Other Equipment

Load Lightening: Shortboard & the Featherweight Rig

1

Lot of stuff comes together in this series of posts.

Stuff the First. Couple months ago I started this Lightening the Load thread soliciting ideas for a great-sounding, giggable amp that was at least lighter (and if possible physically smaller) than my usual Peavey Classic 30 (or two) setup. That's a bit of a challenge, because the Classic 30 is itself very compact, weighing in around 30 pounds.

Still, I wanted to see if I could scale it back without going to a mini-amp (either modeling or very low-wattage) - mostly because I still wanted rich clean tone with the headroom I'm used to.

Stuff the Second. While I love my big pedalboard for the pure sonic pleasure it provides during stereo full-ambient sometimes-soundscapey home entertainment playing, it's heavy, unwieldy, and nearly embarrassing for practices, jams or casual gigs. I use only a fraction of its power at such events, it's in the way, and if I don't use the stuff, I just look stupid.

Late September's Nashville Roundup gave me the impetus I needed to slip into something a bit more comfortable which would give me just what I needed for grab-n-go sessions, without much fluff. The Shortboard was functional at that event - but I wasn't completely sold on every member of the team, so it's continued to evolve.

Meantime, we had a thread on pedal order and ideas came out of that which prompted me to rethink some of my standard practices. And of course for any pedal junkie, the churn of new pedals to try - and some elusive tone to chase - never ends.

(The rethinking has now transcended the limits of this Shortboard, and I'm in the midst of completely revamping (and modularizing) the Bigboard to improve its adaptability, usability, and portability. But that's a story for another time.)

Stuff Three. Pedals I've wondered about for years! Clean power!

So. For them what's interested, let's geek out over gear a bit, OK?

2

Oooh! Tweed! Looks like 1958. (OK, maybe 1961). What's in the case, huh?

3

Is it what you expected?

(Well sure, after that setup.)

The case actually provided the size parameters for the Shortboard. (For them what's dyin' to know, at one time it contained a Fender lap steel which, along with a Princeton tweed, came into the music store where I worked. Owner collected the lapsteel out from under me (don't know why, he was a band instrument guy), but I got the case and the amp. The case doesn't fit any of my lappers (too short), so it's been used for various cable-and-gear toting duties down through the years.)

I thought it was too handy a resource not to make use of, so I determined to have no more pedals than would fit in the case.

From right to left (because we're in pedal-land now), this New & Improved Shortboard V.2 comprises the LovePedal Kalamazoo drive-dirter, Keeley Euphoria clean drive/boost, Diamond Compressor, Wampler Tumnus mini-Klonische, Nocturne BS-301, Strymon Deco "tape emulator thing", and Strymon Flint reverb/tremolo.

4

Functional Details

For clarity and ease of use, I wanted to keep the physical setup and the pedal order consistent. The little Tumnus in the middle is actually where I plug in the guitar - it's the only pedal that's physically out of place compared to its location in the signal chain. (It's there because the Ojai power supply had to go in the middle, and it's just the way stuff fit best.)

So whaddawe got, and why?

The right half of the board is occupied by various drives, gainers, and boosty things, with the intention of using them separately for their unique tones - and stacking in various ways to meet any hairy-to-driven-to-overdriven-to-crunchy-to-fuzzy needs I have any business having.

The left half is full of effectier effects: modulation, delay, reverb (with some twists).

The dirt pedals were not chosen from instinct, habit, or haphazard chance: I've been running combinations of pedals in various orders for weeks to find a complement of two or three that accomplish all of the above. Lots of likely candidates went back to the cabinet - and I bought one highly-hyped (and highly-hoped-for) double pedal intended to solve ALL dirtgain problems. It hasn't.

WAMPLER TUMNUS
What the hell is this thing? A mini Klon clone. I'm new to Klons; JBGretschGuy's amazing Klone blew me away at the Roundup, where it was "simply" a front-end conditioner for a Deluxe Reverb. It added a little gain, some eq profiling, and a kind of focus, but it'su hard to describe. Sorta like a good preamp (Atomic Brain, EP Booster, great compressor, etc), it served as an always-on extension of the amp. You didn't know it was doing anything till you turned it off. Then the life kinda drained out of the tone.

So here's what a good Klon does, properly deployed in front of the proper amp, for a particular kind of music: it makes it sound better.

I fell down the Klon rathole for a couple weeks, listening to online demos of various contenders, reading the forums, generally wasting my life in that gear-obsession mode too many of us know all too well. I'd already ordered one of Josh's Klones - but I wanted instanter gratification. The Tumnus got roaring good reviews for its general fidelity to Essence of Klon, its size is certainly pedalboard-friendly (unlike the hulking original), and Brian is a good ol' Indiana boy whose dirty ears I've learned to trust, so I ordered it up.

