Quiet Riot

June 30, 2008

Dear Dude,

I want to build an Isolation Cabinet that fits a 4×12 cab. I was watching the Darkest Hour webisode #2 video a long time ago and you were showing one off at the studio you recorded in. That ISO Cab looks like one of the best ones I have seen. Is there anyway you can tell me how to build that one or get me some designs of that Isolation Cabinet? I have looked at a ton of how to guides on the web and all I can find are temporary ones or ones that only fit 2×14’s and it is very frustrating. I am trying to start a home studio and it would greatly help me and my neighborhood out.

Quiet Riot

Dear Quiet Riot,

We did record the Deliver Us guitars in an Isolation Cabinet, or Isolation Booth. It was because the studio was part of a bigger studio so many sessions used the rooms next to and below us. In other words it was like recording at home except everyone around you was also recording. My point is you wanted everything to be isolated. The Iso. Booth is basically a box inside a box. You build a big wooden box and then inside that box you build another box. You need to have air in between them because air is the best isolation material. A guitar cab is miked in the center box and then doors are closed so that the guitar is closed in and the sound is closed out. It looked pretty hard to build and to be honest the guitar was still pretty loud outside of the booth. Since dabbling in the world of home recording I have fought the Isolation Cabinet wars, and here are some methods I use that are less complicated, and keep the neighbors from killing me:

The Guitar Blanket: I mic a 4X12 speaker cab with a Sennheiser 609 and a shure 57. I put my guitar cab in a separate room (you can even have the guitar cab in the same room with you, as long as it’s not facing you because you don’t want the noise of you playing the guitar to bleed into the mics). After the cabinet is miked, I place 3 sleeping bags over the cab. You have to be careful to not displace the mics, I use Z-bars because they don’t fall all over the place like stands usually do. I’ve been able to run a marshal 800, Randall MTS, Peavey 5150 all at around the volume setting of 3 or so and get a loud sound to tape with out even coming close to waking up the neighbors. I have not heard any noise or tonal loss from this method. If you cant get your vintage head to distort up that quiet I suggest a power break as I have mentioned in other posts.

The POD: Dude, the purpose of a pod is to replace the need for miking and loud noise. To be honest part of the guitar tone on Deliver Us is from a line 6 Pod. The producer, Devin Townsend, blended it with 3 other sounds to make the overall sound of the guitars on that record. My point is they sound good and we didn’t even need the booth. You
can get tons of great sounding guitars from those pods with out any of this trouble. When I record I probably use the Pod for half and the Guitar Blanket Method for the other half.

Randall Isolation 12’ Speaker Cab: This is the professional proposed solution. I have seen some sick metal bands use this live to isolate the sound of their guitars and I have been lucky enough to use one a few times. They are cool and do work. I don’t always like the same speaker sound so I stick with my guitar blanket method but the Isolation speaker cab does work and is a good solution to check out.

The Old’ REAMP: The re-amp is all the rage with producers I talk to these days. Basically it means that every time a guitar is tracked there is an additional direct signal that is tracked at the same time. The guitars are grouped together so the DI and Amp track match perfectly. This means that later the DI track can be run into any amp or guitar sound and re-recorded. This is so you can lay down your tracks with whatever sound you have at the time be it POD or 5150 in your bedroom closet and later replay that DI signal through any sick guitar rig at any studio in the world. Whenever I do serious home recording I record a DI signal. I mean you never know a good DI can give you the tools to make that good recording sound amazing.

The more you experiment and the more you play around with home recording the more you will realize you can make most any guitar set up sound cool you just have to use your ears to tweak those knobs. Its like guerrilla sound warfare, use whatever gear you have as many ways possible. Its how you learn to adapt to using all types of musical/recording gear and give you the ability to make a recording in your home people will think you spent millions on.

The Dude

Metal Head

June 25, 2008

Dear Dude,

I just bought a Marshall JCM 900 head and I am about to get the 1960 speaker cabinet. I also have a LINE 6 POD XT, a few analog pedals (Boss Metalzone, Marshall Jackhammer, Morley’s Bad Horsie, etc…) and have some questions that I’m sure you can answer.

Can the JCM900´s distortion be heavy or crunchy enough to play modern metal (IE Arch Enemy, Darkest Hour, ETC)? If not, is it better to play with my POD XT through the head’s clean channel? Would that result in a good sound? Or should I use my analog pedals instead?

When it comes to soloing, how would you boost the signal? Especially if it is the amp’s distortion that I’m using. What other equipment do u think I should get to improve my metal sound?

Metal Head

Dear Metal Head,

Whoa buddy, that’s a lot more then one question. But thankfully all these questions are intertwined in one man’s quest for the perfect metal tone. I will walk you though all these questions, but I got to warn ya, its not going to be pretty.

