The new hand-wired EC Tremolux delivers greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts clout with a super hip tremolo circuit and power attenuation capabilities.
There’s nothing more blues than a Fender Tweed. From a visual standpoint, a Tweed Deluxe, Bassman, and Twin are probably the most essential and ubiquitous electric blues accessories. Looks don’t count for much if you ain’t got the sound though, and Tweeds shape the sonic signature of everything from the sting of Muddy Waters’ Chess sides to Slim Harpo’s throbbing and shuffling Excello slabs.
Such truths are not lost on a blues scholar like Eric Clapton. And given his storied infatuation with electric blues in its most authentic forms it’s surprising that we didn’t see a Fender Tweed with EC’s initials on it sooner. But if you’re a fan of compressed, exploding, South Michigan Avenue tones it may well have been worth the wait, because the new hand-wired EC Tremolux delivers the greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts clout with a super hip tremolo circuit and power attenuation capabilities that make it handy beyond blasting the front row at your local juke joint.
Dressed to Kill
The EC Tremolux is based on Fender’s first generation Tremolux from the mid ’50s, which for all practical purposes, is the legendary 5E3 Tweed Deluxe with tremolo. That means it’s rated at right around 12 watts (a figure that never fails to surprise), which is churned up through three 12AX7 preamp tubes, a pair of 6V6GTs in the power section, and a 5Y3GT rectifier tube.
The Tremolux is beautifully built—on par with anything you’d see from a boutique builder. The pine cabinet, which also helps makes the Tremolux quite light, looks clean and immaculate, and the lacquered Tweed covering is flawless at the seams. Even the most nuts-and-bolts parts of the amp look cool—right down to the Celestion G12-65.
The control panel looks as simple as they come, though the simplicity belies the amp’s versatility. An Output switch just adjacent to the light jewel attenuates the power by about half. Next to the Output switch you’ll find the Speed control for the Tremolo. It’s the only control for the Tremolo, which might be a bummer for players looking for a deep, chopping trem. But those that dig a cool throb to put on top of their blues shuffles will probably enjoy the simplicity. Apart from the Tone and Volume knobs, there are high- and low-gain inputs. It’s a beautifully simple control set that beckons you to fire up and go.
Down and Dirty
Anyone who has ever played a little Tweed like a Deluxe or Tremolux can tell you that a simple circuit and control set don’t necessarily translate to crystalinity you often associate with Fenders—even small ones like Blackface and Silverface champs. Instead the Tremolux is full of color and character, even at low volumes. If you need pure bell-like chime and jangle for, say, your Telecaster’s bridge pickup, you might end up a little frustrated with how much color the Tremolux adds to an otherwise clean tone. But if you’re constantly looking for ways to pepper your jangle with a little attitude, a Stratocaster or Telecaster with amp volume between 3 and 5 and generous application of high end via the Tone knob gives you a sweet, butt-kicking Tom Petty-style rhythm tone. You may not be able to hear too much of it over a raging rhythm section, but it’s a very cool recording texture.
To compete with a loud band, you’ll have give the Tremolux some gas. And when you do, the little Tweed gets mean. Needless to say, the Tremolux is not a high gain monster, so when you do crank it the grit and overdrive are accompanied by a heavy amp compression that’s a signature of Fender Tweeds, but can sound odd to the uninitiated, or those inclined to believe that a cranked Tweed is all that stands between them and their inner raging Neil Young. With a Stratocaster in any one of the three positions from the bridge to middle pickup, the Tremolux takes on a honky, saxophone-like hue on chords and Keith Richards/Chuck Berry two-string stops played between the first and ninth frets. Single note solos up above the ninth fret have sweet and biting character that retains some of that cool sax-like color. And true to form, working through a Jimmy Reed shuffle that’s punctuated with leads up at the 12th fret is a slice of blues heaven—husky, bass-rich, tight, and singing when you need it.
