Category Archives: Guitar Talk

Psychedelic Guitar Scales (with TABs)

Since many people visit my blog to know more about scales for psychedelic guitar, I would like to explain some basics in more detail. And in tablature, this time.

As a preparation, please read this former post! I will give you a basic riff to improvise on, by using the mixolydian scale. You can either play this scale the usual way (example 1) or slide along just the G-string (example 2), maybe pretending your guitar was a sitar…

So, use some slides, bendings and so on! Scales are just a raw material, nothing more. You have to make something out of it. Go ahead now.

Psychedelic Basic Riff in A – give it a nice rhythm!

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

–––2–––––4––––5–––––4––––2–––

0–––––0––––0–––––0––––0––––––

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Example 1): Psychedelic Scale (A mixolydian)

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––5––7––(9)–––––––

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––5––7––8–––––––––––––––––

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––4––6––7––––––––––––––––––––––––––

––––––––––––––––––––4––5––7–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

–––––––––––4––5––7––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

–(3)––5––7–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Example 2): A mixolydian on just one string (G string): use slides in a wild manner!

G –––0––2––4––6––7––9––11––12––14–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Don’t forget to practice each scale either way, meaning downward as well as upward! Furthermore, it’s understood that nobody will be able to create a psychedelic sound who lacks listening experience with psychedelic music…

If so, maybe you should listen to the medley in this former post: psychedelic medley and the list of tunes

making the champ my champ

A post on some good experiences with easy amp modification.

About two years ago I tried to build a Fender Champ amplifier from a rather expensive amp kit (TAD) from Germany, including a perfectly made tweed cabinet. It was the first time for me to do this. I really took my time to solder accurately, and it took me many weeks to finish. To my great surprise it instantly worked, and from the moment I finally put away the screwdriver after closing the back it was just plug and play…

For a long time, I really was content with this little box that gives five very loud and intense watts – more than sufficient a sound pressure for my living room studio. I only found the Jensen P 12 R speaker (I had chosen a special champ edition with a bigger speaker for more bass response) sounded too dull. But as I also have a cabinet with two Jensen P 12 Q, I tried this combination and was quite pleased. I found that my Les Paul sounded good as it drove the amp harder and produced some nice crunch, but with my Stratocaster it was, again, too dull. The amp didn’t quite react to my playing, sounding neutral at best.

But come to think of it: non of the above results of my tests are true any more! Not that my ears would change from day to day, but I have applied some very easy mods that I think are not even real mods, and now it’s only the champ when it comes to playing Stratocaster…

A book on tube amps (“A Desktop Reference Of Hip Vintage Guitar Amps” by Gerald Weber), a very practical and easy-to-read guide to some more understanding of tube amps, was the catalyst. I brought together two ideas of which I had heard separately: The installation of a bright capacitor over the amp’s volume pot (as provided in many Fender amps, called the bright switch), and the installation of a multiple switch to house several caps of different values – making it possible to dial in different presets suiting each guitar or even each pickup separately. Remember the champ has but one volume pot – no tone control at all, and even the volume pot serves as on/off-switch in addition, thus canceling the memory of your last volume setting when turned off.

I was amazed at how plainly audible the difference was! With a simple trick that – applied to guitar volume pots – is called a “volume bleed circuit” a vast curtain was drawn back, and I finally had the treble and mid frequency range desired. Nothing is added that wasn’t there before by this procedure – it’s  just changing the balance between frequencies by adding something that the volume pot is taking away when not turned to maximum. Kind of reloading. By trying several different cap values you may affect only the very high treble, or include parts of the midrange, too. Gerald Weber mentions cap values from 47 pF to 120 pF.  You can solder one or several caps to a switch, as I did, or solder the one you like best directly over the input/output of the volume pot, thus losing the original sound. A switch will also be connected to the input/output terminals of the pot.

My multi-switch has six positions. I left the first blank to reproduce the unchanged, original sound. Then I added 33 pF, 47 pF, 100 pF, 120 pF, 150 pF. Lower values just add very high treble, as opposed to the higher values that increasingly allow for more middle to get through… I have already chosen some favorite switch positions for each guitar.

