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Things only got worse by December of the same year when Eric formed Cream. On the cuts, “N.S.U.” and “Cat’s Squirrel,” as well as many other tracks on Fresh Cream, the guitar seemed to be on fire. This elusive tone would continue through the remaining Cream albums; later, when I was introduced to Les Paul guitars and Marshall amps my tone situation improved, but it still wasn’t exactly the tone I was hearing.
Forward in time, I found myself opening for Deep Purple on one of their early tours. Ritchie Blackmore was always a favorite of mine, and I was in awe of his four 200 watt Marshall stacks that loomed heavily on the side of the stage. His guitar was fat sounding and had great sustain, but wait … it was a Fender Stratocaster. They weren’t that fat. I examined his guitar closely and found that the only modification I could see was a larger diameter tremolo bar. The pickups looked stock to me and there were not many replacement pickups for Strat available at this time. As I looked at his gear, to my surprise, I saw a Revox reel to reel tape recorder hooked up to his gear and it wasn’t for recording. It was in the guitar signal path. And what was that small blue rectangular box that said Hornsby Skewes sitting there? A fuzz perhaps? That was probably why he sounded so fat on a Strat.
Moving on in time, I found myself in a band trying to cop the solo for Judas Priest’s “Another Thing Coming.” There wasn’t a problem with the notes and by then I had Marshalls and a rack full of the best processing gear, but their guitar sounded like it was so hot it was about to blow up. There must have been something connected to their guitars or amps that I didn’t have. Possibly some kind of pedal? Then there was Brian May from Queen. AC30? Homemade guitar? Burns pickups? No way.
|As the years went by, I would occasionally hear this tone or similar versions on records that I was listening to at the time, by artists like Rory Gallagher, Wishbone Ash and even a few early Beatles songs. The Hendrix era gave us many great pedals including the Fuzz Face, Octavia, Wah Wah, and Univibe, but none copied that elusive Clapton album tone. I wrote it off to the fact that, “it must just be in their fingers.”|
As the years went by, I would occasionally hear this tone or similar versions on records that I was listening to at the time, by artists like Rory Gallagher,Wishbone Ash and even a few early Beatles songs. The Hendrix era gave us many great ped als including the Fuzz Face, Octavia,Wah Wah, and Univibe, but none copied that elusive Clapton album tone. I wrote it off to the fact that, “it must just be in their fingers.”
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I began hearing rumors of a rare box or pedaltype device that was used on Clapton’s early recordings. It was called a Dallas Rangemaster treble booster, and I set out to see if I could find one for myself. I was surprised to learn that not only could I not find one, there was not so much as a picture of one available. I even offered a small reward for a picture of one but no one could help me. Confused by the rarity of this mythical pedal and the fact that it was called a treble booster, I didn’t know if I was even on the right track. The sound I heard was not trebly and certainly Ritchie Blackmore could not have needed more treble from his Strat.
Then finally it happened. A friend from England called me and said he had found an obscure box in a shop in London called a Rangemaster. The shop owner wanted a bit much for it, but I bought it anyway. What finally arrived was a small, gray box with one switch on the front, one knob, a jack and a white cord hard-wired to the back. A small brass thumb screw exposed a battery compartment, housing a battery I had never seen. I found out that it could be converted to a 9 volt and did so. The faceplate said Rangemaster Treble Booster and had a musical staff on it. The back plate stated, “Dallas Musical 10- 18 Clifton st London EC-2.”
So, I plugged it in, using an old 50 watt Marshall 2x12 combo and a Les Paul with PAF humbuckers and there it was. Through the crackle of old dirty pots, I found the tone that had eluded me since the ‘60s. Musical nirvana. After that fateful day, I managed to acquire a number of the units and figure out what makes them do what they do.
First off, I will say that no two of these units sound exactly alike. One of the first things I observed is that this unit is not a treble booster, in that it does not really boost treble, like a Vox Treble Booster or Electro Harmonix Screaming Tree. It is basically a frequency selective boost. The higher frequency you put in, the more DBs of boost you get. It certainly does get brighter, but not in the typical way. When played through an amp that is overdriving the lowend remains tight, but the higher you go, the sustain and gain is increased.
The Rangemaster is a lucky accident. The circuit is very simple, utilizing usually a Mullard OC-44 germanium transistor, although the OC-71 was also used. The single pot is usually 10K, but I have found some with factory 20K pots. It seems that in the original units the 20K is a bit hotter and gainier. There is no foot switch; switch ing is accomplished by the small slide switch on the front. It is assumed that the player intended to leave the unit on or off, and it does in fact clean up when the volume is turned down.