In general, Les Pauls sound everything from bossy to muddy. The compressed character of the amp can makes it hard to summon the whole breadth of a humbucker’s harmonic richness. Getting a really slicing tone from a Les Paul means cranking the tone, putting a little kick behind your pick attack, and keeping the neck pickup out of the mix. It’s a glorious tone, and a combination of dynamic pickwork and volume knob control will help you get the most out of it. In general, though, the Tremolux seems to have the most range with a Telecaster or Stratocaster or mini humbucker-equipped Gibson Firebird out front. And the combination of twang and harmonic content from the Telecaster in particular, is an especially good fit. Muddy would be pleased.
When the Tremolux is in its sweet spot, you’ll never want to leave—especially if you’re a blues head with electric South Side inclinations. A good Telecaster or mini humbucker-equipped axe will make this amp sound liveliest, and you can expand the vocabulary of those combinations with pick dynamics and deft use of your guitar volume knob. Humbuckers are a less-than-perfect match for the super-compressed upper half of the amp’s power range, though they’ll record well at lower levels
The $1,999 price tag may give pause to some, though it falls in line with many hand-wired Deluxe clones that don’t have the Tremolux’s very cool Tremolo or power attenuation capabilities. It’s a lot to pay for an amp that doesn’t have miles of headroom and isn’t exactly multi-dimensional. But what the Tremolux does, it does beautifully. And in the studio, where you can roll back the volume, give it a little more room to move, and even throw on a little fuzz, the Tremolux can be a very capable little beast. At the end of the day, though, the Tremolux belongs in a roadhouse cranking away over a drums and bass trio blasting dirty blues and belting rowdy Telecaster licks. And if you have the coin to spare, it might be the best juke joint wingman you ever had.
Muddy Waters is your man!
you’re looking for something a little cleaner for your janglepop masterpiece.
On the release of rock supergroup Chickenfoot''s sophomore effort, guitarist Joe Satriani and bassist Mike Anthony confess that making it look easy is precisely the point.
“We’d meet up in the morning,” says Satriani, ”and someone would say, ‘I really like that song, let’s do that one.’ And we’d spend a few hours learning it and arranging it, and then record it and that would be it. We’d move on to the next song.”
This mad dash proved to be a good thing and gave the album its fresh sound. “There’s a lot of spontaneity on this album because there wasn’t a lot of time to rehearse the songs,” says Anthony. “We would rehearse it 20, 30 times and then we recorded it.” The time constraints extend beyond the recording session. Because of Smith’s commitments, drummer Kenny Aronoff will be filling in for him on the band’s upcoming tour. But this won’t be a permanent lineup switch. Anthony says, “We didn’t want this to be a revolving-door band.”
The long road to Chickenfoot’s origin can be traced back to 1985 when Van Halen and vocalist David Lee Roth parted company. After this breakup, Roth did what any crafty jilted lover would do: He got sweet revenge. He recruited über-virtuoso Steve Vai along with bass hero Billy Sheehan to form a supergroup with superhuman, pyrotechnical abilities. Van Halen counteracted by bringing in Sammy Hagar as the new lead singer, but as Eddie Van Halen became more and more content to rest on his laurels, his position as the king of rock guitar was slowly being usurped by the continually innovative Vai, who ended up becoming the guitar hero to round out the ’80s and onward to the present day.
Flash forward to 2007 when the impossible happened and Van Halen reunited with Diamond Dave. This reunion came with a twist, however. Eddie’s teenage son, Wolfgang replaced founding member bassist Michael Anthony, leaving both Anthony and Hagar without a gig. They must have asked themselves “what would Dave do?” because soon after, they formed Chickenfoot, a supergroup featuring Joe Satriani—Vai’s former mentor—and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
This ensemble proved to be a success with Chickenfoot’s selftitled first album debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 100 and going Gold. But this is no poor man’s Van Halen. “During the first tour we wanted to establish ourselves as Chickenfoot so we decided not to play any Van Halen or Chili Peppers stuff,” says Anthony. “Obviously some of the stuff is going to sound like Van Halen vocally because that’s where Sammy and I come from and people can identify with that sound in our voices. But we don’t want to be like Van Halen. We don’t want to be like the Chili Peppers, we don’t want to be like Joe’s solo stuff. We just do what we do.”
