These party-rockin’ tone hunters plug their idiosyncratic axes into gifted Klons, helping them turn Music City into riff city.
Nashville has long been the hub for all things country music but in the last two decades, transplant rockers like Jack White, the Black Keys, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Judas Priest’s Richie Faulkner and others, have all have made the 615 home. Adding to its growth is the organic blossoms generated via the rock block, cultivating names like Paramore, All Them Witches, Bully, Moon Taxi, The Wild Feathers, The Band Camino, and the guitar extraordinaires that make up Diarrhea Planet.We got caught up with the semi-retired fearsome foursome for their first headlining performance at the Ryman Auditorium ahead of their return to Bonnaroo. We covered why neck humbuckers are useless (but neck dives rule), how the whole band was gifted Klon KTRs, and what each shredator does to stand in and out among their collective guitarmegeddon.
Brought to you by D’Addario dBud Earplugs.
Diarrhea Planet’s unofficial 7th member is longtime tech and friend Dave Johnson of Scale Model Guitars. (Johnson has done several DIY features for PG, check them out!) Here is his 73rd build based on the Solid Guitar design. Constructed in 2015 it has an alder body, maple neck, and ebony fretboard. The alder was selected to keep the guitar’s weight under five pounds, the neck shape is based on a ’61 Melody Maker, and the fireworks ignite by way of the single Greer Wind humbucker wound by Porter Pickups. He opted for this one because it walks a fine line between a P-90 and PAF for a bouncy, rounder, snappier sound that sits best in DP. The switch is for a “high-octane” mod that bypasses the tone and volume controls and for a direct connection to the output jack for highway-to-the-danger-zone moments. He’s been loyal to D’Addario Medium Balanced Tension strings (.011 –.050) and Dunlop Tortex picks (.88 mm).
Diarrhea Planet Special
This bargain-bin bruiser is a Kramer Striker that cost Smith a mere $349. It has been overhauled by Dave Johnson in a recurring manner that includes Gotoh locking tuners, Graph Tech ResoMax bridge, removed the middle and neck pickups and dropped in a Bare Knuckle Nailbomb, and got a proper fret job and setup.
Smith has always been chasing a “bigger, more low-mid focused JCM 800” and this striking steal of a deal he scored fit the bill. The 120-watt Peavey 6505 runs into a Tyrant Tone 1x12 cabinet loaded with a single Electro-Voice Electro-Voice EVM12L Black Label Zakk Wylde speaker.
Jordan Smith’s Pedalboard
Smith’s board holds the staples for DP gigs. It starts with a Spaceman Effects Explorer Phaser, an Electronic Audio Experiments 0xEAE Boost (his favorite pedal on the planet), Boss SD-1 SuperOverdrive, and a Mr. Black Tapex 2. Diarrhea Planet might be the only band to earn KTRs. Back in 2014 or ’15, Klon creator Bill Finnegan and his employee Matt visited DP during a soundcheck near their East Coast-based shop. Finnegan loaned the foursome their own KTR to test out during the run-through. They plugged into them and instantly realized this was the sound they’ve been missing. Finnegan enjoyed the soundcheck so much that he told the band they deserved the magical red boxes and they’ve been on their boards ever since. “I’ll never sell it because we somehow impressed the guy that built one of the most influential pedals ever. It’s an honor and it means so much to me,” admits Smith. Everything rides on a Pedaltrain Classic Jr and is brought to life with a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus.
Dave Does It Again!
Brent Toler hit the Ryman stage with one guitar—his partscaster baby. Brent sourced all the parts (including painting the body in his parents’ garage) and luthier pal Dave Johnson helped put the pieces together. The single humbucker (with a push-pull pot engaging single-coil mode) was handwound by Alex Avedissian out of Atlanta. It has a HipShot bridge with an upgraded Hipshot Tremsetter Strat tremolo Stabilizer 401000. The roasted maple neck and dazzling pickguard was scooped off eBay. He recently switched from D’Addario strings to local faves Stringjoy.
