Skip navigation

Catch my interview with Steely Dan guitarist Jon Herington.

Catch my interview with Steely Dan guitarist Jon Herington.

Make sure you read my interview with Steely Dan guitarist Jon Herington, done for Guitar-Muse. He’s an interesting musician and one heck of a great guitar player. Herington, who has performed with Steely Dan on the road and in the studio since 1999, recently sat down with Guitar-Muse for an interview. I think you’ll enjoy the article!

The mysterious pink guitar Grateful Dead axe slinger Bob Weir has been brandishing on the latest Furthur tour is actually a cherished relic from the 80s that has a remarkable history. The vision of what some fans describe as Weir’s “pink Strat,” a puzzling apparition to most guitar enthusiasts, is not what it appears to be.

Why is Bob Weir’s pink guitar so puzzling?

Weir’s unusual instrument suggests the classic contours of a traditional Stratocaster shape, but it’s been spotted from time to time with a pointed black headstock that has no logo or brand, contrary to a Fender trademark. Every now and then the same guitar has had a typical Strat head. There isn’t any string tree.

The silhouette of the dark headstock, matching neck and similar black pickguard strikes a compelling contrast when joined with the pink Pepto-Bismol® finish. All things considered, the guitar doesn’t emit a traditional Stratocaster vibe.

The specs on Weir’s pink Modulus guitar.

Bob Weir’s “pink Strat” is, in fact, not a Fender but a Modulus. The company, which began offering bass guitars in 1977, subsequently became successful with six string axes.

Geoff Gould, the founder of Modulus, offered his thoughts on the original specifications of Weir’s pink guitar on page 234 of the book, “Grateful Dead Gear: The Band’s Instruments, Sound Systems and Recording Sessions, From 1965 to 1995,” by Blair Jackson.

“That Pepto-Bismol®-pink one was one of my favorites. It had a Strat-style body and was made out of poplar. I put on some EMG Select pickups-EMG’s passive pickups, which weren’t great-and it had some kind of bridge; I don’t remember what kind.”

What Gould doesn’t refer to is the significantly unique component that separates this guitar from the others, which is one highly strong neck made of carbon fiber construction. Over the years, rumor has it the original carbon fiber neck was replaced at some point with real wood that still contained a carbon fiber truss rod. The current neck has 21 frets.

Now you see it, now you don’t. Weir’s pink Modulus has a neck pickup and sometimes it doesn’t. Occasionally the three pickups are placed very close together, nearer the bridge. The tremolo bar appears to be unusually long, although that could be an illusion.

The history behind Weir’s guitar is blowin’ in the wind.

Bob Weir discusses the origin of his pink Modulus on page 233 in Blair Jackson’s book about the Grateful Dead.

In the spring of 1987 Bob Dylan was rehearsing with the Grateful Dead for upcoming shows. Bob Weir explains, “We went into rehearsal with Dylan and he needed a guitar; he hadn’t brought one if you can believe that.”

“Oh just get me something simple-get me a Strat.”

“So we presented him with this variety of Strats,” Weir reports.

About the pink guitar, “Dylan said, ‘I like the way this one sounds and I like the way this one plays…but this one is the right color,’ Bob says with a laugh.”

“Later, after the tour was over, he gave it to me. I started playing it and I loved it.”

Still going strong after all that music. 

The pink-Pepto Modulus guitar, which has endured innumerable live shows with the Dead, Other Ones, RatDog and the Furthur, has a distinct one-of-a-kind character just like its owner.

Weir, approaching his mid-sixties, continues to pump out imaginative head music melodies, jazz riffs and FM rock favorites, often with co-Grateful Deadmate and bass player Phil Lesh. Only now, when Weir plugs in his Modulus Pepto-Bismol® guitar, it’s kind of like trippin’ and pickin’ in the land of pink and grey. Nice!

 

A vintage rel-to-reel tape. Photo by Arnold Reinhold, CC Attribution 2.5 license holder does not endorse usage.

