may 2009

Peter Stroud looks at the different pros, cons and options for employing or ignoring an effects loop

Guitar amplifier effects loops are quite a controversial topic with tone purists. Common questions go from, Do I run my effects into the front so as not to disturb the amp’s tone? and Do I use the effects loop to get better delay sounds? to the even more drastic, Do I install an effects loop on my vintage amp?

It’s just another aspect of your rig scene, and often comes down to personal preference. There are times when an effects loop comes in handy on a gig, and others when it can cause your tone to suffer, all depending on what you’re trying to get out of your amp.

In a typical guitar amplifier, there is the preamp stage and the power amp stage. The effects loop is almost always placed right between the two. The idea is that your preamp channel switches between clean and overdrive tones, feeds into your effects via the effects loop, then back into the power amp stage. Placing your effects after your preamp works very well if you’re generating all of your clean and distortion tones solely in the preamp stage.

On the other hand, effects loops don’t always work well if you’re generating your overdriven tones by cranking your amp to get overall distortion and compression from both the preamp and power tubes, as with vintage style, nonmaster volume and low powered amps. Inserting the effects between preamp and power stages in this case most often impedes their interaction, and leaves you scratching your head wondering why you have weird levels, funny buzzing from your effects, or general tone suck. The preamp may be sending out such a strong signal that it hits the effects too hard, requiring you to pull back the level (if you have control of the input gain), and then the power stage can’t react properly since it’s not getting hit hard enough.

Analog-digital-analog effects interrupt that preamp-power amp interaction, in which case you’re better off running your rack effects into the front—or getting elaborate with a nice, big eighties-style stage rig: the vintage head into a load box feeding into your effects rack, then into a stereo tube preamp with two 4x12s. Yeehaw! (But remember: never run your amp’s speaker output into your effects input, unless you want to blow it to smithereens.)

Here’s a handful of recommended scenarios:

1. Run your stompboxes into the front, not through an effects loop. They are designed and intended for this both tonally and levelwise, and will cause very little change to your amp’s tone and the power-amp distortion it generates. In fact, many pedals can improve your overall tone by their effect on your input impedance—buffer circuits are designed to allow longer cable runs without loss of signal. Plus, if you run your pedalboard thru an effects loop you’re creating unnecessary excess cable lengths, which can impede your tone or cause noise issues.

2. Run your rack effects into an effects loop. This scenario works best using an amp with preamp, master and channel switching for clean and dirty, with your distorted tones generated by the preamp stage. Delay mix levels generally remain even between clean and dirty. Most rack effects units have bypass footswitching ability, as well as MIDI, which really gives you flexibility using a MIDI foot controller (but be prepared to pull out your propeller hat).

3. Run all of your effects in the front; feed pedals and rack effects into two amps for stereo. This works well if you use a tubepreamp stompbox to generate your distortion and mainly use the amplifiers for overall tone and volume level. And you can swim in stereo heaven onstage.

4. Run a rack tube preamp into rack effects, into a stereo power amp (tube preferred), into a stereo speaker cabinet or two speaker cabinets for full-on stereo bliss. A lot of great sounds you’ve heard over the years have been created this way.

5. Forget all of your pedals and plug straight into the front of the amp. (No diagram needed!)

Well, it appears I could elaborate further, so perhaps I’ll do so in next month’s column. Until then, happy late night hours twiddlin’ with your tone… I’m right there with you.

Read MoreShow less

Danelectro''s Dead On ''67 is a fun throwback that packs a great value for the price

Download Example 1
Download Example 2
Download Example 2
All clips played through a Tweed Deluxe on Normal channel
Those who didn’t grow up with Danelectro may think of them primarily as a manufacturer of various inexpensive guitar effects pedals. This is only a small part of the story, which began with the founding of the company in 1947 by Nathan Daniel, a former amp manufacturer for the Epiphone company. The first guitars came off the line in 1954 under the Sears brand Silvertone. From that followed an outpouring of guitar models under the Danelectro brand name (and others). All models followed the same formula of simplicity of build, clarity of tone, and above all, affordability.