Short version: it has the same character as Josh's Klone (which came a few weeks after I ordered it). Yep, the same - except it doesn't sound as good. It seems to lack girth. It's not as juicy. It doesn't bring you to your knees in gratitude. It does provide tonal focus for a certain sort of punchy rock tone - and it makes a really ballsy overdrive at higher gain settings. There's definitely some mid-push (though not as much as a Tube Screamer), along with full-range tightening - but by comparison to the JB Klone, it’s just not quite all there.

I don't know if it will stay. At the moment it's set up for barely-there hair, just for the kind of tonal conditioning I heard in Nashville. (And it may be that no Klonifer works at the low volumes I play at.) But there it is. We'll see.

After the Tumnus (in signal flow), comes...

LOVEPEDAL KALAMAZOO
I'm bull-goose wacko crazy for this pedal (at the moment). I've had it for several years - I fell for the hype (and the shiny chromey smallish box) but it didn't prove itself on the Big Board. That may be because on that board I've run compression and boost before any dirt pedals, and here the Kala comes first. In any case, it's been on the stuff-to-Reverbay shelf for at least a couple of years, and if I was productive rather than a procrastinatin' time-waster-on-the-GDP, it'd be gone.

But when I was running through literally every dirt pedal in the inventory, looking for something to serve as heavy drive on this board, it just plain won. It's been compared to a Tube Screamer with low end - and to a Klon - but that doesn't cover it. It's just juicy, creamy with plenty of teeth, fat enough in the low end, and tweakable for as much (or little) glassy high end as you might want. Critically, it lets me get as dirty as I wanna without fizz. It's also remarkably touch sensitive (and much more so when positioned before the compressor, I'm sure).

I have compared it directly to the Tumnus at similar settings, to see how Klonny the Kalamazoo really is. I hear the family resemblance, but it's bloomier and a bit looser. The Tumnus can go a little hard and nasal, and that's not what I hear from the Kalamazoo.

It's early days (as the Brits say), and this board has yet to be battle-tested, but I've tested the rig with various pickups and guitar configs, and the Kalamazoo seems like a keeper.

Out of the Kalamazoo through a short brass pedal connector to...

WAMPLER EUPHORIA
(Note that in terms of pedal order, I'm complying with the principle of having higher-gain pedals before low-gain pedals - with the exception of the Tumnus, yah yah, but I tried them in all orders and this is what's working for me...at the moment. Thus the Euphoria follows the Kalamazoo.)

The Euph is another pedal I misunderstood for a long time. I loved it in the store, through a range of tones, but on the Big Board (where, again, it followed compression), it didn't impress me. But the process here was to try everything without preconception, in different orders, experimenting with different settings than I would habitually use. In the case of the Euphoria, I caught a Brian Wampler ütube video explaining how many guys use it wrong - with too much gain, and misguided adjustment of the bass control - and sure enough, when I followed the advice of his golden dirty ears...there it was.

I'm using it for "transparent" overdrive - just a hint to a dash of hair-to-grit. It doesn't noticeably cut or boost any range of frequencies, what goes in is what comes out (only goosed a little), and - again - it's dynamically sensitive. Sounds like a Tim or Timmy, donit? And in fact the Tim was my first choice for transparent drive on this board. It's just too damn big, specifically so tall that the lid on the lapsteel case wouldn't close on it. In the process of testing, I A-B-C-D'd everything I had with the Tim, looking for that transparent thing. When I got to the Euphoria, I pretty much couldn't tell the difference. Not that they set up the same, or have the same range of gains (and the Euphoria has three modes which differ markedly from each other) - but for the transparent drive I was looking for, they could be set up to behave as near identically as who-cares.

The Euphoria fits on the board, has those other modes, and here we are. Brian claims it stacks beautifully with the Tumnus, and that stack at least doesn't sound bad to me. It even stacks OK with the Kalamazoo (not that the Kala needs more gain).

Enough o' this dirt, time for some squeeze...

DIAMOND COMPRESSOR
I just won't have a board without a compressor. I don't use it all the time, as I once did - about half the time I enjoy the unmolested response envelope of the guitar - but I do like to squeeze. As I've mentioned, this is the first board I remember having with compression following the drives and boosts. I'm diggin' it. I'm getting more dynamic sensitivity from the guitar, more range of expression from purely clean to overdriven using nothing but pick dynamics and the vol knob on the guitar - but I still get the chewy chunky blooming benefits of the compressor.

There are many compressors I like - and this position is always open to musical chairs - but the Diamond is near the top of my heap in any evaluation. You can't dial a bad sound from it: there's only one knob for compression, but it covers everything I need and from mild shaping to chickenpickin' to chunkin' to soaring sustain.

