Sunday, January 10, 2010

My first guitar and the beginnings of my obsession with BOSS guitar pedals

I just bought something off ebay that figured heavily in my teenage years. A BCB-6. Now I plan to fill it! Gotta love nostalgia! 

I took guitar lessons when I was 8, put it aside for many years, picking it up again when I was about 12 or 13. I slogged away on a nylon stringed classical and one day, I was at a friend's house and saw an electric guitar case on the wall. It was from the 50's. It was an old rockabilly guitar hollow body with a Bixby tremolo. It had little (rusty) steel strings, plugged into an old tube amp that looked like something out of the opening scene from Back to the Future, and made a great guitar farting sound.
It was then in 1982 or 1983 that I decided I wanted (no NEEDED) an electric guitar. I voiced this to my parents and my Dad took me to a second hand music store a friend of his mentioned. It was Sangitt Bianga near Bank and Gladstone (later to become SONGBIRD MUSIC). The guy working there, Danny Dupont, pulled his favorite guitar in the shop at the moment, an old Black Ibanez Goldstar Series 2 off the rack and let me play it. It was very nice… Mmmmm. I loved the way the thin little strings felt and how they bent. It even came with a case. A shitty old grey fall apart thing with dark blue plush that looked like it had a family of cats sleeping inside it at one point. I still remember what it smelled like, which was not cat hair, instead it had that great wood-type smell all electric guitar cases seem to have. It was close to Christmas so I'd have to wait to play with it but sure enough, Christmas eve I was able to crack the thing open and try it out at home. My Dad had gotten me this big 2 channel amp, a transistor Yamaha of some sort with spring reverb. It did the trick, it was way better than most starting amps. I had this one guitar patch cord too (I think it was brown). There was one problem though that first night. It didn't sound like an electric guitar!!!
My expectations were that it was to sound like Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Overdriven Fuzz-faced distortion up the wazoo! This didn't sound anything close to that. I had just made the discovery most electric guitarists make when they just don't know how stuff works. An electric guitar plugged into a clean amp sounds a bit like an amplified acoustic guitar. There isn't that cool distortion sound (or farty sound like I was used to from that old 50's guitar in my friend's basement). As luck would have it, a few days later my Dad took me to his friend's house when the guy's band was over playing. Danny, the guy who sold us my guitar was there (playing a pile of 1950's and 1960's vintage Fender strats) and he was at that point, the best guitarist I had ever seen. He would play upside own over the neck, all these Eric Claptony, Jimi Pagey, type licks. I was suitably impressed. What I noticed that night though, was that my Dad's friend Donny was changing the sound of his guitar (a newer Fender, very pretty in a natural wood grain) by stomping on these colorful little boxes on the floor. They were in this cool little grey case which had form-fitting slots for six of them. What the hell were THOSE??
They turned out to be Boss Guitar pedals. I would later collect these things like candy in the mid eighties once I found out what they actually did. Not everyone used them. Danny was running his guitar straight into a Marshal Stack (this guitar amp head/speaker combination would be coveted by many of my friends but never me. You still see WALLS of them at concerts). The Marshal had 2 or 3 channels and could be set to sound clean, or "dirty" using the Marshal's built-in preamp to overdrive the signal giving you that great distortion sound. A simple footswitch would let you toggle between the channels. What Donny (the guy with the pedals) had was a big amp which he'd set for a clean sound, and he'd run his pedal board into it and he'd step on this Orange "DISTORTION" pedal to change the sound from clean to JIMI HENDRIX AT WOODSTOCK.
I HAD to get me one of those… Or two, or three.. I was too shy to ask what the heck each one did so I just watched and listened.. Amazing..
A few days later my dad invited Donny over, and he brought his guitar and his pedal board and he taught me what he called the "A run-up" (which turned out to be the A Pentatonic blues scale. Thanks for that one!! Muhahahahaha). He had the following pedals in his pedal board:

