It’s alive! Mwahaha!

June 9, 2006

At long last, my guitar rig is nearly complete. If you track its whole history, I’ve really been working on it for over a year (starting with when I disposed of my old guitar head, a Peavey Triumph 60).

My first step was to purchase the head. It’s a Fender Super 60 all-tube head. I bought it from a music store in Kansas for about $300. When it arrived, I realized it didn’t quite match my Fender HM412A cabinet. This cabinet was covered in carpet and had black grill cloth, whereas the head had grey grill cloth and was covered in black tolex.

My first difficult assignment: recover the HM412A in black tolex and replace all grill cloth with “salt and pepper”. This was a grueling task that probably took in excess of 10 hours, not even to mention the costs involved (I didn’t know what I was doing and paid way too much for the materials). A moderate success on this project encouraged me to purchase and recover the similar HM112.

After I moved, I had to keep the larger HM412A outside. The frequent rains falling on my labor of love prompted me to sell it rather than continue to expose it to the elements. At this point, once I decided that I really did want a guitar rig, I thought a good plan would be to stack two of the HM112s, forming a mini stack. I eventually ordered a custom 1×12 cabinet to match (rather than purchasing another HM112) and made it open-backed to compliment the sound of the first. It turned out to not really look that cool, after all. And it sounded all right, but it wasn’t practical (ever the curse of tube amps; sacrifice either volume control or tone).

I began to think about ameliorating the sound of the head. My first move was to replace the broken reverb tank and also to install THD yellowjackets. These converted the amp from Class AB operation to Class A, getting closer to the sound I was going for. I wanted a sound that was overdriven, but still articulate (I often use jazz chords etc.). The next acquisition was a THD Hot Plate (nearly as expensive as the amp!) which allowed better volume control.

The next thing to add to the mix was stereo chorus. I had seen its beneficient tonal qualities firsthand with my Fender Sidekick Chorus. I started looking for its big brother, the 2x65W Ultimate Chorus. I found someone on eBay who had taken the amp out of its cabinet (it’s a combo amp) and was selling it for $50. I couldn’t resist. I began to formulate a plot so fiendish that it could only involve … metal shears!

I ordered another custom cab, from the same guy. This time, an open-backed 4×10, to similar specifications. I requested that the backboard run from the bottom of the amp to about the middle. When it arrived I set to work.

The first snag was discovering that I had requested the wrong dimensions. The Ultimate Chorus was a half-inch wider than I had thought. So, out came the metal shears! I cut off a bunch of the side. My wife helped me to squeeze it into the back of the cabinet, with the controls facing up and flush with the backboard. I drilled a few holes, put a few screws through, and it was roughly secure.

Step two began when the speakers arrived. I saved $15 over Musician’s Friend by purchasing them from a dealer a friend had told me about. The speakers I bought were two Eminence Rajin’ Cajuns and two Eminence Copperheads (both in their consumer-oriented Patriot line). I put them into the cabinet in a staggered configuration (so that speakers of the same type were in opposite corners). The top two would eventually be connected to the head, and the bottom two to the Ultimate Chorus. I determined that I would use the head to give personality to the tone, and assign the task of filling out the sound to the Ultimate chorus. My neighbor helped me by placing a board across the top of the cab, functionally making the bottom portion a closed cabinet (providing better bass response).

By trial and error, I managed to secure the Hot Plate upside down to the inside top of the cabinet. I made speaker cables to connect the two top speakers to it (and then one to go between the Hot Plate and the head). A bit more trial and error demonstrated that the best-sounding way to connect the head to the Ultimate Chorus was actually through the Preamp Out of the head, and from there into the low gain input of the UC. Getting a relatively clean signal (most of the head’s distortion is a result of overdriving the Power Amp) allowed me to split off from there to the “Detector In” of my Boss HR-2 Harmonist pedal (itself being placed in the UC’s stereo loop) before distorting the sound again for the UC. I decided to go with the fairly reasonable (at least, in combination with the much better sound from the head) distortion built into the UC. However, it was fairly noisy, so I’ve purchased a Rocktron Hush pedal (hasn’t come yet). I figure I’ll put it right before the Harmonist.

The final stage was to hook up a footswitch to the Harmonist … I am hoping to get by in my next band just by switching from regular overdrive to the Harmonized overdrive. I initally thought to use an AB Switch, but this a) did not work, and b) was not as hackable as I thought, precluding the possibility of incorporating a remote footswitch. I had a cool footswitch I wanted to use, in any case.

Incorporating this footswitch into the Harmonist was easier said than done. I thought I could simply wire a 1/4″ jack onto the leads for the internal switch, but the Harmonist’s internal switch turned out to be of the unlatched variety, whereas all of my footswitches were latched. Basically, this meant that I had to hit the footswitch twice to switch the pedal on or off. I decided to convert the footswitch. I opened it up, broke off the complicated housing, wired one lead to the base and stuck on the other such that one of the moving parts would hit it at the bottom of a switch press. Voila.

For being insanely complicated, though, it’s quite organized. I have hooks for the footswitch and power cord (just one power cord, and I have a plug available for the head in the cabinet). Everything will eventually be bolted down. I even managed to work a tuner into the mix. And although it’ll need a bit more tweaking (there certainly are a lot of EQ options to deal with) it seems to be providing me with the sound I was looking for, and then some. And, seeing as how this rig is in nearly all of its components unique among all rigs of all time, there’s no chance of it being mistaken for someone else’s rig. Mwahahahaha!

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