"Thing was, I'd grown partial to the place. With its sudden smell fear and the thrill of waiting-up for the end of the world."
--Billy The Kid, I'm Not There

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Replacing Amplifier Speakers

This may be skill many of you have achieved long ago, but I had to be shown it by a tech as there is no how to to be found on the internet. So presented here, changing amplifier speakers:

The subject will be a CBS Fender Twin Reverb, yes this is the much "loved" Silver Face with the push-pull master control volume. Came to me stocked with the truly horrible Oxford speakers (also called "Oxfarts"). I found that a pair of Ted Weber Signature Ceramic 12" speakers, the British style, would be a perfect replacement set. A nice thing about these is they are fairly cheap and have pretty much rave reviews.

Before surgery!

Of the new speakers as they came to me in the box.
The back of the amp as was.
With top panel removed.
Pulling speaker wires, it is important to remember with colored what goes which where.
The chassis must be pulled so you can get to all the screws holding the speakers in place I pulled the power tubes and laid them out in the proper order before pulling the chassis so I could lay the chasis off to the side without smashing the tubes. **BE SURE TO PROPERLY DISCHARGE THE CAPACITORS BEFORE EVER PULLING A TUBE AMPLIFIER CHSSIS!!! FAILURE TO DO SO CAN LEAD TO SHOCK OR EVEN DEATH!!!** <== I had to say this so people don't sue me! :) EDIT: This is from Wally on the TDPRI guitar board: "With the amp on, hit a big chord [on the guitar] and flip the power switch to off [while] leaving the standby switch in play mode. One will hear the signal dying down to silence [this] indicates that the voltage has been drained from the caps. Unplug the power cord from the power source."
The reverb tank has to come out as well, you can see where it used to be in a dust outline! Anyway, this is the empty cab as it sets. Be sure to scrape out any paper left from the gaskets of the old speakers.
The first speaker is in place. A few notes here: Most good amps have their speaker screws set into the baffle board in such a way that all one has to do is tighten or loosen the nuts that hold the speaker in place. This particular amp did not have such a nice feature with screws. Luckily the gillecloth on these CBS amps is just velcro'ed to the front to the board and you can get to the screws on the other side of the board. Hold them firm with a screwdriver and HAND tighten your nuts down in a crossways pattern.
Both speakers are in place!
Almost got it back together, you can see the exposed power tube sockets, as said earlier, put the power tubes back into the sockets they came out of so you don't effect the bias of the circuit (this is simply a precaution).
And complete.
Thanks for reading (and thanks Wally for the pointers)!

A note here, I will be soon re-purposing this blog. I am returning to Kansas State University this spring and will be using this site as a journal for my activities and adventures there. Stay tuned if you wish.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Two Albums To Talk About

A few years ago I used to post notes on Facebook detailing albums I was adding to my collection. I soon had to stop the practice when I began to collect more albums than I could type about at a given time. Here are two I'd like to discuss at the moment.

And so it goes:

1. Indianola Mississippi Seeds; B.B. King, 1970

"The Thrill Is Gone" is perhaps King's best known song. What makes it great for most is the soaring string arrangement on that track.

Now, imagine, a whole B.B. King album with the same string arrangement through most parts with the addition of Carole King on piano, Joe Walsh on rhythm guitar, and Russ Kunkel on drums. This album is called "Indianola Mississippi Seeds," released in 1970.

A person would be very hard pressed to find a finer album from a composition standpoint. Starting the playlist is a simple piano blues with King on vocals, "Nobody Loves Me but My Mother," which ends abruptly with king asking in spoken word "what I want to know now is what we're gonna do?" This is immediately followed by the fairly driving "You're Still My Woman." I personally think that King's best blues phrasing can be found here on this track. The drums here and on this track and the rest of the following (save for one) are some of the best R&B beats I've ever heard played.

