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 merits of cranking the clean channel and riding the guitar''s volume control for effect

These days, while at home and off of the road, I find myself sitting in quite a bit with bands and friends at clubs. This usually means plugging into someone else’s amp that I’m not familiar with, or if I bring my own, not having a real gauge on where to set my stage volume. If it’s a channel-switching amp I’m dealing with, I’ll set the clean/normal channel to sound big and clear with a lot of clarity. Then I’ll compare that to the lead overdrive channel (and fight with a buzzy-fizzy-squeally tone that ends up sounding like complete crap with no presence or clarity whatsoever). As a result, I have adopted the habit of using the clean channel only—cranked, of course—and controlling my volume from the guitar.

In general, I’m a big fan of riding my guitar’s volume control throughout the show. I’ll set my amp volume and tone around my rhythm playing, with the guitar’s volume control turned down to around 3 to 5, maybe 5 to 7, knowing that when I goose it to 10, I’ll have plenty of gain and a good jump in volume for leads. This approach is the exact opposite of the usual first tendency to dial your amp tone with your guitar’s volume on 10… so when you cut the guitar down, you loose all of your tone and volume.

But what’s even more fun is to add a gain boost pedal, or better yet, a germanium transistor type fuzz/distortion box. The latter is more “old school,” but the most versatile in my book. This is how all the greats used to do it before master volumes, back when the amps mainly had a clean sound, and you’d have to crank it before it would distort.

The germanium-type transistor is what all of these pedals have in common. Vintage pedals you may have heard of—Colorsound and Vox Tone Benders, Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, Univox Super Fuzz, MXR Distortion +, and of course the legendary Electro-Harmonix Big Muff—all use germanium transistors. And there are tons of great new “boutique” handmade reissues, new designs of germanium transistor circuits, Tone Bender knockoffs like Pro Analog’s Mk I, Mk II and Mk III, and Throback’s Stonebender, Treble Boosters like the 65 Colour Boost and Robert Keeley’s Java Boost, fat fuzz monsters like Analogman’s Sun Face and Way Huge’s Swollen Pickle.

Listen to the legendary recordings by Hendrix, Page, Townsend, Ritchie Blackmore and Jeff Beck. Especially live recordings: Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival was kicking in a Fuzz Face constantly; Townsend on Live at Leeds—you hear the Univox Super Fuzz for total gonzo leads on top of his cleaner Hiwatt amplifiers; Ritchie Blackmore on Deep Purple’s live album classic, Made In Japan—“Highway Star” annihilates (I’m not sure what he’s using but it sounds like a Tone Bender circuit); Jimmy Page on “Heartbreaker” sounds like he’s kicking in his Tone Bender Mk II for the solo all the way to the climatic riff before dropping into Plant’s last verse; and Jeff Beck on “Led Boots” from the album Wired is a prime example of kicking in a serious gain boost on top of a Marshall amp, most likely a Vox Tone Bender or something similar.

The big thing you’ll notice with all of the above is that the tone gets big and fat the more it’s cranked… and when you roll off your guitar’s volume, the sound cleans up and chimes and sparkles, almost the opposite of what you get with more modern day distortion and overdrive stompboxes—definitely not what you hear with a high gain preamp/ master volume combo on most amps!

The choice of pickups on your guitar helps also. Single coil pickups seem to react more noticeably, cleaning up enormously when you turn down your guitar’s volume control… Strats and Teles, Gibsons with P-90s. But you can get that control as well with cleaner, lower-gain humbuckers.

So, if this is unfamiliar territory to your normal routine, the big thing to learn is to “ride” the volume control on your guitar and prioritize setting your amp’s volume to your rhythm playing level. When you stop playing, immediately turn your guitar to “0.” Ride your volume when you start each song (with volume around “5,” and then crank it to “10” for your solo). If you need extra, hit the stompbox for a rippin’ good time. Also, try rolling off the tone knob on your guitar a couple of notches if it gets too bright, or tweak the amp.

Rawk on. 

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The Belmont and Dorchester from Godin''s new Richmond Guitar line offer quality at an affordable price

For over twenty years under the watchful eye of Robert Godin, Godin Guitars has carved out its own niche, pushing the bounds of guitar design by creating innovative, well-made acoustic and electric guitars that have a voice of their own. Based in Montreal, Godin maintains six manufacturing facilities in Canada, intentionally kept small to create an intimate work environment that is evident in the “custom shop” quality of their instruments.

As a logical extension of their electric guitar operations, Godin has recently introduced the Richmond Guitar line, the designs of which strike a balance between sleek retro styling and true innovation with meticulous craftsmanship. The Richmond brand, named after the town in Quebec where these guitars are manufactured, currently features two offerings, the Dorchester and Belmont models. Both models feature unique, retro styling with fantastic playability, and come in a well-made Taupe tolex-covered hardshell case with “Alligator” accents—all at a very competitive price (both models can have street prices around $1,000).

