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.