A smart, potent boost that’s much more than meets the eye.
A well-built and truly great-sounding boost/line-driver pedal boasting a handful of clever bonus functions.
Some buyers might find it a little pricey.
Source Audio ZIO
Source Audio nicknamed the new ZIO pedal “the Better Box,” which is a fair summation of what this thing will do for your tone. Purists may rant endlessly about the virtues of plugging straight into an amp. But many legendary players understood that a little extra “hot” between guitar and amp can add up to magic. From Jimmy Page’s Echoplex preamp to Brian May’s Rangemaster to Angus Young’s Schaffer-Vega wireless system, a lot of signature sounds have been shaped with a little extra kick—and often from unexpected sources that are something other than simple boosts. Source Audio’s first all-analog pedal is more than a conventional booster, too. And, to some degree, it celebrates these alternate paths to boosting tone.
Designed in collaboration with Christopher Ventner of SHOE Pedals, ZIO is short for Impedance (“Z” in electro-speak), Input, and Output, which hints at the front-to-back thinking behind the design. The pedal’s input impedance is calculated to optimize the signal from a traditional high-impedance guitar pickup and send it down the line as a sweetened low-impedance version of itself. In doing so, ZIO helps your signal survive long chains of pedals and cable runs. Four selectable modes each offer up to +20 dB of gain and three levels of cable-mimicking capacitance to subtly brighten or darken your tone as desired.
- 0:00 – ZIO pedal off.
- 0:08 – ZIO on, JFET setting.
- 0:44 – Change to Sudio setting.
- 1:04 – Change to E-Plex setting.
- 1:24 – Pedal off again.
Got Some Front
Though its methods for tone shaping might seem slightly esoteric on the surface, ZIO is easy to use. The knobs are a single control for output level and a 4-position rotary switch, dubbed circuit, which selects the preamp voicing. The JFET mode uses Burr-Brown op amps to generate a transparent, low-distortion boost, mimicking the response of a clean tube amp input. Low-cut mode reduces frequencies that can cause mud and rumble, lending more presence. Studio mode successfully replicates the effect of using a Pultec compressor to cut muddy lower-mids and enhance presence. The E-Plex mode, meanwhile, replicates the rich, clear, and just slightly colored sound of a vintage Echoplex preamp.
Source Audio is mindful of the fact that a long cable’s capacitance is an essential part of some players’ overall sonic brew, and that a booster/line-driver in front of the chain can negate the capacitance effect. So ZIO includes a tone toggle that offers three levels of cable-capacitance emulation. Bright represents a low-capacitance load and the brightest tone—as you might hear from a very short, high-quality cable. Med approximates a 15-foot cable and softens highs just a bit. Dark achieves the mellowing effect of longer or coiled cables.
A 2-position mini-toggle to the right is specifically tailored for players that will keep ZIO on at all times and allows the user to configure the footswitch as a mute function in place of the traditional off setting. That means one of the two outputs on the left side of the pedal can feed a tuner running independent of the signal chain or deliver a line-level signal to any amp, console, interface, or input that you want to keep live while muting the main output. Nine-volt DC power feeds the ZIO, with a center-negative input on the crown. It’s all housed in a rugged brushed-aluminum enclosure that’s not quite mini-pedal small but compact at 4" x 2.3" x 2.2" tall (including the knobs).
I fast fell I love with ZIO’s variety of boost tones and easy integration into my pedalboard.
All Lined Up
I fast fell in love with ZIO’s variety of boost tones and easy integration into my pedalboard. It flat-out sounds fantastic. Some players will no doubt consider ZIO pricey for a booster pedal with a few extra bells and whistles. But the enhanced tones will be well worth it for many guitarists, even if they only ever use one circuit mode.
