JHS Pedals VersaTrem – Boss TR-2 Tremolo Mod

The TR-2 mod from JHS Pedals not only expands the capabilities of this pedal to levels of awesome, but it adds a few new features that are a must have. Along side of upgrading the guts a little, they add the following:

A new outboard volume knob – Aside from the awesomely warm tremolo Boss offered in the pedal, there was alway the “volume drop” issue when the pedal was engaged. This knob fixes just that. Not only does JHS Fix this problem but the new volume knob gives you more volume, if needed, to just push the tremolo louder. And with your “Depth” knob turned all the way down to zero, the VersaTrem becomes a pretty unique clean boost.

A new rate LED – This new LED, installed just below the “rate” knob, allows you to not only see the rate of the effect before you ever engage the pedal, it also allows you to see how hard the wave is dialed in for. A much needed feature as well.

The VersaTrem still has that vintage tremolo that makes us all want the pedal but the modification now allows you to obtain anything from the aforementioned to modern kill switch tones. The expansions of the rate capabilities are notable, as well. The rate of speed seems to have almost doubled.

The customer service for JHS was not quite the smoothest I’ve dealt with but they were very quick to answer any email or questions. They also had my pedals back to me within a week. You can’t beat that!

Check ’em out at JHSpedals.com

Categories: Companies, Effects, Gear, Tone | Leave a comment

True Bypass vs. Buffered – The Truth

I have to say, I feel very enlightened to share this with you my friends…


The True Bypass Breakdown

Like many subjects in the guitar tone world, the subject of “true bypass” can cause some heated

discussions. Some players say that if it’s not a true bypass pedal they won’t play it. Some players say that you must have buffered pedals on board and there are many who just don’t care. I’m gonna take a shot at giving you a simple breakdown of what “true bypass” is and let you make an educated decision based on the facts, not hearsay.

Let’s start back in the day with the creation of the Fuzz Face and other units like the Treble Booster. In this ancient time there were no pedal boards, isolated power supplies, and in most cases, the pedal as we know it today was actually not even on the floor. Many effects were in boxes that simply sat on top of your favorite amp or that plugged directly into your guitar. Usually, they would always stay on and the guitarist would use the volume and tone knobs of the guitar to get variations in sound. It’s crazy how times change… Now most professional players and even some beginners have several stomp-boxes at their feet. With most modern music, one sound just won’t do. In my experience, the typical player who gigs regularly will have between four to eight units in their signal chain. This is where the question is born: “Are my pedals hurting my tone?”

To answer this question we need to understand what’s going on when we have a pedal in our signal path. Before we get to that, lets look at what’s going on when you don’t have any pedals. Your guitar is plugged directly into your amp with one cable. Assuming that the cable is a good quality ten or fifteen foot cable, your guitar is most likely sounding good and strong. If we were to change that cable to a thirty foot cable and then maybe fifty foot something begins to slowly kill your tone. It’s called capacitance. This is a fancy name for “drag on your signal”. The more cable that is introduced between your guitar and amp, the more drag you will have. It’s a scientific principle that signal/energy/current looses its juice when it travels a distance. Your guitar signal from your pickups is no exception.

Now that we understand our signal can be affected with just the cable we use, lets look at what happens when we add those fancy stomp-boxes. Imagine that you plug into a true bypass pedal and then from that pedal into the amp. When you have that pedal in bypass position your signal is as if the pedal was completely invisible. The input jack is hard wired with the use of a switch directly to the output jack. The result is pretty good in this situation- assuming you have reasonable lengths of guitar cable on each end. Lets add another pedal and another, and another… With a large board that has six true bypass pedals and five patch cables to connect them together, you have around five extra feet of cable in your path! You also have twelve points at which your path enters into a jack and out to the next. Assuming that all the switches are high quality, you’re gonna hear frequency loss. The high end will slowly begin to fade and that sparkle that made you love your amp may not be there any more. In almost every case of someone asking for advice on why their rig just doesn’t sound the same, this is the answer. The good news is there is a solution.

The remedy is a high impedance buffer. Buffer you say? Aren’t buffers bad?

The answer is yes and no. Many people have been led to believe that any pedal with a buffer is bad… that’s not so. Many buffered pedals do great things for your signal. Most Boss pedals are a good example of this but still seem to end up with a bad rap. Brands like DOD and other budget pedals are were the bad buffers show up. Let’s talk about what a good buffer does.

Remember the last time you used a water hose out in the yard? Maybe the end of it didn’t have a nozzle on it, so you had to use your thumb on the end to get enough pressure to spray whatever you needed to spray. That’s what a buffer does. Without it your signal (the water) doesn’t have the pressure to make it to the amp. A good buffer will make your board come back to life and give the exact tone of your prized guitar to your amp!

