MonoNeon Rig Rundown

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The String-Tension Follies Experiment, Continued

Instrument makers have always tried to manipulate string length to optimize tone and feel, but how much is myth and how much is science?

Length, gauge, friction, voodoo? Revisiting the mystery of real or perceived string resistance in a science-y way.

In a previous column, I investigated the relationship between overall string length and its resulting tension ["The Doors of Perception," August 2020]. I cobbled together a crude measuring fixture and determined that the length of string beyond the bridge and nut did not affect a string's (linear) tension at a given pitch. After being assailed with comments and emails loaded with physics lessons detailing the math behind my conclusion, I now know that it was folly to assume any other conclusion. The laws of physics state that string tension is determined completely by the active (vibrating) length of the string, the pitch the string is tuned to, and the string's mass. In simple terms, this means that for a given vibrating length, the tighter you pull the string or the heavier the gauge, the more tension it will have. Nothing else, like peghead length or tailpiece position, matters—full stop. Still, the feeling persisted that I could sense a difference on instruments with long lengths of string between the bridge and tailpiece, such as an archtop jazz guitar. I'm not alone.

There have been many seasoned musicians I've known who swear that a flipped 6-in-line headstock tightens up the low strings. They've reported that the strings were tougher to bend and felt stiff. Some of the string manufacturers I spoke to in my research, despite their knowledge of the science behind the materials and construction of guitar strings, offered that there might be a perceived difference. But how could this be? You'd think that if you feel tension, it could be measured, yet my test instrument showed no change. Could there be another force at work, like lateral resistance? It seemed impossible, but it was time to resurrect the string tension fixture to find out.

My string test contraption was originally built to measure the linear tension of strings, but I only had to make a few changes to convert it to quantify lateral resistance. Admittedly, human fingers can detect minuscule changes in pressure, so I wondered if my 20-pound test instrument would have the resolution to pick up any variation. My theory was that if the overall length of a string was longer, there might be a perceivable difference in the force needed to stretch a string to a given interval. I'm counting on the physics majors out there to rush in at this point with the equation that I'm oblivious to.

Perhaps the friction (or lack of same) at the nut and bridge is what we are feeling when a guitar feels easy to play, or, conversely, when we say it fights us.

Nevertheless, my method was to use a pair of .012 plain steel strings and bend them the distance needed to raise the pitch one full step. Each string would have a different overall length despite their identical vibrating length. The full-step bend at the 8th fret position is a lick that all (non-classical) guitarists employ regularly. It's also the figure we often use subconsciously to determine playability when evaluating a guitar. I used this exact move in an attempt to impress Joe Bonamassa while sampling one of his '59 sunbursts. He avoided eye contact.

In my initial tests, I observed that it required a force of 1.8 pounds to raise the pitch one full step, regardless of the total length of the string, as long as the vibrating length remained 25.5". Thinking that perhaps the string's light gauge made any difference too small to measure accurately, I repeated the experiment with a .056 low E string. My test replicated bending the same B note three frets (a step-and-a-half) sharp to D. This is a pretty bold move on a guitar, but I thought maybe I'd see some evidence of difference if I really strangled it. Again, no difference was indicated, as both examples required 4 pounds of pressure to reach the higher note.

Now, I'm sure many of you will be quick to point out that this was a pretty shoddy exercise. I didn't make absolutely certain that the friction at the nut would be equal when extending the length to the tuner. Friction is a factor often brought up when this subject is discussed. Should I have used a ball-bearing roller at the nut? Perhaps the friction (or lack of same) at the nut and bridge is what we're feeling when a guitar feels easy to play, or, conversely, when we say it fights us. What about those players who have that little quivery vibrato that sounds like Joan Baez? Do they feel these forces? As for my research, at this point I was beginning to tire and made myself an espresso.

I'm hopeful someone smarter than me will figure this out and make a YouTube rebuttal. Meanwhile, I'm planning my next test to see if longer scale length is why Eric Clapton "lost" his tone after Cream. Until then, rock on friends!