How did Chickenfoot III
Anthony: Because we were going to be losing Chad to his other band [laughs]. Actually, we wanted Chad on the new Chickenfoot record and we knew once he got fired up with the Chili Peppers that would pretty much be impossible. So we said, “Hey, let’s go into the studio and put some stuff together while Chad’s still free.”
Satriani: We always knew we’d get together again and continue it. After the set of tours that we did, we really solidified as a band and I think we all look back on the first record like, “Wow, that’s hardly representative of what we can do.”
What revelations did you have?
Satriani: We felt like a band, but we didn’t know if we sounded like a band until we had that first album. When we hit the road we had to prove a lot to ourselves. We went from the club thing to the festival tour and did the theaters and the arenas in the summer and then it was over. But in that period we learned so much about each other musically, and the potential of the band would really blossom every night that we would play.
Anthony: I think we’ve really niched out what Chickenfoot is about on this record.
Michael, do you approach your
bass lines differently depending
on whether the guitarist is
playing more in the pocket and
bluesy or going crazy?
Anthony: The difference here is when Eddie would go off, he’d be like, “Pump on this note, it’s king of like an AC/DC thing,” whereas Joe gives me a chance to play different things and not just ride on one note.
Are you enjoying the freedom
you have now?
Anthony: Oh, it’s great. I don’t think there was one time on this album where Joe came up to me and said, “Can you play this here?” He let me go off and develop my own bass parts. Everybody was allowed to put in their own two cents.
What differences and similarities
do you see in Joe and
Anthony: They’re both great guitarists in their own right. Eddie would treat every song like it was an instrumental and either Dave or Sammy or even Gary would fit their vocals around it. I had to be more basic in my playing to really hold it down.
Joe Satriani’s Gearbox
Ibanez JS prototype with DiMarzio pickups, Ibanez JS2400, ’55 Gibson Les Paul, ’58 Fender Esquire, ’59 Gibson ES-335, Rickenbacker, Deering banjo, Ovation 12-string, Gibson Jimmy Page No. 1 Les Paul
Marshall JVM 410 Joe Satriani Signature Model, ’53 Fender Deluxe, ’59 Fender Twin
Electro-Harmonix POG, Vox Big Bad Wah, Vox Time Machine, Voodoo Lab Proctavia, Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
D’Addario .010–.046, D’Addario .011 sets on some vintage guitars, Planet Waves signature picks (heavy), Planet Waves signature straps, Planet Waves cables
Joe, with this band, do you
feel Eddie’s shadow lingering
over the music?
Satriani: It was obvious that, at least for me, I’m not going to try and recreate the over-playing heroics of the ’80s that was pioneered really by Eddie. Nobody can do it, really, like Eddie. So why would you do it?
Anthony: I don’t want Joe to do anything like Eddie Van Halen or sound like him. We get enough comparisons to Van Halen the way it is [laughs]. People on the internet are like, “Chickenfoot III...they’re jabbing at Van Halen III.” I have to laugh at these references— they’ll make them musically, too. I’m thinking, “Do these people sit around all day long and try to find one note that Joe has in common with Eddie and just go off on it?”
Joe, on this record you seem
to play less technically than
someone might expect, given
the band’s lineage.
Satriani: That can be said for everybody in the band. Sammy can try to sing higher than he did with Van Halen, although I can’t imagine trying to sing higher than that [laughs]. Chad can try to be funkier than he is with the Chili Peppers and, as you mentioned, I can try to do flashier, more outside stuff, but that’s so calculated and so wrong to me. It’s the antithesis of why we got together.