Here’s the bottom line;

  1. 1.Don’t believe everything you hear.
  2. 2.Don’t freak out if you like your Boss pedal but have issues now because you’ve been led to believe its evil.
  3. 3.Go true bypass when the option is there but don’t let it control your hunt for “that sound”.
  4. 4.In any case, use a high impedance buffer like our “Little Black Buffer”. (Shameless Plug…)
  5. 5.Rock & Roll!

Here is a list of not so good buffered pedals that we feel need

true bypass if used:

  1. 1.Digitech Whammy
  2. 2.Boss SD-1
  3. 3.Line 6 Tone Cores
  4. 4.Crybaby and Vox wah’s
  5. 5.Older (Vintage) Electro Harmonix
  6. 6.Most vintage gear does suffer from bad switching but can easily be modified.

Most of what I know on this subject is from personal experience and working on bypass circuits for several years. There are many great resources that I recommend as well.

  1. 1.http://beavisaudio.com/techpages/Buffers/
  2. 2.http://www.stinkfoot.se/andreas/diy/articles/bypass.htm
  3. 3.http://www.petecornish.co.uk/case_against_true_bypass.html
  4. 4.http://www.vonlehmannengineering.com/True_Bypass.html

Categories: Technique | Leave a comment

Songwriting & The Guitar


You know… I feel like I could reword this article to make it my own but why fix something that’s not broken!

Check out this fantastic article from acguitar.com!

Songwriting and the Guitar
21 tips from Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell and more on making the most of your instrument in writing songs. With video and tab.


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Why Do Guitars Sound Better as They Age?

Article by By Richard Johnston

Most guitarists and luthiers agree that guitars “open up” and change as they’re played. Here are some of the things that happen to a guitar as it ages.

From new and pristine to vintage and broken-in: A recent Martin HD-28 and a 1956 D-28.

“It’ll sound even better when it opens up.” Almost anyone shopping for a new acoustic guitar, or even just talking about them, has heard that line or a variant with roughly the same meaning. Whether the key phrase is “breaks in” or something more colorful, like “when she gets used to bein’ a geetar,” the point is always the same: when you’re playing a new guitar you can count on it sounding better in the future. This isn’t a new concept, or even leftover guitar-karma newspeak from the ’60s; statements about wooden musical instruments improving with age appear in the earliest printed catalogs of American guitar manufacturers from the late 1800s. But what really happens, and why? Is it merely age that makes a guitar sound better, is it being played that makes the difference, or is it both? There’s far more speculation about all of this than there is scientific fact and serious research, but this article will explore what is known, what’s widely suspected, and the common mythology behind why many players feel their guitar sounds better with every passing year.

Wood and Water

Inside of Guitar
Most guitar bodies aren’t finished inside, allowing moisture to easily enter the wood.

It’s hard to quantify what happens to a guitar when it is played, but there are a few reliable facts about how guitars age. With few exceptions, virtually all guitar bodies made of solid wood are unfinished on the inside, regardless of how the exterior surfaces are treated. And of course there’s that big soundhole in the top (or two smaller f-holes on an archtop), making your guitar’s sound chamber much like a room with a good-size window that’s open year-round. So, even if the instrument has a thick polyester finish that would hold up to a skateboard’s wheels, the interior of an acoustic guitar takes on moisture when exposed to high humidity and then loses it again when exposed to drier air, in delayed sync with the climate around it. This process of “breathing” continues even in older instruments, but the guitar-building community has learned from years of experience that new guitars react more dramatically to changes in their environment when compared to an older instrument. Because guitar woods are so thin (usually less than 1/8-inch for flattop models), it’s easy to imagine that most of the woods in a guitar body, not just the interior surfaces, are “aging” rather quickly, primarily from the inside out.

The wood is not the only part of a guitar that continues to age after it’s completed, strung, and tuned. Many new guitars are still finished with nitrocellulose lacquer, a durable, fast-drying coating developed almost a century ago. Even after lacquer has dried enough to be buffed to a mirror-like surface, it continues to harden and contract over time, partly from the evaporation of the solvents that held it in a liquid solution so it could be flowed onto the guitar’s surface. Even the more modern catalyzed finishes, which harden by chemical reaction rather than by evaporation of solvents, change over long periods of time, although not as dramatically as nitrocellulose lacquer does. Even when your guitar is brand new, don’t let its hard, shiny exterior surfaces fool you, for while we often think of modern guitar finishes as being a sealant against just about anything but harsh chemicals, they are not. True, water will run off the surface, often without leaving a sign, but water vapor still gets through to the wood beneath the finish eventually. As finishes like nitrocellulose lacquer age and begin to break down, they usually become even more porous.

