Podcast #31 – DINOSAUR ROCK GUITAR – Legendary guitar gear

“Dinosaur” Dave of Dinosaurrockguitar.com (do check it out, it’s great) joins the podcast once again to talk about the guitars, amplifiers, and effects that the legendary guitar players discussed in episode 30 use. Be sure to listen to that episode first.

About this episode

This podcast is a deep dive into guitar amplifiers, guitars, and effects.

Audio

Video

Show contents

00:00:00 – Guitar amplifiers
00:19:00 – Amplifier types: Tube, transistor, hybrid, modeling
00:24:48 – EL34 & 6L6 power tubes, Marshall Plexi, Mesa Boogie
00:37:40 – Marshall JCM800, Multiple gain stages, Stereo
01:04:15 – EL84 power tubes, Vox amps, lunchbox amps
01:09:25 – Amplifier buying advice, unique amp characteristics
01:30:54 – Guitar pickups: Single coils, humbuckers, silent single coils
02:04:45 – Guitars: Gibson Les Paul, Flying V, SG, Fender Telecaster, Stratocaster
02:36:28 – SuperStrats, Floyd Rose tremolos, PRS/Paul Reed Smith
02:49:25 – 1970s/1980s Japanese Ibanez & Yamaha lawsuit-era guitars
02:55:35 – Quality control, good/bad years, & buying a new guitar today
03:06:05 – Custom shop guitars, wood types and other materials
03:15:05 – Buying advice for beginners & next-generation smart amps

Show notes (courtesy of Dinosaur Dave)

Getting Authentic Dino (70s Heavy Rock/80s Melodic Metal) tones/sounds. 

  • We’re going to discuss them in the context of gigging and recording use cases. That is, when having the authentic tone really matters.
  • This discussion doesn’t apply to bedroom and practice scenarios.
  • It doesn’t necessarily apply to other musical styles.
  • These are MY observations and opinions based on my decades of experience.

AMPS

  • Amps come first. Why?
  • Amps creates the largest percentage of your tone. If you own 5 different guitars types, but only one amp, that one amp colors and affects the sound of ALL 5 guitars.
  • Also there’s an old axiom: A $200 guitar sounds better through a $1000 amp, than a $1000 guitar sounds through a $200 amp.
  • I always tell beginners, invest in a good amp before you upgrade to an expensive guitar. In most situations, what you need from an amp is the following:
    • One good clean tone
    • One good Dino crunch tone
    • One good lead tone
  • What you probably don’t need:
    • Many mediocre sounds
    • Versatility. Amp versatility is overrated in most Dino situations
  • In general, design concepts are more important than specific brands and models. And when talking amps, matching the amp’s power tube type gets you closer than anything else.

Understanding Amp tones involves understanding tube basics.

Tube tone

Three most popular power tube type for Dino music:

EL34

  • EL34 tone (Marshall, Orange, Laney, Hiwatt/Sound City) – Historically, THE sound of Dino rock.  AKA British sound
    • EL34s run hotter and distort earlier as you increase the volume.
    • EL34s are the sound of Hendrix, Cream, The WHO, Zeppelin, Sabbath, AC/DC, Van Halen, and a lot of 80s metal.
  • Prior to 1981 and the Marshall JCM 800, the distortion (in EL34 amps) came from power amp distortion (AKA power amp saturation) — basically running the amps at full volume so these power tubes got hot and created distortion.
  • Extra distortion came from fuzz and early distortion pedals:
    • Hendrix Fuzz Face
    • Page Sola Sound Tone Bender
    • Iommi and May used Dallas ‘Rangemaster’ treble booster
    • Randy Rhoads and Accept used MXR Distortion +
  • The holy grail for Amps was always getting heavily distorted tone at reasonable volume.
  • Preamp gain came later with the JCM800 Mesa.

6L6

  • 6L6 tone (classic Mesa, though they also use EL34s) AKA American sound.
  • 6L6s are more versatile (than EL34) and produce less obvious saturation when pushed.
  • 6L6s are the sound of everything from Steely Dan and Robben Ford to Dream Theatre and Metallica.