The JCM 900 is a tricky beast. There are many different types (IE the SLX model which is more gain, the duel channel model, the single channel model etc.) and let’s not forget they make 50 and 100-watt versions. I have used and abused JCM 900’s all over the world because it’s usually the amp that shows up when I request an 800 (most people don’t know there is a huge difference between the two). Even though there are many different types and styles of 900 my advice will always be the same: Dude, I’m sorry, but you should get a different head all together.

Whenever I’ve had to use a Marshall 900 for DH it’s always been nothing short of a disaster, and I have never seen a professional metal band of any type use one. Before answering this letter I wanted to try and give the 900’s the benefit of the doubt, so I called my main man, and uber producer, Paul Leavitt of Valencia Recording Studios (Senses Fail, Gwen Stacy, The All Time Low) for his advice. Paul is the only man on earth I have ever heard make a 900 sound good, but alas, after a few seconds on the phone with Paul I knew he was going to agree with me. Had he used a 900 on a good sounding metal recording? Yes, but only to layer over other guitar sounds. He was really happy with what adding this tone to the overall sound did for the recording, but both Paul and I both agreed the 900 sound just wasn’t great for metal in general. It sounds awesome for rock and punk but doesn’t have the nice low end, full gain, and overall drive that other modern gain amps have for metal.
If you are insistent on sticking with the 900 I would suggest playing around with a different tube set up. I have always found that installing 6505 or 6L6’s (which Paul suggests too) can actually add more low end, girth, and gain to the way most Marshall’s sound. As far as distortion pedals go I have always had good experiences with the Ibanez (and especially Maxon) tube screamers and have even used the Zakk Wylde MXR custom distortion pedal in their place. But neither of these pedals are going to make a 900 sound like a rectifier, 5150, Randall MTS, or even Marshall 800. I just haven’t stumbled across a pedal can do that!

Also, in my experience running a POD for distortion into an amp doesn’t ever sound good. Usually it is too muddy, too distorted, and kills most of the low end. In fact you would probably get a better over all metal sound if you just ran the POD directly into a PA (but lets not get into that because playing live with no amp might work for Mushuga but won’t for most people!).

Is there a possibility I am off my rocker and you have the best sounding JCM 900 in the world? Yes, absolutely. Don’t let my words discourage you from experimenting. And hey if you can make it sound cool then shit even email me back because I would love know what you were able to do. But, based on my extensive experience with many models of the 900 and the experiences of most of my peers, none of us think this is the right head for metal. What are good heads to start with? I believe you did ask what other equipment would improve your metal sound. Here are a few that are worth trying: Marshall JCM 800, Marshall JCM 2000, Peavey 5150, Peavey 5150 (2), Peavey 6505, Randall MTS, Krank Revolution, Mesa Duel, Single, and Triple Rectifier, Mesa Mark IV, and Mesa Stiletto.

I’m sure there were always people asking Dimebag why he didn’t use a Marshall amp and a Les Paul guitar. At the time Dean guitars and Randall Amps were not the cream of the crop, but he found something that was different and made it his own. So please experiment, that’s how you will eventually find your unique sound, but since you asked this dude, I’m going to serve up some rough justice and tell you the JCM 900 is not the best head for playing modern metal.

The Dude

Crank it to 11?

June 18, 2008

Dear Dude,

I always hear people saying that a cranked tube tone is the best. I’ve been to plenty of live shows but the amps were usually miked into the house PA, never needing them to ever be turned past 3 (not saying they weren’t). I’ve always had solid state or hybrid amps, but nothing as loud as the 6505 I just purchased. When I’m at home I play at around level 3, so I could totally see myself blowing a speaker or losing sound quality around 6 or 7. I’m wondering if I’m putting my cabinet, or even head, in harm’s way by really letting the thing crank? My current setup is an ESP viper, 6505 head, and a Basson 4×12 cabinet.

Crank it to 11?

Dear Crank it to 11,

Live volume and more directly, stage volume is a battle fought every day in clubs throughout the world. This battle pits would-be guitarist against the ever knowing (or at least ever-claiming to know) house sound man. Now, if you are lucky enough to travel with your own sound guy (like myself, wuz up Johnny!) then you will get the distinct pleasure of battling the same person night after night! So how loud is too loud? Is there such a thing as to loud? And what’s a reasonable stage volume? Can playing too loud damage your gear? These are questions I have asked myself many times, and here is my take on where you should set that dial.

I am very familiar with the 6505. I have had all models of the 5150 line as well as a few different versions of the 5150 II and the 6505. I have mentioned before that it’s my safety amp because if you get them in relatively good condition they all tend to sound relatively the same. Not something you always want in an amp but it does get the job done. On the 6505 (the distorted channel we are talking about here) there are two volumes you need to be aware of, the Pre Amp (PRE) control and the Master Volume control (POST). Your overall volume and tone for this amp is basically the blend of these two knobs.

