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Topics - Slartibartfarst

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1
The Pickup Place / I'm after a very different sound
« on: July 06, 2021, 08:37:46 PM »
I now have my new main guitar sorted out with an LTD M-1000 E and I've decided that the stock EMG pickups will be replaced with a Super Distortion and a PAF Pro. That seems to be a classic combination and I think it will make the guitar a fantastic superstrat. With that decided, my attention is now turning to a second guitar. I have no real interest in getting lots of guitars, but I would like two, with my second offering me very different tonal possibilities. As the LTD will clearly be aimed at Rock and Metal, I'd like my second guitar to cover Blues/Gilmour territory. As well as Gilmour, perhaps think Jeff Healey, Clapton and SRV, but primarily Gilmour. I realise this is a range of tones, but I don't need to duplicate their sound, just get into the ballpark. The two guitars I'm considering for this role are very different and very cheap, but I've had them both before and they're great guitars for the money so I think they're worth the investment in new pickups.

The first option is a Vintage V100 that I can pick up used and in excellent condition for about £200. This is obviously an H-H configuration as it's an all-mahogany Les Paul copy and if I went this route, I'm tempted to install a set of AII Pros but I generally prefer DiMarzio over Seymour Duncan so I wondered what would be a good DiMarzio option.

The second option would be to buy a Yamaha Pacifica 112. It always amazes me how Yamaha can put out such a good guitar for so little money. They're readily available on the used market in mint condition for only about £150 and they're genuinely good guitars. If I do get the Yamaha, I want a black one and I will then fit a black pickguard with white pickups for that 'Gilmour' look. It's very like a Strat with its alder body, maple neck and vintage trem, but has an HSS layout. For the neck and middle positions, I'm inclined to think that the Area pickups would be a good place to look, but I'm unsure which ones. For the bridge position, I have absolutely no idea at all, other than the fact it will probably be from the vintage section or possibly medium output. I don't like a huge volume drop when switching from a humbucker bridge to the singlecoils.

Any ideas?

2
Guitar Lounge / NGD
« on: June 04, 2021, 11:11:11 PM »
After a great deal of thought, I've finally taken the plunge and bought a LTD M-1000 E. I've been playing a PRS SE 'Floyd' Custom 24 for some years now but I wanted something that was closer to being a traditional superstrat with an alder body, maple neck and a rosewood or ebony fretboard. My first thought was a Charvel Pro Mod So Cal but when I tried one, I really wasn't impressed. The DK24 Charvel was lovely but I didn't want gold hardware or a maple fretboard. Although there are things I don't like about the LTD, overall it's just such a great fit for what I'm after. It has the alder body, maple neck and ebony fretboard and Floyd 1000SE bridge. It's not a bolt-on but the set-thru neck gives me tremendous upper fret access without being a full neck-thru, which I wanted to avoid. I don't like the EMG pickups so they'll be changed for passives and I really dislike the pointy reverse headstock, but at the end of the day that's just a minor cosmetic detail. So far, I'm very impressed.
 

3
The Pickup Place / Santana
« on: June 03, 2021, 12:16:15 AM »
This is an odd sounding question given my guitar, but I'm looking for a neck humbucker to reproduce the gorgeous tone Santana has on Samba Pa Ti. Unlike his mahogany PRS, I'm using an LTD M-1000 E (alder with a maple set-thru neck) with a Floyd Rose bridge. I realise it's entirely the wrong guitar to get me that tone and I will probably end up with a tone that's a bit brighter, but is there a DiMarzio pickup that will get me close to that tone, or at least in the ballpark? I'm putting a Super Distortion in the bridge.