Steal of a Deal
Traveling into town for this pair of shows, Toler packed light with just his partscaster and a pedalboard. He borrowed this Laney LC30 from bassist Mike Boyle who scored the 1x12 tube combo for $200.
Brent Toler’s Pedalboard
Paring down for carry-on limits, Toler returned to Guitar Town with a svelte pedal platform home to five effects and a tuner: a MXR Carbon Copy, a Mooer Yellow Comp, a Bogner Ecstasy Blue, Klon KTR, a MXR Phase 95, and an Electro-Harmonix EHX-2020 Tuner Pedal.
Standing out is a must when you’re battling frequencies with three other guitarists. Emmett Miller takes a left when his brethren take a right. His custom guitar (again built by Scale Model Guitars’ Dave Johnson) is a loving recreation of a ’80s Fender Performer. Miller first got a taste of the futuristic axe when studying at the National Guitar Workshop under Shane Roberts. He posted on Craigslist in the hopes of borrowing a Performer to copy for Dave to build from. He quickly received an anonymous response that included a complete blueprint of the instrument. It has 24 scalloped frets on an ebony fretboard, a Wilkinson/Gotoh VS-100N Tremolo bridge the middle and neck pickups are Hot Stack Plus Strat hum-canceling single-coils, a handwound Avedissian humbucker in the bridge (with a coil-spot mod), and the smaller dip switch adds in the neck pickup with the bridge humbucker. And the best part of the whole thing, the night-sky artwork was painted by Emmett’s mother.
When DP first disbanded in 2018, Miller went off to school to study electrical engineering and digital signal processing, and in doing so, he “had to play through a computer now.” He landed on the Kemper Profiler and hasn’t looked back. He avoids cabling and routes his guitar through a Line 6 Relay G55 Wireless unit.
Emmett Miller’s Pedalboard
Keeping the Kemper on amp-only duties, Miller has a standard pedal playground comprised of a Strymon El Capistan, a Klon KTR, a JHS Sweet Tea V3, Dunlop Cry Baby wah, a Moog EP-3 Expression pedal, a MXR Uni-Vibe, and a TC Electronic PolyTune. Up top you might notice what appears to be a Boss pedal enclosure, but that’s just a goof gift from fellow guitarist Evan Bird.
The Classiest and Nastiest
“I think, in my arms anymore, anything but a Tele feels weird. I do like other guitars, but these are the only ones I can throw around and then still pick back up and play,” concedes DP’s fourth guitarist Evan Bird. This MIM Fender Telecaster Thinline Deluxe was facelifted by Dave Johnson (shocker). It got a refret, improved hardware—including a 3-barrel brass bridge, Gotoh locking tuners, and strap locks—plus a fresh set of Avedissian Night Prowler humbuckers (with a push-pull coil-split mod on the bridge ’bucker). Both his Teles take D’Addario NYXL1052 Light Top/Heavy Bottom strings.
That’s Gold, Jerry, Gold!
Supplementing duties with Thinline is this Squier John 5 signature that’s finished in Frost Gold. It got the Dave Johnson Scale Model treatment and also features Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates with Les Paul-wiring and CTS pots.
After toting around a hefty Twin Reverb for years, Bird made the back-saving switch to a Fender Tone Master Twin Reverb that knocks off half the weight. Another issue he was having with the OG tube Twin was blowing up the preamp section by hitting it too hard with pedals. Since making the move to the Tone Master, he’s been flying clear of any meltdowns. And keeping the cables away from his feet is the Sennheiser EW-DX EM 2 Two-Channel wireless unit.
Evan Bird’s Pedalboard
Bird keeps it lean and mean with a 4-stomp pedalboard that includes an EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master, XTS Winford Drive, Greer Amps Supa Cobra, and a Klon KTR. Occasional tuning is assisted by the Boss TU-3 and a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus brings the juice.
Shop Diarrhea Planet's Rig
How a not-so-special silver-panel amp was transformed into solid gold.