I have never run a 5150/5150II/6505 live with the POST volume louder then 5 (and 5 is pushing it, I usually have it at around 4) and I usually run the PRE volume at around 4 or 5. I use a tube screamer or Ratt pedal for extra distortion. I don’t like how the preamp gain sounds after it gets past 5 on those amps. If you listen when you crank that up you also get all sorts of extra high and ultra low end that to me just makes it sound too muddy. I see other dudes out there making the grave mistake of cranking up that PRE knob way too loud. Just to be clear, you can’t “cover” up sloppy or inconsistent playing with more gain. Don’t fall into this trap. Metallica, Magedeth, ACDC, Van Halen, Slayer, Anthrax, all the great shredding bands play with minimal gain in order to have each note sing. Even Dimebag who did play with a shitload of gain made sure it was still clean and clear so watch out with that PRE knob on the 6505, its not just a distortion or volume knob.

I would say if you run your head consistently or even a few times with the POST on 7 or higher you may damage that head. I doubt you’ll fuck up a speaker cab but it is possible. The quality of the tone and overall sound on most modern amps tends to deteriorate when you turn them up too loud. See, the idea of cranking up a tube amp comes from the olden days when you had to crank it up to get any distortion. Now amps are made to get those sounds at minimal volume and they don’t really have the same characteristics as their older counterparts, so cranking them up doesn’t add anything to the over all sound quality.

If you have an older amp and want that crazy ass sounding rock distortion, but don’t want all the volume, you can always look into what is called a power break. Marshall makes a really good one. I got into the power break when I had my experimental stage involving Marshall JMP’s. They were loud as fuck (like, I mean, too loud to even play a show with) but it was the only way to get that sound I wanted. The power break worked great for me. It’s designed for the specific purpose to allow you to run those tubes hard and still get overall volume control.

Volume is all about moderation. You want the guitar to sit well with whatever you’re doing. If your just jamming at your house or recording I would say put the PRE volume at 4 to 6, depending on how hot your guitar is, and put the POST volume at like 3 or so to jam or record. If you’re rocking with a band then push that bad boy up to 4 or 5 with the POST volume. A 5150, 5150II, 6505 should be loud as shit when placed on the distorted channel, POST volume at 4, and PRE volume at 5. If yours isn’t then maybe it needs new power tubes or there is something else with your set up that might need tweaking. I frequently change the power tubes on my heads. It’s expensive but it absolutely affects the overall sound.

It’s good to know that most pro musicians don’t run their actual amps that loud. You might see them on stage with a wall of amps behind them but most of the time only one head and cab is turned on. Shit, I have seen some big, big, big metal bands play with walls of amps but have their actual live sound coming from small combo amps or even pods. Many musicians prefer to run their amps quiet I think most notable, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine. I have read more then a few times that he prefers his stage volume very quiet and I think few can argue with the power that is Rage live. Keep all this in mind when you enter the battlefield of volume and live music. You want to find a good combination of your tone, your volume in relevance with the other instruments, and of course your overall sound in the front of house (or live room).

The Dude

Mr. Clean

June 16, 2008

Dear Dude,

I play in a death, thrash, speed metal band from Denver, CO. We mix both distorted and clean sounds live but have had many problems doing so. Do you have any tips for creating a good clean tone live? It seems like it is always louder then my distorted tone and just makes everything sound lame when the distortion is quiet and weaker then the clean sound. Both myself and the other guitarist use Krank Revolution guitar heads with Marshall cabs. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Mr. Clean

Dear Mr. Clean,

Getting that perfect balance between your distorted and clean tones live can be a real pain in the ass. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen bands play live who have that great clean or acoustic part come in, and all of the sudden the guitars get real loud (the clean tone just cuts through) making the distorted guitars seem weak and washed out in comparison. So, what is the best way to get a nice clean sound and still get that killer distorted tone?

I’ll put it right out there on the table; this problem is so hard to deal with sometimes I try my hardest not to have to deal with it at all. In other words, I can honestly say that my constant frustration from getting that good clean tone has affected the way I write songs. So, is there no hope? Of course not, here are the 3 time tested ways I get around this problem when I, indeed, have to face it.

1. Duel Action: This is actually the professional solution and to me the best sounding, but unfortunately, for you and your boy, it means getting another guitar amp. Yep, the best way to get both that killer clean tone and crushing distortion is to use two amps. Just like the way I suggest running two heads together (using the whirlwind A/B box), the same concept follows for your perfect clean/distorted set up. Your best bet is to get a nice combo, I really like my Vox AC 15 but any fender, Marshall (pref. JCM 800, 900, or JMP combo) or Orange will sound killer. In theory you can use any amp that has a good clean sound. A combo works well because you don’t need volume or tubes to break up and usually you don’t want to have to set up an entire half stack just to get that clean tone live. Running two amps lets you set the distorted volume way louder then the clean. It also allows your soundman to dial in two different levels with two different mics. Using this system is really the only way that I have seen the dynamics of clean to distortion tones really pay off live. It allows you to get two distinctly different tones and blend the volume and kick of both so that you can switch appropriately between the two.

