Review: J. Rockett Animal

I've had the Animal for about 5 weeks now and have played it with several different amps, at varying volumes, by myself and with a band. So I feel like I'm sufficiently past the honeymoon stage to give it a review that I won't regret later. That said, I'll start off with a superlative statement:

The J Rockett Animal is the best overdrive pedal I've ever played.

There, I said it. That's my honest assessment. And of course by "best" I mean the one that works best for me. I really love this pedal. It may not be all that for somebody else, but for what I want at this point in my guitar life, it's as close to ideal as I've found.

Its overall tone is, as advertised, very Marshall-esque. It can really ape an old metal or plexi panal Marshall very well. What I like about it is that, with the Snarl switch off and the Bass and Treble controls set properly, it's very balanced sounding - there's no mid-hump, scoop, or other obvious EQ anomaly going on. Unlike the OCD that I've been using for years, it's very open-sounding. And there's plenty of output to use it as a clean boost, if you want to do that.

I love the character of the distortion. It sounds great at both low and high gain settings. Unlike, say, a Tube Screamer, it's raw, but not too raw. The clarity and harmonic overtones are very nice, with no weird harshness or dissonance so chords with extended voicings sound coherent. Low strings sound sufficiently tight, while high strings sound sufficiently fat – like I said, very well-balanced. Best of all, the distortion is extremely touch-sensitive. It's as responsive as the English Muff'n which was my previous champ in that department. You can play the Animal like an old school amp, leaving the pedal on and rolling back your guitar volume for clean tones. And those clean tones are nice; not at all woolly sounding.

I've read some posts on Internet forums complaining about the noise levels of the Animal. While it may be a little more noisy than other pedals when you crank up the Gain and Treble controls, it doesn't seem unreasonably so. Let me put it this way – I wouldn't feel like I needed a noise gate or anything. Also, I get the best tone by setting those controls moderately anyway, so it's a total non-issue for me. I've also read some talk about "clean bleed" on the Animal. Some people are hearing clean signal mixed in when they stack the Animal with another overdrive pedal. To be honest, that doesn't make much sense to me. I can't see how one pedal would cause that behavior in another. But accepting that claim at face value, I can tell you that my Animal does not exhibit this behavior. I'm using it stacked with the Voodoo Lab Giggity as my go-to lead tone, so I've spent a lot of time listening to the Animal in that configuration and I'm not hearing any sort of "clean bleed".

The Bass and Treble controls do not have a wide boost/cut range, and are most useful for fine-tuning the sound to the guitar and amp being used. To me that's a good thing because there's not a bunch of unusable range in the two controls. There's no mid-range control, but by setting the Treble and Bass appropriately, you can fake it well enough.

The secret weapon in my opinion is the Snarl switch. Flip it on (in the up position), and it adds a small upper-mid boost and a slight increase in gain. The effect is subtle but significant. Essentially it sounds like a vintage Marshall goosed with a clean boost pedal. It's more aggressive and rockin' with the Snarl switch on. In my opinion, it transforms the Animal from a plexi-in-a-box to an EVH-in-a-box, which is a lot of fun. Every time I turn it on I can't help but play every Van Halen lick I know. It apes that sound really well.

Okay, so this review is positively gushing. Is there anything I don't like about the pedal? Maybe a couple nit-picky items. I wish the pedal wasn't black. It has a super-shiny plexi panel over the top and being black it shows scratches and fingerprints really badly. Like I said, nit-picky! I'd also prefer if the input/output jacks were on the backside of the pedal instead of the left/right sides; that configuration works better on my pedalboard. On my wishlist: It would be wonderful if the Snarl function were footswitchable! I'd be willing to sacrifice more pedalboard real estate to accommodate the wider pedal in order to get that!

Anyway, the Animal is now my go-to overdrive/distortion pedal. I'm predicting a long reign for the new champ.


Ned's Retirement Plan

Winter Storm Jonas hit the east coast yesterday. The worst of it was north of North Carolina, but we did get a fair amount of freezing rain, sleet, and a tiny bit of snow. It was enough to lay down a thin layer of ice over everything. The ice was weighing heavily on the trees in our yard and then the wind came in. One of our tall pines was swaying a good 15 feet from erect and I was worried it would come down last night. But so far it's held. It could still happen though since the trees are still very weighed down with ice. We also lost electricity for a half hour or so but it was restored and it's held steady since. Knock on wood.

This morning I bundled up and walked over to the neighborhood golf course to shoot some pictures. It was beautiful with all the frozen trees. There were a ton of kids on the course sledding and I shot photos of them as well, which I'll post in the future. Tomorrow, if the trees are still frozen, I may brave the roads and drive out a nearby lake to see what I can shoot there.


Three People Who I Avoid

When I was younger, my parents taught me to always look at myself when considering why I don't like somebody. It's a lesson that's stuck with me and, in general, it's served me well by keeping me honest about my flaws and spurring constant self-improvement. But the downside of taking something like that to heart is that you can end up blaming yourself for everything, even when you shouldn't. In my middleage, I've come to realize that while it's good to always be on the lookout for ways to better yourself, it's okay to admit that sometimes it's actually the other person who needs to change.

There are three types of people that I've encountered a lot in my life that I just don't have much patience for anymore. In the interest of keeping peace in the family or at work I may go to extra lengths to accommodate them, but outside of those areas I'm more likely to just get the hell away.

Faultless Shit Magnets – I imagine that everybody knows at least one Faultless Shit Magnet. FSMs are without doubt the worst type of people on my list. They're the people to whom bad stuff constantly happens, but it's never their fault. FSMs wreck their cars, flunk out of school, get fired, arrested, evicted from their homes, dumped by their spouses, addicted to drugs, or go bankrupt – but somehow none of it is ever their fault. I understand that bad things happen to good people all the time. And sometimes shit just happens. I get that. But FSMs somehow defy astronomical odds by having an endless stream of shit happen to them and none of it is ever their fault. Of course that's not what's going on. The truth is that FSMs are expert victims. They have zero accountability for the bad stuff in their lives and they're always trying to pin the blame on somebody else or some unavoidable circumstance. The fact that they make obvious bad choices, have vacuous value systems, treat other people poorly, have really lousy "friends", and never think through the likely outcomes of their decisions – none of that ever enters their minds in the postmortem on the latest catastrophe. As a result, they never learn any lessons that could actually help them and they make variations on the same dumb mistakes over and over and over. (By the way, conservatives love to blame liberals for creating a culture in which FSM thrive. Bullshit. Some of the very worst FSMs I've known are ultraconservatives and the irony is completely lost of them of course.) Anyway, not only are FSMs annoying, but if you swim too close to one there's a decent chance he'll grab onto you and pull you under the water with him or her.

