How light-sensitive pickups could replace your instrument's standard magnetic humbuckers—no routing required.
As mentioned in last month's column, "Let There Be Light in Your Tone," there are more ways to optically sense a string's motion than to just analyze a shade's dance on a photoresistor.
Optical transmission mode pickups are relatively simple designs—at least in theory, although magnetic pickups are even simpler. For an optical pickup, you need a source of light and a sensor on the opposite side of the string to "watch" the change of the shade. That's it. This works for any string material in wide frequency ranges and can easily deliver signals for separate strings.
- Due to the small sensing area, only small string movements can be detected. Also, the pickups need to be positioned extremely close to the bridge, and we all know about the tonal influence of a pickup's position on upper harmonics and tone in general.
- This small sensing area results in the need to recalibrate after every setup.
- There's no chance to give it a casual try on your favorite instrument, as the necessary mods are—to date—severe and mostly irreversible. And if there's no drop-in optical replacement for conventional pickups, or you test one on an unfamiliar instrument, who can guarantee that any sonic advantages might merely be the result of superior tonewood?
- It's easy to protect these pickups from ambient light using a simple enclosure, although playing palm-muted gets harder.
There's no chance to give it a casual try on your favorite instrument, as the necessary mods are severe and mostly irreversible.
Here's a different wrinkle: The alternative construction principle of these pickups is a reflective mode, where the light source is directed at the string and its reflection is sensed on the same side—actively using the string's reflection and not just its shade to generate sound.
While transmission mode pickups have been available since the late 1960s, reflective-mode pickups have become commercially available only recently. Light4Sound is the company that released the ōPik as the first available pickup using reflective mode, with the impressive design goal of using it as a replacement pickup for humbuckers on almost any of your favorite instruments. As always with new developments in our industry, the ōPik's primary focus is on guitarists, but the bass design already exists in the form of several working prototypes (see below).
As you can see, it's an open design with purple-red glowing infrared LEDs for each string. Just in case you're wondering how it handles ambient light, it helps to start remembering a few similarities between optical pickups and their magnetic counterparts. You can have the strongest magnets and the thickest strings, but as long as these don't move within that magnetic field, nothing happens at its output. In the same way, you can point all stage lights onto an optical pickup and, as long as there is no modulation or variation, there will be no signal (a photoresistor is not a solar cell).
The ōPik will soon be available in this 4-string bass version.
Courtesy of Light4Sound.com
Unfortunately, varying light is a main purpose behind a light show. So in the same way as magnetics need to fight radio frequencies, these optical pickups have to cancel out surrounding lights.
Our common means to fight radio frequencies is humbucker wiring, with the phased-out signals of two coils, and the same can be done with two out-of-phase optical sensors. Here, a second noise reduction is achieved through optical filters. These eliminate specific wavelengths from entering the sensors and also limit the directions light travels into the pickup.
The ōPik is an active pickup with a low impedance output that's high enough to be directly combined with passive pickups. Furthermore, it can connect to a mobile app that allows the player to set each string's volume and several high- or low-pass filters, or adjust roll-off frequencies. These settings can be saved as presets, but it's worth mentioning that this is merely digital tweaking of parameters. The signal chain stays purely analog at all stages. Until next time….
The PG Dawner Prince Pulse review.
Deep, thick, luxurious rotary simulations—particularly in stereo. Super intuitive and easy to use.
Side mounted output gain pots are useful but awkward to access.
Dawner Prince Pulse
When you think about David Gilmour's guitar sounds, you tend to think of big Hiwatts, creamy Big Muff or blazing Fuzz Face tones, and Echorec delays bouncing infinitely off the columns of Roman amphitheaters.
But modulation has always been an equally foundational part of Gilmour's outsized sound picture. And while he's probably most famously associated with the Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress when it comes to signal wobbling, he has embraced rotary speakers regularly since 1969. For much of his career, Gilmour used Leslie 147s or Yamaha RA-200s in this role. But at some point, he started to work with the Maestro Rover—an unusual stand-mounted rotating speaker that his technicians would use as inspiration for his more powerful, custom Doppola units. By the mid '90s—a period that looms large for Gilmour tone hounds of a certain breed—the Maestro and Doppolas were elemental parts of his sound.
If the name wasn't hint enough, Dawner Prince's Pulse pays homage to this sound in a loving and well-executed way. But even if you aren't out to replicate Gilmour modulation textures from The Division Bell and Pulse, this Croatian company's exceptional rotary simulator is a fine way to introduce the immersive, extra-liquid textures of a rotary speaker to your signal chain without hauling a cumbersome antique and its own team of mechanical medics.