Let me share a tale about a very enjoyable and educational gear purchase. It involves a celebrity-owned vintage Fender amp, and tonal disappointments followed by experimentation. It’s about how I turned a disappointing purchase into what became—and still is—my main gigging amp. Having used this amp on approximately 100 gigs, I’ve really gotten a return for the initial $1,195 investment, not even counting the valuable learning it has given me. So, this is the story of my Linda Ronstadt Deluxe Reverb.
In 2010, I found a vintage Fender amp on eBay that really caught my eye. It was a celebrity-owned ’71 silver-panel Deluxe Reverb with 6L6GCs that had been modded and sported a powerful and heavy JBL D120F speaker. It came with a vintage, blue, road-worn flight case that looked like it had been around the globe a dozen times. The amp circuit had been entirely re-wired to AB763 black-panel specs, with all caps replaced with newer orange drops and about half of the resistors replaced. (I later swapped out the silver control panel to match.) You could see by the component leg twisting, soldering, and cutting that the work was done properly. The plastic wires were even replaced with high quality BF-style cloth-covered wires.
The number 13 was sprayed on the blue flight case, and the amp had “Ronstadt 18” sprayed on the its upper and lower back panels, indicating that the amp belonged to a band with a crew that handled the backline equipment. It seemed to have been a working musician’s instrument and had been well looked after. The whole package was promising. After a short bidding round, I ended up paying $1,195 to its owner, an acquaintance of the Linda Ronstadt band.
Six weeks later, the amp arrived safely at my house in a flight case that smelled bad but looked fantastic. I immediately swapped the original 110V power transformer for a Mercury Magnetics 230V version. My first impression was that it sounded firm and mean, with a harsh attack and gritty treble. But it was too sensitive on the treble pot to my liking, and my Jimi Strat with Fender CS69 pickups didn’t sound good thorough it. The tone was cold and shrill at both lower and higher volumes. I wasn’t able to tame it with the EQ knobs on my guitar, pedals, or the amp. It was either too muddy or too bright. Maybe this was the reason the amp was sold? I spent days playing around with it, trying different guitars and pedals. I managed to find satisfying tone only at loud volumes with a Tube Screamer, which removes both the upper treble and lower bass (the SRV trick).
A backside view of the Ronstadt Deluxe Reverb, with its lineage tattooed in white paint.
I wanted more. I wanted to play this amp without a Tube Screamer and find a more balanced tone. There was no point in keeping a bad-sounding celebrity amp. My goal was to make it smoother and warmer, with less attack. I started by disengaging the bright cap on the vibrato channel, which tamed the upper treble and allowed me to turn the treble pot beyond 4. All reissue Deluxe Reverb owners with newer Jensen C12N speakers should try disengaging the bright cap. Second, I installed a mid switch on the back, instead of the no-longer-relevant ground switch. This mid switch acts as a fat boost and selects between the stock 6.8k resistor and a fatter 22k resistor, to offer more mids. Immediately, there were improvements. The added mids pushed the power amp circuitry into more warmth, crunch, and distortion. I could’ve also installed a 25k pot instead of the mid switch, to have endless mid levels to choose from. But simplicity is king. Having only two choices makes life easier.
Some other mods to reduce the clean headroom followed. I inserted a 5U4GB rectifier tube instead of the GZ34, for less attack and more sag and compression, and pulled out the V1 preamp tube to increase the preamp signal level, pushing the preamp and power amp sections harder.
This road case, which arrived in stinky but durable condition, was part of the eBay deal that brought the Deluxe into Jens Mosbergvik’s collection of Fenders.
The results were rewarding! The shrill treble was tamed and my pick attack was smooth and just snappy and responsive enough. The treble was balanced by punchy lower mids, improving the overall EQ balance. Now the amp was more sympathetic and supported more and different kinds of guitars. No boost or overdrive pedal was needed. With these mods, the Deluxe became a perfect player’s amp, and definitely a keeper. A punchy Deluxe Reverb with 6L6s delivers approximately 30 to 35 watts, so can cope with larger stages and settings.