Power pedal

Distortion was an orange pedal made it sound all dirty, crunchy and cool like Jimi!
Chorus was a blue pedal and was very subtle. It kind of took the sound, divided it in two and played both at the same time but slightly off time so it worbled the sound a bit.. This is best used on a clean sound but sounds neat distorted. Satrianni and Alex Lifeson use a chorused dirty sound. Everyone else uses it clean. Think Andy Summers in "Every Breath you take" by The Police.
Flanger is purple and is sorta like a chorus on acid. It can sometimes sound like a Jet taking off. The most famous song with a Flanger I can think of is "She Sells Sanctuary" by the Cult. Takes it name from an old recording trick where you would mess with the flanges of a tape turnstile.
A Phaser was green and it was kind of a light version of a flanger. It would take the signal and you could make it go out of phase. Eddie Van Halen has a phaser on most of his solos on the first few Van Halen albums.The Delay was Red I think. It was an old Analog delay that would give you three repeats that would trail off. More on this later.
My friend Mike was over that night and we absconded to my room with these pedals and played the different sounds (turning them all on at the same time) until the wee hours of the morning.
Back to the "gotta get me one of those!". Luckily the grandparents had given me Christmas money.. Gotta love the Christmas money!

So I got a DF-2 Distortion Feedbacker. Tons 'O' Distortion!! As well as a Stereo Chorus CE-3 and I though I sounded GREAT! Muhahahahahahaha. It was the Beginning of an obsession. A few months later I was able to pick up a Delay pedal, a DSD-2. This was a sampling delay which was kinda fun! You could play something and it would repeat it at different pitches.

So these little pedal thingies were starting to pile up. And each one took a shiny 9 volt battery. I was going through a pile of them (Eric Johnson thinks that Duracell batteries sound better than EverReady ones!). It was time to acquire one of those sexy BCB-6 cases!! The BCB-6 bcomes with a red pedal that supplies power to the other pedals (and takes up a space). Later versions utilized another power-source that went up above, freeing up a pedal space. It also had room for the Boss tuner, which fit snugly up above beside the case handle pocket.  

Over the years I switched pedals in and out. I met a professional musician, Bob Clairmont, who told me the best pedal to have was a compressor sustainer. This thing, the CE-3, compresses high input signals and boosts low input signals to produce sustain. It also evens out attack so that if you strum hard, it cuts it down and if you strum low, it gives it a bit of a boost. It's helpful for clean comp playing but can make for a hissy sound if used improperly.

  I bought a second-hand noise gate once, just because 1. I read that Stuart Adamson of Big Country used one, I had no idea what it did, and 2. It was cheap, $40 and it would fill the last spot I had in the case!! Muhahahahaha. When I did find 0out what it did I was glad I bought it. What it did was completely shut off the signal when you muted the stings and made your amp deadly silent. I tried it out on our cat once, who was curled up in front of my amp one day. I turned on my pedalboard, ran my hand over all the dials on the amp so that they were all on 10, shucked down the guitar volume, stepped on the distortion pedal, muted the strings,rolled the volume up and windmilled a power chord. What happened next was worth the price of the pedal! Muhahahahaha!

One thing that developed early on was that I identified the sound of each pedal with it's color. That is to say, today, when I hear a distorted sound, I see orange waveforms vibrating on strings.  If it's overdrive, it's a yellow waveform, Flanger, purple, delay is white or silver and so forth. If it's a mixture of sounds then the waveform layers are mixed together like colors wit5h each string outlined in the many colors that make up the sound. 

Weird huh? What picture forms in your brain when you hear a power chord?

I went on to get a flanger, an EQ pedal, a Phaser, an Octaver, a Super Overdrive, A Heavy Metal Pedal, a Turbo distortion, a dynamic filter and many many others, swapping them in and out of the five available slots . At one point I had this white duct tape and taped each pedal and wrote a noun or verb that described what each one did. The Delay was "Schmear", the Distortion was "HATE", the power pedal was "Life". I had seen a photo of Steve Vai's rig and saw that he had done something like that and imitated him. I'd see movies like "Purple Rain" with prince and giggle because he had the same pedals as me!

Then.. I got rid of them all.. one at a time, because I heard about this mysterious thing called a Roland GP-8. And another obsession was born. But that's another story...

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