EL84

  • EL84s (Vox – Sound of the British Invasion. The Beatles, 60s Stones, Yardbirds, Brian May)
  • Smaller than EL34s. Distort even earlier. Less low end.
  • Very popular in today’s low-wattage amps.
  • There are more tube types and a lot more to amp sounds than this, and these are generalizations (there are always exceptions), but it’s a good starting point.

These days, there are a zillion ways to get or approximate authentic Dino tube tone, and at reasonable volumes.

The thing is, most guitarists (non pros) seldom need the real thing. Certainly not for bedroom wanking or practice. There are many more convenient things for those purposes these day, including the first generation of “smart amps.”

GUITARS AND PICKUPS

Humbucker vs Single Coil, and noiseless SC. (an overview)

  • There are a zillion solid-bodied guitars on the market for rock and metal and regardless of body shape and design, almost all of them are chasing a Gibson tone or a Fender tone — or BOTH. Understanding those tones involves understanding pickup basics.
  • So of all the guitars on the market, they all use either HBs, SCs, or stacked/noiseless SCs. And because very few guitar DESIGNS create truly distinctive sounds, I find it more useful to discuss the guitar’s tonal aspects in terms of pickup tone.
  • So for guitars if you want to sound like your hero, you should be asking yourself: does the player use a humbucker sound or a single coil sound?  Historically, Fenders used SCs in Strats and Teles, and Gibson used HBs from 1957 on. Of course today, there are many ways to configure and customize guitars to take advantage of both types. And of course, most guitarists — professional or not — commonly have guitars with both pup types.
  • True single coil pickups arrived first (in both Fender and Gibson designs), but they were, and remain noisy. In fact, I contend it’d harder than ever to use SC pickups due to the world of electronic devices we live with. Try recording with true single coils in a room full of computers, multiple, monitors, and everyone has a mobile phone. The SCs pick all of this electronic interference and create a hum through your rig that is usually unbearable.
  • But even back in the 50s before all the computers and monitors, SCs would pick up noise from the room lighting, ungrounded circuits etc. The reason the HB was developed was to buck — or stop that hum.  A HB has TWO coils instead of one. This cancels out the hum.

Noiseless SC

At some point between the late 70s and early 80s, we saw the arrival of the stacked single coil pickup. Designed to sound like a SC and fit in a SC space, the stacked SC is basically a two coiled version of the SC that is as noiseless as a HB. It’s a bit of a compromise solution, but a mostly effective one. Tone snobs will tell you that noiseless SCs don’t sound quite as good as true SCs, but for most applications they still sound close enough, and solve the noise issue. And unless you’re going for true vintage authenticity, they are a much better option for SC sound in high gain applications than the true SC.

As such, most Dino rock is the sound of the Humbucking pickup, and mostly in the bridge position of the guitar. This was mostly born out of necessity. Running amps loud and using high gain, it makes sense to use pups that don’t create unwanted noise.  That said, a lot of players truly LOVE the single coil sound, and it’s been put to good use even in Dino music.

Guys generally associated with SC tone

  • Hendrix on Strats
  • Robin Trower on Strats
  • Beck on Teles and Strats (now uses noiesless)
  • Page on Teles
  • Leslie West – LPjr with P90s a Gibson sc
  • Blackmore on Strats
  • Uli Roth on Strats
  • YJM on Strats with noiseless
  • Clapton on Strats (doesn’t really count)
  • Eric Johnson (doesn’t really count)

Guys associated with HB tone (at least in the bridge position)

  • Clapton on LPs and SG
  • Page on LPs
  • Beck on LPs
  • Iommi on SGs
  • The guys in KISS, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Queensryche
  • Alex Lifeson
  • Ronnie Montrose
  • Michael Schenker
  • Neal Schon
  • Dave Meniketti
  • EVH
  • All of Ozzy guitarists – Randy, Jake, Zakk
  • 80s metal guys: Sykes, Lynch, Hoffmann, Campbell, DiMartini, Takasaki, Satriani, Vai, Vandenberg.
  • Slash
  • John Petrucci
  • Doug Aldrich

Guys associated with BOTH

  • Gary Moore Strats & LPs
  • John Norum Strats & LPs

GUITARS – solid bodied electric guitars.

