MSL's The Night Witch—Roland's radical Jet Phaser revived in a leaner, meaner stomp.
Well glued-together fuzz 'n' phase sounds. Enhanced control compared to original Jet Phaser. Independent phase and fuzz operation. Fantastic graphics!
Maybe a touch too much evidence of handcraft for a $300 pedal.
MSL Night Witch
The original Roland Jet Phaser, which combined the 8-stage phaser from their AP-2 with a menacing fuzz/distortion (the circuit from the awesome Roland Bee Baa is a good bet) made a seriously mighty roar. But it wasn't the most flexible pedal in the world. For starters, you could not operate the brawny fuzz independent of the phaser. And while the combined sounds were fantastic, there weren't a ton of ways to fine-tune them apart from a few preset voices, the resonance control, and the jet level, which regulated the gain intensity.
MSL's The Night Witch eschews perfect authenticity to address the shortcomings in the original Jet Phaser design. It makes the fuzz and phaser independently operable. MSL also opts for a switchable 4- and 8-stage phaser, and adds a tone control and master output for the fuzz circuit. It's a much more practical manifestation of the Jet Phaser concept. But MSL adds plenty of its own personality to this pedal, too. You could make the case that this is a much nastier take on the Jet Phaser than the original.
Gather ’Round at the Blue Mass
The Night Witch shares just three controls with the original Jet Phaser: the resonance knob, which is effective at taming fuzzy peaks and shaping the pedal's most extreme sounds; the phase rate knob; and the ramp switch, which accelerates or decelerates the rate between the rate knob setting and the circuit's fastest phase rate. The remainder of the controls make The Night Witch a more flexible pedal than its inspiration. The fuzz section has a proper 3-knob control array for gain, output, and tone—the last of which adds many tone possibilities that the original Jet Phaser cannot deliver. The depth toggle, meanwhile, takes the place of the preset voice switch on the Jet Phaser. Originalists may lament this change. But I found the 4-stage phaser option invaluable for sculpting more aqueous and subtle variations on the pedal's basically intense phase sounds.
The circuit board itself reveals traces of the pedal's homebrew origins: These aren't solders executed by robots in a turnkey assembly operation. But the pedal is arguably more robust for its handbuilt approach. Any one of the individual components looks like it could be readily replaced for repair, and the footswitches and jacks are all mounted independent of the circuit board itself.
Whirling Wail of the Witch
Even though MSL separated the phase and fuzz into independently operable circuits, the phaser is still very much the heart and soul of The Night Witch's idiosyncratic appeal. Its basic tonality is very much in keeping with the whooshing, rushing flavor of Roland's original Jet Phaser. Even the mellowest, low-resonance sounds from the 4-stage phaser are still pretty intense, but they can be really pretty in the proper context. The phase voice is distinct, too—neither squarely in the vintage Small Stone or Phase 90 camp (though I sometimes wish it had some of the former's dimensionality). The ramp switch is a sweet means of enhancing the phaser's flexibility, and switching between slow and fast speeds can add cool punctuation or melty transitions to solos and song segments.
Switching between slow and fast speeds can add cool punctuation or melty transitions to solos and song segments.
For many folks, The Night Witch's fuzz section will mark an improvement on the original Jet Phaser. This is not a remark I make flippantly. The original Jet Phaser's fuzz/distortion is bitchin' and super powerful. But The Night Witch's fuzz section is certainly more versatile. It preserves the essence of the Jet Phaser's very Bee Baa/Ram's Head Big Muff-like essence, but adds a bit more thickness across the whole frequency spectrum, yielding a basic voice that favors the Muff side, perhaps, but which is probably more adaptable and familiar for most players.
The useful tone control expands this utility. High treble settings make it possible for the fuzz signal to simultaneously cut through and enhance the most intense resonance settings. At the other extreme, low fuzz, gain, and tone settings combined with a neck single-coil, a little guitar-volume attenuation, and lower rate and resonance create a nice low-gain environment for soulful chord melodies and Jimi-style lysergic balladry.
The Night Witch most certainly projects menace. And wicked and wildly psychedelic voices exist here in abundance. But The Night Witch is also capable of sweetness and complexity if you get crafty and explore the possibilities of the flexible control set and the adaptive way the pedal relates to various guitar tone, volume, and pickup combinations. The Night Witch is not inexpensive, at 300 bucks. But its deep vintage-flavored tones, enhanced utility, and the cohesiveness with which the phase and fuzz interact make the whole more than the sum of its parts.
With a Bigsby and mini-humbuckers, this special-order from 1968 is still special 53 years later.
Hey guitar ornithologists! Here's a rare bird for you: a 1968 Epiphone E360 TDV Riviera. According to shipping history, only 300 Riviera models left the factory that year, and, of those, only 19 had vibrato tailpieces. So feast your eyes!