Hotone Announces Cory Wong Signature Pedal, the Wong Press

In collaboration with Cory Wong, the Wong Press is a 4-in-1 Press pedal features Cory’s personal specs: blue & white color combination, customized volume control curve, fine-tuned wah Q range, and a dual-color STATUS LED strip indicating current mode/pedal position simultaneously.

In collaboration with Cory Wong, this Wong Press is a 4-in-1 Press pedal features Cory’s personal specs: Iconic blue & white color combination, customized volume control curve, fine-tuned wah Q range, and a dual-color STATUS LED strip indicating current mode/pedal position simultaneously.

Renowned international funk guitar maestro and 63rd Grammy nominee Cory Wong is celebrated for his unique playing style and unmistakable crisp tone. Known for his expressive technique, he’s been acclaimed across the globe by all audiences for his unique blend of energy and soul. In 2022, Cory discovered the multi-functional Soul Press II pedal from Hotone and instantly fell in love. Since then, it has become his go-to pedal for live performances.Now, two years later, the Hotone team has meticulously crafted the Wong Press, a pedal tailored specifically for Cory Wong. Building on the multi-functional design philosophy of the Soul Press series, this new pedal includes Cory’s custom requests: a signature blue and white color scheme, a customized volume pedal curve, an adjustable wah Q value range, and travel lights that indicate both pedal position and working mode.

Cory’s near-perfect pursuit of tone and pedal feel presented a significant challenge for our development team. After countless adjustments to the Q value range, Hotone engineers achieved the precise WAH tone Cory desired while minimizing the risk of accidental Q value changes affecting the sound. Additionally, based on Cory’s feedback, the volume control was fine-tuned for a smoother, more musical transition, enhancing the overall feel of volume swells. The team also upgraded the iconic travel lights of the Soul Press II to dual-color travel lights—blue for Wah mode and green for Volume mode—making live performances more intuitive and visually striking.

Features

• True Bypass
• 4 in 1 functionality (volume, expression, wah, volume/wah)
• New dual-color STATUS LED strip indicating pedal mode and position in real time
• Cory’s custom volume curve and wah Q control
• Classic-voiced wah tone with flexible tonal range
• Active volume design for keeping lossless tone
• Separate tuner and expression outputs for more connection possibilities
• 9V DC or 9V battery power supply

Introducing the Hotone Wong Press - Cory Wong's signature Volume/Wah/Expression Pedal - YouTube

Check the product page at hotone.com

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Strymon BigSky MX Review

Big time processing power in a reverb that you can explore for a lifetime.

An astoundingly lush and versatile reverb of incredible depth and flexibility. New and older BigSky algorithms included. More elegant control layout and better screen.

It’s pricey and getting the full use out of it takes some time and effort.

\$679

Strymon BigSky MX
strymon.net

5
5
4
4

Strymon calls the BigSky MX pedal “one reverb to rule them all.” Yep, that’s a riff on something we’ve heard before, but in this case it might be hard to argue. In updating what was already one of the market’s most comprehensive and versatile reverbs, Strymon has created a reverb pedal that will take some players a lifetime to fully explore. That process is likely to be tons of fun, too.

Grinding out impressive DSP power via an 800 MHz tri-core ARM processor with 32-bit floating-point processing, the BigSky MX introduces seven brand-new reverb algorithms, allows users to load any compatible convolution reverb (or impulse response) as well as to use two reverbs simultaneously—in series, parallel, and split—plus it delivers several other mind-bending features. Given this wealth of goodies, it’s impossible to test and discuss every sound and function, but what we heard is exciting.