4
The Pickup Place / New Guitar Pickup Conundrum
« on: May 19, 2021, 10:37:34 PM »
After searching for the right guitar for me for a while, I've finally taken the plunge and taken delivery of a nice new LTD M-1000 E. I was particularly after a superstrat, ideally with an alder body and this one seems to fit the bill perfectly, with the exception of the EMG pickups and the reverse headstock. It has an alder body, 3-piece maple neck, ebony fingerboard, Floyd 1000SE bridge and a set-thru construction. For a while I thought of changing the pickups to EMG Retro Actives as the easiest option but I think I'd rather stick to passives. I confess that one option I'm seriously thinking about for the bridge is a Classic '83 from The Creamery:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_s3wyPIt28

In many ways it's a lot like a JB with its alnico 5 magnet but wound to a DC resistance similar to a Super Distortion. I've had one before and it's very good indeed but I've also always fancied trying a Super Distortion as I like Adrian Smith who uses one in his alder guitars. Now I have a real problem as I love the rich warmth and fluidity of a JB but I also love the harmonic richness and aggression of the Super Distortion. I don't like too much compression in a pickup, hence my dislike of the stock EMG's in my new guitar. Do DiMarzio make a pickup that has the best qualities of both of these pickups combined and will work well in my guitar?

5
Gear Closet / Atomic AmpliFire Review
« on: June 25, 2016, 04:09:44 AM »
Let me say from the outset that I am not a great fan of modelling technology and for a number of years now I’ve clung religiously to my precious valve amps so I’m not naturally inclined to be sympathetic to such an approach. In the past I’ve owned both a Digitech GNX3000 and a Digitech RP1000, both of which, in their day, could be considered units of very good quality. I wasn’t impressed with either of them particularly. They both had their good points and I could see why people liked them but ultimately, to be brutally honest, regardless of how much you tweaked them, in the real world the tones weren’t a patch on a ‘proper’ valve amp. Over the years since I’ve read stellar reviews on offerings from Boss and particularly the Line6 HD series so I’ve tried them with great anticipation that finally I could have a more compact and versatile rig but the tones just aren’t there. To me, using a good valve amp is like driving a Ferrari whereas using most mid-priced modellers is like driving a Toyota GT86 at best. It’s generally aimed at a market with similar tastes and is good in its own way, but ultimately it’s a cheap and poor copy of the real thing.

So how have I come to be reviewing an Atomic AmpliFire? Pure chance and a unique set of circumstances is the answer! I’d honestly given up on ever finding a modeller that I actually liked but a few months ago I was offered a job working abroad and this forced me to completely rethink my rig. Taking a valve amp with me was a non-starter, partly due to the practicalities of transport but also because for the next few years my playing will mostly be in the home. After much deliberation I decided to invest in a BluGuitar AMP1 and I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the tones I could get. It’s not as good as a full valve amp but the tones were very good and very valve-like; certainly good enough for 99.9% of an audience and certainly a huge improvement on anything I’d tried before. This got me thinking – the AMP1 is essentially modelled preamp voicings going through a 100w Class D power amp with a valve in it to generate some valve warmth and if the tones were that good, what could a modeller achieve with even more processing power? I knew the likes of Line6 HD units wouldn’t get me there and I can’t afford a Fractal Axe-FX so I needed something in the middle ground that was a bit of a stripped down Axe-FX and surprisingly, the AmpliFire is the only option that I could find that seemed to offer what I was after. It doesn’t offer the range of options that either Line6 or Fractal do but I really don’t need that many options. What it does offer is processing power that is far more like Fractal than Line6 and that makes all the difference because it focusses on quality rather than quantity.

Layout

The AmpliFire is a floor unit that’s not much bigger than two good sized pedals or to put it another way, about the size of my AMP1. There is a small display screen on the top and a number of knobs for key controls like Gain, EQ and Level. Working these knobs is very like a conventional guitar amp in many ways. There’s also a control to adjust patches, which is pretty straightforward, though using the Editor on your PC is easier. At the front of the unit are three footswitches that can be assigned to control whatever you want. With the A/B function these three footswitches can move you between six different presets or you can use a Midi controller like the Midi Mouse to move between presets and use the footswitches on the AmpliFire for any three effects you want, just like conventional stompboxes. The connections on the unit will allow you to connect to virtually anything and you can also route it so that cabinet models are bypassed and you use your own cabinet or you can have cabinet models sent to the PA while you can have no cabinet models going to a normal guitar cabinet or you can have cabinet models going to both. There’s certainly flexibility here.

