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Guitar Musician e-zine     11/02/05

In This Issue:

  "Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best."

                                                       - Henry Van Dyke

Some Humor

  Beautiful Revenge

A married couple was in a terrible accident where the man's face was severely burned. The doctor told the husband that they
couldn't graft any skin from his body because he was too skinny. So the wife offered to donate some of her own skin. However, the only skin on her body that the doctor felt was suitable would have to come from her buttocks.

The husband and wife agreed that they would tell no one about where the skin came from, and they requested that the doctor also honor their secret.

After all, this was a very delicate matter. After the surgery was completed, everyone was astounded at the man's new face. He
looked more handsome than he ever had before! All his friends and relatives just went on and on about his youthful beauty! One day, he was alone with his wife, and he was overcome with emotion at her sacrifice. He said,

"Dear, I just want to thank you for everything you did for me. How can I possibly repay you?" "My darling," she replied, "I get all the thanks I need every time I see your mother kiss you on the cheeks".


A Lesson For The Learning

Interested in guitar lessons? - Be sure and check out the guitar lessons offered by Andrew Koblick at Amazing Guitar

Click here for all products by THD.

THD Electronics

Welcome to the house of tone

By Benjamin Hansen

The pursuit of ultimate tone often takes guitarists to some funny places. Stock guitars will not do. The pickups have to be switched for aftermarket or even custom-wound upgrades, and the factory pots and capacitors swapped for fresh ones with different values. One amp is not enough unless you've got an amp modeler to run through it as a preamp, and the stock presets most likely won't be getting any stage time at all. Other times it's as though all the stars align over a particular piece of gear and it's perfect right out of the box. How does that happen?

THD Electronics: Welcome to the house of tone Although you might not be able to stop chasing the perfect guitar, your search for the perfect amplifier is over thanks to THD Electronics. The pursuit of ultimate tone led Andy Marshall, music equipment and electronics wizard extraordinare, to found THD in the mid 80s. Since 1987 the Seattle-based outfit has been hand-building phenomenal guitar amplifiers that make guitarists weak in the knees�no modeling necessary, no mystery involved.

Meet the family
THD now makes three amplifier heads: the UniValve, the BiValve-30, and the Flexi-50, plus the Hot Plate, which is a power attenuator for guitar amps. The latter lets you play your amp full blast at volume levels that won't cheese off the neighbors, wake up the kids, or irritate your spouse. You simply place the Hot Plate between your amp and speaker cabinet and wail away, letting it absorb a big chunk of your amp's power output while passing along all the hot tone to your cab. The UniValve, BiValve-30, and Flexi-50 are all-tube guitar heads incredibly responsive to control or guitar changes and amazingly touch sensitive. Plus, they're so thick with features and sounds you'll think you're dreaming. If you can't find your personal ultimate tone with THD, your ears might be broken.

The UniValve is the smallest member of the THD clan, but in wattage only. It has all the big tone and features of the BiValve-30 and Flexi-50. It has a single-ended Class A circuit (that's right, only one power tube) that cranks out a muscular 15 watts. You get two inputs: one for high gain and one for low gain, as well as Volume, Treble, Bass, and Attitude knobs to shape your sound. The EQ controls are very responsive and seem to be at the center of the perfect frequency ranges for guitar. The Attitude knob controls the response of the driver tube and can take the overall attitude (what else?) of the amp from sweet to snarly with one full rotation. Of course, there are plenty of other moods in between. There's also a selectable noise-reduction circuit to keep things quiet, and a transformer-isolated line out with a level control for going straight to the board or to another amp or power amp. As a small gig amp, the UniValve is a lot of fun. For recording at home or the studio, however, the UniValve is second to none.

Click to Enlarge The BiValve-30 is the middle child, and it's got the look-at-me attitude to prove it, via a lavishly designed and artistically etched front panel with a marine-type theme (BiValve, geddit?). With a nearly identical feature set as the UniValve, what sets it apart is its two-tube power amp section (that BiValve thing again) that bumps the Class A wattage up to 30 and a treble cut switch next to the inputs. With an extremely loud output level it excels as a small-to-medium-venue gigging amp, especially when combined with one of THD's 2x12" or 4x12" speaker cabinets.

The Flexi-50 is the amplifier Andy Marshall designed to steal every rock guitarists' heart. THD has perfected the venerable 50W, single-channel guitar head, crafting a sonic weapon that elevates every aspect of the unit to high art. Unlike the UniValve and BiValve, the Flexi-50 has Class AB output, to better capture the feel of the classic �60s Californian and English amplifiers. It also has a footswitchable overdrive/boost function, a footswitchable master volume, and enough punch to rip the ears off the most battle-hardened guitarists. It's the perfect blend of robust American clean tones and the best British overdrive. It has the same sensitivity found in the UniValve and BiValve, allowing you to switch from raw, gain-y overdrive to loud, round clean tones by just rolling down the volume knob on your guitar. The Flexi-50's natural distortion will make rock and fusion players squeal like little girls at a slumber party. For the chunky, de-tuned metal riffer: bring a pedal. That's okay, though, because the Flexi-50 LOVES pedals, and if you want that level of aggression, there are lots of pedals that will push this puppy over the top.