Infinite Space

The updated MX will look very familiar to those who know the original BigSky. The form factor is nearly identical, though the MX is a bit larger. Its control interface is similar too, albeit rearranged into a single row of knobs that looks more balanced. Rotary controls include decay, pre-delay, tone, mod, parameter 1, parameter 2, and mix. A value knob enables effect-level manipulation on the larger, clearer OLED screen. It also allows you to select between the older or “classic” algorithms from the original BigSky and the seven new ones. Three footswitches allow for preset selection, bank up or down (two switches pressed together), and an infinite hold/sustain switch that’s always available. The rotary “type” knob in the upper-left corner spins between 12 basic reverb voices. As with most things Strymon, many of these controls are multi-function.

Also very Strymon-like are the top-mounted, 5-pin DIN MIDI I/O connections, which come in handy if you want to maximize the pedal’s potential in a MIDI-controlled rig. But you can access more than enough right from the pedal itself to satisfy the needs of most standard pedalboard-based setups. A USB-C port enables computer connection for MIDI control via that route, use of the Nixie 2 editing app, or firmware updates.

There are stereo jacks for both input and output, plus a multi-function 1/4" TRS/MIDI expression jack for use with a further range of external controllers. The standard center-negative power jack requires a DC supply offering at least 500 mA of current draw.

It is utterly hypnotic and addictive once you settle in and work a little more intuitively.

Sky’s the Limit

The BigSky MX was, initially, a bit mind-boggling on account of the seemingly endless possibilities. But it is utterly hypnotic and addictive once you settle in and work a little more intuitively. Suffice it to say, the core quality of the reverb sounds themselves are excellent, and the sheer variety is astounding. Beyond the standard emulations, I really dug several permutations of the cloud reverb, the chorale mode (which adds tenor and baritone harmonizing tones), and bloom mode (which generates deep synthesizer-style pads), and I could have gotten lost in any of these for hours if there wasn’t so much more to explore. Among the highlights: There is now an option to pan reverbs across the stereo field. The MX also uses audio design concepts borrowed from tape delays to create rhythmic pattern-based reverbs, which is an excellent compositional tool.

The Verdict

This latest evolution of the already impressive and super-capable BigSky is the kind of pedal that could cause you to disappear into your basement studio, never to return. The sounds are addictive and varied and can be configured in endless creative ways. The programmability and connectivity are also superb. Additionally, the new algorithms weren’t added at expense of the old BigSky algos. There’s no doubt that it will be flat-out too much horsepower for the guitarist that needs a few traditional sounds and, perhaps, a few more spacious options. And it would be interesting to know what percentage of the pedal’s customers end up being synth artists, engineers, or sound designers of one kind or another. If you’re the kind of guitar player that enjoys stretching the sound and capabilities of your instrument as far as they will go, the BlueSky MX will gladly ride along to the bounds of your imagination. It may test the bounds of your budget, too. But in many ways, the BigSky MX is as much a piece of outboard studio gear as a stompbox, and if you’re willing to invest the time, the BigSky MX has the goods to pay you back.

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Fender Player II Stratocaster HSS & Jaguar Demos

- YouTube
Refined necks and delectable sounds elevate the jamming experience in this evolution of the accessibly priced Player Series.

“The Player II Series represents our continued evolution in design and functionality,” said Justin Norvell, EVP of Product, FMIC. “We listened to the feedback from musicians around the world and incorporated their insights to refine and innovate our instruments. The re-introduction of rosewood fingerboards is a restoration of the ‘original Fender recipe’ and will no doubt be a fan favorite - but we didn’t want to stop there. We’ve also incorporated our rolled fingerboard edges for a broken-in feel, upgraded hardware, and have some new body options as well- which underscores our commitment to providing players and creators with the tools they need to express their unique sound and style. The Player II Series is not just an upgrade, it's a detailed re-imagining of our core silhouettes, highlighting our dedication to quality and the continuous refinement of our instruments.”

Additionally, Player II offers new options for chambered ash and chambered mahogany bodies for the Player II Stratocaster and Telecaster models, which will be available in October. Designed for musicians ready to elevate their craft, the Player II Series sets a new standard for quality and performance in the mid-price range.