Button Pushers – People have all kinds of hobbies. For a Button Pusher, it's discovering and abusing other people's emotional hot-buttons. This dickhead takes delight in being needling, obnoxious, and argumentative. Then when you call him on his bullshit, he's very skilled at deflecting the problem back on to you by saying he's just teasing and you're being too sensitive. And if you're not onto his game yet, you may even feel guilty for being thin-skinned. But every interaction with him will be this tedious game of him testing the perimeter of your values and feelings, poking and prodding to find any sensitivities, and then exploiting them mercilessly in every subsequent meeting. Button Pushers think it's their job to antagonize people in order to make them take themselves less seriously, or to help them see other points of view. But really that's just a ruse. They're doing it for their own perverse amusement; there is no noble purpose. Eventually after they've pushed your buttons too many times, you finally realize that this game is a condition of their friendship, and on balance, whatever value you're getting out of the relationship just isn't worth the bullshit.

Chestpounders – Ah, the Chestpounder. I once worked with a guy who on his very first day of employment, had a meeting with me where he opened with, "I've been brought in to be an agent of change at this company and if you get in my way, I'll run you over." I'm not kidding. His first words to me on his first day! As it turned out, this guy was a walking bag of emotional insecurity and we all endured many such conversations as he constantly puffed himself up to look tougher than he was, or needed to be. People have a lot of different ways of dealing with their own insecurities. Some people lose their self-confidence and draw into little self-deprecated shells. Chestpounders go in exactly the opposite direction. They deal with their insecurities by putting on a never-ending show that they don't have any. Chestpounders have a compulsive need to project an aura of invincibility. They spend an incredible amount of time and energy propping up their egos with bragging, one-upsmanship, and endless games of Who's Your Daddy? with anybody in talking range. Any perceived slight to their fragile ego is dealt with by heapings more of the same, since braggadocio is really the only tool a Chestpounder has for dealing with insecurity. The worst situation is when a Chestpounder is in a position of authority over you. Then they're absolutely insufferable. Interestingly, you'd think that putting two Chestpounders together would create a fascinating, self-sustaining bluster machine – a sort of nuclear fission of douchebag swagger. But in my experience, Chestpounders have some sort of a built-in detector/limiter that prevents that from happening as much as you'd imagine. Too bad actually, as that might make them good for something.


Pine Street, Seattle

Here's a photo from my second session with the Mefoto GlobeTrotter. This was a pretty good test of the tripod as it was a 12-second exposure (which you might have guessed by the length of the automobile light trails). As you can see, the GlobeTrotter was rock-steady. And it fit unobtrusively into my carry-on bag. A total winner.


New Legs

A scene from the beach across the street from the North Carolina Aquarium at Ft. Fisher. I didn't have a lot of time to shoot as we stopped there opportunistically in the small window of time between when we visited the aquarium and when they closed the parking lot for the night. But I was lucky because at least that time window was right at sunset.

The shoot marked my first set of photos using the Mefoto Globetrotter tripod that my wife got me for my birthday. It worked really well. It's more effort to set up than my Manfrotto 055XPROB due to the fact that each leg has 5 segments instead of 3. And it's probably a little less stable and rigid for the same reason, but I had no trouble with it. It was rock steady on this shoot. It was certainly a lot easier to lug around!


Five Things I'm Diggin' – 12/31/15

This Five Things post should be called "Five Gifts I'm Diggin'" because all of these were Christmas or birthday gifts (except the Animal)...

  1. Mefoto GlobeTrotter – For the past few years, I've wanted a travel tripod. Something that would be easier to carry than my Manfrotto 055XPROB, a tripod which I love but is very heavy and bulky. So the GlobeTrotter was on my Amazon wish list and my wife got it for me for my birthday. When I opened the gift, it was so big and stout-looking that I wondered if I should have gone with Mefoto's next model down, the RoadTrip. But compared side-by-side with the 055XPROB and its ball head, the GlobeTrotter is in fact almost half the size (collapsed) and weight. So it's definitely easier to lug around and will easily fit into a backpack, carry-on luggage, or strapped to the outside of my camera pack. Despite the size, it looks and feels every bit as solid and rugged as the Manfrotto, and it extends to 64.2" so I'm not giving up too much height. Operationally, it's got the right features and everything moves with reassuring smoothness and no play. Conveniently, one of the legs unscrews and attaches to the center column to create a monopod. Bottom line: it's a high quality piece of gear for a very affordable price. I have a business trip to Seattle coming up which will be its maiden voyage.
  1. ThruNite Ti3 – I got hipped to this light from everydaycarry.com. It's about the size of a AA battery and it puts out an incredible amount of light. Seriously, it's a pinky-sized torch. It's made pretty well from aircraft grade aluminum and has 4 different lighting modes, all of which are actually useful. I like that it uses a AAA battery which can be bought anywhere. It's perfect as a keychain light, but I like to keep my keychain uncluttered so the Ti3 lives in my backpack.
  1. Leatherman Skeletool CX – My 10-year old son had been asking for a knife to put his Whittling Chip to use so I gave him my Gerber Crucial. For a replacement I asked Santa Claus for the Skeletool CX and the old man came through for me. The Skeletool is similar in its minimalist design aesthetic to the Crucial, but it uses higher grade materials including a 154CM steel blade. It's a little longer and thinner than the Crucial, with all the same tools (knife, pliers, wire cutters, bottle opener, phillips and flathead screwdrivers). Everything works as expected, the knife can be opened with one hand, and it's pretty cool looking. A worthy upgrade to the Crucial, which was already a pretty good multitool.
  1. Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Smoking Manifesto – I've gotten into smoking meats lately. It's the sort of hobby that I'm drawn to - easy to start but a lifetime of things to learn; it exercises craftsmanship; it rewards thought and planning; and the output is best shared with family and friends. Aaron Franklin is the current king of Central Texas style barbecue, which is what I think of when I think of barbecue. His book is awesome. It's not a cook book, although there are some recipes. It's more of a treatise on the art and science of smoking meat, written in an informal style like you're throwing back Shiner Bocks with Aaron in his backyard, smelling the savory aroma of smoke wafting from the pit. It's also inspirational since here's a guy who managed to go from smoking his very first brisket to being one of the country's most celebrated pitmasters in about 10 years – amazing.
  1. J. Rockett Animal – I've been pretty happy with my Fulltone OCD, but I've always felt that it was a little congested sounding in the mids. That one sonic flaw kind of betrays its otherwise amp-like qualities. I started watching a lot of "Marshall in a box" pedal demos on YouTube and the pedal that kept impressing me most was the Animal. It seemed very open and a little bit (but not overly) raw sounding, which is more like a vintage amp in my opinion. Well, I bought a used one off reverb.com and it is spectacular. It has replaced the OCD on my pedalboard. I may post a detailed review later, but for now, let me just say that it is the most amp-like pedal I've tried. [Added 1/26/2016 – OK, here's that review...]


