Sunday, November 22, 2009

Distant Relatives . . .

The stagnant, murky green waters of the Tone Farm have once again been coerced into tidal motion by our resident heavy / alt rock guru James Reetz. For his most recent contribution, Mr. Reetz delves deeply into his bag of tricks to procure a true gem: Clutch. If you haven't heard of them, all I can say is that you should. Not since the glory days of Soudgarden and Stone Temple Pilots has a hard rock band left such a vast, highly-radioactive blast radius. Daring, twisted, and unconventional - yet at the same time totally familiar. You might not know what to make of what you hear - though it's all but a given that your musical geiger counter will sustain permanent damage. Lead suits are highly recommended. - - J.

I must first admit that I am a follower when it comes to discovering new music. I didn't know about Motley Crue until Shout at the Devil. I had to be introduced to G n' R by my cousin - months after "Appetite for Destruction" hit the shelves. I'm just now hearing some of the best 70's rock due to the diligence of our most esteemed blog proprietor (THANK YOU MR. NELSON!). Still, when I hear something new (new to me at least) I have an ingrown desire that it be great. I want to know the exhilaration that people experience from seeing a band in it's infancy that eventually sets the rock and roll world on it's ear. Can you imagine what it was like for teenagers to see Motley at the Whiskey in 1980? My 2005 discovery of Clutch mirrors this tale in many ways. I was immediately obsessed. 10001110101 was coming through my stereo (from Robot Hive / Exodus) and I couldn't believe my ears. Was that a Hammond organ I was hearing? Was this the future of rock or the past? One call to the radio station and a trip to the store and my hopes of a fledgling discovery were crushed. Clutch had been at it for (12) years at that point. The good news . . . there was lots of incredible Clutch to catch up on.

Strange Cousins from the West is the next step towards . . . I'm not sure what. Never before have I struggled this much to classify and describe what a band does or where they fit. The album is original and fresh and diverse - - and yet undeniably Clutch. Overall, I find that the album is exactly what I was hoping for - yet at the same time very surprising and rewarding from track to track. The first song, Motherless Child, breaks down your door and announces Clutch's arrival with clean guitar power and angst filled lyrics. After that, you're treated to metal infused, blues tinged punk, funk, and soul - - flavored with tiny little bits of folk and country. Diversity is an album with songs entitled Minotaur and Sleestak Lightning. Neil Fallon, once a gifted lyricist is now a brilliant vocalist who's musings will make you think as well as spark your imagination. Insane or genius, maybe both. In my opinion, Abraham Lincoln is the feature song on the disc (although 50,000 Unstoppable Watts is the first single). I mean - who writes a song about Abraham Lincoln? Clutch does, that's who and probably no one else. The song is haunting and catchy; simple and groovy. Why write a song about this man? Fallon offers up a small window into the psyche that is unique to him in a recent interview: "Writing lyrics can be a whole lot of fun because you're given license to completely lie to everybody. I can imagine myself as someone else and say whatever I want."

Thank the stars that Clutch was crowning from the abused womb of hard rock right about the time Metallica was perfecting the commercialization of metal (read: selling out). A quote from another review of Clutch sums it up best, "Though they don't always hit the mark, that Fallon and company take the risks they do is far more commendable than the endless repetition of so many other bands" (unknown author). The fact that the quote is from 2004 and holds true on a 2009 album and all the others is a testament to the greatness of this group of regular joes. by James Reetz

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old Dogs . . . New Tricks

Let me first say that it's extremely difficult to write a review about a Black Sabbath-linked band and not be consumed by the desire to fawn endlessly about their "heaviness". Or their sinfully ominous sound. Or their status quo as the godfathers of the metal genre. But this being my first TF review of a band with said credentials, I promised myself that I wouldn't. We'll see how that goes . . .

The Devil You Know is the first studio release by Heaven and Hell, their current name taken from an aptly-named 1980 Black Sabbath-titled studio effort. Unless you've been serving time in a foreign prison, or on the road with Barry Manilow, you should already be fully aware that the band is more or less a reformation of that version of the band - sans oringinal Sabbath drummer Bill Ward. That being said, there should be no surprises as to what's in store on the musical side of things. As regular TF contributor James Reetz so eloquently mused following his first full listen: this is what Death would listen to on his way to work in the morning.

The band itself is a classic four-piece line-up fronted by the spritely, snarling vocal dynamo Ronnie James Dio (RJD). H & H's nether-worldly ties come courtesy of Sabbath legends Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi. Serving up the thump is Vinne Appice, younger sibling of Carmine - who to my recollection has been in just about every band on the planet at some time or another. Together, a solid, zero-fluff line-up that's fully committed to ripping your head off with old school fire and brimstone metal.

The story of how The Devil You Know came into being goes something like this: When the group got together to cut a few new original tracks for the Black Sabbath / The Dio Years project, the band felt that the vibe present during those sessions was too good to just let simmer on a re-released greatest hits comp. Bat-winged serpents were duly summoned, incantations chanted, and powdered elk antler mixed with eye of goat. Lo and behold, The Devil You Know rose from the fiery depths - as if foretold by the ancients.