2. Pull out the pedal: The second solution is one that I actually currently employ live. It involves one piece of gear, the Ernie Ball Volume Pedal. I like the volume pedal because, it not only backs off on the gain when you sit back on it, but it also backs up on the volume. Using a volume pedal to get your clean tone gives you a way to make sure the dynamics between clean and distortion are very clear. It makes sure that when you slam that volume pedal down live that all the power and volume of your amp comes back too and that gives your overall sound that push you want it to have when switching from a clean to distorted tone. (Be warned if your running a noise gate this could cause problems. You may need to back off the gate or even turn it off before you decide to roll back on the volume pedal).

3. Better have a good knob turner: The last solution is one that I have seen bands at many levels try to use. But, it only works if you have your own trained and professional soundman. This third solution involves sampling the clean tracks from your record and using those samples live. This gives the overall sound of your live show a nice produced feeling and when done right can sound amazing. It does however have its limitations: it leaves a lot of room for mistakes, it means the drummer must play with either a click or the sample live if the part involves any other instrumentation, and It gives you the unfun ability to never change anything. It also relies solely on the competence of your live soundman so don’t try this with a guy who doesn’t know your songs or doesn’t know what he or she is doing because this option done wrong can leave you standing on the middle of a stage looking at a crowd with no sample playing.

Remember when you’re playing live and switching between distortions and clean it’s really all about one thing, dynamics. I mean that’s the reason you wrote the clean part in your song anyway, so it can have dynamics against all the distorted rock! So make sure you nail that component live. When done right there is nothing more sick then the dynamics that come from songs that weave in and out of distorted and clean guitars.

The Dude

Double Shot of Rock

June 13, 2008

Dear Dude,

I own a Krank Revolution and Marshall JCM 900 head. I would like too know how to run both heads through one cab. Is there any advantage in doing so? I love the tone of both heads and would love to create a single tone from both of them. I have a Mesa standard cab. I get confused with all the ohms and shit so I was wondering if you could help me out?!

Double Shot of Rock

Dear Double Shot of Rock,

Ow….you are so close my friend. So close to the true secret of LIVE rock toneage! Translation; mixing the sound of two or more heads is the real secret to nailing that sick guitar tone live. I have been running stereo guitar heads live for almost 12 years. I originally saw guitarist Ken Olden, of Damnation A.D., run two Marshall JCM 800 at the same time and I was sold. It sounded so full, so loud, so raw, and yet so under control that I had to try it. Once I did my young rock mind was blown. Here are the best ways I have found to run duel heads live:

First, you really shouldn’t try to run two high gain and high powered amps through one cab. I think it probably would be possible to run both through a guitar cab that could be set to stereo (in other words you would be using the two jacks on the back of standard Marshall Cabinet instead of just the 4 or 16 ohm side). But I have never really tried it, because, like I said, I think it’s a bad idea. If you want to blend the sound of the two heads, then you want the extra width of sound that is added when you use two cabinets. That’s how you get the sound of two half stacks at once. This allows you to run one on one side of the stage and another on the other side giving your audience your blended tone in true stereo. Trust me, just go out and buy another cab.

OK, so now you have two cabs and two heads. For me the classic set up was two JCM 800’s, then I changed to two Peavey 5150’s, and later found that I actually liked the sound of one 5150 and one JCM 800. Recently I switched to the Randall MTS heads. Since you can customize them a bit more, it allows me to use the same heads but different preamp modules. Now I can get that blended sound on 3 guitar channels and if I ever want to just have the same sound doubled I can do that too. But either way, my set up will work with whatever heads, or combination of combo amps and half stacks, I use.

I have three time tested ways of spitting signals. The first is simple; I use a Whirlwind A/B box. They are fucking amazing. You can use them to split a signal or combine a signal. They allow you to switch one off or toggle between each. It’s really cool if you’re running two heads and two cabinets at the same time on two different sides of the stage. You can really fake the sound of two guitars better this way (its not perfect but it’s pretty good). I used to use two different overdrives for my 800’s so I would go from my guitar > Boss Tuner > Whirlwind AB >> two tube screamers >> two Boss Noise Suppressors >> two amps.

Sometimes I use the stereo split of my Line 6 pedals (and this will work with most stereo splitting pedals). This does not give you the options that the A/B box does and I am convinced there is some tone lose this way, but I have done this overseas and on many tours when, well, everything else breaks. This is a good way if you need to do this on the fly.

The third way is now my current mode of split-a-tion, if you will. Right now I run through all my effects and then send them to my Decimator ProRack G Noise Suppressor. I use the stereo split on the noise gate to run to two Randall MTS heads. I am also running a Digitech GSP 1101 as my effects in the loop’s of the heads so that gives me the ability to make all my delays and effects true stereo (again if your running your cabs on two different sides of the stage you will now get that stereo sound of those effects live). This is my new way but I am not yet convinced it is better then the original Whirlwind A/B.

