Guitarists Tim McIlrath and Zach Blair enjoy tenacious tones with rock's mightiest tag team—Gibsons into Marshalls—aided by a few everyman effects and one mythical stomp.
Rise Against rose out of Chicago around Y2k on the back of roaring Gatling-gun guitars, blast-beat rhythms, and defiant, sharp-tongued social commentary. The band's first pair of albums—2001's The Unraveling and 2003's Revolutions Per Minute—are blistering bangers rooted in traditional hardcore chaos, spiced up with fist-pumping, boot-stomping choruses.
Siren Song of the Counter Culture in 2004 was their major-label debut, on Geffen. That album highlighted a broadening hardcore sound buffed up with more melody. (Think '90s Bad Religion messaging cloaked in early 2000s AFI harmonies.) However catchy they became, their message still ripped like a dagger. Appealing to a bigger audience with bouncier hooks, acoustic numbers, and string overdubs earned them their first splash into the Billboard 200 albums chart (eventually certified gold in the U.S.).
Elevated visibility scored them back-to-back platinum albums—2006's The Sufferer & the Witness and 2008's Appeal to Reason, and that momentum carried over to a continued residency in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 with 2011's Endgame, 2014's The Black Market, and 2017's Wolves. And 2021's Nowhere Generation represents a maturing, melodic hardcore outfit that continues to stand up for what they believe in and still provide the revolutionary attitude to back it up.
The continual growth and evolution of their melodic-hardcore formula has allowed them to roll into mainstream airwaves like a Trojan horse. Newcomers who were enamored with anthemic choruses ("Savior," "The Prayer of the Refugee," "Nowhere Generation," "Give It All," "I Don't Want To Be Here Anymore") quickly became dancing disciples because of the band's knack for earworms.
The twin-guitar team of singer Tim McIlrath and lead guitarist Zach Blair welcomed PG down to Birmingham, Alabama's Avondale Brewing Company to see how their simple-but-stinging setups have morphed since 2015.
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The Black-and-White Guitar
Lead guitarist Zach Blair's No. 1 was given a facelift for this run to match the black-and-white motif of the recent release Nowhere Generation. Honoring a hero, Blair went full Schenker (his favorite lead player) on this Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Custom to vibe with the new album.
(If you recall from our 2015 episode with Blair, he had an "Ace Frehley" Les Paul Custom that loosely mimicked a Starman signature, with white pickup surrounds, a stark white pickguard, and gold speed knobs…. That's this guitar!)
Pivoting from Ace to Schenker, he swapped out the bridge Seymour Duncan Distortion for a SH-4 JB—otherwise it's that axe with a different personality.
All of Blair's electrics are strung with Ernie Ball Burly Slinkys gauged .011–.052, he's typically tuned to E-flat standard, and they all integrate with his Shure UR4D+ rackmount wireless.
Here's Zach Blair's 2012 Gibson Les Paul goldtop that was affectionately aged by Nash Guitars to appear like a true-blue '57. Blair's gear guru and fellow Rig Rundown alumnus Brian Baker (Bad Religion) suggested he put a DiMarzio Super Distortion in the bridge. Baker didn't need to tell Blair twice!
Zach Blair's 2013 Gibson Les Paul Standard also got the Nash "makeover" treatment, so the newish guitar looks (and plays) like a seasoned vet. This one received a bridge-pickup swap by introducing a Lollar humbucker into its DNA.
Drop D Me
Rise Against's current set spanning nine albums requires one jam in drop-D tuning, so Blair brought out this 2012 Les Paul Standard to cover the task.
The Mighty Marshall
While touring with A Day to Remember, Blair became fast friends with their tech, Johnny Myer, who hotrods Marshalls. Blair offered up his '70s JMP that was malfunctioning from an awry "EVH brown sound" mod, hoping Myer could resuscitate the rock in the head. To his amazement, the amp gnashes like a Bengal tiger. Thanks to Myer, the JMP was rejuvenated, complete with a resonance mod and five cascading gain stages.
For the band's "clean" tones (Blair approximates them to a slight AC/DC grind), he switches on this 1987 Marshall JCM800. Before the tour, the 800 was re-tubed with fresh EL34s.
Last time Blair relied on his tech to make all the changes, with his pedals safely stowed in a rolling rack case. This go-round he wanted to "put pedals in front of me like a normal human being," so he can manipulate his tone as he likes. Standbys from 2015 include an Eventide H9, MXR Carbon Copy, and MXR Phase 90. New flavors include a Klon KTR, Dunlop Cry Baby Q-Zone, and a custom amp switcher (lower right-hand corner) that toggles between the JMP and 800.
A Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps his guitars in check, a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus juices his stomps, and a Radial JR5 Remote Foot Controller handles any amp moves.
This Guitar Is On Fire!
Founding frontman/guitarist Tim McIlrath goes into most stage battles with his fearless sidekick: a 1982 Gibson SG that survived a fire. Everything appears to be stock (this was in storage the last few tours), but it did get upgraded with locking tuners, and the infamous snake-bite marking indicates a move from a vibrato tailpiece to the current Tune-o-matic configuration. Most of McIlrath's electrics take Ernie Ball Slinkys (.010 –.046) and he's usually in E-flat standard tuning.
Bubbling Under the Surface
The SG's tortured headstock has seen better days but it's still in one piece.
Oh, Black Betty!
Playing second fiddle to the '82 SG is the above 2015 Gibson Memphis ES-Les Paul that's been retrofitted with an EverTune bridge.
When Tim straps on this Les Paul, the fans know they're about to hear the title track off the band's 2021 release. This LP takes Ernie Ball 2215 Nickel Skinny Top/Heavy Bottom strings (.010–.052), because he tunes down to drop-D. (One cool thing to note are the mirrored inlays.)
SG Me, Please
This 2012 Gibson SG—also given the EverTune treatment—is another backup Tim McIlrath has toured with for years.
Mahogany Martin For McIlrath
For acoustic songs like "Forfeit" or "Swing Life Away," Tim McIlrath hits the stage with just his scratchy pipes and this Martin D-15M StreetMaster.
Acoustic backup duties are handled by this 2015 Martin D-35 50th Anniversary model spruced up with a sticker of the city of Chicago flag.
Marshall! Marshall! Marshall!
McIlrath fills his side of the stage with a pair of 50W Marshall JCM900s from the 1990s.
A Little Goes a Long Way
Tim McIlrath's rack contains his basic five pedal groups: phaser (MXR Phase 90), EQ (Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer), octave (Electro-Harmonix Micro POG), delay (MXR Carbon Copy), and everything else (Eventide H9). A Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus feeds his stomps and an RJM Rack Gizmo helps with signal flow.
Kick on the Pedals, M#ther F@cker!
Sidestage, McIlrath's tech Geoff Bilson triggers all the effects with a RJM Mastermind GT.
Cory Wong talks with Dirty Loops bassist Henrik Linder about their blistering, new collaboration, Turbo, how the band became an accidental YouTube sensation, playing with tempered frets, the changing role of bass in pop, and tips for increasing speed and improving technique. Plus … Flea!
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Henrik Linder (Dirty Loops) on Flea | Wong Notes Podcast
A phaser that delivers lo-fi grit and warm glitches but keeps you in your comfort zone.
Easy to achieve classic phaser sounds. Envelope controlled settings are interactive and fun. Intuitive controls.
Some settings can become overwhelming in 8-stage mode.
Paradox Effects Carmesí
I'll admit to being a luddite when it comes to phasers, and I know I'm not the only one. All the great vintage models have only one or two knobs and great players have managed to do so much with so little for so long. Why change now? Isn't it kind of nice, when so many pedals have so many options, to have one effect that leaves us with little to think about?
When the Paradox Effects Carmesí arrived, I looked at its six knobs and two buttons and wondered if I wanted this much control. Why couldn't the folks at Paradox have made all of the decisions for me, wrapped up its functionality in one or two sleek knobs, and let me go on enjoying my willful ignorance? In the spirit of adventure, I took the metaphorical red pill, and I am happy to report that my eyes have been opened.
Paradox Effects are a Tijuana-based company whose pedals usually offer a tweaked take on traditional effects. Before I could dig into this pedal, I headed over to the Paradox site to translate the control names, which are in Spanish, before I could wrap my head around the controls.
Although the sight of all these knobs induced option anxiety, the controls are actually quite simple. The phaser has a vintage-like voice that is controlled by resonance, intensity, and velocity (rate) controls. These controls are all intuitive to use. There's also an "enfoque" knob, which controls a low-pass filter. I found this useful for tone sculpting, but a little subtle for my taste.
There are separate level controls for wet and dry output, so it's easy to dial-in very precise blends. Both of these knobs have heaps of gain on tap too, which is one of my favorite features of the Carmesí. This gives the pedal the flexibility to deliver thick synth-y modulations as well as heavily boosted lo-fi grit, which had my amp delivering irresistibly dirty, hypnotic desert blues phase sounds.