Richmond Belmont
Example 1 
 Example 2 
Belmont Model
The Belmont model solidly earns the Richmond moniker with its Gibson SG-meets-Danolectro styling, and offers a unique blend of design and electronics to make it a versatile, easy-to-play tone machine. The mahogany body features a beveled front edge along three quarters of the body, as well as a “tummy cut.” The generous, slabstyle rosewood fretboard is cantilevered to extend over the edge of the neck end at the 22nd fret. The neck has a matte finish with a smaller, C-size neck carve reminiscent of a sixties slim taper profile (a personal favorite) and a 12” fretboard radius. The finish and carve make for a very enjoyable playing experience, allowing the player to fly across the neck. The designers at Godin made a great call in combining a bolt-on design with what is considered to be a traditional set-neck wood configuration (i.e., a mahogany body/mahogany neck, 24-3/4” scale). The result is the best of both worlds, as there is a certain “snap” blended into a thick, midrange voiced unamplified tone that rock and blues aficionados will most certainly enjoy.

Like its sister Dorcehester model, the fretwork on the Belmont is executed flawlessly, and that combined with the “Ergocut” fretboard make the Belmont a joy to play. Full step bends are a breeze with the help of the expertly cut and honed Graph Tech nut and perfectly dressed medium jumbo frets. The neck plate is an interesting, four-screw shape with a rounded, offset design. The neck joint is stable and has a tight fit. Another interesting feature, which is shared with the Dorchester model, is that the headstock is “sliced” and fitted with opposing grain pattern to ensure neck stiffness. It is so meticulously executed, one has to look very carefully to pick up on this design specification.

The double-cutaway mahogany body has the devilish hint of a late-sixties SG and sits very comfortably in either a standing or sitting position. The Black Wash HG finish co-ordinates nicely with the guitar’s retro look, with a tastefully faded black finish that highlights the grain of the mahogany body and matching headstock. The finish is nicely contrasted with a single-ply, Nordic White pickguard, matching white truss rod cover and trio of chrome covered Seymour Duncan pickups that makes one want to break out the Lava Lamp and take in that sixties vibe. The chrome roller bridge and 14:1 Kluson vintage style tuning machines finish off the retro look. The guitar also features two black “top hat” style knobs (Volume and Tone) with silver tops and a black-tipped five-way switch.

Plugging In
The thick mid-range focused voice of the Belmont is matched with three stock Seymour Duncan pickups: two lipstick-style single coils (SLD-1) in the neck and middle position, and a ’59 model humbucker (SH-1) in the bridge. Overall, this seems to be a great design choice for the Belmont, as this electronics package provides a broad array of usable tones that bring a high degree of versatility. Fired up through a Carr Mercury, I could not find fault with the fabulous hard rock tones produced by the bridge setting. I have always been a fan of the SH-1 set in a mahogany body, and the added articulation offered by the bolt on design brought this classic combination to a new level. Position 4 (bridge/middle) was particularly memorable, as it added that greasy aftertaste to a classic rock tone, making it a natural choice for Texas blues/rock. Attention Billy Gibbons and all ZZ Top fans, grab your sombrero and try a Belmont.

The mahogany wood combination adds warmth to the chimey voice of the Alnico Lipstick pickups, which results in a girthy glassiness to their tone that really cuts through the mix—I experienced this when playing recently in live situation at a “weekend warrior” jam session. I was also able to pull off a convincing Dire Straits tone right into a Guns & Roses jam, just by flicking the selector switch and bringing up the volume knob. This guitar, like its sister Dorchester model sustains chords and notes very well on both clean and driven settings. Through a vintage blackface Fender Bandmaster driving a 2x10 Music Man cab, the Belmont was able to cop very usable and unique tones that would work very well in at rock, blues or country gig. The Belmont would be a logical choice for session players or working musicians who need a myriad of tones embodied in one guitar.
Buy if...
You’re seeking a well-made, versatile tone machine, or a great “one guitar/one gig” option.
Skip if...
You are firmly planted in the Nashville or California camp.

MSRP $1195 - Godin Guitars/Richmond -

Hit Page 2 for our Dorchester review...

Richmond Dorchester
 Example 1 
 Example 2 
Dorchester Model
At first glance, the Dorchester model has a unique, futuristic look that gives a nod to the classic retro designs of the late fifties and early sixties, with hints of Mosrite, Rickenbacker and Danolectro elements baked into the styling. Even by strumming unplugged, though, the retro comparisons end and the innovative design decisions and build quality begin to take over. To maximize the tonal response across the entire bandwidth, the designers at Godin selected a unique blend of tone woods for this model, which features an offset, double-cutaway chambered body with a silver leaf maple body center with poplar wings. This, combined with a bolt-on maple neck and rosewood fretboard, and 25-1/2” scale, provides the platform for each tone wood to exhibit its best attributes.