Anthony: Obviously, when you have a lead singer, you don’t have to be playing notes every second. So now Joe doesn’t have to play the melody and everything all the time on the guitar. I know he enjoys doing all the rhythmic stuff, too, and not just being the guy playing the lead all the time. Maybe he is making his own conscious effort to kind of hold back on the album. All I can say to that is that people should come see us live—Joe’s on fire.
Joe, your older stuff like Not
of this Earth is more cerebral,
whereas this is more feelgood,
jam music. Is it hard to
Satriani: No, it’s not. I know that it seems odd from the outside looking in. Twenty-four hours in the day of Joe Satriani, there are so many different kinds of music running through my head, and if I’m hanging around at home I play lots of different stuff. Stuff that you would never release or you wouldn’t want people to hear because they wouldn’t know what you were or what kind of stylistic box to put you in.
But that’s typical for the way that a musician thinks. An artist is just simply being artistic, so when they see a mandolin, they start playing some mandolin music. Someone says, “Check out this piano,” they sit down and they play whatever piano music they know or like at that moment. We’re always hopping stylistic fences or at least, I should say, I am. I’m always playing lots of different things on an average day at home playing music. When you’re making an album you can’t do that. It’s very difficult to have a career based on being scattered stylistically.
But you’re the guy who
whipped rock guitarists of the
’80s into getting serious about
learning music theory and
studying the enigmatic scale
and pitch axis, among other
things, and now it’s back to
the basic blues scale. Isn’t that
quite a contrast?
Satriani: It is. That’s a really good question you’re asking and the answer is quite profound for someone like me who started out knowing absolutely nothing and, little by little, learning from very gifted and patient teachers. What I’ve arrived at, which is what all musicians arrive at once they get through all the learning, is that a three-note scale doesn’t carry any more extra weight than a 12-note scale. Whether a scale is called Lydian Dominant or whether it’s called blues, it doesn’t mean one is better than the other.
A complicated arrangement is not necessarily better than a simple arrangement. It’s just music and what matters is whether it’s powerful—does it move people? Does it move you, the artist? So it’s really great when you arrive at that point and generally you can’t, until you actually know all of it. I’ve been as good a student as I can possibly be all these years. So I can say, “Yeah, I can play harmonic minor scales harmonized in any way that you want, in any key, anywhere on the guitar.” None of that phases me anymore. So that means that everything’s equal. I’m not impressed by complications.
Joe, Chickenfoot’s music is
definitely less complex than
a lot of your own music. No
Satriani: Well, Sammy’s always dogging me about two things. He wants me just to go crazy. He doesn’t want me to work things out, and he’s always trying to convince me that commercial success is a good thing. My success is based on being under the radar, so it’s natural for me to go for the odd, not the accessible. The joke in the band is that whenever we’re working on a song that we think might have some commercial success, it’s guaranteed to put me in a bad mood and I’ll want to stop working on it.
“Different Devil” comes to
mind as one with a commercial
Satriani: I think the worst mood I was ever in with Chickenfoot was when we recorded that song. When I brought the song in it was about 90-percent finished and I thought it could be a really good and weird song—the typical way I think of things. I bring it in and everybody starts tidying it up, and then I start to think, “Hey, it sounds like you guys want to make this an accessible piece of music.” And I’m bumming out about it.
Later Chad took my acoustic guitar back to the hotel room. He shows up the next morning with a new part to the song and Sammy hears it and says, “I could sing a chorus over that.” So we insert it into the arrangement, and after awhile I’m going, “They’re right, this is actually sounding pretty good.” And so we built up the track until the end of the day. Then over the next couple of weeks as we’re doing the overdubs, I started to realize that the melody Sammy’s singing doesn’t actually go with the chords that Chad wrote for the chorus part. So I had to go and listen to Sammy’s vocals without guitars and bass, and figure out melodically what he thought he was singing over harmonically. Once I realized what he was singing over in his mind, I had to go find those chords.
Did the reharmonized version
throw him off?
Satriani: No, it fit because I think when we did the last tracking together everyone was just worried about their parts, they really weren’t thinking about what Sammy was singing, they figured he’d change his vocals. But I know Sammy and when Sammy gets on a trajectory he’s not going to change his vocals. He’s going to look at me and say, “Joe, change those chords.”
