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Topics - Strangeman86

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1
Gear Closet / Hipshot Baby Grand Bridge...
« on: October 29, 2019, 05:20:51 pm »
A small disclaimer to start, these are only my initial thoughts after playing a freshly assembled parts-caster with this bridge for around 10 days (I'll put a reminder in my phone so I can add some long term thoughts down the road).  I've read some pretty shining reviews for this bridge and I was anxious to have a guitar that didn't require multiple flips to change strings.  That being said...

Pros:
- Relatively easy to install (only two inserts for the threaded posts have to be driven into the body).
- Adjusting the height and intonation is much smoother than some of the TOM/nashville bridges I've run across.
- Very light but solid feeling.
- Transfers string vibration to the body wonderfully.

Cons:
- The threaded posts don't fit quite as snugly into the body inserts as I'd really like.  They aren't loose by any stretch, but the bridge does lean towards the neck a couple of degrees.
- The high e and B strings make contact with the bridge just behind the saddle (it doesn't affect playability or intonation right now, but it's a potential break-down area in the future).
- The string holes on the tail piece are a bit on the small-ish side and, while the ends of my strings sit nicely inside them, getting the ends out to change strings was a task the first time (I ended up using on end of a bobby pin to gently push the ends out).

Overall, I dig it.  This guitar vibrates/resonates like crazy, sounds great and I haven't found any uncomfortable edges/surfaces while playing.  There are just a few little quirks that could be easily addressed that would make this bridge pretty close to perfect IMHO.

2
Gear Closet / Lovepedal Tchula 'Burst'
« on: October 03, 2019, 05:56:21 pm »
If you're unfamiliar with Lovepedal, I'll spare you the boring minutia about Sean's greatly lauded and simultaneously despised work.  To keep it short, his typical business model has been to constantly make small changes/modifications to his circuits (which he openly admits are derived in some fashion or another from other designs; some folks really don't like that, but pedal makers do it all the time) and then sell them as different versions with varying differences in sound.  For example:  The original Tchula was a modified Church of Tone (or COT 50; which was meant to emulate an old cranked marshall amp).  This version, the 'Burst' is supposed to be the warmest version of that circuit that Sean has built (this is similar to his Eternity Burst, which is the warmest version of that circuit he makes). 

All that being said, I've owned a Tchula twice before (a white one and a gold one if memory serves; not sure if there were any differences in those two other than aesthetics).  Those were both a bit bright and lacked a bit of low end for my tastes.  The burst seems to remedy those ailments in my ears while having a much more appealing appearance as well (think Gibson's Tobacco 'burst finish).  Perhaps it's my ears, my guitar or amp, but I've never heard the similarities to the stereotypical marshall sound.  I've always just heard the Tchula as a lower gain gritty transistor drive.  In the sea of TS's and Klones the Tchula has a mildly unique voice and the spartan layout appeals to my inner caveman.  If you'd like some sound samples, google Mr. Josh Smith with the word Tchula and listen to him (he's a vastly better player than I am anyway).  I hope the day finds you all well.

3
Gear Closet / 1981 Inventions DRV
« on: August 28, 2019, 10:06:33 pm »
I had to think about how to describe this pedal for a while.  Yes, it started out as a fancy Rat (and it harkens to its roots), but it's very much more than that.  With the drive knob all the way down it's crunchy and a bit lean. The farther up the gain range you go, richness and a bit of heft are added.  The cut knob is quite handy for those of us who value our ability to hear high frequencies, and there's probably more output on tap than most of us are likely to need. The note separation is great and it doesn't mind solid state amps (for those of us on the dark side).  The overall voicing of this box is somewhere between OD, distortion and fuzz (greatly depending on how far into the drive knob you go).  All that and some killer paint jobs (depending on which run you buy from).  If you want a reasonably unique sounding dirt box, give this one a whirl.