Editor Software

As with all of these units, although you can edit your parameters on the unit itself, life is an awful lot easier when you use the associated computer software. It’s not just that more parameters are available to you; it’s more that the whole process becomes much quicker as everything is available on one screen. As far as these units go, the Editor is very accessible and straightforward to use so I can see lots of people liking it but at the moment I find there is a real issue, at least to someone of my limited technical ability.

The latest version of the Editor that you download is not the same as the one referred to in the manual as it has many more parameters that you can adjust. This creates a real problem because you’re suddenly faced with a load of terms that might as well be written in Latin for all the sense it makes to me and these terms aren’t explained in the handbook, where the editing information is based on an earlier and far more basic Editor. At first I thought it was because the unit I bought had an old handbook so I downloaded the manual from Atomic’s website, only to discover it was the same as mine and related to a much earlier version. If you’re going to have a manual, it needs to relate to the product people are actually using!

While I can see that many people might like to use these extra parameters to precisely tailor their sound, I’m afraid I’m inclined to question the wisdom of such an approach. Not only do I have to make sense of a load of technical terms I don’t understand but when I use a conventional stompbox, how many controls do I have to adjust? Even professional players, using professional quality stompboxes, have only a handful of controls that can be adjusted to get a fantastic sound, yet when trying to use something like the Echo effect on an AmpliFire, I have 36 different parameters that require attention to dial in the sound I’m after. Why? If you can buy a Delay pedal in the £100-£150 bracket that produces a really good effect with only 3-5 control knobs, why do I need 36 different controls in the AmpliFire? I want good quality effects and the effects here are good, no doubt about it, but I don’t want to have to spend the rest of my life tweaking settings and researching terms I don’t know. To me, this is exactly what’s wrong with all of these modellers and while the AmpliFire is better than many in this regard, the editing software is still needlessly complex and probably quite daunting to many users. In the case of the Echo effect I’ve already mentioned, once I’ve selected the type of Echo I want, all I really want to do is adjust the level, mix, delay time and number of repeats – keep it simple and keep it effective.

Amp Models

To me, this was the acid test of the unit because this is where most multi-fx units really disappoint with tones that are far too digital and artificial in nature. On first firing up the AmpliFire I was tempted to think that this unit was an improvement on others but essentially suffering from the same problem but that was before I made a key discovery. My initial thought was to either use the factory presets as a basis for developing my own patches or to download presets made by other people and use those as the foundation of my own sounds. The problem was that they invariably had a number of effects in operation and there was too much going on for me to determine where the problem lay. Instead, I turned all of the effects off and started from scratch – it works a lot better. I started by selecting a model of an amp I knew I liked, such as a Fender Twin, Plexi and JCM800 in my case, and then adjusted things in a logical order so I determined gain and EQ first to get the basic tone before going on to adjust the more obscure parameters that exist. I found it most effective to fully engage the power amp simulator, which is designed to emulate the valve warmth you get from a real valve amp and I did this even though the power amp I’m using from the AMP1 already has a small valve in it for just such a purpose. I guess the two combined just increases the valve-like tone but either way, it works very well. Having said that, I don’t always leave it at 100% because I discovered that by backing it down it can have a beneficial effect on the tone with some amp models.

Once that was to my liking, I moved on to selecting modelled cabinets. I’m running my AmpliFire through an Orange 1X12 loaded with a Vintage 30 speaker so at first I naturally selected ‘None’ but I soon discovered that if I selected ‘Matched’ instead, I was rewarded with a much bigger sound and although it could initially be a bit boomy, with some tweaking to the EQ and cabinet settings, I could get a really good sound that was actually an improvement on using just my own cabinet. After that it’s just a matter of adding effects as you like them in much the same way.