The Diamond's secret weapon - and one reason I keep coming back to it - is the EQ "tilt" knob. With the knob at center, freq response is flat. To the left of center the tilt boosts low end; to the right it boosts high end. I don't know what the EQ slope of these boosts are: I assume they're some kind of shelving, but they're so smooth you don't hear'em work. You just get some fat below noon, and sparkle past noon - so I can use the compressor to tune the whole rig for a different guitar or amp. Sweet!


That brings us to the end of the gainstation-dirtfarm side of the Short Board. Stay tuned for more pedal geekery, but first, this Public Service Announcement...

5

BAXXXXX - what I gotta do to make these pictures BIGGER? I see other guys get pictures that practically fill across the whole screen. What proportion you lookin' for? Why must I continue to embarrass myself with pictures that are too small to see any detail? Help a brother out here...

6

INTERMISSION

(That wasn't the PSA. That was just a primal cry of frustration and rage. Here's the PSA.)

Oh...hi!

I've known for years I should use a power supply with separate isolated outputs. Yes, friends, it's true. I was one of those pedal junkies who'd spend big on the newest and shiniest toys, then try to power them in a daisy chain. You've heard us, stomping around in discussion board threads all over the internet chanting "One Spot, One Spot, One Spot" and claiming our stuff sounds pretty clean. Considering.

Well, no more. Yes, friends, I've seen the light. I've bit the bullet. I've bellied up the bar. I've put my money where my noise was.

That's a Strymon Ojai power supply occupying center stage (and almost pride of place) on the Short Board, supplying 500 clean clean mA to each of 5 outputs. As Strymon puts it,

You get five high-current, individually isolated, ultra-low-noise outputs—each with its own dedicated regulator and custom transformer. Each output provides a massive 500mA of current. Ojai’s dual-stage topology, pre-regulated outputs, optically isolated feedback, and advanced multistage filtering result in a power supply that allows your pedals to achieve their highest possible dynamic range.

Couldna said it better myself. Sounds like hype in words. In use, it just sounds like...nothing. No hiss no hum no noise floor. The whole rig makes no noise I don't make myself.

I'd OneSpotted this board for a couple months before saying oh hi! to Ojai, and always had a residual hum I couldn't quell. Now it's dead quiet. Quiet as a tomb. I set the guitar down and forget to turn it down, or the amp off. I bump the guitar, big noise comes out, and it startles me. It's that quiet. It's so quiet I say "IS THIS THING ON?" into the end of my guitar cord.

Yes, it was 150.00, and I could have bought half a boutique dirt pedal for that, or five Chinese effeckets. But boy howdy. For a pedal junkie this is like...no more dirty needles or something. Clean injection into the main vein. WAY more dynamic range, and I hear more detail.

Get clean power for your stuff. Don't be like me.


But WHY is it on top of the board, not hidden away on the underside like on a proper board? Do I think people want to see my furnace room?

No. I will tuck the Ojai's big brother Zuma properly under the Big Board. There just wasn't room on this board. The lid on Mr Tweed has to close, so there was no room to hide it underneath the board. And it's in the middle because the supplied power leads would't reach from one end of the board to the other.

Attentive readers will note that Ojai has five power holes, and I have seven devices. Well yessir. From left to right: Flint, Deco, Mystery Train, and Diamond Comp each get their own dedicated 500mA; Tumnus, Euphoria, and Kalamazoo are sharing the fifth port via a 5-tap OneSpot daisy-chain.

(What you see to the right and in the background of the Ojai is its separate power brick, which has the A/C connection and a port to power the front of the Ojai. So - one single A/C cable powers the rig.)

8

When do you post chapter two?? Wow! I like how you use the old tweed case but I don't know if I'd call that a small pedal board! Though I too use a pair of amps live (a couple of homemade deluxe reverbs)...and a mini leslie unit pulled from an organ and plugged into my echo amp as a ext speaker(usually on slow) I also have a Roland RE-150 tape echo so I guess I can't talk about anyones gear. I almost have more gear than my drummer but each unit is pretty small. i built the little amps because my 85 lbs super started to seem excessively heavy. Here's a picture of my homemade pedal board built inside an old reel to reel case. I put my space echo on top to be fair as I guess it's kind of a 'pedal' (there's also a super distortion hidden in the top of the 'pedalboard with the millions of connecting patchchords.) I use a daisy chain (hurrah!) an my rig hisses like an angry cat...but that's the tape echo which I've used for the past 25 years.

9

Functional Details Part Deux

NOCTURNE MYSTERY BRAIN BS-301
This pedal is no stranger to denizens of the Gretsch deeps, and I've rhapsodized about it elsewhere, so no need I should rattle on much about it here.

Two functions: 1) the SpaceEcho-like preamp so beloved in Tavo's range of Brain pedals - with boost. Another one of those pedals some of us just leave on all the time because they mysteriously make it all just sound better - the kind you don't notice till you turn it off.

