Dear listener,

at some point last year I decided I had to make an album. Too many musical ideas, sheets with sketches and outlines for songs had gathered.

That’s when I disappeared from here. Albums need my undivided attention – well, besides family, lessons and housework.

This is the third album I’ve done, and the last one. It took me more than three years to make this music in my head audible for others: as sound is my main focus now, preparations included extensive research and much experimenting with amps and effects. Some 26 songs developed from there. Some had to be omitted along the way.

23 songs remained to form an album of about 69 minutes. I myself played most of the instruments, including guitars, bass, drums, percussion, organ and violin. This has been a challenge! So my last album is also the longest one, considering playing time. It’s name is “Winterlese”, a German word containing my surname Winter and something like “vintage” or “crop”.

I hope I succeeded in conveying my idea of a Contemporary Psychedelic Sound, which was realized with strictly analog equipment. Except for recording everything on my computer, no digital means were used. Any sound you hear is a real sound, and there are many guitar parts that do not sound like a guitar…

The order of songs came very naturally this time. I wonder why I didn’t have to think about it too much, which I had expected to be one major problem. Listen to the introduction now, which sets the mood for the album, but lasts just a few seconds. Until next time, see you!

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.

compulsory break

Hopefully this blog will go on soon, but right now I’m barely able to teach my students (which of course I do), due to a particularly persistent flu which has made me cough for nearly five weeks (!) now.

It is one of the kindergarten viruses depriving me of my energy. From the moment our son went there, just about every little infect became more evil, more persistent. This particular virus was said to presumably entertain the infected person for about six weeks (as those who were the first to get through this told us).

So there remains some hope: just one more week! Sorry, folks… I’ll be back as soon as I can. With music. With co-productions and some tracks that are more elaborate than the usual improvisations. Most of that stuff has been prepared for publishing, but I couldn’t finish it.

In addition I planned a track that will be called “The Psychedelic Chord”, giving rise to a bunch of questions like: Is there a psychedelic chord? Is it a chord at all? Is it psychedelic? As most of these questions should be answered “no” by an accurate musicologist, I prefer to give a personal answer in a strictly musical way (maybe “yes” in all three concerns)… Looking forward to those posts!

upcoming co-productions


Although there has been nothing going on on this blog for quite a long time, many things happened behind the scenes. Many recordings were made, but I feel I have to elaborate them more than I usually do for blog posts. Meaning I would need a huge amount of time for each track.

Maybe they are to become songs that need a proper production; an album, maybe. It would be premature to extend on this…

But then there was this additional idea: I invited two English guitar players whom I both know via internet to finish some of my recordings; they as well were invited to send me a track I could complete. It should be done in an easy way by simply sending mp3s, and it should be published on the blog.

Steve and Stephen both readily agreed; which cannot be taken for granted – it can be rather challenging to receive a piece you have to add some instrumental part to!

We also agreed that each of us could ask for another track if there were problems. And no hurry!

When I received two keyboard tracks from Steve, I was quite surprised for I knew him as a guitar player – but he seems to be a real multi-instrumentalist. These tracks made it easy for me to solo on, and I enjoyed the whole process very much. I even added some percussion I played myself, and particularly a “latin” track by Steve gave me the chance to indulge in my Santana roots. That was pure fun, and I would like to thank him for that.

The track I sent him in turn was a little bit monotonous, but I thought it would provide a certain mood which makes it easy to find a voice on top. But how Steve managed to surprise me once more! He did not simply add a new layer to it – he superimposed images from a completely different level on my track. Different sounds, different chords, different moods. What you hear in this post is only my original track, leaving space for you to speculate what he might have added. In just a few days I will put up the new version…

guitar & gear: Epiphone Les Paul, Vox AC 30 (vibrato channel), Tube Reverb

still alive!

For several days was unavailable, due to server problems. I apologize for that.

Though I’ve posted very little lately, this blog is still alive. Most of you will agree it takes some time and a number of steps until a blog post of the kind you see here can be published. What you couldn’t see nor guess is that in the meantime I’ve been recording like crazy. A stock of recordings has accumulated that still need a little elaboration. Not only have I made some drafts for new blog posts, but nearly every musical idea I had jotted down over the past two or three years now exists as an audio file in my computer. Phew.

Until new posts will be ready, I’ll put up some photos of our lovely summer break in Germany, coming soon…

Vanilla Fuzz


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


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


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.