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Upfront Guitars – My personal rig rundown

August 12th, 2017

Players always like to see what other players are using, so just for fun here’s my current gigging and general playing setup.

Typically I bring a “Fender” style guitar with me, and for many years that’s been some type of G&L. Currently it’s a G&L ASAT Classic “S” with spalted alder top, swamp ash back, carmelized ebony fretboard, 12” radius Classic C neck and stainless frets. It did not start life an “S” but I realized that I really needed the middle combinations and modded it for the middle pickup (it did not have a middle rout). I’m a big fan of the neck-middle and middle-bridge much more than I am of the traditional Tele neck+bridge (which it does not even do…for now). It also has an Emerson wiring assembly which I put in every guitar I play.

ASAT Classic S

Prior to this I was using a Knaggs Severn which had a Strat type pickup arrangement with David Allen Strat Cat pickups. While the tone was great, I always hit the volume knob on that type of guitar, plus the fuller output and more mids of the G&L MFD pickups just “gig” better and work great with pedals.

The other guitar that has been in service for a while is a Knaggs Kenai. This is hands-down the best Les Paul style guitar I have played, and is much more open and articulate that most guitars of this ilk. And it’s very comfortable and only about 8 pounds. It also has Emerson wiring, a David Allen P-51 bridge pickup and a Sheptone Heartbreaker neck pickup. The P-51 is hands down my favorite bridge humbucker and you can do almost anything from country to heavy rock. The Alnico 5 Sheptone is a little more percussive than the P-51 neck, and sounds great with a touch of gain. Frankly, the stock Duncan SH-1 sounds very good too, and I could have easily used that.

deluxe and knaggs

For a long time I’d been playing through a Dr. Z Remedy and a Mojotone Pine 4×10 cabinet with Jensen P10R, C10Q speakers. I still love it, plus it’s light and actually not too loud for smaller venues. But after all these years I finally discovered the Fender Deluxe Reverb, and the combination of tone and portability won me over. This particular edition came with a Celestion Blue and a matched set of groove tubes. Other than a Mullard GZ-34 I have so far left it alone. I’m tempted to stick it in a Mojotone Pine Deluxe cabinet to cut the weight a bit and round out the tone a little. I plug into the “2” jack on the Vibrato channel. For tone and ease of transport, no wonder it’s a fixture on so many house backlines.

With the Deluxe I use a Radial JDX to run an XLR line into the mixer. This does a great job of capturing the amplifier’s tone and is much more consistent than using a microphone. The line out is as much for the monitors as it is for adding a little guitar to the overall house mix.

The pedalboard is pretty simple affair and starts out with a Voodoo Lab Giggity. It’s essentially a boost and mild EQ. But for me it’s always on, as everything just sounds better that way (I have it just barely boosting the normal signal level). It’s also an easy way to tweak levels between guitars.

pedal board

The Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive is my “mild” gain pedal and I’ve been using them for probably 15 years. The deal with the pedal is that you can mix in clean signal to maintain attack and dynamics. I’ve also had the Lovepedal Kalamazoo for a number of years and this is my higher gain pedal, although not high gain by popular standards. While it’s in theory a TS-inspired pedal, it has more gain and is not as midrange heavy.

The Keeley Seafoam Chorus is a recent edition. It’s easy to use and can add a nice clean sounding chorus without cluttering things up. The Catilan Bread Belle Epoch tape delay gets used on a couple numbers, and the Lee Jackson Mr. Springgy Reverb only gets used with the Dr. Z. I may try one of the Keeley Tone Stations to consolidate the Reverb and Delay functions and make a little more room on the board.

Lastly, the Solodallas TSR is another “always on” item that acts as a line buffer, and also makes everything sound a little bigger, more 3-D and tactile, especially with pedals. It’s initially subtle, but you know when it’s off. I don’t use it to boost the signal, just condition it. The Strymon Zuma power supply is expensive, but it’s built like a Mercedes and can power just about anything. The Solodallas needed 300mA at 12VDC, and the Strymon is one of the few power supplies that will do this.

The patch cables are the UpFront Evidence Monorail cables that I have made for UpFront Guitars, and the guitar cables are Evidence Audio Melody.

