Stoner metal, desert rock, trippy psychedelia, and swampy blues swirl with just three guitars, a bastardized Rick, and custom-built, beastly stacks.
Expanding, evolving, exploring, and enchanting are all applicable when describing the orbit of All Them Witches. Since their 2016 Rig Rundown, the quartet have continued pursuing their sonic mission, unbound by anything but regeneration. Their never-ending musical mutation has yielded three more individualistic, intrepid releases since our last check-in.
Sleeping Through the War, in 2017, explored more purposeful, mystical songcraft cloaked in hypnotic, rambunctious rock. For 2018’s ATW, the band’s IV-like retreat (substitute Headley Grange for a Tennessee cabin) extracted a doomier, more chaotic side A equally matched by a side B that’s a psychedelic painkiller. And 2020’s Nothing as the Ideal shows the temporary power trio (drummer Robby Staebler completes the line-up) striking a levitating balance within a menacing, mortar of metal that binds and anchors their emotive, effervescent excursions. (Drop the needle on closer “Rats in Ruin” and let it wash over you.)
Just before their sold-out show at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium (on Halloween, no less), Witches guitarist Ben McLeod and bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks Jr. welcomed PG’s Chris Kies onstage to re-chronicle their setups. The resulting conversation covers their modified war horses, deciphers their esoteric stacks, and reveals the secrets of the “doom broom.” Plus, we get hip to new builder Elad Shapiro of Dale Amps.
[Brought to you by D’Addario 360 Rechargeable Tuner: http://ddar.io/Nexxus.RigRundown]
Starting off the Rundown, just like the 2016 episode, we have Ben’s beloved 2010 Gibson Les Paul Traditional. He’s done several mods to make this instrument a third appendage. McLeod had removed the stock speed knobs, opting for witch-hats (of course). However, he’s a big proponent of precise volume manipulation, so he put back the speed knobs for the two volume controls. He replaced the plastic nut with one made of bone. He says it not only helps with intonation but gives the guitar a silkier, smoother sound. The stock bridge Classic ’57 humbucker was swapped out for a DiMarzio Super Distortion. And, although it was mentioned last time, it’s worth noting that the pickguard was removed because McLeod is a big fan of Duane Allman and he didn’t feel like covering the full burst.
All the guitars take D'Addario NYXLs (.010–.046) and are typically tuned to D standard or drop C (C-G-C-F-A-D). And all his guitar maintenance is handled by Eastside Music Supply tech and PG contributor Derek Ness, who authored our 2019 edition of No-Brainer Mods.
Knaggs Nailed It
When a custom builder like Joe Knaggs comes calling as a fan, you answer. The Maryland-based luthier wanted to send McLeod a few guitars and the 6-stringing Witch said, “absolutely!” The SG-ish Honga is his favorite. “This guitar has an ungodly amount of midrange, and it is so awesome,” gushes McLeod. “It’s an amazingly, well-built guitar.” The set-neck, double-cutaway axe has a 24.75" scale length and came with Bare Knuckle Mules. The lone mod on this guitar (again done by Derek Ness) was swapping the pickup selector from below (near the control knobs) to up top, like Les Pauls.
Roy Marks the Spot
“I’m obsessed with Roy Buchanan,” admits McLeod. “So, I had to have a guitar that looked like his, with a butterscotch blonde finish and black pickguard.” This bombshell is a Fender American Vintage ’52 Telecaster. Ben reversed the control plate and put the volume knob ahead of the tone control, so he had easier access to the volume knob for county-ish, pedal-steel bends. He also dropped in a set of Fralin Blues Special Tele single-coils because he heard that his current favorite picker, Kenny Vaughan, loves them. For ATW, it’s primarily a safety net, but when he’s home he plays this T the most. (And for a taste of how it sounds, spin Ben’s surf-western side project El Castillo.)
For songs like “Rats in Ruin,” McLeod will grab a Dunlop Heavy Wall Large Glass Slide (213), and he attacks the strings with Dunlop Tortex .73 mm picks.