In the ensuing years, I’ve done further experiments with this amp—most significantly inserting a larger 8 ohm output transformer from a Vibroverb, and a power transformer from a Super Reverb, as well as upgrading the big DC and filter caps to support the higher plate voltage. Together with an EVM12L speaker, this amp gave me a superb Stevie Ray Texas Flood tone. Right now, I use an Eminence Maverick speaker with an inbuilt 9 dB attenuator that can turn the volume down to a Princeton Reverb level, while still achieving full tube breakup. Yes, I know. It’s awesome!
The PG Mad Professor Super Black review.
Spot-on Fender black-panel sounds. Simple and effective controls. Excellent overdrive channel.
Expensive. Nasty pop when engaging the compressor.
Mad Professor Super Black
Ease of Use:
Finland-based pedal builder Mad Professor has invented a stompbox that can dial up a range of classic black-panel Fender sounds. It's called the Super Black. Unlike a vintage amp, it won't break the bank or your back. And in a blindfold test, it might just blow the minds of hard-core Fender freaks.
At $299, the Super Black ain't cheap, but it also includes Mad Professor's Sweet Honey Drive circuit, which is about $150 on its own and can be used in combination with the Super Black's tone shaping tools or in standalone mode.
Into the Black
Here's the concept: Mad Professor says it's recreated the topology of Fender's famed AB763 circuit— the foundation for the black-panel Deluxe, Twin Reverb, Super Reverb, and Bassman, among others—within Super Black's 4 ½" x 3 ½" x 1 1/2" enclosure. Skeptical? I was, until I plugged in my Stratocaster and started playing. In no time I was conjuring spot-on duplicates of Deluxe, Twin, and Bassman tones—my favorite Fender flavors. (I run through those three voices in the demo video, using a Carr Vincent amp.)
The control set for the Super Black is simple. On the top row, there's a 3-band EQ and a gain dial. Under that are volume and presence knobs. For the Sweet Honey Overdrive section of the circuit, there's volume and drive (the “focus" control from the full-featured Sweet Honey has been omitted here). There's also a very effective bass cut toggle for moments when more chime is in order, and another toggle for compression. The compression switch is the source of my only issue with the Super Black because flicking the compressor on or off emits a popping sound. Otherwise, it's a blast to use. The Super Black can be powered with a 9V battery or DC.
Spanning the AB763 Family
The Super Black's ability to approximate the dynamic range and characteristics of low- to high-powered black-panel circuits is remarkable. The pedal's most Deluxe-like tones (attainable with EQ controls at noon and volume and presence in a tight V) have lots of boxy, small-combo definition. In a more Bassman-like mode (bass and mids cranked, a little less treble, and the compression on) the mellow lows and hard-punching midrange are prominent. And as a stand-in for a Twin (which you get by backing off the gain and keeping the EQ controls between 11 and 2 o' clock) it was a dead ringer for the beloved 1966 black-panel I parted with last year, as a gift to my back. It's articulate and rich, with beautifully crisp mid range, clarion highs, and wonderfully fast response. It made me sentimental. If I'd been able to fit that amp in the palm of my hand, I'd still own it today. Toss in the Sweet Honey's growling overdrive and the age-old problem of pushing a high-powered Fender hard enough to get amp breakup is solved—all at very civilized volumes.
The Honey Drive, by the way, is a sweet deal all by itself. It's a medium-gain OD that is touch-sensitive and really shovels on dirt the harder you dig in. When its drive dial is cranked, that's an estimable amount of soil, and it's good at getting loud and filthy. But blended with the Super Black section's control set, however, there are lots of possibilities for fine-tuning the balance of clarity and distortion.
Sure, it's costly, but the Super Black lets you carry the taste of about a half-dozen classic black-panel Fenders to a gig or the studio with one hand. And with the Sweet Honey Overdrive included, it's a two-fer that solves the too-much-headroom issues of bigger Fenders while putting a great overdrive at your disposal. Needless to say, you need a relatively clean amp for this pedal to do its job right. Gainy or grainy amps don't let the Super Black's palette breathe its own rich voices. But the richness of these sounds proves there's genuine method in the madness of this pedal's creator.
Watch the Demo: