Posts Tagged ‘Tubemeister’

It seems most of my posts recently have involved this amp,  and this one is no exception.

I had a hard time EQing this amp properly to start with, I always found it way too trebly especially when cranked up. I found the EQ didn’t really respond how I wanted it too and that there always seemed to be a lot of high-end on tap, and if you’re not careful the overwhelming presence can ruin your cranked clean sound. I found there to be a some kind of harsh ultra high pitched ‘treble strike’ on the initial pick attack that just drove me crazy when the amp was really, really loud – moderate levels no problem.

Anyway, I first heard of this technique somewhere online, and now I swear by it.

Treble: 10 o’clock

Middle: Max

Bass: Max

Both channels, back off the bass and mids a little if it is too much when really cranked up.

It really seems counterintuitive, but once you get your head around the fact that some of the knobs are maxed out and that the EQ looks like it is somewhere it shouldn’t be, and realise that it actually sounds like it probably should you may find the overall tone of the amp is somewhere nearer to what you would expect, with no annoying ear-piercing treble when cranked up. At bedroom levels I get away with everything at half way, but at band volumes I much prefer this.

Just a though for those who are struggling with it…

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I have been having quite a bit of interest in the Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 36 controller over the last few weeks, so here’s an update on it after using it for a few months.

My advice to anyone looking to build one would simply be this: Don’t. Or if you do, build bigger and less complex.

The main problem with the amp controller I built was that is was simply not big enough. You can’t stomp the channel change very well without accidentally turning on the reverb, cutting out the FX loop, changing to crunch from lead, hitting the killswitch etc you get the idea? And this becomes a real problem live when trying to do mid song channel changes!

The buffer is a good feature, as are the loops, but again these caused me problems. The Tubemeister went down and had to be returned to Germany for a repair, so I bought a 2nd hand Black Heart Little Giant 5w head, which is single channeled. All of a sudden my board was hard to use – I had overdrive in one loop, compressors in the other, what a nightmare to use on the fly!

My Tubemesiter 36 setup is this:

Guitar > Korg Pitchblack (tuner) > TM Footswitch > Loop 1 – Boss CS3 (compressor, modded) – TM Footswitch loop 1 return > TM Footswitch loop 2 – Way Huge Green Rhino > TM Footswitch loop2 return > TM36 > Source Audio EQ > ISP Decimator > EHX Small Stone Nano (phaser) > Malekko 616 (delay) > TM36 return

Which requires 5 (yes 5!) cables running to the amp by the time the channel switching was taken care of!

For using the single channeled amp I ripped up my I had a board setup like this:

Guitar > Korg Pitchblack (tuner) > Boss CS3 (compressor, modded) > Way Huge Green Rhino (overdrive) > Barber Dirty Bomb (distortion) > EHX Small Stone Nano (phaser) > Malekko 616 (delay) > Amp

And this was all I needed. A reverb would have been nice, but for live use not needed. I actually think this is the best sounding setup I have ever used (except for really cranked, heavy stuff where the TM36 lead channel destroyed everything else for me!). And guess what… no FX loop, no channel switching, no on-board reverb, no complex EQ’s, no need for noise gates, no MIDI switching or programming, basically no gimmicks. I actually preferred the Malekko 616 out front to be honest.

So, this has turned into a bit of a ramble and you’re probably wondering how this all relates to the Tubemeister footswitch? Well here it is I’m going to do the dirty and come out and say it: If you think you need anything as complex as the switch I built here and the relevant routing this requires in order to get your rig in line, I would take a step back and consider what you really need before embarking on building something similar. If you have a whole bunch of analogue FX running up front and in the loop that you really need and you find yourself tap dancing to go from your clean and dirty sounds I would seriously suggest looking into getting a digital MIDI enabled solution and to control everything and not building a footswitch like the one I built and rig like this. Something like the Boss GT range,  Line 6’s M13, the TC Nova System (that’s what I’m currently running) or G System etc. Cut out all the tap dancing and get playing! This does add a certain level of complexity when toggling settings on the fly, but it also opens so many possibilities that a traditional footswitch such as the one I built here is rendered archaic.