Joe Walsh contributes some fine rhythm guitar on five tracks of this album and his tone is a true complement to that of King's, especially when Walsh grabs bottom. Carole King is no slouch on this album either, especially on the tracks where he plays on the Fender Rhodes piano. Carole King's Rhodes reoccurring riff on "Chains And Things" is simply outstanding. "Chains" itself is basically a rehash of "The Thrill Is Gone," but with the addition of Carole King's piano riff, "Chains" comes out as the better song in my opinion.

In contrast to the simply start of the album on the first track, the last track is the definition crescendo. Building to a climax where a small group of gospel singers join B.B. on the chorus. This has made the hair stand-up on the back of my neck every time I hear it, the effect is heart-stopping if you listen to the whole album through.

I never thought a King album would top a list of mine, but this one does for very good reasons.

2. The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs; Bob Dylan/Columbia Records, 2008

Okay, I'm going to be kind of unfair ... When I type about "Tell Tale Signs," I'm really only typing about the first disc of the album.

But while we are on the subject of unfairness, here is a bit of it put on by Columbia records: They offered two versions of this record. One was a regular two-disc affair for something reasonable (like $24.00) OR you could spring for the super awesome deluxe god-like bad ass version that had three discs and a tiny vinyl in it for something VERY unreasonable (something like $250.99, and no, I'm not shitting you). Needless to say, I just have the regular version and I'm told you are not missing anything by buying the super awesome deluxe god-like bad ass version.

So anyway, on to "Tell Tale Signs." This was the eighth installment of the "Bootleg Series," a set of albums of previously bootlegged Bob Dylan recordings that have been very widely circulated. What Columbia has done is issue these recordings as official albums that they have mastered from the original sources. They have constistanly done an outstanding job with these masters and have always issued these albums with equally outstanding liner notes and essays from the likes of Greil Marcus and Al Kooper.

What "Signs" does is document a series of album outtakes, b-sides, and live performances from Dylan's Renaissance period from 1989-2006.

Something you have to know about Dylan is that he consistently leaves his best songs in the can and off of his albums and this time period was no exception.

The first track on this album is probably his best version of "Mississippi," which features him playing the song clean on electric guitar along with Daniel Lenois on pedal steal. Many people don't realize that not only Lenois produce two Dylan albums, but he played on many of the tracks himself and is he is especially accomplished at pedal steal. This version of the song was recorded by Lenois and it shows. Lenois was genious at microphone placement and could make the absolute best out of a chosen recording space. What this does is give the feel of a Chess recording (think "Muddy Waters: Folk Singer" here). I love the way "Mississippi" sounds in this particular recording. It makes the lyrics really stand out and they WILL break your heart.

There are some incredible blues tracks on "Tell Tale Signs"; almost all of which are outakes from the Lenois produced albums and also bear his unmistakeable recording technique.This includes one of my favorite blues songs: an outtake version of "Can't Wait" done as a slow blues. I absolutely love the guitar work on this track. Some other notable songs are "Dreamin' Of You," "Marchin' To The City," and "High Water For Charley Patton." The last of which is a live recording featuring a several incredible guitar duels.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Workhorse Ax

Many great guitarists are known by the guitar they played. When one thinks of Hendrix, it's hard to see him without his flipped over Fender Stratocaster. Johnny Winter was the man who made the Gibson Firebird famous. Robbie Krieger would use the same Gibson Solid Guitar up to this day that he used with James and the Doors. You can picture these men with these instruments and you know this is the essence of who they are as an artist.

One of the very first blues records I ever listened to featured one of those iconic images. It showed the silhouette of a man on a rooftop at twilight, too dark to see his face. You can see the outline of a water tower in the background, in the foreground you see a guitar in his hands, it is lighted perfectly well however. In his hands is a Fender Telecaster it is plugged into a glowing block of ice.

The album is of course Albert Collins: "Ice Pickin'."