This is still the same Fender Twin Reverb reissue Ben was using in 2016, which he’s been blasting through since fourth grade, when he got it for Christmas. He’s had it outfitted with a master volume knob (far right control) so he can dial back its roar at home. (He leaves it wide open when onstage.) Another alteration was removing the pair of Jensens for a couple of alnico Warehouse Guitar Speakers 50W Blackhawks.
The Gain Monster
This mysterious box of rock is a very angry interpretation of a 50W JCM800. Built by Nashvillian Elad Shapiro (Dale Amps is the company), it features a Hiwatt output transformer and Mullard EL34s. A 2x12 open-back Dale cab is loaded with a set of Warehouse Guitar Speakers ET65s. In flight, he uses either the Twin Reverb (clean) or the Dale (heavy). (During the Rundown, Ben alludes to a forthcoming 100W version that will be used on their winter run and into 2022.)
For those who can’t read Hebrew, the controls are as follows: (top, from left) preamp gain, master volume, and presence, while below you have treble, mids, and bass.
Lucky for us, we had the amp builder himself on hand, and here’s what he said about his creation: “It’s a 4-stage, high-gain amplifier with three EL34s in the output, three 12AX7s in the preamp, and it has a Hiwatt Partridge output transformer. I like to use them because they’re very open and chime-y sounding. The biggest difference between this and a JCM800 is that it doesn’t have a cold-clipper stage—how the tube is biased causes it to do something unpleasing to my ear. And it cleans up real nice when you ease off the volume.”
6-pack and a Wah
As diverse as the band’s sound can be, Ben keeps his stomps relatively straightforward. His sweet baby Boss BD-2 Blues Driver still finds a home on his board. The rest of his colors come from fresh friends: a duo each of Electro-Harmonix (Holy Grail and Deluxe Memory Man 1100-TT) and MXR (Carbon Copy and Phaser 90) boxes, and a Stomp Under Foot La Scatola Nera. This pedal was a result of a request from Ben to SUF’s Matthew Pasquerella “to have a new and different fuzz from his Alabaster pedal, and add an octave.” Off to the right he has a Dunlop Cry Baby 95Q wah that replaced his Vox V847 Wah because he prefers its wide sweep and not having to engage the circuit, thanks to its auto-return switching. The Radial BigShot ABY True Bypass Switcher controls the amps, while the TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini keeps his guitars in check.
In our last Rundown, we picked our jaw off the floor and left scratching our head when first encountering bassist Charles Michael Parks, Jr. amputated 1972 Rickenbacker (left). At that time, he used the bewildering 4001 most of the night. The only sub happened when going for his 1966 Rickenbacker 450/12 for Dying Surfer Meets His Maker songs Call Me a Star” and “Talisman.” As the story went, the guy he bought it from was left-handed, and he chopped off the upper bout, slashed off some of the headstock, and flipped it around to play lefty. Parks got the bass super cheap, had set it up to play right-handed, reworked the electronics, shaved the bridge and moved it back, and then outfitted it for a proper stereo jack. It usually has D’Addario Half Round (.050–.105) strings. And, as Parks puts it, “it’s a battle axe. If being dragged behind a truck had a sound, it’d be this.”
Since then, he had budding luthier and tech whiz Derek Ness build him a more dependable, road-worthy replica of the oddball (right). Besides the original’s brighter toaster pickups and its frayed look, the biggest difference is that the Ness Custom model has a Hipshot BT3 Bass Xtender detuner.
Daddy Played Bass
This 1962 Fender P bass was bought by Parks’ father in 1965 and was recently gifted to him. His father’s friends were sound engineers and, like the P’s designer, didn’t play the instrument, but they heavily tinkered with its circuitry by putting in a Jazz bass pickup and additional switching. Shortly after purchasing the P, his father smashed the switches and gave it a bizarrely beautiful sound.
From all the years of playing it, Parks’ father worked a serious thumbprint just above the J pickup.
SG Me to 69, Please
A week after Woodstock (possibly after seeing Carlos Santana rip on an SG Special), Parks’ father picked up this 1969 Gibson SG Custom (factory built with only two pickups and a Bigsby) at Hazen’s Music Store in Plattsburgh, New York. Again, being the generous father he is, he gifted it to his son.