And 2) well...SpaceEcho-like delay and modulation. So the whole thing is, like, Tavo's Space Echo-in-a-pedal concoction. Perfectly ideal for one-stop Brian-Setzer emulation, from gritch to slapback. Rockabilly in a box. Needless to say, it's GREAT for slapback.

BUT THAT'S NOT WHY I HAVE IT. (Yeah, OK, I'll use the slapback if and when I need it.) I have it for the preamp/boost, but mostly for the Deluxe Memory Man sort of modulated delay effects. Say from 150 to 500 ms, with sweet spot in the 250-400 range, and with a touch of modulation. Darkening gritty delay trails receding into wobbly murk. Atmosphere and ambience. Textural hippie stuff. Big prog-and-classic rock soaring leads. Incense, peppermints, patchouli, and weed smoke. ALL my musical bad habits, made even more delicious by getting them out of a butch-waxed peg-legged rockabilly box with Camels rolled up in its sleeves. Now that's subversive!

IMPORTANT NOTE: As Tavo has clarified more than once, but not everyone catches, there's a dip-switch inside the Train to tune the high end of the preamp when using it AFTER other gain/dirt devices. I've used it both ways, and it sounds much better in this application with the treble cut engaged. Otherwise, the familiar Brain punch can be a bit harsh and strident.

I tried the BS-301 at the FRONT of my entire signal chain, and while the Brain preamp worked very similarly to my Atomic Brain's (not exactly the same, I don't know why), following the modulated delay with other drive and dirt pedals was pretty ugly. Utterly lacking in finesse. Messy, barky. Not a pretty sight.

But with the treble cut engaged, and the pedal in this position, I get not only the sweetness of the moddelay tricks, but nuclear brains as well. Which makes yet another gain stage/EQ focus on this board. Again, good for its unique eq focus (different from Tumnus), and therefor another option for stacking with the other dirty kids.

STRYMON DECO
I've wanted one since it was announced, but hated to spend full Strymon money. (I'm as cheap as RickyBob sometimes.) But while I was in bullet-biting mode, while the waters were troubled, while the PayPal gates were opened...etc. (And might I say the naked shiny silver is ga-ga gorgeous? Love the classy deco graphics.)

Again, it's early days - it's only been on the board for a week or so - but I think I'm in love. (Raise your hand if you've been party to numerous pedal honeymoons.) I've often looked for two things it's been surprisingly hard to find: almost inaudible animation in a clean tone; and a softening, bloomy kind of barely there fuzzy saggy warmth in mostly-clean-to-fully-overdriven tones.

By animation I mean some sort of movement in the tone, some kind of modulation. Tremolo throb is OK, but even at very slight pulse it's obvious. Phasing and flanging, yuck. Again, too obvious and in-the-way. Chorus, maybe sometimes a little. Especially very very slow - almost stopped - chorus, just a kind of doubling. But...beentheredonethat. I still hear it too much and eventually its artificiality gets cloying. Pitch vibrato is very close to what I want. I used a Memory Man for years for this purpose - set for subtle, slow modulation, delay just barely on the edge where it becomes audible as a second note. When that got too noisy (original Memory Men are little noise parties, is what they are), I went to a big RotoVibe on vibrato (not chorus), at the slightest depth, with the pedal cocked for a slow churn I had to turn off to realize it had been on.

That was just about right. But it took up more pedalboard space than I could justify. (And it was heavy.) On the Big Board, I've been using a couple patches I programmed into the Strymon Mobius specifically to emulate that effect (with the added benefit that from Mobius, they're stereo).

Long story too late to turn short, that's what I think the "DoubleTracker" function is doing for me on the Shortboard. That function is continually variable in "delay time" from through-zero flanging (don't make me throw up here!) up through this subtle chorus/mod/wobble I'm talking about, and into clearly audible doubletracking, slapback, and ambient echo. I think it actually ranges up to 500 ms. With a control literally called "Wobble", three tracking "modes", and a Blend control, there's lots of variety on tap here. If it wasn't limited to a maximum of two repeats, this would overlap considerably with the Mystery Brain (or El Capitan, or any modulated delay). In a pinch, it could substitute for those slapbackin' ambient functions. But for me the voodoo of this half of the pedal is that slight, barely audible, slightly fattening animation in my clean tone. (For some reason, when I pump dirtier tones through it, it stands out more distinctly and threatens to sound over-processed.)

The OTHER half of the Deco really has me grinnin'. Its Tape Saturation emulation, I think, is finally giving me that softening bloom. I realize I'm conditioned to actual real tape saturation from years of listening to music recorded in the 60s and 70s, and from my personal experience with reel-to-reel multitracking - where we'd habitually push the needle at least bouncing into the red. Not so much to get that preamp saturation (which in fact most of us were interested to get RID of when digital recording arrived), but because anything that didn't fill the meter would be heard as hissy noise, which we wanted to minimize.