Culling on their most auspicious talent for the dark and macabre, the new release grinds sinfully through thick, drop-tuned stanzas. RJD's vocals soar effortlessly amidst midieval-themed lyrical fare. Supporting rhythm lines echo with power and ferocity, descending upon the musical arrangements like a full Panzer division on fleeing, rake-wielding French peasants. The overall effect, of course, is extremely satisfying. A wonderfully modern, yet still classically-bound metal album brimming with excellent songs and incredible performances.

The initial salvo of "The Devil You Know" starts of with the deliberate and methodical "Atom and Evil", a song whose curves conjure up images of Butler & Iommi's former musical mistress. The tempo picks up a notch for the second number "Fear", but sticks closely to the same basic formula. "The Bible Black" enters quietly with a lovely acoustic rhythm / electric intro and RJD serenading beautifully. Two measures later, the song explodes into churning, furious metal cacophany. To me, this song is the jeweled chalice of this album, melding together all of the finest points of the band's volumnous talent and classic metal sound. You simply listen in awe and marvel at the incredible artistry that is Heaven and Hell.

"Double The Pain" and "Rock and Roll Angel" capture the band in full gallop. Both are searing mid-tempo concoctions dripping with savage riffery. The latter features an amazing guitar transition part and solo that leaves no doubt that Iommi stands alone on the silver mountain. The often-copied and highly-revered axeman tastefully weaves his magic as only he can do, each breathless note cascading into a molten display of six-stringed mastery. Then, as if in a dream, the song fades into the mist on a lovely acoustic passage.

"The Turn of the Screw" echoes solo-era Dio material; wryly-written lyrics dancing between a crunchy rhythm lines. The pace intensifies with "Eathing the Cannibals", but again - conjures up trademark cues. "Follow The Tears", "Neverwhere", and "Breaking Into Heaven" bring this fantastic release to a satisfying climax. Familiar tempos and grinding guitars paying glorious homage to Dio's incredible vocal prowess.

If you're getting the idea that The Devil You Know isn't "re-inventing the wheel", so to speak, then you've hit your mark. This band isn't giving you anything you wouldn't expect to hear from artists of their caliber. The tricks these old dogs can do are still quite impressive, thank you very much.

As I look this review over, I see I have failed miserably in my efforts to avoid the usual Sabbath superlatives. But who cares? It's hard not to get excited about music this good. For that, Heaven and Hell is rightfully deserving of the Tone Farm's full five star rating for The Devil You Know. Easily, one of 2009's must-have hard rock CD's.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Down on the Muff'n . . .

The second installment of the Tone Farm's ongoing feature on distortion pedals is now complete. And those that are serious about anything related to guitar distorion had best give a respectful nod and clenched fist power gesture to Electro Harmonix's esteemed ambassador of kick-ass: the Big Muff Pi.

Knowing that players' preference towards pedal effects is often a personal statement towards their approach to tone, I won't wax sentimental about the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi. I picked up a newer NYC version awhile back on Ebay, and suffice to say - its been a go-to piece of gear ever since.

Understanding the Big Muff's core tonal characteristics often requires one to float further upstream, to the headwaters - so to speak. When the Muff was developed back in the early 70's, players weren't exactly looking to scale back volume or wet effect. Naturally, I always find it interesting that players will ultimately play the "it doesn't clean-up very well" card. My response to that is simply, "why would you want to clean-up a Muff?"

Defining the Muff's tone also elicits some interesting discussion. Is it a fuzz? Is it an overdrive? Is it both? I guess it would all depend on who you ask. David Gilmour has used it successfully as an overdrive pedal for decades. But he, too, has a trick to get the results he wants, as is described in this article at Hmmm . . . transparent overdrive. ;~)

The thick, warm, delicious fuzz-drive tones produced this giant silver brownie pan with knobs are an instant time trip back to classic rock's glory days. Hendrix, Cream, Sabbath, Santana, Trower, Pink Floyd, and ZZ Top - perhaps not all "official" users, but bands / artists whose core sound employs many of the characteristics found in the Big Muff. "Wha' - ZZ Top??!! There ain't no Muff stuff on that" Think again. Check out this You.Tube demo from Pro Guitar shop - about 5:11 in. The Muff cops that lovely "tube sag" so evident in the Rev's early 70's recordings (*and with the "sustain" turned all the way down I might add.) Mercy sakes!

On the point of versatility, it's really a simple question of what you want combined with how dedicated you are to understanding and using the effect to its best advantage. In the months I've playing a Muff, I can't say that I've ever been at a loss to find all kinds of different tones on tap. The stuff you'd expect to be there is there - in spades. However, a little exploration will yield some unexpected and sometimes very cool tones - esp. in tandem with other pedals (*say a delay or compressor). Lower settings should not be ignored, either - - as some of the pedal's more subtle offerings are equally as tasty.

Make no bones about it. If you're a player who digs vintage tones, the Big Muff Pi is an absolute must-have. Its big, bold, and in-your-face tone rocks like a truckload of bricks. Without question, an uncomprimising piece of musical history whose place in the pantheon of rock music is both fully acknowledged and revered. - - J.

TF Mailbag

Pleased as pie to introduce to you our latest blog feature - the Tone Farm Mailbag. Got an idea? Got a gripe? Or just want to share something with our vast, influential readership? The 'Bag is here for you!