For the future I’m looking to get one of the bigger single channeled Black Heart amps and the simple board I described for it, and using the TM36 and Nova setup for anything more complex, which for my main band is sometimes required. I gigged this setup last week, and it was awesome:

Guitar > Korg Pitchblack > Boss CS3 > Way Huge Green Rhino > TM36 > Nova System > TM36 return

One button press to go from TM36 lead with a small amount of digital delay to trippy phaser, reverby analogue delayed clean, using the TM36’s channels, compressor and overdrive there for when I need them.

Basically if you want a footswitch for the TM36 my advice is this: you have a midi controlled amp so use it – midi-fy your rig, you won’t look back! I may have bashed MIDI in the past with the TM36 saying it over complicates things – but used right it really is cracking and solves a lot of headaches. Despite being quite old technology MIDI really is the future for us guitarists and I honestly believe digitally controlled analogue circuits with MIDI capabilities are the way pedal building needs to go in order to progress. Full MIDI integration.

If you rig is a super simple amp with no pedals and you want a footswitch to change channels only then that is another story…

After a few years of pondering, saving up, and general to-ing and fro-ing over the plus and minuses based on the information available on the web I decided to finally take the plunge and buy a TC Electronic Nova System.  I managed to pick up a limited edition red one, used and delivered for £180 which seemed like an OK deal. The unit arrived and my first thought was ‘tank’, although one of the handles was loose as were some of the jacks and it had a fair few dinks and scratches. Before even turning it on I had it in pieces and gave everything a bit of a clean and tighten, and to be honest I’m very happy with the build quality in general. It is nice that should you ever need to you can replace the footswitches and jacks easily, or get a tech to do it for you.
The main things that have been putting me off getting a Nova System before now have been:

-No 4 cable method, so as has been detailed 1000 times before, you can’t have drives and the compressor up front, and modulations, delays and reverbs in the loop as most people would want to do. It’s either in the loop or its upfront, not both.

-Footswitches work on release not press down

-Delay when changing presets

-Confusing UI

-Some of the modulation effects aren’t quite up to scratch, most commonly the chorus is mentioned here

-Tone suck when using the boost feature

Now, I have only used the unit for about 3 hours, and a half hour gig the day after I received it, and within the first 5 minutes all my questions were resolved one way or another.

I like the interface of the system, I think it actually is very logical and makes sense once you understand how things are laid out. To start with I did find it confusing but within 5 minutes I had the MIDI set up and changing channels on my amp, preset mode enabled, line input setup to unity gain and some very useable FX dialed in and saved in the preset blocks.

Firstly, a quick note on the engage on release nature of the footswitches. I actually like this and for the most part don’t even notice it. I have no idea what people were talking about in all the reviews that say that this switching method renders the unit unusable. It really doesn’t make that much difference, at least not to me anyway. As I previously stated I use the unit in line input mode, in the FX loop of my Hughes and Kettner Tubemeister 36, the Nova Setup to preset mode. This means the drive section is bypassed, which is a shame as I managed to dial in quite a nice overdrive with the Nova in no time at all and wouldn’t hesitate to use it as my boost in a second if the unit could do 4 cable method, which, again, sadly it can’t. The distortion… not to my personal tastes, and certainly not brutal, but it would do if I needed it. So, the unit is running in the loop with an input gain of 7. When I toggle the Nova in and out of the Tubemeisters loop I notice no adverse effect on the tone of the amp, and certainly nothing that would be noticeable in a live context. I have the boost set to 2dB which is actually attenuating the signal by 2dB until it is engaged. This is a great idea and it works well. I think the tone suck people are hearing is a combination of not having the levels set up correctly and having too much of a boost (or cut), and failing to understand the nature of how this works. Perhaps a small amount of treble is rolled off when the boost is disengaged, perhaps it is just because the volume is lower, but I think that what most people are perceiving as tone suck is actually their imagination.

The major concern I had was this delay when changing presets that everyone seems to harp on about. I have noticed it when in pedal mode, not the whopping 2 seconds I read somewhere, but maybe 250-500ms, no big deal, especially not in between songs. One thing to bear in mind is that if you are using the unit as I am, in the loop, and using MIDI to switch your amps channels it appears that the MIDI program change message is sent first, so the channels change instantaneously with absolutely no delay. The rest of the unit may still take however long to catch up while it is toggling the various delays reverbs and modulation effects, but I can’t tell, so for me this is a non-issue.

