Friday, February 28, 2014

ADHD thoughts on Clones and Forgeries

Clones vs Forgeries
 It's no secret that a lot of pedal makers have taken Tube Screamer circuits and changed out certain components to achieve a similar, but different sound. They've done the same with Big Muff circuits, Fuzz Face circuits and a host of others. This is taking an idea and adding something that they felt is lacking in the original design or using better components and trying to create a better version of it. It's fun and creative and a lot of pedal builders seem to start off this way, as more and more people become aware of what they are doing. Analogman and Keeley both offer their version of the tweaked Tube Screamer with slightly different sounds than the current reissue. So, if you buy a current reissue TS-9 and would like it sound slightly different you can do the research and send it to someone to tweak.

For the purpose of this discussion I'm going to refer to clones as something where they have copied a circuit often using cheaper components, but are naming it differently and the pedal looks very different than the original. I've talked about the Joyo Ultimate Drive which is a clone of the Fulltone OCD. The parts are cheaper, the battery door doesn't close and I wouldn't expect it to stand up on the road like a Fulltone. I've also read that some of the Joyo pedal clones are closer in sound quality than others.

A forgery on the other hand is made to look identical and may or may not be sold to an unsuspecting buyer as an original. The forgery often uses inferior components and it may sound similar, but is rarely as good the real thing. Once again, I wouldn't expect it hold up if your thinking of touring with it. 

But I know the argument
Several years ago I worked for an artist supply store where we sold a brand of airbrush that was very expensive, at one point one of our sales reps brought us another airbrush that was identical for less than a third of the price. As it turns out, the more expensive brand was having this company build their product for them and now the manufacturer was re-branding it under another name and undercutting them. A lot of our artists were thrilled to have a high quality airbrush for $60 instead of paying the premium price of almost $200.

With a little bit of research you can find instructions for building fuzz pedals for $25 in parts. So, if a pedal builder is doing this and selling it $200 I can see where people would be upset. Visual Sound is a company who make no bones about the fact that their pedals are built overseas, they make a very good sounding and durable product at an affordable price. Most companies buy at least some of their parts overseas because they are not manufactured in the USA.  MXR and EHX both use overseas parts, but do their final assembly and quality testing in the US. Both are very affordable. 

What to look out for
So what about the forgeries? I read a sad story the other day from a dealer who said that a guy brought in his new guitar for a setup. He had just bought what he thought was used, but good condition Gibson Zakk Wylde Bullseye signature guitar off of eBay. It was a fake. This guy had spent a great deal of hard earned money on this guitar and it was not a very well built guitar. These new forgery pedals have the logos and looks and possibly the similar sounds, but are not built well. If you got a great deal on a used Wampler Triple Wreck on eBay only to get it and realize it's not as good as the one your friend has would you be upset? Or worse, if you got one and didn't have one to compare it to and it broke or didn't sound good would you then trash Wampler to your friends? Then talk about what a piece of junk it was? Now, you're hurting an honest guy who has worked hard to build a great business. You might even like the real product. Do you see where this goes? No where good. Nothing good comes of it. Something else I would like to add is that I believe that this happens in the Vintage guitar market more than people would like to admit. If someone can fake a guitar that sells for 30,000 dollars for under $1200 I'm pretty sure someone is doing it. 

It comes down to: know your product, know your supplier, know the return policy, and if a deal looks to good to be true, it probably is. I'd like to add that while we hear a lot of about these awful Chinese companies who are ripping off companies, I think that there are a lot good companies in China who are trying to better their quality and make an honest living. 
Know your product
A Few Things to Think About
A few companies like Lava Cable and VFE pedals make every effort they can to buy quality parts from US manufactures. This of course creates more jobs in the US, but you may have to pay a higher price. It should be noted that both Lava Cable and VFE have more affordable options in their lines that are priced at similar price points to their overseas competitors.

Having a pedal won't make you a better player. I really do believe that the sound of your guitar and amp is the most important thing. If you're not happy with that sound you probably won't be happy when you add in a pedal. If you like to learn and research stuff, there is a lot you can learn about building circuits so can you build a pedal that sounds the way you want. 

I've read a lot of interviews with smaller builders and they often talk about tolerances in electronics. They may specify a certain value in an electronic component but when they receive their shipment they often find that they have to test and sort each little component one by one to find the ones that actually are within acceptable limits. 

 Something else to think about is that if your not supporting the creative people who are creating and designing these products they won't keep doing it if they aren't making a living. They will be forced to go do something else. Most of these guys aren't making a fortune, they are creating a business that supports their families and sometimes a handful of other people. 