So now there is sort of a tone control for my little champ that I mounted on the chassis where there was some space left. I do not mind reaching for it on the backside of the amp, but maybe that is not a good idea for everyone.

A second step of modification included exchange of all three tubes of the little amp. Instead of a 12 AX7 preamp tube I placed a 5751 that gives lower gain, but clearly more nice treble. Just crank up the volume a bit more than used to, and voilà an excellent sound! Gerald Weber in several instances mentioned a rectifier tube named 5V4 that replaces a 5Y3. It makes the amp a little bit louder, which was no aim of mine, but also gives more, and tighter bass. Since I wished to make the champ sound less “boxy” I had to add more bass as well as treble. To check bass response, the low “E” from an electric guitar (compared to other notes) was perfectly right.

Then I tried several types of power tubes. First, different brands of 6V6, but then I switched to another tube (my favorite one on the modeling device “Vox Tonelab SE”) that is called 5881 (kind of a military rugged version of 6L6, but of different construction and sound). That’s when I experienced Strat-player’s heaven! Now that’s how this amp was meant to sound, and it sounds good with humbuckers, too. No matter a 5881 belongs in other amps, like the Fender Bassman – it just sounds great in my amp and makes it sound bigger. No problems so far.

Changing tubes (with the amp off!!!) is easy for anybody, only a little more difficult than exchanging a light bulb. If you are capable of soldering, you may try and add a bright cap to any amp’s master volume, I think, provided you are missing some treble or clearness of sound. The degree of sound shaping achieved of course depends on the way your volume pot is reacting when turned! And on the range of frequencies that is affected by it. So it may work in some amps, in some not. It certainly doesn’t make any difference with the amp’s volume turned all the way up – so the softer your setting, the more effect there will be…

Last thing to do was loosening the four screws that hold the baffle board (a rather thin wooden front the speaker is mounted on) a little, so its extra vibrations can add to the impression of volume, of vibrating tone. I think this measure that is known since the old days put the sound of the internal speaker above the sound of my 2×12 cabinet. What’s also important with these small amps is to place them in a somehow elevated position so the speaker’s cone addresses the ear directly. Otherwise much treble and presence will be lost.

Some months ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of the sound quality and variability my champ has gained now. This was my first and only experience so far with “amp tuning”, apart from soldering some better tone caps to my AC 15 and changing all the tubes in my amps. Pretty successful for my purpose – I was amazed myself. Please feel free to ask questions.

Vanilla Fuzz

[audio:fuzzbass.mp3]

After eight years of continuous guitar lessons a young student of mine surprised me with a good-bye-present of a kind I had never thought to receive:

He had built an effects unit for me! It’s a Fuzz he called “Vanilla Fuzz” because of the yellowish casing – but he has not been aware of a band called Vanilla Fudge which is one of my favorites and fits the topic of this blog perfectly. For this present he must have spent countless hours of building, soldering and even painting; and finally he gave it away just for me…

When I tried it the same day I received it (I couldn’t wait much longer) I found it was nice, but something was missing with the higher notes. After some consideration I resolved to try it with bass – and that was a revelation: it felt like this unit had been built as a bass fuzz device, and as such it is filling a gap in my stomp boxes pool.

As a “thank you” I post a music with fuzz bass on it. And mandolin and conga plus a bicycle bell. Sounds strange? Sure it is!

instruments & gear: Tobias 4-string bass, Vox AC 50, Epiphone Mandobird, MXR Phase 90, Tube Reverb

tube sound

[audio:tubesound.mp3]

When I wrote about vintage sounds I promised to explain what makes tube amps so indispensable for guitar players.

Tubes (or valves in British English) strongly react to the player’s plucking the string softer or harder, allowing for shifting from clean to crunch without readjustment of the knobs on your amp. Many players just use the guitar’s volume pot to add the right amount of distortion, so in reality this pot ends up more as a distortion control than a volume pot… All the distortion units on the market are but an approximation to a good tube distortion (some of them melting very nicely into the amp’s distortion, though).

With tube amps, the frequency spectrum varies significantly with any variation in playing technique – there may suddenly be more bass if you pluck very softly, and there may arise an edgy, cutting note if you pluck harder. At high gain settings, the power tubes themselves begin to distort the sound, and this is what is said to be a guitar player’s heaven!