Click to Enlarge Variable valve vitality
The central feature which makes the THD amps so versatile and absolutely freakin' killer is their ability to tube swap at the drop of a hat. You can swap any preamp or power amp tube for a different one and get a fresh sound immediately. On a normal tube amplifier this is a complicated process involving extensive biasing and testing, and you're limited to a small number of tube options. Biasing refers to the amount of voltage regulated to the grids of the tubes. Too much or too little can do very bad things to your amp, not to mention your tone, which is why it's usually a job for amp techs only. THD has made this process as simple as it possibly can be. With the UniValve and BiValve amps, you can swap any power amp or preamp tube for any other power amp or preamp tube without biasing at all. Genius, eh? And the Flexi-50 has easy-as-pie bias controls right on its chassis, so swapping tubes on the Flexi-50 only takes about a minute with a voltmeter.

Switching out the tubes on an amplifier is akin to replacing the pickups on your guitar. Putting humbuckers in a Stratocaster won't make it sound like a Les Paul, but it won't sound like a traditional Strat anymore, either. And like pickups, tubes have an awful lot to do with the most famous and desirable tube amp sounds. It's a little (okay, a lot) more complicated than this, but each family of tubes has its own signature tone and feel due to its physical characteristics. Swapping tubes you'll discover different EQ curves, compression effects, overdrive characteristics, sensitivity, and feel.

Beyond that, individual tubes have their own characteristics because of the conditions under which they were manufactured. Which is why you'll hear tube junkies muttering in low, fevered tones about some brands of EL34s having more sparkle than regular ones, or 6L6s from certain factories being punchier than ones from other factories. With a THD amp you'll not only be able to hone in on exactly which tubes and combinations get you closest to your ideal tone, but also which brand of tubes work best for you, too.

Hot, hot heat
The second thing that makes THD's Class A amps go, go, go is a THD Hot Plate built right into the UniValve and BiValve-30. It ensures you can always get the right amount of breakup, bite, or total meltdown without the accompanying hearing damage. When you use the Hot Plate on your THD amp it operates between the amp and the speakers, absorbing the brunt of the power but none of the tone or sonic impact. So where does the excess power go? The Hot Plate turns it into heat (Hot Plate, geddit?), which is dissipated through the unit's circuitry and large heat sink. Part of the Hot Plate's magic is that it also includes passive noise reduction circuit that eliminates a lot of the hiss and hum that guitars and amps, especially loud guitars and amps, generate.

Click to Enlarge Thankfully the Hot Plate isn't just for THD amp owners. Anyone can use a standalone Hot Plate to get screamin' distortion at whisper volumes with their own tube amplifier. THD even makes variations engineered specifically to match up to the differing impedance level of the wide assortment of amps out there. By choosing from 2, 2.7, 4, 8, or 16-ohm versions, you can seamlessly match your specific amp and speaker setup. Each Hot Plate also gives you a Bright and Deep switch, dual speaker outputs, plus a line out with adjustable level.

Industrial-strength tone generator
But THD amps aren't just about versatility�they're also about quality and consistency, with each step of the signal chain designed for tone and sensitivity. Say you find your most favorite sound ever and you want to leave your THD amp set up that way forever. Not only will you have achieved your ultimate tone, but you'll have done it with an amp designed to outlive you, not the other way around. THD units are hand built with extreme care and consideration for longevity and all the parts used in them are chosen for their careful balance of great tone and long life.

Click to Enlarge THD uses FAA-approved assemblers, who are held to even more stringent standards than manufacturers who build to military specifications; the same used by Boeing. The circuit boards THD products are built on are twice as thick and have eight times as much copper on them as most manufacturers' designs. This affects not only what you hear, but how long it lasts. THD has the lowest failure rate of any tube guitar manufacturer, meaning you will play your THD a lifetime and only change the tubes. That should make some guitarists weak in the knees, too, especially those who have found a great amp they really liked only to have it crap out on them half a dozen times.