A vintage rel-to-reel tape. Photo by Arnold Reinhold, CC Attribution 2.5 license holder does not endorse usage.

“Big, fat, warm, deep, rich, and exciting are just some of the terms used to describe what recording onto a piece of magnetic tape sounds like. Most of all, tape is more musical.”Slate Digital website

Due to Hurricane Sandy, the WolfWeb’s All Tube-Talk Network was temporarily knocked off the air. But now it’s back ready for another year of vacuum tube joy and assorted analog delights.

In this issue, the spotlight is focused on Slate Digital’s Virtual Tape Machine, which aims to recreate the profound sound of analog richness.

Analog remains everywhere

Though we presently live in a digital epoch, the analog world does not want to go away. In fact, every time you turn around it seems like contemporary music sources are trying to emulate the non-compressed sound of analog warmth.

Whether it’s vintage electric guitars and amplifiers or classic vacuum tube stereos and their matching speaker systems, the sound of old is still relevant in a variety of ways.

For six-string pickers and strummers, acoustic or electric, there’s the Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machine.

Virtual Tape Machine   

What is the Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machine? It’s a plug-in for your digital recording system. What does it do? The VTM adds an element of analog roominess to a track that an equalizer or distortion device simply cannot provide.

According to Slate Digital, “The VTM will give your mixes an absolutely authentic analog vibe that will take them to the next level. With added dimension, fatness, depth, and warmth, you’ll wonder how you ever mixed without it!”

Be aware, MACs and PCs have different system requirements, so consult the Slate Digital company website for details. In both cases, iLok2 is required.

The Virtual Tape Machine retails for around $249 US.

Tubing Tip of the Month (tubesters only)

The Samsung DA-E750 Audio Dock 2.1 stereo system w/wireless capabilities

  • Features dual dock for Galaxy (charging only) and iOS devices
  • 100 watts
  • highly efficient glass fiber woofers and tweeters
  • 12AU7 tube driven amp sound

The DA-E750 retails for about $600 US.

Happy New Year, you tubesters!

Joe Walsh with the Eagles. Photo by Steve Alexander.

Joe Walsh with the Eagles. Photo by Steve Alexander.

Welcome to cyberspace, I’m lost in the fog, everything’s digital, I’m still analog…”Joe Walsh

Now you can add legendary James Gang and Eagles great, Joe Walsh, to the list of veteran artists who think analog is still the best way to go when listening to your favorite music. Not too long ago, Neil Young professed his passion for analog, while hanging with his bud, Steve Jobs. Speaking of digital, one-time Talking Head Adrian Belew has also been known to express an opinion about the matter of analog versus digital.

Ironically, Joe Walsh’s latest album, “Analog Man,” is available as a digital download on iTunes, which begs the question, are we going back to the future?

Walsh’s “Analog Man”

A guitar player extraordinaire and longtime industry favorite, rocker Joe Walsh humorously sings about contemporary disillusionment in his latest collection, “Analog Man.” Produced by the ex-James Ganger, with help from Electric Light Orchestra mastermind, Jeff Lynne, who also appears on the album, this is Walsh’s first solo work in 20 years. That’s not to say he hasn’t been busy. After all, his ongoing stint with that little old band from California, which happens to be one of the best selling rock groups of all time, has gone rather well.

At the 2012 Grammy Awards, the 64 year old Walsh, who toured with Ringo’s All-Star Band a few years back, accompanied Paul McCartney on guitar during a moving version of “My Valentine.” Walsh was there at Sir Paul’s request.

In the midst of so much accumulated talent and after a two decade-long hiatus from solo projects, what has the veteran six-stringer now gone out of his way to tell fans and critics alike? Without embarrassment or shame, Walsh has declared himself to be an “Analog Man” who feels “The whole world’s living in a digital dream, it’s not really there, it’s all on the screen.”

He’s not alone.

