Friday, December 26, 2014

Can The Blue Input Captain Micro-Transformer Be Used As An Electric Bass Guitar Pickup?

Even though the last time I saw it being done was back in 1989, can the blue input captain micro-transformer be used as an electric bass guitar pickup?

By: Ringo Bones

Blue input captain micro-transformers, as they are known by their “trade-name” here in Cebu, Philippines, are usually more synonymous with tweaking the AN214 integrated circuit audio amplifier than being used in the musical performance field. But those fortunate enough – and old enough – to had experienced this “black-art” back around 1989 to 1992, can the blue input captain micro-transformers be used – if they even work at all – as an electric bass guitar pickup?

Even though I’ve only seen it actually done less than five times as a “secret electric bass guitar tweak” back in 1989, using some balanced-unbalanced blue-color-coded microphone transformers intended for impedance matching of either balanced and unbalanced microphones to be used in ether balanced or unbalanced circuits – as they are properly known – does indeed work as an electric bass guitar pickup. Even though orientation to optimize for the loudest bass signal is about as tricky as fixing a P-90 type electric guitar pickup with faded polarity and terminal indicators, it did manage to generate a very strong bass signal with a bit too much sub-sonic / infrasound harmonics that it necessitated the placing of a 0.1-microfarad 50-volt Mylar capacitor in series with its output terminals in order to filter out the excess sub-sonic / infrasonic garbage from overloading the cones of your electric bass amplifier’s loudspeaker. Note that those tiny red dots on the bobbin of the blue input captain micro-transformers are polarity indicators.

The resulting tone – using a late 1970s early 1980s Japanese made Fender bass copy – is reminiscent that of the hair metal band Poison’s bass player Bobby Dall’s tone during the Flesh and Blood and Swallow This Live period of the band. Even though this “characterless 1980s era synthesizer keyboard like bass tones” is not going to be of everyone’s taste, it does make an interesting tweak to one’s “auxiliary electric bass guitar” to those wanting to sound like Poison’s bass player Bobby Dall during the hair metal band’s Flesh and Blood and Swallow This Live period or those currently working in a Poison tribute band wanting for some more “tonal authenticity”.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ernie Ball Cobalt Electric Guitar Strings: The Future of Electric Guitar Strings?

Claiming to be 22 percent more magnetization that nickel based electric guitar strings, does the Ernie Ball Cobalt electric guitar string represent the future development of electric guitar strings?

By: Ringo Bones 

Endorsed by both seasoned guitarists Slash and Dream Theater founder John Petrucci, it seems that Ernie Ball is really serious about promoting their new line of electric guitar strings and getting the word out there that it is not only represent the future of electric guitar string development, but also it is able to cater the needs of musicians with very particular needs. Given the nature of contemporary pop music in comparison to late 1980s hair metal and older Blues-based rock, I started to wonder – when I first saw the advert more than a year ago – if the “tone” of the Ernie Ball Cobalt electric guitar strings maybe just “too radical” for old school guitarist that I grew up with – i.e. Slash and John Petrucci. So, I’ve waited a guitar playing friend of mine to test it out given her old strings are starting to get a bit frayed a few months ago. 

If your weary of electric guitar products produced during the last 20 years that tended to sound “too radical” when you use them for relatively clean toned classic rock and 1950s era Blues. But then again, I’ve kept an open mind when I and my friend auditioned the Ernie Ball Cobalt electric guitar strings. The “claimed” 22 percent more magnetization means this string will play louder than more conventional counterparts on the same guitar amp gain setting. This also means it will distort sooner than its conventional counterpart at the same gain setting which it did by a few decibels. Sound wise – the Ernie Ball Cobalt Electric Guitar strings tend to make your “vintage 1950s or 1960s era” electric guitar and electric guitar amp set-up sound as if it was an early 1980s era MTV direct to the mixing desk rock guitar recording or something in that direction timbre-wise.  

But if your playing style tends toward old school stuff – i.e. early B.B. King and John Lee Hooker – I advise you to carefully audition the Ernie Ball Cobalt electric guitar string because the inherent tone it produces, while richer than its conventional nickel alloy based counterparts, the rich wideband tone may not be to your liking when playing B.B. King’s Lucille on a NOS Sylvania 6L6 vacuum tube equipped 1965 Fender Twin Reverb guitar amp via a Gibson ES 335. The Ernie Ball Cobalt electric guitar strings, especially when paired with the EMG DG-20 David Gilmour set-up – just sounds too modern when playing vintage tones. But its relatively high output means it is advantageous when playing in an electrically noisy environment without resorting to humbucker pickups like doing hard-disk recording sessions with your electric guitar near old style computer monitors.      

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Boutique Electric Guitar Amplifiers: Unknown Tone?

A trend started around the early 1980s to find worthy replacement to hard-to-find tone worthy amps like the Fender Champ, has the boutique guitar amplifier scene – then and now – a still largely undiscovered country? 