“Come Closer” showcases a
moodier side of the band.
Anthony: That’s a song where Sammy already had the vocals and lyrics first.
Satriani: One morning I just went over to my piano and put the cup of coffee on one end and the iPhone on the other side and I very quietly sang a moody… it was sort of like, if you can imagine, Radiohead doing an R&B song. It was kind of drifty, especially in my croaky voice. I quickly emailed it to Sammy to see if this was something he could get into because this was me putting him in a lower register.
Was that one originally written
on the piano in A♭ minor
(as it sounds) or A minor but
then played tuned down?
Satriani: It was written in A minor. I’m not too good with A♭ minor [laughs]. I play just enough piano to get a song across.
Michael Anthony’s Gearbox
Yamaha BB300MA Michael Anthony signature bass
MXR Micro Chorus (live only), MXR Blue Box (live)
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Dunlop picks, Jim Dunlop strings (.045, .065, .087, .107), Monster Cable (studio), Shure wireless (live)
Joe, in your “Come Closer”
solo, you play this long arpeggiated
sequence then in the
last two measures you break
away from it so it doesn’t
Satriani: Right, I had to let loose. To tell you the truth, when we were rehearsing, it had a loaded bluesy solo in the beginning, and I just started thinking that it sounded too much like a power ballad where the guitar player steps up and he’s blowing a solo on the mountain top. I thought that was too corny. I kept thinking with the solo that I wanted to be part of the band.
Let’s talk gear for a second.
Joe, I understand on this
record you used that blue
Ibanez prototype with three
single-coils you played on the
Experience Hendrix tour.
Satriani: Yeah, that prototype is a winner, man. We’ve worked on that one for almost 10 years now and Steve Blucher at DiMarzio just came up with really cool pickups that, for some reason, really go together with a maple neck and that particular body. It just sounds like the punchiest Strat you ever heard in your life.
Is this the first album you
recorded with this guitar?
Satriani: I think it is. And the whole record was done primarily on my new 4-channel Marshall signature amp called the JVM 410 Joe Satriani Signature Model.
Michael, I know you generally
use your Yamaha signature
bass, but what happened to
the Jack Daniel’s bass?
Anthony: I still have it and it will probably come out on tour. At the end of every tour, I put it in the closet and say I’m done with it. And there’s always somebody like you who says, “Hey, what’s with the Jack Daniel’s bass?” My original one has been on display for at least a couple of years now at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Michael, there’s a rumor that
you’re the richest among the
original Van Halen members,
is that true?
Anthony: [Laughs.] Well, everybody used to joke that I saved the first dollar that I ever made in Van Halen. I probably did somewhere. You know what, my wife Sue and I, we just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in February. That might have something to do with it, because every guy in Van Halen is divorced—a couple of them a couple of times. So, of course, that’s going to tax their account a little bit.
Some people out there say
Chickenfoot is in it just for
the money, but you guys don’t
really need the money. Sammy
made something like 80 million
dollars selling a share of
his tequila business.
Anthony: And that was just selling the first 80 percent. Once he sold the last 20 percent, I’m sure he made a good penny on that, too. The best part about Chickenfoot is that nobody needs the money. We’ve got nothing we need to prove to anybody. We wanted this to be a fun band and when we get in the studio it’s just so loose, relaxed, and open. It’s like the early days of Van Halen. Everybody’s just throwing in their input and having a great time making music. We don’t want any pressure and we said if any came up, we should just stop doing this.
Michael, if the situation presented
itself, would you rejoin
Anthony: At this point in my life and career, I’m so happy with what I’m doing and I want to have fun making music. I don’t want any drama. That whole drama thing in Van Halen, the way it ended up, I was like, “I’d rather make no money having fun playing music than make a shitload of money tearing my hair out.” Maybe when I was 20 it would have been different, but not at this point. I want to keep my sanity.
