, it means that we took all the technology that formerly went into this:

Eico1

Which looks like it could murder you

And fit it all into this little guy right here:

VT1000-Top-Right-View

You may want to ask yourself why nobody else did this already. After all, it makes perfect sense. If 40% of the amps purchased today are tube-driven then shouldn’t the technology associated with TESTING those tubes have, ya know, EVOLVED a bit since the first tube amps were produced? The answer is “not necessarily” and the reasons are many. The assumed difficulty of testing your own tubes. The acquisition and maintenance of a vintage tube tester. These are great reasons not to have previously tested your own tubes.

But the main culprit is the attitude some tube amp players take towards the little glass life-blood of their amps. I asked five guitar player friends why they didn’t test their own tubes and four of them answered “Why would I do that?” These are people who are fully aware that the VT1000 exists and regardless of how many times I’ve reminded them it exists the idea still hasn’t stuck. So I’m going to lay it out for you right now. These are the reasons you should test your own tubes:

It will make you sound better.

You’ve got your amp sounding awesome. You go to practices and play shows and this awesome tone is just as awesome as it can be. Then, one day, you notice it’s started to lose a bit of gain on Channel A, and only on Channel A. You ask your friends if they can hear the change and they’re all “dude, you’re just drunk, it sounds the same.” But you KNOW it doesn’t sound the same and so you freak out about it all weekend, adding pedals and checking cords and changing out guitars. Nothing is fixing the problem!

Here’s the deal: it’s probably a preamp tube, especially if it’s only affecting one channel. With a VT1000 you could test all the preamp tubes in about 8 minutes, identify the bad tube, and throw in a new tube. More than likely you’ll be back at full gain in under 20 minutes total. And here’s where it gets better, because instead of trashing the so-called “bad tube,” testing the tube will allow you to arrive at a number of 1-10 indicating how much strength is still in the tube. That’s called the “matching number” and you can use it to “match” that tube with other tubes like it. The benefit to “matching” tubes is that you can essentially control the gain, and therefore the tone, of your amp. So instead of throwing away what you assume to be a tube-gone-bad, hold on to it for those times when you want to change up your sound.

VT1000

Watch the demo video for the VT1000 on YouTube

It will save your butt.

You finally got that coveted opening slot for Yanni and your band, Fart Quality Control, practiced for a whole 90 minutes before the gig (hey, it’s hard to be a lawyer, dad, Boy Scout Leader, bird enthusiast, and have time left-over for rockstar-ing). You arrive 9 hours early to the venue to make sure there aren’t any snags. The soundcheck goes well, Dr. Richard Felter is absolutely shredding the uke and the back-up singers, your wife and probably her friend from PTA, are all really on point. This is guaranteed to be the single best experience this group of parents that started a band solely for the purpose of getting away from their kids one a day week has EVER had.

The lights go down. The announcer exclaims “without further ‘o-dor,’ here’s Fart Quality Control!” And suddenly your amp takes a dive. You’re getting no sound. Dr. Felter freaks out. He’s usually so calm and collected when he’s at the hospital performing life-saving surgeries 14 hours a day. But this isn’t the hospital. This is the biggest moment of his life, opening for Yanni, his favorite ethereal pianist, and it’s all come crashing down because you couldn’t test the tubes in your amp before the show.

He takes off his uke and bashes it into the PA. Sweating bullets, Dr. Felter picks up a large piece of the splintered wood and rushes towards the mellophonist. The B-flat scream through the muted chambers of the horn signal his demise. The doctor rampages across the stage and, one by one, the members of FQC fall. All the while you’re still playing with the knobs on your amp.But there is no power…there is no power.

If you had tested your tubes before your show you would have saved a lot of lives.

Seriously though, knowing which tubes are wearing out can make or break a live gig. The smart guitar techs for major touring bands have a reserve of tubes on hand at all times. When they get into a new town and start load-in one of the first things they do is test the tubes in their amps. Drew Foppe, tech for Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, tests and replaces ALL the tubes in ALL the amps EVERY SINGLE DAY. (Is that necessary? If Lindsay asks you to, yes. But still, probably not. Tubes have a “play in” phase and usually sound best after about 10 hours of jamming.)

The point is that tubes can go bad quickly and without any early indication that’s audible to the ear. If you test your tubes prior to a big gig, you might find that what were 4 previously matching power tubes have become 3 matching tubes and 1 tube that’s several numbers off from matching. If you’ve got a Class A amp rated 30 watts or under then it could be as simple as throwing a new power tube in the amp. If you’re playing a 100 watt beast that requires biasing when replacing power tubes, you might just reconsider playing the amp at all that night, or having a back-up plugged up ready to rock in case of a failure.

It will also save you buttLOADS of money.

Literally, and this is not a fake number I just made up, but LITERALLY 75% of the technical service issues Orange encounters on a day-to-day basis are tube-related. That’s not because our tubes are low quality or because tube gremlins actually exist (even though they totally do and I’m tired of being considered an “outsider” for my belief in them). It’s also not a result of the shoddy build quality of our amps. We make the tanks of the amp world. No, it’s because tubes are made of thin glass, are gas-pressurized, and contain strands of metal so delicate they can only be handled by tube gremlins (I’m not letting this go). They are going to break and when they do it is going to cost you money.

Don’t take it straight to a tech or service center. I know you’ve “got a dude,” and he’s the “only guy you let touch your amp,” but if 75% of the tech calls we get on a daily basis are tube-related then don’t you think it’s worth considering a tube as the culprit? Don’t rush out the door with your wallet in hand. If you can identify the tube that’s causing the issue then you’re half way there already. If it’s a preamp tube then you can usually swap it yourself. If it’s a power tube then which one and are the others still good? Knowing the answers to these questions can give you the knowledge to keep your tech from performing unnecessary service. Most of the time when our techs find a single faulty power tube in a customer amp they’re able to replace that tube and that tube only. This doesn’t change the fact that any amp over 30 watts needs to be rebiased anytime you change a power tube. But it might save you significant cash when you can safely answer “no” to the question “would you like me to replace ALL of your tubes?”

Changing tubes is like changing the oil in your car. It’s a requirement. You might be able to go further between some oil changes than others, but inevitably you end up back at the garage.

Do you have any friends that change the oil in their own cars? I do and I hate them for it. Why? Because they’re saving money while I’m getting fat eating biscuits (Note: I wrote biscuit just to appease the UK management). The only reason I don’t change the oil in my own car is because it requires me to change the oil in my car and SCREW IT I JUST DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT CARS! Luckily testing the tubes in your amp only requires you to know how to access the tubes in your amp.

I’m not advocating that you perform any major service on your amp. All you need to know is how to remove your chassis from the wooden sleeve or metal casing or whatever holds your amp together (string?). Obviously make sure the amp is unplugged and if you’re not a tech don’t go touching components that you don’t understand. Some things in there can shock you. But if you can remove the housing then you should be able to pretty easily access your tubes. Here’s a quick video about it.

Congratulations! You can now test your own tubes and reinvest all the money you save into orange-colored amps!