Parks’ trusts his tone to Dale, aka Elad, Shapiro, too. The clean amp (right) pumps out 120W and is loosely based on an Ampeg circuit, but uses six 6L6s (instead of KT88s) because Elad prefers “a rounder, thumpier, bluesier sound.” It has an additional midrange control and a robust transformer for a solid DI out (aiming for the Motown gold-standard tone). The left-side head is chasing the thunderous sound of a Sunn Model T. It has an added gain stage and a beefed-up power supply for more voltage, making it the ultimate companion to the doom broom. Both Dale cabinets have a single 15" speaker (below) and a pair of 12s (top). The 1980s Sovtek Mig 100H is just paperweight backup for now.
Parks' Pedal Playground
The lone survivor from our 2016 rundown is Parks’ Red Panda Raster, because of his love for its reverse-delay setting. New arrivals include a Boss DD-200 Digital Delay (used only on “Diamonds”), a Greer Little Samson, MXR FOD (hits the dirty amp), and a Boss RV-5 Digital Reverb. A Radial Twin City Active ABY Switcher controls the amps, a Radial Voco-Loco Effects Switcher colors his vocals, and a Sonic Research ST-300 Turbo Tuner keeps his instruments in line.
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For these new recreations, Fender focuses on the little things that make original golden-era Fenders objects of obsession.
If there’s one thing players love more than new guitars, it’s old guitars—the unique feel, the design idiosyncrasies, the quirks in finish that all came from the pre-CNC era of instrument manufacturing. These characteristics become the stuff of legend, passed on through the years via rumors and anecdotes in shops, forums, and community networks.
It’s a little difficult to separate fact from fiction given these guitars aren’t easy to get your hands on. Fender Telecasters manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s sell for upwards of $20,000. But old is about to become new again. Fender’s American Vintage II series features 12 year-specific electric guitar and bass models from over two decades, spanning 1951 to 1977, that replicate most specs on their original counterparts, but are produced with modern technologies that ensure uniform build and feel.
Chronologically, the series begins and ends, fittingly, with the Telecaster—starting with the butterscotch blonde, blackguard 1951 Telecaster (built with an ash body, one-piece U-shaped maple neck, and 7.25" radius fretboard) and ending with the 1977 Telecaster Custom, which features a C-shaped neck, a CuNiFe magnet-based Wide Range humbucker in the neck position, and a single-coil at the bridge. The rest of the series spans the highlights of Fender’s repertoire: the 1954 Precision Bass, 1957 Stratocaster in ash or alder, 1960 Precision Bass, 1961 Stratocaster, 1963 Telecaster, 1966 Jazz Bass, 1966 Jazzmaster, 1972 Tele Thinline, 1973 Strat, and 1975 Telecaster Deluxe. The 1951 Telecaster, 1957 Strat, 1961 Strat, and 1966 Jazz Bass will also be offered as left-handed models. Street prices run from $2,099 to $2,399.
Fender '72 American Vintage II Telecaster Thinline Demo | First Look
Spec’d To Please
Every guitar in the series sports the era’s 7.25" radius fretboard, a mostly abandoned spec found on Custom Shop instruments—Mexico-made Vintera models, and Fender’s Artist Series guitars like the Jimmy Page, Jason Isbell, and Albert Hammond Jr. models. Most modern Fenders feature a 9.5" radius, while radii on Gibsons reach upwards of 12". Videos experimenting with the 7.25" radius’ playability pull in tens of thousands of viewers, suggesting both a modern fascination with and a lack of exposure to the radius among some younger and less experienced players.
T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne picks an American Vintage II 1966 Jazzmaster in Dakota red.
Bringing back the polarizing 7.25" radius across the entire series is a gamble, and it’s been nearly five years since Fender released year-specific models. But Fender executive vice president Justin Norvell says that two years ago when the Fender brain trust was conceptualizing the American Vintage II line, they decided the time was right to “go back to the well.”
“We’ve been doing the same [models], the same years, over and over again for 30 years,” says Norvell. “We really wanted to change the line and expand it into some new things that we hadn’t done before and pick some different years that we thought were cool.”
