After a year of using a Boss TU-80 and a Peterson Stroboclip I now have a tuner which makes my guitar sound as if it’s actually in tune. I bought a Boss TU3 pedal tuner. The tuner is almost the “industry standard” and makes it incredibly easy to tune up, without having to clip anything to your headstock or wonder whether the LCD blocks on the screen are behaving correctly.

Here’s the beauty. There are many reviews on-line and YouTube will show you all of the functions. I really only have one thing to say about it, in terms of praise. It makes my guitar sound better when I play. That’s all that matters.


My other tuners are now on eBay.

NOS valves

The joy of my Tweed 5 from Rift Amplification continues unabated. Last night I convinced myself I was as good a player as Roy Buchanan and Big Eric – that may have had something to do with some cider consumption. It may also have had a lot to do with the great sounds emanating from the amp. I even remembered to use the low gain channel in consideration of my neighbours. It allows me to bump up the gain on my overdrive pedal for a grittier sound at lower volumes.

One aspect of my joy is that with easy access to the valves through the open rear panel, I can change them to alter the amp’s tone. I’ve seen YouTube clips of a well-known (Australian) reviewer stating that changing valves never really changed the sound of his amp, whereas in his opinion, a speaker swap makes a large difference. While every element in the signal chain affects the sound and a speaker swap would clearly alter the tone it’s not a quick process. Turning an amp around and gently waggling a valve or two is a lot easier to achieve.

My Tweed has three valves; a 5Y3 rectifier which converts the AC current to DC, an ECC83 pre-amp and a 6V6 power valve. From my reading up about the subject, changing the pre-amp tube has the largest affect on the amp’s tone, as it passes on the signal to the power valve for secondary amplification, although of course as we know, every element in the chain has an effect.

It would be totally remiss of me not to experiment with different valves in the amp; they’re not expensive (although they can be) and there are many, many varieties available from on-line sellers.

The first valve I tried was a TAD 12AX7/Ecc83 Premium Selected RT001 which is a very close relation of the ECC83 WA TAD RT008 which Chris @ Rift Amps selects as the original valve. The difference in tone from two very similar valves, supplied by the same company is quite amazing. The 12AX7 valve produces a much brighter sound with clearer highs and mid-tones, it made the Tweed 5 sound more modern, like my Blues Junior, which uses Fender 12AX7s. The original  EEC83 has a much warmer tone and sounds Tweedier.

I next tried a NOS (new old stock) Philips JAN 5751 which was a little more expensive than the 12AX7. The tone produced by this pre-amp valve was very smooth indeed. Less bright than the 12AX7 and less woody than the ECC83 – so in the middle but very assured and even. I gave the amp a volume pump and the tone was still snappy. Overall, I preferred the original ECC83 but this is probably because it’s what I’m most used to and have played the longest.


I tried both pre-amp valves combined with the TAD 6V6GT-STR power valve which the amp ships with. I did however have a NOS power amp to try, this US made Sylvania 6V6 which sounded absolutely fantastic with the ECC83. However, once again, on balance I think I liked the original valve configuration which the amp came with. This is almost certainly love of the familiar.


I didn’t test all of the combinations possible – that’s for another time. Although I think what I may do is keep things as they are and if/when one of the original valves dies or starts playing up, I’ll choose a replacement from my small collection.  I’m tempted though to try this one, which is reputed to sound superb, coming as it does, through time from 1969!



Happy Easter!



Let’s see if I have this straight.

We’re all sinners because six thousand years ago, a talking snake convinced someone to eat a magic apple.

Yeah. Right.

Watching the eclipse


Very freaky light during the eclipse today but I thought I would use my Explorer as a backdrop to see it coming in. Here it’s at it’s peak – normally a cloud at that moment would not be looked on favourably but it did enable me to have a good look at it unfiltered.


The perfect dog


It’s simple. If I were ever to get a dog, and that is my one remaining ambition – to survive to retirement and buy a dog – it would be a lovely black and tan dachshund like this one.



One of the joys of my new Rift Amp Tweed 5 is how well it works with effects pedals. When I bought the amp, I only had one in more or less constant use, an MXR Carbon Copy which is a brilliant analogue delay pedal. When I began playing with it through the Tweed 5, I was pleased with the extra space it gave me over the amp’s dry sound, which is great at louder volumes. Setting a 50s style slap-back delay was a pretty close approximation of reverb but it wasn’t quite doing it for my ears. At the lower volumes at which I play, reverb opens up the sound in my front room. I also just like reverb and almost always have had it on, on my previous amps. So I thought I’d buy a reverb pedal.