I got to check out the BiValve-30 and one of THD's 2x12" speaker cabinets. From the first time I touched them until I shipped them back I was impressed. How could I not be? Every aspect was perfect, from the cut of the cloth-covered grille on the cabinet to the plate personally signed by Andy Marshall on the head's rear panel. Of course, the main attraction here is the sound and feel, and the setup didn't disappoint. With the stock 12AX7/EL34 tubes the BiValve-30 supplied solid, round clean tones that were gorgeous and lush. Using the Volume, EQ, Attitude, and Hot Plate controls in conjunction with the dual inputs gave me more than enough hot tones to play with; from Aerosmith to ZZ Top, Robben Ford to Eddie Van Halen.

I fell in love with the big, slightly raw sound and soft, compressed attack I got through the More input by keeping the Volume and Attitude low and turning up the EQ a little. True to its specs, overdrive increased with the volume from my guitar, and cleaned up just by backing off my pick attack or decreasing the volume. It was great to finally have that much control over my sound in such a simple way. No matter which sound I dialed up the BiValve-30 remained touch sensitive with a very immediate, forward sound. I could hear each string clearly even with overdriven chords. With THD, it really is all about the tone. Great tone is not an accident and your personal ultimate tone is a lock with a THD amp.




Writing Songs for Beginners

Debbie Charles; Clearwater, FL

Q: After about a year and half of playing guitar I've got many of the techniques from the Rock House Learn Rock Guitar series mastered, from as basic as a slide to a 6 string sweep-tap. I would like to get into writing songs with the techniques. What would be the necessary steps?

A: You must begin to study music theory to fully understand the art to writing music. Once you know the chords that work together in a certain key you will be able to start putting them together to form rhythms that can be combined to form songs.

I think a good way to start to get a feel for writing songs is to take 10 of your favorite songs and break them down. Find out what chords they are using and how they match up parts. By doing this you will start to see how these artists put their music together and this will give you many ideas of how you can create your own music. Find out if they use Major or Minor chords and how they combine them together to create emotions within the song. Notice the dynamics if the song gets real soft in certain sections and then loud.

Song writing is an art and you must practice it regularly to expand your knowledge.

Hope this helps!

Yours in Music
John McCarthy
Rock House


Part 1

spacerspacerspacerAerosmith's Brad Whitford:

Not Yet Jaded

Part 1: Ballads vs. Rockers / Keeping Your Identity

There is no more successful American rock band than Aerosmith. They are everywhere, and have been for most of the past 30 years - even despite the excesses that resulted in a few members taking a "leave of absence" during the early-'80s. Just Push Play, the band's most recent release and another in a long line of multi-million sellers, sees Aerosmith again mixing the past with the present, as guitarist Brad Whitford describes it.

Whitford, with the band since it's inception in a New Hampshire resort town in the late '60s, has often been overlooked both as a player and for his insight into the machinery that moves this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act. But has long known that all five members - collectively known as the "Bad Boys from Boston" and including Whitford, drummer Joey Kramer, bassist Tom Hamilton, and of course guitarist Joe Perry and beyond-cool frontman Steven Tyler - have played extremely important roles in Aerosmith's unending success.

Brad recently spoke with about Aerosmith's decision-making process regarding placing radio-friendly ballads alongside more rocking tracks (his favorites), and the long-term value of touring - once lost on a lot of bands after MTV came along and made couch potatoes out all the young spuds (but now thankfully back in vogue). He even analyzes how many home studios you can fit into one affluent neighborhood in the Boston suburbs. Enjoy.

Q: Over the course of the past few albums, you guys have done a lot of really lush arrangements. Is that something that is just a learned trait - that you learned how to put these things together and build these immense tracks?

Whitford: Well, I think it's come along with some of these producers that we've worked with, anybody from Jack Douglas to Bruce Fairbairn. Some of the last people we worked with and, of course, some of these ballads we end up doing, these very commercial type of recordings - with a lot of them you're just really aiming for the radio. So a lot of times it's like, 'What are we gonna do here? Is it going to be strings or is it going to be orchestra?' Sometimes you end up with a 31-piece orchestra creating a kind of specific sound for a movie soundtrack, or you're really trying to make a Top 40-friendly type of song and there's definitely some formula to it, you know. I mean you can hear it and when you're building it and making a certain song, you say, 'Well, this is obviously gonna be another Aerosmith ballad.'

Q: Is there ever any dissension among the members of the band over how many ballads you're going to put on a given album?

Whitford: Oh, I would say we have a lot of discussion about how much of that we do. I still think that we struggle with the identity in the band, even though I think this album clearly shows what Aerosmith is - it's a little bit of everything: some of the heavy rock, some of the mainstream radio, and some contemporary sounds. I think what Aerosmith is doing these days is trying to hold on to some of our early roots and trying to do stuff that's using some of the stuff that we're hearing on the radio today, the radio-heavy stuff. And Just Push Play is probably a good representation of Aerosmith.