While there are some new pedals that I’d like to try out — such as the Keeley White Sands and some of the Tone Stations — I’m wary about using a new pedal live without getting very familiar with how a new pedal interacts with the board, guitar, and amp. Lately we’ve been playing out more than practicing, and experimentation time has been limited.

 

David Allen Cool Cat P-90 Bridge Pickup – Road Test

June 28th, 2015
cool-cat-full

David Allen Cool Cat P-90 Bridge pickup

It’s spring. Time for new projects around the house and the yard. New grass, new weeds, cleaning and fixing whatever you see. Also a time I decided to freshen up the JR.

Leslie West described the Les Paul JR as a plank with a mic on it, and he’s pretty much right. Not much there means there’s not much to go wrong. His tone was a very early influence for me so I’ve had a couple of JR-ish guitars over the years and now I have a stock 2009. Not Custom shop, not Billie Joe, just a JR. I bought it used and it was stock except for a Tone Pros adjustable wraptail bridge.

Stock Gibson P90’s aren’t junk. I’ve enjoyed all the ones I’ve had, but I felt the need for a change. The typical recipe for a P90 is 10,000 turns of 42 gauge wire on an A5 Magnet. Magnet strength changes whether by age or intent and has an effect on tone. So one A5 isn’t like every other A5 unless you seriously over or underwind or change magnets the sound is the sound.   And yet over the years I’ve had P90’s built by others and they do sound different from one another.

The David Allen “Cool Cat” P90 is an A5 42 gauge P90. It is built with the wood spacer and other original touches. It measured 8.9K at room temp, which does make a difference. If you measure a pickup you just took from the box UPS left on the porch in Connecticut in Febuary versus a pickup UPS left in a box on your porch in Arizona in July you’ll be surprised at the difference.

And so I installed the Allen CC P90 into JR. JR already had an Emerson wiring kit and repro Bumble Bee capacitor, so the spring freshen is complete, just add strings.

One am I use is a Tweed Deluxe Speed Shop 5E3 repro. It’s loaded with GOS (good old stock tubes) and a 1961 Jensen P12Q.   I also have an Emery Superbaby.   It is currently loaded with a 5751, JJ KT88, and a Mullard GZ34. The speaker is a large oval back pine 1×12 with a Warehouse Reaper 30 watt.

Just a note, I never use the tone circuit on the Emery. When I plug in, the signal is through the tubes, very few PTP wired components and to the speaker. Honest tones of what you plug in.

So what have I got? It sounds great. It’s alive and articulate and very responsive to my picking dynamic.

What did it do before? All of the above, but less so. Less enough to notice.

The Allen Cool Cat measures 800k hotter than the stock pickup. Sometimes those windings add up to a closed off congested kind of tone especially when the pickup is on “10”. In this case the stock P90 congested more than the Cool Cat when full up. So the tone of the Cool Cat on 10 is much closer to the tone of the Cool Cat on 8 whereas the Gibson goes through a much larger tone change and “darkens” from 8-10.

There’s more to pickup tone than windings though, and the Cool Cat sounds crazy good and wide open when you turn it down a few numbers. Turn up the amp and run the guitar on less than full volume and chords have a ring and a note separation that almost sounds like you stepped on a magic pedal.

Played into the Emery/Reaper combination I can get a really good LP bridge pickup sound. OK I’ll say it, like a good PAF, like an old Allman Bros tone. It’s got a real strong snarl if you want but that is more up to the way you attack the strings than the DNA of the pickup. Leslie West squeals and snarls are all there.

There are a whole lot of vocal qualities to be found on the first 7 frets. Picking style really brought this out. My pick choice and picking style is brighter than a friend’s who came over to try it, and it was very noticeable.

This isn’t an all mids kind of P90. There is plenty of treble, and it smooths out really well when you dial back the tone knob on the guitar.

Set the guitar on “10” and yes of course you can get all the Neil Young you can handle plugged into the 5E3.   The Cool Cat will do Cinnamon Girl all day. Cortez the Killer? Hell yes.

Yet the 5E3 and the P90 are so much more than Neil Young. Roll back the pickup and let the amp do the lifting and the beautiful lush chords of a Ryan Adams song come into full bloom. For Americana type music this really P90 works. For ripping power chord rock the Cool Cat really works.

I’m certainly pleased with this Cool Cat. It did what I wanted. It doesn’t do anything I don’t want. It’s a win on all accounts.

Neil Swanson