With five staggered knobs, two footswitches, stereo outs and an expression input, the Pulse looks more complex than it is. In reality, it's very intuitive to use. And even superficially esoteric controls like the distance knob (which shifts the proximity of the virtual "mic" picking up the rotary speaker signal) and the inertia knob (which regulates the rate of the virtual speaker's acceleration or deceleration) have a very organic, natural feel and are simple to add and modify to taste. The more straightforward controls are satisfying to use, too. The slow and fast speed controls have great range (the modulation rate spans .4 to 8 virtual speaker rotations per second). You can toggle between fast and slow rates using the fast-slow footswitch and you don't have to worry about "progamming" a fast or slow preset—the switch simply ramps up or down (at a rate prescribed by the inertia control) between whatever speeds you've set on the respective knobs.
Dawner Prince also accounted for the possibility of perceived volume loss at some of the most intense modulation levels by mounting small gain pots adjacent to each output jack. You need a small flathead screwdriver to adjust them. Obviously, top-mounted knobs would be user friendly, but I was generally pleased with the output level at maximum modulation intensity. And on the whole, I'd venture that Dawner Prince made a smart compromise between cluttering the main control panel and concealing these pots inside the enclosure.
Worlds of Whirl
If you had to briefly characterize what sets the Pulse apart from lesser rotary simulators, it would be the deep and real sense of motion that pedal communicates. This quality is especially apparent if you take time to set it up for stereo output, which I did through two amplifiers as well as a DAW.
The Pulse's output very effectively replicates the complex interactions between fundamentals and overtones that occur when moving air and speakers are added to a tone equation.
These highly kinetic qualities don't just come from bouncy stereo pictures, however. Even in mono, the Pulse's output very effectively replicates the complex interactions between fundamentals and overtones that occur when moving air and speakers are added to a tone equation. At the right settings, you can almost see and feel the rise, dissipation, and passing of sound as bodies and particles (entirely without pharmaceutical assistance, I might add). It's a very visceral way to experience a guitar sound, and it comes pretty close to the thrill of parking your head right by a rotary speaker in motion.
The harmonic complexities and kinetic sensations generated by the Pulse are best enjoyed, at least to my ear, at slower settings where it's easier to perceive the bloom of these sounds. And even though the Pulse's fast modulation settings generate very rich, throbbing pulses, I preferred to keep my fastest modulation sounds on the slower side so I could bask in the dimensionality of the sound picture.
The Pulse also excels at walking the fine line between the practical and the ridiculous. Even the most modulation-heavy mix settings are never overbearing. And while you can generate relatively extreme metallic high-mid peaks in the modulation by bringing the virtual mic proximity in close and cranking the mix, these sounds still have a full-spectrum richness and help the Pulse achieve some of the funkier sounds you hear from Leslies and Fender Vibratones.
The very-well-made Pulse is also super quiet, by the way. I wouldn't hesitate to try it on other instruments or vocals in a mix situation.
If you're chasing realistic rotary speaker tones in a stompbox, the Pulse will likely pay back the extra money you'll spend. The sense of real mechanical motion and dimensionality is perceptibly stronger than a lot of digital rotary simulations I've played. And while the Doppola/Rover-based tone emphasis does give the Pulse a unique voice, it rivals the best high-end Leslie emulators I've encountered in terms of realism and atmosphere.
The Nashvillian's interstellar pop rock soars on the backs of a futuristic 12-string, a Gibson-Fender hybrid, and a "new" pedal that makes "old" sounds.
Aaron Lee Tasjan's metamorphosis from solid sideman (New York Dolls, Alberta Cross, Drivin' n' Cryin' and Everest) to a modernistic '70s-revivalist, psych-pop, songwriting frontman has been a thrilling transformation.
While making the musical transition from the shadows to the spotlight in the early 2010s, Tasjan left New York for slower-paced East Nashville. 2015's self-released debut In the Blazes was bouncy and buoyant like anything Newman or Nilsson put out. The following year New West signed him, and he dropped the humorous, charming, rootsy, alt-Americana Silver Tears.
Still mutating, still refining, 2018's Karma For Cheap psychedelically honors the music that first drew him to 6-strings—Beatles and the Heartbreakers. And 2021's Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! mixes his tongue-in-cheek storytelling with '70s production sheen and spacy-pop jaunts. Needless to say, wherever Tasjan musically goes next, we're along for the ride.
In this episode, the good-vibes artist shows off some main rides—including a funky 12-string and a marriage between a Firebird and Telecaster—tells a heartwarming backstory on a sentimental 335, and shows how a modern pedal is the key to his vintage-sounding sonic disintegration.