But when applied intentionally here, in Strymon's emulation, it just...well, warms and fattens. Sometimes inaudibly (again, till you turn it off...), but there's enough dial there to turn it into out-and-out overdrive (still juicy and organic and very much non-fizzy). And when I find the sweet spot, it's really touch-sensitive and dynamic. Light picking, clean and bright. Bear down, and it doesn't so much "dirt up" as it kinda "clouds out." It also stacks beautifully with the gain pedals earlier in the chain, smoothing them out, giving them more body.

So - as everyone has known for a couple years - what a great pedal!

TECHNICAL NOTE: the Deco has a mono input by default, with a pair of stereo outputs. Use the left out, and it's mono. That's fine. But I remain a stereo junkie, and even on the Shortboard I want the option to take two amps if I durn well please. So I'm feeding the Deco mono from the BS-301, then taking stereo outs via a Y-cable into the single TRS input of the...

STRYMON FLINT
... which is also mono-in by default. But (like the Deco), it's internally jumper-switchable to read true stereo input from its TRS input jack. Which is how I have the Flint set on this board. So - out of the Deco in stereo, into the Flint in stereo. And if I use just the left out from Flint, I'm all mono all the way. But I have the option to use both outputs and get full stereo from both pedals. (And the Deco's doubletracking, as expected, is lushly ambient and widening in stereo, spreading out the soundstage and creating an enveloping sonic environment without calling attention to itself. Tasty!)

The Flint is here, of course, for both world-class reverb (in three overall flavors: spring/60s, plate/70s, and digital/80s - I like plate) AND three modes of better-than-good-enough tremolo (harmonic/61, tube/63, and bias/65). I've been using the Flint for several years, and for my purposes it delivers everything it offers - in stereo when desired. One of its design intentions is to emulate the reverb/trem behavior of Fender amps, so by default the reverb precedes the trem in its architecture. Even when I'm not using it to pretend I'm playing through a Deluxe Reverb (I HAVE a DR), I've found I prefer that order. It gives the reverb a certain modulated character.

And it's out from our man Flint to either one or two amps.

That WAS a slow tour, wasn't it?

Critics will fairly note that most of the board is comprised of pedals intended to create, recreate, or emulate various behaviors of a good tube amp (and maybe the analog recording gear on the far side of the amp) - so why don't I just use a good tube amp, crank it up, and get all these shades of drive, compression, sag, and saturation from guitar settings and playing technique?

Two reasons. First, I'm used to a clean tone with a good bit of warmth and headroom, and an amp big enough to give me that is too big to manage for all those other tones at a volume I can use. An amp small enough to cook up the driven to saturated range of tones - at volumes I can use - just doesn't have the girth and presence I like in a clean tone.

Second, it's just not the way I've ever done it. At this point, I bow to my limitations and try to make the most of them.

10

Wordless Workshop

Who remembers the pipe-smoking putterer in the old Popular Mechanics feature? Guy was always building something handy around the house in a storyboard format of line drawings showing just how it was done. The series was short on branded or proprietary items you'd have to go to the hardware store for, and long on the use and re-use of household items and leftovers you already had.

It was a different time.

There truly weren't words - but these pictures were worth several thousand, and showed tool techniques and construction details likely beyond the abilities of most of "us mens today." (Several obvious exceptions excepted.) Some of the projects were many pages long, with four or more panels per page.

Those guys would sneer at the brain-dead simplicity of this project from a shop class point of view - and it's waaay too late for me to be wordless. Nonetheless, a look at the bottom of the Shortboard probably does tell a lot of the story.

When I set out to build Shortboard Rev.1, the night before the Roundup, I found a pre-painted shelf in the furnace room woodpile of miraculously just the right size for the lapsteel case. The front and sides were beveled, the front corners rounded. (I wouldn't have been a bit ashamed just to use an unpainted pine plank, but this is better.) (And, actually, my wife found it.)

I used the table saw to cut the slot in it almost all the way across, for routing cables to and from the pedals. Three strips of velcro across the top would hold the pedals down. Four rubber feet from out of the parts bin (screwed on, and with enough clearance for the cables underneath, but still short enough to fit with the pedals into the case). The final inspiration was the band of elastic stapled in sections to the underside. (Wife sews and crafts, so her "workshop" is as stuffed with sundries in its way as mine.)

It's not as buttoned-up, neat, and antiseptic under there as I like (and as the Big Board Next Gen will be), but it's pretty functional, and the lack of cable ties and tie-downs facilitates easy changes of configuration.

Most patch cables are no longer than they have to be (and two of the pedals are connected with double-headed whonkers). Some of the patch cables came from stash; I had to make two up with my small remaining inventory of George L. I especially like the 1.5" cable from the output of BS-301 to input of Deco. They do always say to minimize cable lengths.