The company was sold to media giant MCA, who began to experiment with the line, producing some very unusual non-guitar stringed instruments, as well as some very nice additions to the guitar lineup—including the original incarnation of the guitar reviewed here, the 1967 Hornet (part of the Slimline series). Two years later the Dano plant was closed, and it was not until the late 1990s, when the company was purchased by the Evets Corp, that Danelecto reappeared on the retail scene. Danelectro guitars are once more available, albeit in limited numbers and models.

In the early sixties I owned and played a double-pickup, shorthorn double cutaway, which I loved dearly. Unfortunately, because of a loud and bright buzz, my bandmates did not share my love, and I traded for a humbucking model of another brand. Naturally, I was excited to be able to test drive this new axe, especially since it is touted as “totally shielded.” If you want more history and lists of players (you’ll be amazed) there are several good articles online.

On to the guitar itself
The ’67 sports a curvaceous body reminiscent of the shape of a Jaguar or Jazzmaster, but with small, shapely buttocks. It is 1-3/8" thick at its thickest point, near the bridge, but falls away smoothly into a deep contour both front and back, necessitating a contoured shape to the psychedelic mother of toilet seat plastic pickguard and faux satin metal control cavity cover. The body is basswood with paint of a satin texture and expertly applied.

The maple neck is of Fender derivation, with 6-inline Kluson-style tuners and a single-action truss rod. The tuners have a smooth, snug feel. The nut appears to be a hard alloy of aluminum, and the fingerboard is of Rosewood with standard pearloid position markers and a rather flat 14" radius. The fit where the bolt-on neck meets the body is extremely good. There are 21 medium frets, nicely seated, finished and polished. The scale length is 24-3/4".

The ’67 features a vibrato bridge that is the essence of simplicity: a flat satin, nickelplated steel plate with the distal end beveled and notched for the ball end of the strings, and a beveled rosewood bridge. The strings contact the bridge at two points, and there’s a small slot in the bridge plate with a screw that runs into the wood to help keep it centered—and to allow fore and aft movement of the entire bridge for intonation. The pressure of the strings holds the bridge in place.

In this vibrato model, there are two machined holes in the upper and lower forward extremities of the bridge; two slightly rounded Phillips-head wood screws protrude from the body to engage these holes that are machined in a step fashion to support the bridge and to allow height adjustment. Of course, there must be something to hold the bridge plate in place and level, hence a third hole in the rear of the bridge plate through which a countersunk machine screw protrudes downward through the control cover into the vibrato spring cavity, where it engages a spring and is tightened by a steel wing nut.

Holding the head on top of the bridge and tightening the wing nut in the routed cavity on the underside of the body serves to tension the vibrato and hold the bridge plate down and centered. The bridge ground wire attaches to the spring. In my pre-production model this spring tension and the downward pressure of the strings causes a mild bow in the bridge plate.

The aluminum vibrato arm attaches to the bridge plate with a bolt, nylon stop nut and washers, which also control the ease with which the arm may be moved in and out of position. In order to change the fore/ aft position of the bridge or the movement ease of the vibrato arm the bridge must be removed—something I found mildly irritating.

The electronics consist of two of Danelectro’s “lipstick tube” single-coil pickups in satin nickel (redesigned for higher output), with standard controls: two Tone knobs, two Volume knobs and a three-way switch. The pots are full size and of good quality, and the knobs are absolutely classic Dano kitsch.

The Fun Part
The neck has a comfortable “flattened C” contour, and the flat fingerboard radius (once you get used to it) enhances single and double stop bends, not to mention low string pressure for slide playing. Access to upper frets is good. The set up was good right out of the box, although I personally prefer a lower string height at the nut—but of course that’s much easier to obtain from this point than having to go the other way.