To give yourself—and your mix engineer—the greatest flexibility in the final stages of production, consider splitting your signal before it hits the delay and capturing two guitar tracks, one clean and one effected.
This screenshot from a Pro Tools session shows a mono Tele track (top waveform)
above a printed stereo delay track.
As a mixer, I receive many different kinds of tracks in various states of readiness. Some sessions arrive with tracks that are perfectly printed, trimmed, and labeled. Others can be a mess, with extra-hot levels and track names like “Audio 1” or “Extra track.” Though irksome, many of these problems can be fixed later on. But some things—including guitar parts printed with integral delay effects—cannot. You simply can’t peel off or alter the delay or echo if it turns out it doesn’t sound like what you’d hoped for when you tracked it.
Of course, it’s understandable that layers of echo may be an essential part of your sound. The Edge and Albert Lee are two players who often build parts around precisely timed delay. But most of the guitar tracks I receive do not need to have delay applied during the recording process. However, if you must have delay on the track to get the right vibe, here are a few things to consider when laying down your initial parts.
To give yourself—and your mix engineer—the greatest flexibility in the final stages of production, consider splitting your signal before it hits the delay and capturing two guitar tracks, one clean and one effected. This approach works whether you’re recording direct or mic’ing an amp, or doing both simultaneously.
It’s true, splitting your signal and recording dual tracks takes more effort than simply slapping a mic on your amp and capturing the sound you get playing through your pedalboard. But without a doubt, taking this dual-track approach can help save a great guitar performance that might otherwise have to be redone if your effects were not tweaked correctly to begin with.
If you’re recording into a digital audio workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools, Logic, or Cubase and using a delay plugin, simply route the delayed guitar signal to a second, dedicated track. This means your dry guitar goes to one track and your echo effects are captured independently on another. In other words, you’ll generate two tracks for each pass.
For example, if you have a mono guitar track and are sending some of that signal (via an aux bus) to a stereo delay plug-in, you’ll want to “print” or record the output of that delay to its own track.
Sure, you could just run the plug-in as a virtual, unrecorded effect and wait to print it in the mix, but what if your plug-in authorization expires in the middle of the session (for example, if you’re using one with a limited free-trial period)? Or what if you hand off the session files to a mix engineer who doesn’t have that particular plug-in? Or what if the settings don’t come back exactly as you last left them? All of these are real scenarios that have happened to me, and they’re no fun. So it makes sense that, once you’ve gotten a great-sounding delay out of a plug-in, you should print the output to a new audio track.
There it is—done.
But don’t just stop there— make sure you label the track clearly. For example, “Guitar 1 Delay Print” reminds you or informs the mix engineer about what is lurking in that waveform. Also, in the notes section of the track, write down what delay you used, as well as the most important parameters. I’ve even taken screenshots of plug-in settings to save with the relevant session. Just remember to label those, as well.
One advantage of using software plug-in delays (and there are many amazing versions available from various companies) as opposed to a rackmount unit or stompbox, is that you can go back after the session to tweak the delay by changing the settings. If you do that, simply reprint the new settings directly over the old printed track or save a new track called something like “Guitar 1 Delay Print - Version 2.”
While I’m on the subject of printing tracks, many of us also use guitar-amp simulator plugins. As with delay, it’s a good idea to print your amp-simulator tracks. This ensures that any mix engineer who receives your session will have the exact guitar sound you wanted.
I always ask my clients to print any important effects or emulations—particularly for the guitar. This is especially critical when doing cross-platform mixing, such as tracking in Logic and mixing in Pro Tools. When working on the same platform, I also ask them not to delete the original tracks so I can adjust the sounds or alter the EQ if need be. I will also ask for a basic list of plug-ins that they use.
So, next time you’re tracking a guitar part, think about how those effects will translate down the line. When using hardware effects, try to split your amp or guitar signal before it’s processed. And if you’re using a DAW with plugins, print your effect tracks separately. It will save time and money, and make you happier with the end results.