There ya go dude, my advice go buy another cab since you have Mesa check out a Marshall, Randall, Emperor, or an Orange cab to compliment that. Oh, and turn that shit up loud!

The Dude

*Read the Gear Guru's take on this letter here.

Why Sling it Low?

June 11, 2008

Dear Dude,

I was wondering why you wear your Les Paul so low. Is it for looks or is it just more comfortable? When I do it it’s a bit harder to play on both hands.

Why Sling it Low?

Dear Why Sling it Low,

Where your guitar sits while you play can have a huge impact on how you actually play it. I’m not sure how much thought most musicians put into, but it really comes down to one thing, personal preference.

Yes, it is harder to play your guitar with it swinging at your knees then if its choked up to your neck like an Ibanez necklace! If you’re going to be shredding faces off you’re probably going to want the guitar to sit pretty high so you can reach all those tight areas more freely and quickly. This is a stark contrast to the type of player who loves to just riff power chords and chug along. This player can wear his guitar where ever he wants and still get the job done because he or she doesn’t have to worry about hitting all those hard to reach places.

For me, where I sit my guitar is kind of more about my development as a guitar player. When Darkest Hour first started I was this second type of guitar player, I just riffed on some power chords. As I developed my style I became much better technically on the guitar, but since I was so used to playing the guitar low it never felt right to change it up. As my growth to an aspiring uber shredder began I adapted to shredding low.

When a sick shred part comes up during a live set, I need to make sure I have my knee up on something so the guitar is propped right in front of me to play it. I usually use a monitor, kick drum, kid that’s stage diving, really anything to be able to rest the guitar a bit closer. As soon as the shred part is done I can drop the guitar back down. Its funny, but Mr. John Petrucci of the band Dream Theatre has an actual step built so that he can put his leg up when he needs to get the rock out. Now that’s a little more elaborate than me, but it just goes to show that he likes his guitar a certain way, and has to compensated a little to shred all our faces off.

Some people think a guitar slung low just looks cool. I mean you can’t deny that James Hetfield, Zakk Wylde, or even Andy Willlams (Every Time I Die) look fucking badass with their guitars hung low. Shit I am sure the reason I started playing mine as low as I could was because I thought it LOOKED cool. But you know some people also think Ben Weinmen (Dillinger Escape plane), Tom Morello (RAGE), and Vernon Reid (Living Color) also look bad ass when they rock and all of them sit their guitars very differently. My point, be yourself and play where the guitar feels comfortable. Its not a fashion show, if you walk out there and look like Slash with your guitar hung low ready to slay and you just suck because you cant reach the fret’s, well your going to be embarrassed to say the least. Don’t try to emulate the way anyone holds a guitar because in reality the only thing that will matter to your playing is how you hold it.


Going Down Under

June 9, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’ll be immigrating from the United Kingdom to Australia in a couple of months, which of course means I’ll have to pack my stuff into storage to be shipped over in a container. My main issue with this is the amount of heat that builds up in these containers and the effect it would have on my gear (possibly warping of the neck maybe? etc). This has lead to me deliberate whether or not to buy new stuff now and ship it over or wait until I get to Australia and buy new stuff there. I was hoping you’d maybe have some experience in these areas, and any help you could give me would help a whole lot.


Going Down Under

Dear Going Down Under,

Traveling with music equipment can be an unforgiving, torturous act. I have heard horror stories of dudes opening their guitar cases to cracked headstocks. I’ve flown with my gear too many times to count and let me tell you I have see baggage handlers fuck up some bags in ways you couldn’t even imagine possible. Traveling with your gear is just part of life on the road, but what happens when it comes time to actually move all your gear? This can be tricky and for you, it’s compounded by the fact that you’re deciding to move almost across the globe! Here is some food for thought.

First, I have been to both the UK and Australia many times and there is a huge difference in the types of products available in each place. So, if you are thinking about buying new equipment in Australia, do some research about what is available there. Sounds crazy, we are so used to living in such a globalized world that we may over look that its WAY easier to get cool Marshall, Hiwatt, Vox etc. amps in the UK than Australia. I’ve also found its actually easier to get US made gear in the UK, so really you’re leaving a place with easy access and moving to a place where getting the same things might cost a bit more and be a bit harder to come by. Now, don’t get me wrong they have the Internet in Australia and dude, you can buy whatever you want as long as you look hard enough and are willing to pay.