From Tree to Instrument

Wood Stacks
Lumber is seasoned for extended periods before being used in guitar restoration (shown at Taylor Guitars).

To more fully understand how a guitar ages, it helps to remember how it went together in the first place. Though the thinly sliced wooden boards used to make a guitar’s sound chamber—the top, back, and sides—may have been dried from a few months to several years, once most guitar makers start to put a guitar body together, that part of the building process is completed rather quickly. Obviously, the sides of the guitar get dramatically manipulated by steaming and bending, but the top and back are tweaked in the process as well. Virtually all modern flattop steel-string guitars have tops that aren’t really flat at all, but are slightly domed by arched bracing glued to the underside. Guitar backs have an even more pronounced convex shape, also caused by the arched bracing visible when you look through the soundhole. This means that in just a few days, or at most a few weeks, a little stack of flat pieces of guitar wood is transformed into a box with curvilinear sides and an arched top and back, all held together with glue.

Glue Pot
Some builders feel that the hardness of hide glue results in a better-sounding guitar.

If you look inside a guitar, the importance of the adhesives used to hold all those pieces together is obvious. The book-matched halves of the top and back are glued together, the all-important braces are glued to those same surfaces, and the bridge, which transmits the vibrating energy of the strings to the soundboard, is also anchored with glue. (The bridge is also a structural brace; it just happens to be the only one glued to the exterior of the guitar body.) The modern adhesives used by guitar manufacturers set rather quickly, which allows for faster assembly, but most of these glues continue to harden somewhat over an extended period. Since such adhesives are the bond between pieces of wood that vibrate as the guitar is played, they also have at least a small role in the instrument’s overall response. Is the glue holding together a 20-year-old guitar significantly harder or different than the same glue in a guitar half that age? Probably not. In fact, all of the differences discussed here are most noticeable when comparing brand-new instruments to older examples. A one-year-old guitar will have changed in comparison to an identical model just completed, but a 20-year-old guitar won’t be 20 times as different.

Good Vibrations

When it comes to identifying how guitars improve as a result of being played, it’s much more difficult to determine what happens to an instrument and how much it changes. There’s no doubt that there is a lot of tension on the soundboard, and on all the other parts of the body, when a guitar’s strings are tuned to pitch. Even a set of light-gauge bronze strings, tuned to standard pitch, exerts more than 150 pounds of “pull” between the top and neck of a guitar, and the tension of a medium-gauge set is roughly equivalent to adding a seventh string to a light-gauge set. With 150 pounds of string tension vibrating as you play, it’s no wonder you can often feel your whole guitar, not just the soundboard, humming along. But is it the effect of the string tension, or the vibrations that result from those strings being plucked and strummed, that makes the difference between the sound of a brand-new guitar and an older one? Guitarists sometimes talk about “warming up” a guitar by playing it, suggesting that once the guitar body has been resonating for a few minutes, it begins resonating better, or more musically, than it did when it was first pulled from its case. But is the guitar actually warming up or is the player making subtle, subconscious adjustments in his or her playing that results in a perception of improved tone?

This is why testimonials about how much better guitars sound as a result of use, whether it be a few minutes or hundreds of hours, can get tricky. Part of the problem is that most guitars being tested are not quite the same, even when they’re from the same manufacturer. Even something as seemingly insignificant as neck width or string action can make real-time comparisons between two almost-alike guitars problematic, and this is especially true when one of the instruments is older than the other. Comparing the same guitar in a “before and after” test is hampered by the fact that humans have a proven difficulty remembering subtleties in tone over long periods of time. Most audiophiles agree that to accurately compare speakers, for example, the A versus B comparisons have to take place within seconds.

Even more troubling is that most testimonials comparing guitar tone result from tests where the player knows which guitar he is playing, and thus knows which guitar should sound better based on conventional wisdom. Fortunately, there are a few examples of comparisons of two nearly identical guitars, built at the same time, where one has spent years under the bed or in the closet while its sibling was hauled onto the world’s stages and into countless hours of solo practice, group rehearsals, and jam sessions. In one such example observed in the shop I co-own—Gryphon Stringed Instruments, in Palo Alto, California—two 1983 Martin dreadnoughts that sounded very similar as brand-new guitars have been occasionally reunited. When both the heavily played guitar and its rarely played littermate are strung with the same brand of new strings and tested by a player who is not allowed to see which guitar has the nicks and dings, the two instruments still sound nearly identical to listeners. While this is hardly a scientific test, it does suggest that an acoustic guitar that has spent 25 years or more in the closet is not necessarily going to be a tonal slacker until someone finally puts a few hundred hours of playing on its strumometer.