The vibrato mechanism will never be nominated for a “Floyd Rose Achievement Award,” but it suffices for some low-amplitude twangin’. The return to intonation is fairly good once you get the feel of the arm, and the simplicity helps maintain the price point. The axe comes strung with D’Addario .010s to help show off one of its main features: the sweet sound of its medium/ low output tubular single coils.

I played through several amps, including a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, an ‘81 Boogie Studio, a Clark tweed Deluxe, a ’64 Ampeg Reverberocket, and an Allen Old Flame. I went for clean tones and found a sweet top end with just enough mids to support and sustain. I went for a mildly crunchy blues tone and was pleased with the detailed attack, articulation, and mild grind. With the Fender and the Boogie I went for full overdrive and really liked the way the top end cut through a very smooth, buttery midrange. The hum level is tolerable, and I’m told by Patrick McGinnis of Danelectro that production models will have a fully shielded control cavity and shielded signal leads, which will decrease hum to even lower levels. He also mentioned that they are fixing the bridge plate warp with a stronger plate and that the production models will sport a basswood body.

The Final Mojo
All in all, this is one versatile axe. Throw in the price, and what’s not to like? Oh, and I failed to mention that there is a baritone version of this same axe—just the thing for all those “spaghetti western” themes you’ve been dying to learn.
Buy if...
you want a fine sounding and playing guitar bundled with a piece of rock and roll history, and low price point to boot.
Skip if...
you don't want to mess with a vibrato tailpiece (which is understandable) or you are a guitar snob (which is not).

Street $349 - Danelectro  -

Eastwood''s Airline Tuxedo exudes retro charm

Download Example 1
Download Example 2
Go Ahead Punk... Make Me Play
I love stories about entrepreneurship, particularly ones that lead to ways of enhancing the guitar playing experience. An example of this phenomenon is the story of Mike Robinson, founder of Eastwood Guitars, and his pursuit to produce Radical Vintage Remakes with modern playability at an affordable price point. After the well-timed sale of his California-based technology company in 1999, Robinson leveraged his collection and passion for low-budget eclectic vintage guitars from the ‘50s and ‘60s into a prolific eBay store. It soon became an online source for all things vintage bizzarro with the formation of his website This site soon provided Robinson with a large email database of fellow enthusiasts to give him the confidence to form Eastwood Guitars in 2002. His vision for Eastwood was straightforward: to combine the retro styling of these long-lost classics with modern playability, to offer them at a price far less than their original counterparts, and to emphasize customer service. This lofty vision is achieved in part by using overseas manufacturing (Korea and China), and in part by retaining customer service and final setup operations at its Ontario, Canada headquarters. It is apparent that Michael Robinson’s entrepreneurial vision is being achieved, as Eastwood now offers 45 models (and growing), including the Airline Tuxedo model reviewed here.

You Owe it to Yourself to Live a Little, Harry
The Airline Tuxedo is modeled after the 1950s Kay Barney Kessel guitar, which was also was offered under the Airline brand name as the Tuxedo model (Eastwood guitars acquired the rights to the Airline guitar models in 2004). The Tuxedo oozes retro vibe with its striking copper-metallic finish, white plastic veneered headstock with raised black metal Airline logo and white pickguard—complete with a 1950s Airline “Coat of Arms” imprint. The Tuxedo, true to its name, is also available in black, as well as sunburst with a flame maple top. The single-cutaway body shape features a maple back and top, mahogany sides, and is completely hollow except for a post under the bridge. No tone blocks or F-holes are used in the body design. The body is double bound with a strip of 5-ply cream and black binding along the top, which nicely complements the black appointments. Both the back of the guitar and neck feature a strip of cream binding that adds to the retro look. The binding around the neck did show some minor “bleed” from the fretboard in a few spots. The neck is maple and is topped off with a 12" radius rosewood fingerboard, which contrasts nicely with the 19 polished, medium-jumbo frets and pearloid block fret markers. The white plastic veneer headstock features a 3+3 tuner design and pairs well with the black “Eastwood Guitars” truss rod cover.

