I’ve been ranting and raving for years to anyone who will listen that Music Man amps are some of the greatest. Unfortunately, you are in for more of the same.
This rant is about the much overlooked RD-50 Head. I must admit that I never even knew these things existed for a long time. If you can believe it, I actually found one in a pawn shop on 7th Ave and 23rd street in New York City. These kinds of things really don’t happen so much any more as Guitar Center and Sam Ash have pretty much put everyone else out of business. But in this case, there I was in this pawn shop, surrounded by cameras and cheap jewelry. I saw this little mini head that had the Music Man logo. I scratched my head: “….this ain’t an HD-130… what the hell is this little thing…. I didn’t know Music Man made a head this small…”
I then realized that it was the guts of my little RD-50, just no speaker. The guy had some horrible horrible guitar and I had to try it out using some kind of strat copy from hell. The reverb didn’t work so I nicke & dimed him down to something rediculous like $150. Yes, I got this head for $150. I think it cost me about $50 to get the reverb fixed, so the head ran me $200 total. I don’t need to tell you how much I love the RD-50, so you can assume that my rant about the tone of this amp is the same. What is so cool is that this head is so small and reasonable in weight that you could actually carry it to a gig. This is assuming that there is a speaker cabinet at your gig that is up for grabs.
If you are a fan of Music Man amps and are looking for another great alternative to dragging around your 2×12, this head is worth an eBay search.
Ok, so they pretty much invented the analog guitar amplifier. They perfected it and pretty much any guitarist would agree that few are better. So, why they heck would anyone use a Fender digital modeling amplifier? …’cause it’s a great amp, that’s why.
I’ll admit that I really resisted this stuff, I really really did. In principal, it just goes against everything I believe in. But then again, when the “Frying Pan” guitar was first put out by Rickenbacker, I’m sure it was met with the same disdain. Same for the Solid body electric, the Flying-V, The Explorer, the Parker Fly, etc… So, I decided to lighten up and just enjoy the amplifier and there is a lot to enjoy.
They certainly start off on the right foot with two 12AX7 groove tubes. In fact, I think they did it just to shut me up. Probably not, but I like to think so. You really have to find humor in the fact that when you switch between pre-sets, the knobs actually turn so that they physically match the saved settings. This is a bit much, and it introduces more moving parts than need be, but then again, why not… nobody ha anything repaired anymore, you just throw it out. So, what the heck, ok, moving knobs.
The “artist-authored” presets is a very cool feature that features saved patches from such noted ax-masters as Gary Hoey and Greg Koch. This is certainly a time-saver if you want to get started right away with some classic sounds. As far as volume goes, at 130 watts, this thing is ridiculously loud. It’s modeled after a Twin Reverb, so naturally, loud loud loud. It’s full stereo, so the patches can involve some very cool twin channel effects such as stereo chorus or ping-pong delay. There is also a hum reduction feature, which helps to minimize that annoying 50/60Hz buzz. pretty cool stuff here. You will need a small army to transport the damn thing, but if you happen to have such resources or you plan to just leave it in the house, this is an amp worth checking out, the sounds are actually pretty good.
Power tubes can have a dramatic effect on your amplifier’s sound. At low volumes, the difference between one tube and another can be difficult to decipher; it’s almost not worth talking about. Once you start to push a little air, your amplifier will show off what it can do and the power tubes will display their individual characteristics more. Keep in mind, by using pedals, you can make pretty much any amp sound like any other amp, so this discussion is focused on how a few of the most popular power tubes differ from each other when using the amp to get your sound and not pedals. the tubes that readers most often ask about are the EL84, EL34 and 6L6. Here is a rundown of how these tubes differ in sound.
This tube has a snarly sound, and is usually found in smaller wattage amplifiers. They break up quickest of the three power tubes mentioned here and have the least amount of headroom. EL84s can be brighter than the EL34 (i.e. the “Vox” sound) and have a bit less low-end. In America, these tubes are known as 6BQ5. They were first produced for radios, helping to eliminate the need for a driver tube.