“It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”—Steve Thomas, Fender
To decide on which years to produce, Fender drew from what Norvell calls a “huge cauldron of information” from Custom Shop master builders to collectors with vintage models to former employees from the 1950s and 1960s. The hands-on manufacturing of Fender’s golden years meant guitars produced within the same year would have marked differences in design and finish. So, the team had to procure multiple versions of the same year’s guitar to decide which models to replicate. Norvell says some purists would advocate for the “cleanest, most down-the-middle kind of variant,” while others would push for more esoteric and rare versions. Norvell says that ultimately, the team picked the models that they felt best represented “the throughline of history on our platforms.”
Simple and agile, the Fender Precision Bass—here in its new American Vintage II ’54 incarnation—earned its reputation in the hands of Bill Black, James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and other foundational players.
Norvell says the American Vintage II series was developed, in part, in response to calls to reproduce vintage guitars. Just like with classic cars, he says, people are passionate about year-specific guitars. Plus, American Vintage II fits perfectly with the pandemic-stoked yearning for bygone times. “For some people, these specific years are representative of experiences they had when they were first playing guitar, or a favorite artist that played guitars from these eras,” says Norvell. “These are touchstones for those stories, and that makes them very desirable.”
Fender’s electric guitar research and design team, led by director Steve Thomas, dug through the company’s archive of original drawings and designs—dating all the way back to Leo Fender’s original shop in Fullerton, California. They found detailed notes, including some documenting body woods that changed mid-year on certain models. Halfway through 1956, for example, Stratocaster bodies switched from ash to alder. That meant the American Vintage II 1957 Stratocaster needed to be alder, too. That, in turn, meant ensuring enough alder was on hand to fulfill production needs.
Among the series’ Stratocaster recreations is this 1973-style instrument, with an ash body, maple C-profile neck, rosewood fretboard, and the company’s Pure Vintage single-coils.
Thomas and his team discovered another piece of the production puzzle when researching how pickups for that same 1957 Strat were made. “We realized that if we incorporated a little bit more pinch control on the winders, we could more effectively mimic the way pickups would have been hand-wound in the ’50s,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”
Thomas proudly calls the guitars “some of the best instruments we’ve ever made here in the Fender plant,” pointing to the level of detail put into design features, including more delicate lacquer finishes which take longer to cure and dry, and vintage-correct tweed cases for some guitars. New pickups were incorporated in the series, like a reworking of Seth Lover’s famed CuNiFe Wide Range humbuckers, which were discontinued around 1981. Even more minute details, like the width of 12th fret dots and the material used for them, were labored over. Three different models in the line feature clay dot inlays at unique, year-specific spacings.
Ironically, modern CNC manufacturing now makes these design quirks consistent features in mass-produced instruments. While the hand-crafted guitars from the ’50s and ’60s varied a lot from instrument to instrument. “Everything needs to be located perfectly, and it wasn’t necessarily back in the day,” says Norvell. “Now, it can be.”
Don’t Look Back
With this new series so firmly planted in the rose-tinted past, Fender does run the risk of netting only vintage-obsessed players. But Norvell says the team, despite being sticklers for period-correct detail, sought to strike a balance between vintage specs, practicality, and playability. The 1957 Stratocaster, for example, has a 5-way switch rather than the original’s 3-way switch. Norvell also asserts that the “ergonomic” old-school radius feels great when chording. “It might not be [right for] a shred machine, but it feels great and effortless.”
The 1966 Jazz Bass is also represented, shown here in a left-handed version.
Norvell also pushes back on the notion that Fender is playing it safe by indulging nostalgia and leaning on their past successes. He says that while the vintage models are some of the most desirable on the market, the team “purposely did not stick to the safe bets,” citing unusual year models like the 1954 P Bass and the 1973 Stratocaster.There’s a good reason why anything that hails back to “the good ol’ days” hits home with every generation. We’re constantly plagued by a belief that what came before is better than what we’ve got now. But with the American Vintage II series, Fender makes the case that guitars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s can very easily be a relevant part of the 2020s.
The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment.
Introducing the Red Sea, an all-analog signal routing matrix, designed for countless stereo and mono signal path routing options. The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment. The Red Sea has accomplished this in a compact, easy-to-use, and cost-effective solution.