Jon -
One post since last May!! Really - - I counted. WTF?
Waiting - Forever, IN

Waiting -
One word: summer. Winter in my parts lasts 6-7 months, so being an outdoor kind of dude - this time of the year is extremely precious. Meaning: I'd rather not spend them inside pecking away at a keyboard. With fall just around the corner, I should be "back in the saddle" soon. Thanks for being patient. - - J.
Hey Jon -
Just wondering what's up with that "Beano Feature" you promised something like a year ago.

E.C. - London, UK
E.C. -
Thanks for your e-mail. Funny you should mention that "Beano" feature. Truth is - I'm still kicking around a few of the tracks that'll be featured on the first installment. You should be hearing them soon, as well as enjoying the literary saviour fare' that will coincide. - - J.
Jon -
Did you give up on writing CD reviews? I haven't seen anything even remotely new as far as your review material goes. What up, dog?
Anonymous - Tumbling Pebble Magazine

Anonymous -
To answer your question, no I did not give up on writing reviews. As James Reetz so eloquently points out in his Metallica review , there are so many other things that can draw time and attention away from freelance writing. For me, a part of it also has to do with insipration, and lately -I've found more of that in my playing than my writing. I'm hoping to get some reviews written for a few of 2009's essential CD's in the coming months, so stay tuned and keep the faith. - - J.
Tone Farm -
Seems to me that all I read / hear about at Tone Farm is old / classic / vintage stuff. There's a lot of cool new stuff happening in music these days, so why don't you clear the cobwebs off of your closet full of dusty relics, and get with the program?
Avenged 7X - Tatooville, USA

Dear Avenged -
If you've noticed a purposeful "lean" towards classic bands, vintage tones, and retro coolness at the Tone Farm - then you're not as stupid as your letter makes you out to be. We all draw our inspiration from somewhere, and at the 'Farm - those happen to be the things that make our world go 'round. From time to time, we'll hit on a few highlights in regards to music's "newer generation". But for our money - we'll always take Lennon or Jagger over Sinister whateverhisnameis. Good luck with your Hepatitus C. - - J.
To Whom It May Concern:
Let me just say that I wasn't very pleased with your review on Tesla's "Reel To Reel" project. Bands doing cover versions of their favorite songs shows an appreciation of the efforts made by rock's most influential bands in making great music. If you missed that, you're a putz.
Nikolai - Sacramento, CA

Nik -
I didn't miss anything in regards to that Tesla "Reel To Reel" Project. Covers are for lazy bands who need their meal ticket punched. Period. If I'm going to spend $35 of my hard-earned dollars hearing a band (*and NOT the original band, mind you) weave their own "magic" on songs made famous by some one else, then I'll just go and buy the REAL version - and save myself the hassle. Case and point is Tesla's most recent studio effort "Forever More", which clearly illustrates that they don't need to cover anyone else's material to merit consideration as one of rock's hardest-hitting and best-sounding outfits. - - J.

Well, that's all for this installment. Keep 'em coming. - - J.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Goodbye Mr. Wizard . . .

Today is a sad day in the world of the guitar. Les Paul, the "Wizard of Waukesha", has passed.

People often use the word "prolific" to describe some of history's greatest guitarists and players. However, when their musical contributions are measured against Les Paul's, they seem all the more mortal - if not average.

A true "player's player", a ground-breaking innovator, and perhaps more than anything - a humble, sincere, and gracious man, Les Paul was a colossal and much-revered figure in the world of guitar.

Be assured that I'll be strumming a few tunes on my Les Paul today in fitting memory.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I am happy to welcome back into the contributor's fold my musical foil and fellow metal-head James Reetz. After considerable prodding, I was finally able to procure a review for Metallica's latest studio effort "Death Magnetic". I'll simply say the it was well worth the wait. - J.

Why haven’t I written a review for Death Magnetic yet? It’s been (8) months since it was released. I’ve listened to it enough times to have a solid opinion. Jon’s been giving me heat about not writing it for about (6) months now - and my last review (Motley Crue’s Saints of Los Angeles) became the most viewed article in Tone Farm history. So why the procrastination?

It would be easy to blame it on my family responsibilities or my increased travel, but I already use those two excuses for why I don’t ride my mountain bike, play my guitar, work out, etc. After some contemplation, however, the answer became clear: the album just isn’t that good. To be fair, it’s not that good for Metallica. I am a Metallica fan. I’ve had to remind myself of that more and more since the St. Anger release which I think was their worst effort since inception. I was excited for St. Anger. Rob Trujillo had joined the band, and he played bass for Suicidal Tendencies - one of my all time favorite bands. My good friend bought St. Anger the day it was released. He gave it a few spins and gave it to me. He didn’t loan it to me. He didn’t burn a copy for me. He gave me the one he bought because he couldn’t stand it. He’s a bigger Metallica fan than me. I listened to it about a dozen times over the next two months - - and then pitched it in a dumpster. I couldn’t find anyone to take it.

When Death Magnetic was being hyped, I tried to be interested. When I heard the fist single, “The Day That Never Comes”, I wrote the album off as St. Anger II. My friend gave them another chance. He bought the album and loaned it to me. That’s a start. He wanted it back at least. I think Death Magnetic is the first baby step in the right direction for Metallica. It’s 100% better than St. Anger, but still a far cry from the Metallica I love.

