guitar gear, music

Review: BMPDF Overdrive

We all have our weaknesses and mine is for the distorted electric guitar. I love it. I love the various types and timbres and all the science behind why these things work—it’s all interesting to me. I belong to a number of fan-forums for people who love this stuff more than I do (and certainly know much more than I do.) A home-brew pedal-builder name Jeffery Pallo and I got to talking about a shared love for a specific and way under-appreciated circuit—and as a result of these Facebook chats, a brand new pedal has been thus been birthed.

It is called the BMPDF.

It comes in a violet-shaded box (an oblique reference to one of my “holy grail,” sought-after distortion pedals.)

At a surface level, the BMPDF seems very simple. There’s two foot-switches and only three knobs. How complex could such a thing possibly be? Well, it turns out, five knobs can be a complex thing indeed!

The BMPDF is what’s known as a “cascading” distortion, and with some careful dial-twisting, it can carry a player tonally from a warm, rich Tubescreamer-type sound, into wild, hairy, “1969” Stooges tones.

What is the BMPDF and how does it work?

The concept of “cascading” distortion is simple and time-honored: what’s better than one distortion pedal? Two of them in combination. One circuit flows into another circuit, with both being active at the same time. The net result is that both circuits augment and shape each other; they become much more explosive.

This is a “cascading” over drive set-up, using two very different pedals.

Fig 1

[ Boss Blues Driver ] -> [ Boss DS-1]

Fig 2

[Muff Fuzz Overdrive No. 1] -> [Muff Fuzz Overdrive No. 2]

In Fig. 1, those are two separate units, operating independently, blending into each other.

In Fig. 2, all the action occurs in the same box, has a foot-switch so that a player can use only one circuit or both together, and also has a tone control to add or reduce treble and bass content.

Figure 2, you may have guessed, is the BMPDF.

Each Muff Fuzz Overdrive circuit has its own single knob, and they are set independently. Roll a knob left, and the circuit is all “off.” Roll it right, and the effect is all “on.” Very straight-forward. The tone knob has some quirks and I’ll talk about that at the end because the quirks are incredibly important, but also a bit obscure.

Suffice it to say, the tone control works as they most often do: rolling to the right adds treble to the signal, roll to the left adds more bass.

The pedal has two foot-switches. The right switch activates only the first Muff Fuzz circuit; hitting the left switch means that both Muffs are on simultaneously.

What does it sound like?

I tried this pedal through a solid-state practice amp (sounded amazing, by the way) and also my Fender Deluxe Reverb, which I gig with regularly, and has some quirks but is a terrific amp.

On its own, a single Muff Fuzz Overdrive is warm, rich and fat—and surprisingly dark and viscous. I personally find that, in single-muff mode, both the muff and tone controls need to be set at least at noon to get a full effect.

As the single Muff edges into overdrive, it gets really wide and fat, and a subtle, top-end hairiness begins to emerge—it’s just extremely difficult to describe, but it’s harmonically fascinating. It’s almost like playing a guitar though an old, broken radio or record player or something.

To be absolutely clear: this pedal is in absolutely no way a clear or transparent anything. This is a syrupy, enriching overdrive that heavily colors the guitar tone—which is the point, right?

Now then:

As much fun as one MFO can be, the pedal really shines in “double” or “both on” mode—with both Muff Fuzz Overdrive circuits being blended together.

In this mode, the first muff acts something like a “master volume” controlling the overall volume of the pedal, while also adding considerable fatness and girth to the overall effect.

In double-muff mode, I found a sweet spot where muff-one is set around 1:00, and muff-two is maybe at 4:00. There’s another sweet spot with both muffs around 3:00.

Both circuits seem to blossom into each other, really opening up into a grinding and raw tone that is neither fully fuzz, nor fully overdriven, nor fully clean. There is a surprising amount of string and chordal clarity, while also having that classic woolliness and searing top-end. It’s an incredible rhythm sound, while still having some of that classic “singing sustain” that people associate with fuzz.

Also, this pedal is super-sensitive to the guitar’s own volume knob. Rolling the volume back to about 7 or 8, the BMPDF opens up into a brilliant, spanky, glassy “pushed” clean—every note just snaps at you. Each string sounds like you’re playing with barbed wire. Roll the volume up again, and suddenly the meaty, raw crunch re-emerges quickly.