On January 31, 2012, Rolling Stone published “Neil Young: Steve Jobs Would’ve Preserved Vinyl” which featured comments from the on-again off-again guitarist/vocalist for Buffalo Springfield, vis-à-vis the poor quality of digitally formatted music, including CDs as well as MP3s.

About the superiority of analog sound, Young, who is also the leader of the electric distortion-loving group, Crazy Horse, is quoted by RS as saying, “Steve Jobs [was] a pioneer of digital music, and his legacy is tremendous. But when he went home, he listened to vinyl. And you’ve got to believe that if he’d lived long enough, he would have done what I’m trying to do.”

Exactly what is Neil Young trying to do? Preserve the ever-so-desirable sound of analog warmth and wonder, of course.

Adrian Belew, too

What does former Frank Zappa-ite, turned King Crimson and Talking Head cog, Adrian Belew, have in common with Joe Walsh, Neil Young and apparently Steve Jobs? The answer is, among other things, an obsession for analog listening.

Belew’s theory, accessed on brainyquote.com, is clear and concise; “Digital for storage and quickness, analog for fatness and warmth.”

As an added note, have you ever tried to purchase digital downloads of King Crimson music from Amazon? You can’t do it. It seems Crimson creator, Robert Fripp, hasn’t jumped on the MP3 bandwagon either.

So what’s to make of these seasoned musicians and the late Steve Jobs? Why would such a distinguished crowd prefer hearing vintage resonance over today’s cutting edge technology? What would inspire such intelligent and highly successful men to say the future of digital recording can be found in examining the past?

Once again the answer comes up analog. Touché!

Tubing Tip of the Month (for tubsters only)

The Audio Research VS55 Vacuum Tube Stereo Power Amplifier

  • 50 Watts per channel
  • A pair of matched 6550 EH output tubes
  • 0-4-8 ohm 5-Way Binding Posts

The amp lacks a cover consequently the tubes are exposed. A cage designed to cover the tubes is available for an added fee. Audio Research Corporation© is located in Plymouth, Minnesota.

Keep those autumn tubes glowing brightly!

 

Perpetual rocker, Neil Young. Photo by Andy Roo. (6tee-zeven)

  Perpetual rocker, Neil Young. Photo by Andy Roo (6tee-zeven)

“It’s not that digital is bad or inferior, it’s that the way it’s being used isn’t doing justice to the art . . . The convenience of the digital age has forced people to choose between quality and convenience, but they shouldn’t have to make that choice.”Rocker Neil Young from Rolling Stone

In the midst of the current communication explosion, where products like iPhones and apps are supposed to make everyone’s life a little bit better, music has not been greatly enhanced by digitalization. It’s ironic that Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple computers, who many agree was a “visionary,” preferred listening to vinyl records, at least according to rock god, Neil Young.

Though the cleanliness and efficiency of digital encoding is indisputable, it doesn’t capture the compelling character of analog recordings. Just ask Neil Young.

What did he say?

In January 2012, Neil Young addressed a business conference in southern California, regarding the current state-of-affairs of recorded music; it’s not good.

When it comes to CDs and MP3s, Young would probably agree, maybe 15-20% of a master recording is actually available for playback. The information storage and exchange possibilities of CDs and MP3s are astounding; however, for avid listening enthusiasts, their sound quality is less than desirable.

In “Neil Young: Steve Jobs Would’ve Preserved Vinyl,” an article published in Rolling Stone on January 31, 2012, the Canadian acoustic-electric guitar whiz is quoted as saying, “We live in the digital age and, unfortunately, it’s degrading our music, not improving it.”

What is Young doing about it? He told the panel, “My goal is to try and rescue the art form that I’ve been practicing for the past 50 years.”

How about Steve Jobs?

