I’ve got something coming up that’s going to require some slide playing, so I thought I’d give this little gadget a try. It’s just a chunk of aluminum (I think) that you put over your existing nut to raise the action up for lap steel playing.
Now, in the video, I was just playing it like a normal bottleneck slide. It works that way, but since then I’ve been playing that guitar as a lap steel (as intended) and it works much better.
I still don’t understand what they mean by their promise that it “will not throw your guitar out of tune”. It’s a bizarre thing to put on the package… and they put it there twice! You’ve got to completely detune the guitar to put it on there, and intonation is all on you when it comes to slide playing. Of course, that’s got nothing to do with whether or not the product works as intended, which it does, but it’s still a weird thing to put on the package.
About 5-6 weeks ago I livestreamed the installation of the K&K Pure Mini pickup in my Ibanez EW20-ASNT. I was quite impressed with it at the time, however, I noted then that I would provide a more thorough review of the pickup after I’d had a chance to try it live, in my lesson studio, and other situations. Since then, I’ve tried it out in all sorts of setups and venues. I’ve tried it hooked straight into an amp in my lesson studio, I’ve tried it running into a small PA in a dingy little bar, I’ve tried it on a proper stage with monitors blasting the sound back at me, I’ve tried it in all manner of scenarios and I’m no less a fan than I was on day one!
As I mentioned in the livestream, when I was researching pickups for that guitar, everybody was recommending the Fishman or L.R. Baggs systems. I even made it a special point to check out various acoustic pickup manufacturers while I was at NAMM this past January. I hadn’t seen or heard any recommendations for the K&K. It wasn’t until after I’d tried out their Twin Internal mandolin pickup (and been thoroughly pleased with it) that I decided to look into their acoustic guitar pickups. The various demos that I watched and listened to showed me a pickup that got much closer to capturing the acoustic sound of the instrument than many of the other systems I had looked at. Microphone equipped systems like the Fishman Infinity, L.R. Baggs Anthem, and the Seymour Duncan Mag Mic sounded quite good, however they were also significantly more expensive than the K&K Pure Mini. I also liked that the Pure Mini was passive. I don’t have anything against active pickups or systems, but never having to worry about the battery dying on you is a nice bonus.
In my research, many folks pointed out that the K&K was significantly more susceptible to feedback than other systems. This wasn’t a huge concern for me, as I don’t play live acoustic guitar that often (although I am doing so much more since installing this pickup). I figured if the feedback was a problem, a sound hole cover would likely fix the issue for just a few bucks. However, I’ve had hardly any issues with feedback in the 5-6 weeks I’ve had it installed! The only time I’ve had feedback issues is in my lesson studio when I’ve got kids playing trumpet or saxophone. I’m in a tiny room, I’ve got the amp a little louder than normal, and horns blaring straight into the sound hole. It’s not a great environment. The feedback isn’t unmanageable though. Whenever it started up, I had no trouble stopping it. Having the piezo elements mounted underneath the bridge plate means that you’ll have to dampen the sound board as well as the strings, but that’s no trouble.
But how does it sound?! I imagine you asking… well, great! I’ve always loved the sound of that guitar. It’s very bright and it sits perfectly in a mix without any additional EQ or tweaking. Whenever I record with it, a good microphone is all that I need. I wanted that guitar to sound as good on stage as it does in the studio, and now it does! It also sounds great recording direct, which is excellent if you don’t have access to a quiet studio. Below I’ve included a few samples of the recorded sound. I recorded these direct into Audacity with an old M-Audio JamLab USB interface. It’s nothing fancy, but that’s the point! If you’re in a nice studio, you’re probably going to just record your acoustic guitar with a pair of condenser mics or something like that. You’re not going to record the pickup direct. But recording with a microphone isn’t an option (perhaps you live in a noisy neighborhood) or if you’re just on a really tight budget, this pickup is perfect. It’s inexpensive, easy to install, and it sounds great. Give it a listen for yourself below. As a bonus, I’ve included a clip that A/B’s the direct sound of the pickup with a clip from Fox & the Red Hares’ song “Beneath Boot Hill”, which was recorded with the same guitar, but mic’d. I’m using a fresh set of DR Zebra strings in a custom light gauge.