There is a natural compression when you drive a tube amp hard enough, giving more sustain to your tone. It is impossible to describe the richness and the many shapes and colors of tone you can get with a good tube amp. I won’t extend on different types of tubes here, but some are connected with certain amps: the 6V6, 6L6 and 5881 with Fender, the EL 34 with Marshall and the EL 84 with Vox. They do shape the sound significantly, e.g. the EL 34 is held responsible for the “British sound” associated with the rougher kind of distortion of Marshall Plexi amps.

The Fender Champ (used in the musical track above) is one of the simplest, smallest amps in existence, with only one preamp tube (12AX7), one rectifier (EZ 81) and one power tube (6V6). To get some distortion out of it, I used my favorite treble booster, and the usual tube reverb unit to enhance the sound.

To exploit the potential of tube amps takes some experience. I found out I had to practice specifically to be able to handle a new sound or a new amp. Playing technique has to adjust with every amp or setting. What for me turned out to be most rewarding was exploring the field of crunch sounds, as they cover the whole spectrum in between clean and distorted. A bunch of options and variants come in, as you have to find the right guitar with the right pickups to match your amp and give the desired sound…

Some years ago I didn’t seem to know what my desired sound was, but I didn’t let it discourage me. After a while it showed that distinctiveness can only be a result of the process. How could you know what you want, when you lack first-hand experience? So it will take some time, and I can only encourage everybody to experiment on your own, trusting your own ears and nobody else’s.

My personal “master plan” is to create a best-of all-worlds-situation in my studio by having examples of Vox, Fender and Marshall at my disposal. I’m already oversupplied with Vox, but there is no Marshall… I’m planning to built one from another amp kit (like the Champ) …maybe next year…

guitar & gear: Fender Jaguar, Fender Tweed Champ, BSM Fuzzbooster, Tube Reverb

Lawsuit SG soundtracks

[audio:SGdemo.mp3]

Finally I made it! It’s so easy to promise new recordings, and then sometimes it’s kind of impossible to record for weeks. But in the end…

The E-major chord in the beginning is out of tune, once again. But as soon as soloing begins, no wrong notes are discernible. I think I have accepted a guitar player’s fate: our instrument is not tempered, and whenever a C Major sounds fine, E Major will be horrible…

In many songs (mainly old ones) I found it very charming to hear a guitar that’s slightly out of tune. But it happens anyway… Two minutes into a recording your having tuned the guitar before is already worth nothing. And I think to a certain degree it’s o.k., since I like the human factor, the inexact and the non-tempered. What makes Miles Davis’ trumpet sound so great? Among others, that his notes are non-tempered! I like the same quality about the early John McLaughlin. And I understand when Neil Young praises his Bigsby detuning his guitar after every application. (Don’t overdo that! Normally, I would have cut off the initial part of the track… And, yes, I know there is a Buzz Feiten tuning system and other solutions out there).

First you listen to the SG with both pickups activated. There is much treble. At around 0:36 you can hear me switch the toggle to the neck pickup – a sound very appropriate for Blues. I try to play around with several styles, getting a bit funky, and presenting some power chords.

I think the Amber pickups are great. They sound incredibly direct and clear. Even though I experience some difficulty with the neck and the overall performance, the SG has assumed a new status in my little studio, mainly due to these pickups.

guitar & gear: Ibanez SG, Tweed Champ, 2×12 cabinet with greenbacks, Tube Trem as a booster

latest toys

From time to time one has to go back to the roots. The roots of this current creative period in my life are, oddly enough, technical aspects of guitar sound. The point is, I don’t see it like that. I don’t care too much about technics. But I’m amazed by what sound can do to your playing, and thus contribute to your creativity. There are periods when I’m playing around like a child, glad to have found new toys. It happened again these days, and so I have to make you wait some more for the promised recordings of the modified Ibanez SG. But I have already recorded some tracks. One of them needs further overdubs, and all of them need to be mixed…