On to the FX. I think generally these are really good. The reverb is gorgeous, the delays pretty nice, I love the tremolo so much as to say it is the best I have used, which isn’t many outside of other multi FX units, but still. The detune is awesome, in fact, the whole pitch block is pretty special. The only let down to me is the chorus, which is just really uninspiring. The detune FX in the pitch block more than makes up for this though as you can coax a chorus-y type sound out of it, and is something I will be using in place of the chorus beyond doubt.  Some of the FX have great depth for tweaking and modding, the reverb being the most notable. I like the phaser, although it doesn’t nail that Small Stone which I love. I think for a multi FX the FX on this are exceptional, but I wouldn’t say that, the analogue delay, for example, can get anywhere as near as lush as some standalone delays I have owned. For bedroom use I do notice this, but for live the convenience of having the Nova System far outweighs the sonic increase in using standalone pedals, and in all honesty I personally wouldn’t notice the difference once you get beyond bedroom levels with a whole band going.

Sadly, nothing is perfect and the Nova does have a few quirks that have left me puzzled to say the least. Some of these may be just me being ignorant, but I can’t find a solution so at the moment I believe these are all valid points. Hooking up an expression pedal as a global volume calibrates well and works fine, but I can’t get it to work set up as an expression pedal. Why this should be is beyond me as the Nova System can obviously read the expression well due to the fact it works as a global volume. I have had one firmware crash, which was while messing about with the expression pedals settings, so hopefully this is isolated and won’t be a problem while playing live. In ‘pedal’ mode you can access presets by pressing and holding either the reverb, compressor or drive buttons for a few seconds, but in ‘preset’ mode holding these buttons doesn’t toggle the relative effect on or off (obviously drive wouldn’t anyway while in line input mode, but it would be nice to be able to toggle the reverb and compressor on and off using the footswitches in preset mode). There also seems to be no way of toggling preset and pedal mode without entering the Novas menu. The tuner seems to track well and reasonably fast while using the drive input, but seems to struggle in the loop once I get above a certain volume, which really does suck. I also don’t quite like the compressor in the loop enough to use it. It works, and it has some good features, but for me I want my compressor up in front of the amp and having it in the loop doesn’t cut it.

But for me, like many others, the aforementioned lack of four cable method is the one factor that really does limit the Nova System. If you could run the unit like this, as well as the existing methods…

Guitar > Nova System drive input > tuner > compressor > drive > Nova System right output > amp input > amp send > Nova System line input > gate > eq > boost > pitch > mod > delay > reverb > Nova System left output > amp return

…everything would be good, but as it is the Nova System is crippled when using in a amps loop, as a lot of TC’s mid to high end market will be. I honestly don’t see why they couldn’t address this in a firmware update unless the drive is hard wired that way, other than the fact that it could impact G-System sales. I think that as an FX unit and amp controller with a midi enabled amp it is pretty hard to beat, and it is something I plan on using for a long time, but it could have been almost perfect had a few things been made just a little better. So for now I have the Nova System on a board with a tuner and a Boss CS3 for live use, and at home I add in a Way Huge green Rhino and Source Audio programmable EQ to get my amp to where I like it. If TC brought out a Nova System 2 with the issues that so many have picked up on addressed I would buy it in an instant.

So, I finally finished the channel switcher for my Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 36!

P1030190

And here it is all lit up…

P1030179

Perhaps somewhat foolishly I have built this footswitch at a time when I don’t actually have my amp, due to it being off away somewhere in Germany being repaired, but I’ve tried it with other amps  that are set up the same way with RTS jacks, so I know it’s all good.

It’s pretty full on – it’s a buffer (the same circuit as the 072), killswitch, has dual switchable loops (one for clean, one for dirty channels) and also controls the amps FX and reverb. I very nearly put a starvable dc outlet on it, but when it came down to it I decided I would probably never use it, plus it was getting a bit cluttered without mounting components on the upward face of the pedal.

To say it is a squeeze getting all of that in there is an understatement – I used the jack sockets that are typically mounted on PCB’s so that I could file off certain bits of the plastic casing so they would fit into the corners of the pedal.