Found in the most well-known UK heads such as Marshall, HiWatt, Sound City, etc… these power tubes also have a snarly sound. While they have a bit more headroom than the EL84, they are also aggressive and break up quicker. EL34s tend to compress more than the 6L6 power tube and have a darker tone. This tube is most associated with the “British Sound”, and expression used often with regards to amplifiers. EL34 tubes were quite popular in stereo amplifiers years ago.
This is the power tube most associated with the term: “California Sound,” Often used in Fender amplifiers, they tend to be used in most American made amplifiers in general then British amplifiers. The 6L6 has more headroom and does not break up as quickly as the EL84 or EL34. These tubes tend to put out a much brighter tone with more top-end sparkle (i.e. the “Fender Chime”).
For the most part, the 6V6 is considered identical on general tonal characteristics to the 6L6. Same “California” or “Tweed” kind of tone, and most often associated with Fender amplifiers. The main difference is that the 6V6 is a lower output tube. Consequently, they break-up earlier than 6L6 tubes.
Again, it is not likely that you would feel these differences at low volumes. It is when you start to push an amplifier that the characteristics of these tubes becomes more aparent. Keep in mind as well that as much as power tubes differ, amplifiers differ as well, so the overall voice and behavior of the power tube will vary depending on who the amplifier is designed. If you want to really get a feel for how these tubes differ in sound, get your hands on an amplifier that can use both the EL34 and 6L6 power tubes such as the Mesa Lone Star.
Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier 6L6 vs EL34 Tube Comparison
The Fender Telecaster is probably viewed by most as being a somewhat specialized guitar, but it is also surprisingly versatile.
Best known for it’s “Twang”, this guitar has been used most often for country as it lends itself well to chicken pickin’ and other similar sounds. Some players have a stratocaster pickup installed in the middle position for more tonal options. This is called the “Nashville” setup. Although most associated with Country, the Telecaster also does a bunch of other things quite well. What makes this guitar so much fun to experiment with is the fact that no matter what you do, that “Twangy” character mostly remains. In the end you get a great hybrid tone that you simply cannot produce with any other guitar. Don’t think that you’ll need to get your scalpel out though; the Fender Telecaster does a bunch of stuff very well with no modifications, but you can also upgrade some of the parts to create your own sounds.
With no modifications, a Fender Telecaster is perfect for funk. The bridge pickup is excellent for creating that urgent tone often used by great funk guitarists. If you need an example, listen to just about anything from James Brown. The repetitive single-note lines you hear in most funk tunes can be created by simply using the bridge pickup with a little bit of grit.
The middle and neck position sounds lend themselves well to R&B and Soul music. For example, Steve Cropper laid down many of this classic guitar tracks for Stax Atlantic using a Fender Telecaster. The inherent thin properties of the guitar work well as they stay our of the way of the bass and keyboards. Once again, no modifications needed here; a stock Telecaster works perfectly for R&B or Soul.
The Fender Telecaster is one of the most popular Blues guitars of all time. Players such as Albert Collins and Roy Buchanan trusted their Tele with their lives. Both of these Telecaster-Masters used stock guitars, but some may prefer a beefier neck pickup.
One would not think of a Fender Telecaster when they think of Jazz; I certainly don’t. But Mike Stern is a perfect example of a guitarists who used the Telecaster in a way that it may not have been intended, and made it work. It is likely that if you wanted to use a Telecaster for Jazz, you may want to swap out the neck pickup for one that has a bit more beef, such as a mini humbucker or full humbucker. But then again, this is purely subjective and whatever works best is best.