These sounds immediately reminded me of the proto-punk and grunge albums that more or less taught me what I know about music. The MC5, The Stooges, The Who, Neil Young, Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., even Nirvana—it’s all there in this little three-knob, two-channel box.

The tone knob.

There’s one more wrinkle to this pedal: the tone knob. Most tone knobs are really just filters for adding and subtracting bass and treble frequencies. The tone stack of the BMPDF does this, but it also has a “linear power booster” wedded to it.

Fuzz pedals in general are notorious for “scooping” mid-range content. That’s just the nature of the fuzz distortion beast—and guitar players perceive this as a drop in volume,  or “getting lost” in their band’s mix.

By adding a “linear power booster,” the BMPDF sort of bolsters frequencies that would otherwise be lacking. The BMPDF has a pronounced, definitely observable mid-range “fullness” or “hump” that other fuzzes just don’t have. This is a little detail but it can make a critical difference to a guitarist hoping to stand out in live settings.

Important footnote.

The BMPDF is not to be confused with any version of the Big Muff Pi. That is a totally different species of pedal. I love them, I own several, but they are totally different.

Pro-tip.

Try plugging a BMPDF in front of another Big Muff. The mid-range boost from the BMPDF sends a stock Big Muff into an utterly ludicrous meltdown of gain. Excellent for lead work, among other things. 🙂

baseball, music, reviews

Your 2017 Nationals–if they were guitars

In the lead-up to the All-Star Game, Major League baseball launched a social media experiment: one last push to get some all-universe baseball players into the game, guys who hadn’t made it on popular vote alone, by tallying how many times a specific hashtag was hashed. It does blow my mind that an all-universe player like Anthony Rendon can be so criminally overlooked but that’s all-star games for ya, and it’s also what happens when you’re humble and refuse to self-promote, characteristics that are not exactly sought after (“actively rejected”) in today’s media marketplace, it’s making us all worse people living worse lives, but that’s another point entirely.

#VoteRendon was the hashtag of the day, and I tweeted it a few times, but just tweeting #VoteRendon in bulk was so boring and banal I sort of refused to do it unless I could come up with actual decent tweets. I tried this one:

 

 

That got some traction. As it should: penguin chicks are click-fodder. All animals are click-fodder, but penguins are fuzzy and round, which make them even more click-foddery than others.

I freely admit this was a cynical and planned manipulation of people’s clicking habits. But I like to also congratulate myself on having properly read the audience and formulated a social-media strategy of sorts, that “seemed” to work in the sense that I did actually gain a few followers from it.

And then I tweeted this one, a far more obscure, let’s say “elevated,” take:

 

This tweet didn’t get as much engagement but I failed to hashtag #Telecaster, a fairly major tactical shortcoming on my part, because I could have drawn in more clicks by bringing together two basically unrelated subjects and audiences.

This tweet, however, inspired further thinking, and is directly responsible for how I arrived at this abomination of an idea: If Tony is a Telecaster, what is Max? What is Harper? This is a bad bar-type discussion but if I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that bad bar-type discussions are the apotheosis of online discourse.

All you need to know about me is that I love reading more than I love guitars and music; I love guitars and music more than baseball; and then there’s other stuff.

Proceed at your own risk.

Max Scherzer: ’62 Les Paul

7264194c6df0854da0f3facd7187ef9b--gary-rossington-custom-guitars

This is the classic of the classic of the classics. This is the guitar’s guitar. It’s less “raw sex appeal” and more like a rare artifact of human greatness. When I think of Max, I think that this is sort of why we have pitchers and pitching in the first place. I think that he pushes himself in a way that cause nearly all other bodies to implode and he does not. I think of a guy who has the mental toughness–learned, for sure–that few pitchers have. The ’62 Les Paul is so worshipped it’s almost a cliché but the fact is that there is just nothing on Earth that sounds as full, rich and powerful as this slab of mahogany. It’s a visceral guitar. It’s a guitar for a guy with high 90s velocity and command of four pitches including a “power slider” that goes off the grid as it enters the strike zone.