The Tuxedo comes dressed with a pair of white Dog Ear Eastwood Hi-Output P-90 pickups wired to a traditional three-way pickup selector switch. The pickups feature Alnico magnets and are fully potted. As with most single-coil pickups, there is a discernible hum from the pickups, even in the middle position; consistent with the vintage vibe, the pickups are not wired in a reverse-wound configuration. One drawback to the design is that the pickguard covers the adjustment screws for the treble side of both pickups. This necessitates removing the pickguard in order to adjust the pickup height. Another nit is that the pickguard itself could use an additional mounting screw to more firmly secure it to the body. The guitar features a pair of well-placed black “top hat” style Volume and Tone knobs for each pickup.

Adding to the vintage vibe of the Tuxedo is the chrome trapeze tailpiece, with stamped diamond inlay and ABR-1-style tune-o-matic bridge assembly. The tailpiece is firmly secured with the help of the chrome strap button, and even though it floats above the body of the guitar, it is set close enough to the bridge that the string tension is not affected when resting your palm against the bridge. Other nice touches are the chrome strap button on the upper bout, which is secured to the body with a white felt bushing, and the black plastic square input jack that complements the other appointments on the guitar. The set neck is firmly attached to the body at the 15th fret, and given that the instrument has only 19 frets, access to the upper frets is not an issue. The 1-11/16" white plastic nut is well cut, but it does have some sharp edges to it. The vintage style Wilkinson open-back tuners perform well and, like all the other hardware on the instrument, are sourced from local Korean suppliers. The control cavity is accessed through the pickup routs, which is a minor inconvenience since the pickups are attached with “quick connect” clips.

Are You Gonna Pull Those Pistols or Whistle Dixie?
The Tuxedo is lightweight, resonant and balanced in both standing and sitting positions. The neck is very comfortable due to its medium-shallow C-carve, and the fretwork and setup are executed admirably. The combination of the bridge assembly and selection of tone woods give this guitar a Dobro-esque tone unplugged with a strong midrange emphasis. The hollow body softens the attack and provides a pleasing bloom on single notes. Power chords simply growl forever. Given the amount of maple used for the neck, top and back, along with 25-1/2" scale length, the guitar is not as snappy or as bright as one would think, but this shouldn’t be taken as a negative. The guitar has a decent amount of natural sustain and holds its tuning very well.

Fired up though a gritty Carr Mercury, the versatility of this design becomes apparent. The darker, mid-range focused fundamental tone of the guitar blends well with overdrive, providing a myriad of usable rock and blues tones. I found at higher gain/volume levels the guitar was capable of producing a cool, controlled feedback effect similar to an Ebow. The pickups are indeed hot, which does seem to bleed off some of the high end response and articulation. Using a vintage blackface Fender Bandmaster driving a 2x10 Music Man cab, I preferred to bring the volume down on the pickups to achieve a clean tone that provided a desirable level of articulation. I would be curious to hear this guitar with a set of the vintage-voiced P-90s that Eastwood uses for its other models. The bridge pickup exhibits a strong fundamental tone across the entire frequency range; it is not at all harsh and responds very well to pick attack. The neck pickup can get “boomy” if you dig in too hard, and the dual pickup combinations offered some very usable combinations, especially when adjusting the individual volume controls.

The Final Mojo
The Airline Tuxedo is a terrific value and truly stands out in the crowd with its unique tones, retro styling and excellent playability. I applaud Mike Robinson’s efforts in bringing his vision to fruition, to the betterment of the overall guitar community.
Buy if...
you're seeking vintage kitsch with modern playability at a fair price; if you "get it"... get it.
Skip if...
you just don't "get it."

Street $849; black hardshell Eastwood Case $99 - Eastwood Guitars -