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.


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