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Love and Hate with My Attenuator


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Woe is me.

 

So, ever since scoring a custom-made attenuator from a Katrina-related spam thread, I've been pretty much going guitar (Tele or SG)-attenuator-amp (Vox AC30) for a rightgeous rocking tone.

 

My attenuator is unlike the Hotplate in that it does have set "notched" levels of attenuation like at 16, 8, 4 db etc. - but rather a real parametric-like master that allows you to tweak it precisely to the appropriate volume levels... no "too soft at 12 db, but too loud at 8 db" issues... you can find that perfect "in-between" volume that makes everyone happy. It also has a built-in optional variac and some tone treble/bass controls for added versatility. A long power cable and it fits nicely on top of my amp and causes other gawking guitarists to go "what is that?"

 

That's the good part.

 

The problem is, how it interacts with my other pedals...

 

Primarily my lead boost pedals. I've tried a number of ODs, clean boosts and graphic EQs to use for solos. All of them work for pushing the amp into even more saturation yielding an incredible rawk lead tone that sustains for days. That's not the problem. The problem is being heard above the rest of the band with that tone. You see, in my band, for many of my "solos," the songs call for the rest of the band to swell in volume too... so it's not just as easy yelling at everyone to turn the {censored} down and make way for me and my gnarly riffing. They tend to play harder/louder too, and I need the ability to be a pinch louder than them. I'm having problems with this.

 

The other issue is how the distorted amp -- which is getting most of the distortion from the power tubes -- reacts to my delay (DD-20) and tremolo (Sherlock Tremit). The delays are fine -- actually, really nice -- if I'm not boosting them for a solo or some such loud part. But when I stomp to try to boost me for the aforementioned leads, they get really sick sounding and not in a good way usually (although for one song, I did get this weird feedbacky delay thing that sounded sort of synthy... but that's the exception not the rule here).

 

My attenuator does not have a line out -- which the Hotplate others seem to have. So, the idea of slaving to another amp and then boosting that amp, and/or running the time/mod effects between the Vox and the second amp/PA/what have you, is not an option either.

 

So I guess am I back to trying to find a dirt pedal that can do what my attenuator is now doing for me? And then boost that signal when need be into an un-attenuated AC30 which has a phuckton of headroom... which also lets me put delay post-distortion for better results? That's where I was before and I've been chasing the "perfect OD with a Vox AC30" for like 3 years now... coming close with several pedals, both cheap and boutique, but never quite "getting there" to what I get with the Brilliant channel cranked albeit attenuated. The closest I've come is the Lovetone Pocketfuzz/Woody and my Telecaster. Tremendous tone... but it seems to be only magical with that exact combination... try it with a different guitar the tone is not quite there.

 

Ho hum. Maybe it's time to reconsider my rig and look for another amp. Just a bummer because I feel like I'm so close with what I got!

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y'know, that's exactly why I've stopped using my AC30 as my live amp. When I need more volume, it's just not there, and the thing is too much without the attenuator. Plus, I use the brilliant channel, and without the Hotplate, it's way too harsh with overdrives. I think we are meant to be AC15 guys.

 

so, I got a Z Ghia from our other guitarist. Pretty cool, though doesn't really sound like my Vox. Good luck... it's frustrating. Carrying two amps, one just for volume boost, just seems so excessive...

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I'm considering myself lucky to be in a one guitar band! Although I can still relate to what you're saying. Cranking the AC30 to where it sounds heavenly, means there's nothing but saturation beyond that point.

 

Maybe you should try the Rangemaster route? At least before swapping the amp! :cry: Perhaps the change in tone will help you cut through better than pedals that simply boost all frequencies?

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Originally posted by Teahead


Maybe you should try the Rangemaster route? At least before swapping the amp!
:cry:
Perhaps the change in tone will help you cut through better than pedals that simply boost all frequencies?

 

That was my next idea -- although I've tried to approximate this by using a graphic eq to only boost treble freq, and cut bass ones... it sort of works like that. But still I'm not as loud as I want to/should be.

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I can imagine how frustrating it must be, not being able to strike that balance between attenuator & headroom...especially given that you can set the attenuation anywhere.

 

Hope you get something that works for you mate. Even if it does mean...gasp...changing your amp.

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Try turning the amp down, and the attenuator up a bit so the amp is not distorting quite as much. Then when you hit it with a boost pedal it won;t just compress.

 

Also, try finding a dirt box to do your rhythm sounds (keeping the AC30, but loosing the attenuator, or just turning it up a bit) and then use another dirt box for your lead sounds.

 

I'm slowly discovering that whilst initially an attenuator sounds cool, I prefer the non attenuated sound with the amp turned down lower and then using a dirt box (keeley BD-2) to give my dirt, then I hit that with a booster for leads.

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Originally posted by Vince

Try turning the amp down, and the attenuator up a bit so the amp is not distorting quite as much. Then when you hit it with a boost pedal it won;t just compress.


Also, try finding a dirt box to do your rhythm sounds (keeping the AC30, but loosing the attenuator, or just turning it up a bit) and then use another dirt box for your lead sounds.


 

 

let me know if you find one. The brilliant channel on the AC30 is pretty hard to find a good mild overdrive for, IMO. The attenuator lets a little of that ultra-high end get compressed down, which ripens it up for great overdrive tones with pedals. On it's own, though, I've never been happy with anything other than a booster, which makes the volume even more troublesome!

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Originally posted by Vince

Try turning the amp down, and the attenuator up a bit so the amp is not distorting quite as much. Then when you hit it with a boost pedal it won;t just compress.


Also, try finding a dirt box to do your rhythm sounds (keeping the AC30, but loosing the attenuator, or just turning it up a bit) and then use another dirt box for your lead sounds.