I think that there is a market for most of these different types of builders. Whether they are tweaking a circuit, building a clone, or trying to come up with something completely original. If their goal is to provide affordable quality options for real world musicians that is a worthy goal. If their goal is to only buy parts for their products from their home country, whatever that country is, I think that is awesome and patriotic. I personally would like to see more transparency from companies, I appreciate what Visual Sound does, as well as companies like MXR and Wampler and Analogman. But I drawn the line at forgery. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Joyo JF-02 Ultimate Drive and the Great Clone Wars

Clones are not exactly a new thing in our industry. Almost every guitar manufacturer makes a strat copy. Supposedly Marshall was copying Fender's Baseman when he started building amps. And while some people have plenty of money to burn most of us don't mind saving a few bucks on something that delivers the same sound. Enter Joyo, Mooer, and a host of other pedal builders that copy, without hesitation, some of the more popular pedal designs. You have to decide for yourself if you would rather support original designs or the cheap knock offs and whether it is ethical or not but here is my review of the Joyo Ultimate Drive.

 Lets start with the look. It's ugly. It has some sort of devilish tribal tattoo looking graphic on a matte black finish that I'm sure appeals to a certain demographic. The controls are a Gain, Tone, Level and a high and low switch and of course a true bypass stomp switch. For the most part that's pretty self explanatory, the high/low switch changes the mid frequency that that is emphasized. There is a lot of gain on tap and it sounds more saturated than a lot of pedals, more like power amp distortion than preamp distortion in my opinion. There is also a lot of volume boost available in the Level knob, so if you want to use it to push the front of your amp or another pedal it's great for that. The Tone knob is a bit different than other pedals as well. It rolls of the high end but not the low. If you like a nice tight bottom end this may not work for you. And this brings us to the overall tone of the pedal. It's fairly transparent and reactive to the sounds your using. As I mentioned above it works great as a booster. It sounds beautiful in low gain big loose bottom end type sound. And it's very reactive to your pickups and volume knob. I love running a fuzz into it too, together they make a very powerful combination. Some people feel like they sound great in any combination, but when I hooked up to a friend of mines amps it sounded thin and kind of anemic. This goes to show it really doesn't work for everyone and while I like the pedal, it doesn't stay on my board.

 This brings me to something I hinted at at the beginning of the review. With very little digging around on the internet you'll find that this pedal is confirmed to be a copy of the Fulltone OCD which is hailed by many people as the best Overdrive out there. There is a video on YouTube where a guys compares the OCD to a Suhr Riot. In his demo the OCD and Riot sound very similar. They are NOT. The Riot has a tighter type of distortion and a very tight bottom end. The OCD is much looser and spongier sounding to my ears. Both work great for different sounds. After reading a lot of reviews and being a fan of Overdrives I was planning on buying a Fulltone OCD but now I'm glad I didn't. I decided that I would buy the Joyo. I figured as cheap as it was it would probably break at some point and if I liked it I could buy the Fulltone which are better built. I like the pedal but I as I stated earlier it doesn't stay on my board and I probably wouldn't replace it.

 When I do use it, I like using it in the low gain range, and using the level to boost the sound of my amp. The low setting seems a bit smoother to me but it really depends on which guitar and pickups I'm using. As I said earlier I also like using it with a Fuzz running into it, it's kind of tricky but if you get it set up right it sound very alive. If you get the chance to try one of these or and OCD and you like it, my personal thought is you should get the OCD. If you like overdrives and haven't gotten the chance to try one of these the price on the Joyo pedals make them disposable. You can get three or four different Joyo pedals for the price of the one OCD try them out and not feel bad for having something expensive sitting there for occasional use. Of course the flip side is you really can't sell the Joyo for anything on ebay where the OCD will bring almost as much money as you paid for it. So is it the Ultimate Drive or a cheap knockoff? At this price it's easy for you to decide.

This review was completely unsolicited, I received no compensation for it and all views and opinions are my own.

Friday, February 14, 2014

TC Electronic Polytune Classic Review

Of all the cool pedals out there one of the least exciting and yet most important pedals is a tuner. There are a lot of great options in tuners others than pedals. Clip on tuners seem to be very popular as well as smartphone apps. But if you have a pedalboard a tuner is almost a necessity. I picked up the TC Electronic Polytune about three years ago and it has served me very well so I thought I'd post a review.