Albert was often known as "The Iceman," a name earned by having the absolute coolest tone in all of Texas Blues, if not blues in general. He cashed in on this persona with such songs as "Meltdown," "Deep Freeze," "Cold Tremors," "Thaw Out," and his most famous "Frosty."

But on "Ice Pickin'" he goes for broke and really cashes in with tracks like "Ice Pick," "Cold, Cold Feeling," and "Avalanche." Certainly a cool assembly of songs on one heck of a frosty album (this is still my favorite blues album cover of all time).

Collins was often referred to as "The Master of the Telecaster." Here is Collins playing "Mastercharge," one of his most humorous works:

This track was also standard fair of another man who's own mastery of this guitar is legendary to those who've heard him. He may of surpassed even Collins from the standpoint of technique. This man will never be known as "The Master of the Telecaster" but is actually known as "The Greatest Guitarist Never Known," a name taken directly from the title of a PBS documentary about him in the late 1980's with the same title.

This man is Roy Buchanan, from near Bakersfield, CA.

Buchanan is absolutely staggering to listen to, using a huge variety of tones. What becomes more impressive about Buchanan is that he gets all these tones from a small Fender Blackface amplifier and his Telecaster in most instances.

Seeing film of him playing really is the only way to demonstrate his prowess as a guitar player.

Unfortunately Roy left us early in an apparent suicide at a young age, we will never really know the full scope of his abilities.


The Fender Telecaster is such a unique and primitive instrument. It is as simple as it outwardly appears. The classic bolt-on neck that has graced most every Fender Guitar. A slab-sided body with a cut-out (and a half). The strings are drawn through the body, by first passing through a steel plate that also houses a bridge pick-up and over three saddles usually made of brass or steel.

This configuration lends the guitar a very twangy and an almost steel guitar sound when using the bridge pick-up. This sound has been so synonymous with blues and country players since the Telecaster's inception in 1949. A favorite of the great cowboy bands of the time, who were some of the guitar's first adopters.

There is something gravitational about these guitars, when played, you can feel the warmth of the soil from which the trees came forth to create this ax. You can feel the roots from which this guitar came when you play one.

Simple curves combine, simple simplicity, and to quote a great banjo man, Pete Seeger, "Any darn fool can make something complex, it takes a genius to make something simple."

Leo Fender certainly hit on something good.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Quickie Post: Building A Cheap Extension Cab

This is just up for kicks, I neglected to take pictures for most of this project, but I am very proud of it.

I had replaced two of the four speakers in my Fender '59 Bassman, one had "opened up" and was no longer functioning. Put two new ones in the relieve the problem and balance it out. This left me with one good functioning 10" speaker laying around.

It is a good speaker, a 20-year-old Eminence Blueback.

My buddy Tony suggested I make an extension cab with it.

So I did.

My father and built it using some photo's in my "Fender: The Golden Years" book as a reference. What we did is pretty well copy the Fender Wide Panel Tweed cabs almost to a T.

We used cheap scrap plywood and some OSB.

Here is how it looked after fabrication and before my piss-poor tweed job:

You can see I used burlap from Walmart as a grillecloth, the speaker is on top of the naked cab.

I next covered it in this tweed-like fabric, also from Walmart. I eff''ed this part up good as I did not use contact cement to apply the fabric covering. The cement is used because it brushes on and adheres to the whole surface of the cloth and amp. I just kinda squirted some Tacky-Glue around and it looked fine at first.

But then I used polyurethane to serve as a lacquer, which caused the fabric to bubble-up anywhere the glue wasn't applied, so yeah, use the contact cement and don't do what I did.

Here is the finished product, I made the cable for it out of some components from Radioshack attached to some 14ga speaker wire, looks like hell but works fine.

That's all folks, thanks!

Modding The Champ "600" Pt 2

Had to wait a few weeks to work on this one.

Read on the Telecaster board that the speakers in the "600" re-issues are utter crap. Enough people had said this so I took it as Gospel and decided to replace it.