  • Very few solid bodied electric guitar designs create truly distinctive sounds.
  • The first two that come to mind that DO are the Les Paul and the Telecaster.
  • Stratocasters certainly have an iconic sound (or sounds) as well. They are the most popular guitar of all time
    • I contend it’s easier to fake a Strat sound with a non-strat guitar than it is to fake a LP or a Tele. And when you start talking about super strats — strats with HBs in them, that is definitely true. By that I mean, all you have to do to get classic strat tones from a super strat is coil cut the HBs so you can get a SC sound.

LPs

  • The reason LPs sound distinctive is:
  • Thick mahogany body, usually with a maple cap.
  • More importantly, they use a shorter Gibson scale length. These factors, when you combine them make the LP sound different from other slab mahogany bodied Gibsons like the SG, the Flying V, and the Explorer. While all of these guitars sound Gibson-ish. The LP has a lower mindrange frequency peak than other Gibsons.

Teles

  • The other guitar that has it own, distinctive tone is the Tele.
  • The distinction is due to the Tele’s bridge pan. That bridge pan is what gives the Tele it’s characteristic twang.
  • You can make a Tele sound like a Strat, but it’s hard to make any guitar sound like a Tele unless you put one of those bridge pans on it.
  • Oddly enough, it’s easier to make a Tele sound like a LP than it is for a lot of other guitars.
    • Zeppelin I in general, and Dazed and Confused in particular, is a perfect example of this. It sounds just like a LP through a Marshall, and it’s actually a Tele through a Vox Super Beatle. Much of that tone is due to sonic manipulation in the studio.
  • That said, put a HB in a Tele, and it can sound more like a LP than a HB in a Strat does. My guess is because the Tele has the thicker body, and the bridge pan adds something similar to the LPs maple cap.

Strats

  • The strength of the Strat is not as much about a distinctive tone, but rather its sonic versatility. It’s excels in ANY musical genre. From Buddy Holly and Beach Boy cleans to Yngwie levels of gain and crunch.
  • Strats also respond better than any other guitar design to customization. EVH wasn’t the first person to put a HB in a Strat, but when he did, he launched a whole other design trend — the Super Strat. Strat-bodied guitars configured with whatever kind of pickups and tremolo systems the player desires.
  • Super Strats RULED the 80s metal scene, and are still pretty popular because they were a reliable way guitarists found have to HB sounds in a lighter, more comfortable design, and with a tremolo.
  • The holy grail for guitars was always to get both AUTHENTIC Fender and Gibson sounds out of one guitar.
  • Super Strats don’t sound totally like Gibsons, but the humbuckers give them some Gibson-ish sonic characteristics and if you coil-split those HBs so that you can get the Fender-ish single coil sound out of them. Thus you can come close to the best of both worlds.

One other approach to getting trying to get both Fender and Gibson tones was PRS.

PRS

  • PRS has been selling guitars since their day one based on the concept that they can get — or approximate both Strat and LP tones. I don’t buy it. Even their Single Cut models that are supposed to go after that LP tone don’t quite get there because they’re not using the Gibson scale length. They’re also not using the Fender scale length. They are in between. As a result, PRS has created sort of a hybrid sound, that — while not a bad sound — to my ears, doesn’t quite get either sound.
  • I have been at jams with my old LP standing next to guys with shiny new PRS guitars that they THOUGHT sounded like a LP. Until they stood next to a guy who’s playing the real thing. They hear the difference, and you watch their faces fall. A fat free potato chip tastes pretty good until you A/B it against a real potato chip.
  • To my ears, the guitars that sound the MOST like LPs are the ones that stole the important design aspects and didn’t compromise. Those would be the Ibanez Artists, and the Yamaha SG 2000s. You don’t see them around much anymore because most these days, people can get a much cheaper model LP, but back in the 70s, if you couldn’t afford a LP Standard or Custom, you could get one of these two Japanese alternatives, and they got the LP tone. They had the same thickness mahogany, the maple cap, and the scale length.

The website

Dinosaurrockguitar.com

Recording details

Recorded on October 18, 2020, in New York, NY, USA, and Rotterdam, The Netherlands.