Bryce Harper; ’59 Les Paul, the “Black Beauty”

LPB7TVEBGH1_FINISHES_FAMILY

The ’62 LP has one rival when it comes to being the guitar, and that’s the ’59 Black Beauty. I personally prefer ’em Neil Young-style, with single-coil “p-90” style pickups, but it should be noted that I would happily take one with any pickup arrangement. I have had the extraordinary opportunity to play one of these and the neck, which I believe was original, was the greatest neck I’ve ever put my hands on. The ’59 Black Beauty has got tremendous power: it’s a solid slab of mahogany and two beefy-ass pickups. Bryce can swing it, we all know this. But it’s easy to overlook that he’s a hitter first, power-hitter second. His command of the strike zone is like he went into edit-player mode and gave himself a 99. His eye-hand coordination is alienesque. He’s a very good defensive player too, with a laser for a throwing arm. There is a lot more to his game than moon shot homers and there’s a lot more to the Black Beauty than chugging riffs.

Ryan Zimmerman: ’57 Stratocaster

qekociyocxizafec3cuf.jpg

You find me a team without a power-hitting first-baseman and I’ll show you an incomplete team. You show me a guitarist without a classic, black-and-white Strat, and I’ll you show you an incomplete guitar arsenal. It really is that straightforward. Forget about the sentimental beauty of seeing Ryan slug again. His hot start fueled the hot start of the team, and that hot start translated to a critical margin later in the spring-summer as the team found injury and pitching problems cropping up. His scorched “oppo” line drives are a thing of beauty.

Daniel Murphy: ’59 Les Paul Jr.

29c4fe42a937b83c304d2bdc436d22b7

The TV-yellow Les Paul Junior was brought to life as a stripped-down, student-type budget instrument. And it has become, over time, a classic instrument. I see Murphy in this guitar. I see a guy who hits everything at all times. Likewise, the ’59 LPJ is as much a punk and rock guitar as it is a jazz guitar; the p-90 pickups add a layer of complexity to the solid-body heft. Unlike the really swampy and intestinal classic Les Paul, the LPJ has a pronounced bite in the mid-range frequencies, a bark, almost a howl–it’s not a slugger but it has the kind of line-drive power that scores run upon run upon run. While not a superstar guitar like the LP, the Junior is suitable for every genre, and the fact that it really found its following many years after its initial introduction just speaks to me about the arc of Murphy’s career. Murphy has a plan for every at-bat and any musician with a plan should not be without a Les Paul Junior, or at least guitars with p-90 pickups.

Trea Turner: the J. Mascis custom Jazzmaster

a353f081b730fedf5d2e02faca60beb1

Speed and power and just pure sex appeal come together in one instrument. Few play louder than J, but it’s not just slamming amps at maximum volume; his use of suspended chords and jangly open-string chord voicings are as much a part of “the sound” as anything. He’s Peter Buck wallowing in a well of sludge. Trea can small-ball you to death. Trea’s got the line-drive power to rip mistake pitches into doubles and home runs. He’s got the speed and the power and the aggression to take triples. His defense–range, the throwing arm, the glove work–is also outstanding. Trea’s all-around game is both overtly “sexy” and also subtle and quiet and that reminds me of the extreme contours of the Jazzmaster, a guitar that is flashy as hell, but not obscene or vulgar; it’s stylish and sleek, and it’s also a pure tone machine.

Anthony Rendon: pick a Telecaster

CM7wSvoUAAAEAvo

The Tele doesn’t talk about itself. The Tele doesn’t try to destroy your eyes with neon paint jobs or nearly pornographic angles. It’s just there, and it does what it does, all day, every day. It hits. It plays outstanding defense. It rocks. It’s bluesy. It’s jazz. It’s metal. (If you think you can’t play metal on a Tele, well, nobody bothered to inform Chris Cornell as such. He rocked ’em all the time. So does Mascis for that matter.) The Tele is Anthony Rendon because it is seems so humble and simple (“only” two pickups! “only” two knobs! “only” one switch!) but it covers an enormous spectrum of tone and it does everything as well as it can be. You pick it up and plug it in and 98% of your work is done. You give Tony a bat and a glove and you will have run production, defense, base-running and  steady, quiet, reliable greatness.