Wet | Dry | Wet
The Red Sea gives you the ability to run a FULL Stereo wet dry wet rig using only 2 amps or just 2 signals to the FOH, while also giving you complete control over your Wet & Dry mix! Use the Blend knob to control the overall mix between stereo wet effects and mono dry/drive signals.
Stereo Dual Amps
Run dual amp modelers if full stereo w/ stereo effects. Gone are the traditional ways of one amp in the Left channel and another in the Right channel. Now use the Red Sea to seamlessly blend between two separate amps in true stereo. Think of this as a 2-channel amp where you can blend anywhere between both amps.
Stereo Parallel FX
Red Sea has two independent stereo FX loops. Use each FX loop to run stereo delay's and reverb's in parallel, where each effect does not interact with each other. Huge soundscapes can be achieved with washy reverbs and articulate delay repeats while being able to blend between each FX loops mix level.
The Red Sea can also do the following routing options:
- Wet | Dry utilizing a single amp
- Clean Wet | Dry | Wet (drives DO NOT run into wet effects)
- Wet | Dry | Wet with dual delays (one in the L channel & other in R channel)
- Parallel Dual Amps (run dual amp modelers in FULL stereo)
- Convert a tube amp's serial FX Loop to a parallel FX Loop
- Stereo and Mono analog dry through (avoid latency in digital pedals)
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct amplifier models.
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct maxed-out amplifier models. An all-analog signal path with discrete gain stages featuring MOSFET transistors provides juicy overdrive tones with great note separation that clean up to that sparkly sound that we all love and heard in recordings of the past. Set gain and tone and control everything from your guitar. Sparkly clean to crunchy mean are all there.
You can select the amplifier voicing via the onboard toggle switch.
BSM: Voiced after a blackface amp head that was primarily targeted for bass guitar players but got famous for electric guitar classic rock tones.
VLX: Voiced after a chimey 2x10” combo offering the perfect amount of controllable crunch
DLX: Voiced after one of the most popular low wattage 1×12″ combo amps that have found their way in countless recording studios and clubs around the world.
Stardust V3 now comes with top-mounted jacks and soft-click true bypass via a high-quality relay. The pedal has loads of output volume and enhanced headroom provided by 18V DC (boosted internally) so that it can also be used as a preamp going straight into your Power Amp or AudioInterface when combined with a separate speaker simulation device.
Street price: 199 Euro / 199 USD.
For more information, please visit crazytubecircuits.com.
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original and includes a third footswitch.
Sunn O))) present an enhanced version of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal Octave Distortion + Booster, in collaboration with their comrades at EarthQuaker Devices. The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original to squeeze every last drop of heavy crushing tone available. The octave section has been fine tuned to make it more pronounced without losing the bottom end and we added a third footswitch, utilizing Flexi-Switch Technology, for the octave to allow an additional method of quick and radical tone shaping.
“Working on this new version has been a great continuity of this collaboration which feels so right, and sounds so right,” says Stephen O’Malley. “It’s a really beautiful pedal and it’s also a beautiful art collaboration. I think we made something really interesting that people can enjoy to use for their own music, but also, it makes a lot of sense to release a piece of distortion as a release for our band. We’re really happy that this is a trilogy now.”
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal is designed to represent the core front end chain used in those sessions, to drive the tubes of the band’s multiple vintage Sunn O))) Model T amplifiers (or take your fancy) into overload ecstasy. This is a 100w tube amp full stack’s holy dream, or its apostate nightmare.
Sunn O))) Life Pedal is a distortion with a blendable analog octave up and a booster
- Features 3 different clipping options: Symmetrical Silicon, Asymmetrical Silicon & LED, and pure OpAmp Drive
- Distortion and booster can be used independently
- Expression and footswitch control over analog octave up
- Octave blend allows total control over how much Octave is mixed into the circuit
- True bypass with silent relay based soft touch switches
- Features EarthQuaker Devices’ proprietary Flexi-Switch® Technology
- Lifetime warranty
- Current Draw: 15 mA
- Octave Distortion: Input impedance: 1 MΩ / Output impedance: <1 kΩ
- Booster: Input Impedance: 500 kΩ / Output Impedance: <1 kΩ
- List Price: $299 USD