Speaking of which, I haven’t LOVED a Metallica release since 1988. Has it really been (21) years since they released something that I couldn’t take out of my cd player because it kicked ass that much? You can look at the awards and the charts and the video games and the income since the Black album and conclude that Metallica is as big as ever, but for me, “Justice” was the end of the mind-blowing greatness that was Metallica. Maybe I should have seen it coming. After all, it’s pretty tough to sound like a pissed off kid in his 20's when you’re a multi-millionaire in your 40's.

All things being equal, I don’t think it’s unfair to hold a super group to a higher standard. The Black album signaled the end of an era. James (Hetfield - lead vocalist / guitarist) changed his vocal style. - and he had to if he wanted the chords to last another thirty years. But the change was to the detriment of the sound I had come to love. The songs were more radio-friendly. I won’t go as far as to say they sold out, but they changed enough to be acceptable to mainstream radio, which was moving towards wider acceptance of metal at the same time. I remember hearing James in an interview after “Justice” saying they’d never make an album like that again because it was nearly impossible to memorize and play . . . but that, specifically, was what made it great. No one else would have even attempted an album with that many tempo changes, and tone / riff experiments. Not with songs as long as those anyway. Only the "real" Metallica could pull that stuff off - in the studio and live. Certainly, one would have to expect a drop off of some kind after a ground-breaking album like "Justice For All". Unfortunately, Metallica fell too far.

I remember watching “Some Kind of Monster” while on the road somewhere. The constant bickering while in the studio, seeing the guys sitting around, drinking coffee with their legs crossed; all the side hobbies; Lars constantly telling James that the riffs sounded “stock” but being unable to explain what he meant. For the record, if “stock” means the sound your band defined, why not sound stock?!? You’ve given us three fracken versions of Unforgiven for shitsake . . . and it sucked all three times. Will anybody be disappointed if their next album has the same general sound and feel of "Master of Puppets" or "Ride the Lightning"? For me, that’s when it hit home. The pre-Black Metallica was gone forever. What took me so long to realize that? Hope?

The bottom line, Death Magnetic is a hugely successful commercial album. The songs are solid metal songs that you’ll enjoy. The problem…Death Magnetic has nothing that will make you select it rather than the CD next to it. I shouldn’t have to convince myself that I’m a fan. I shouldn’t procrastinate when asked to write a review. Metallica should be better than that. - - by James Reetz

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Now Hear This . . .

Thought we'd try a little something different this month in regards to the standard Tone Farm gear review. Along with the usual written diatribe, I've put together two additional audio features, both of which can be accessed through the Box.Net links below. The first is a short piece on the pedal itself - narrated by Academy Award winning actor James Earl Jones (*yes, I'm lying about that - - it's just me). Here I'll give you an idea of how the pedal sounds by playing it though an amp; first without the pedal - and then, with it engaged. Some of the chords / riffs I'll use to demonstrate the pedal will transfer over to the second part of the feature - an actual song written / performed using the gear / item being reviewed. I know - what an amazing concept !!

For our initial "test run", I've chosen the BOSS / Fender FDR-1 '65 Deluxe Reverb Pedal. It was a little more work doing the audio part of it, but hopefully, it adds to the fun. Below are the Box.Net links to the .MP3 files, which you can listen to using the resident player; or, download to listen to at your convenience. - - J.

Part 1 - Audio Review - FDR-1
Part 2 - Hearts & Knives - the FDR-1 in action

Paint It Black . . .

The alliance of music industry giants Roland (parent company of Boss USA) and Fender has produced (2) unique effects pedals - the BOSS '59 Bassman (FBM-1) and BOSS '65 Deluxe Reverb (FDR-1). Both are part of Boss' Legend Series and were introduced at Winter NAMM 2007 to eager players and glowing reviews (*imagine that!) Using Roland's propietary COSM technology (Composite Object Sound Modeling) technology, the FBM-1 and FDR-1 pedals were designed to impart the tonal nuances of Fender's 1959 Fender Bassman and 1965 Deluxe Reverb amplifiers to standard tube and solid state amplifiers.

Given the iconic status of these two amps and the incredibly fickle nature of die-hard Fender fans, one might look at this as an exercise in futility. Certainly, the thought of confining the tonal saviour fare one of these classic rigs into a single pedal is appealing; realistically - the task is nearly impossible, and for a variety of reasons that I need not mention.

I managed to steer myself clear of buying either these pedals for the better part of a year and a half, mostly on the basis of price (*they initially retailed for $149). But when I spied a FDR-1 on the Music Go Round website for $69, I thought, "what the hell". Even if the pedal sucked, I could unload it on Ebay for at least what I paid for it, and be none worse for wear. Ah yes, the sad plight of a sworn gear-hound.

I've been playing my FDR-1 pedal for a couple weeks now, and I must say that it does some things very well. Unfortunately, there are some things about it aren't so great - but nothing that overwhelmingly detracts from the fun of using it. Without further adieu - my tale of the tape:


1.) Tone - While the FDR-1 does not have quite the delicious bite or full-fledged auditory swat of the Real McCoy, it works extremely well as a "color" pedal - imparting some of the unique characteristics of a vintage Blackface amp. Chords have a familiar Fender Blackface "kerrang", and single notes slice easily through a mix. Go easy on the gain / reverb / tremolo, though.