By: Ringo Bones 

It is somewhat weird and disconcerting while Ronald Reagan was calling on Americans to return to “old values”, any electronic equipment – especially vacuum tube electric guitar amplifiers – from that era Ronald Reagan wants Americans to return to were getting scarcer and scarcer the longer he stayed in power. Tone-worthy electric guitar amplifiers, like the 1958 Fender Champ, were not only acquiring hyper inflated second hand prices, but were also increasingly getting scarce that by the mid 1980s, A “battered” 1958 Fender Champ with a hum problem that gave it a signal to noise ratio of around 40 decibels were selling for nearly 1,000 US dollars on the second-hand market. Given the dilemma, electric guitar amplifier manufacturers quickly exploited the need, but sadly, the boutique amplifier scene is still largely an “undiscovered country” to the uninitiated. 

During the early 1990s, the increasing scarcity of 1950s era Fender Champs finally started an industry that sets to replace them with modern built equivalents that not only sound as good but also as good as the built quality of the original at prices reasonable enough to avoid you from questioning your own sanity once you’ve decided to buy one upon hearing how great it sounds after a few choice chords. Even though every high powered Marshall amps “secretly” wants to sound like a Fender Champ while still being able to play at loud arena-filling labels, modern boutique amps now have their raison d’ĂȘtre near the end of the 20th Century as a recording session amp in a space restricted home studio. 

Around the early 1990s, the Kendrick 2410 Electric Guitar Amplifier got the rave reviews It deserves for delivering what it claims to be able to – and even more. The claim of raw tone and rich harmonics at your fingertips was entirely justified at the time. It might be the “Holy Grail of guitar amps” says guitarist Tery Oubre, but it can be hard to open and check inside when compared to other boutique amps. Interested parties could check out their catalog at Kendrick Amplifiers, PO Box 160 Pflugerville, Tx. 78660. 

While I’m more inclined to use and own the Belov Dragster not only because it is easier to open in order to check out the circuit during vacuum tube replacement time even though the circuit doesn’t run its output tubes at the very inch of their lives thus they tend to last longer than most but also its parallel single ended circuit configuration that uses either 6L6 and EL34 output tubes makes it closer in tone to the original 6V6 output tube equipped Fender Champ. Even though the parallel single-ended output circuit configuration of the Belov Dragster is more at home at Hi-Fi World that at Guitar World, the Belov Dragster electric guitar amp has something to offer to both the guitarist and the hi-fi enthusiast. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Can Potentiometers Affect Your Electric Guitar’s Tone?

Even though typical electric guitar owners consider changing the stock pickups of their guitar as the most cost effective way to upgrade to a better tone, would changing the pots or potentiometers be the more cost-effective option? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Whenever they are dissatisfied with the sound of their electric guitar and they have some money burning a serious hole in their pocket, most electric guitar owners resort to upgrading the stock pickups of their electric guitars as a “cost effective way of upgrading their electric guitar sound. After all, there are well-reviewed DiMarzio humbuckers and Lace Sensor single-coil pickups that can be bought for less than 500-US dollars that would readily transform that 500-US dollar electric guitar given to you as a gift last Christmas into something that sounds similar to a one used by a famous rock guitar god. But what if I told you that there’s a far more cost effective – i.e. cheaper – alternative way to upgrade the existing tone of your electric guitar. 

Consider changing potentiometer values of your electric guitar, a reliable potentiometer brand often used by top electric guitar manufacturers like Fender or Gibson seldom sells more than 50-US dollars each. And if you’re soldering and electronic DIY skills are as good as your guitar playing, you could save a bundle in labor costs – given that they are relatively easy to install and swap around. From an electronic engineer’s perspective and from the electric guitarists “point-of-hearing”, volume pots or potentiometers act as a tone filter – given that a typical classic Fender Strat or Gibson Les Paul uses internal shielded / Faraday caged wiring  to connect its pickups with the output socket via wires with a 30 picofarad per foot capacitance ala JAN (joint Army-Navy) RG-58 shielded cables. The higher the potentiometer’s value, the more treble you hear. With a little DIY experimenting, you might find out that your electric guitar’s stock pickups can be made to sound like the one used by Eric Clapton during his Cream days just by swapping the pots and a few minutes worth of DIY soldering. 

When it comes to single-coil pickups, stock Fender Stratocaster / Telecaster guitars or Fender type clone electric guitars that use single-coil pickups typically use 250-kiloohm (250-K) potentiometers, substituting it with a 500-K potentiometer will brighten single-coils, whether they are of Stratocaster-style lipstick or the much older soapbar (pre 1955 era) style pickups. For an airy sounding Strat, try a 1-megaohm (1-Meg) potentiometer. The trick here is to find a value that provides clarity of tone without introducing too much harshness or noise.    

When it comes to humbucker pickup use and installation, most manufacturers follow Gibson’s lead and use 500-Kiloohm (500-K) potentiometers for humbucker pickups. If your humbucker pickup equipped electric guitar sound too bright, too shrill or too tonally thin, try mellowing its tone by changing to a lower value potentiometer – typically 300-K or 250-K. Conversely, you can add more presence to a humbucker by switching to a 1-Meg volume control. Just remember that in a dual-volume Les Paul style rig, you can mix volume controls say like brightening only the neck pickup or darkening the bridge pickup of your Les Paul type electric guitar for greater tonal flexibility usually very useful for country music or old school electric Blues styles.