Q: When you say struggling to hold on to your identity, do you mean between the five of you?

Whitford: Yeah. I think everybody - each guy in the band has sort of a slightly different view of what Aerosmith is supposed to be. It's totally natural.

Q: What is your view?

Whitford: Well, I would say that this record really puts it pretty clearly as I described. You know we made a conscious decision at one point to get on the radio, so we became that sort of heavy garage band and became a pop band at the same time, and that's what we still try and do.

Q: It always bothers me when a band puts out album after album and the one or two songs that get played off the album are ballads, and then they go play arenas and so many people out there don't know that they're really a pretty rocking band.

Whitford: Well, probably one of the most - who was it? It was Extreme - that's what happened to them. I mean they were just totally out and out sort of a combination of Queen and Van Halen and they made it big with those two ballads. And that really messed them up. It happens to a lot of bands.

Q: Yeah, it does. It hasn't happened to you though. Why do you think not?

Whitford: I don't know, maybe it was "Dream On," 'cause "Dream On" was a little bit - it had some heavier touches to it, you know. And some of the other songs that became radio-friendly weren't just strictly ballads in the beginning.

Q: True.

Whitford: So it gave us a lot of leeway I think.

Q: Plus, after the hundreds and hundreds of live shows you played, people knew what to expect.

Whitford: Well, yeah. We came up in an era where you really had to perform live - you had to tour. It's not done the same way anymore. So we have that following, we have that group of people that say, 'Hey I saw them back when,' you know, and it's this sort of legendary thing that goes along with it at the same time, just because of the fact that we've been around so long.

Q: The Before MTV Generation. Things changed a lot when MTV came around, especially in the touring business, but it seems to me that it's gone back, at least to some degree, to the way it used to be. Bands realize that you have to tour, and certainly you guys are a good case study of what constant touring does for you, on the positive side. How do you feel about touring today?

Whitford: Well, you know what can I say: Touring is touring.

Q: How important is it for a band to tour?

Whitford: Well, I think, in terms of longevity, you've gotta have that. You've gotta have a good, live following. You've gotta be able to sell concert tickets. A lot of these groups kind of seem like - you know they come and go so quickly they don't get a chance to get a following. It seems like we're in a stage like that right now where there's just a lot of people writing songs. It's kind of like the late '50's-early '60's, you know: songwriters, bands, a lot of one-hit wonders. And then there's groups that aren't necessarily huge on the radio, but they sell lots of tickets live.

Q: What advice do you have for young bands out there that are getting together with their friends, and putting it together, and hoping to go all the way with it? How do you pick your band members? How do you pick the right people?

Whitford: I don't think you can tell. I think it's just a process. If it works, it works and if it doesn't, you know you gotta keep moving. So it's just kind of an audition sort of process. You know: Don't beat a dead horse. You gotta kind of know what you want to do and then try and find like-minded people that are ready to be at the same level of commitment that you're at, whatever that is. You know everybody has to kind of be in the same place as far as commitment.

Q: That's a difficult one though,

Whitford: Yes it is because, you know, what does that mean? Does that mean full-time, no outside jobs? Just how do you do it? Where do you get the money? How do you live? You know as a band starting out, where can you play enough live shows to support yourself?

Part 2 next week

Interview provided by

Recommended Listening - A Must For Your Collection!

Dar Williams, My Better Self
By Drew Pearce
Protest music comes in all forms these days. On her seventh solo record, Dar Williams proves you don�t have to be an angry young band to rage against the machine. Like Ani DiFranco, who duets with her here on a cover of Pink Floyd�s �Comfortably Numb,� Williams uses her incisive intellect to cut to the heart of complicated political issues. But the record is more than a rant: between such barbed, provocative songs as �Teen for God� and �Beautiful Enemy,� Williams mixes in the uplifting pop tune �Echoes,� the melancholic ballad �Miss You,� and the sultry blues/soul number �Two Sides of the River� (a collaboration with Soulive that sounds a bit like Sarah McLachlan fronting B.B. King�s band). One of the high points is her duet with Marshall Crenshaw on the Neil Young classic �Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.� When the mandolin riffs kick off that rootsy romp, it�s a welcome burst of daylight coming after the grey moods of the earlier tunes. Though the variations in tempo and genre reflect the range of emotions of life during wartime, Williams� sweet voice carries more weight on hopeful songs like �Echoes� than on vitriolic songs like �The Empire.� It�s not that her anger isn�t believable, it�s just that her vocal delivery doesn�t match the passion that obviously went into the lyrics, and as a result, lacks the punch and immediacy of such political classics as Dylan�s �Masters of War.� But if you�re looking for an alternative to some of the pro-war anthems coming from commercial country radio, this record is a powerful antidote.
(Razor and Tie,


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