Replacing a Korg M3 Touch Screen

I haven't made a post about the Korg M3 in a dog's age. It's still my main synth and I use it extensively when recording, but since I'm not playing keyboards in a band I haven't had as much motivation to write about it. However, I had to make a DIY repair on it today and I figured I should write about that.

Disassembled Korg M3 with the original touch screen removed. Note my tablet with the touch panel replacement instructions in the lower-right.

As many long-time Korg M3 users will tell you, there is a well-known problem with the synth's touch screen. After several years, the screen will start developing dead areas where touches no longer register. Typically this is in the top portion of the screen. I've read some explanations for it, but it doesn't really matter. The bottom line is that it's a progressive problem that will eventually make the touch screen, and therefore the synth itself, unusable. And the only permanent fix is to replace the touch panel.

About a year ago, my M3 started developing the problem so I did a lot of research into it. I found out how to slow down the problem (keep it in a climate controlled environment and store it so that the touch screen is laying down flat). That actually temporarily corrected the problem and slowed down its progress.  But eventually the dead areas become permanent. Fortunately, enterprising souls on the Internet have documented how to fix that as well. The "touch screen" on the M3 is actually made up of two panels - the display panel which is actually the visual screen that you look at and a clear glass touch panel over it that senses where you touch. The permanent fix is to replace the touch panel. I bought the replacement part from Mouser ($22) about a year ago, but the problem finally got bad enough to install it recently.

The touch panel replacement instructions are posted on Karma Lab's web site. Replacing the panel is not terribly difficult, but there are a lot of electronic parts you have to remove to get to it so it takes some time. I've developed 3 rules for these types of projects:

  1. Take your time. Don't even start it if you're in a hurry or if you're time-constrained. Working too fast is usually the source of mistakes. Set aside more time than you think you need, work slowly, and work deliberately.
  2. Understand the instructions. Read the entire instructions ahead of time so you're familiar with the procedure, all the tools you need, and the ordering of tasks. Then as you're doing it, make sure you fully understand each step before you actually perform it.
  3. Use the right tools and don't force anything. More stuff gets broken because people either try to use an improper (or worn out) tool, or they try to brute force something and end up damaging it.
A couple notes. First, the instructions, while generally very good and detailed, aren't 100% complete. There were a couple of board connectors that had to be disconnected which the instructions didn't mention. Don't sweat it; I promise you they will be very obvious.

You will remove a lot of screws when disassembling the M3. I strongly recommend having a couple of cups to keep them in so that you don't lose any. Fortunately, there are only 2 sizes of screws used in the entire thing so it's unlikely you'll get them mixed up.

One somewhat nerve-racking part is removing the old touch panel from the display panel. The two panels are attached to each other using double-stick foam tape around the perimeter of the display. To remove the touch panel, you have to slip a utility or X-Acto knife between the touch and display panels and cut the foam tape around the entire perimeter. I was nervous about damaging the display panel with the knife. But I used a brand new (i.e. sharp) blade and worked slowly and carefully and didn't have any problems. Once again, just work slowly.

Complete and operational with the new touch panel


Marketing vs. Sales

This post is going to be a bit of a diversion from my usual photo/music posts. But it is strongly relevant to art, or the art business anyway. Marketing is how I actually make my living and as I've progressed through my career, I've come to realize that a lot of what I know about marketing and business is really relevant to musicians and photographers. Let's start with the difference between marketing and sales.

Many people think marketing and sales are the same thing but they're very different activities. Now, the difference doesn't really matter to consumers, but it matters greatly to producers. Like, say, musicians who produce music and want to gig for money, or photographers that want to somehow make money with their artistic skills. Marketing is the broad set of things you do to promote a good, service, or brand (which I'll just call "product" from here on out) in order to increase sales. Sales are the set of things you do to seal the deal and have an interested person buy your product. By this definition, sales may not seem like a lot, but start thinking about everything that a car salesman, real estate broker, or arms dealer does to seal a deal, and you realize that closing the sale can be it's own very complex process


Marketing is about conditioning your product and your target market, to make it easier for sales to occur.

Conditioning your product means identifying your target market (the people who you want to buy your product) and understanding their wants, needs, concerns, price sensitivity, behavior, and other attributes, and then creating products that mesh well with those needs and putting a price on it that can be justified to and by that market. (Now, as an artist hopefully you don't create art to match a target market; that would be ass-backwards. But you should realize that your art is going to resonate with certain kinds of people more than others. And you'd be wise to have an in-depth understanding of the sort of people they are because that will enable you to be far more effective in selling your art to them.)

Conditioning the market means making the market aware of your product by promoting it. The most obvious way is advertising, but there are myriad less expensive and often more effective promotional methods than ads. Conditioning the market also means educating people about the ways in which your product is compelling, perhaps distinguishing it from alternatives. Perhaps your product has special features that convey substantive advantage. Or maybe it's half the price of any competitor. In both cases, the market needs to be educated about what makes it special. I'm speaking about this like a normal product, but it applies to art as well. In your mind, you must believe that your art has some kind of identifiable, compelling quality to it, otherwise why would you waste your time creating it and why would you expect anybody to buy it? Your promotions must communicate that quality, probably without outright saying it, so that it captures the attention of the people who will resonate with your art.

Making it easier to sell means that buyers within your target market need to be able to easily find and purchase your product. For some products and markets, that means getting it on retail store shelves. For others, that might mean moving it through resellers, or through e-commerce. In the case of art, you have to make your products available for sale at the places where your target market will buy them. For example, if the people who would buy your photo prints are too hip to shop at Walmart, it does no good to sell them there. Similarly, if your audience does all their music shopping online, you'd be a fool to depend on CD sales to distribute your music. It all depends on the target market you're trying to reach and the product you're trying to promote.


Sales is the process of converting somebody from interested to buying.

Consumer retail products often require no more than shelf space and maybe a knowledgeable employee to close a sale on an item. Or on the Internet, simply the right product information and a competitive price on Amazon might be all that's needed.