4
The Pickup Place / The Domperium...
« on: June 05, 2019, 08:57:06 am »
So, I was curious again.  Apparently curiosity killed some cat however long ago, silly cat.  Anyway...  I decided to take one of my Dominion's and splice in part of an Imperium (specifically, the 'northern' or neck coil is from the Dominion and the 'southern' or bridge coil is from the Imperium).  The magnet setup is the Imperium's (3/8" thick ceramic with a spacer pad to isolate it from the frame), the Dominion coil still has the keeper bar making direct contact with the magnet, but the bar doesn't touch the frame (I have no idea if that makes a difference, but I KNOW the magnet being isolated from the frame makes a world of difference in the high end based on previous endeavors).

To my ears, this particular mutation is more balanced than either of the individual designs (likely from the disparity between the coils).  There's still some compression going on, but it's more subtle.  The overall output feels like it's somewhere between the Dom. and the Imp. (I have no way to measure, sorry).  The low end is kind of punchy and not muddy, the mids are reduced from either individual pickup (and feel wider as opposed to being focused in a certain range) but in a pleasant fashion and the high end is open and smooth.  There's a good amount of bite with distortion and a great mix between the Dom's more raucous nature and the Imp's velvet-fisted control.  The cleans, are absolutely wonderful.  Not a honk in sight (like a lot of 'buckers) and a bit of chime and depth. 

I wouldn't go so far as to say it's perfect, but so far I'm digging it.

5
The Pickup Place / Dimarzio D Activator-X (bridge) Review...
« on: June 03, 2019, 02:32:50 pm »
Hello folks!  I hope the day finds you all well!  Just wanted to present my thoughts on a long time curiosity of mine, the D Activator-X bridge model.

Pros:
- Output for days, but not overbearing (and if it's too much for you, just lower the pickup away from the strings a bit... or a lot, the pickup won't mind).
- Great clarity and note separation (not nearly as good as some, but vastly superior to others).
- Dynamically sensitive (again, not as good as some, but for a pickup with three giant ceramic magnets it's pretty stinkin' good).
- Don't let the EQ measurements fool you, the pickup feels a bit more 'flat' which I feel makes it more adaptable to multiple situations (your amp and pedal EQ adjustments are much more important though).
- A reasonably 'big' sound.
- The dual blades have always been an appealing look for me  ;D
- The extra output means you don't have to dig in or pick as hard.
- Lots of tasty harmonics that are easy to call forth.

Cons:
- Probably the biggest one is the EQ.  I've seen some folks describe this pickup as dull or lifeless.  And given that a lot of Dimarzio's humbuckers have a more mid-boosted voicing (Dominion, Imperium, Sonic Ecstacy, Pandemonium, etc...) it's easy to see why.
- The dual blade look isn't for everyone and you can't have it with a cover of any sort (although you can get it in a large number of colored bobbin combo's).
- Some folks like their pickups to be more subtle.  While it IS possible to be so with the DAX, it is certainly not its primary strength.
- Feels a bit stiff in certain situations.

Overall, a fantastic pickup if you need something big, powerful and almost neutral.  It will likely appeal more to players who want those qualities and like their effects/preamps/amps to do more of the voicing.  For me, it's more of a pallet cleanser after years of playing pickups with boosted mids.

6
The Pickup Place / Sonic Ecstacy Review...
« on: May 29, 2019, 09:15:34 am »
Pros:
- Punch, girth and cajones (for lack of a better term).
- Fan-tastically articulate (especially on the bottom end).
- Surprisingly dynamically responsive for a pickup of this output (in other words, it cleans up fairly well when the volume pot is turned down).
- Beautiful, singing leads; authoritative, present rhythms. 
- Less compressed feeling than one might surmise.

Cons:
- Comes in one color with a specifically styled cover and a steep asking price (I got mine $21 off sticker, thank you early Memorial Day sales).
- Will likely play nicer with brighter instruments.