It uses 3 x 3PDT toggle switches, a momentary soft touch SPST footswitch switch and a 4DPT footswitch, which are not rare components, but certainly not as readily available as most pedal parts
In reality it is a bit too small for large feet stomping it on stage – there’s a real potential of stomping the wrong thing. I probably wouldn’t worry too much about adding the buffer again, although it may come in handy to have. But hey, it is what it is, something I wouldn’t build again, but it was a good thing to do an a lesson on how much you can really squeeze into an enclosure if you want to go OTT!

So if you want to build your own I have included the schematic I drew up for it.

Circuit

A word of warning – arrangement of this into a Hammond 1590BB is pretty tricky, consider a bigger enclosure if you have the  room on your pedal board and want to make you life that bit easier! Plus, by going bigger you could probably use right-angled jacks for the send and return loops, which would save space on the board in the long run!

As a little fun side project I’ve decided to build a foot controller for my Hughes and Kettner Tubemeister 36. This seems an odd move as one of the excellent things about this amp is the fact that is has fantastic midi support, and when I purchased the amp I also bought the companies FSM-432 midi footswitch. With the midi you can control channels, reverb, fx loop and the power soak, while traditional footswitches can control the reverb, channels and fx loop. My beef with the midi is this: when I want to use the amp with analog pedals (as opposed to a multi fx that does it all) I have to lug a huge footswitch around on top of my fx board, and in a band setting I only want 3 sounds (which incidently are the names of the amps channels) clean, crunch and lead, so a midi footswitch is a bit OTT.

My second beef with using midi is that unless I blow a rediculous (atleast 3 figures) amount of cash on some looper/midi controller control pedal I can’t bring analog pedals in and out of the loop at the same time as switching amp channels. While this sounds trivial, it is a bitch when playing live. I’m sick of having to stomp the channel switch, then the overdrive, then the compressor and noise gate all mid song, it’s just too much. I could make do with just stomping twice – the overdrive and the channel, but it is still a bit annoying, plus I want the pedals on that I want on, not just what is convieneient.

So anyway, here’s my design. It has been an absolute bastard trying to fit it all on, but here she is:

Decal

Basically, at the heart of it you have an A/B channel switch, where A is always clean B can be either Crunch or Lead. When you engage A the signal is routed through loop A which in my case will have the compressor in it. When you stomp to channel B the signal is routed through loop B which will have a couple of OD’s and a noise gate in there. If you stomp the C/L (Crunch/Lead) switch the tubemeister will change between crunch and lead, but both will use loop B. Kill is a soft touch momentary killswitch, and the pedal also has the 072 buffer built in, which can be toggled on and off. Reverb and FX Loop  predictably control the amps reverb and the amps FX loop. Loop A and Loop B both have a toggle switch that bypasses them, so that want to bypass the pedals in them you don’t have to use a patch cable to cover them up. The area marked V~ will have a pot which can be used to reduce the voltage at the variable dc out socket between 1.6v~ and 9v~ so that not only are you not loosing a space on your DC power brick to this pedal you also get a starvable output to make the fuzzes and overdrives sound crazy. There are LED’s to indicate everything, 9 in total.

So, really this is a stripped down Morse Device, stripped down Bomb Idea, a switchable 072 buffer, and a alternate true bypass looper within a channel swith pedal! The enclosure is a Hammond 1590BB, and believe me it is a real squeeze to get everything in, yet alone in usable positions.

The slightly odd jack arrangement is to allow for the stereo cables going to the amp for channel and reverb/loop to be convienet for hooking into when this is on the left hand side of a pedal board. There should be enough room to use right angled jacks at the top although they may interfeer with the loop A and loop B toggle switches a bit, depending on what ones I use. Basically I’m after a small footprint swiss-army-knife style utility pedal that makes everything more portable.

I’ll post the layout diagram on when it is finalised as well as schematics so people can build their own without any of the faffing. Maybe it is something I would consider building for others (could change the functions of the reverb/fx loop/crunch lead toggles to suit your amp) but it is probably won’t ever be one I make many of because of the high cost of parts most notably a 4PDT footswitch and 3 3PDT toggle switches.

In May my Traynor YCV50 bit the dust, leaving me having to fork out for a new amp. After much faffing about on the internet I decided on one of the new Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 36 heads and the 112 cab. One of the reasons was that the amp had midi support for channel switching, power soak, reverb and FX loop, the reason for which will become clear later in this rant. But this rant is not about the amp, it’s about an old acquaintance of mine, the Boss GT8, no a unit I’ve never loved much, but I have a feeling that is about to change.

