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Tech Tales: Soothing Single-Coils

Many guitarists who use single-coil pickups struggle with too much top end, myself included. A couple of things I've tried lately have worked pretty well to tone things down a little bit, so I thought I'd pass them along. Next time things get a bit glassy sounding, give these two simple fixes a try!

Swapping Caps
On a couple of brighter guitars, I've replaced the .047 tone capacitor with a .1. It's been just enough on a couple of them to warm up the tone while still retaining the clarity. Depending on how bright the guitar is, you can play with different capacitor values to find the right one for your personal taste. It's a quick change and you can find these at any local electronics store. Also, they're fairly cheap so it's not an expensive trial-and-error project. The higher the number, the more top-end the cap is going to roll off, so just remember "higher is darker." Two solder joints is all it takes!

Downgrade Your Signal Chain
Another solution I found helpful took me by surprise. It's quite trendy right now to use oxygen-free cables and true-bypass pedals to get the truest, most direct, and least degraded signal from guitar to amp, and I'm not immune from the trend. I use high-quality cables with the shortest lengths possible. I love my true-bypass stompboxes. However, these components can make it a constant balancing act between managing your treble and maintaining clarity.

This can be made easier by making one simple swap. If you're using all oxygen-free cables, take the one that runs from your pedalboard or rack to your amp and replace it with something that's not oxygen-free. Now, I don't mean using a junk cable, either. You can still use a high-quality cable from a reputable company, and just swap this one—leave the cables on your pedalboard or in your rack alone. This will take off some high-end, and it might be just what you're looking for.

The Proof is In the Pudding
We keep the signal as pure as possible for Brad's rig—I bet there's not five feet of cable between the wireless receiver and the rack output to the amp heads. There are a couple of feet between the wireless output to the switcher, another couple of feet to a pedal and back, and another foot to the rack's outputs. Every cable is oxygen-free, and the signal isn't hitting any pedal that isn't turned on through the switcher (Brad likes using the RJM Effects Gizmo because it takes everything that's not in use out of the signal path). Using 5 to 10 foot cables to connect the amp heads to the rack, the total cable length is roughly 15 feet. This delivers every bit of signal straight to the amps. But when is too much true-bypass...too much?

As you know, a Tele through an EL84 amp with alnico magnet speakers can get bright very quickly. Sure, you can darken the tone and treble knobs a bit, and I pulled the mics a little closer to the edge of the speakers, but it still wasn't doing the trick.

In the midst of trying to solve this problem, I attended a show back home during off touring months and was distracted by the guitar player's choice of cables. Multiple brand names and colors were driving my O.C.D. crazy! I talked with Bill Crook, a luthier who builds many of Brad's guitars who is also an audio engineer, on the subject the next day and I realized that this player had a very familiar setup—Teles, EL84s, and alnico speakers. However, despite his mix-and-match cables, he was getting a really nice, round, warm guitar tone... or was it because of the cables? For years I've been shying away from guitar cables that weren't oxygen-free for the fear of tone loss. I never dreamed they could help gain warmth.

To test the theory, I went with a 20" non-oxygen-free cable to take off more high end, and the result was noticeable. It's not a night and day difference, but it did help to make that swap with my existing setup. It just took finding the right combination, if ya know what I mean. Maybe it will for you as well.