That said, switching between the circuits is half the fun. And at times I fantasized about a rig based on two ZIO pedals: One that I could use as a transparent always-on line driver and tone juicer, and another as a proper boost. Used in the latter application, ZIO made my tweed-style combo bite and break up a lot more readily. It was also secret sauce for a Friedman Mini Dirty Shirley, making its Plexi-style crunch and lead tones extra delectable. While all four preamp-emulating modes proved effective—and I could certainly find many useful applications for each—I really fell for the Pultec-inspired studio mode. It’s sweet, juicy, clear, and articulate, and it simply makes everything more luscious. It can also offer a playful dose of extra drive when you crank the output past 11 o’clock. It sounds fantastic as an amp-input driver in this setting. The tone switch settings are pretty subtle, but that’s the idea: You use it to fine tune the feel and character of the signal once you’ve dialed in the other functions to near-perfection.
Boosts are often one-trick ponies. But Source Audio and Christopher Ventner’s sly and very smart selection of features make ZIO a whale of a tone enhancing machine—and a sneakily versatile one at that. Yes, the ZIO is a simple device in principle, but it does what it does exceptionally well. And while many players will regard the tone switch and switch modes as minor bonus features, I suspect they will prove invaluable to many exacting tone crafters and super-functional in some rigs. For me, at least, they help make ZIO one of the tastiest boost pedals I’ve tried in quite some time.
The Hagstrom F-11 was built with improbable tone materials, but it still sings with zing.
Growing up in the shadow of the Martin Guitar Factory, I learned a thing or two about tonewoods. Quite a few of my friends got jobs at the factory right out of high school, and over the years, I’ve seen how woods are cured, selected, and cared for. The Japanese factories I’ve visited really took this idea to the next level. I’ve seen curing rooms with classical music being played to stacks of wood. I’ve seen huge storerooms with different woods sorted by age (some well over 100 years old), country of origin, and quality of figuring. Hell, I've even seen logs that were dragged out of Mississippi swamps, shipped to Japan, and cured.
If you’ve ever had conversations with high-end collectors, then you’ve probably heard all sorts of poetic waxing on birdseye and flame and such. But what would you, good reader, say about a guitar that featured a plywood body wrapped in diner-booth vinyl? Oh, and then this same guitar had a layer of acrylic screwed to the top! How do you think a guitar like that would sound?
Much like the Italian guitar factories, Hagstrom took cues from accordion design and applied them to electric guitars, going way out there with enough sparkle and pearloid to send you trippin’
Your first response may be informed by taste and income level. As for me, I’m indifferent. A guitar will sound good or it won’t. After listening and playing so many guitars, I’ve developed quite an ear for “zing” or “pop” as I like to call it. And the budget-class Hagstrom F-11 guitar has some zing for sure.
The F-11 comes from the mid ’60s and was part of a line of guitars to make it to the U.S. via Sweden, from where it was imported by Merson Musical Products in Westbury, New York. Sometimes these guitars are called H-I models in European catalogs, but in the Merson catalog these were billed as the F-11 and cost $129.50 in 1966. The F-11 came in red, black, white, or, as in this case, blue—my favorite guitar color.
Here’s a close-up look at the In-Motion vibrato, and note the labeling on the tone preset switches and volume dial.
Hagstrom’s accordion-making roots date back to the 1920s. When they began manufacturing electric guitars in 1958, the company immediately offered some of the craziest examples seen in Europe and soon developed a reputation for fine guitars and basses. Much like the Italian guitar factories, Hagstrom took cues from accordion design and applied them to electric guitars, going way out there with enough sparkle and pearloid to send you trippin’!
Even the most affordable Hagstrom electrics came with several effective features. Inside the F-11's slim neck lies the worldwide-patented H-shaped truss rod that was dubbed the “Expander-Stretcher.” It’s a nice design, and these old Hagstrom necks have held up over time. The vibrato was also a design wonder that, for a period, was copied extensively by various Japanese makers. Hagstrom called the unit an “In Motion” vibrato, and the upper plate floats over the base plate with proper string tension. The vibrato takes some time to dial in but works rather smoothly. Although Hagstrom’s “Micro-Matic” bridge was found on more upscale models, allowing for better string spacing, adjustable intonation, and a sharp break-over for the strings, budget models like this F-11 have a simpler wooden bridge with non-adjustable metal saddles.