The project isn't quite done (even assuming I stick with this pedal complement - a foolish bet). I used way too long an effects Y-cable out of Deco and into the Flint; its 18" or so of excess make up most of the cable bulk strapped up in the elastic. Another bunch of excess comes from the 5th port of the Ojai: its power patch into the 5-tap OneSpot cable that feeds the dirtfarm. All that is a good foot longer than necessary. BUT - I do have two extra power taps, one in the middle of the board and another at the end, that I can pull out of the elastic to power test subjects or outboard pedals...

11

Like JB's Klon Klone. It's really a magnificent-sounding pedal, and I can certainly use it at gigs, just patched in at the front of the chain. (I'd probably disable the Tumnus.)

I'd like to provide audio proof of the difference in sound between the two Klonischers, but it's really difficult to reveal that in a recording - or at least a casual recording destined to be listened to in mp3 format, through computer speakers.

Nonetheless, I may try.

(See how big it is? Three pedals' worth! I think it takes that big resonating aluminum casing to get its fat tone. I bet that's it.)

12

And after all those pedals...

Comes the mighty QCC Stack-o-Matic.

That's the pedal-sized Quilter MicroBlock 45 amp into the lovely caramel-and-creme 1-12 cab Powdog built during the original Lightening the Load thread, and took to the NorCal for Frank the Giffen to demo online for me.

(These are some good guys, aren't they?)

I liked what I heard from that demo, Ethan made me an offer I couldn't possibly refuse on the cabinet, and I ordered up the Quilter.

The cab is small(ish) - 18 x 15.5 x 9 - and, with its Neodymium speaker, weighs in at around 18 lbs. Beautifully constructed, of course. I think the Microblock and its power supply together weigh a pound. A pound, brothers and sisters! So we have us a 20 lb amp here; why that's a full third less than the Peavey C-30. I wanted to be able to lift it with a finger - and I can. It's not comfortable - two fingers are much better - but the point is made.

How does it sound? For about two months - since I got it - I haven't played through anything else. Today, just to check my ears, I did pair it with a C-30 for some stereo. I can hear that the C-30 has more body and low end. (I attribute this more to the Quilter than the cab - something I should test by pairing the MB45 with other cabinets and speakers.)

But the Quilter-Cave Valley combo just has something that operates on my ears like a secret ingredient. It's far from harsh or peaky, but it has great detail through the midrange. Not delicate, really, but something like that. Like high-resolution. On reflection, it shares that characteristic with the Tech21 Trademark 60 - probably something to do with solid state done incredibly well. There's a balance of response from low end to high end that sets it apart from the fat blooming warmth I enjoy in high-headroom tube amps - but when I'm playing through it, I just don't miss anything. (Probably because the detail and texture is so inviting. Fascinating even.)

I've played with the interesting Tri-Q knob on the MB - which is all we get for tone control - and I'm not sure I've quite wrapped my head around it. It obviously applies different tonal profiles, gradually morphing between them, as you spin the dial. Reviews tell me there are scooped blackface settings, chimey Brit settings, and Marshally points along the continuum. I definitely hear the tonal balance shift around as I twist the knob. But I like everything I hear; each position has something to offer, my ear quickly adapts to it, and I just sit there playing and enjoying it. I'm sure that when I rehearse or gig with it, I'll tweak it to taste for the room/situation I'm in - but I don't think it will be as straightforward as "here's the Fender setting, here's the Vox setting."

The gain control is interactive with the volume, as are those controls on some tube amps. And in fact I'm keeping that parked at a slightly higher level than I normally do on other amps so equipped, and the Quilter provides satisfying (and, to me, natural) touch dynamics through that combination: clean when you're taking it easy, blooming into saturation when you bear down. It seems to react naturally to pedals which "overdrive its little front end." All the gain pedals stack into it nicely. I completely forget I'm playing through something that looks like a pedal. I just feel like I'm playing through an amp.

Does it feel like a tube amp? Pffft. I don't know. I famously don't use tube amps in the roots-approved crank-it-up-and-cook mode, so I probably can't fairly judge. As I said, its tonal profile is shifted toward the bright end of the spectrum compared to the Classic 30s - or at least it lacks the fat low end - but it doesn't feel different either in transient response or in compression-and-saturation behavior than those amps.

If I have a criticism, it's that brightness; no matter where I twist the Tri-Q knob, it has a little brighter signature than I'm used to. If there were plain-ol tone knobs on it, I'd adjust them; as it is, I'm compensating by "tilting" the EQ on the Diamond a bit toward the lows, backing off tone pots on my guitars. (I had the Boss 7-band EQ on the board for awhile, and may go back to that if the Tumnus falls off.)

Again, it's not a strident or clangy brightness. I've often enjoyed the pristine clean character of solid state amps - Kustoms in the day, the Roland JC (which can be too much for me), the Tech21. They can often be harsh - and this is not harsh.

I think it's the detail and the texture that keep me coming back. I hear stuff in the guitars which is just...fascinating.

So is it loud enough? Yeah. It can get way more than loud enough for my applications.

Will it replace the C-30s, the Deluxe, the Matchless, my little 1-10 Music Man, the Delta Blues? I don't know. Time will tell. But for the moment, I'm more than well pleased. It's made my Home Entertainment Center more entertaining, and I can't wait to try it at a rehearsal or a gig.

Many thanks to Ethan for the great deal on the cab.


So what does all this stuff sound like?

I hope to record some snippets tomorrow, run through some of the Shortboard options, turn the Tri-Q and Gain knobs on the Quilter, put it through its paces.

Watch this space.

13

It's a mighty mighty tower-o-tone, is what it is.

And you gotta dig the gold piping!

14

In the spirit of contribution and a rare sensation of actual affinity-

One (1) overnight vanity valise in the style perhaps favoured by Christine Keeler.

15

Contents quite unsuitable for unconventional lifestyle pool parties at Cliveden-

16

Silver service smorgasbord, an all-you-can-eat-rock'n'roll buffet on a single platter-

For live work, which is my chosen means of survival, this goes straight into the PA system. The sound engineer puts it into the monitor of whoever wants to hear it. The sound is the same every night. If I'm using an amplifier the POD gets bypassed and rests awhile, an emergency lifeboat standing-by, ready to launch.

I sometimes use the Deco in an interesting way. Don't know if you've tried this Proteus, I'll explain.

On the Lag Deck side, hold the foot switches down and turn the Blend up full- 3db boost. Now turn the Blend back to 12 o'clock, zero the Wobble, set the deck to Sum and put the Lag control to 9 o'clock (that funny symbol which I think means the relative deck speeds are synchronized exactly). The Deco is now a twin boost pedal.

Moving the Lag control counterclockwise from 9 o'clock lets you comb the boost frequency. Here's more fun, set the deck to Invert and now it functions as an out-of-phase signal, comb the frequency with the Lag control and Blend to taste for a thinner, reedier sound.

It's an astonishing device. That I mostly use it for a single slapback is an absolute scandal, resignation speech forthcoming.

17

That’s some very stylish color coordination, Ade - red Pod in a red case with two takes on neutral gray, one for reflectivity and one for absorption. Of course one expects nothing less from the host of the Good Grooming Lounge.

The Shortboard suffers by comparative fashion analysis, only the yellow Diamond (and maybe the goldish Tumnus) picking up the burnt saffron cues of the tweed - and the blues and dark green mucking up any color harmony I might otherwise have achieved. At least the wheat grillecloth on the CC cab holds hands with the tweed.


POD 2.0, isn’t it? I still have mine, in special edition chrome to make it impossible to read under lights. Great device, which I’ve used happily on a pile of studio tracks with can’t-tell-it-from-a-real-rig results. I was not so fortunate with it live. I tried a couple times, and as far as I could tell it sounded OK out front, but I had trouble getting soundpersons to feed the monitors with it in a way that met the needs of all on stage. This was many years ago, though; I suspect that with more experience with modeled sources, that tribe has gotten better at that. (Also, don’t more players now get to mix their own monitor blends? That would have helped.)

(I guess a split feed to a lightweight stage amp would also resolve that issue.)

But how do you switch programs or effects with the POD? I had the external control board.

While the tweed Shortboard shares with your luggage the virtue of being carryon-able, it loses on weight and absolute tonal variety. In that domain of highly portable virtual satisfaction, I still want to try my iOS fx/amp rigs through the lightweight amp/cab. The variety and flexibility are endless - and an iPad (or iPHONE) is even smaller than a POD. Need an interface though, a slight bit of complication.


I have not tried those tricks with Deco. Haven’t had it long enough to sink that far into it, and I’m still experimenting with the labeled un-shifted controls. It does seem to be a regler Swiss Army pedal, and you never know why a guy has it on his board lessen you ask.

18

Tox: yeah, sorry man. My pedals are all in a row, and yours are over-n-under. You really have the same device count - and lookit the Actual Space Echo you carry about, not to mention the mini-Leslie!

Seems we must chase some of the same stereofied lush ambience, though going about it with different hardware.

19

Live, I only use one sound on the Pod- the Vox Ac-15 set on the edge of break. Like an amplifier for basic core tone. All Pod effects off, unless I'm playing Twelve string when the compressor (which is surprisingly nice and fast) is applied.

I have the big control board for it with the Wah wah and stuff. In the loft, has been for years.

If you can see them, the settings are exactly where they were left last night. Deco Saturation for a bit of hair on Haley kinda solos, single Invert slap for Scotty and Cliff sounds. 70s plate, which is on pretty much the rest of the time. Harmonic vibrato for Peggy Sue Got Married. It's mostly for oldie-timey rock n roll in a theatre setting where the sound engineer never has to defeat a blistering stage level.

The Deco double boosty thing is for any slide work. I always fingerpick-and-damp and it's a quiet method, the boost keeps it up there and ringing.

Gotta say, love that tweed steel box. We're on the same wavelength here. I think Wheelgrinder has a Christine Keeler valise for his effects too. Mine has been on the road for a year, still has a crisp appearance- I'm amazed how well it has done.

20

Tim, your "small" board is still bigger than my big board. My small board -- I think you've seen the pic -- has 7 pedals crammed onto a Pedaltrain Nano.

That's the sort of challenge I think you need: How much tone and usability can you fit into one 18"x6" board?

That said, I found the rig run-down fascinating.

In particular, the hard look at overdrives. I'm getting a taste for a fresh overdrive, and can't stand Tube Screamers.

21

But...but...this one IS seven pedals. And a power supply. That doesn't count against me, does it? I don't even have a tuner.

The Shortboard is 30" by 7". I could do 18", no problem. Cut out one of the three overdrives and the BS-301 (get delay from the Deco). Bet I could almost cram the 301 back on it if I went the mini Xotic compressor, which is a fine little gadget.

This particular size was chosen because I had a case for it, and it just seemed handy.

22

I just like challenging you. What's the awesomest board possible on the least footprint.

I do think I have a pretty good contender myself, but there are a few bits that aren't all they could be. Yet.

This is also a factor of my fascination over the past year with micro pedals.

23

Yeah, micro pedals. A rabbithole I've explored without coming back with souvenirs - yet. Because it's a distraction-come-lately, and sheer inertia keeps me sledding in the direction I was going.

I have a whole shopping list saved at Anderton's UK for Tone City pedals. Dammitall.

EXCEPT. The stellar fellers of That Pedal Show did an episode comparing a pedalboard with the least efficient possible use of space (the biggest best pedals of each type Dan could dredge out of his love dungeon) to one TAKING the least space (using Mick's choice of a slew of minis).

Any bet on which won for pure sonic joy?

Still the biggie. Now - they wouldna have to have been so dogmatic - there's probably a middle ground between the two approaches.

Trouble is, even with the ridiculous dollar-to-decibel value proposition of minis, there are so many vendors with SO many models. Where do you start?

It's why I focused on one brand: Tone City. (It helped that the Cap'n and Chappers did a couple episodes featuring them.)

So yeah. I am curious just how a Miniboard would acquit itself in battle.

24

Ooh, this is the post we needed around here!

I love seeing the Strymon Deco love, I'm crushing hard for one myself, and you guys aren't helping. Tell me more about it (not that you haven't already admirably expounded on the Deco usage) so I know where to point the finger when I finally cave.

Sweet amp rig too. I've been using a Class D wonder for my bass rig, and I really love the weight savings compared to some bass rigs my bandmates have used over the years. If I gigged guitar more regularly I might consider something similar.

25

I have no doubt you can get better results with the big pedals. There's more room for knobs, for tuning, there's a lot more choice in circuits, and there's a lot more boutique makers who don't wanna shove their fingers in micro-enclosures.

So for recording, or sheer bliss, the big fellas will win. Which is why I have a big board, too, same as you (albeit my big board is much smaller than yours)

But for gigging and portability, I think you can get an awful lot of useful noises out of a very small and lightweight setup.

Among the micro-pedals, there's a lot going on:

  1. Cheap chinese stuff flooding the market. I suspect that most all of these pedals use the same circuits and are just rebranded. They're cheap enough to try, and if you don't like it, you still have a nice paperweight. These are the Donners and a million other brands.

I think Mooer is trying to set itself apart. Their stuff seems a bit nicer, and they're doing things like a Slow Gear reissue (which is just barrels of fun). I have a Mooer Mod factory, too, which has something like 12 modulation effects built in, but to be honest, that's a lot to wrangle in a micro pedal. Too much switching and turning in a small pedal. It'd probably be smarter to buy one for the univibe, one for the phaser, etc.

With these tiny things, doing one thing well wins. It's just too hard to sort out multiple effects with those itty-bity knobs and tiny text.

Then there's better known name-brand stuff like Xotic and TC. Both have built good reputations for good stuff in small packages. Some of these are a bit generic, but other times (like the TC ditto looper) it's everything you really want and nothing in the way.

And then there are some neat boutique things going on, too. I have a JHS fuzz I like a lot. Even more than the zVex, which did a lot more (also in a micro package) but didn't quite nail the fuzz I was looking for.


Register Sign in to join the conversation