The Vintage Temptation

For guitar makers, the astronomical prices currently paid for some guitars made three-quarters of a century ago make building, and marketing, new instruments that are “just like the old ones” an obvious goal. One of the bonuses of this trend is that we now know a lot more about those “golden age” instruments than we did 20 years ago. And while the new reissues may not be exactly the same as the originals, they are often close enough that when direct comparisons between the sound of new and old take place, the results are often surprising. True, the older guitars usually win out, but in blindfold tests here at Gryphon, listeners rank the new guitars much higher than they do when they know that instrument A is worth more than ten times as much as instrument B. This is partly because contemporary guitar makers are now using the same glues, neck construction, and bracing patterns as was used when constructing the old guitars, not just the same species of wood worked to the same thickness. When an excellent-sounding reissue is heard alongside a not-so-exceptional vintage example of the same iconic model, it’s obvious that age and lots of use are no guarantees that any one particular guitar will have great tone.

Don’t Wait

There is no question that stringed instruments change as they’re aging and are getting played. On some instruments, the changes people detect are dramatic, while on others they’re more subtle, making it difficult to predict the sound a new guitar will deliver in the future. For these reasons, it’s best to not count on specific tonal improvements when purchasing a new guitar, but rather to choose one that sounds great to you now; think of anything else as icing on the cake!

Richard Johnston is cofounder of Gryphon Stringed Instruments and is an Acoustic Guitar contributing editor.

For More great acoustic specific articles visit www.acguitar.com

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Learning the Craft

Tonight I had a very dear friend of mine ask me:

“Hey, who are some good country guitarist to mold after?” and “what are some good starter songs? I think playing more country would really amp up my blues.”

The truth is, no matter what playing level you’re at, we all ask this question in our head, in some shape or form, at one point in our music journeys. The following are two rules of thumb that I have seen hold true in not only my journey, but other guitarist’s as well.

“I’ll tell you this,” I began, “There isn’t any kind of quick fix to learning any music, especially country.”
“The two best things i can tell you are this:

1.) If you want to play it… you HAVE TO listen to it… study it.”

1.) If you want to play it… you HAVE TO listen to it… study it.

2.) Second, find those cool licks in videos and songs that make you want to play and sit down with a guitar and learn it. play it over and over and over and over until you have it.

Not just the notes, but the feel of it, where it fits in the song’s chord progression, and the dynamics of it. (keep in mind learning the licks only become helpful when you have studied the music genre you want to play.) Just surround yourself with it. Play it over and over and over in your head.”

I think we get so caught up in learning new things as guitar players that we forget perfecting the basics are so vital. Some of my best and most productive practice times are when I just try to get the tightest right hand (or left hand for you lefties) and rhythm possible.

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Knucklehead Strings & Tradition Guitars

BlakeWrinn & Knucklehead Strings               Blake Wrinn


I’m going to give a shout out to two great companies who are working hard to give you great quality products. Don’t let their size fool you because these companies not only focus on great quality but great prices(considering their size) I also have to compliment Knucklehead Strings on their absolutely great artist relations/support.

Check them out at www.knucklehead.com and www.traditionguitars.com

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Some new favorite amps

Yesterday my good friend & guitar tech Logan had a full day of traveling to Nashville and playing through tons of guitars and amps. Brand new boutiques to amps that exceeded our age by 40+ years. Here were the 2 favorite amps by the time night rolled around.

PRS Amps

These things went from sparkling mid range vox tones to cranked blackface combos to the best boutique overdriven tones. Sounded fat, and clear with alot of the PRS guitars we played through it. They were very punchy and round, and could be made very bright or very mellow with a Telecaster. A new favorite of mine.


1957 Fender Champ

Wow… The harmonic overtones on this amp cranked up blew us away… The sound was just there… I don’t know how else to put it. This is one of those tones that makes you want to play gui
tar. The monsterous sound of tight clean tones or creamy harmonic overdrive was produces by an original Weber speaker, and i believe that the tube layout was 1 preamp 12ax7 and one power amp 6V6. Fender has put out a handwired reissue of the amp for $1000 but to get your hands on one of the originals like this was $1999.99. And the look of the original was just too cool.


Categories: Music Companies, Tone | Leave a comment

In the Studio – Nashville

So, I know I don’t post as often as i would like, or should, but i don’t think I have many blog followers… so all is good. But I hope everyone reading, and not reading, is doing wonderful. Raimah is tracking a new song for the album today. Stay tuned!

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Handwired amp mods.

last night Matt and I put the new mods on his amp head.  It took for dang ever!!!  It really sounds great though.  We added:  A tone knob with push/pull boost and a 3-way toggle that adds a blackface sound, a british sound, and a high gain lead tone.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  Hope you all had an awesomely blessed one!  I’ve got a new Hermida Audio Zendrive on my pedalboard now.  It’s the most “amp-like ” pedal i’ve EVER heard.  It’s awesome.

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