My latest toys are preamp tubes. I read an article in my favorite (German) guitar magazine “Gitarre & Bass” about how different preamp tubes can affect your sound. It said you can easily exchange these tubes without further adjustment – because they are interchangeable. The difference is in the gain they offer, and in the cleaner or crunchier sound you obtain. Lower gain tubes may contribute to a more stable and cleaner tone. Whoever wants to achieve a vintage sound, should consider replacing some tubes. For most of us it’s not necessary to get the most power out of our amps. I mostly have enough headroom to enjoy being able to crank up the volume a little more than usual, because I use to play in a kind of living room studio…

I had built a Fender Tweed champ from a DIY amp kit several months ago. Now I read in the magazine these 50s amps had a 12AY7 tube instead of a 12AX7. I was eager to hear the alleged more authentic sound of the original tube, and when I received it I found out it had somewhat more treble, and gave a cleaner and more stable tone, just like it said. For lack of comparison I do not know, however, if this sound is more “authentic”.

Here is a list of the most common preamp tubes (valves) from higher to lower gain levels:

12AX7 (ECC83 in European terms): the most common preamp tube today, and high gain. The 7025 is a high grade version of the same type which I prefer for the first input stage.

12AT7 (ECC81): used in Fender amps, often for Reverb, about 60 to 70% of the 12AX7’s gain.

12AY7 (6072): as a preamp tube in 50’s Fender amps (Tweed era), and about 50% of the 12AX7’s gain.

12AU7 (ECC82): mostly in HiFi amps, even lower gain than 12AY7. I had to crank up the volume very high to achieve enough resonance, but I was rewarded with a slim and contoured sound with lots of treble.

(The 5751 is similar to the 12AX7, but only has about 70% of its gain. Often recommended as a replacement for the first input stage to achieve a cleaner sound. I haven’t had the chance to try it yet.)

My Champ didn’t have an abundance of treble, and so I ended up with the 12AY7, that allowed for more gain than the 12AU7, but still had some crispness. I have to add, though, that a single coil strat for example, may require more gain to create enough crunch or distortion for your desired sound, and thus the 12AX7 could be the best choice. You just have to try and compare. Go and buy some preamp tubes. Even if you own a hybrid amp with a single tube in the circuit, it can be rewarding to try different types of high quality. If you stick to the high gain 12AX7, try a 7025! It’s virtually the same, but extra rugged and with a more detailed resolution. Also note that there are significant differences in sound and quality between different brands of tubes, depending on when and where they were produced. There seems to exist no equivalent for original RCA, Siemens, Mullard, Valvo and so on. Today’s tubes are produced in just a few countries, but quality is on a rise.

Most of my tube amps are housing new preamp tubes now, the Vox AC 15 Heritage (also with better EL 84s), the old Vox AC 50 (lent by Markus), and the Tweed Champ. For the AC 50 which is from around 1965, I found an original British Mullard ECC83 (my father had stored many tubes in the basement), and the old tube is great in the old amp!

Lawsuit SG

Over the last weeks I’ve been busy modifying another old guitar I had been given by a neighbor about six years ago: it’s an Ibanez, but completely different from what most people know as an Ibanez.

This guitar is from 1971 – maybe a vintage item, if you will, but already slightly beyond the “Golden Age” of electric guitar craftsmanship. Since it’s from Japan, then a low-wage country, its worth is not at all comparable to that of an American original. This SG (a so-called lawsuit model, that became illegal after Gibson won a case) is just a cheap copy, with bolt-on neck at that. The pickups were almost broken as the electronic circuitry in general was.

But from the moment I played this instrument for the first time, I found there was something special about it – not very SG-like, but individual in quality. With a slide it delivered a great sound, and for some years it has been my guitar for special occasions, also for noise orgies…

Until the pickups finally gave up, and I had to get new ones. I decided to order some P90 style pickups. But a few problems arose: there were three pickups originally, but I wanted only two. The third one was activated only in the middle position of the toggle switch, and, contrary to what one might expect, this sound had less power and gave me no criterion to want a third pickup. But what to do with the ugly hole in the middle?

I procrastinated resolving this, and instead went on to ordering hand-wound P94 pickups – they are similar to P90s, but in a humbucker format. I expected a brighter sound than with humbuckers that should be matching the bolt-on neck construction and give a direct sound that could be great with some crunch added.