If you plan to use a Telecaster for Rock, you probably will want to change the pickups. Stock Telecaster pickups are not hum-canceling, so they are likely to be problematic when using a lot of gain or playing at high volumes. There are plenty of noise-canceling pickups out there made especially for a Fender Telecaster. Also, the inherent thin nature of the Telecaster does not always sound best with Rock. With this in mind, there are plenty of rock guitarists who have used a stock Fender Telecaster. It is all up to you as to what you feel sounds best. The great thing about using a Telecaster for Rock is that combination of an aggressive tone, and the inherent twangy nature of the instrument makes for a really great combination. You wind up with a nice hybrid sound that is both macho and twangy at the same time.
Looking for that lush 3-D sound of a Chorus Pedal? Here are the best high-end, mid-priced and budget models.
One of the most popular guitar effects of all time, chorus is often used to fatten-up the sound and give it more of a “3-D” feel. Some of the most popular guitar tones of all time have involved smart use of Chorus (reference just about any song by the Police, Andy Summers really knew how to use Chorus wisely). Even in the budget arena, thick and creamy sounds can be generated when using a chorus pedal in true stereo. Below is a list of the most popular guitar chorus effects pedals separated by price range.
High-End / Boutique Chorus Pedals
TC Electronic Stereo Chorus/Flanger Pedal
A high-end / boutique chorus pedal with that also doubles as a flange or pitch modulator.
Best / Coolest Feature: A gain control that will have a big affect on the overall voice of the affected sound. There is also a built in power supply for AC operation (very very cool).
If your Strat bridge is leaning too much towards or away from the neck, these simple steps will get you back to the right angle
A reader recently asked how he could adjust the angle of the tremolo bridge on his Stratocaster. In his case, the bridge was leaning towards the neck. It is a very simply process to adjust this. The main thing to keep in mind is not to tighten the trem claw screws too much (covered in step # 3). Your goal is to have the perfect balance between the tension of the strings vs the tecnsion of the tremolo springs.
1. Loosen your strings a great deal. You don’t have to remove them, but loosen them almost to the point of removal.
2. Turn your guitar over and remove the tremolo cavity plate (a square piece of plastic on the back of the body that his held to the body with several small screws).
3. You should notice two rather large screws that hold the trem claw to the body. If your bridge leans too much towards the neck, tighten those two screws. Do not screw them all the way in, but tighten them so that they are substantially closer to the body. If your bridge leans too much away from the neck, loosen those two screws a bit.
4. Flip your guitar over and tune it up.
5. Check your action, make micro adjustments using the string saddle height adjustments if needed.
6. If needed, repeat steps 3-5 again if needed to get the angle of the bridge just right. You may have to loosen the two screws in step # 3, and that is ok. This process is mainly about finding the right balance, and that could take a few tries.
Don’t be afraid to consult a qualified guitar repair technician. If this is your first time making these kinds of adjustments, it might be a bit nerving. In the end, it is a simple adjustment that you can make your self in order to get the angle of the bridge right.
When trying to find that mysterious buzz, logic is your most effective tool
Sometimes you might find yourself with a ground / buzz problem. This can be a truly frustrating experience and really kill the fun of building your own guitar. But, it really doesn’t have to be such a nightmare. You just need to trace your steps, that’s really it. This is all just logic. The problem is there somewhere, you just have to find it.
In order to get around the fact that I am not actually sitting next to you as you work through this problem, I have to make the following assumptions:
You know what you are doing. (If not, don’t be too proud to march on down to your local qualified guitar repair tech, and as him to finish the job for you. Once they have done the work, you can always look under the hood and take a look at their handy work to see where you might have gone wrong)
All of your pickups are in perfect working order
Your cables and amp are in perfect working order
OK, now that that’s out of the way, here are a few suggestions:
Make 100% sure that you have soldered the ground to the ground and the hot to the hot. This is a very common mistake, and if you have mixed this up, all bets are off, nothing will quite sound right.