The idea of enjoying music, by way of spinning vinyl, is not just some wildly nostalgic point of view. Though he was one of the designers of the world’s first marketable personal computers and a genius entrepreneur, Steve Jobs preferred old fashioned records. Mr. “Apple iPod” was an audiophile who favored analog listening sources, like the LP.

About Jobs, Young pointed out, “But when he went home he listened to vinyl. And you’ve got to believe that if he’d lived long enough, he would have done what I’m trying to do.”

For now, what’s an audio fanatic to do? Can you say WAV, FLAC or lossless files?

 

Tubing Tip of the Month (for tubsters only)

The Leben CS-300 integrated amplifier

  • Made in Japan
  • Tubes: EL84 (Sovtek) x 4, 12AX7A (Sovtek) x 2
  • Output: 12W x 2
  • Impedance: 4/6/8 ohms
  • Distortion: 0.7% at 10W
  • Tape monitor, headphone, bass boost
  • ‘70s look and mystique
  • Price: $3395

Good tubing and have a happy summer!

IMAGE: Analog tubes still provide listening warmth

“Digital for storage and quickness. Analog for fatness and warmth.” – Pop/rock music experimentalist and guitar whiz Adrian Belew, speaking about vacuum tubes, accessed on Brainyquote.

As the world gets smaller in most every way, efficiency of space is the name of the game wherever you go. For that and many other reasons, a growing number of enthusiasts don’t ever bother moving away from their laptops or PCs when it comes to listening to their favorite tunes.

Digital formats traditionally provide a quick and easy way to access music, although binary coding only provides virtual texture and generally lacks the punch of larger hi-fidelity audio systems. Not so anymore with the tube driven Neuhaus Laboratories T-2 integrated amplifier.

Made for laptops and PCs

The Neuhaus Labs T- 2 integrated amplifier, full tube driven sound and not a hybrid, is built specifically to accommodate a laptop or PC. What does the T-2 do? When connected by way of a simple USB, the T-2 bypasses a computer’s soundcard, which is not meant for fine music listening. The Neuhaus website explains:

“We simply take the pure unaltered digital file from your computer and send it directly to our amp. The T-2 Amplifier has a built in Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). A digital-to-analog converter, or DAC, converts digital information — 0’s and 1’s — into analog music signals.”

Plenty of volume

It’s hard to get into a great piece of music if the song is played through solid-state equipment. More often than not, it sounds tinny and the volume is never loud enough. The T-2 addresses those issues:

“After we convert the digital file to analog, we amplify the signal with vacuum tube technology, not solid-state transistors like most amps you can buy at your local superstore.”

The Neuhaus “vacuum tube technology” generally bathes digital sources with analog warmth. Furthermore, running through the T-2’s tubes are 20 watts of driving power, which under most circumstances, is enough for a pleasant listening experience.

The Specs

TheT-2 weighs in at a hulking 19.8 lbs., is 11.5 inches wide, 11.5 inches deep and 6 inches high. Power consumption, 100 watts, generates 20 watts of stereo sound. A far as tubes go, the integrated T-2 uses four 6N7s, two 6N1s and two 6N3s.  Frequency response is 10 – 30 kHz. THD is 1.5% at one kHz.

The T-2’s output transistor is made by Neuhaus technicians. Also onboard are three rear RCA style inputs and a 1/4 inch headphone jack. It takes about 15 seconds for the slow power-up on switch to kick in, a mark of both safety and efficiency.

Piano black steel caging and a stainless body present a sturdy but sleek image that surrounds the ever precious glass vacuum tubes.

Where is the T-2 manufactured?

According to the Neuhaus Facebook page, “The amps have been designed in the U.S.A. The units are assembled in Taiwan from U.S. and other countries components.”

The Price

Online the T-2 sells for $795 at the Neuhaus website.

For audiophiles wishing to beef up the sound their computer, the analog warmth of the T-2 may just be the solution.

Tube tip of the month:

The Egnater 15w Tweaker head:

  • Master volume and gain
  • Three band equalizer, treble, mid, bass
  • Two 6v6’s for tube power
  • Street price $349.