Overall, a great pickup!  If you need something to add some serious size to your sound and get your instrument to people's ears, look no further.  The EQ curve was initially what peaked my interest with this one (my guitar likes p'ups with lots of mids and darker highs).  Ever since I tried the Imperium, I haven't been truly happy with any other pickup, but this one... maybe.  I think they're evenly clear/articulate (albeit in slightly different ways).  Obviously the SonEc is much higher output (I could take it or leave it personally; output is much farther down my list than feel/EQ/tone).  The Imperium is smoother... I don't know, time will tell for me (I don't have a second electric so that both have a home).  For me, it's too much like comparing a professional, velvet-gloved assassin (the Imperium) to a middle-weight MMA fighter (the SonEc).

Overall,

7
Gear Closet / Earthquaker Devices Cloven Hoof
« on: May 16, 2019, 07:29:36 pm »
I really wanted to let the honeymoon period wear off before I spoke my mind on this pedal (I've had it four solid months).  I'd been looking for an articulate, aggressive, dynamically responsive and doom-ish fuzz and every one that I'd tried or listened to came up very short of what I wanted.  I actually emailed the folks at Reverb who were kind enough to recommend this little box (in fact, the gentleman I spoke to had recently been looking for something similar, purchased and fell in love with this particular fuzz).  So I found one gently used and pulled the trigger.  Now...

Pros:
- Incredibly adjustable between the shift (mid frequency), tone and fuzz knobs.  It can go from dark and roaring to thin and splatty and a bunch of flavors in between.
- It sounds great with the fuzz knob anywhere (it really depends if you want more of a 'vintage' sound or something modern/heavier).
- It responds to adjustments of the volume knob wonderfully.
- Note separation is just fantastic.
- it has inspired me to write more than a handful of riffs/licks.

Cons:
- I constantly have to convince myself NOT to buy a second one (but on the real, it could use a hair more output on the volume knob, I almost have to max it out).
- The white LED is bloody blinding!

Overall, this is my dream fuzz.  It's a grind-y, chainsaw-y, wall of a fuzz that makes me smile every time I stomp it on.

8
Gear Closet / Adventures in bridge building...
« on: May 07, 2019, 10:52:16 am »
Some context before I spew forth, I love to tinker.  Often while tinkering I get too excited and end up either cosmetically damaging something or breaking something.  Recently I decided to try a new bridge on my parts-caster... because I can't leave well-enough alone.  For a few years now I've been using a Hipshot hardtail bridge (fantastic, solid, relatively cheap and simple to use) and it's worked wonderfully other than one issue.  I use rather thick, custom-gauged strings and tune to E standard, and the Hipshot will not pull the low E string back far enough to intonate correctly (this guitar has been plek'd and set up by Glaser Instruments in Nashville, but even they couldn't get it to intonate 100% correctly).  I end up tuning that string a bit too noticeably flat so fretted notes ring true.  So I did some research and bought a Babicz Full Contact bridge (an opportunity to try out an aluminum bridge as well).  Just before I got the Babicz in the mail I decided to drop some size from my strings and that has just about cleared up the intonation issue, but new gear needs to be tried.  To stop this story from hemorrhaging more, I ended up losing some pieces to the Babicz opening the package but I didn't want to send it back. 

Now that all that is out of the way, I intend to compare the sonic differences that come to my ears with different components.

Stock Hipshot Hardtail:  Fairly balanced, good high-end presence and bite, solid low end and very stable.  Just a bit too bright on my guitar.

Hipshot Hardtail with Tusq saddles:  Lots of mids and low end, I can feel more vibration in the guitar's body, smooth and creamy high end (they're great if you have a super bright instrument but with an average to dark instrument they'll likely sound like mud).  For some reason these make the strings feel a bit loose (although, that may just be the way the vibrations feel with Tusq vs the stock steel saddles).

Babicz Full Contact base plate with Tusq saddles:  First thing I noticed was that my guitar was lighter (the Hipshot's base plate is solid brass, but I didn't think I'd notice the difference) and, acoustically, just a bit louder (I feel the most vibration through the guitar's body with this setup as well).  Plugged in this setup gives me great high-end presence without being too bright and a different character/timbre than the brass/steel (hard to describe, more on that in the future).  I have noticed that notes do sustain just a little bit longer.  I believe the Tusq is providing balance in the low-end and midrange here (I suspect that if I'd been able to use the Babicz's stock saddles it might have been painfully bright).  This is my favorite of the three setups.  The clarity is better than either application of the Hipshot, it's lighter and the lip on the rear-wall of the base (it almost looks like a car's spoiler, which may not appeal to everyone) is pretty comfy to rest my hand on.  My favorite feature, however, is the small allen screw on the bass-side of the base that puts a little lateral pressure on the saddles and prevents them from moving (I've never had saddles feel so stable/tight/firm/whatever).

I apologize for being long winded, I have no one in my life right now to nerd-out with.  I just hope that my mis-adventures can help some folks either avoid mistakes or make better decisions with their instruments in the future.  I hope the day finds you all well.

9
Gear Closet / N.O.C.3 Firefly Overdrive
« on: April 02, 2019, 11:01:27 am »
Pro's:
- Finally, I found an honest to goodness low gain OD.
- Great crunchy and dynamic voicing (not really breaking any molds here, sort of between a TS and a Blues Breaker to my ears).
- Very adjustable with a three-way mids toggle, a tone knob and presence and bass controls via internal trim pots (the last two are really handy for adjusting the circuit to work with your particular guitar).

Con's:
- No longer made (the used market is your friend).
- Not the most unique voicing.

Overall, a fun little dirt box that combines elements of different types of circuits and is really what I always wished some other pedals could have been. 

10
The Pickup Place / More Air
« on: March 28, 2019, 05:17:44 pm »
To stop myself from rambling...
- Purchased new pickup (from Duncan Custom Shop; 9.1k; darker, thicker, lower-output Custom Custom).
- Low end was a bit tubby, swapped the stock 3/4" fillister-heads for some 1/2" hex-heads from a Dimarzio (sacrilege) to tame it.  It worked.
- Decided to mod it further by 'airing' it, didn't have enough little plastic rings.
- I never liked the 'half-air' mod, to much emphasis on one coil's voice.
- 'Vari-air'd it (apparently envisioned by Frank Falbo).  This involves removing the keeper bar, placing one end of the magnet directly against the screw under the low strings and the other end directly against the slug under the high strings (cattywampus), then putting two little plastic rings in place (also cattywampus) to keep everything level.
- I prefer this to the half and full air mods.  It's a less drastic drop in output that still yields greater dynamic sensitivity while not over-emphasizing the voice of either coil.
- Your mileage may vary.

11
Gear Closet / Keeley KE-808 (Red Dirt Pro)
« on: February 26, 2019, 05:14:18 am »
If you haven't guessed/realized by now, yes, this is a tube screamer variant.  The proverbial cat being out of the bag, on to my thoughts...

I have sampled many a fancy screamer, but this one rises to the top.  While you certainly get the airy/singy midrange (it's thick and pronounced but not overbearing in most cases), you also get a very full low end and an extra smooth high end.  My favorite aspect of this circuit, however, is that the typical 'clean blend' texture that nearly all TS's and their ilk exhibit when played on a CLEAN channel is nearly non-existent.  Pick attack is not stifled and while there is some mild compression it cleans up with a volume knob as well as or better than anything out there.  My only complaint is that I wasn't able to get one in the purple finish (mine is 808 green, but it's #28 and signed by Mr. Keeley). 

Is this pedal breaking any new ground?  Not really.  But it feels/plays like a very refined and completed idea that makes me smile and want to play more. 

