november 2015

Photo by Andy Ellis

Pickup guru Frank Falbo on tweaking your guitar’s tone with nothing more than a soldering iron and a few components worth the change in your pocket.

Like it or not, there’s a deeply symbiotic relationship between your guitar’s pickups and its controls when you’re using passive pickups. That’s true even when your knobs are turned all the way up. It pays to understand how these components shape (or rather, complete) the sound of your pickups. Remember, the artisans who painstakingly designed your favorite passive pickups did so with pots, caps, and some guitar cable as part of the equation.

There’s a good chance your guitars still contain their original potentiometers and capacitors, and they may be perfect for you and your music. On the other hand, a bit of experimentation just may transform your guitars in ways that better suit your style and tastes. It’s not an expensive process, either—a good potentiometer costs about as much as a set of strings.

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EQD's Tone Bender Mk III tweak is bassier, bossier, buzzy, and brutalizing.

The original Park Fuzz—a Tone Bender Mk III in all but name—is one of the most versatile Benders models, though it’s cloned less frequently than the more famous Mk II. But EarthQuaker and Mitch Colby (who resurrected the Park amplifier brand) have revived the Park Fuzz Sound in an authentic-sounding, well built, and highly adaptable pedal.

Like the original (and other Tone Bender Mk III versions), the new Park Fuzz is less gainy and hectic than the Mk II, but at its highest gain levels, the new version has a bit more sizzle than an original. The AC125 germanium transistors enable good fuzzy-to-clean dynamic control via guitar volume attenuation, though the attenuation is most effective when the fuzz is near maximum. (Lower fuzz levels tend to yield muddier, spittier “clean” tones.)

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A Brit-flavored overdrive that walks the fine line between rowdy and refined.

Overdrives—and the players that use them—can be a very divergent set. Because the effect bridges boost and distortion, some players look for a pedal that roars, while others seek only a subtle tone shift.

The op amp-driven JColoccia Big Cannoli resides primarily on the bolder end of the spectrum. It has a British essence, sounding at times like a compressed and cranked AC-30, and sometimes like a grinding Marshall Super Lead. It’s not exclusively a “Brit amp in a box”—it offers cool, boxy TS shades and high-mid gain settings with an almost Klon-like refinement. But the Big Cannoli’s essence is more sledgehammer than sculpting knife. Any player that loves organic, rambunctious mid-gain rock tones stands a fair chance of falling for its high-calorie crunch.

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