The Polytune was the first polyphonic tuner on the market. Polyphonic means that it can "listen" to all your strings being played at the same time and hear which strings might be out of tune. Just strum your guitar and watch to see which strings are a little flat or sharp. It can also function in Chromatic mode, meaning just one string at a time. With the tuner engaged you can play any note on the fretboard and almost instantly see if it is in tune. You also have the option of Needle mode or Strobe mode depending on what your preference is. If you prefer to tune half step down there is a button on the back which shifts the poly mode down or up a half step. The newer models also include a drop D option which is really cool.

I run my Polytune in two different places on my board. Normally I run it right after my wah pedal and before anything else. This insures that my dry signal coming from my guitar is unaffected my any modulation. It also acts as a mute switch if I need it, no one wants to listen to you tune and if I need to cut the sound off it lets the delay taper off naturally. The other place I will sometimes put my Polytune is off of the second out on my delay pedal. This allows me to leave my Polytune on without it affecting anything else and I can see at anytime if I'm in tune, however I loose the mute switch option when I do this. Another cool feature of the pedal is that it has an in and out power jacks. This allows me to leave everything on the board plugged in with a daisy chain and then just plug in the Polytune when I'm ready to jam. Awesome!
Lots of Options 

Even though I plug in my Polytune I like to keep a battery in it for when I'm restring my guitars. It's faster and more accurate than my phone app. I find the Chromatic mode to be more accurate than the Polyphonic mode and that's what I use most of the time but for a quick check, the Polyphonic mode is great. I've been very happy with my purchase of this pedal, it's well built and works great.

This review was completely unsolicited, I received no compensation for it and all views and opinions are my own.

The Vox V847A Wah Pedal Review

I love the Wah pedal. It might be one of my favorite effects of all time, and while it can be overused it's one of those effects everyone should have in their arsenal. I've played several different versions including various Dunlop Crybaby's, and the Morley Bad Horsie, but what I'm using right now is the Vox V847A. Right from the top the V847A has a classic look. I like the Chrome top and black base. If you don't know how to use a wah there are a lot of tutorials on YouTube. This one from Papastache is great.

There are a lot of very versatile wah's on the market. The Dunlop Dimebag Wah is probably the most verasatile of all of them. In fact I've read somewhere that when making an artist signature wah this what Dunlop sends out to start with. Then the artist tweaks their settings and sends it back and they make a prototype, and make changes from that. As much as I like flexibility, I'm pretty much a set it and forget it kind of guy when it comes to wah pedals. I mean, it only has to do the one thing, WAH! I like that Morley's are switchless, but that's not a deal breaker for me, and for me the crybabies that I've played have a brighter sound. If your playing bright clean sounds this might work better for you but I only use the wah when I'm playing with a distorted sound. My only two requirements for a wah is that one, I like having a power input so I don't have to worry about keeping batteries in it. And two, it has to sound good. For me the Vox wah has the best sound out of a straight up wah. Compared to other wahs it has a slightly darker sound, and is a bit throatier. To my ears it's more vocal sounding.
Vox V847A Wah Pedal
I tend to use the wah in two ways. One for solos, like Hendrix Voodoo Child, or Alice In Chains Man in the Box. The other way is to put it in a fixed position, either half cocked for a "tubey" type sound or all the way forward, or in the toe down positions for a cool low fi type sound. The last one sound really cool when the rest of the band drops out for a bar or two and then comes back in all at once.

Some people have complained about the buffer in the wah but I haven't found it to be a problem. If you try it and find an issue with it there seems to be two schools of thought. One is to add in a true bypass switch and disable the buffer, you can find instructions for these modifications by using Google. The other is to use a better quality buffer in front of it. This seems like the simplest solution but once again I haven't had this problem. It plays nice with my fuzz pedals and sounds killer to my ears. I'm always open to trying new gear and I'd like to try some of the new boutique wah's out on the market. But if your looking for a straight up, great sounding, and classic looking wah, this should be your first stop.

This review was completely unsolicited, I received no compensation for it and all views and opinions are my own.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

ProCo RAT 2 Review

Back in the late 90's I was using a Tube Screamer with an older Peavey amp for my setup. I tried a few different pedals but this was what I kept coming back to. About the same time a friend of mine picked up a ProCo RAT 2. He used it for a while but decided it wasn't working for him. A few years ago he let me borrow it, at first I wasn't crazy about it but after doing a bit of research on the net and trying out some different settings I'm sold.

