march 2009

Keeley''s Crybaby mod, the Mello Wah, offers up a variety of useful tones

Dunlop Eddie Van Halen Signature Wah
The wah pedal holds the distinction of being both one of the most useful pedals you can have on your pedal board and the most obnoxious. Let it be known from this day forward that every funky song does not need to include “wacka-wacka” sounds from the ‘Shaft’ theme song. It just doesn’t, so please stop it or risk being taken out back by The Wah Police. If you can’t afford a Michael Schenker CD, one will be appointed to you.

Keeley Electronics has created a wah mod righteous enough to please persnickety studio cats and gonzo live performers. They have unveiled The Mello Wah, named after studio guitarist Ney Mello. They got hold of a Dunlop Crybaby and tricked it out with bells, whistles, lights and best of all luscious tones.

Switches & Knobs
Added switches and knobs can give some guitarists an anxiety attack, but the Mello Wah is very straightforward. Keeley has only added two switches, one knob and an LED. The inductor switch, located at the toe of the pedal, allows you to toggle between warmer vintage-voiced sounds to the right and a higher-voiced cutting tone to the left.

The knob located on the right side of the unit is a midrange/volume control which allows you to dial in more volume and midrange. Rolling it way back counter clock wise gives you a stock setting while rotating it clock wise gives you the midrange and volume goodies. The toggle switch next to the knob is a three-way bass and resonance booster. The center position gives you the stock sound. The rear position offers the kind of sweep capacitor sounds found in Dunlop’s Jimi Hendrix and Zakk Wylde wahs, while the forward position enables the deep and the low.

The Sound
I took this bad boy to a few different gigs and jam sessions. Using my trusty Performance Frankenstein Strat, I plugged into a ’65 Fender Pro Reverb, a ’82 Marshall JCM 800 and a 50 watt Ceriatone Overtone Special. The stock settings sounded terrific, but as I made little adjustments with the toe switch, I could hear myself pierce through the loud band mix or warm up during softer dynamics. I preferred the vintage right position but as I manipulated the right side toggle switch, I got all kinds of over the top “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” sounds. It never got ridiculous and never wimpy. It reacted wonderfully to my distortion pedals and I like how the midrange/volume knob allowed me to give it more gas. Santana fans will dig the notched “Europa” tones you can squeeze out of it. Another stroke of genius was adding a blue “On” LED placed in the back left corner of the heel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left my wah on by accident and couldn’t figure out why my guitar sounded funny.

The Final Mojo
I like this wah a lot. True bypass! I appreciate that when I rolled the midrange/volume knob all the way back, I didn’t get a big volume boost. There’s no screech either. For recording, you don’t always need a crazy wah. Sometimes you need a smooth mellow wah tone that doesn’t make noise and this thing works well. If you play in various musical situations and don’t want to carry a bag o’ wahs, The Keeley Mello Wah is the wah for you.
Buy if...
you want a wah with tonal and volume flexibility.
Skip if...
you hate to tweak.

MSRP $269 - Mod $179 - Keeley Electronics -

The H&K Statesman packs a bigger punch than you might expect from its size, 20-watts and reasonable price.

Hughes & Kettner Statesman
Download Example 1
Download Example 2
Crunch & Lead
Download Example 3
High Gain
Clips were recorded with a 2008 Les Paul Standard. SM57 on center, Neumann U87 room.
Clean: Clean channel, Bridge pickup, reverb on 2
Crunch and Lead: Bridge and Neck pickups, gain on 7
High Gain: Bridge pickup, gain on 10
Hughes & Kettner make fine products. They’ve been around for several decades now and I can clearly recall when they brought out the Cream Machine and Blues Master back in the late eighties—those were favorites in my circle. In 2008, the not-so-recent trend of low powered heads and combos appeals to a very large population of players, especially those who love EL84-based amps. Besides that, PA systems are efficient these days and nobody likes arguing with the soundman… or going to their chiropractor! Knowing the beauty of EL84 power tubes, H&K has tapped their high gain, low(er) volume capability and put them to good use in the Statesman Dual EL84 Combo.

Offering 20 watts of power in an attractive, Chocolate Brown 1x12 combo (Eminence Rockdriver Cream) with basketweave grill, the STM Dual EL84 boasts 2 channels, a shared 3-band EQ, FX loop, “boost” and “twang” modes, and an Accutronics spring reverb. It weighs in at 43 lbs and comes with a protective cover for storage or travel. For an MSRP of $1395, it sits in a comfortable price range, while not being exactly inexpensive. Still, compared to the prices of boutique combos, it’s still significantly lower in cost than many others on the market. So how does it stack up?

Plugging In
I had the opportunity to have the amp around for a while and was able to use it in a variety of situations in my work at the studio. My first dealings with the amp were in extremely low volume settings and the amp reacted much like any tube amp would. Sure, it was quiet, but it didn’t really stand out as anything special. It wasn’t until the amp was opened up a bit that its true voice became apparent. With my Les Paul the clean channel exhibited many of the good characteristics of classic American amps: shimmery, with a bit of a mid scoop, and a good amount of twang. Engaging the “twang” button brought out a lot of spank in the guitar and it almost surprised me how Strat-like my LP could sound. I did find that you have to be careful with the voicing of the amp, as it tended to get a little boxy in the midrange area depending on how far the mid knob was cranked. Where most Marshalls seem to like the mids up, this amp favored them slightly lower in 12 o’clock position with many of my guitars. Still, there is enough travel in the EQ to find a sweet spot on just about any guitar. The reverb didn’t seem to have a lot of dimension to it. Cranking it all the way up brought out the springiness, but not necessarily in a surf-rock way. Backing it down made it less audible but the overall effect of the reverb wasn’t comparable to the great, classic reverb amps we know and love. That said, I should mention that the amp offers a “reverb balance” control on the back panel that lets you regulate the ratio of reverberation between the Clean and Drive channels. This is a first for me, and I enjoyed the ability to push the reverb more on the clean channel and let the drive channel stay drier. Very cool. The FX loop proved to be an excellent way to add in various time-based effects and reverbs that I had on hand. It never compromised the integrity of the tone and was very quiet to boot.