12
The Pickup Place / More surgery...
« on: January 16, 2019, 11:07:20 am »
Yes, I did it again, I'm an addict and I can't leave well enough alone.  I've been playing the Imperium in my guitar ... for a while, it's pretty well tied with my favorite Duncan (a hack job) for time spent between pickup changes.  But I began to desire a slightly more even EQ with a bit more power.  So I bought an Illuminator and tried that.  A nice round-snap quality to the notes, but a bit boxy and too screamy (yes, I know, Mr. Petrucci likes those blistering leads) but the EQ was close to what I was hearing and the extra power was nice.  So into the O.R. I went... The first incarnation I tried was the screw coil (or southern coil) of the Illuminator and the northern coil of the Imperium.  NEGATIVE.  That sounded ridiculously boxy and kind of choked off if that makes sense.  So I tried the opposite (the slug or northern coil from the Illuminator and the southern coil of the Imperium).  Now we're cookin'!  This was ... mostly, what I was trying to achieve.  The low end is still very tight (as both donor pickups were already) and is, to my ears, just a hair more than the Imperium has on its own.  The mids shifted frequencies a bit (lots of that nice Dimarzio vocal quality to lead work, but it isn't really boxy like the Illuminator can be) and are backed off compared to the Imperium.  The high end is what I wanted, more than the Imperium, less than the Illuminator.  Resistance is in the 12k range, overall output sounds ... probably 350+mV?  So far, I'm enjoying the fruits of my labors, but more to follow.  Happy mod'ing to all!

13
Gear Closet / Abasi Pathos...
« on: January 03, 2019, 08:14:12 am »
A tiny bit of history, I have terrible luck with distortion pedals.  Most of them have some sort of audible quirk or a harsh frequency or two that I can't stand, etc...  That being said, the Pathos is very refined sounding.  Mr. Abasi tends to like brighter, clearer tone from his guitars (based on what I hear) and the Pathos is more full and warm sounding to compensate for that.  It is very articulate and surprisingly quiet for a dirt box.  To my ears it likes big chords and lead work just a bit more than chugging away or fast palm-muting.  I've seen a couple of reviewers that didn't like the sweep of the gain knob, it's certainly not the most linear I've heard but it isn't terrible.  The EQ is phenomenal.  The midrange is the most powerful of the three frequencies (by design if I remember what Mr. Abasi said in an interview), but the treble and bass are no slouches.  Overall the circuit remains 'tight' and note separation is excellent no matter the settings.  The smooth/edge switch is very powerful as well.  Leaving the smooth setting on doesn't seem to affect the gain or output of the circuit, but it makes it the smoothest distortion I've heard, period.  Not dark or wooly or murky in any fashion, just SMOOTH. 

Is this pedal for everyone?  Nope, not even close.  It was built as a very specific tool for a very unique player.  But if you want something that jives a little off center, the Pathos is worth a try.

14
Gear Closet / Nobels ODR Mini
« on: December 27, 2018, 08:37:00 am »
Pros:
- Sounds 99% like the original (of which there are a plethora of demos).
- A smaller, arguably sturdier housing.
- 'Tighter' low end than the original to my ears.
- CHEAP.

Cons:
- None for me, although I imagine some folks will be unhappy with even slight changes to such a beloved piece of gear.

A stellar, affordable pedal that punches WAY above its class.

15
The Pickup Place / Another weird mod'...
« on: November 27, 2018, 04:28:08 pm »
Warning, the following modification, if performed incorrectly, can easily cause damage to your (specifically) Dimarzio humbucker!  It involves cannibalizing parts from another pickup as well, so now you know.  Also, if someone has done something with the same ideas, I'm sorry in advance.

I took some cylindrical hex-top pole pieces (like the ones that are in the Imperium and I believe the Super Distortion as well) and used those in the holes for the virtual vintage pieces in an Al DiMeola bridge humbucker.  The trick was to get them all the same distance into the bobbins without causing the top of the bobbins to bulge, then to balance them properly while screwing them in place on the base plate.  I used a home-made pad of layers of bobbin tape to keep the standard 1/8" magnet flush with the bottom of the bobbins.  Since the ADM uses regular screw-like pole pieces, this setup created the good ol' air-bucker mod' but also the virtual vintage mod' at the same time (but the thicker cylindrical pieces still touch the magnet). 

Sound-wise, there is a bit of extra warmth, but there's almost no discernible drop in output thanks to the increased inductance (those cylindrical pieces are quite a bit larger than the standard pieces dimarzio uses; I also believe they're a different alloy, but I'm not sure about that).  I'll likely try this on a different 'bucker as well, just to satisfy my curiosity, more results to follow.  Good luck and happy mod'ing!!

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