But as the price and complexity of the product increase, the more effort and resources will be required to move buyers from interested to buying. At car dealers, they hire sales people to drag you screaming walk you through the process. But it gets a lot more involved than that. For example, my day job is marketing for a company that sells software to other companies. The software sells for anywhere from about $5000 to $1.5M. There's no such thing as an impulse buy in that world. Customers will spend anywhere from 3 months to 3 years deciding to buy, and during that time we have a team of people involved with submitting proposals; establishing key contacts within the buying company; trying to influence the selection criteria of the buyer; replying to endless detailed interrogation about the product and company; giving demonstrations; holding pilot projects to "test drive" the software; negotiating terms and conditions; and fighting off competitors who are jumping through all the same hoops. By the time the deal closes, a sales rep at my company has totally earned the fat commission that he/she receives.

In the world of art, you're actually selling a lot of different products to a lot of people. A photographer for example might sell prints to the public; exhibitions to a gallery; book concepts to a publisher; and workshops to other photographers. Similarly, a band might sell tickets to concert goers; MP3's to online music buyers; live appearances to event/club bookers; and profit opportunity to label A&R reps. In each of these cases, it takes skills and perhaps tools (e.g. a portfolio, C.V., demo CD, promo kit) to convert these interested parties into buyers. One thing I've learned is that regardless of the product or the market, a good sales person is worth more than his/her weight in gold, because it's vitally important yet few people are good at it.

Setting Them Up and Knocking Them Down

As you've undoubtedly worked out by now, marketing feeds sales. Good marketing increases the quantity and quality of sales leads, or put another way, it transforms the market so that it is populated with more receptive sales prospects. Successfully selling to somebody the very first time they've ever heard of you is extremely difficult. Conversely, sales is always more successful when quality marketing has been done to lay the ground work. That's why it's rare for an unknown band to get booked on their very first call into a venue.  But if the booker has already been made aware of you and your music, and they're aware of the buzz about it (which could be totally marketing-generated), you much more likely to close the deal.


True Bypass vs. Buffered Bypass - What You Really Need to Know

There's a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about true bypass vs buffered pedals. I'm going to try to clear that up, but without getting too deep into the technical bits. I'll structure this as a Q&A session.

What is true bypass?
True bypass is a design for turning off an effect pedal where the effect circuitry is completely taken out of the signal path of the guitar, so when bypassed it is effectively just a wire running from the input to the output of the effect.

What is buffered bypass?
Buffered bypass is a design in which the guitar signal still goes through a "buffer" circuit when the effect is bypassed. A standard passive guitar pickup has a high-impedance, low-strength output. (This is as technical as I'm going to get.) The buffer effectively "strengthens" the signal by converting it to low-impedance.

Is true bypass better than buffered bypass?
It's not a simple A>B situation. In some situations true bypass is better, in others it's worse. I'll try to explain those scenarios in the answers to other questions.

What are the advantages of true bypass?
True bypass has no appreciable effect on your tone, while a buffer circuit will impart some coloration on your tone even when the effect is bypassed. Although the amount of coloration may be very small.

So true-bypass is better then?
No. True-bypass does not erode your tone, but it also does nothing to combat your cables eroding your tone, which is exactly what buffers are designed to do. First, you have to understand that cables have a pretty significant effect on your tone when the cable lengths are long (say, 15 feet or more). Over long cable runs, a passive guitar output signal will lose high-end and get kind of fuzzy/loose sounding on the low-end. The same thing happens if the signal is split, like to a tuner or a second amp. Finally, the high impedance signal of a passive guitar output is susceptible to electrical interference. Buffering the guitar signal will enable it to run over very long cables (or split to multiple destinations) without tone suckage from the cable itself, and make the signal less prone to interference.

So buffered bypass is better then?
No. Not always anyway. The buffer circuit will leave its own imprint on your guitar tone. Basically, any circuitry adds some amount of coloration on the signal. With buffers, the coloration is usually negligible although those with really sensitive ears can probably discern it. However, if you run a lot of pedals with buffered bypass, then you get the cumulative tone coloration of all those pedals on your sound, and with enough pedals even players without sensitive ears can hear it.

So what is best then?
For short cable runs, using all true bypass pedals is fine, maybe even preferably. When I say "cable run" I mean all the cabling between your guitar and amp, including patch cables. And by "short cable run", my rule of thumb is about 15 feet or less in total length. For longer cable runs, you'll probably benefit with some buffering.

How much is "some buffering"?
Ideally, you'd have one buffer at the beginning of your pedalboard (perhaps the first pedal has a buffered bypass, or maybe the first pedal is a dedicated buffer box), then all the other pedals would be true bypass. That way, you're getting a strong low impedance signal to drive your signal chain without tone loss, but you're not suffering any egregious cumulative tone coloration from multiple buffers.

OK, so one buffer at the front, and the rest true-bypass?
That's ideal for a small number of pedals (say, 5 or fewer). If you have a lot of effects pedals, it's a good idea to have a buffer at the end of your pedalboard as well, effectively book-ending your effects with buffers. That final buffer will make up for any cumulative tone loss through the pedals. Once again, you could accomplish this by using a pedal with buffered bypass or a dedicated buffer at the end of your pedalboard.

Crap, some of my "in between" pedals are buffered. What should I do?
Don't sweat it. Front-ending or book-ending with buffers is ideal, but it's not a hard requirement. Unless you have bat ears, an extra buffer or two in the signal path is not going to appreciably hurt your tone.

Easy enough, anything else I should know?
Yes, one more thing. Germanium fuzzes don't like buffers! If you have one of those, put it at the beginning of your pedalboard before the buffer.

Where can I get a standalone buffer pedal?
First, be aware that any pedal with buffered bypass will act as a buffer by simply putting it in your signal chain and leaving it off. Also, most effects (even true-bypass effects) have a low impedance output when they're turned on. So any effect that you leave on all the time is effectively acting as a buffer. So it's likely you don't actually need a standalone buffer. I don't have a standalone buffer. I have a compressor pedal second in my signal chain and a reverb last. The compressor has buffered bypass and the reverb stays on all the time, so voilĂ , bookended buffers! But let's say you do actually need a standalone buffer. Oddly, they're kind of a specialty item made primarily by boutique builders. The ones I've found are made by Analogman, Empress, JHS, MXR/CAE, ScreaminFX, and Suhr. But don't treat this list as exhaustive; I'm sure there are many others.