Happy holidays, tubists!

 

Originally, computers had tubes.

Audiophiles and geeks, give your laptop, PC or MAC a serious retro vibe, as well as some vacuum tube warmth, with the GLOW Amp One integrated amplifier.

Are you using your computer as the basis for some high-fidelity listening? There’s no argument that your digital system delivers clean consistency on each end of the listening spectrum. What about the noise that lies between the highs and lows, the resonance that hovers in the mid-range? How does a digital system handle that? The answer is with virtual sound.

But why go with a facsimile when you can add the real thing to your processor. Enter the GLOW Amp One integrated amplifier.

The GLOW Amp One

The Amp One is an integrated music amplifier that consumes 52W in order to generate 5W of output per channel. Where does all of the inefficiency go? Into audible distortion, the good kind, often described as tube warmth.

The Amp One injects that same tube distorted warmth into your digital listening source by means of a standard USB port. How easy could it be?    

Special features

The GLOW Amp One accepts CD and DVD players, iPods and televisions via an RCA input. There’s also a 1/4″ headphone jack. While the Amp One comes in assorted colors, a cool feature is the ring around the volume knob that slowly changes colors while in operation. A mesh metal cage protects the heart of the unit – the ever-precious glass tubes.

The Specs      

The Amp One’s Class A design comes equipped with EL84 power tubes, precision hand wound transformers, a steel chassis, anti-corrosion undercoating and a one year warranty. GLOW’s Amp One dimensions are compact at 11.5″ x 5.5″ x 6″ and weighing 16.5 lbs. Total Harmonic Distortion (T.H.D.) is less than 1% at 1W.   

The price

The Amp One integrated amplifier will set you back $788 plus shipping and handling when ordered on the GLOW website.  So, grab your laptop, PC or MAC and get tubing. Once you go “tube” you’ll never go back.

TUBULAR TIP OF THE MONTH:

Ampeg’s GVT 15-112 guitar amplifier

Pre-amp = 3 x 12AX7’s

Power amp = 2 x EL84’s

15W

Celestion 12″ speaker x 1

Spring reverb

$599

Happy Tubing!

The Fender Blues Junior guitar amp is tube driven.

The Fender Blues Junior guitar amp is tube driven.

When it comes to home stereo systems and guitar amplifiers, tubes are always the best way to go, but at what cost?  Digital sound components, whether in the home, on the stage or in the studio, strive to emulate vintage tube driven sound. So why not swap the solid state electronics for some glass triodes? The answer, as usual, is the cost.

No matter if it’s the components of a home stereo or a classic name brand guitar amplifier, products featuring vacuum tubes cost big time bucks. Like a sign of the times, money has become scarce for many and so has real tube warmth.

The virtual sound of analog magic

Solid state sensibilities have slowly taken over out of sheer inevitability. Digital is cheap, highly mobile, stores incredible amounts of music and transfers cleanly. Even so, let’s not forget what digital solid state sound, like iPods and flash drives, are determined to do – capture the virtual sound of analog magic, called tubes.

“You get what you pay for”

Contemporary home theatre systems, powerful and efficient, as well as retro sounding modeling amps for guitars, provide near perfect music reproduction when compared to their tube equipped counterparts and at more affordable prices. For some, this may be the closest they’ll come to the real thing. Others may not be willing to settle. No matter who you are, as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” Either way, long live tubes.

 

TUBULAR TIDBIT OF THE MONTH #101

JOLIDA – JD102B integrated tube amp

20W per channel at 8ohms

Full tube, EL-84 output tubes

On the street price- $775 USD  

Tube amplifiers still offer premium sound

IMAGE:Tube amplifiers still offer premium sound

Tubes are king when it comes to the sound quality of both electric guitar amplifiers and home audio systems.