K&K also make a variety of preamps designed to compliment the Pure pickups. While I’m quite satisfied with the sound of the pickup by itself, I’m interested to hear how the preamp can make it sound even better. I’m particularly interested in the Pure XLR Preamp, which serves the additional function of a DI. If I end up getting one, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on it as well.
K&K Pure Mini
Inexpensive (only $99 from many online retailers)
Easy installation (it only took me an hour, power drill required)
Passive (no batteries, no big preamp unit to install)
Doesn’t alter the appearance of your guitar
Provides a great, natural, acoustic sound
More susceptible to feedback than other systems (but not problematically so)
I recently installed the K&K Mandolin Twin Internal in my mandolin, and I was really pleased with the results. Now that I’ve been doing regular solo acoustic shows, I decided that it was time to upgrade my acoustic with an internal pickup. I’ve been using the Duncan Woody for a few years, and while it certainly gets the job done at a fair price, it really doesn’t capture the acoustic sound of the instrument. I asked some friends who play acoustics live, and they recommended either the Fishman or L.R. Baggs systems. Nobody was recommending the K&K.
Given how pleased I was with the mandolin pickup, I thought I’d look into their offerings, and after watching this video I was sold! A passive pickups that sounds that much like a mic’d up acoustic? And it’s only $100?! I bought one on Amazon right away, and roughly 24 hours later it’s now in my guitar! I’ll be doing a full review of it after I’ve had a chance to try it live, but I’m quite pleased with it so far.
The installation was really easy. The pickup came with a little plastic jig and everything you needed to install it (except the super glue). It was a significantly easier installation than the mandolin pickup, as the sound hole of the guitar give you more room to work than trying to get everything through the f-holes on the mandolin. The whole process only took me an hour (including time sitting there waiting for the glue to set). You can watch me install it below, and hear a sample of the both the pure mini and the mandolin pickup.
Also, check out my high-tech overhead camera setup:
I was at the NAMM show this past weekend. It was a great show overall. Much less crowded than previous years and way fewer artist signings and things like that crowding up the floor. I ended the weekend with probably my most exciting and unexpected NAMM moment ever though…
Yeah! I got a compressor straight from the hands of Robert Keeley himself! I dropped by the booth hoping to try out the Memphis Sun. They didn’t have any there, but they did have the Compressor+, which had recently caught my eye online.
I’ve had the Keeley 2 knob compressor on my board for years. However, when I got my Delta King, I started noticing that it was hitting the compressor way too hard. No matter what I did, the compressor would just crush my sound and never let up. It’s a common issue with humbuckers or active pickups and compressors, but that guitar rendered my Keeley pretty much useless. I need a nice, spanky, compressed tone for the Copy Cats… Basically, I needed a different compressor or a different guitar.
After talking to Robert a bit, he affirmed that the Compressor+ was designed to address exactly the problem I was having. The toggle in the middle switches between single coil and humbucker modes. Single coil mode behaves like the old 2 knob, but when you flip over to humbucker mode it eases up a bit. I’m not sure if it raises the threshold where the compressor kicks in, lowers the input gain a little, or what… But it works! Check out the video for a comparison between how the 2 knob handles humbuckers compared to the Compressor+.
In addition to the single coil / humbucker modes, the Compressor+ also has a tone and blend knob. Both behave as you would expect. The tone brings in some extra brightness and the blend is a simple wet/dry mix (a really clever addition to a compressor that I’ve not seen in a pedal before). The big feature is the toggle switch though. If you’re a humbucker player, but like those classic single coil humbucker sounds, the Compressor+ is worth a shot.