Jayson Werth: ES-335

gibson-1963-es-335-block-reissue-cherry-2013-edition-625534.jpg

Before going down with a foul-ball-induced foot injury, J-Dub was posting an OPS in the mid-800s while playing far-better-than-anyone-expected defense in the outfield. Everything about J-Dub says, “aging like a fine wine or scotch,” and nothing says that better to me than a wine-red semi-hollowbody where you can see the woodgrain and you can hear the depth of the notes, there’s a maturity and fullness to these guitars that are just inexplicable short of hearing and playing them. The shape is a classic guitar style but  they can bring the heat–see, Eric Clapton and Cream–these guitars surely can scream as J-Dub can still punish pitches. Maybe it’s not as “sexy” as a Jazzmaster, but it’s a full-throated rock machine that will always have a place in a guitar arsenal. J-Dub might be 38 but he looks like he could keep hitting in perpetuity.

Matt Wieters: Precision bass

0143412300_gtr_frt_001_rr

The catcher has to do everything: defend the position, wrangle pitchers, call pitches for every individual opposing batter, create detailed plans-of-attack, oh, and also hit. Every great rock band has a great bassist. The bass is both a melodic “lead” instrument and a critical part of the keeping the “rhythm” section on track. Wieters has come up with some big, big hits for the club. He’s learned an entirely new pitching army essentially on the fly. He’s made some big plays defending the plate. He’s just been involved, and positively, in every aspect of the team. His OPS has tailed off and he’s had issues with passed balls. I don’t think anyone can deny that. But he’s also played through a few exhausting stretches and he’s done so at the kind of glue-level that I think of when I think of the essentiality of the Fender precision bass.

Stephen Strasburg: Rickenbacker 330

Rickenbacker_330_Fireglo_2016_1.gif

The Rick is neither a Tele, nor a Strat, nor a Les Paul–it’s completely its own thing. It’s most famous for its jangly, reedy twang. But, when pumped through, say, a 100-watt Orange or Marshall stack–watch out. The Rick 330 can be a real fire-breather. When I think of Stras, I think of the brilliant “stuff”–the evaporating curveball, the tumbling sliders, the barrage of high-90s fastballs. He’s really his own man. He’s not Max. He’s not Bryce. He’s profoundly gifted and also profoundly quiet about it. The Rick is not an obvious guitar. It’s not one that shows up in pop clichés. But those who know guitars, know the Rick 330. Fans who know pitching, know how good Stras really is.

Stephen Drew, Adam Lind, Michael Taylor, Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Jose Lobaton, Tanner Roark: beat-up Telecasters

John_T_body_45

This guitar has been through some shit. It’s been dropped. It’s been discarded. It’s been told, “you’re scrap.” It’s heard “your career is over unless you do x y or z.” It’s been written off. And yet here it is, continuing to just crank out fantastic tone, session after session after session, song after song after song. Where would the Nats be without any of these guys? Yes, Tanner’s having a tough year, but so what–he will be critical for us at some point this year, and we need him, just like we need a Tele that’s had it’s neck broken and has scratchy pots and has it’s intonation all shot-to-shit–all of these guys have grinded to create fantastic professional sport careers for themselves, and not only is it an honor to watch them play, and play well, and continue evolving on a daily basis, they’re incredibly important component parts to this club. And, as I’ve already said, you should never leave home without a Tele.

The bullpen: Um

smash_19660730.jpg

Look I’m not here to trash the bullpen. That’s been done and it’s old and it’s boring. Let’s find something new to say. Let’s focus on what, for me, was a major first-half highlight: Enny Romero and his 101-mph heat as it K’d Freddie Freeman, Destroyer of The Nationals. I had the privilege of seeing him pitch in person here in L.A. and he was absolutely outstanding then, too. Matt Grace has had several moments of outstanding play, particularly (again) those two Ks of Freeman. Let’s focus on Ollie Perez coming in and throwing 95-mph heat after the Strickland-Harper brawl and locking down the win in San Francisco.