I'm slowly discovering that whilst initially an attenuator sounds cool, I prefer the non attenuated sound with the amp turned down lower and then using a dirt box (keeley BD-2) to give my dirt, then I hit that with a booster for leads.

 

 

I went this route when I ditched my Hotplate. For a while I was happy, especially with the ability to raise my volume to ungodly levels!

 

However, the pedals that follow my boosts, like delay & loop junkie, didn't sound anywhere near as good into a coasting amp. Having most of the signal hike happening after these pedals, certainly helped balance them against any boosts I used before them.

 

It's a tough balance to strike, but worthwhile in the end. If the AC30 had an effects loop, it wouldn't be an issue, but it doesn't...well the new ones do....but we aren't discussing those.

 

Long story (kinda) short, ditching the attenuator made for a thinner sound. Once you get used to hearing those EL84s in full swing, a pedal seems a pretty weak substitute.

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Thanks everyone. Really helpful and some good ideas.

 

Vince: I'm still trying the idea of turning the amp down and attenuator "up" (i.e., allowing for more headroom when boosted)... the trick has become getting the amp to overdrive natural at a lower-volume, but yet not enough to where it has "no where left to go" when hit with a booster for leads. My latest idea, and one I plan to experiment with, is using a ABY box to run my main rhythm tone into the low input of the Normal channel; and then the other side go into the high input of the Brilliant channel -- thinking, maybe that might let me get to enough difference in tone/volume that I'm able to "leap to the front of the mix" when needed. We'll see. I have a feeling it's going to come close, but in my band/situation, I need to leap an awful lot - that's why two-stage OD pedals never quite work for me... they don't boost enough for my purposes.

 

I've thought about going back to the one pedal for rhythm, one for leads route... but like Teahead says, you get addicted to that powerful sizzle sound of the EL84s, it's hard to go back. Plus, it seems like a complete waste by only turning the amp up to about 9:00 on the dial and relying on pedals for everything.

 

Weatherbox: You're right, I have yet to find a dirt pedal that works nicely with the Briliiant channel unattenuated. Actually, the Bad Monkey, because of its tone controls, is not a bad option... and a Rat produces a harsh-but-kinda-cool sound, but even for me, who likes it bright and in your face, it's a bit much. If I ever find a pedal that plays nicely there, I'll let you know.

 

Teahead: Real quick - are you putting your booster behind your delay/other mod pedals? That makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. I have always put it right after my dirt pedal when I used one -- but in front of the other pedals. That could be why I'm getting such a {censored} sound with my delay right now: I'm essentially sending a very hot signal into the front end of the delay, and then sending that delayed hot signal to an overdriving amp. It equals crap. (Except once - it kinda gave me this "recycling trumpet feedback sound"... but that's the exception.) Maybe it's as simple as just putting the booster behind the delay? Maybe not.

 

Oh well. I'm going to stick it out with the AC30 for now at least. I need to get another quartet of EL84s. Running the amp like this for 4 months has basically put them near the end of their life. I went with JJs the last time, which I liked, because they're durable and actually seem soften the harshness of the brilliant channel at tad.... but lose some chime in the process. Any other suggestions for power tubes?

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The Menatone Fish Factory is the best match for the brilliant channel I've yet used, and am told that his pedals just line up well with Voxes in general. I still keep the Hotplate on there to help edge off some of the killer highs, but it's been my #1 for the past year or so.

 

actually, if you want, I can send it up to you sometime when the band has downtime if you'd like to try it out. I pimp this pedal all the time and no one ever seems to notice... but it's a great live setting unit.

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I saw Mr 100's band (he used to post here quite a bit) recently, and his 2nd guitarist was using a '62 or '63 AC30 (no-one was quite sure:D ) but he wasn't using an attenuator with it. The volume knob was between 9 and 12 o'clock and he was hitting the front end of it with either a crowther Hotcake (damn fine rhythm sound) and an Xotic AC Booster for leads/feedback. Yes it was loud, but I don't know how loud is loud for you!

 

It was a great match for Mr 100's Super Reverb:cool:

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I really have to see Tre's band sometime, Vince. I'll bet they get some amazing sounds with that set up.

 

The problem with (or beauty of?) the Vox, is that it really doesn't get much louder from halfway up, to fully cranked, it just becomes progressively more sweaty. In fact my amp is probably louder at noon with a decent boost, than it is at full volume with no boost. It's a tightrope!

 

Ivor, have you tried this with no delay pedal? Do you still get the same results? I haven't used the dd20, but I had some troubles getting a dl4 to work with my stuff. My guitar disappeared no matter how much I boosted it.

 

I did have a boost after my delay, although I don't use one anymore. Not sure if moving it there would help what you're experiencing, but it's probably worth a try. The old faithful test, of playing guitar > amp, then adding pedals one at a time might highlight the problem?

 

One other thing though, the low input of the Normal Ch. is very, very dark. I found it unusable, though maybe your F&C eq will help that...

 

Good luck mate.

 

:wave:

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When I was using the "old system" -- ie, no attenuator... using a dirt pedal as main rhythm tone, and then boosting it for leads with another into the amp that was barely up on the volume... I had no "crap sound" issues with my delays, etc. They were fine. With the amp distorting naturally now, thanks to the attenuator, the delay sounds fine without a booster, but once boosted, get really screwy and artificial sounding. So, will see if moving the booster around in the chain helps.

 

If I can't get to tonal nirvana with the attenuator, my next move is to trade it in for two Xotic boosters. I saw a guy playing one --I think the RC, whichever one is just mainly a clean boost -- into his Vox's brilliant channel and he was getting great results. Really good dirty-but-clean tone at reasonable volumes. He said the pedal breathed new life into an amp he was about to dump. He used another Xotic pedal for leads... the BB? mabye? So... that's the next experiment.

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