Many guys had crammed a 8" speaker in the thing and I thought about this, but decided that was not the easiest route. I ordered a Jim Weber 6" instead.

Hmm... What could this be?

P.S. Don't order music crap on the internet when you're kinda drunk or the label may turn out that way!

Well, it naturally was the speaker, which was very impressive at first glance:

It was hand signed and numbered by Jim on the side. The mag on this thing is huge, this will be important to note for later.

First, one must remove the old speaker, simply unscrew the unit and remove:

Be careful to align the thing with the screws, you will have ruined a perfectly good speaker if you tear the paper around the screw holes.

I tried to put the head back in the cab and discovered the 6V6 power tube was being pushed out of the socket by the new speaker, it's a deeper speaker and the mag in it takes up more space.

I tried this fix on Weber's website:

"Mounting this speaker in a Gretsch G5222 and Fender Champ 600.   From J.P. Glavey Jr. 
Some 6V6's might be about 3/16" to 1/4" inches taller than the Chinese tube these amps come with. To fit this speaker with the factory tube in place, loosen the two screws that hold the chassis in place. There are two machine screws on the
side and two wood screws on the faceplate.

Pivot the face plate out at the bottom. Cut a hard rubber hose washer to about 3/8' in length and place two of these spacers under the chassis faceplate at the bottom. That will cause the chassis to tilt slightly out to make the proper clearance."

Well, I did that but it didn't give me enough clearance, so I ended up using a pair of channel-locks to bend the faceplate of the amp chassis to give me even more clearance. I broke one of my switches that I installed earlier when modding the amp in the process of bending the chassis.

Note to self: don't bend the crap out of a perfectly good amp head while being kinda drunk!

I noticed at this time that another reason the head would not get clear of the speaker was the fact that the switch I had just broke also was hanging up on the top of the cab and not allowing it bend any further up and away from the speaker.

I spent the next hour carving out a notch for this switch in the amp with my hobby knife and a beer.

Looks like hell I know, but I painted the exposed wood black and the chassis covers the hole when in place.

And done, that funky looking cable coming out of the amp will be the topic of another post in the future. The new speaker does sound much better and does not fart-out like the old one did, well worth the $50.00 I say.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Modding The Fender 600 Champion

Sometimes you find something you like but you learn it can be something much, much, more.

Enter the Fender Champion 600 guitar amplifier.

This is Fender's cheap little "reissue" of the original Fender Champion that was first issued in 1948 as a cheap student model using an 6" speaker driven by 3 watts of electrical power.

The current "reissue" looks outwardly the same but uses a modified circuit with a tone stack from the Fender Blackface Princeton amps. This tone stack robs a lot of power from the original Tweed circuit that the original Champion 600 featured.

I had recently joined a board that focuses on the Fender Telecaster guitar-fiddle. Lots of cool information can be found there including as I would find, modifications to the new Champion 600 amp.

The mods can be gleaned from here, I picked and choosed from the many posts contained here within: http://www.tdpri.com/forum/amp-central-station/95897-champion-600-upgrades.html

I learned from this thread that if you lifted a resister annotated on the breadboard as "R19" that it would essentially ground-out the Princeton tone stack (this deal that sets the equalization of the treble, middle, and bass to a set value and takes away A LOT of volume from the circuit). Grounding out this circuit allows the amp to sound like an original Tweed amplifier that the Champ 600 was originally designed. Clean American tones and when cranked would turn into this fuzzy American beast.

Reading this I knew it had to be done. I own a Fender '59 Bassman reissue amp and love the Tweed tone and knew I needed my new little amp to be able to achieve the same thing in it's own way.

Another mod I read about was lifting the "R7" resister that would give it a more "ragged" tone, I didn't know what that meant at the time, but it did sound really bad ass. I had some of the know-how so why not? (A note here, I still don't know what the "R7" serves in the circuit so I can't really define it or give it a name at this time).