[Brought to you by D'Addario Pro Plus Capos: https://ddar.io/ProPlusCapo.RR]
This space-age 12-string was built by luthier Scott Gorsuch who hails from Columbus, OH (one of ALT's former stomping grounds). Gorsuch specializes in modular doubleneck instruments that are secured by magnets. As you can see above, Tasjan has opted for the chambered, single-neck 12-string.
A hidden weapon on the 12 is the bridge humbucker that can be split, when the tone knob is down, unlocking single-coil chime and jangle. And as for the neck P-90, Aaron Lee loves throttling into a solo with it because it creates a unique grind and purr with single-note runs.
An oversight on the ingenuity of the 12's design might be the headstock utilizing two different style of tuning pegs. The Fender-and-Kluson-style keys allow for blind tuning (feeling for the key while talking to the crowd or staring at the tuner) and increased spacing so fingers don't unintentionally knock other keys out of whack.
Southside Custom Guitars Firebird-Tele Hybrid
Depending on your opinion, this mash-up could either be a match made in heaven or a divorce forged in hell. This Southside Custom Guitars (built by luthier Tom Gauldin in Birmingham, AL) model combines a Gibson Firebird with a Fender Telecaster (and a little Jazzmaster touch with the bridge/saddles).
ALT got turned onto Gauldin's creations by way of St. Paul and the Broken Bones' guitarist Browan Lollar who rocks several Southside T-styles.
Tasjan typically cruises in either standard tuning, a full step down, or drop D.
Southside Custom Guitars JM Model
Here's another one-off from Southside Custom Guitars—a JM-style offset with black prism flow finish, a set of Seymour Duncan Antiquity Jazzmaster pickups, and Offset Mastery bridge.
1969 Gibson ES-335
Here is a special instrument to Aaron Lee. It was a gift from his friend Ken Rockwood (of Rockwood Music Hall fame). Earlier in 2021, Tasjan told PG why it's so important to him: "My biggest gear regret would have to be a 1967 Gibson B-45 12-string that was stolen from me at SXSW in 2012. It was the first fancy guitar I could ever afford, and by "afford," I actually mean, "spend every last cent I had on it," [laughs]! There is a silver lining to this story though.
When I returned home to NYC a few days later (I lived there from 2005-2014), my old friend Ken Rockwood (of Rockwood Music Hall fame) had heard about my guitar being stolen and insisted he give me his 1968 ES-335. Obviously, it's not an acoustic 12-string, but it is an equally incredible guitar to the one that was taken and having a friend in your life who treats you the way Ken Rockwood treats people is a gift I wouldn't trade for anything."
Fender '68 Custom Princeton Reverb
Aaron Lee Tasjan is two-amp kinda rocker. The first part of Fender pairing is the above '68 Custom Princeton Reverb that has a few mods up its sleeves. Both the bass and treble knobs independently pull out for their own boost function. This gives ALT added bass and increased midrange when the time feels right. He typically uses the 12-string with this one because it's cleaner and has onboard reverb.
Fender '57 Custom Deluxe
"This thing is full on rock 'n' roll, man," says Tasjan when referring to his handwired Fender '57 Custom Deluxe that's used for his dryer, hard-rocking songs.
Aaron Lee Tasjan's Pedalboard
"The Strymon Deco is a perfect pedal for sounding like something is being destroyed as it's being made, [laughs]… and that was a big part of Karma For Cheap," says Tasjan. Reverse and deeper oddball delays are twisted by the Boss DD-7 Digital Delay. The Diamond Pedals J-Drive MkIII is there for added midrange-focused, overdrive crunch, while also offering an independent clean boost side, too. The single-knob jobber is an octave fuzz that was built by a Norwegian friend who gifted it to Tasjan. And a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps his guitars in check.
"I use this really cool pedal in really dumb ways," smirks Tasjan. The Electro-Harmonix Mel9 emulates nine classic Mellotron sounds, but ALT uses it as a synth-like fill in for songs like "Sunday Women" that feature keys on the recording but is typically performed as a guitar-bass-drums power trio.
Plus, the rock-guitar legend recalls the Seattle grunge scene, talks 6- and 12-string acoustics in big arrangements, how she wrote the iconic introduction to "Crazy on You," and playing "Stairway to Heaven" for Led Zeppelin.
Wong Notes is presented by DistroKid. Use this link for 30% off your first year.
Nancy Wilson on Playing "Stairway" for Led Zeppelin
Taken from a performance at the Lockn' Festival, the band tears through the classic album with help from Trey Anastasio.
On July 16, Fantasy Records will release Tedeschi Trucks Band's Layla Revisited (Live At LOCKN'), a one-off live recording of the seminal Derek & The Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, performed in its entirety with special guest Trey Anastasio.
