Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Marshall JCM 800 Model 4103 Review

I found a used Marshall JCM 800 2x12 combo (Model 4103) on eBay a few weeks ago and have incorporated it into my rig. I was thinking about replacing the Egnater Renegade combo with a reissue JCM 800 head an 2x12 cab for a more vintage rock sound, but the $2200+ price for the head alone was a major detractor--not to mention that reissues in general aren't always as good as the originals.

When I saw the combo and looked up the model, I learned that it's identical to the Model 2203 head only turned upside down and loaded with 2 x G12T-75 speakers. This was better than I expected as it would allow me to stay with the combo format that I prefer while still getting the vintage sound; and all for a *lot* less than the cost of a reissue head and external cab.

The downside was that I would be going from a two-channel amp with an effects loop to a one-channel amp with no effects loop. The Renegade is versatile and sounds good overall, and I was using the TC Electronic G-System with the four-cable method to run all the time-based effects after the preamp section. Since the Marshall combo is fairly rare, I grabbed it thinking I could figure something out once I got it.

First thing I did when I got it was fire it up just to see if it would work. It did, but it sounded really awful. It was buzzy and shrill at the same time with no real definition in the mids. It looked like it had the original tubes in somewhat rusty sockets. I was able to date the serial number back to 1984. If the tubes were 28 years old then that would probably explain the bad sound.

Taking the amp to Top Gear here in San Diego, they did a general tuneup and changed out the tubes with JJ EL-34's. They also extended the speaker plug cable (and zip tied the cable to the speaker frame to prevent accidental detachment from the soldered lead which was nice). I know that 100-Watt amps are ridiculously loud, and I have an old 8-Ohm THD HotPlate that I could try to drive up the output tube distortion without disturbing the neighbors 10 doors down.

Getting the amp back from the shop and firing it up was night and day difference in sound from before. It was good to know that the tubes were the culprit and not something deeper rooted. First impression was that the sound was full, wide and very clear. Maxing the gain gave it quite a bit of distortion, but it sounds a bit buzzy and harsh, to be honest. I ended up dialing it back to about 6.5 which is just before the sound clips into harder distortion, leaving me some clean headroom. The sound is more like a medium gain overdrive at this point.

Volume-wise, the slightest movement of the master volume knob in the wrong direction scares the crap out of my kids in the house, which then follows with yells of "Jeez dad, turn it down!". The master volume for home practice sits at about 0.5 out of 10 (or 11?). Playing at band practice or shows in dive bars is about 1.5. It's pretty ridiculous(ly awesome) how loud this amp is.

EQ-wise, I looked up the owners manual for this amp model online and found out that the tone knobs are centered around these frequencies:

  • Bass = 100Hz
  • Mid = 500Hz
  • Treble = 10KHz
  • Presence = 3KHz

Even though it's an open backed cabinet, I know that cabinet thump is good fun. With cab thump centered around 120Hz, I crank the Bass knob to 11.

Also knowing that honky mids are centered around 600Hz, I drop the Mid knob down to about 3.5. Note that this is technically "scooping", which a lot of people will tell you is bad; but at the low mid range I'm good with it. It's the upper mids I like to boost in order to cut through in a band situation. Speaking of which, I max the Presence knob to cut through at 3KHz.

Then for treble, the amp can be incredibly bright. I don't want my sound to be shrill, so I drop the Treble knob down to about 3.5.

In the end, my 4U rack case also happens to fit perfectly on top of the amp when laying on its side. It fits in my guest room closet better for playing at home, and it elevates one speaker a little higher for when I play with a band.

There's a significant difference in sound between guitar/pickup and pedal combinations. It seems to handle varying input sounds very well, and that was a surprising benefit of the amp: It allows for a wider variety of sounds despite the channel and loop limitations. It really does shift my thinking for how to work with my sound--and that's a good thing.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Building Clone Guitar Pedals

When it comes to finding the best pedals for your rig, there's just no substitute to trying as many as you can in your own setup. The downside, especially for boutique models and sounds, is that it can be very expensive to experiment. So I'm trying my hand at building my own pedals instead. They're a lot less expensive and you can get boutique sounds by applying modifications that might cost you hundreds of dollars for a pro to do.

Soldering resistors for the first time was
easier than I thought.
My first go is with the Confidence Boost from BuildYourOwnClone.com which is a simple clean boost. I'm new to soldering, but it was easier than I thought. I had ordered the Starter Kit from BYOC, read a short article on how to solder, and cleared off some work space in the garage.

Using my brother-in-law's own Confidence
Booster worked great as an example.
I work best by example, so I was able to borrow a Confidence Booster from my brother-in-law who had built one some years ago. He had it put together in a pedal case with a knob, light, footswitch, power jack, etc. Knowing what it's supposed to look like in the end is really helpful. When I started mine, I didn't know how far to set the resistors in their solder holes. Looking at the example answered that.