And so it was. When I received my pair of Amber P94, there was no difficulty in mounting them, and within half an hour or so the guitar was ready to be played again. The sound turned out much clearer and more present than before, and the special design of P94 (with pole pieces instead of screws), only recently available, gives them an exceptionally direct response. Needless to say I had built the electronic circuit anew from scratch, with good CTS replica pots, bumblebee caps and cloth wire, adding to an unimpaired frequency spectrum.

After due consideration I mounted the old middle pickup again, as a dummy, so new and old looks are merging. It looks fine to me. No ugly hole any more…

There were still problems with the narrow string spacing that was already improperly done by the Ibanez factory, the strings not being parallel to the neck. I tried a different bridge I had saved from my Epiphone, but with it I had to carve out a new notch for the E6-string that otherwise would have dropped off the fingerboard. Still it feels somehow weird to play on this neck, but the sound is great – and it’s still great with a slide! This guitar will remain my guitar for special occasions, only much better than before…

Soundtracks featuring this guitar coming soon.

Guitar Caps

Sparing you the discussion whether or not there are differences in sound with different caps, I simply begin with: “Yes, there are. Use your ears and you will find out”. This post is to enlarge upon some former posts – when I still had no idea how many people would be interested – specially upon “switches and caps“, which is my no.1 post concerning hits now. There are some comments there with additional information, if you like.

A list of some of the capacitors I tried with guitars:

Luxe Caps” (Vitamin Qs), made of Russian military caps, thoroughly coated to look like vintage caps. They are California made, but the link above is to a German distributor, where I bought a bunch of caps (I’m also German), being much more delighted with the sound quality than with their English on the home page. But there are some forums (just google “Luxe caps”) who talk about alternatives to these rather expensive parts. Or look here for NOS caps.

– amongst them: Bumblebees. The legendary Les Paul caps give a nice and smooth sound, but for some it’s just too dull.

bumblebees

– Black Beauties. Used later on in Les Pauls, they are a bit brighter in sound, and my favorites.

Mustard Caps

Jensen (from Denmark, not to be confused with Jensen Speakers in Fender amps)

Jensen

Styroflex (silvery and half transparent looking)

Red Dimes, Orange Dimes (good ceramic caps, but still ceramic..) and many others.

red dime in a 1967 Stratocaster

Personally, out of vintage repro caps, I prefer Black Beauties for all Les Pauls (including Juniors and Specials), for they give a brighter sound than Bumblebees. Both come in 0.022 uF only. There are intended as replacements for original vintage instruments. With little interest in “vintage correctness”, in a way I don’t care too much if they belong in this very guitar I want to tune. The point is: they sound very very good. Even the higher priced ones are worth trying.

The cheapest solution are Mustard caps, and to me they are second best. Made as replacements for Marshall amps, they sound great in guitars. For most users, I presume, there will be nothing left to be desired. My pimped Epiphone Les Paul houses a pair of them…

Capacitor Values: Values (in micro Farrad) differ from 0.01 to 0.1. The higher the value, the stronger will be the high frequency roll off. Fifities guitars often had bright sounding pickups – these were matched by more roll-off (0.05 to 0.1), whereas 0.022 is most common now. Vintage repro caps only come with vintage correct values, but it is worthwhile to experiment with different ones. In this case, you’ll have to try “normal” caps. I had a bass guitar that sounded somehow strangled until I fixed it with a foil cap of a different value – it felt like a miracle! For the Neck PU of my Les Paul I put a 0.033 uF cap so it lost its biting brightness, whereas for the bridge PU the usual 0.022 was fine.

Jensens are high grade, but originally for HiFi. Rather big in size, they give a very cultivated, smooth sound. Except for my Gibson EB3 Bass, I missed some aggression, though.

For my Stratocaster there was no alternative to a “chiclet” 0.1uF wax paper cap (Luxe). I originally wanted a red dime 0.05, like I had read somewhere, but after comparing it to a chiclet, there was no other way to go. I found the same to be the case with a student’s Mexican strat. These foil repro caps give the best and smoothest vintage sound I ever heard with Fender single coils. I don’t care if all the sixties’s strats were provided with ceramic caps – I would even replace these originals (of course keeping them).