So what’s the bottom line on these amp models then? Well, as with most things, there are pros and cons. Getting a really good amp tone out of the AmpliFire takes quite a bit longer than doing so with a conventional valve amp due to the myriad of parameters that need to be adjusted but once you get there, the results are very impressive. This unit does not give you a 100% accurate representation of real valve tone, but it is VERY close and significantly closer than anything else you’re likely to try below £1000. The Line6 HD unit doesn’t come even remotely close so I’m inclined to see this as more of a competitor for the Helix. Inevitably, some amp models are better than others but they’re all very good. Of the three I used first, the JCM800 was the weakest, even though it was still impressive but the Twin was excellent and the Plexi model was absolutely sublime. I’ve added other amp models to my presets now and every one of them has been impressive. The Vox AC30 patch I created was particularly effective and takes a Boost pedal beautifully. I find that usually with modellers, the more gain you try to use, the worse it gets but today I created a patch for a Rectifier sound and it’s so good I could easily see me using it live or for recording.

Effects

As I’ve already touched on the annoyingly long list of parameters that need to be adjusted, I’ll restrict myself to talking about the quality of the effects on offer. I find these to be very much like the amp models in that they are all very good, even if there isn’t the range of options offered by rivals like the Line6 HD. At the moment, for instance, you either have the Chorus on or off, with no facility to select a particular type of Chorus but as you might guess by now, that’s fine by me; a Chorus is a Chorus. This isn’t the same for all effects as there are a few different types of Boost you can choose and a few different types of Echo etc. and more are promised with further firmware updates but it’s fair to say that the selection isn’t as extensive as some units. I don’t find that a problem but I accept that some might. What is on offer here is all of the fundamental effects you’re likely to use and all of them are excellent.

Conclusions

I don’t have a major issue with anything about this unit as it’s all excellent quality in a compact package that works well but if I was being picky, there are a few things I would look to change on any future incarnation. Even though it would make the unit bigger, I would like to have had an assignable expression pedal attached so that I didn’t have to cart around an individual pedal to have control of my own Wah sound when the Wah that’s in the AmpliFire is basically very good as long as you don’t want to adjust it while playing. I also don’t see why the only way you can attach an expression pedal to the device is by using the Effects Return, thereby removing your ability to use an effects loop with the AmpliFire. Finally, I would have liked to see the USB connection doubling as an audio interface, as it does on the Line6 but I accept that each of these modifications would have price implications and I’m equally sure that I may not want to pay that much more. It’s a balancing act for Atomic and overall I can’t complain.

The BluGuitar AMP1 isn’t a modelling unit in the conventional sense but it was the first unit I’ve ever tried that hasn’t had me longing to return to a valve amp and the AmpliFire has moved me even further away from that desire with even better amp tones and greater diversity. It’s still not exactly the same as a real valve amp and individual pedals but it is very, very close, offers far more tonal possibilities and is significantly more compact and portable. On my pedalboard at the moment I plug into a tuner, then a 535Q Crybaby and then the AmpliFire, followed by the effects return of the AMP1 and then my cabinet. That gives me everything I need and more, it weighs very little and takes 5 minutes to set up. The tones I get are excellent and while I was very happy with the AMP1, I’m even happier now it has the AmpliFire in front of it and I have absolutely no desire to start lugging around a cumbersome valve amp again. The best way I can describe it is to revisit the analogy I used at the start of this review. I still don’t feel like I’m driving a Ferrari because like a real valve amp, that car has something special about it that is more than the sum of its parts but I equally don’t feel like I’m driving a Toyota GT86 in comparison either. Now it’s more like driving a McLaren because in all sorts of ways it’s as good as, or better, than the Ferrari, yet somehow just misses that little bit of magic that you get from the original. I’d love a Ferrari but I’m more than happy with my McLaren.