2.) Cosmetics - A sleek, black pedal casing, chrome faceplace, and Fender script logo add to the retro Blackface vibe. I know that this doesn't make the pedal sound better - but as someone with a penchant for graphics, BOSS gets style points for cool touches like these.

3.) Accuracy of design - All of the primary features of the '65 Deluxe Reverb are there - from the gain, bass, treble, and reverb - right down to the Fender's inaccurate reference of the on-board tremolo effect as "vibrato". Indeed, it seems that no detail was left unturned.

4.) Tremolo (vibrato) - While not super-great, the tremolo does help the pedal capture a bit of the Deluxe Reverb vibe. As a matter of fact, it apes the effect quite nicely - and even more so with its tap-tempo capabillity (*although a bit cumbersome to use). Best advice I can give here is to use in moderation, as it can get annoying at higher settings.

5.) Durability - BOSS pedals are notoriously over-built. My hope is that the internals are as half as tough as the case and exterior controls.


1.) Reverb - Digital reverb does little justice in approximating the lush, surf-y goodness of a real spring reverb tank (*that is, unless you're the Lexicon-equipped Digitech Hardwire RV-7.) The FDR-1's reverb is horribly fake-sounding and basically unusable beyond the lowest settings. Boo!

2.) Gain - Like the reverb, too much gain (i.e. beyond half-way) results in digital-y blarps and glurgs. As an 80's metal head, I have no problem with extended gain capabilities. What I want, though, is something that sounds decent at these levels. The FDR-1 does not. If it sounds shitty past halfway - what's the point? Hiss!

3.) Battery drain - If you get this little guy cookin' (i.e. maxing out reverb, tremolo, and gain settings), it'll munch through 9V batteries like Kirstie Alley at a KFC buffet. If you're planning on using this pedal regularly, a 9V power supply is a necessity.

The FDR-1 is a pretty cool pedal. It'll add a bit of vintage Fender tone to just about any amp - tube or solid state. Its add-on features (gain / reverb / tremolo) are OK if used in moderation. It's real strength lies in its use as a "color" pedal - not an overdrive effect.

Since being introduced in Jan. '07, BOSS has reduced their retail prices on the Legend Series pedals by a whopping $30 - which might give one the indication that the initial hype was a bit heavy on the frosting. If you can find a good used one in the $60 - $70 range, it might be worth checking out - esp. if you have a good tube amp you can run it through. - - J.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Taking Flight

The following piece is an adaptation of an e-mail between resident Fab Four afficianado Dave Tea and I, in which we discussed one of Aerosmith's early gems: Get Your Wings.

Some of you may be already familiar with the deliciously raunchy grooves found on classic-era Aerosmith albums (*which I term as everything from "Toys" back to their debut). One release that I think is exceptional all across the board is Get Your Wings, 1974 A.D. As a matter of fact, it's a close # 2 of my fave 'smith albums, exceeded only by their incredible self-titled debut (1973). Yes, unbelievably, Toys in the Attic ranks as #3 in my book for overall Aero-quality.

It would not take an expert to deduce that modern day Aerosmith is but a ghost of a once-mighty band. From the sappy, multi-tracked balladry of "I Won't Miss a Thing" to Joe Perry's horrendously awful solo CD (*perhaps the worst vocals I've ever heard on a recorded album), it's been a sad site to witness a once-amazing band's evolution into complete crap. Honestly, Aerosmith hasn't cut a really decent studio album in (30) years (*the last being Toys), although in the modern Aerosmith era, Nine Lives did come fairly close (*to being decent, not great). Their recent blues effort "Honkin' on Bobo" did capture a bit of that old "hutspah" as far as their orignial musical form was concerned; sadly, it was barely a blip on what has now become a somewhat startling collection of flat-line studio efforts and . . . *yawn* . . . greatest hits compilations.

Aerosmith's first three albums (Self-titled, Get Your Wings, Toys) are perhaps the finest three-album run of any American rock band - ever! (*KISS' first three albums are good, but not this good.) Straight-forward, no-bullshit, grab-you-by-the-throat-and-kick-your-ass rock music at its finest. Minimal overdubs gave the music an incredibly live feel, which obviously transcended well to their on-stage performances. Smart arrangements, deft fretwork, hooky tunes, and killer guitar tone were all in abundance, with most (*if not all) being tracked live - meaning that in the studio, everyone was playing the same song at the same time with the red button in the "on" position - not track by track as is now commonplace. Indeed, the good old days.

Although their first album gets my nod as the band's best work, Get Your Wings is a very close second. Besides the fantastic deep cut "Spaced", the album rocks head to toe with killer tracks like S.O.S. (Too Bad), Same Old Song and Dance, the hauntingly beautiful Seasons of Wither, and my personal fave, Lord of the Thighs (*check this cut out on the Live / Bootleg album - fuckin' amazing!) The icing on the cake is their cover of the Tiny Bradshaw classic - Train Kept a' Rollin', which to this day is still a staple of their live show.

"Toys", of course, needs none of my literary embellishment - quite possibly the band's crowning achievement as far as studio work is concerned. Although a bit more polished than their first two releases (*which can be both good or bad, depending on your taste), it's another side-to-side affair jam-packed with killer cuts and bad-ass guitar.

If you haven't re-visited some of your older Aero treasures, now's the perfect time to re-acquaint yourself with some of rock n' roll's finest riffery. - - J.