Fender Player II Stratocaster HSS Electric Guitar - Coral Red

Player II Strat HSS RW, Coral Red
Fender
\$829.99

Fender Player II Jaguar Electric Guitar - Aquatone Blue

Player II Jaguar RF, Aquatone Blue
Fender
\$829.99
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An Introduction to Expression Pedals

It’s this easy!

This convenient, easy-to-use controller can open up an entire world of sonic shape-shifting. Here are some tips to either inspire you to try one or expand how you’re currently using this flexible, creative device.

If you’re not yet using expression pedals, you should consider them. They have the power to expand and control your sonic universe. For the uninitiated, expression pedals are controllers that typically look like volume or wah pedals. Of course, traditional volume and wah pedals are expression pedals, too, but they are dedicated to controlling only those two effects.

Modern expression pedals allow you to assign and control parameters of your stomps or modelers by moving the expression pedal as you would a volume or wah. Dunlop, Boss, Ernie Ball, Yamaha, Behringer, Mission Engineering, and other manufacturers make these handy devices.

Many, but not all, of today’s stompboxes and modelers have expression pedal inputs that allow for manipulation of one or more parameters of those devices. In the past, this required bending over and turning a knob, or trying to turn a small knob with your foot—both of which can hamper your playing. The freedom of an expression pedal is the control you have over more aspects of your sound, especially in a live setting.

Although some of the uses for expression pedals below can also be accomplished by creating multiple presets, that will not allow real-time control over the parameters like an expression pedal will. Here are some notes about expression pedal use that might get you thinking about how one could help you.

Delay Repeats: Controlling the timing of a delay with tap tempo is very common, but how about controlling the number of repeats? With an expression pedal, by setting the expression control on your delay to control the number of repeats, you can easily go from a few for your rhythm sound to more for your lead sound, and then back off again.

Reverb and Delay Mix: The mix control on reverb and delay pedals allows you to balance the amount of wet to dry signal that you hear. There is often a delicate line to having just the right amount of wet signal with these two effects. If you have too much, your sound can be washed out and undefined. Too little and it can be dry and lack space. The part you are playing, and the venue you are in, can also change the amount of mix you need for these effects. By using an expression pedal for the mix control on reverb or delay, you can alter the sound on the fly to compensate for the part and the room, including turning down the mix for busy parts and up for parts with fewer notes.
“Some uses for expression pedals can also be accomplished by creating multiple presets, but that will not allow real-time control over the parameters like an expression pedal will.”

Modulation Depth: The depth of a modulation effect, like a phaser, can drastically alter your guitar sound. A light amount can create a feeling of subtle movement, while a heavy amount can give a thick, underwater-type sound. An expression pedal can help you create a constant feeling of change throughout a song, allowing you to build up and break down the depth for different sections as you see fit.

Tremolo Speed: While the speed of tremolo can often be controlled by tap tempo, using an expression pedal for the same parameter offers other creative uses of the effect. With an expression pedal, you can easily speed the tremolo up to make subtle increases to the energy of a part or slow it down to decrease the energy. You can also create drastic changes in the speed that sound like a fan accelerating or slowing down. Or you can abruptly turn the tremolo off. This last option can be an exciting way to end a song or part.

EQ Change: Every guitar player uses EQ to sculpt their sound—whether via the tone controls on your instrument or amp (modelers included), or a dedicated equalizer used as part of your rig. Subtle tweaks can help you do things like balance out different guitars, cut through the mix more, or compensate for a boomy stage. Real-time control of EQ with an expression pedal is more common in the modeler world than the amp and pedal world, but it does exist in both. For example, increasing the midrange can give you more clarity and cut for solos. Decreasing it can create a flatter sound that can help you stay in the mix with the rest of the band. An expression pedal allows you to have one setting and alter it for multiple situations or guitars as opposed to having separate presets.

While this is a very short list of options for expression-pedal use, it should give you a good place to start. The most important thing is to always be creative, have fun, and find your own voice. An expression pedal can help you do all three.

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