The sound of the F-11 is quite Strat-like and gives players a Fender-y experience with a little more oomph. I’ve always been impressed with Hagstrom pickups. I’ve liked almost every example I’ve heard, and the pickups also hold up well with the passage of time.
Measuring around 7k, they are a little hotter than Fender pickups from the same era. The F-11’s electronics include a cute little control panel, straight out of a spaceship, with one master volume and four mini-switches for high, low, tone, and mute functions. These are essentially preset tone switches that most players would probably find redundant, but they’re kind of neato. And who could miss that crazy mesh inlay between the pickups. Why? Why not!?
These mid-’60s Hagstroms are really sweet guitars, and I own three different models that I use quite a bit. Hey, go search one out if you can—as long as you’re not bothered by plywood and acrylic.
A series of affordable true-bypass pedals designed to compliment each other.
These true bypass stomp boxes were designed to hold up to use and abuse, but sport more budget-accessible price tags, ranging from $129 - $149. This Series is designed to compliment each other and fit in with 99% of guitar players’ rigs. Use all 6 for a pedal board that covers a lot of sonic ground, or pick 1 or 2 to fill in the gaps on your existing board.
Introducing the Eastwood Black Box Series
More info: https://eastwoodguitars.com.
An essential skill that’s often overlooked.
• Learn how to add interest by “missing” strums.
• Create patterns influenced by drumbeats.
• Understand how to systematically improve your rhythm playing.
Strumming great rhythm guitar is a core skill. It’s never too soon—or too late—to get a solid groove going. With a few simple chord shapes, you can be up and running rather quickly. (You can even tune your guitar’s open strings to a chord and simply strum the open strings.) Players like Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, Noel Gallagher, and Jimmy Page all have an individualized approach to simple strums. Let’s dig in and tighten up our rhythm chops.
These music examples use a variety of basic chords and progressions, but if they’re still too challenging, don’t give up. Pick any chords you like and try them. Listen carefully to the recorded examples so that you can pick up details about the sounds we’re going for. Strumming is typically done with a pick, so I’ll recommend that approach. There are certainly strummed styles that use fingers, such as the elegant and sophisticated flamenco techniques and the unique and personal approaches of people like Jack Johnson or Tommy Emmanuel. Explore those but do try for some practice time with the pick.
Let’s begin with some basic symbols, terms, and notation systems.
We have downstrokes and upstrokes. A downstroke means the pick moves toward the floor. In this case it strikes the lowest strings first. Upstrokes are simply the reverse; you start by striking the higher strings first.
Let’s start by simply strumming an E minor chord with downstrokes (Ex. 1). We’ll strum once per beat. You can see the musical notation shows quarter-notes in 4/4 time. The downstroke symbol is used to remind you of the strum direction. Hold your pick loosely enough to pass quickly through the strings. We want the illusion that all the strings are being struck at the same time. Of course, the notes are staggered, but it shouldn’t sound that way. Strive for an “instant” sound.
A light grip of the pick and a swift strum through the strings gives us a rhythmically precise and tight sound.
Does your strum sound like that? Great! If it doesn’t, it might be because your strum is a drawn-out motion that results in a harp-like effect, which lacks crispness and rhythmic precision. Save this for the last chord of a song or for an isolated effect. Not much groove happening in this version.
Neil Young - Cortez The Killer (Acoustic)
Upstrokes are usually reserved for upbeats. Thus, it’s common to incorporate eighth-notes with up strokes. A rule of thumb: Use downstrokes on the downbeats (1, 2, 3, 4) and upstrokes on the “and” or each beat. If you are tapping your foot to the beat, the pick direction will match your foot’s movement. In Ex. 2 you’ll see the rhythmic notation with pick strokes.