My Current Pedalboard

While I'm on a roll with pedals, I'll go ahead and give a rundown of my current pedalboard. I tend to be in a perpetual state of flux with pedals, but this setup has been fairly stable. I have three basic sounds that I need: a clean tone, a crunchy overdrive sound, and a singing lead sound. How I go about getting those sounds depends on how much I can turn up my amp, but my pedalboard is outfitted so I can get them with a clean amp at low volume or a cranked-up amp. Once I have those three sounds, I get variations on them by engaging other pedals - wah, delay, or modulation. I add a bit of reverb to everything. This allows me to cover just about any guitar sound I am likely to want reasonably well.

These are the pedals I use, in order from the guitar to the amp:

Vox V847 - This is Vox's standard wah pedal. I like the Vox wah better than normal Crybabies, but I haven't compared it to any of the boutique or signature model wahs you can get. I've done mods to my wah. First, I modified it for true bypass because without it, wah pedals are notorious tone suckers when bypassed. Second, I adjusted the sweep of the wah so that it's voiced more the way I like it, which is smooth and vocal-like, instead of trebly and Shaft-sounding. That's actually a really simple mod: Inside, the treadle engages with a potentiometer using a plastic gearing mechanism. You can disengage the gear, and adjust the pot so that the pedal sweep works over a different range of the pot rotation, which changes the sound of the pedal. I just adjusted mine until it sounded the way I wanted, then carefully reengaged the gearing.

Maxon CP101 - The CP101 is an optical compressor. What I like about it is that it's subtle (as opposed to a heavy-handed Dyna Comp squash) and it's exceptionally quiet, adding very little additional noise. I also like that it has buffered bypass which is necessary to drive my low-impedance volume pedal and helps prevent tone loss with long cables. What I don't like about the CP101 is that it's prone to distort with high output pickups.

Boss FV-500L - The FV-500L is a really nice volume pedal. It's remarkably full-featured for a volume pedal and it's extremely rugged. I got the low impedance version so that I could also use it with keyboards, but the advantage of a low impedance volume pedal with a guitar rig is that it doesn't attenuate high-end as you turn it down like a high-impedance pedal would. However, it does require that you feed it a low impedance signal so some kind of buffer is necessary upstream of the pedal (I use the CP101 for that). Another nice feature of this pedal is that it has a separate tuner output which doesn't suck tone from the main signal path (so long as you do feed it a low impedance signal) and isn't affected by the volume setting so you can roll back the pedal and get silent tuning.

Boss TU-12 - The TU-12 used to be something of an industry standard for guitar tuners, but I think it's pretty outdated with polystring and portable strobo tuners now available. I'd love to upgrade, but my TU-12 still works fine so that has very low budget priority. 

Fulltone OCD - I need a good overdrive pedal that I can use when I can't turn up my amp enough to get a good crunchy rhythm tone. Currently, that's the OCD, but this is the most transient position on my pedalboard. It gets changed a lot depending on my continually evolving sense of what I want to sound like. In fact, I'm thinking about changing it out again but for the time being the OCD is my go-to overdrive pedal. I wrote all about the OCD in my last post so I won't say anything more here. [Added 1/26/2016 - I've replaced the OCD with a J. Rocket Animal. Read the review here.]

Source Audio Orbital Modulator - The Orbital provides all my modulation sounds - chorus, flanger, phaser, univibe, and tremolo. Modulation is one of those things that you don't necessarily use a lot, but when you're trying to do a cover song that used it, it can be critical for authenticity (for instance, imagine covering Unchained without a flanger, or Message In a Bottle without chorus/flanger). So it's nice to have all the various mod sounds in one box instead of squandering pedalboard real estate with a bunch of individual pedals that don't get used much. The Orbital sounds utterly fantastic and is incredibly deep in terms of control - as good as or better than any other pedal of its type. Except in a more compact form factor, and costing considerably less money. What's not to like? Well, one thing: I wish it had more programmable memory (without having to buy add-ons).

Digitech Digidelay - The Digitech is your basic, workhorse delay pedal. It's inexpensive and sounds good. I normally use the tape delay mode and set it for about 350ms with 3 repeats and very low in the mix. The way I dial it in, it's more ambiance than discernible echo. I usually turn it on for solos or for more ethereal sounds (often in combination with the Orbital).

Voodoo Lab Giggity - The Giggity is a combination booster, EQ, and mild overdrive pedal. I use it primarily in conjunction with the OCD or my amp overdrive for my lead soloing tone and I've never been happier with that part of my sound. It provides boosted output, a warmer tone, and a bit more gain. The Giggity is capable of way more than that though and is really an incredibly useful pedal to have. One day I'll do a full review of it.

Digitech Polara - The Polara is a reverb pedal. It uses the Lexicon reverb algorithms and sounds terrific. It has an awesome paint job, which is cool to look at but unfortunately makes the labels hard to read! I use the Plate algorithm, dial it for a very subtle bit of ambiance, turn it on, and then forget about it. I don't like a lot of reverb. In fact, I don't want to consciously notice that it's there - I should only notice it if it's gone. But just a touch of reverb provides nice depth and polish, especially on clean tones. One nice feature of the Polara is its "Tails" switch, which selects between true bypass and buffered bypass. I use it in buffered bypass mode (i.e. tails on) to provide a final buffered output to the amp even on the rare occasions when I have the pedal bypassed. With the CP101 on the front end, and the Polara on the back, I'm essentially book-ending my pedalboard with buffers, which is recommended when you have long cables and a fair number of pedals. 

Voodoo Lab Power Power 2 Plus - I use the PP2+ to power everything. I wrote about it in a previous post. It's a power supply - there's not much else to say other than it just works.

Gator Cases Gig Box - All my pedals are velcro-mounted in the Gig Box, which I just love. The Gig Box comes with a hardshell case that provides storage room under the pedalboard for straps, batteries, cables, strings, picks, tools, and other stuff. The lid of the case detaches and converts to a guitar stand that holds 4 guitars! So the whole package is very space-efficient and convenient. Highly recommended. By the way, I have the older model Gig Box rather than the one in the link. They're very similar except the new model has a more heavy-duty case, but holds less in its storage area and guitar stand. Still a terrific product.