So I’m building my own pedals now! This was my first, the Classic Phaser from Build Your Own Clone. It’s a clone of a 70’s “script logo” Phase 90, but the kit includes an extra 22k resistor that, supposedly, turns it into a modern “block logo” pedal. This is a bit of an unusual kit from BYOC from what I can tell, because Keith apparently only sells kits for currently unavailable pedals. Word is when Bill Finnegan resumed production of the Klon Centaur (as the KTR), Keith pulled the Silver Pony kit from the website. The Phase 90 is stupid easy to get ahold of, even the vintage reissues, and for roughly the same price as this kit. Which brings me to my one, and really only, criticism of this kit: it doesn’t offer the same value as other diy kits because the pedal it copies is so readily available AND affordable. The kit cost me roughly $70 on sale, after shipping. That’s pretty much what reissue Phase 90s are going for on Reverb right now.
However, it IS a great phaser, and I’m satisfied with what I got for the price. The build was very simple and fun (you can watch the whole thing here). As I mentioned earlier, one of the really cool things about the kit is that it can be used to recreate an early spec version of the Phase 90 and the later spec (it’s just one resistor). In the video, I’ve rigged up some alligator clips (a little rig I usually use to hot swap tone caps when rewiring guitars) and clipped the extra resistor in to compare the sounds. In general, I prefer the extra resistor in there. There’s a bit more high end and volume in general, and the resonance peak seems to shift slightly higher with it in there. I also found the full-clockwise position to be a bit comical with the “script logo” spec compared to the “block logo”.
However, I could easily imagine myself preferring either in different situations. The vintage specs sound much better when playing Isletys, Jacksons, Zeppelin, or other classic 70’s recordings that feature a phaser part (be it guitar or keyboards). So my plan is to wire in a SPST toggle switch that will let me flip between the two versions. If Keith were to modify the kit to make that a standard feature, this kit would definitely be worth the price, as you’re getting both vintage and modern versions of a single pedal.
Not being a phaser fan, I was surprised at how much I liked this pedal. Maybe I’ve only tried crap phasers before, but this one sounds good to my ears. If you like how it sounds too you can buy the kit at the link below, but if you’ve already got a phaser, I’d recommend the Phase Royal or another phaser with more options.
No, I don’t expect you to watch a 4 hour video of me building this pedal (unless you really want to). I would like to say a few things now that it’s finished though!
This was the first electronics project I’ve done since I was a kid, but I never did anything with PCBs back then (I always did breadboard projects), so there was a bit of a learning curve for me. I’m used to doing mods and repairs, but populating a whole circuit board from nothing is a much different experience. The instructions were easy to follow, although they left out the part about orienting the IC sockets. Thankfully they include a photo of the completed pedal guts, so I was able to reference that to figure out the proper direction for the chips to face.
The kit includes an optional extra resistor that supposedly changes the pedal from an early Phase 90 spec to a later version. I left the extra resistor out (old spec), but I might try clipping it in to compare the sounds later. Perhaps I could add a mini toggle switch so I can go back and forth.
Anyways, it sounds… like a 70’s phaser. I don’t have a real Phase 90 to compare it to, but it sounds pretty legit to my ear. The pedal has a nice throaty tone to it and a focused sweep. The whole range of the speed control is useable. At slower speeds it provides just a little bit of movement that could help something stand out in a crowded mix, while at the top you get a rapidly oscillating phase sound reminiscent of JPJ’s Rhodes piano on “No Quarter” (which I will undoubtedly be using this pedal to cover).
The only downside to the kit is the value. A big part of the appeal of DIY pedals is that you can get some great quality stuff for half the price or less (since you’re providing the labor). This kit cost me about $70 after shipping (and a discount). I could buy a real Phase 90 for that price. If you don’t have a phaser, and are into electronics, I’d recommend it. But if you already have one, I don’t really see the value. Perhaps if I could compare the pedal directly with a vintage Phase 90, the various reissues, and the mass production models, and it outperformed them, then perhaps I’d change my tune.
Full disclosure: I am friends with a couple folks at Nordstrand Audio, including the designer/builder of this pedal. I have received no compensation for this review and purchased my pedal at full retail price.