For anyone who has ever listened to classic rock or blues recordings or attended a live concert, chances are the guitar players were plugged into rigs equipped with some type of prime tube amplification helping them pump out their signature sounds. Audiophiles will tell you the most expensive stereo amplifiers are the models that have vacuum tubes.

Also known as valves in England, tubes rule and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon, especially for guitarists and serious music enthusiasts.

Even iPods have tubes

It’s interesting to see how the current wave of digital music players, such as the Apple iPod and other similar devices, can plug into vacuum tube docking stations in order to achieve that highly sought after “tube sound.” Why else would iPods and the like have retro designed docking platforms featuring vacuum tubes? Digital audio sources, including compressed files like mp3’s, which some enthusiasts maintain are inferior music products to begin with, sound better played through tubes.

Let’s face it. Digital files are marvelous at reproducing musical sound. Add to that the negligible total harmonic distortion (THD) of solid state transistors, compared to vacuum tubes which can be up to 15-20%, and the results are pretty hard to argue with; digital sound passing through transistor circuits is much cleaner than traditional tubes.

On the other hand, whether it’s an mp3, WMA, WAV, flac or some fine digital file played on a home stereo or entertainment system with the best speakers and subwoofer, the highly desired analog sound often referred to as “tube warmth,” may be digitally imitated but never completely duplicated without the use of the real thing.

What are modeling amplifiers for guitars trying to imitate?

In many instances, transistors equipped with computer algorithms are capable of altering electric sound signals, like the ones from a guitar string when it’s picked or plucked, in order to resonate like an authentic tube amp.

In the world of contemporary guitar amplifiers, modeling amps featuring transistors are said to be state-of-the-art because they can imitate most of the characteristic sound of the classic tube models of the 50s, 60s and 70s and not break the bank in doing so. Voila! No need for vacuum tubes anymore. Well, not exactly.

The question, what are modeling amp manufacturers ultimately trying to duplicate, isn’t hard to answer; its genuine time-honored tube sound they’re after.

Music sounds better when you’re tubing

When an electric guitar is played a signal is generated, which leaves the instrument through its cable and flows toward the amplifier where it’s converted to sound. For vintage amplifiers, before that signal becomes audible, it passes through glass vacuum tubes inside the amp which impedes the signal’s path toward the speaker.

Due to the fundamental laws of nature and physics, if vacuum tubes are hot enough and if an amplifier is overdriven to near capacity electrical output, called clipping, an already vibrating guitar signal will vibrate faster. Vibrating at twice the rate before entering vacuum tubes, the signal becomes distorted.

The distorted signal then continues on to the speaker. Note that vacuum tubes have all the air and atmospheric gases removed, making it easier for the passing signal to increase its vibration and reach distortion levels.

Rock and blues musicians especially, turn their settings up extremely high on tube amps in order to create a distorted guitar signal which is satisfying to the ear and therefore most sought after by players.

Tubing with home stereos

Home audio systems that utilize vacuum tubes are highly desirable for reasons that are different from guitar amplifiers. Opposite of a guitar amp, driving a home stereo to its maximum capacity on any level of performance will likely be detrimental to the system.

Home audio systems with tube components can generate large amounts of power, a needed requirement when matched with respectably sized woofers and tweeters. Additionally, tube systems are louder than transistorized stereos.

Similar to guitar amplifiers, tubes in a home stereo don’t produce as clean a sound as transistors though it’s this same distortion that makes the listening experience so pleasurable. The distortion created in the vacuum tubes, technically called “even harmonic distortion,” as opposed to “odd,”   adds fullness and texture to the music being played.

Tubes can provide a definite listening improvement

For a home stereo, transistors and digital files provide consistently even music reproduction from top to bottom but tubes can bring satisfying brightness to mid-range sounds due to the warm harmonic distortion. Tubes might not make a bad recording sound good, but they can make it a bit better. Good recordings are great when tubed.

Are tubes the end all and be all for serious music listeners? Maybe not, but they’re incredibly close.