I really wanted the amp to sound like the way I bought it, but reading into the modifications thread, I learned you could simply add a switch or switches that would ground out the resister/s or keep the circuits alive in the "on" position. Knowing a small thing or two about doing this, I know I could do this mod myself in a small amount of time.

One other mod was changing the grille cloth that came on the amp to a thinner material that allowed more sound through and didn't muffle the speaker. The cloth that comes on the amp as-is is a velvet like material that is very thick, many New Champ 600 owners call this "The Grille Blanket."

The following is a short photo essay on what I did on the amp.

First, the amp as it first was as I bought it (note the grille cloth, it was very nice looking I will admit):

After removing the backplate:

You can see the inner workings here, the tubes that came with the unit need to go too, more on that later.

Pulling the head, the part of the amp that contains the circuitry:

The shitty "Noname" 6V6 power tube had to go, here it is if'n you want to look at it:

Clearly it was made in Chiner in Dec Twenty-Ought-Seven, but it looks as crappy as it sounds, the 12AX7 that served as the pre-amp tube in the model was marked similarly, but in red print. It was pulled as well. the 6V6 power tube was replaced with a JJ 6V6 made in The Former Yugoslovia or sumshit like that. The 12AX7 was replaced with an extra Sovtech that I had on hand.

Here is what the baffle looks like after I pulled it from the amp cabinet:

You can see the "grille blanket" that enshrouded it, I pulled the staples and replaced it with this sexy diamond print thing that I got at Hobby Lobby:

JJ 6V6 in place as a test, the new grille cloth helped a lot with letting the sound out of the cab and speaker:

Next came the really heavy duty mods, lifting resisters "R19" and "R7." This was done here at this point by pulling on the resister bodies with a pair of needlenose and applying a soldering iron to one end of the resister:

You can see "R19" lifted to the upper left of the green wires and the "R7" lifted to the bottom right of the same.

The two resisters are at this point grounded-out and their respective circuits they serve are no longer part of the whole Champ 600 circuit.

I wired the ends of these to kill switches and these switches in turn went back to where the resisters used to hook into the breadboard, in this way I could go turn these two mods on and off.
Holes drilled into the chasis to for the kill switches that I bought at Radioshack for like $8.00 I think:

Here are the switches and the wires leading to the resisters and breadboard (I made sure the wires went to the same parts in relation to the switch so they'd both be "off" in the same position):

Finally, labeled the switches to illustrate what the do, this was done with my right hand and a Sharpie marker:

The top switch is the one that grounds the "R19" resister, labeled "Standard" and "Tweed" throwing this to "Tweed" grounds out the tone stack and makes the amp sound like a vintage Fender Tweed amplifier. Throwing this switch gives the amp about 1/3 more volume.

The bottom switch grounds out the "R7" resister and gives the amp a more ragged tone, it is somewhat more subtle but very cool. This is especially true with a Telecaster bridge pick-up setting.

Final photo, mods done and a victory brew on the bench:

Keep classy folks, keep playing American music.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That Sound That Changed It All

A simple blues walk-up turned into a resounding roar. That was the sound.

I had just a very limited knowledge of what this music was. Gathering only bits and pieces from what I heard my father and uncles talking about at small family gatherings and friendly get togethers.

They were talking about groups and bluesmen from faraway places that they would hear played by great DJ's in places like Memphis and Denver and Chicago. The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tom Petty, and Muddy "Mississippi" Waters.

It was this last man, Waters (who's Christian name turned out to be Mckinley Morganfield), was whom my father held in highest regard. He would always turn up Water's songs on the truck radio when they were rarely played by our own local DJ's. I knew by the reverence my father held for this man that he must be something special. He'd retell the tale of when he was in college and went to see one of his last concerts in Lawrence, KS.