Rocket Surgeon is the new pedal division of Nordstrand Audio, known for their pickups. The first pedal in the lineup was the Seratone Mood Altering Fuzz, a bass fuzz, but their second outing is Boris: Fuzz for the People. The pedal is an attempt to create a fuzz that self-corrects the massive mid-scoop fuzz pedals typically have. In the studio, this isn’t an issue, as tracks will be extensively EQ’d and tweaked to sit properly in the mix anyway. It can be a problem in a live setting though, especially when used for solos. The obvious fix is to pair your fuzz with an EQ that brings the mids back, but it would be a lot easier if those mids just weren’t sucked out to begin with!
But before we get to the sounds Boris makes, let’s take a look at what comes in the box. Boris comes with more box swag than I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure if all this goodness is a special bonus for folks who got one of the first few or not, but there’s some cool stuff in here. My box included the following: two Dr. Von Fuzzbrauer stickers, two different Rocket Surgeon stickers, a mini Boris logo pin, a Nordstrand Audio pin and sticker, four self-adhesive rubber feet, and a piece of Velcro (hook side). The pedal itself was inside a silk pouch, and the box was filled with some shredded red paper. The black and red motif makes a bold statement that really gets you excited to plug this thing in. One thing I noticed is conspicuously missing is any warranty info. This may just be an omission for the first batch, however, and I’m sure one could just contact the company with any troubles. Including both the rubber feet and some Velcro is a nice consideration, especially since I don’t need to remove the feet myself, which is often the first thing I’ve got to do when putting a new pedal on my board.
Okay, that’s all great, but how’s it sound? Honestly, it’s a lot less fizzy and noisy than I expected. That’s probably got more to do with my inexperience with higher end fuzz pedals than anything else, but it was a pleasant surprise. The pedal sports three knobs (volume, tone, and fuzz) which behave how you would expect. Even with the fuzz control maxed out, Boris doesn’t push the noise floor up much at all. Most other fuzz pedals require a noise gate or constant tap dancing to keep it from filling any empty space with feedback and white noise, but I found myself sitting in near silence whenever I muted the strings. I anticipated something more akin to the Big Muff or the Fuzz Face, with a lot of high end crackle and pop, but Boris creates a really musical distortion that never once conjured up mental images of a VU meter about to snap off or the clip light on a mix channel begging for my attention. I’d actually put this in some sort of weird fuzz/overdrive hybrid category. It’s definitely a hard clipped sound, but there’s a smoothness to it that makes me less reticent to use it in situations where I might otherwise be reluctant to use such an aggressive effect.
The pedal cleans up great too. At lower fuzz levels it creates a sound similar to a blown speaker, and at the minimum setting it adds a nice bit of saturation and a pleasant mid-hump to your tone (especially with single coils).
The real thing that sets it apart is a control I haven’t mentioned yet: the Nuclear/Doom switch. A toggle switch beneath the tone knob allows you to flip between Nuclear and Doom settings. The Doom setting sounds more like a typical fuzz EQ: no mids and a ton of bass. I haven’t spent too much time with this setting, as I often found the Nuclear setting to yield more useful tones. The Nuclear setting reshapes the EQ, taming the bass a bit and bringing the mids back into the mix. The result is a much fuller sound that should do a good job cutting through when solo time comes around. I keep a Boss GE-7 on my board that has a mid-boost and a slight low-end roll off. I use it as my “solo button”. Switching between the Nuclear and Doom settings resulted in a comparable change in tone.
Overall, I’m more than pleased with the pedal. I anticipated it would be something I kept on my board for the occasional moment where a ridiculous amount of noise and buzz was just what I needed (like the heavy part in Creep), but after spending the afternoon toying with it, I have a feeling I’ll be using it a lot more than I initially intended to.
My EHX Memory Toy broke at a recent gig. I’ve ordered the necessary parts to fix it, but they haven’t arrived yet and I’ve got Copycats show! Slapback delay is a must for that kind of stuff, and I don’t currently have the money to go pick up a new delay.