Recorded on August 24, 2019 at the LOCKN' Festival in Arrington, VA, Layla Revisited captures Tedeschi Trucks Band at their incendiary best, with Anastasio proving the perfect foil to the transcendent musical union of guitarist Derek Trucks and guitarist/vocalist Susan Tedeschi, and frequent TTB collaborator Doyle Bramhall II, further supporting a live experience that, in the words of Uproxx's Steven Hyden, provides "life-affirming shelter from the soul-destroying storm."
Tedeschi Trucks Band - Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad? (Official Music Video)
The performance of Layla came as a complete surprise to fans lucky enough to be in attendance at LOCKN' that evening. Initially billed only as "Tedeschi Trucks Band featuring Trey Anastasio," the artists made no mention of the set of music they diligently rehearsed and planned ahead of time. But the links between the band and the album are deeply woven into the fabric of their existence. Propelled by two of the twentieth century's greatest guitarists, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was serendipitously released on November 9,1970, the very day of Susan Tedeschi's birth. Later, Chris and Debbie Trucks were such fans of the album that they were inspired to name their firstborn son Derek. Decades later, Trucks would enjoy a fifteen-year tenure as a member of The Allman Brothers Band, and tour extensively with Clapton. Such is the depth of connection between the music and the performers that this album feels almost preordained.
"By the time that I started playing guitar, the sound of Duane Allman's slide was almost an obsession," says Derek Trucks about Layla. "His playing on Layla is still one of the high-water marks for me. The spirit, the joy, the recklessness, and the inevitability of it. My dad would play that record for me and my brother to fall asleep to and further sear it into my DNA." These cosmic coincidences all align on Layla Revisited as Tedeschi Trucks Band give fans an invigorated, inventive take on beloved classics from "I Looked Away" and "Bell Bottom Blues," to the album's iconic title track.
For the live festival concert the band ended with "Layla" and decided to play the original version of the album closer over the PA system as walk-out music. To complete this release Layla Revisited concludes with a history-making moment of its own, as Derek and Susan deliver a studio version of "Thorn Tree In The Garden," for the first time ever as a duo with no additional accompaniment.
Pre-order Layla Revisited (Live At LOCKN') here: https://found.ee/TTBLaylaRevisited
1. I Looked Away
2. Bell Bottom Blues
3. Keep On Growing
4. Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
5. I Am Yours
7. Key To The Highway
8. Tell The Truth
9. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?
10. Have You Ever Loved A Woman?
11. Little Wing
12. It's Too Late
14. Thorn Tree In The Garden (studio)
Inspired by the creative chemistry of The Fireside Sessions, the intimate at-home performance series on nugs.net, Tedeschi Trucks are gearing up to hit the road for some limited capacity shows as part of their Fireside LIVE tour. The shows will be the first fully live public performances for the ensemble since February 2020, and come on the heels of the recent postponement of their annual summer Wheels of Soul Tour to next year (2022). As circumstances currently prevent the 12-piece ensemble from touring safely, the group returns in a new form, billed as Tedeschi Trucks as a nod to their band members back at home. With 4-8 band members slated to appear at socially-distant, limited-capacity venues, these special shows are long-awaited by band and fans alike. Venues will include a mix of small or reduced-capacity outdoor amphitheaters, drive-ins, and pod set-ups, all of which are COVID-19 compliant and will take precautions to ensure the safety of fans, staff, band and crew. Full dates are below.
FIRESIDE LIVE TOUR DATES:
June 11-12 — Jacksonville, FL @ Daily's Place Amphitheater
June 15 — Brandon, MS @ Brandon Amphitheater
June 16 — Orange Beach, AL @ The Wharf Amphitheater
June 18 — Huntsville, AL @ Von Braun Center
June 19-20 — Murfreesboro, TN @ Hop Springs Brew Park
June 22 — Winston-Salem, NC @ The Drive
June 24-25 — N. Charleston, SC @ The Bend
June 26 — Columbia, SC @ Columbia Speedway Entertainment Center
July 1-3 — Frederick, MD @ Showtime at the Drive-In
July 6-7 — New Haven, CT @ Westville Music Bowl
July 9-11 — Lafayette, NY @ Apple Valley Park
July 13-14 — Ridgefield, CT @ Ridgefield Playhouse Outdoor Stage
July 16-17 — Gilford, NH @ Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion
July 18 — Elmer, NJ @ Appel Farm Arts & Music Center
July 20-21 — Eatontown, NJ @ Concerts on the Green
July 23 — Shelburne, VT @ The Green at Shelburne Museum
July 24 — Martha's Vineyard, MA @ Beach Road Weekend Festival
July 30-31 — Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks ON SALE TBA *
For more information:
Tedeschi Trucks Band