Author Archives: Mike Tresham

Cables

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Let’s face it, cables aren’t the first bit of gear you want to splash some cash on but it would be worth having a think about how much cabling your signal has to travel through in your chain. At a quick count, my rig uses 70 feet of normal cabling (from guitar to pedal board, to amp switcher, to amps, out the back of amps to post amp pedals and then back to amps – more on all this in future posts) and around five feet of patch cabling between pedals. Cabling creates resistance to your signal and can ‘dull’ the tone. I remember updating my cables last year and I couldn’t believe the difference, it’s money well spent.

On my budget, I’ve settled for Planet Waves for the longer cables and a mix of Planet Waves and George L’s for the patch cables. The great thing about GL’s is that you can buy a kit and make your own cables, exactly to the length you need. However, I took the lazy option and telephoned a custom order, which was made and posted to me within a few days. In summary, if you want crystal clear sound, you can’t afford bad quality when it comes to cabling!

Next post I’ll get to the pedal board, starting with the ‘before amp’ pedals.

Pickups

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I want to focus on pickups briefly because they have such an important influence on the tone and noise in your tone. My factory Strat pickups were unusable with any high gain amp or pedals because they let so much noise interference in, by picking up power from the lights, TV and even my amp. So I set about choosing replacements. Having scoured the internet for Strat pickups (pups), I settled for ‘active’ EMG pups. The active feature is the use of a tone potentiometer to boost the signal, which has the effect of intensifying the amp’s gain or acting as a clean boost, depending on the amp’s channel. The problem with internet research is that there are so many viewpoints you may end up going round in circles!

However, when I arrived at the shop, the manager challenged my thinking by his incredulity at the idea of me using any other type of pickup than the ones designed for the guitar. Why buy a strat to gut it and replace the pickups with a generic brand? His suggestion was for me to buy one pickup for the bridge position which could handle huge amounts of gain and recommended a Seymour Duncan Hotrail. I went with it initially and made the purchase but changed my mind for two reasons: 1) the remaining middle and neck pickup still let in too much noise and 2) the Strat bridge pup was my favourite and I couldn’t lose this tone.

I took his point, although I love active pups and would happily buy EMGs for another guitar, and decided to buy the mighty Fender Hot Noiseless pups, which retain the glorious Fender spank and shimmer, but reduce the noise. Also, I figured that pups made by Fender allow the tone to retain it’s intended characteristics. They are magnificent, just what I wanted. The Fender tone but hardly any noise, despite the use of high gain amps, a long chain and noisy pedals such as the mxr dynacomp compressor.

A mention must be made about humbuckers, of which I have very little experience. The differences can most notably be heard in the final solo of Hotel California by the Eagles. The creamy smooth tone of the guitar with humbucker pups duels with the raw, trebly attack of the strat pups. Kit and I were swapping today between his lovely vintage Greco Les Paul Custom (with humbuckers) and my strat and both are so distinctive. I would suggest that, when choosing your tone, the quality and type of your pickups has the greatest influence on the characteristics of the sound at the end of your chain.

I had the cash and spent the best part of £200 upgrading mine (including fitting) and don’t regret it for a moment. I would even be tempted in future to buy a cheaper guitar so that I could reserve some of the budget for pups with integrity, noise reduction and the characteristics of the intended sound of the guitar. Others may feel that this is like buying and modifying a Corsa, rather than just buying a BMW, and I accept their point. But I now have a guitar that is totally suited to my style of music and copes with the fairly large chain between guitar and amp. Most importantly, I absolutely love the tone.

Describing The Chain

Mike Tresham No Comments

In my opinion there are two main factors to consider when choosing new gear: ‘tone’ and ‘noise’. Tone is the quality of the sound produced by your amp’s speakers at the end of your chain, noise is the amount of audible interference heard from your amp. All my equipment has a positive or negative impact on these two results. My 15 year old Mexican Fender Stratocaster is a great example.

The tone is excellent, favoured by hundreds of first rate guitarists in all sorts of genres (Malmsteen, Clapton, Corgan, Beck, and on and on). There are essentially five tones created by the five positions of the pickup switch. The bridge pickup creates a satisfying ‘spank’ for rhythmn and high end squeal for solos. The next position between bridge and middle has a softer, country and western sounding tone. The middle position has a warm and rich sound. The combination of middle and neck is smooth and low but to be frank, I don’t use it. The neck pickup is dark, creamy and smooth.

It’s worth getting a good guitar because it sets the standard for your tone. Any subsequent link in the chain, by using a cable or pedal, will in some way diminish this tone and introduce noise. Therefore, a straight to amp sound (guitar to cable to amp) will provide your tone in it’s purist form. The better the guitar, the better the starting tone and the better the result at the end of the chain.

Personally, I’m delighted with the strat. They are versatile and produce an excellent tone, which is suitable for my needs. However, the factory ‘single coil’ (more on this later) pickups are known for letting in a lot of noise into the chain, so I have modified the guitar and would expect to for all future Fender Strats.

The alternative is to choose a humbucker guitar with pickups designed to reduce the noise and interference. Now I have a strat, I would choose this type of guitar next time, possibly a PRS Tremonti or an Epiphone AFD for a few hundred quid. High end would include a Gibson, Rickenbacker, Collings and PRS and low end would include Epiphone and BC Rich. Of course, most brands produce a range of guitars for a spectrum of budgets.

Next in the chain are pickups, which I’ll say more on later. Enjoy the journey towards creating your dream tone!

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