When my girlfriend first bought me the GT8 I was running it into a Marshall 30w combo, and then a year or so later into the Traynor. All I ever had was fizz fizz fizz, no definition and a heap of tone suck. Everything sounded awful. I found making patches time consuming, hard and ultimately unfulfilling. However, coaxed into the prospect of a full midi setup I broke it out again when the Tubemeister arrived, and I’m pretty glad I did.

As much as I love pedals (and I do!), I get fed up having to stomp them. I find them limiting in the way that I’m going to want to dial in a slow delay, bit of chorus and compressor for the verse of one song only to them have to change amp channels, engage overdrive, cut chorus and delay for the chorus. It’s too much faffing.  At home fine, but jamming and gigging, no! I will never get a smooth change over. There are solutions like the loopmasters and the awesome Moen GEC9 for example, but these all have one draw back for me over multi FX – I can’t change my settings for each pedal, I can only toggle them. For most situations this is fine, but when you bring a midi controlled amp into the equation there has to be a better solution.

Enter the ageing GT8.

I won’t go into all the detail on setting the GT8 up properly as that has been documented well many times, but I’ll explain how I have the unit working for me in an exceptionally well way.

To start with I’m using the four cable method (guitar > GT8 input, GT8 send > amp input, amp send > GT8 return > GT8 out to amp return). One vital thing on the GT8 is getting all the levels right so the unit doesn’t clip. To do this I used a true bypass looper between the guitar and the amp, so the GT8 was in the loop. I then toggled the GT8 in and out, adjusting the send level until I had unity gain. Then, plugging the other cables in I used the amps FX loop toggle to balance the units return level and the output level so that there was no change in volume when the GT8 was bypassed or used. Once this had been done I could hear absolutely zero change in tone or volume regardless if the GT8 was in use or not. In a blind test I could not have told the difference. Whatever has been said before (that’s including by me) about the GT8 sucking tone is simply untrue, at least when it is setup properly. I was using the line/phones output setting rather than a combo or stack etc. As both the GT8 and the Tubemesiter use OMNI mode for the midi there was no setup required there, just a 5 pin midi cable between the GT8 midi out and the amps midi input.

Next thing to do was set a master patch that had a bunch of defaults that could be used each time I created a new patch. This was pretty easy, just turned the preamp off and set the FX order to include the loop (the Tubemeisters preamp) and order the FX. The GT8 is great for the fact that you can specify exactly where each feature comes in the chain. I also created defaults for the master patch for everything I’m going to use regularly, analog delay setup to match the master tempo on the quarter notes, compressor leveled correctly, etc etc etc. The CTRL pedal is also setup to put the unit in manual mode so FX can be toggled on and off whenever, and tuner come on when you press the number button of the patch you are already on. Pretty much a copy of my existing board ready to be tweaked and used. I also made some ‘pristine’ patches, which puts the loop first in the chain so the signal goes straight from the GT8 input to the send into the amps input (through the analogue to digital converter and the digital to analogue again admittedly). These ‘pristine patches also turn off the amps FX loop, so the GT8 is bypassed completely after the preamp. Worth having just incase I want to use the GT8 as a midi controller only at any point. Now every time I create a new patch I can recall these master settings and have a patch ready to go in seconds. This is a really good solution for me, as I have a combined FX board, midi controller, and amp controller at the touch of a button. There is no beating the convenience of a digital  mutli FX processor and the warmth of tube preamp. The only thing it falls down on is the drives as the digital tubescreamer sounds nowhere near as good as my OCD or Bad Monkey (don’t own a TS9 to compare it with!), but with the drive down and level up they are passable.

I honestly think there is less tone loss this way than having a big old board of pedals, and all the patch cables hooking them up. There is nothing sterile about the unit, in this config it sounds warm and most of the FX sound good, some truly decent. There is none of the joy in creating a new patch that there is in this as there is acquiring and collecting normal pedals, and most the FX are inferior to their stompbox equivalents, but for the convenience, the portability and the ease of use I think that this is outweighed massively, not to mention the amount of money saved. If I were to record there is no way I would choose this as my setup but for rehearsing and gigging it’s very powerful indeed.