Assuming I'm able to finish the pedal and have it work, there are a handful of other kits I'd like to try and see how they sound in my rig. Saving a few dollars and building my own is a good way for me to continue experimenting with new guitar sounds.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shaking the Dust Off

It's been quite a while since I've updated this blog with the latest in my quest for tone. I've got some updated gear and insights of late that I'd like to get out there again soon...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Minimal Rig Tone

I finally got a chance to try out my minimal rig setup at practice the other night. The Pedaltrain Mini that I use has the Egnater footswitch, an MXR 10-band EQ pedal, and a TC Electronic Polytune tuner.

Leaving the EQ on all the time, I just used the Egnater Renegade combo footswitch to go between channels 1 and 2 for clean and distortion, respectively. The EQ is set so that the mids are boosted, and it gave a nice gritty tone while in front of the clean channel. Rolling the volume knob on my PRS Customer 24 back slightly cleaned it up fairly easily too.

The EQ in front of channel 2 gave the distortion some nice beefy saturation without being too muddy or harsh. There was just enough input gain on the channel to give it some chunk, while rolling back on the volume knob easily went to solid rock distortion which was good for 6-string strumming.

The room had a lot of natural reverb due to the angled walls in the house we were playing in, so I had the reverb set to zero on the Egnater for both channels. There was nothing in the effects loop, and I occasionally used the Master 2 volume switch for leads. I was the only guitar player that night so it wasn't always necessary, but it's handy when there are two guitarists and you need to cut through a little bit during leads.

Tilting the Egnater combo back against the wall and a single guitar stand finished the setup for practice. The best part is that all of it only required two trips to the car when loading in or out. One for the combo amp itself, and the other for the guitar, folded up guitar stand, Pedaltrain bag, and my regular backpack with instrument cables and small accessories. Sometimes simple is better.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Updated Rig Setup

I've had a Shure PSM200 personal in-ear monitor system for a while and it works well for protecting my hearing and hearing myself better. The only downside was trying to find a way to have a feel for the room sound as well. I've experimented with using one earphone or an ambient mic hooked up to my guitar strap, but when you start sweating the earphone tends to slip out, and it becomes distracting when you're in the middle of playing a song.

In my constant process of trying new things, I decided to forgo the in-ear monitor for a little while and try an elevated and tiltback combo stand. My rig ended up looking like this:


I can certainly hear myself fairly well, although it can actually get a bit too loud since we rely on our amps to help fill the room along with some mixing going through the PA. I was able to figure out that my four-unit rack fits vertically under the amp, and the floor dolly allows me to easily wheel it around to gain access to the cables and knobs in the back. The yellow studio monitor in the picture is just for me to practice along with music.

This is pretty different than what I had before where the amp sat on its side flat on the floor with the rack case sitting on top, but I couldn't hear myself very well in that configuration even though it's an easy setup, hence the attempt with in-ears.

I couldn't use this tiltback setup with a head and 2x12 cab, but with the Egnater combo it seems to be working fairly well so far. We'll see if I run into any trouble down the road during more live situations.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Minimal" Rig Update

After experimenting with the Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster in my recently purchased Pedalboard Mini, I've found that it does a good job of beefing up the tone of the single coil pickups in my standard Fender Telecaster straight into my Egnater Renegade 2x12 combo, but it tends to muddy things up when playing either of my PRS guitars with humbucking pickups.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Minimal" Rig Setup

My main rig currently consists of an Egnater Renegade 2x12 combo, an SKB 4U shallow rack case containing a Furman power supply, TC Electronic G-System, Shure in-ear monitor transmitter, and analog pedals that go into the G-System loops. Thankfully, it's a fairly compact setup and it doesn't take very long to set up or tear down, but there are times when I would like a more bare bones setup for impromptu jams or whatnot.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Live Show Gutiar Tone

The 80's rock band that I play in, Motorboat Charlie, has had a couple gigs recently and they were a lot of fun. In both cases, the stage volumes were fairly loud and the wedge monitors offered by both venues were chock full of vocals but not much else that I could tell.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Study in Monitors, Part 3

In my previous post, I talked about setting up an ambient mic in the room would be good for picking up the drums and any other non-mic'ed instruments to feed into my Shure PSM 200 wireless in-ear monitoring system. It worked well, but when we play out, I can't assume I'll have a line feed from the PA and an ambient mic available for my own monitoring purposes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

G-System and Channel Volumes

framuscobra on YouTube asks:
"I'm having a hard time avoiding clipping, i guess the channel volumes affect the loop send levels right? I like the channel vol at max, it gets a nicer tight tone, but it clips the g system inputs like crazy, how do you have your levels set up within the G and the channel volumes? I'm wondering if using a 2 cable method versus a 4 would be better, i know i'd lose the front end part but i might get better signal/noise ratios"