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

Sweep’n Maniac!

May 12, 2008

Dear Dude,

I have been working on my sweep picking for a long time now. What pick gauge thickness is better for sweep picking? 3.0 or 1.0?


Sweep’n Maniac!

Dear Sweep’n Maniac,

Sweep picking is the new black, but if your not just running up and down the neck as fast you can (and actually doing something musical), it can be a really cool and useful technique. Many people don’t realize how much pick density, hardness, and size can affect your playing. So, to answer this question I just had to ask a few shredders I know.

First things first, I use the Jim Dunlop 1.14 (although mine are provided by In Tune guitar picks) If you’re not into numbers it’s the dark purple pick Dunlop makes. I have used this hardness pretty much since 1996 and really cannot play with any other gauge. I would rather play live with a penny as a pick than use a thin pick. I just don’t get the control I want, I just can’t rock with a limp pick.

But, don’t just take my word for it. One quick phone call to my main man, (and co-guitarist of Darkest Hour) Kris “Weenie” Norris, reveals a slightly different outlook. Surprisingly, Kris uses a very thin .66 gauge pick. To a dude like me that feels like a piece of paper, but believe it or not I have seen Kris melt some frets with that little flimsy thing. However, Kris still suggests a heavy pick for sweeping even though he uses such a thin gauge. He attributes his wrist problems and chronic pain to his decisions to go against his own advice and still use a thin pick.

Kris and I agree that the harder the pick the better the control, even though we both actually use two different gauges. To settle this I had to call the only other dude I knew who could put this question to rest. And that’s no other then Mr. Devin “Fucking” Townsend. Now if you don’t know who Devin is, well he’s a sick ass producer, shredder extraordinaire, and (even Kris would agree) a badass motherfucker on the guitar. Devin’s advice is to go the middle road. Too thin and you don’t have enough control. Too thick and there’s not enough give. He suggests the Dunlop Green .88 picks. He likes the real big kind, not the old standard size picks. Dunlop calls it the “triangle pick.” Now I tried to jam with this pick once but it felt to me like I was playing with the top of plastic coffee lid.

Now, even though we all actually use different gauges, we still agree on two main points. One, the harder the gauge pick the better the control. Two, don’t use too hard of a pick gauge or the pick will have no “give.” If you’re not sure where to start, go with the standard size Green .88 picks. It’s a good middle road. Now you can play around with hardness after you get used to that (If you want more give go a bit thinner, if you want more control go harder). My personal feeling is stay away from anything harder then 2.0 unless you really feel it. In the end you need to feel what’s right for your playing and try every size and thickness. Once you feel the pick that’s the right thickness, you’ll know it right away. It just will feel, right

The Dude

The Dude’s Live Rig

April 11, 2008

Dear Dude,

Is there any place I can find info on the gear you guys use? I was at the last London gig you played and noticed you had a rack setup under your 5150.. if it isn’t any hassle can you please tell me what you go through etc, pedals and stuff… and what les paul you use?

Damn awesome show by the way!!

Cheers in advance

From the UK

Dear UK,

Only a musician can spot those kind of details but yeah, at that show I did have a 5150 and a small rack (Wireless and Noise Suppressor).

Before I get into my current set up let me just say that the 5150 is my safety amp. Whenever I travel abroad its usually the easiest and safest amp to bring. It always sounds pretty good, but most importantly it always sounds the same. There are tons of amps that I prefer in general but there are none that are more consistant and reliable. If you own a 5150 I suggest making sure you look at the last time it was retubed. I have found that replacing the stock power tubes in a 5150 makes a HUGE difference in the overall sound. I always replace the power tubes whenever I go overseas and use a rented amp. Fresh powertubes can make all the difference.

My current live set up is as follows from Guitar to Speaker:

Guitar > Senhieser G(2) Wireless > Zack Wylde signature Dunlop Wah > Turbo Ratt > DigiTech Whammy Pedal > Boss Tuner > MXR EVH Phaser > MXR EVH Flanger > Dunlap Little JR Volume Pedal > Line 6 Delay > Decimator Pro G Noise Suppressor > (2) Randall RH 100 Heads > (2) Randall RH 100 Guitar Cabs with Green Back Speakers.

I also run in a separate chain an old Alesis Quadraverb. It’s an effects processor from the 90’s, but I have also run a boss DD6 Delay pedal there too. Effects through the effects loop sound much different then through the front of the guitar chain, so I use a little bit of delay here on all my leads and basically any part you want to sound beefed up or filled out.

As far as guitars, I have used every type of Les Paul. I usually prefer the customs but have fallen in love with a Les Paul Gold Top. Its funny because its way newer and totally not vintage, like my other guitars, but a guitar just speaks sometime. It doesn’t have to be expensive or super vintage you just have to love it.

I have also used Dean, Washburn, ESP, and Gibson: Explorers, V’s, RD Artists, and shit I am sure there are a few I forgot. Oh yeah I once had a guitar shaped like a machine gun! Anyway, my new favorite is a few of the Washburn Idols. You will see me playing them live now. They sound as sick as the Les Pauls, no lie but also stay in tune way better. No one is going to believe that those guitars play and sound as good as the Pauls but all I have to say is pick up one of those guitars up and it will speak for itself.

That’s the basic breakdown if you want a full run down on my thoughts on most of this gear then check out the reviews section.

The Dude