6
The Pickup Place / Pickups for Les Paul
« on: April 06, 2016, 06:58:00 PM »
I have a 2013 Gibson Les Paul Studio that's fitted with a 498T and 490R. I confess I really like the 498T but I'm nothing like as keen on the 490R so I wondered about changing them both. For the bridge I'm tempted to say I'd like something pretty similar to the 498T but I have no idea what that would be. I'm also very tempted with tha Super Distortion but the EQ on the website suggests it would be a hell of a lot darker than the 498T. Is the SD a rather more modern pickup whereas the 498T always seems like it has a traditional Rock vibe - plenty of tight distortion with a real growl to it.

For the neck I like something with more of a PAF flavour so clearer, fluid, and almost bell like that is great for Bluesy solos but also takes loads of gain without going mushy. For this I was thinking either the PAF 36th Anniversary, PAF Pro or PAF Joe.

Any thoughts?

7
Gear Closet / Amp Alternatives
« on: April 04, 2016, 10:06:41 AM »
I've just been offered a job in The Falklands to start in August and this has started me thinking about my gear. I'll have to give up my band here and I see no obvious likelihood of having a band there but they do have open mic nights and there might be the possibility of the odd show at the school but other than that I'll effectively now become a home player. It strikes me that my current amp, an Orange TH30, is a bit overkill and is also very heavy for transportation as well as posing problems of getting valves in such a remote area. I'd like something that I could still gig with at small venues if needed and gives a great tone, like my beloved Orange, but is also more flexible for home use where I may record a bit and play along to backing tracks. It's been a long time since I looked seriously at anything other than valves so I'm unsure what my possibilities are. In the past I've tried a Digitech RP1000, Line6 SpiderValve and Peavey Vypyr but none have impressed me. They don't sound as good as valves and they don't respond like valves and they don't have the same punch as valves. Sadly I don't have the money to spend on a Kemper or similar. I think it might be most cost effective to get a head to go with my Orange 112 cabinet but I'm open to the idea of getting a combo. I already know that the Yamaha THR100HD is a possibility and I see Marshall have an amp called 'CODE' coming but what other options might I have and what would you suggest as the best option for me?

8
The Pickup Place / Stratocaster pickup question
« on: March 02, 2016, 02:48:54 PM »
I've just acquired a Stratocaster with an SSS configuration and as I'm generally a humbucker guy, I thought I'd ask some advice about pickups. The guitar in question is a Mexican Standard with a maple neck. This guitar won't be used for anything Metal and probably won't even go that far into Rock as I envisage it as more of a Blues guitar. Having said that, I would like something that is pretty versatile so could run from more traditional Blues, through Blues Rock to perhaps Rainbow kind of material at the other extreme, though that end of things is less important because by the time I get to things like 'Man on the Silver Mountain', I will already have changed to a humbucker guitar. I want pickups that keep it sounding like a Strat with those great sounds you get from a Strat in positions 2 & 4. The pickups should be very articulate with a neck tone that is clear, smooth and fluid and a bridge tone that has a bit of bite when needed. As I associate Strats with fairly bright tones I don't want a dark sounding pickup but it shouldn't be brittle or ice-picky either.

I thought I'd start by naming the Stratocaster users that I really like (which may cover a lot of ground) and go from there as that will give an idea of the sort of tones I'm after. My amp is an Orange TH30 and will normally be set up for my humbucker guitars and I'd rather not have to change the settings too much. As a result it should be able to take quite a bit of gain without going mushy as well as have great clean tones. In no particular order:

Jeff Healey
Philip Sayce
Eric Clapton
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Ritchie Blackmore
Dave Gilmour

Noiseless pickups would be great but it's more of a priority to get the right tone. Any suggestions?

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