Hughes & Kettner Statesman

Speaking of quiet, the STM has a very low noise floor. With the volume knob rolled down on my Strat, there was little hiss and hum to contend with even when the amp was cranked up. Sometimes it was a bit startling how loud the amp actually was when it was time to play. You wouldn’t expect it from the idling volume. Nice!

Moving on to the gain channel, I found it to be very robust and rich without being overly biting. Having the presence control helped to bring out more chime in the amp, and the midrange tended to sit nicely in the mix of my tracks that I’d recorded with the Les Paul. I’d characterize the sound of the amp as having a lot of “bark” to it. It has gain for days, but doesn’t get into modern metal territory. This is more of a classic-sounding amp, which I believe has a lot to do with its voicing. Even pulling the mids down all the way never scooped out the tone far down enough to get ultra chunky. That’s not a bad thing at all, by the way. Engaging the boost button adds more gain to the front end of the circuit. I liked this feature as long as the gain wasn’t set on 10. At that point it became a little too raspy for my taste, but that might be just the right thing for a single coil pickup.

The Eminence speaker held its own nicely, and never collapsed with the amp on 10. Rolling back the volume allowed for a decent clean on the gain channel, but not quite like a 100W EL34 amp would have. There was always a bit of hair on the tone unless the volume was backed off to 1 or so on the guitar. Again, this is more an artifact of the power tubes than the amp design. One thing I noticed is that because the EQ is shared by both channels, tones that were set up to sound good on one channel didn’t always allow for a well-voiced sound on the other. If I dialed in a great distortion tone, it invariably sounded either too dark or too bright on the clean channel. Conversely, a sparkling clean tone ended up making the gain channel too bright. Like many amps that share one EQ between two channels, you may find yourself in need of a quick adjustment to make the most of both sounds.

The Final Mojo
Overall, the STM is a nice combo amp with plenty of features that make it very competitive in its price range. Aside from a few issues, this amp sits nicely in the EL84 category and would make a great addition to anyone’s live or recording rig. At 43 pounds, it won’t break your back and sounds much bigger than its size. Good job Hughes & Kettner.
Buy if...
You’re looking for a competitively priced tube combo with plenty of features.
Skip if...
You want a true 2-channel amp.

MSRP $1395 - Hughes & Kettner -

Analog Tom & Analog Mike answer questions about readers'' pedal problems.

Hey there, pedal people! Welcome back to “Stomp School.” This month we’re going to continue our Q & A from Premier Guitar readers. These are answers to questions that have been sent to us in response to the column. If you have any questions for us, please feel free to send them to Okay, on with the Q & A…

Q: I recently became interested in fuzz pedals and it seems there’s a big buzz about what kinds of transistors are used, germanium or silicon. I’m wondering what the difference is between them. A lot of people seem to prefer germanium. Are they really better than silicon or is it just hype?

A: The short answer is that it’s really a matter of preference, and one is not necessarily better than the other. The silicon versus germanium comparison is usually made in reference to a two-transistor fuzz circuit like a Fuzz Face, or in some cases, a three-transistor Tone Bender-type circuit. Generally speaking, germanium fuzz tends to be warmer and less saturated, whereas a silicon fuzz is usually brighter, edgier, and more fuzzed out. The earliest transistors were made of germanium, which is why they’re most often found in vintage fuzz pedals from the sixties. But germanium transistors were prone to failure and sensitive to changes in temperature. By the late sixties, silicon transistors were widely available, offering better consistency and temperature stability, and were usually smaller in size as well. This was considered a great improvement, and germanium transistors became essentially obsolete. The vintage and boutique effects market has single-handedly revived interest in germanium transistors over the past 15 years or so.

Q: Hi. My compressor sounds really noisy. Can you fix it?

A: Any pedal that increases gain will increase the existing noise, but most compressors do not generate much noise themselves. However, a compressor is the opposite of a noise gate—when you stop playing or play too quietly, a noise gate kills the sound (and the normal noise from your pickups, cables, etc). A compressor goes to full gain when you stop playing or play quietly, amplifying the normal noise quite a bit.

The compressor is designed to boost the signal, unless the signal is above a certain sound level. When a larger amplitude signal comes in, that signal tells the compressor to turn the gain down. As the signal fades out, the gain is gradually turned up again. If you feed a compressor a quiet-but-hissy signal, the compressor will have a “hissy fit” and boost whatever you give it until you start playing. If the signal coming from the guitar can be made strong and clean, the compressor itself will behave better.

Keeping the signal before the compressor quiet yet strong is the secret of keeping a compressor quiet. Run your compressor early in your signal chain before effects that may contribute noise, and turn it off when you are done playing for maximum silence.

Q: I was reading your article on guitar pedal true bypass. I have a Maxon SD-9 with a 4PDT switch; the bypass only sounds good when the pedal is not powered up. That means no battery! But when I put the battery in I can hear the drag on my signal. Can I rewire my power path so that I can retain my good bypass? Is it a voltage or impedance thing that changes the feel and sound?

A: An actual true bypass pedal should not sound any different with or without a battery. I think all Maxon SD-9 pedals have the 4PDT toggle switch. But older OD-9s had a 3PDT, and did not have true bypass, so they could possibly exhibit that phenomenon. To check the switch type, pull up the foam under the battery: a 4PDT will have 12 solder points. In order to be true bypass and light an LED, the switch will have six wires going to it.

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