To All The Dirt Pedals I've Loved Before

No, this is not mine. The sickness hasn't
progressed to that point. Yet.
I have a friend who's a wicked guitar player who likes to say, "You can never own too many distortion pedals." There's some truth to that! Distortion is often the primary color of your tone and having a lot of colors available is handy. Dirt pedals are also a lot cheaper than amps so it's possible to buy and trade them without breaking the bank. Lower-gain pedals are very useful for The Nudge. As a result, I have bought, sold, traded, and retained quite a few distortion/overdrive pedals over the years. I decided to write down my impressions of all the ones I can remember. As you'll see, I'm more into "overdrive" pedals than distortion or fuzz pedals. My holy grail for dirt pedals is the one that sounds like an old cranked-up tube amp, or one that can push said amp into a warm singing lead tone.
  • MXR Distortion+ –  I bought a Distortion+ very early in my playing life, probably 1980 or so. At that time at my local music store, your only choices were the Electro-Harmonix Little Big Muff and the MXR Distortion+. The Muff was cheaper and looked it. It was also loose and fuzzy sounding. So in my mind as a 15 year old, the D+ was the pedal to have! At the time, I really liked it. The sound was a lot tighter, less bassy, and more cohesive than the Muff, and it sounded good with chords. And, hey, Randy Rhoads used one! Based on the videos I've watched I'm not sure I would care for the D+ much nowadays, but it was the shiznit back then. Unfortunately I no longer have my Distortion+. I sold it to a friend several years after I got into Tube Screamers.
  • Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer – I bought an original TS-9 Tube Screamer in 1983 or '84. I used the TS-9 in combination with a Boss CS-2 compressor. I would keep the CS-2 on all the time but dialed for fairly moderate compression. The output of the CS-2 would run into the TS-9, on which I would dime the drive knob and set the level knob to just above unity gain. That combination sounded terrific and some variation of it was the core of my sound for the rest of the '80s. Unlike with the D+, hindsight hasn't changed my mind about the TS-9 – I still think highly of that pedal. It had less gain than the D+, but it was smoother, tighter, and more amp-like. Of course it had that characteristic midrange boost and attenuated low-end that defines the Tube Screamer sound. All-in-all one of the most satisfying overdrive pedals I've owned. Unfortunately sometime in the late '80s, the footswitch on mine went out. I didn't know of any place that could fix it, so I bought a a cheap switch from Radio Shack along with a cheap plastic chassis box, which I needed because the new switch was incompatible with the original TS-9 box. Then I installed the Tube Screamer guts into the plastic box along with the new switch. I limped along with that for about a year until that switch gave out too. At that point I threw the TS-8 in the garbage(!) and went to the music store to buy a replacement. Of course, nobody had any clue back then that ten years later vintage Tube Screamers would be selling for $300 or more, and I kick myself when I think about it.
  • Ibanez STL Super Tube – Unfortunately, Tube Screamers were no longer made at the time I needed to replace mine. So the music store sold me the Super Tube pedal as the nearest equivalent. The Super Tube was only manufactured in 1985 (and I I bought mine in about '87 or '88, so it had to be NOS). It was housed in a plastic box with cheap jacks and pots. Construction-wise it was a pretty crummy pedal, although mine worked fine for at least 10 years. Tone-wise, it was similar to the Tube Screamer, but a little smaller-sounding, less ballsy. I distinctly remember not liking it as much. It had two tone knobs labeled "bright" and "bite". The bright knob worked like a regular tone knob, and the bite knob was an upper-mid knob. I played with the Super Tube (and the CS-2) until about 1990 when I abandoned overdrive pedals altogether and started playing through rack systems. I sold the pedal to some collector in the '90s. Being a vintage pedal that was a direct descendant of the Tube Screamer, they were going for they were going for pretty decent money. I've read folks on the Internet praising the Super Tube, even preferring it over the Tube Screamer. But that's not what my ears heard.
  • Fulltone Full-Drive II – Around 1997, I started simplifying my rig and going back to amps and pedals. My reentry into overdrive pedals was with the FDII. My FDII is a relatively early model before Fulltone had introduced the flat-mids and MOSFET features that are on the current Full-Drive. Mine is also hand-wired (current Full-Drives have PCBs). Anyway, I felt right at home on the FDII. It is very similar to a Tube Screamer, but even smoother. It has a wonderful, footswitchable boost feature which gives you a small increase in volume and saturation, the latter of which is adjustable. I played a lot of gigs with the FDII and I still own and use the pedal fairly regularly. It also makes a good clean boost pedal if you're okay with that Tube Screamer-esque midrange hump. For overdrive duties though, my preference has evolved to pedals that are a bit less smooth and little more raw-sounding.
  • Marshall GV-2 Guv'nor Plus – I bought this pedal in the early 2000s. I wanted to have a pedal with a bit more gain on tap than the FDII, but wasn't an all-out metal machine. The Guv'nor+ does that. Overall, it's pretty good pedal for rock, although I find it a little bit compressed and congested for my tastes. It's one of those pedals that doesn't sound bad, but isn't particularly inspiring either. One thing it has that I do like is a very flexible EQ with controls for Treble, Mid, Bass, and Deep, which is sub-bass. I still have this pedal but it doesn't get used very often.
  • Voodoo Lab Superfuzz – I've only owned two fuzz pedals! The Superfuzz is modeled on the Jordan Boss Tone, rather than the Arbiter Fuzz Face like most other fuzz pedals. I think that's what appealed to me, on paper anyway, about this pedal. It's cool to go a different direction than the crowd. I don't know what Paul McCartney used on the solo for Taxman, but the Superfuzz could nail that tone. But as is often the case, people love the Fuzz Face and the Boss Tone is comparatively obscure for good reasons. The Superfuzz is hard in the upper-mids and kind of harsh-sounding, as opposed to fat and corpulent like a Fuzz Face. I never really bonded with this pedal and sold it a few years later. I realize now that I'd probably like a Fuzz Face clone more, but even then, I'm not a fuzz guy. I love what I hear other people doing with fuzz, but whenever I plug into one it's never quite the same.
  • Prescription Electronics Experience – The Experience was the other fuzz pedal that I've owned. As fuzz pedals go, I gotta say the Experience was really cool. It was fat and nasty. And it nailed that octave fuzz sound on Purple Haze (which Hendrix did with an Octavia pedal). It also had this interesting, but highly temperamental, control called "swell", which if you set it just right, and played around the 12th fret, using the neck pickup, gave you a backwards-sounding guitar! Very '60s psychedelic. I have a recording I did using that sound, which impressed one of my friends because I was able to control that function well enough to actually record it – it was that touchy. I don't think they make Experience pedals anymore and the they're pretty desirable now on the used market. As cool as it was though, I ended up selling that pedal (for more than I paid for it) since as I said, fuzz just isn't my thing.
  • Boss SD-1 Super Over-Drive – The SD-1 was a complete impulse buy, which can happen when pedals only cost $50. If I were stuck on a desert island, I wouldn't necessarily pick the SD-1 myself, but I wouldn't be crushed if it were picked for me. It's similar to a Tube Screamer with about the same gain range, but it's not as midrangey, and the overdrive character is a little more aggressive-sounding. To my ears, it's more amp-like. The downsides are that it's a little bass deficient, and it doesn't clean up as well when you pick lighter or roll back the guitar's volume. But other than that, it's a very good-sounding overdrive and a no-brainer at $50. I still own my SD-1 and it gets used a fair amount, especially with my Marshall as the two really like each other.
  • Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive – The Sparkle Drive is supposed to be a Tube Screamer-like overdrive, but to my ears the overdrive is actually a little anemic, especially when you turn up the gain to get more grind out of it. It's just not very ballsy sounding, even more so than the Super Tube. But the Sparkle Drive has one neat trick that keeps it in my collection. It has a "clean" control that mixes back in the unaffected signal with the distorted one. So you get a layering of clean and dirty tones, which is really quite nice. I find it very useful for lower-gain, open chord arpeggios, or blues tones. Mixed with the clean sound, the tepid sounding overdrive isn't objectionable. The clean control can also be maxed out, turning the pedal into a pure clean boost which is handy. But mixing in a little bit of dirt works really well for boost too and is one of my favorite ways to do The Nudge. I've always thought that if Voodoo Lab improved the overdrive side and made it bolder and more open and aggressive sounding (I'm talking more about the overall tone here, not necessarily the amount of gain), they'd have a devastating pedal. Based on what I've heard in YouTube demos, the updated Sparkle Drive MOD might be that pedal, so one day I'll probably upgrade. But for now, the original Sparkle Drive is still in my collection and gets used for boost or when I need its special trick.
  • Electro-Harmonix English Muff'n – This pedal uses actual 12AY7 tubes to do its business and purports to be a Marshall-in-a-box. It does that trick pretty well actually, but you have to know the secret. The EQ on the Muff'n is capable of extremes that will produce pretty terrible sounds. If you try to dial in a scooped-mid tone on this pedal, you'll hate it. The secret for getting vintage Marshall-esque tones out of the English Muff'n is to crank the mids (2:00 or higher) and turn down the highs (well below noon). The mid knob is really voiced in the high-mids, and the high is voiced at a frequency higher than you'd expect and adds a lot of buzziness to the overdrive. So cranking the mids and dialing back the highs will result in a bright-but-not-buzzy tone that is passably old school Marshall. The English Muff'n is also wonderfully touch-sensitive. In fact, it cleans up with light picking better than any overdrive pedal I've tried. The biggest downsides to the Muff'n have nothing to do with tone: it takes up a lot of real estate on a pedalboard, and it won't run on batteries and uses an oddball power adapter. I still have this pedal because I think it works really well, but I don't gig with it much due to the those two issues.
  • Fulltone OCD  – All things considered, this is the pedal I'd choose as my desert island pedal. You have to turn up your amp volume a bit to really bring out the best in the OCD, but when you do it's a thumpin' good pedal. It has more gain on tap than a Tube Screamer. There's no midrange hump and it retains a fair amount of low-end. The character of the distortion is tight, cohesive, and decidedly Brit-sounding. It has excellent touch-responsiveness (although not as good as the English Muff'n). And it works well with a wide variety of amps. The one dig I have on the OCD is that it's a bit mid-scooped and maybe a little too refined sounding (as opposed to being raw and slightly out-of-control like an actual cranked amp). By the way, I have version 3 of the OCD, which is "the one to get" according to my knowledgeable friends. But I've never personally compared the various OCD versions (this guy did, however). In any case, the OCD is my current favorite overdrive pedal and the one that I use the most.
  • Barber Electronics Small Fry – The Small Fry is also really nice. It has a lot of controls (both external and internal) that give it a tremendous amount of flexibility. It has a similar gain range to the OCD, but it has a fat, smooth, and singing voice, with a little more midrange (not overemphasized like a Tube Screamer though). Plugging in to this pedal makes me want to play lead, as opposed to the OCD which makes me want to play chords. It has a unique and very useful knob labeled "dynamics" that adjusts its touch sensitivity and gain range. It can do a passable, but not exact, Dumble impression. (If you need that, you want the Hermida Zendrive.) It's a bit noisy and for some reason at higher gain settings it can send my rig into squealing feedback more easily than other pedals. But for lead tones, I like it best of all the pedals I own.
  • [Added on 1/26/2016. J. Rockett Animal – I just posted a review of the Animal. Let's just say there's a new sheriff in town.]


The Nudge

Not to be confused with The Nuge, who is an imbecile.

When it comes to guitar tone I haven't tried every piece of gear in the world, but I have tried just about every approach. Guitar straight into the amp; pedals into clean amps; switching between multiple amps; amps with multiple channels; MIDI-controlled rack systems; digital modeling - whatever it is, I've used it at some point in my playing life. They all have advantages and disadvantages, and you have to choose the one that makes the most sense for your playing.

My favorite approach for several years is decidedly old school: Take a good, simple tube amp (preferably without a master volume) and just crank it up until it gets a nice, crunchy overdrive sound. Which for me, is somewhere between Keith Richards and Malcolm Young in terms of general tonality and overdrive level. Probably a bit more on the Malcolm side of things. That means somewhere between 10:00 and 2:00 on the volume, which is loud. But that's where the magic happens with tubes. If I'm not turning up to at least 10:00, then honestly I just could just as easily do with a solid state amp because tubes don't give up the glory until pushed.

A big part of my preference for this approach comes from the guitar sounds that inspired me as a kid. All that '60s and '70s rock - the Beatles, the Who, Hendrix, Clapton, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Mountain, the Allman Brothers, AC/DC, Tom Petty, Queen, Van Halen - all that music was made by setting tube amps to stun. Distortion pedals, master volumes, digital modeling - they're all useful (maybe even required) for certain situations, but in the end, they're all imitations of cranked tube amp tone. And in my opinion, there's still nothing like the real deal.

There's an incredble visceral feeling playing a cranked amp teetering on the edge of chaos. Picking lightly gives you a clean but simmering sound, and laying into it makes it scream. Best of all you can get any variation in between those two by altering your picking attack. That tactile response gives you wonderful real-time control over your sound and you can exploit that not only for different sections of a song, but also within individual phrases. That control causes me to pay a lot more attention to playing dynamics and that in turn makes my playing more expressive. You can also roll back the volume a little on the guitar to clean up the sound. Or you can activate a booster pedal (typically an overdrive pedal set up with minimal drive and an output level somewhere above unity gain) to get more sustain, volume, and saturation when you need it, like for a wailing solo. Putting an overdrive (one that's actually set up with some gain) or a fuzz pedal in front can send it over the top in a good way. In fact, I very much like the sound of stacked distortion devices so that's another advantage.