It would take me about a decade of constant study of this music, what I came to understand as the blues, to begin to comprehend Water's greatness. He is my favorite bluesman now.

I will never forget the moment I first heard that sound though.


I had really taken an interest in music by about sixth grade. I had exhausted my Beatles cassettes, they were beginning to sound pretty bad and warbly as I had played them, rewound them, fast-forwarded them countless times.

Taking to the radio I had found I really liked the sound of Pink Floyd and loved when "Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2" would come on. I started collecting their CD's, but could only afford maybe one once a month.

I knew my Dad had vinyl records somewhere and my hopes were that there'd be some Floyd albums in that collection.

I finally convinced my father I wanted to get them out and had to promise to take good care of them. We made a late night journey to one of his two rental houses in town and made our way into the attic there. The attic's only contents were an old Pioneer turntable and a cardboard box.

It was at this moment that I learned vinyl records are fucking heavy.

We took the contents to the back of my old clothes closet in the second story of our house where we set up the stereo over my computer that was also set up back there, it was a very large closet. After getting the old LXI stereo and the Pioneer. My father choose The Rolling Stones "Some Girls" album and cranked the stereo on the final track, "Shattered." My father hates playing music loud unless it's on one of his stereos, this is when it's okay to rattle the house down.

I was actually disappointed at first, there ere no Floyd albums... But my father pointed out a few albums that he said he thought I may like, "Zuma" by Neil Young, "Rare Earth Anthology," numerous Steppenwolf, "Ice Pickin'" by Albert Collins, and the last one was "Future Blues."

It was the last one in this list I remember trying first. It had a cover verging on the taboo: Astronauts erecting an American flag, Iwo Jima style, on a barren wastland that one would first take to be the moon... Until you realize that ther is a full moon on the horizon... Yes, a very early enviromental album (I knew even then that this album long preceded the Ozone scare that we were dealing with at my age in the late 1990's).

This was shocking to me being as sheltered as I was: the American flag was upside down.

Fumbling with the 12" record trying to figure out which side was the first side of the album. Lucky I got it right because as I clumsily dropped the needle down I heard that sound and was forever changed.

It was a simple blues walk up, though I didn't know it at the time. A man blared four simple notes into an old microphone plugged into a cranked-up tube amplifier. Though I did not know even these details. But that sound...

I light bulb exploded in my head. I had heard my Dad's cousin Marty talk about this before... Something called an "electric harp." This, this sound... "This is an electric harp" I thought to myself.

I listened intently to the song preceding these notes as an electric country guitar joined in and a man began to sing.

"Sugar bee, sugar bee
Sugar bee, sugar bee
Sugar bee, sugar bee
Sugar bee, sugar bee
Sugar bee, sugar bee
Look what you done to me"

The country guitars join the man and begin to duel and then the sound comes back. A short lead, followed by more lyrics and another lead. You can hear the harp man's distorted inhales as he draws breath to work the harmonica. It is absolutely striking when you hear this for the first time.

The man on the harp was Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, leading member of the band Canned heat when the album was recorded in 1970.

As I've studied the blues more and more and the men that play it, I've really began to identify with The Blind Owl. His biggest influence was the work of John Lee Hooker, probably the best known of all the North Mississippi Hill Country bluesmen. Wilson's guitar style is the closest to Hooker's I've yet heard. A lot of Blind Owl's personal struggles are ones that I myself have had. I do identify with this man greatly.

I pursued rock and roll music for a time in high school and college, but I discovered Hill Country Blues which truly took me deep into the blues obsession. I found Hooker's music for myself and that in turn brought me back to Canned Heat and back to that same sound. That sound.

I picked up harmonica as my own instrument, now wanting to emulate that sound. Marty told me to get that sound "you have to have a Green Bullet." I now have a Green Bullet, but I'm still looking for that sound, but I've found my own along the way though, and the pursuit has kind of subsided.

But I know what and where it all started.

With that sound.

That sound.