At high resonance levels, the pedal can sound almost like a synth as it begins to self-oscillate.
Subtle Sounds and Interactive Glitchiness
An LED-illuminated push-button control enables selection of 4- or 8-stage phasing. In 4-stage mode the signal is a little cleaner and attack is more even. In 8-stage mode the sound blossoms throughout the frequency range, which makes attack a little less precise, but makes the phase thicker. At high rate settings, the 8-stage setting can overwhelm the organic signal—which is cool if that's the goal. The 4-stage setting is easier to wrangle, so it's nice to have both settings at the push of a button.
The "sendero" button completely changes the character of the Carmesí by activating an envelope-controlled sample and hold function. With "sendero" on, the pedal is capable of glitchy unpredictability and interactive weirdness, though it impressively retains the warm, classic character found in other settings. At high resonance levels, the pedal can sound almost like a synth as it begins to self-oscillate. At more conservative levels, it offers a responsive, vocal-like modulation that I returned to again and again.
Carmesí is full of classic tones, lo-fi dirt, glitchy oddities, and everything in between. The controls are easy to understand and quick to navigate. There a plenty of phaser purists out there, but I'd encourage them to jump in and give the Carmesí a shot. This pedal has plenty of outlandish tones to offer, but it won't push you too far outside of your comfort zone when you want to stay traditional when you want to keep it simple.
A bargain klone delivers expensive OD tones.
Nice clarity and detail. Well made for the money. Effective extra midrange seasoning.
Not quite as euphonic as some of the best replicas or original Klon.
Mythical, magical, mysterious … overrated? Whatever praises or criticisms you slather on the original Klon Centaur overdrive, there's no denying the way it captured the imagination of thousands of guitarists—and inspired underwhelmed observers to question why originals are worth several thousand dollars.
While exploring the intricacies and now-numerous variations of the famously transparent and dynamic Klon, Aric Bandy of Minneapolis stumbled on a circuit from China that he found particularly accurate. He decided to market it for sale in the U.S. as the 76Owl Owldrive. And it captures many of the most essential sonic qualities that define the Klon mystique, while delivering a little more midrange punch in the process.
While not as big as the original, the 4 ½" x 3 ½" x 1 3/8" Owldrive honors the inarguable style of the original Klon, with a metallic-copper finish, three retro radio pointer knobs, and an off-center footswitch. The controls are the same as the Klon, too, right down to the nomenclature: gain, treble, and output. The input, output, and 9V jacks are top mounted, and there is no battery option.
Bandy makes no secret of the fact that the pedal is an import from China, which enables the low $129 price. But while affordably priced, the Owldrive feels robust and is entirely hand-wired using through-hole construction. True-bypass switching is a slight tweak on the original formula.
Our review pedal is No. 9 from an initial run of 100. A second run is already in the works, which will be the same electronically, but feature a few cosmetic updates. And in a very cool gesture of environmental stewardship, 76Owl has partnered with Woodchuck USA to plant a tree for every pedal sold. Each Owldrive will also include a card to geo-locate the planting. Nice!
It exhibits a clarity that shines no matter how much overdrive you ladle on your signal.
So, is the Owldrive a Klon-worthy klone, or klunker? Klon comparisons and puns aside, it is a super-usable and worthy overdrive. Compared to both affordable and higher-price klones, the Owldrive acquits itself very well. For starters, it exhibits a clarity that shines no matter how much overdrive you ladle on your signal. But it also has a away of enlivening your overall tone at lower gain settings. The latter quality has long made this circuit a favorite always-on tool for goosing an otherwise dull amp, and the Owldrive does this trick exceptionally well. Not surprisingly, it also excels as a near-clean boost—another Klon hallmark.
These low-gain applications made the Klon famous. But it's easy to forget how juicy and thick a good klone can sound in medium-gain overdrive settings. For the most part, the Owldrive nails these tones, too—especially when you crank the gain knob up to 1 o'clock or beyond. But the Owldrive's slightly accentuated midrange adds a little more grunt at these settings than an original or more accurately scooped klone might. Some of the extra oomph comes at the expense of the sonic lushness and sparkle dust that lives in the more pronounced, detailed high-end output of an original. To many ears, however, the extra muscularity will be an advantage in a hard-rocking environment.
The 76Owl Owldrive is a fine homage to a classic. And at just $129, it's certainly one of the best values in the klone category. Klon purists may quibble about the extra midrange punch and how it can obscure some high-end detail. But for any player who ever wanted to bridge the gap between a Klon's sweetness and a TS9's midrange heft, the Owldrive is an enticing option.