The Answer Is . . .

The Answer.

Perhaps you've heard these lads on XM or during non-rotation hours on MTV or VH1. You definitely haven't heard them the radio because, well, the radio doesn't play shit for music these days.

Drawing heavily from Zeppelin's crushing groove from the early 70's, this Irish quartet is poised on the brink of super stardom. So much so that they've even raised the eyebrow of one Mr. Jimmy Page, who effused, "If you want to see what Zeppelin was like in their glory days, go see The Answer." Some hearty praise, indeed.

Combining soaring, bluesy vocals with a classic Marshall guitar sound and a thunderous back-beat, the Answer's latest (5) song EP steamrolls through power cut after power cut, leaving no doubt as to their ability to deliver the groceries. Smart song-writing and an impressive band dynamic lend to an authentic classic rock listening experience.

I grabbed my copy of The Answer's EP off of, and it came with an extremely cool rockumentary DVD that included a video of "Never Too Late", as well as a live cut or two.

I've seen / heard a lot of up-and-coming acts that have been touted as the next coming of Led Zeppelin. Realistically speaking - that ain't never gonna' happen. But believe me - The Answer has come about as close as anybody in the post-Zeppelin era to actually achieving that status. As far as 70's power rock is concerned, present day, this is the top of the misty mountain. - - J.

You can check out The Answer here:
The Answer live on Letterman
My Space

Monday, March 23, 2009

Crossing The Road . . .

What do you get when you cross two parts Van Halen, one Chili Pepper, and an Alien? A rock n' roll molotov cocktail called Chickenfoot.

Uniting the forces of Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Chad Smith, and Joe Satriani, Chickenfoot looks to break some new ground in the arena rock genre with a forthcoming album and summer tour. At long last, a Satriani guitar will finally find itself in the context of a true classic rock quartet.

Rather than bore you with my yammering, I'll direct you to the band's MySpace page to sample two new songs from their debut CD. - - J.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Vox: The Fab Four Years . . .

Dave Tea joins us once again for another great Beatles piece. - - J.

One of my obsessions and favorite things to do lately is busting Beatle myths, and there are quite a few to conquer. One that sparked my enthusiasm recently is the myth, or myths surrounding the Beatles and Vox amplifiers. There is a lot of information out there on the subject, too much to cover in this posting so I’ll try to provide a few links for you gearheads that need to dig deeper into the details of the Beatle/Vox fascinations.

When the Beatles joined forces with manager Brian Epstein in 1962, they were a scruffy club band in dire need of professional stage amplifiers. Up to that point they had been using whatever modest rigs they could afford, borrow or steal. Lennon had acquired a blonde Vox AC15 somewhere along the line (all Voxes were blonde in those days, black Vox amps would appear later on...due to Beatle demands), and all of the Beatles dug its chimey, harmonic-rich tone. Mr. Epstein decided to try something rather bold, and asked one of the Vox marketing guys if he would trade a backline of Vox amplification for an artist endorsement.

The Beatles were only famous in Liverpool at the time, and it was a bit of agamble for this guy to actually give away amplifiers. This wasn't done. His gut feeling that this would be beneficial to Vox would prove right soon enough, but must have seemed quite foolish at the time. From that point forward until Brian Epstein's death in 1967, Vox would provide the Beatles with their latest and greatest bass and guitar amplifiers, and a keyboard or two under the agreement that whenever they performed anywhere, all amplifiers used onstage were Vox, and nothing but Vox. Posing for print ads was also part of the deal, but the Beatles got what they needed to try to be heard over the ever-increasing wail of ever-increasing, rabid, screaming fans. Demand for little-known Vox amplifiers eventually skyrocketed, as did the demands for Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars, Hofner basses and Ludwig drums.

The Beatles didn't know that the guitars they banged around, leaned against chairs and dropped on the floor would become Holy Grails to latter-day gear geeks, nor did they really seem to give a lot of thought or concern to these tools of their trade. They were selling records and poking girls left and right, and making great noise with whatever non-pampered instrument might be lying around the studio at the time. The only Beatle that really collected or even seemed to care much about guitars was Harrison, but he gave a lot of them away to friends. I’m guessing that the Beatles probably laugh hysterically when “historians” and other gearheads seem to know and care more about what equipment was used on which track or tour than they did, which is easy because when pressed for information, they often haven’t had the foggiest recollection of such mundane details. However, that's not to say that they didn't have their cherished favorite guitars (*stay tuned).

The Beatles used Vox amplifiers in the studio, sure, but after conquering England and the rest of the world they would be given extraordinary access to the rest of the industry's latest electronic toys, gadgets and amplifiers. This was the time when guitar pedals and gizmos were being introduced as well as the first solid state and solid state/tube hybrid amplifiers. As the Beatles’ ever-increasing demand for higher volume and power grew, Vox amplifiers became quite huge, and more and more transistorized. It’s been said that there was a lot of grumbling about the tone and reliability of the massive “Superbeatle” amplifiers that were provided for their stadium shows.

Always free to use whatever brand of amplifiers they wished making records, a blonde piggyback Fender Bassman was reportedly used more often on more recordings from 1965 forward than any other, recording bass and guitar. They might've actually paid for that fine piece of equipment.