Styroflex also turned out fine, but I missed some of the character in tone that other foil caps delivered. They are best for tone stacks in amplifiers (I already replaced some caps in my amps as well, with good results).

My Jaguar, as usual came with ceramic discs, but with the lower value of 0.01uF, as these single coils are rather different from a strat’s ones, and there are two tone circuits involved. So, no vintage repro caps were available. I simply tested several ceramic caps (for the main circuit), but bigger than discs, looking like the famous “Sprague” ones, and ended up with a 0.015. This one gave a fairly aggressive attack I liked so much that I don’t care I cannot turn the pot down anymore – not even a little bit, or it strangles both tone and volume. But after comparing its sound to the pot without any cap, I knew I couldn’t do without it.

For the Jaguar’s “rhythm circuit” I took a different choice. This circuit was created for dull rhythm sounds with the neck pickup only – but I like to use it for smoother jazzy sounds. For lack of space I sought out an old foil cap from a British Quad amp called “Hunts”, looking like a tiny carrot or a candy, and at the same time decreased the value to 0.0056 uF (roughly, only half of the original value). The result was less dampening, so it served for soloing also.

With all the hype of caps, don’t forget to check your pots! New pots (500 kO for Les Pauls, 250 kO for Teles and Strats, 1 MegO for Jazzmaster and Jaguar) might be just the missing thing in your guitar, brightening up the tone until it shines likes a Rembrandt painting exempt from centuries-old layers of varnish…

psychedelic guitar playing: scales and techniques

NOTE: THERE IS A NEW POST WITH TABS ON THIS TOPIC!

Musicians have to learn scales, for scales are the raw material of melodies as well as the raw material of improvised solos.

For psychedelic music one might denote certain scales, but it won’t suffice to just climb them up and down, as one will have to learn how to use these notes.

From my own experience I would recommend the mixolydian scale. Listen to, for instance, “Ride my see-saw” by the Moody Blues. The solo (near the end) is pure mixolydian. But there is no scale reserved for psychedelic styles. So all the scales common in rock music, above all minor pentatonic, if played in a certain way, will sound psychedelic.

So what are these ways of playing? As a hint, you can read this former post.

Or, listen to this former sound track, using the mixolydian scale.

Keep in mind Indian music had a great impact on sixties’ music, especially around 1966/67. Modal soloing over a droning root can be a key to sounding psychedelic. One of the most efficient playing techniques is the use of just one string, regarding the guitar as a sitar. Crazy vibratos, whammy bar effects, and slides add to an overall oriental impression. Oriental sounding scales, such as harmonic minor or phrygian, enhance that effect. Bendings, at times combined with additional vibrato, and double stop bendings on strings g and b are very common.

There is no particular guitar or amp or scale or substance needed (though it might help), for psychedelic music is an attitude. It emanates from a surreal mindset. Studying surrealism is a good starting point.

A fine analysis of psychedelic music styles (with reference to surrealism) is found in Tim Ellison’s book “The band are not quite right” (free download). Thanks to “psy-curious” who led me there!

Appendix: examples of the above mentioned scales in the key of A:

Mixolydian: a-b-c#-d-e-f#-g-a. Minor pentatonic: a-c-d-e-g-a. Harmonic minor: a-b-c-d-e-f-g#-a.Phrygian: a-bb-c-d-e-f-g-a.

psychedelically painted guitars

Personally, I don’t paint guitars. To me it’s sufficient to have great instruments with great sounds at hand, and to play the psychedelic way. I don’t feel the need to show my musical preferences with ostentation.

But there are continuous searches for psychedelically painted instruments hitting my blog, and I would like to show those interested the way to some pictures:

There is THE psychedelic looking guitar! The SG Eric Clapton played during his Cream period, called “The Fool” is the best-known example, and it’s awesome. It can be an inspiration for those willing to do a similar job.

Look here

here or here

Or look at an acoustic guitar

The photo below shows a 1967 strat that in a way painted itself psychedelically by aging. This process has only just begun – maybe some decades from now stars and angels will complete the volcano-like spot on the side of its body…