Monday, August 30, 2010

TS-808 Review

Since this is a SRV Blog, i thought i'd review a ts 808

Like the OCD, this is not a distortion box. It’s an overdrive box. The difference between overdrive and distortion are important, because they involve different approaches to the electronics. Click here for a good discussion. Overdrive boxes are known as “soft clipping” devices where gain is inversely proportional to input signal. Usually the boost is in the midrange with the high and low ends slightly cut off. The Tube Screamer is a pure midrange booster, and produces a beautiful, warm tone. The OCD on the other hand also boosts in the middle, but has added electronics that add sustain and boost harmonics and overtones. With the OCD, you can get a FAT, almost compressed tone. With the TS, you just get a boost – but that’s not a failing in the least!
As with the previous review, neither pedal is better than the other. They both have their uses. When I want lots of sustain – especially with solos – I’ll use the OCD. But for general broken-up rhythm, I’ll use the TS, but that’s not necessarily a de facto standard…  In any case, let’s discuss some features…
Note to metal players: This is not the pedal for you, if you’re looking for a real hairy kind of distortion. Think of this box as a driver to achieve pre-amp distortion. That tends to be on the brighter side. This box will not produce a fat tone, so buyer beware!
But if you’re looking for warm type of pre-amp breakup, this box is for you! It couldn’t be easier to use, either. Just three knobs: Overdrive, Tone, and Level. To get the tone you like, just fiddle with the knobs until it sounds right to you. Generally, I set the tone knob to 12 o’clock, which is pretty neutral (though the tone knob really doesn’t have that much dynamic range), set the overdrive to 10 – 12 o’clock, then set the level to slightly louder than the volume of my amp with the box switched off.
As far as build quality is concerned, it’s an all-metal casing. I gig with this box a lot so its hefty weight and solid build is a boon to gigging. And unlike the normal toggle switch you find on most boxes, the TS is (de)activated with a square switch. It’s not only aesthetically pleasing, it’s also really functional. The only beef I have with the box is that the light source of the LED is set kind of deep, so you have to be practically right over the box to see if it’s switched on or off.
Finally, the Tube Screamer is not cheap. A “Re-issue” like mine will set you back ~$169.00, while vintage boxes run up to $450.00. All I can say is that the money you spend is entirely worth it!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Useful guitar info

The guitars
Stevie’s guitars were all pre-’63 model Fender Stratocasters, except for “Charley” (outfitted with the Danelectro “lipstick tube” pickups, it was made from kit parts at Charley’s Guitar Shop in 1984). They all have names, too: Number One, Red, Butter Scotch, Charley, and Lennie. The only significant change from the stock on these Strats has been the addition of 5-way switches and a good coat of shielding paint in the control cavities. Number One, the beat-up sunburst that we all know, is Stevie’s main squeeze.
Neck adjustment
With all the guitars, neck straightness (or relief) is the first thing I checked, sighting down the fingerboard. A fingerboard should either be dead flat or have a slight up-bow, known as relief, in the direction of the strings’ pull. Stevie’s guitars had approximately .012" of relief around the 7th and 9th frets, and then leveled out for the remainder of the board.
String gauge
Stevie tunes his guitar down a half-step and uses GHS Nickel Rockers measuring .013, .015, .019 (plain), .028, .038, and .058. On this particular day, Rene had substituted an .011 for the high E to keep down the sore fingers that blues bends can cause. Rene changes strings every show for each guitar that gets played.
If you’re trying to evaluate action, it’s nice to know what size and shape of fretwire is used on any guitar. Number One’s frets measure .110" wide by .047" tall. These frets would have started out at .055" tall when they were new, and were probably either Dunlop 6100 or Stewart-MacDonald 150 wire.
String height
I measured the distance from the underside of the strings to the top of the fret at the 12th fret on both E strings. Rene Martinez describes “I set up all of Stevie’s the same: 5/64" on the treble E string and 7/64" at the bass E.”
Fingerboard radius
Knowing the radius of the fingerboard can help in setting up a comfortable bridge saddle height and curve. Stevie’s Number One was somewhat flatter than the vintage 7-1/4" radius. Rene has refretted the neck at least twice, and in the process the fingerboard has evolved into a 9" or 10" radius in the upper register. This isn’t the result of a purposeful attempt to create a compound radius, which allows string-bending with less-noting out; it just happened.
Bridge saddles
Stevie’s Number One wants to break high E and B strings at the saddle every chance she gets. Rene showed me why the strings break, and how he takes care of the problem: As a string breaks out of the vintage Strat tremolo block/bridge top plate, it “breaks” or contacts, the metal directly; this causes a slight kink that weakens the string. With the bridge saddles removed, Rene uses a Dremel Moto-Tool to grind the holes edge until the lip is smooth and gradual, and any binding is eliminated.
Number One uses vintage replacement saddles (the originals wore out long ago), and they’re not all alike — some have a shorter string slot than others. The high E and B strings may contact the front edge of this string clearance slot as they rise toward the “takeoff point” at the saddle’s peak. The kink formed by the contact stretches into the saddle peak during tuning, and breaks right at the crown. Rene elongates the slot, again by grinding, and then smoothes any rough metal edges. Finally, he slides a 5/8"-long piece of plastic tubing (insulation from electrical wire) over each string to protect it from the metal “break points.” He uses the heaviest piece of tubing he can get that still fits down the tremolo/block hole. Even with this, the high strings still cut through the plastic quickly (sometimes in one set), and when they do, the strings break. Rene plans to try a Teflon wire insulation if he can find the right size.
Stevie’s Number One, Lennie and Charley have standard Fender-style nuts, but Rene makes them from bone. Stevie prefers the sound of bone, although for studio work he had Rene make brass nuts for Scotch and Red.
Tremolo setup
Vaughan’s standard vintage tremolo uses all five springs. Rene prefers the durability of the stainless steel Fender tremolo bars. He puts a small wad of cotton at the bottom of the tremolo-block hole to keep the bar from over-tightening and becoming hard to remove if it breaks. He emphasizes the importance of lubricating all the moving parts of the tremolo system, preferring a powdered graphite-and-grease mixture (the grease holds the graphite in place where it’s needed). He lubricates everything that moves: mounting screws/plate; all string “breaks” and contact points, including the saddle peaks; where the springs attach to the block and claw; the nut slots; and the string trees.