If I was going to move I would take my guitars (Les Pauls, Fenders, Washburn’s) and my amp heads (Marshall’s, Vox’s, Randall’s, Peavey’s) because these will be really expensive there and very hard to come by. I might not bring all my pedals (Boss, Line 6, Digitech), they are all available down there and don’t seem to travel as well. I also wouldn’t bring my Berhinger Compressor/Gate, Digi 002, and my other cheap rack recording gear. Lets face it, the world of recording changes so fast you might as well use this experience for a chance to sell all that old recording gear so that when you get to your new spot you can get a better set up. By all means, if you have a piece of recording or audio gear that is really cool and sounds unique then definitely bring it, because it maybe hard or impossible to find once you get there. Guitar cabinets are a hard choice because they take up a lot of room. I know for a fact its easy to get Peavey, Marshall, Randall etc. down under but if you have special cab that you are just in love with, I say bring it because those items are just too hard to replace. You can see it’s all about prioritizing. So, take inventory of what you have and decide what’s important. Figure out if it’s more cost effective to keep it and ship it, or sell it and buy a replacement in Australia. If you’re going to go through the hazard and expense of shipping gear such a long way, make sure it’s worth it.

The first thing to consider when moving gear, or traveling to a foreign country, is the power voltage. Countries all over the world use different style plugs and more importantly voltages to power electronic equipment. This becomes very difficult if you are using gear that is hardwired at US power (110V) and you are going anywhere that uses 240V, for example the UK or Australia. Lucky for you the UK and Australia are the same voltage but they do have different style plugs. So, for all your electronic gear you are going to have to get some adaptors in order to actually plug any of them in. There are plenty of safe and relatively inexpensive ways to do this but it is something to keep in mind.

I know you’re worried about the heat in the containers and overall travel conditions your gear will have to go through. Let me say this, fuck it! It’s musical gear, it’s meant to be on the road! You have to be willing to travel and experience life with your gear otherwise those instruments are not tools but collection pieces. There is no way those shipping containers are going to be worse than driving through the desert in Arizona with the heat baking everything in the trailer. And they can’t get colder than when you have to leave your van and trailer parked in a blizzard in Calgary, Canada! My point is, take the risk with the gear you do decide to travel with; chances are it’ll survive.

Before packing your stuff, make sure to:

– De-tune all your guitar strings so that they are floppy as hell (you don’t want them to travel all tuned up, especially if your going to fly anything).

– Pack your guitars good and snug, with good neck support, in an appropriate travel ready guitar case. Do not ship these things in gig bags!

– Take all the tubes out of your guitar heads. Whenever I travel I always take out the Power and Pre Amp tubes so they don’t break inside the head.

– Pad and pack every knob and little item. If you decide to bring your pedals you should get some foam for padding, or even use T-shirts to wrap around the pedals, over and over. Then take some tape and wrap the whole thing in tape. You’ll have like a pedal ball! Sound crazy? Sure! Is there a more pro way to pack them, probably. But this method has always worked for me. Look, all you have to do is make sure you protect those knobs from getting knocked off, that’s what usually breaks when traveling long distances.

It all comes down to being prepared, taking your time, and most of all prioritizing what you actually want to bring. Lets not forget that your moving from the UK, you’ve got one of the strongest economy’s so that British pound your traveling with will go a lot further then normal. Use this trip to figure out what you really love and what you might want to get rid of before you go. It can be both a cleansing experience and a good way to start your new rock journey down under!

The Dude


May 27, 2008

Dear Dude,

Throughout the years you have had an array of guitars, pickups, amps, cabinets, etc… I saw you in 2005 and thought you had some crushing tone. Les Paul customs with “Dimebuckers” in the bridge. I ran out the next week installed it in my guitar and have been rocking it since. The past few months I feel like my tone could be better though, and I was thinking about trying out EMG’s. Should I stick to the “Dimebucker” in the bridge or test out the 81’s?


Dear Dimebuck-enier,

I have been experimenting with different pick ups ever since I started tinkering with my guitar, which was about 20 minutes after I picked one up for the first time. I think experimenting with your tone is a must for any musician; it is how you will eventually find your own tone & style, after all. So, to answer your question first; yes, absolutely experiment! In fact I would suggest you put in pick up after pick up until you find the tone that’s yours. It’s simple, put those pick ups in and start riffing! Since we all don’t have a million dollars, or free pick ups flying our way, you have to know where to start. Here are a few thoughts on pick ups that I have had good luck with.

In 2004 Darkest Hour performed on the summer’s Ozzfest and around that time I secured my sweet little endorsement with Seymour Duncan. Up to that point I had been playing nothing but Duncan’s for about 5 years, so let me tell you it was a coveted endorsement for me to get. I even got a chance to meet Mr. Seymour Duncan himself. He was amazing, a rock star to rock stars. To this day, if I had to go to Guitar Center and buy picks up, Duncuns are still what I would buy.The specific pick up I would buy would be without a doubt the Seymour Duncan JB. I have recorded at least one guitar with a JB on almost every record I have been a part of. To me it’s the perfect blend of rock and metal, and the mid-range of the pick up just makes my wrist sound the way I like. I cant explain it, but there’s a reason it’s the definitive rock pick up!