The history of the RAT is pretty interesting. It started back in the 70's ProCo engineers were tweaking and hot rodding pedals like the Fuzz Face to try and get that big Fuzz into Marshall sound at bedroom levels. They decided that they could build something better. The RAT has become a popular pedal used by a wide range of players like Jeff Beck, John Scofield, Andy Summers, Joe Perry, Jerry Cantrell, and David Gilmour. It has a rougher sound to it than the Tube Screamer but that doesn't mean you can't get smooth tones out of it.
The ProCo RAT II

note the power adapter

The RAT 2 that I have is based around the original LM308 chip. It features true bypass switching and a red LED light in the A. The input and output are located on the top of the pedal (or back depending on how you look at it) as is the power supply. It doesn't use a lot of power and a 9V battery will last you a long time. The power supply is not the standard Boss style but adapters are cheap. I use the Visual Sound One Spot Combo Pack and it came with the adapter. On the front of the pedal you'll see 3 knobs, Distortion, Filter, and Volume. The Filter acts like a tone knob but is a bit different, it seems almost backwards in that it gets brighter when you turn it counter clockwise. ProCo has now moved production overseas and doesn't use the LM308 but from what I've read they have found a suitable replacement chip and it's still housed in a small metal box. You can see in the picture how small it is next to other pedals. I really like that the inputs are on the top of the pedal because you can put the pedals right next to each other. Sometimes I wish all pedal manufactures would move to this setup. These are also popular pedals to pickup and mod. I don't have any experience with this but like the tube screamer circuit the modded RAT circuit is very popular with a lot of  boutique builders
The RAT along with a few of my other favorites. It's small!

While looking around on the interwebs I've found a few different settings to try. John Scofield likes to use his RAT with the Distortion at 7, Filter 5, and Volume 2 o'clock respectively. David Gilmour used a RAT in the late 80's and early 90's and while he has always adjust settings he seems to like using it with the Distortion at 1, Filter 2  and Volume 2 o'clock respectively. I've found that running the Distortion around 1:30 or 2, the Filter at 2 and the Volume around 2- 2:30 works very well for me. With my Strat that is loaded with Seymour Duncan APS II's and into a clean sound the RAT by itself is similar to a Hendrixian "Fuzz into a cranked Marshall" type sound. A little less bottom end and a rough, fuzzy mids and highs. But here is where I have fun, If I click on an analog voiced delay behind it, the sound gets very smooth. This is great for Gilmourish lead tones. While it doesn't sound quite like a big boomy Big Muff that Gilmour is famous for it is a lot easier to tame. 

The ProCo RAT 2 is not an amp in a box. But it is worth spending some time with. It's a great classic Overdrive and Distortion unit that many distortion units have copied over the years. It's still fairly affordable and sounds really great once you've learned to use it. If your looking for something other than the classic TS-9 circuit this might be right up your ally. 

This review was completely unsolicited, I received no compensation for it and all views and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

That about sums it up

Someone said to me the other day, "I have yet to meet a hater that is doing as well as I am". I try to avoid the comments section of just about any website but it just seems to be the flavor of the day. Like best snarky comment wins. Anyway I saw this video and thought Exactly.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Does it matter how fast can you tune?

I saw this a while back and while the whole thing is pretty interesting but the part that amazed me was at 9:17. Tony McManus retunes that guitar into an open tuning in about 10 seconds. So I timed myself, it takes me about 60 seconds to tune my guitar maybe a little more depending on what I'm doing. So I think that tuning a guitar to an entirely different tuning in 10 seconds, by ear, is pretty impressive. But then when I'm watching a free lesson on youtube where someone is tuned a half step down and people are complaining about it being in a different tuning I just can't believe it. First off it's a free lesson! Often, with the half step down thing its a Stevie Ray Vaughn or Jimi Hendrix song which was played in half step down to begin with. Secondly it's just not that hard. I'm not trying to call anyone out here but think about it. If it takes you longer than 60 seconds to retune your guitar maybe, just maybe, you should practice tuning your guitar. I'm not trying to be an egotistical guy here either. When I saw Tony McManus do that I knew I had work to do. I have several guitars but because of my kids I only leave two out at a time. One in standard tuning and one in half step down. One in my living room and one in my office. I used to grab the other one if I needed it but now I make myself retune no matter what. Locking system? who cares, let's stop making excuses. Honestly if it's to much trouble, give up on the instrument now, and I'm not saying that to be mean but really retuning a guitar is pretty easy. If that's the toughest thing you have to do today thank the guitar gods for your blessed life.