The end of live touring in 1966, and the death of Brian Epstein in 1967 effectively ended the Vox/Beatle "partnership", but Vox amps would continue to be seen in the backline in some later promotional films that the Beatles would send around the world instead of themselves.

Fender began sending gifts to the lads as well, guitars, basses, pianos, public address systems and tube amplifiers. By the time of the Let it Be sessions, or maybe before, Fender ruled the backline of the Beatles....not only because they sounded great, but because they were free. - - by Dave Tea

Some Beatle links:

Rig O' The Month - Feb. '09

February's ROTM photo was shot by friend and award-winning photo journalist Darren Gibbins. A guitarist himself, as well as an avid music collector, the skills he uses in capturing the artistry and design of guitar equipment are reflective of his passion for the same. This particular session was a long time in the works, but as you can see, the results were well worth it. Plans are in the works to feature more of Darren's outstanding photography work here at the Tone Farm, as well as a link to his website once its completed.

First, the guitar - a Mexican-made 3TS Classic 60's Fender Stratocaster, purchased at Last Chance Guitars in Des Moines, IA back in 2005. My reasons for stopping in the shop were mostly to quell my nagging urge to play while away from home for two weeks training for my then-new job with CWG (*flying down from Fargo did not provide me with the opportunity to bring a guitar along.) Two weeks of playing it at the shop after work and I knew it had to come home with me.

The guitar itself has remained mostly stock since its purchase, the lone modifications being a better 3-pos. switch, a cream pearloid pickguard, and a set of mojo-riffic, Abigail Ybarra-wound Fender Custom Shop '69 pickups. The CS '69 p'ups provide a super-cool "Texas-meets-psychedelia" tone, allowing one to channel everything from quiet, clean blues to fuzzed-out distortion with equal ease. All-in-all, its a guitar that I am confident will be with me for the duration of my playing days.

And speaking of equipment that will be around for the long haul, the 1968 Fender Silverface Super Reverb pictured along-side the Stratocaster is yet another. A true vintage piece in amazing condition, it produces tone that borders on the religious - or at least in my humble estimation.

Packing 45 watts of big-tube swat, a quad of 10" speakers, factory tremelo, loads of spectacular clean headroom, and the trademark Fender reverb that it draws as its namesake, the Super Reverb brings a bevy of impressive features to a guitar player's arsenal. One of the huge discoveries I've made by playing this rig is how a great "clean" amp can be a fabulous platform for running a good, front-side distortion pedal. To my ears, the distortion produced in this configuration excels not only in note / chord definition, but also seems to be much warmer more harmonically complex than singular distortion alone (i.e. getting distortion from a gain channel.) By no means am I an expert on these kinds of things - but to my ears, that's how it sounds.

Having been personally selected to be the new owner of the amp by its previous sage (*coincidentally, one Mr. Darren Gibbins), the Super Reverb also holds a great deal of personal value. A "gentlemen's agreement" all but ensures that this amp will remain "in the family" . . ;~)

Fender through Fender is one of rock n' roll's elite "go-to" set-ups, and I feel pretty fortunate to be able to tap into that magical combination whenever the mood strikes. - - J.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gathers Much Moss . . .

Being that its been awhile since I posted a CD review, I thought I'd pull out a personal favorite from my old forum archives. Enjoy!

Music has gone through some pretty drastic changes in the last half century. From rock-a-billy to folk, from psychedelia to heavy metal, from punk to disco, from glam metal to grunge, bands and music are continually evolving; like a musical carousel that never stops. Every once in a while, it's nice to know that you can get off of that merry-go-round, and settle into something more comfortable, more familiar. You know what I'm talking about. That wonderful feeling of a slow smile spreading across your face as those first enticing chords melt slowly into your ears. Yes indeed, some of the finer things do stay the same.

For over forty years, the Rolling Stones have contributed a staggering amount of legendary material to the rock and roll pantheon, all the while staying true to their one of primary musical influences - the blues. In the case of their 2005 CD release "Rarities" (Virgin), the familiar comes in the form of the band showcasing these blues roots through seldom-heard and previously unreleased material, much of which is live - an even more impressive undertaking.

For the casual Stones listener, "Rarities" offers a glimpse into the diverse musical platforms employed by one of rock n' roll's all-time greatest outfits. From blues-drenched covers of "Mannish Boy" and "I Just Wanna Make Love To You", to the dance-funk inspired "Miss You", to straight-ahead rockers like "Live With Me" (from 1969's "Let It Bleed" album), "Rarities" covers a gambut of Stones material in fine fashion. Die-hard fans, on the other hand, will really enjoy the CD's lean towards traditional blues sound, as it hearkens back to some of the band's early, club-playing days.

In listening to "Rarities", I came to the realization of another very important fact. That is, the sheer volume of material released by the Stones often detracts fans and listeners from the finer points of their music. Their arrangements, while seemingly sparse, allow their songs to "breathe". In other words, when Keith and Mick harmonize, you can hear them harmonize. When Woody weaves a tasty fill on top of one of Keith's groovin' rhythm lines, you can feel their connection. Likewise, the backdrops to many of the the songs included on this collection are interjected with a sassy sax (say that fast seven times!), or a jukey piano - never once does any of it seem lost in the shuffle. By design? Absolutely. The great bands make it seem so effortless.

Another thing that impresses me about the Stones is the "authenticity" of their sound. Whether playing blues, rock, shuffle, pop, or ballads, the Stones always find a way to weave a little of their trademark "mojo" into each song - i.e. that cocky, English swagger that made them one of the very first "bad boy" rock bands way back in the day. Give a listen to the raucous, live cover of Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy", and you'll know what I mean. Mick's snarling vocal and gritty harp; Keith's raspy, almost transe-like rhythm line; Woody's stinging steel slide fills; Charley & Bill's dark, methodical back beat. The stuff of legends. Most inspiring of all, however, is the band's ability to play together as an effective, coherent unit. Face it - there aren't many bands that can just get down and groove like the Rolling Stones.

If I haven't done enough to convince you to go out and buy this CD, maybe I'll mention a bit about the guitar work. As one would expect, it's absolutely dripping with vintage guitar tone. With a majority of the songs being cut live, one is literally face-to-face with Keith's killer tone - a vintage Tele being driven through a pair of low vin # Fender Twins. Woody's sound is equally amazing - especially when he gets busy with the slide on one of his vintage Strats. Hearing these two legendary players "weaving" their way through a classic Willie Dixon blues number, well that's something that quite simply defies description. You have to hear it to understand it. And if you're a guitar player, trust me . . . you will. - - J.

A Distorted View . . . Pt. 1

To kick off 2009 in style, the Tone Farm is proud to present the first in a multi-part feature on one of modern guitar's most musically significant benefactors . . . distortion.


  • Also referred to as clipping, distortion is a change in an audio signal resulting in the appearance of frequencies at the output that were not present in the original waveform.
  • Changes in a signal that involve the addition of spurious tones at frequencies not present in the original sound.
  • A process, often found desirable by guitar players, that alters a sound's waveform.

I'd venture to say that there are probably as many stories and theories about how "guitar distortion" was discovered / invented as there are now varieties of devices that produce it. Even more interesting than that is the fact that in the eighty or so years that electrified guitar has been around (*several internet resources indicate 1928) - it took almost thirty of those years, or around late 1950's, for it to come into vogue as an accepted incarnation of guitar tone.

A partial explanation for that might certainly involve the equipment itself, as most of the amplifiers and guitars being used back then were not designed to produce the kind of harmonic distortion today's guitar players seek, much less that of which would might be termed as "desirable". Another may relate to the music that was popular at the time - very little of which required the "over-the-top" volume levels that are associated with the distorted tones common to yesteryear's classic & today's modern rock music.

Most players would agree that distorted guitar traces its roots to the earliest days of a new form of 50's music called - - rock n' roll. Guitarists like Chuck Berry and Link Wray developed unique, agressive styles of playing that took full advantage of distorted guitar - and are commonly looked upon as pioneers of the genre. Wray was rumored to have punched holes into the speaker of his amp with a screwdriver in order to get the "fuzzy" tone found in his trademark song "Rumble".

While it may be one thing to purposely damage a piece of equipment in the pursuit of tone, in other cases, distortion happened purely by accident. Take for example Johnny Burnette's 1956 remake of "Train Kept a Rollin'". Apparently, while playing a show, one of the tubes fell out of his amplifier. When a reviewer raved about how fantastic the song sounded, Burnette decided he'd go into the studio and record it that way. Genius!

Instrumental artists The Ventures could very well have been the very first band to use a purpose-specific device to distort a guitar signal. Inspired by the "fuzz tone" on the Marty Robbins song "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" (*again, created by a faulty amplifier), Ventures' guitarists Nokie Edwards and Bob Bogle asked their friend - an electronics whiz named Red Rhodes, to design a device that would produce a similar "fuzz" tone. A few months later, Rhodes presented them with custom "fuzz box", and the band immediately put it to good use in recording their hit "2,000 Pound Bee". Hence, the concept of a stand-alone guitar distortion device was born.

As guitarists became more "in-tune" with the inner-workings of their equipment, they began to discover didfferent ways by which to "drive" tube amplifiers into their natural state of harmonically-rich distortion. Eric Clapton was one such player. Using a Dallas Rangemaster treble booster, Clapton coaxed his now-legendary "Beano" tone from a 2x12 Marshall JTM-45 combo. Other players like Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix would take Clapton's lead even further by using bigger / louder amps to achieve their distinctive saturated tube sound.

The music of the 1960's would put an indelible imprint on distorted guitar - especially in terms of how it was created and recorded. But perhaps more importantly were the musicians and players of the era who aspired to its boldly creative and expressive powers, thereby creating for the listener a window that gazed outward upon a brave, new musical landscape. - - J.

Today its your birthday . . .

Saturday, December 27th slipped by here at the Tone Farm w/o too much fanfare. Hard to believe that a year has passed since "the seed was planted".

In honor of the 'Farm's first birthday / anniversary, I would like to extend my thanks to those who have contributed, supported, or offered their words of encouragement throughout the past year. Music has always played a significant role in my life - and having a resource like Tone Farm in which to share that love with others has been a most gratifying endeavor.

As guitar players, music fans, and purveyors/seekers of great tone, we all belong to the same tribe. Moving forward, it is my hope that the Tone Farm continues to be a place where we can share those things, as well as develop an appreciation for some that are new to us - whatever they may be. - - J.