Poplar tends to have a very even response across the tonal spectrum, which seems to fill in any gaps in frequency response that one can experience with a maple body, yet at the same time retains the strong bookends of the frequency range and sustain that maple offers. This strong response across the tonal spectrum is augmented by the neck wood combination: it produces an unamplified tone that is snappy, bold and leans slightly to the bright side of the spectrum. The unplugged tone swirls with delicious overtones with plenty of sustain. Like other chambered guitars, the chambered body gives the model a slightly softer attack that makes one really want to dig on with the picking hand and make this guitar sing.

Thoughtful design decisions are also apparent in the cosmetic aspects of the Dorchester, which includes features often found on guitars at higher price points. The test model features a flawlessly applied, high-gloss black finish with a comfortable bevel along the top edge of the entire guitar. The finish is nicely contrasted by a single-ply white binding along the back edge of the body (think LP Custom), which is complemented by a Nordic White, single-ply pickguard and matching white truss rod cover. Another quality appointment is the use of rubber washers (anchored with wooden dowels) to firmly install the chrome Schaller strap lock-ready buttons. The tuners are a non-locking, chrome-finished Kluson 14:1 ratio tuners that are seated firmly in the matching colored headstock, and have smooth action across the tuning range. The guitar also features two black “top hat” style knobs (Volume and Tone) with a silver top and a four-way switch with a black tip. The two Lace Alumintone pickups (more on these to follow) are silver/ black and fit nicely into the color palette of the guitar. The angled neck pickup combined with the scalloped angled fret board edge gives the model a sleek, Mosrite-flavored appearance.

The chrome roller bridge is a work of art. The strings are anchored in a 3-screw tailpiece that feeds a fully adjustable bridge assembly with rounded chrome saddles. The edges of the Graph Tech nut have been honed and rounded, a nice finish detail I appreciate. The neck is attached to the body at the 20th fret with four screws through a pair of neck plates, providing the benefit of excellent upper fret access—but I found it a little too easy to execute neck stock bends. The neck pocket was clean, but it did have a slight gap where I could partially insert a business card. The fretwork is executed flawlessly, a definite highlight of this guitar. Combined with the “Ergocut” fretboard (a Godin shaping technique bevels the edges of the fingerboard and frets back in towards the center of the fingerboard), it makes the Dorchester extremely easy to play. The satin finished, medium-large C-shaped, tapered neck, combined with a 12” fretboard radius and medium jumbo frets, makes for a very comfortable playing experience.

Plugging In
The Dorchester comes to life with the help of a pair of the state-of-the-art, classically voiced Lace Alumintone humbucking pickups. The folks at Lace Music have a winning pickup design in the Alumintone, as it meets its intended goal of providing a very broad frequency response. These pickups utilize an aluminum exoskeleton in conjunction with conventional ceramic 8 magnets that use 95% less wire than traditional pickups. This not only reduces the overall weight of the instrument (by about 1/2 pound), but this design is intended to enhance the nuances of your amplifier.

Amplified, this guitar cuts its own swath in the sonic landscape, delivering four unique tones in both clean and overdriven settings. Plugging into a vintage blackface Fender Bandmaster driving a 2x10 Music Man cab, the Dorchester responded with chime and authority across the entire tonal spectrum. The neck pickup is woody, but not too “boomy,” and both pickups in parallel (position 3) offer a wonderful, harmonically rich experience perfect for fingerpicking. The bridge pickup was somewhat strident, but backing off the Tone knob a couple of notches produced a tone reminiscent of blending a 335 with a Gretsch. Adding a dimed Barber Burn Unit to the mix kicked things up with the position one setting (both pickups in series), delivering a searing tone with the edge of harmonic feedback within easy reach.

The bridge pickup held up well, delivering a great, snarling seventies rock tone that would make Pete Townsend think twice before sending the guitar headstock-first through a 4x12 enclosure. I did experience a touch of microphonic feedback in the bridge setting— this is a typical issue with chambered body guitars. The neck pickup alone serves up its own tone that had me playing Neil Young one-note leads with reckless abandon. Similar drive tones were had testing the guitar through a Carr Mercury, as well as a modded Marshall JTM-30 (Both amps running EL34 output tubes). Even as someone who already owns too many guitars, I would give serious thought to adding this uniquely styled tone machine to my arsenal.
Buy if...
You enjoy being on the cutting edge of guitar styling and design—all at a great price.
Skip if...
You are more of a traditionalist seeking more established tones, or a high-gain shredder.

MSRP $1250 - Godin Guitars/Richmond -