Although I have a personal favorite I have experimented with all sorts of pick ups and even experimented with different wiring options. I went the EMG route but it just seemed to flatten out my sound. Don’t get me wrong, we use guitars with EMG’s all the time in Darkest Hour (our other guitarist, Kris, swears by them). They are great pick ups. Shit, you can’t deny that Zakk Wylde sounds fucking amazing, so don’t let me tell you those pick ups can’t sound good. It’s just I haven’t found a pair that speaks to me. (One quick note if you’re switching out pick ups to try out EMG’s it’s going to be a bitch. Your going to have to change all the electronics because of the way they wire so get ready for that. If you don’t know how to do it, pay someone who does. Its worth it, I have burned myself and many a guitar, not to mention spent way too many hours trying to solder a guitar back together. Working on a guitar is not nearly as fun as playing one, let me tell you that.)

A good alternative to the EMG line is actually the Seymour Duncan Blackouts. They came out recently and are built for kind of the same application. I have a pair in a red Les Paul Custom I use sometimes and until I found those pick ups I couldn’t get anything to sound good in that guitar. See, guitars themselves have a sound so not every pick up works perfectly with every guitar. I almost sold that red Les Paul but I kept the faith and one day popped those Black Outs in. Now no guitar sounds like it and it’s smoking hot! I’ll never get rid of it, It’s the guitar I pull out when its time to get the shred out!

The Dimebuckers are sick because they have more gain then JB’s. I also like that they seem to “metalfy” (I know its not a real word but fuck it!) the sound. You know almost flatten it out but not in a bad way. I swear it makes my playing sound a bit more controlled but maybe I’m crazy! I have at least two guitars in my touring rotation that use Dimebuckers. They are perfect for high gain use but have their own sound; it doesn’t have the same pitfalls to me that the EMG’s do so it was always my solution for getting the JB sound with more gain and balls.

If you’re into the Dimebucker you also have to check out the Bill Lawrence 500 ML’s. This is actually the pick up that Dimebag first used. It is sometimes referred to as the original rail pick up, I am not sure if that is true but, I can tell you that it’s a sick motherfucker! It looks just like the Dimebucker and sounds almost exactly the same. If you can find one of these I suggest buying it and checking it out. You wont be disappointed, trust me there is a reason Dimebag swore by these things! Bill Lawrence also has a site where you can read more about pick ups and tone.

Sometimes when I am layering guitars or just riffing in general I like to have the sound of a single coil pick up. It’s very different from a humbucker and when used to layer with other guitars fitted with regular humbuckers it adds a nice overall thickness. Its just different and whenever I need a sound like this I turn to the Seymour Duncan Little ’59. It’s the perfect sounding single coil; It’s got a nice clear low end and nice full tone to it. I would suggest this pick up to any metal head that is looking for a cool sounding single coil. Also, if you want a single coil that sounds like a humbucker don’t fear. Seymour’s got your back too with the Duncan Hot Rails. I have this in a Fender Tele that I use for Darkest Hour sometimes, it holds the super low tunings really well. If you can believe it this little pick up took my cool indie rock sounding Tele and made it a metal riffing beast!

Ok so I know what you’re thinking, this reads like one big commercial for Seymour Duncan. Look, I know, but like I said it just works for me. Why switch brands? They have a ton of cool sounding pick ups and they all wire relatively the same so switching them out is really easy. The main point is there is never one right pick up for everything! It’s more likely that you will like the sound of a few and change from time to time. That’s ok, change is good. I have my staple pick up’s but I also change it up just for fun all the time. So don’t be afraid to experiment, explore, and create with many different sonic pallets, you may just find something new you like and if your really lucky you may just find something original!

The Dude

Cables From Hell

May 23, 2008

Dear Dude,

I have a gear question for you about guitar pedals and pedal boards. I use an SKB powered pedal board, much like the Furman one you mention in another review. The problem is all my different cables that lead from the pedal board back to my head. I have the direct line, amp footswitch, two for the pedals I have in the effects loop, and an extra in case one busts on me while playing. All of the cables are 30 ft long. Currently I have all the cables tied using small Velcro patch cord ties. What do you do to keep all your cables together? Is there some sort of sleeve or snake skin you are using to keep them “as one”? Any help would be appreciated!

Cables from Hell!

Dear Cables from Hell,

It’s funny this question is so specific and it’s something I myself have been struggling with ever since I started running pedals live. When I play I always like to face the audience so it means the cables have to be long (just like you mention, about 30 feet). I have 10 cables that I run (in order to run two heads and two separate stereo effects loops) as well as one power cable I use to power my voodoo labs pedal power. What’s the best way to deal with this problem live? I’ve tried everything from duct tape to Velcro and never had luck. That is until the first day I showed up for our tour with this band called Thrice.