I call this approach "The Nudge" because really what you're doing is optimizing around one good sound, and then nudging the amp a bit in different directions to get variations on that sound. All the variations sound great because they're based on a great fundamental tone. And they're instantly accessible and continuously variable - no channel switching required (although you can make a valid argument that hitting a boost pedal is the equivalent).

The downside of this is volume. Even a 15 watt amp is quite loud when turned up. And it's even worse in today's world because there's a lot less tolerance for high volume at gigging venues then there used to be. And as a guitarist you have to deal with it. If you blast overly loud at a gig, I can promise you that you won't be playing at that venue much anymore (unless you're really drawing a huge audience, but that's another post for another day).

I use a variety of things to deal with the volume issue. My go-to amp has a half power switch that cuts the power down from 30 to 15 watts, so first I'll engage that. If that's not enough - and it usually isn't - I'll use an attenuator (in my case a Trainwreck/Kendrick Air Brake). These things aren't perfect but I find that I can knock the volume down with an attenuator 3 to 12db without neutering the tone too badly. If that's not enough, my amp also has a defeatable master volume that I'll engage to get a few more db's of reduction, but that's my last resort. If I can't get it to a reasonable volume for the gig using those things, then I'll fall back to setting the amp up for a good clean tone and using pedals for my dirty sounds.


Gear Musings, Part II

I played a Friday happy hour gig with my band from work last week. It went okay. I'm pretty rusty at playing live so despite the decidedly low-key nature of the gig, my nerves still wind up a bit. I blew chunks on a couple solos, but most were okay and a couple were actually very good. I wasn't exactly in The Zone though and to be brutally honest I know that I over-relied on my stock licks. And that's fine. It's a good goal, but it's hard to be inspired every time.

This band practices at low volume and my usual approach to tone has been to set my amp up for a good clean sound, then use pedals for all the dirty sounds. That's a really compromised way to do it because for this band I rarely use clean tones, so I'm optimizing around the exception scenario. But after the previous gig I realized that we play loudly enough at gigs that I could use my preferred approach: Crank the amp to get the ideal crunch tone (somewhere between Keith Richards and Malcolm Young), then use my guitar volume and picking attack to get different variations of clean and overdrive, and hit a boost pedal when I need a little extra gain/volume for solos. So that's what I did. I used a little bit of my amp's master volume along with an Air Brake to tame the volume a bit, but it was honest-to-goodness cranked amp tone. It's always a treat to be able to play that way with a band!

Because I was playing a guitar with singlecoil pickups, it wasn't quite as gainy as I'd prefer for some of the songs. But all things considered, I like the way it worked out. My sound was nice and crunchy and organic. The lead tone was maybe a little bit boxy though. I think that's because I used my old blue Fulltone Full-Drive for my boost, which is a little bit nasally. I think I'll experiment with some of my other overdrive pedals to see if one of them might be a bit more transparent as a boost.

The Pedal Power that I mentioned in part I of this thread worked flawlessly. That's great because I didn't spend any time testing it out before the gig. I just threw together a small pedalboard consisting of a Vox wah, the Full-Drive, a Digitech DigiDelay, a Digitech Polara reverb, and the Pedal Power. I wired everything up, plugged in the Pedal Power to make sure everything was getting juice, then threw the pedalboard into my gig bag before hustling to Durham for the gig. I never soundchecked it so I was taking a risk, but I did have batteries in the pedals as backup in case the Pedal Power gave me any problems. As it happened, the Pedal Power worked just fine. No glitches and no noise. I could have left the DigiDelay at home since I never actually used it at the gig, but normally I like having a little bit of slapback for soloing.

After the gig, I'm now second-guessing my previous need for a smaller amp. I love my current amps except that they're all fairly bulky and heavy. I've been lusting after the new Vox AC10C1 because tone-wise it's similar to my Ceriatone but it's very small, lightweight, and low-powered so it's easy to carry and I can use the cranked amp method more often. But if this band gigs at volumes high enough to use the Ceriatone, then the need for an AC10 isn't quite as strong, although the size and weight of the AC10 would still be a tremendous advantage. Especially since I have to schlep my stuff down from the 3rd floor of the house!


Some Gear Musings

Went to practice last night and discovered that somehow I'd misplaced my pedalboard power supply. Not sure what I did with it. But without it, my pedalboard is basically a boat anchor. Had to just plug straight into the rehearsal studio's amp. It was a Fender Super Sonic 22, which I'd been wanting to try out anyway. The Super Sonic's clean channel is pretty much standard Fender, which is to say clear, punchy, and bell-like. One of the reverb tubes was microphonic (rehearsal studio amps are never well maintained) and the reverb fed back like crazy, so I can't speak to how that sounded. But I expect it was good sounding, as Fender reverbs usually are. The dirty channel on the Super Sonic is just flat-out odd. First it has two gain controls, one being kind of bright sounding and the other dark. In operation, it's kind of like bridging the inputs on an old 4-hole Marshall, which I'm very familiar with. By setting the relative balance between the gain controls you can emphasize saturation in either the highs or the lows, which adds some flexibility. But in order to get a good sound to my ears, the tone controls have to be set to positions I normally wouldn't use with other amps. I had to really crank the mids to get a a nice sound out of it. It is also excessively bright and thin at very low volume (no matter where I set the EQ controls). I don't think it would be usable for me at really low volume. But cranked up even a little (say, about 3 on the master volume) and it fills out on the bottom end. Because of all the midrange you have to add, the Super Sonic 22 doesn't work well for scooped mids sounds, but that's fine by me because I don't care for that sound anyway. That gain channel is also a little boxy and compressed sounding in my opinion. I could live with the amp, but for the $1200 they ask for them new, I think there are more inspiring choices.

So the studio amp got me through practice but I still needed a power supply. Today at lunch I went to the local bigbox music store and sprang for a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus. The Pedal Power is almost an industry standard. They've been around for a long time and lots of pros use them because they just work without much drama. My old power supply was a Godlyke Power-All, which worked fine with most 9V pedals but produced a strange electrical interference noise with certain modulation pedals, including the chorus side of my Visual Sound H2O pedal. I'd always wanted to replace the Power-All with a Pedal Power due to this issue, but Pedal Powers are comparatively pricey and it never seemed that urgent while my Power-All was working okay. But I decided to pay the ransom now that I needed a new one anyway. The Pedal Power has fully isolated outputs so all the pedals are electrically isolated from one another so there is no funky noise problem. It also has a lot of options to work with pedals that have oddball power requirements. If it lasts (and it seems to be built like a tank), this should be the last one of these things I'll need. Fingers crossed...