But I can afford the Monoprice one! It cost me less than $25, and I’m very pleased with what it delivers.
It’s a standard no-frills digital delay. The controls are exactly what you’d expect: time, feedback, and a wet/dry mix. The wet/dry control is labeled “echo” and seems to max out at 50/50 wet/dry, which I find very convenient, as I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve wanted anything wetter than 50/50. The time knob is a big white chicken head knob and the other two controls are standard micro knobs. Time ranges from 25ms-600ms. You can also get some self-oscillation going when you push the feedback control past 3 o’clock. I have no use for such sounds, so I appreciate that the pedal isn’t overly sensitive in this regard. The switch has a nice click to it, no audible noise upon activation, and is true-bypass.
The casing is, I assume, aluminum. It’s the standard micro-sized casing that’s been popularized by TC Electronics, the micro TS from Ibanez, and other such pedals. Speaking of TC, this pedal would be best compared to the Flashback Mini. It’s only a quarter the price and sounds great (especially for the cost). The big bonus on the Flashback is the TonePrint feature, but if you just need a simple delay on the cheap, this is a great option.
But does it sound good? That’s why the video is up there. I don’t have the necessary equipment to record it properly, but you’ll get the idea. The delayed sound gets a bit gritty as it goes on, but it never gets harsh or muddy. All-in-all, I’m quite happy with it, and am considering keeping it on my board even after I’ve repaired the Memory Toy.
Someone on Reddit recently asked about Monoprice’s guitar pedals. Nobody had any first-hand experience with them, so, seeing as I live a few minutes from their warehouse, I decided to pick some stuff up and check it out.
I grabbed the Tube Overdrive mini, which is a TS mini clone. It’s really solid, like most stuff from Monoprice. Sound-wise, it’s not bad, although turning any single parameter all the way up can have some pretty negative effects. The most useful range for the controls is between 9-3 o’clock, which is pretty standard for Chinese clones in my experience.
I was reminded of the Alpha Drive/Ultimate Drive controversy. People that tried both usually said the Alpha Drive was the better pedal, as the range of effect was more focused compared to the Joyo. That’s how I’d compare the Monoprice to the TS mini. The TS mini doesn’t have as wide a range as the Monoprice version, but the whole range is usable.
The 9v power supply and daisy chain are pretty great. They feel sturdier than other brands like the 1spot. The wall wart doesn’t go sideways though, so it will cover adjacent outlets unless placed at the bottom, which is a bummer. Definitely a good buy for roughly 10USD total.
The 8″ patch cable is the big winner. It feels much sturdier and better quality than similarly priced pedalboard patch cables. I mention in the video that Monoprice’s old “instrument” cable was anything but. It was microphonic as all get-out and completely unusable for guitar. In my research, I discovered that the cable only behaves that way when used in high Z connections (like a guitar with passive pickups). These patch cables are actually made from the same stuff, but pedals do not output a high Z signal, so it is a non-issue. I also discovered that they have begun selling a “cloth series” cable that is apparently a proper instrument cable.
I’ll definitely make it a point to check out their other pedals. They’re cheap and tiny. Perfect for an effect that you don’t use often, but want to have around just in case (I wish they had a mini chorus effect, I only ever use that on “Anything, Anything”). I’m also going to check out their new cloth covered instrument cables. The prices are even lower than the RoadHog cables I’ve become so fond of over the past year or so. If they’re of the same quality I normally expect from Monoprice, they will be an excellent find as well.
A couple weeks ago, this box from Seymour Duncan showed up:
Inside was a new custom neck pickup. I stayed up all night putting it in my guitar (I also took the opportunity to completely shield and rewire it), and it sounds killer now!
Huge thanks to the great folks over at Seymour Duncan!
You may also notice that those strings are bronze wrapped. It’s an experiment, but so far I like it. It’s a darker sound than nickel/steel, closer to pure nickel. Definitely worth a try if you’re looking for a new sound (it also looks super sharp with gold hardware).