I, too, covet this guitar, which carried a hefty-for-the-times price tag of $475 when it was new. Now, vintage Rivieras like this one go for about $4,000. (Out of my price range! LOL!) It's also from the era when Gibson and Epiphone parts were used to make both brands, which means it's got a little extra juice in its veins.
The excellent condition of the original case and the guitar itself speaks to its history as a well-loved instrument. Only 300 Rivieras were made in 1968, and just 19 with Bigsbys.
Except for the closed-back Grover tuners, all of the parts on this classy sunburst E360 TDV are original, and so is its case. The mini-humbuckers and Bigsby tailpiece were options for the Riviera that first became available in 1967, which is why it needed to be special-ordered. Without those appointments, the guitar's price would have settled in closer to $400 at the time.
But before I talk about that, here's a story we heard when this guitar was brought into the shop by the wife and son of its deceased original owner. They explained that this Riviera was special-ordered from a music store in Indiana and used by their husband and father to play gigs from '68 through a good part of the 1970s. In 1975, while loading out of a heated club into Montana's sub-freezing outdoors, the finish immediately weather-checked due to the abrupt temperature change, leaving a striking pattern on the guitar's back that resembles the kind of finger painting Jack Frost does on icy windows. I think that pattern gives this vibey guitar even more character.
In the case of the Riviera and the ES-335, the major differences were in their tailpieces, pickups, and headstocks.
The Riviera began its original production run in 1962, as Epiphone's cheaper answer to Gibson's ES-335 and Epi's own Sheraton. The sunburst finish became standard in 1965, and the original run of Rivieras ended in '69. Famous players who've hefted Rivieras onstage and in the studio include Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lou Reed, Nick Valensi, and Noel Gallagher.
Now, let's get back to those parts. This month's '68 Riviera, serial number 521820, is among the guitars that collectors sometimes call "Gibson/Epiphones." Here's why: The Chicago Musical Instrument Company, also known as CMI, already owned Gibson when it purchased Epiphone—then Gibson's most direct competitor—in 1957. Along with the purchase came an abundance of unused Epiphone guitar parts, from the company's New York City plant, which were then blended with Gibson parts in Kalamazoo to complete new Epiphone instruments. The use of Gibson parts to make Epiphone guitars continued until 1969, when Epiphone production was moved overseas.
With the production of Epiphone and Gibson models happening side-by-side in the '60s, sometimes the only difference between similar production guitars—like the Riviera and ES-335—was the headstock.
So, Gibsons and Epiphones of that period where literally made side by side, most often with the same materials, finishes, and construction. Sometimes the only real difference was the headstock. In the case of the Riviera and the ES-335, the major differences were in their tailpieces, pickups, and headstocks. Both guitars are semi-hollow with a solid maple center block and solid maple top. On our Riviera, there's binding on the sides and along the fretboard, which has parallelogram inlays. The neck on this Riviera is slimmer than most Gibson/Epiphones from this era that I've played and reminds me of early 1960s Fender Telecasters. This is not a complaint! I like that 24 3/4" scale. The control set is the usual four-dial setup. And with mini-humbuckers, this 6-string is not as dark as most Gibson ES-335s with regular humbuckers that I've played, so the low-mid tone is nicely defined.
In 1975, the owner of this guitar was loading out of a heated Montana club into sub-freezing temperatures, and the finish immediately weather-checked due to the abrupt temperature change, leaving a striking pattern on the guitar's back.
Let's talk about those mini-humbuckers. The minis that Epiphone created for their jazz/archtop series were introduced to other models once Gibson/CMI acquired the company. With a brighter and clearer sound—kind of between P-90s and humbuckers—this was a sweet option.
I'm a big fan of mini-humbuckers and love the tone they give this Riviera, which was clearly loved. The tobacco burst finish has aged well, and there's just a little wear where the headstock meets the neck from hanging in a cradle mount. That back-side body-finish checking might be a turnoff to cork-sniffers, but I think it really adds to the personality of this instrument. I love, love, love this guitar!
Learn to craft workable arrangements on the fly with these simple patterns.
- Understand the elements that go into a fingerstyle arrangement.
- Develop your forward and backward banjo rolls.
- Create space for vocalists as well as other instrumentalists.
It's great to have polished songs memorized note-for-note and stored neatly in your gigging repertoire, but there's probably just as much value to being able to fly by the seat of your pants and pull an arrangement out of thin air. Knowing the building blocks of fingerstyle guitar is a great way to accomplish this.
Since fingerstyle is so closely linked with the singer-songwriter and Americana genres, we'll be looking at chord movements and voicings loosely inspired by Jim Croce's sound in songs like "Operator" or "These Dreams," as well as other related fills that could be used in similar circumstances.
Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)
We're not exactly reinventing the wheel by arranging fingerstyle parts on the fly. There are some harmonic principles, riffs, patterns, and fills, applicable in many keys, that can come in handy to help us do this. For now, we'll focus on approachable riffs that can be used as a foundation for a fingerstyle arrangement, while also integrating some harmonic nuance and rhythmic textures to imply movement.
How to Reharmonize Using Open Strings
Our first few examples demonstrate common passing chords you can use to navigate between the main chords in a typical pop ballad. Notice how we are playing open strings where we can to add interest to the chords. In Ex. 1 you can see how a simple walkdown can get you from Em to G while keeping the 3rd string open.
Jim Croce Ex. 1
Generally, I like using an open string if it's a root, 2, 3, or 6 of the chord that is being played. There's a lot of room to play around with this, and there aren't necessarily any wrong answers—but it really matters that you're mindful of the context.
In Ex. 2, I show how to approach a V7 chord from a minor root triad, in this case D minor. I keep the top three strings the same while adding in a descending bass movement that lands perfectly on the A7.
Jim Croce Ex. 2
Finally, in Ex. 3 I've notated a handy way to do a walkdown in the key of D that hits the VIm (Bm) and IV (G) chords before resolving back to where we started with a Dadd9 shape. Playing a couple of notes from the scale in the bass will help make the chord feel like it's moving, even though, theoretically, it might not be. Between mixing up the bassline, knowing a little bit about how to flavor a chord, and learning to incorporate open strings here and there, you've just figured out the initial steps in reharmonizing a chord progression.
Jim Croce Ex. 3
Syncopations and Fingerstyle Rolls
Next up we'll focus on different fingerpicking rolls and syncopations to create movement. Not all fingerstyle fits into the standard Merle Travis "boom-chick" style where the bass is alternating quarter-notes and states the root of each chord on the first beat of each measure. There are more subtle ways to imply rhythm in a progression. We'll explore this in the following examples using some of the chords and progressions from earlier.
The simple pattern in Ex. 4 moves through the progression we looked at in Ex. 1. Keep the 1st string ringing throughout and the chord shape in place while you pick the notes. Notice how some of the open strings allow those arpeggios to feel like they're creating a melody of their own, and how changing the order of the picking pattern changes those melodies? If we were using very simple chords, it would be harder to achieve this effect.
Jim Croce Ex. 4
For Ex. 5 I've altered the pattern a bit so that the bassline moves around while the remaining chord shape rings out.
Jim Croce Ex. 5
I introduce the banjo roll in Ex. 6. Simply put, a banjo roll is when you play a pattern that goes either forward or backwards across the strings. In this case, we are using a reverse banjo roll to flesh out the harmony.
Jim Croce Ex. 6
Ex. 7 is another reverse-banjo pattern that builds on the moving bassline example we looked at in Ex. 3. If you are having difficulty playing any of these exercises with clarity, try slowing down, making sure you've got the fingerings right, and take turns isolating the bass line.
Jim Croce Ex. 7
If you're up for a challenge, Ex. 8 is a forward-roll pattern that's rather involved. But remember, slow and steady will get you to where you need to be.
Jim Croce Ex. 8
One of the benefits of playing arpeggios and syncopations is that it makes it easier to go between fretted chord shapes. Try minimizing string squeaks by picking your hand up from the chord to move to another, rather than sliding from one into another (easier said than done). A trick that Chet Atkins used was sliding down with the fingers that are placed on the unwound strings, while lifting up the fingers that were on the wound strings. This doesn't apply if you're going between chords that have very different fingering configurations, but for chords with similar fingerings it really helps to polish those transitions. In our final two examples, we'll incorporate hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides to our pre-existing fingerpicking patterns.
Check out the subtle variations and hammer-ons in Ex. 9. If you're accompanying another artist you may want to use these sparingly, maybe more for transitions than for verses and choruses. However, if you're the center of attention at any point during the song, these types of fills can provide a bigger sound.
Jim Croce Ex. 9
Our final example pulled from Croce's bag of tricks is Ex. 10. It's a flowing culmination of the techniques we've covered so far. Dig into those hammer-ons that don't have to connect neighboring scale tones.
Jim Croce Ex. 10
I can count multiple times playing gigs where, with literally a minute's notice or less, I've been expected to join in on a song with nothing more than a memory of the melody, key, and the corresponding Nashville numbers. And guess what? I'm happy to say that I've rarely bombed (at least in my own estimation). In fact, those have been some of my favorite moments onstage. The techniques and theory in this lesson have played a big part in that and can hopefully help you as well.