A quick diversion, what’s the difference between reverb and delay? Reverb is like playing the amp in an echoing, large room while a delay is a repetition of the sound at a later time. Reverb produces a sound which trails off  and blurs while a delay distinctly repeats. The sounds are similar but different.

There are oodles of reverb pedals out there, from many manufacturers. There are also many different types of reverb, which emulate different sizes of rooms in which sound might echo and the different means of producing those echoes. Some pedals such as TC Electronics Hall of Fame have options for all of those rooms and means – you can even download reverb settings, recorded by famous players. That’s at least 16 different options, not counting the downloads. On the other hand, I like to keep it simple. I like to follow the old school Fender style of doing things, which meant I only need Spring reverb. Spring reverbs, on the better amps, have a set of springs in a box through which the guitar’s signal is played and this produces the reverb effect. This is the classic Fender sound and when turned all the way up, you can produce the famous surf sound from 60s music. Although you don’t have to go that far.

After reviewing many available pedals, I liked the sound (and appearance) of Catalinbread‘s  Topanaga pedal. What they cleverly did was emulate the sounds produced by Fender 6G15 spring reverb.


This was a valve driven, separate box, looking like an amp head. The Fender unit is associated with the sounds of surf music and even Spaghetti Westerns. You plugged your guitar into the reverb and the reverb into the amp. So it’s like a pedal but being valve powered could even be distorted to produce more intense sounds. Compared to a standard reverb pedal, the Topanga replicates this power boost with a volume button which acts as boost for your amp’s preamp. It copies the Dwell knob which emphasises the spring effect as well  having tone and a mix control. Whatever they have done inside the pedal, it ends up doing is sounding like a perfectly controllable, beautiful spring reverb.

The mix button also allows you to dial in a 100% wet sound, namely the only thing you hear is the pedal – the Fender box could not do that. It sounds good but the tracking is delayed which means the sound is behind the notes you hit. The Topanga may not have countless effects but it does what it does really well. I actually prefer it to the real spring reverb in my Blues Junior.

I was so impressed with the Topanga, I bought another  Catalinbread pedal, the Formula 5F6. Where the Topanga replicates a valve driven reverb unit, the Formula 5F6 emulates one of the most famous amps made, Fender’s Bassman.


Originally designed for bass guitars, it was quickly adopted by guitarists who loved the bass response and tone the amp produced. The pedal replicates much of what made a Bassman special, including the “Tweed” tone and low gain grunt. So the pedal is an amp, or as Catalinbread term it, a Foundation Overdrive, as it benefits from working with other pedals including other drive pedals.

I use it in two ways. On my Tweed 5 amp, I keep the tone stack fairly neutral and turn up the gain to give me a gainier sound. On my Blues Junior I use it in much the same way but drive the pre-amp with more volume, as its own driven gain sound rather brittle. I can make it more Tweedy, not simply just using it as a gain pedal.

The name Formula 5F6 refers to the Fender circuit code for the Bassman and the clever people at Catalinbread have made made the pedal follow the Bassman’s tone stack, the three tone knobs. Unlike many pedals these do actually work and effect the sound. The very helpful PDF manual recommends settings for your amp and then encourages you to play with the gain, and tone knobs to your heart’s content.

Whatever they’ve done in there, it works wonderfully. Even as a mere gain pedal, it sounds so much better than my Blues Driver 2 Boss pedal. The tones are rich, and smooth, yet gritty without being harsh – “Not clean but not dirty.”

Both of these pedals have two tricks which are new to me. They can be run at a standard 9V from a power supply or you can attach a variable power supply and run them up to 18V for more effect. I’ve not really tried that yet, as they sound great running as standard. The other thing they have is a secret mode. Changing a switch inside the Formula 5F6 changes the tone of the pedal to a more Marshall like lead sound. The Topanga has a secret modulation effect depending on where you turn the volume when you power on the pedal.

They’re excellent pedals and I’m so enjoying playing them through both my amps.

Crested Tit

A few posts back, I uploaded a delightful graphic of a blue tit I’d nicked off the twittersphere. I hoped that I might find some more in the same style. I don’t usually reference work on my blog, it would be a recipe for disaster and involve all manner of disciplinary hearings, yet working with talented chaps with Macs, such as “Mr. Dark Shadow” – a regular reader – has proved useful as my desire has been realised.

Crested tit

He kindly offered to attempt a new species in a similar style, I asked if I could have a Crested Tit. These are one of my favourite birds, even though I’ve never (yet) seen one in the wild, since they only live deep in the pine forests of the Scottish highlands.

As you can seen from the photo below, “Mr. Dark Shadow” has done a brilliant job characterising the jizz of the Crested Tit in his image. It’s fantastic!

Thank you very much Mr. Shadow!