Make sure that your wires in your control cavity are not touching each other. For example, many Gibson Humbuckers have two wire leads where the ground is a braided wire on the outside and totally exposed, which can really lead to this exact kind of problem. But most single coil pickups have wiring that is sheilded all the way to the tip, which is helpful. Regardless, make sure that there are no ground wires touching hot terminals, and vice versa. It’s very common that even when you have done everything right, when you put the pick-guard (or tele control plate) back in place, some exposed wires touch, causing a ground or buzz.
Are you 100% sure that you wired the pots correctly?
Have you tried process of elimination? Simply wire each pickup directly to the main volume pot, bypassing the 5-way switch. In doing this, you can first determine that all 3 pickups are fine, as well as your pots. If you use this approach, you can deconstruct your wiring down to the most basic components, heck, even try wiring each pickup directly to your output jack. Trust me, if you take this kind of logical approach, you are simply going to find the problem. Anything else is just guessing, and you might be up all night doing this.
Testing Guitar Wiring : Guitar Building & Repair
Some Common Wiring Problem Scenarios:
Everything Works, but the guitar squeals at minimal levels or with minimal gain.
Most likely, the main output wires are backwards. Open up the guitar’s main output jack, and reverse the hot and ground wires.
Everything works when the pickguard is un-screwed, but when I screw the pickguard firmly onto the guitar body, the signal cuts out.
An exposed ground wire is touching one of the hot wires or the pickup selector switch. Check all your ground wires and make sure that they are properly wrapped with electrical wire and nothing is exposed.
Everything seems to work, but when I have my pickup selector switch so that two pickups are selected (an in-between position) the sound is really nasal-live, really weak and really bad.
The pickups are “Out of Phase”. Reverse the polarity of one of these pickups. Best to do it to an outer pickup (i.e. the bridge or neck position) because if you do it to a middle position pickup, it will just be out of phase with the other pickup that it is currently in phase with. Note that this sometimes results in a overly squealy pickup and sometimes pickups are simply out of phase and cannot be used together.
Things seem ok at first, but one pickup squeals a lot.
The hot and ground wires are probably backwards. Reverse the hot and ground wires.
My volume pot works backwards. When I turn it clockwise, it gets quieter, and when I turn it counter-clockwise, it gets louder.
The terminals are wired backwards. Reverse the way you have wired the two outer terminals. Leave the middle terminal as-is.
I have a humbucker pickup that should be dead-quiet, but it squeals and feeds back whenever I play with any amount of volume or drive.
If your pickup has a nickel cover, then most likely you are experiencing micro phonic feedback. The only way to solve this problem is to have the pickup wax-potted by a professional guitar repair technician. Do not attempt to do this by yourself as you will most likely melt the pickup.
When I turn my guitar volume knob down even just a little, the sound gets muddy.
This is not a wiring problem. This is the natural behavior of the potentiometer. The potentiometer (or “Pot”) cuts off the volume at a certain frequency range, resulting in the muddy sound you here. Have a professional guitar repair technician install a “Volume Kit”. This places a small capacitor between your middle and right terminals. The end result is that the highs are maintained when turning your guitar’s volume knob down. This is a really worthwhile (and fairly inexpensive) modification that turns your volume knob into a very useful tool.
Guitar pickup wiring troubleshooting
When I was younger I spent many many late nights pulling my hair out, trying to find out where buzzs and squeals were coming from. 99% of the time, it was something very simple that I overlooked. Rarely was it a deep and mystical issue. I promise that you will learn from this, and each time you wire up your guitar, you will get better.
Here is a schematic for a typical strat assembly. Not sure what kind of guitar you have, but I’m sure that if this schematic is not correct for your guitar, you can easily find one using Google:
Just remember to be as logical as possible and retrace your steps. The buzz is in there, you just have to find it. Best to try removing as many variables as possible and isolating each component. You’ll be sure to find the buzz.
Wiring Electric Guitar – 1 Pickup 1 Volume 1 Input Jack
How guitar electronics work tone, volume, pickups etc