Let’s focus not on the brokenness of the bullpen; let’s focus on the fact that the raw parts remain so profoundly talented. Let us root for them to be used in ways that maximize their success; let us root for their health and well-being (KODA GLOVER, goddammit); and let’s root for them to get the most out of their ability, and yes, let us root for Mike Rizzo to make not just additions but the right additions.

Our bullpen is very much like a smashed Rickenbacker and a destroyed Marshall stack; artful, messy, and ultra-volatile–like The Who.

 

music, reviews

Black Hole Sun: We’re gonna miss you, Chris

 

033f883d

Forgive my instant reactions but I cannot help myself today.

I guess I was 11 or 12 when I first encountered the album Superunknown. I remember that my best friend’s older brother had this record kicking around in his room, and I just caught a glimpse of the album cover. The shapeless howl caked in saturated reds and blacks. It was like seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, or the first Terminator: I didn’t know what I was looking at or listening to. It was surreal and frightening and completely captivating.

And then I heard the music.

Good god.

The walls of guitar flattened me. “Let Me Drown”–the opening notes of the song, a colossal drop-D riff, absolutely throttled me, the speed, the intensity and power of every fucking note–it simply refused to let go. “Spoonman”–the pounding, African-Middle Eastern groove pulled me in even deeper. I remember hearing the wall of rhythm section that is “My Wave.” I remember the bizarre detuned licks of “Head Down,” and the crushing grind of “4th of July” and “Mailman.” I remember the quiet stalk and eventual explosion of  “Like Suicide.”

I remember being completely lost in the dynamics of each song, the ocean of tone, feeling like I was drowning in sound and it was the best thing I had even heard of physically felt in and between my ears; like all I wanted to do was play like that.

The voice. The voice that could lull you with pretty melodies and then turn on you in an instant, could sing gentle melodies and then unleash a norse-god howl from-the-mountaintops. Once you hear it, you can’t un-hear it; there’s no going back. Chris Cornell’s singing was both classic rock & roll, classic Robert Plant, and yet so much more  intestinal.

The music hit me, and then did the lyrics; and the lyrics were lyrical. It wasn’t sex-and-girls-and-dumbstuff. It was lyrics about sadness and loneliness and anger and depression and the gamut of the human experience, the hard and dark stuff nobody enjoys talking about. The lyrics were fucking literate. I understood that right away, this wasn’t some dumbstuff rock & roll to be cool; this was rock & roll made by people who either could do, or wanted to do, nothing else, and were expressing it in a way–in this poetic, anti-macho, anti-posturing aesthetic–that, particularly when paired with the apocalyptic riffs, hit me like a jackhammer. There was no intellectual explanation for it, no need for lengthy critical unpackings–there was just this stuff that seemed to have shown up like the monolith out of Space Odyssey, and blasted its way into my consciousness.

I recall seeing the Black Hole Sun music video and to this day I rate it as one of my favorite films. The free-associative, dreamlike imagery, paired with this song that was at once pretty and bright and gloomy and sludgy–it was unlike anything I’d ever seen and I just found it mesmerizing. I kept listening. I kept waiting for MTV to play the video again, even though MTV wasn’t something I was supposed to watch–the entire act of engaging with Soundgarden as a band, as a style of music, felt dangerous and underground and  contrabandy and also personal and intimate.

Eventually, I did try to “unpack” Soundgarden. I felt this deep, desperate need to know: who are these guys? How did they end up doing this? Technically, how did they do it? What gear did they use? What were they listening to?

These were the very early days of the mass-Internet and there wasn’t much information out there. The album art itself give nearly no details away. The entire band was an enigma to me. In the years since, I’ve unwound where Soundgarden came from–Motorhead, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Cream, the blues, even Moroccan music, “stoner” and “sludge” metal–but at the time, I was a pre-teen, an only child, basically a latchkey kid, with an acoustic guitar and homework and the mystery of this inordinately powerful, apparently inexplicable stuff.

Chris Cornell.

Lead singer, guitar player, songwriter, poet, artist, professional who had a long, fascinating career full of hits and even some misses and a voice that sounded like a columns of rock being driven out from beneath the sea.

Gonna miss him.