More than a decade ago, I bought a really old NJ series B.C. Rich Warlock bass from my friend Lorraine. I think she was ready to ditch pointy bass guitars for something classier as she went on to play in some excellent bands like The Gault and Worm Ouroboros. It came with a weird whitish-sparkly body, lots of dings that I added to, and multiple failed drill holes for a thumb-rest. I treated it as a beater bass I could fly with if I took the neck off. Well, that lil’ beater looks like this today.
And it also belongs to my wife now. It’s practically brand new, but with a vintage pedigree. This was a classic NJ series Rich, with its serial number planting its birth somewhere in Nagoya, Japan during the early eighties. The NJ guitars were real quality, then. I decided to give it new life. The project took me almost seven years to complete. But it was worth it to give my wife an awesome Christmas present.
My boss Mauz’s Ampeg V-4 had cut out. It was very strange… one day he was at practice, and shit first started cutting in and out. Then it stopped making sound altogether. It still had power, which was the weirdest part. This beauty (one of my favorite amps of all time) had to be resurrected.
As I’d already fixed multiple problems on my own V-4B, which is almost exactly the same amp minus a reverb circuit, I was unafeered of delving into Mauz’s. I think he was more afraid than I was. Despite knowing it was in my successful-yet-amateurish hands, it was his baby. His mojo. His tone. He shouldn’t have been worried.
Here’s another one for the boss man himself, Mauz from Kicker / Dystopia. He got this amp years ago and it was his go to for a long time. The Kustom 150 was sold as combo amp, but this one had been freed from its moorings and placed into what amounted to a cardboard box. Mauz had a new box built for it by our shop neighbor Chris. It looked nice now, but little did Mauz realize, this amp COULD KILL HIM.
This oldie-but-a-goodie was wired with a two-prong plug, as was the standard for all electronics before people stopped being idiots. That’s fine for a toaster. But when you have a guitar in your hands, you become part of the circuit. Without a connection to to actual earth, a.k.a. common ground, any AC electricity accidentally loosed onto the amp’s chassis will only find you. Zap.
So you think you’re analog, eh? You always use physical faders for your volume swells, you only record to tape, and you have that nifty vibrato guitar pedal with a BBD IC chip. I call bullshit. That’s not analog enough! An IC chip? Well, domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, but no arigato. If you want that pedal to be even more analog, you need to send your guitar signal through an aluminum disc covered in oil to rubber pickups. WTF? Here’s one of the biggest stomp boxes you’re likely to ever see, the Tel-Ray Morley RWV Rotating Wah.
Raymond Lubow invented the oil can echo in the 1960s for his company, Tel-Ray Electronics, to be a more reliable device than the tape-based echoes of the time. Smaller than a tape echo, it was also able to be added by amplifier manufacturers to their products. It uses an aluminum disc rotating in an electrostatic oil which brushes against conductive rubber pickups to carry the sound. Raymond used the same technology to create the Morley rotating speaker simulator and shove it into a pedal. The name was a pun on the Leslie (less-lee) rotating cabinet speaker. Thus a company was born and we all got ever-so confused. Now imagine you have a broken one. Fuck.
Mauz from Kicker had this interesting paperweight laying around the shop for awhile over at Monolith Press, where I work my day job. Turns out, it used to make noise. This was a remnant of the eighties, a Gallien-Krueger GK 400RG in all its solid-state and rack-mountable glory. It had its own crusty history as the amp for Geoff Evans from Skaven followed by Mauz when he recorded guitar for Dystopia’s “The Aftermath.” It also had a history of blowing up and some questionable, tweaky repairs with non-spec parts.
Mauz asked if I would take a looksy, so it went from a paperweight at the shop to a paperweight in my room. I wasn’t jumping at the chance to work on it. Fixing solid-state amps is a bitch. There’s so many little things that could be wrong or blown and you can’t always see it. You actually have to be smart… or you can blindly test everything a gazillion times until you get it right. So, yeah, testing everything it is.
or, Strategic Harmony Interference Elimination and Lead Defense.
Guitar pickups are electro-magnetic transducers that use changing magnetic fields to induce pulses of alternating current electricity from a coil of copper wire at voltages reproducing audible sine wave frequencies in relation to an absolute ground. I think. Sometimes I prefer the definition as proposed by Messrs. Dope and J; magnets are a “miracle.” Unfortunately, the latter definition does nothing to help understand why my bass might be buzzing like a bee chainsawing an alarm clock when the FOH sound guy turns the lights on and off. There’s two ways to solve the problem. One, you can learn to play the chainsaw.
Or two, you can shield your guitar. Truth be told, it should probably be shielded from you: throwing it around, spilling beer on it, bleeding on it… and by “you” I mean “me.” But the shielding I refer to will protect that precious guitar signal of malodorous melodies from the buzzing bullshit of the outside world.
Sean was nice enough to give me a guitar to use for demoing songs as we write a new record. It was a Halo guitar. I don’t know much about the company, but I’ve had to do some re-working in a few questionable construction issues to get this one up to snuff. One thing that sucked is the cable jack. It was the barrel style. Frankly, they’re total bullshit.
See the tines you can bend back into shape when it loses grip on a plug? No, you don’t, because they don’t exist. These things are notorious for breaking down and needing replacement. I’d had to replace one of Dan’s on the last tour we did in America. Basically, they’re longer, so I guess they’re used to avoid doing a good routing job on a guitar body. The nice people at Halo glued theirs in with wood putty, so that made replacement a non-cinch. I had to rip the fucker out.
I had gotten about half way through a really great post for this week over the last few days, but disaster struck. My Ampeg V-4B went SNAFU. I smelled something smoking at practice. I thought it was my strings from some awesome bass licks. Nope, I had a tube red plating in the back if my amp. It was about to blow. I turned everything off and had to figure this shit out. I had a show in Canada to play and no back up amp!
Over the next couple days, I checked shit out. I tested all the tube socket voltages with the tubes out, in case it was feeding my tubes too much voltage or not draining enough. This is dangerous territory here and not for the inexperienced. We’re talking leads getting 560V. That will kill you. Long story short, everything tested fine. So, WTF?