It’s reasonable to assume that you must play all the strings with each stroke. While that’s possible, it’s not so common. Typically, the downstrokes favor the lower strings and the upstrokes favor the high strings. You don’t have to be super accurate. The beauty of this is that a bit of randomness makes it sound more human and more musical. Listen to Ex. 3 for the differences between this version and Ex. 2.
Nirvana - About A Girl (MTV Unplugged)
Let’s do another example (Ex. 4), but this time with a chord change. Notice that the very last chord before the change is simply a few open strings. No one can change chords instantaneously, so it’s common to “cheat” like this: Use the last upstroke as your time to change chords. If you listen closely to some favorite songs, you might be surprised to hear how often this happens.
Once the basic movements are comfortable, it’s time to add rhythmic variation (Ex. 5). Since we’ve been playing constant eighth-notes, we’ll now remove a strum—variety can be created via omission. Try this by “missing” the strings. In other words, keep your strum movement going, still up and down, matching the beat—just avoid the strings for a “miss.” Remember downstrokes are on the beat, upstrokes for the “ands.”
Here’s another common rhythm, where we are “missing” one more strum (Ex. 6). Listen for which strings are struck with the downstroke and the upstroke.
Noel Gallagher “Wonderwall” Live on the Stern Show (1997)
The previous two examples omit the sound of a couple of upstrokes, but we can also omit a downstroke (Ex. 7). This will create a syncopated rhythm. Syncopation is created by having an upstroke that is not followed by a downstroke. This helps to accent different parts of the measure.
It’s time to notice details about musical stresses—what we call accents. A typical acoustic groove often mimics the feel of a good drumbeat. The low strings can act like a bass drum and the high strings can act like the snare drum. Basic drum beats often have bass drum on beats 1 and 3 and snare drum on 2 and 4. Ex. 8 is a simple way to adapt that to the guitar. Accents can be achieved by playing a certain chord louder or by striking more notes in a given chord. Adding some upbeats to this approach is like adding a ride cymbal or hi-hat to the groove.
We can accent certain strokes and create interesting rhythms that way—even when there’s a seemingly bland rhythm, as in Ex. 9. Variety and interest are achieved through dynamics (musical volume) and accents. We can create a vibrant and intensely varied part that is anything but mechanical. The long wedge symbol is a crescendo, which means to gradually get louder. The symbols that look like “greater than” are accents.
Ex. 10 is a variant of Ex. 9. Instead of eighth-notes (two strums per beat), we have 16th-notes (four strums per beat). The tempo is moderately slow, but it’s still quite busy. Remember, you don’t have to strike all the strings of the chord. Downstrokes favor low strings and upstrokes favor high strings. As with the previous example, an interesting rhythm is created via accents.
Once you’re comfortable with your strums, it’s time to add rests. Rests are silences. We can use rests to add variety, since it can be tedious to have endless sound that’s not contrasted by silence. Rests are typically “played” by landing the pinky side of your hand on the strings. No worries if the rest makes a click sound, that can even be desirable. Try Ex. 11 for a simple exercise with rests.
Sometimes the rest gets replaced with a percussive sound. Think of it like a “crash” into the strings: Your palm lands on the strings and the pick hits right after. It’s fine for the pick to hit just a couple of strings. This is a good way to mimic certain songs. Check out Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” There’s no guitar on that recording but you can emulate the percussion by playing Ex. 12.
Ex. 13 is a good generic rock groove. I think of this as something akin to a basic drumbeat. This strum is useful whenever you need a driving groove.
Being able to do a steady, eighth-note strum with a good feel and stamina takes time, so be patient! Practicing with a metronome or drum beat (there’s tons of smart phone apps and loops on YouTube) is great for developing your skills, so definitely work that in. Have fun!