Tepe and Dustin from Thrice turned me onto a thing called Flexo Tubing, or “Snakeskin” which is made by a company called Tech Flex. So what is this mythical alien creation? It’s a long section of plastic tubing sold by the foot in different diameters. I use the 1 1/2 inch size because it fits all of my cables nicely. Basically, you buy about 30 feet of “Snakeskin” to feed all your cables through (I also suggest running back up cables so you can switch fast live but, you already thought of that!), then melt both tips with a lighter so it wont fray, tape the ends, and ta-da all your cables are secure in this nice little snake. Dude, I have taken my “Snakeskin” cable all over the world and it has never let me down. It is the definitive professional solution for this problem.

So where do you get this product? Best place to look is somewhere that sells quality products to touring bands, like Tour Supply. If you’re in a touring band you can find anything you need here. I mean they have everything, cables, sharpies, tape, lanyards, and even “Snakeskin.” It’s not pictured or mentioned on the website so you have to email or call them. Its sold by the foot and here are the regular prices:

1/4″ Diameter @ $0.39 per Foot

1/2″ Diameter @ $0.59 per Foot

3/4″ Diameter @ $0.69 per Foot

1″ Diameter @ $0.89 per Foot

1 1/2″ Diameter @ $1.19 per Foot

There you have it my man, we can all thank the good dudes in Thrice. They found the secret to keeping those pedal cables organized and out of the way. Take it from a man who has found himself looking up at the ceiling of a club wondering why his guitar doesn’t work, trying to figure out why he has cables all tangled up in his feet! You need to get those cables in order!

12 (String) Gauge Shredder

May 20, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’ve been playing guitar for 5 years now and I love thrash, death, speed, and black metal! My band plays in drop C tuning just like yours and I have been trying to find out what string gauge is best for that tuning? Does it even matter? I just buy whatever size is cheapest right now. It would be really awesome if you could answer this question I have always wanted to ask a touring guitarist.

12 (String) Gauge Shredder!

Dear 12 (String) Gauge Shredder,

Finding the right string gauge for me started the day I picked up my first guitar. I will never forget the strings were dirty feeling and seemed so tight I couldn’t imagine being able to move them the way I had seen Angus Young and other sick guitarists move theirs. String gauge can affect the way a guitar plays and feels in a big way. If I picked up a guitar that has some light 09 – 44 strings on it, I can’t keep it in tune. And if you cant keep a guitar in tune it doesn’t matter how fast or sick you can shred cause it will pretty much always sound like shit. So what’s the right gauge for Drop C.? I don’t think the answer is that cut and dry but I can tell you one metal heads journey.

The first guitar I played actually had something like 09 – 46 gauge strings on it. It never stayed in tune and played pretty terrible (although I also had a lot to do that). When I finally got good enough to even know what the hell string gauges were I bought my first pack, Ernie Ball 10 – 46. I went heavier because I could already tell the thinner strings sounded thinner and didn’t have as much balls as the heavier, thicker ones. Later as my playing progressed and as I experimented with other strings and sizes I came to love the Ernie Ball Light Top Heavy Bottoms (10 – 52). I had been playing in drop C for a few years before they came out with these and it changed my life. Before them I had to buy individual strings to get sets that had thicker bottom strings and thinner high ones. I like the thick bottom end but wanted to be able to push around the thinner strings real easy.

A few years later I stumbled onto the idea of using a wound G (or in our case F) string. It’s a bitch to solo on but it really does make the guitar stay in tune better. The wound string adds more tension and allows the guitar to hold the tuning just slightly better. Recently the dudes in Senses Fail turned me onto Ernie Ball 11 – 54 Beefy Slinky strings. It actually says “Optimal for Detuning” right on the pack now! These are the strings to use if you want your guitar to hold that tuning in drop C. They’re not that glamorous and it takes some work to move that old wound F string around but like I said it will sound golden.

Now there are many, many other brands of string makers than Ernie Ball. I have also used and love: Blue Steel Strings, Di’addario Strings, and SIT Strings to mention a few. At one point you will get a chance to use them all. I suggest you bring a good amount on tour if you go. You don’t want to end up in some random ass town and realize you’re out of strings and have to play with some mismatch of sizes. Right now, live, I’m actually using SIT strings. They play the same way to me as the Ernie Ball’s but I find they have a bit nicer tone. Another interesting thing is that live I don’t use the .11 – .54 strings like I suggested. I actually use .10 – .52’s I don’t like the way a guitar plays with a wound F string, so live I still use the standard three wound, three regular set.

There you have it my advice and then a whole paragraph about how I don’t even follow it! Why? Because in the end its about two things: environment and feel. If I’m in the studio tracking some rhythm guitars I will probably use 11 – 54 gauge strings with the old wound F string. If I’m tracking some leads or solos I will use the same gauge set as I do live (.10 –52’s) with no wound F string. As with most things involving the guitar a lot of these choices come down to personal preference. Just take it from a dude, try them all, once you find that gauge that feels good under your hands you’ll know it.

The Dude