The M238 MXR Iso-Brick Power Supply is designed for the demands of the stage and the rigors of the road. With ten fully isolated outputs and a lightweight, pedalboard-friendly housing that’s built like a tank, this potent piece of hardware will keep your pedals running with quiet, consistent power gig after gig.
Why does having isolated outputs make a difference? We asked the MXR design team to explain that and more, including several questions on how to get the most out of this wonderful power box. Get inside the Iso-Brick Power Supply below.
What are the advantages of fully isolated outputs?
When power outputs are fully isolated, there is no common electrical connection between them. This provides ground isolation between power sources, eliminating noisy ground loops and making high gain signal chains quieter. It also prevents one pedal from corrupting the power supply of the other pedals if something goes haywire.
Basically, having isolated outputs is like powering all of your pedals with high quality batteries.
Is there anything else in the M238’s design that helps to reduce noise?
Yes—aside from isolating the outputs from each other, we’ve ensured that each fixed voltage output receives a stable, low-noise voltage source by using linear regulators. The variable outputs are regulated by a hybrid design consisting of an adjustable buck regulator and two LC filters—which block switching noise—to simulate the smooth output of an adjustable linear regulator. This was done to minimize heat and power loss in the circuitry while preserving the output characteristics of an adjustable linear power source.
How do fully isolated outputs provide more protection to pedals than non-isolated outputs?
If pedals are powered from just one source—that is, if they aren’t isolated—they can potentially suffer damage if one of the effects experiences an overload or other voltage problem. With an isolated output, that potential damage source is kept from the rest of your pedals.
Is there anything in the design to prevent overheating?
We built in thermal protection for each output, so the M238 will automatically turn itself off if it reaches unsafe operating temperatures. The outputs are also protected against short circuiting via foldback current limiting.
Which types of pedals can be used with the Iso-Brick Power Supply?
You can use almost any pedal—digital or analog, positive or negative barrel—as long as it takes DC power and meets the voltage and current requirements of the M238’s outputs.
How can players make sure they’re matching pedals and outputs correctly?
It all depends on the voltage and current requirements of your pedals, and you need to know both before you ever connect a pedal to a power source. Digital pedals require more current—measured in milliamps (mA)—than analog pedals, so keep that in mind when allocating your outputs between the two types.
The M238 has six 9V outputs: two at 100mA, two at 300mA, and two at 450mA. The 100mA outputs have more than enough current—by far—for pretty much any 9V analog pedal, but many 9V digital pedals require more current. In that case, the 300mA and 450mA outputs will be more than enough for most digital pedals. If you’re only using analog pedals, it doesn’t really matter which output you use as long as the voltage matches.
The two 18V outputs and the two variable 6V–15V outputs adjustable are rated at 250mA, which is still enough juice for most digital pedals. The vast majority of digital pedals are designed to run on 9V power, however, so you’re likely to use the 18V outputs for analog pedals. If you have odd voltage requirements—up to 15V—or you want to “sag” a 9V analog pedal, then use the variable outputs.
How can I make sure the variable outputs are set to the right voltage?
The easiest way is to measure at the end of a connector cable with a multimeter. First, make sure the power supply itself is plugged in, and then plug one of the connector cables into one of the variable outputs. Set your multimeter to measure DCV; if yours doesn’t automatically detect voltage, select the 20 DCV setting. Set the voltage control about where you want it.
Next, use one of your multimeter’s probes to touch the inside center of the plug’s barrel, and use the other probe to touch the outside of the barrel. Your multimeter will then display the output’s voltage. Use the variable control to adjust as needed. Note: whether the number shown on the multimeter’s screen is positive or negative depends on which probe touched which part of the barrel, but that doesn’t matter for our purposes. The value will be accurate either way.
What is voltage “sag”? Which pedals can be “sagged” below 9 volts, safely and with good results?
“Sag” refers to the effect of a dying 9V battery. As batteries get used up, their voltage level goes down, and this changes the sound of certain 9V analog pedals. This effect is called voltage sag, and a lot of guitar players back in the day loved it so much that they would purposely use dying batteries to get it.
The variable outputs allow you to achieve the same effect without the hassle of managing a constant supply of under-powered batteries. Overdrives, distortions, fuzzes, and wahs tend to benefit the most from voltage sag, but you won’t hurt your pedal by under-powering. Feel free to experiment.
Can the M238′s outputs be combined?
Any output may be combined with any other when stacked in series. When combining outputs in parallel, however, you need to make sure that the outputs match each other in voltage.
Are there any features to help players troubleshoot problems?
Yes—the M238 has LEDs to indicate a good or bad connection on both the input and each of the outputs, which allows you to quickly identify the source of a problem.
What precautions should players take when using any type of power supply?
First and foremost, make sure the voltage and current specs of your pedals are compatible with the voltage and current specs of your power supply’s outputs. Ignore this information at the peril of both your pedals and your power supply.
As a general rule, don’t give your pedal too much voltage—for example, by plugging a 9V pedal into an 18V output—and don’t force an output to give up more current than it can handle—for example, by plugging a pedal that draws 250mA into an output that only has 100mA on tap.
Chorus is an effect you should always have in your tool box, whether you’re slamming out riffs, firing off precision-guided arpeggios, or weaving ambient sonic tapestries. You can use chorus to fatten up your sound at lower settings, add depth and fluidity at moderate settings, and go full on space age at extreme settings.
How does it work? Chorus pedals double your signal and then delay the duplicate at a constantly varying rate—usually with an LFO, or low-frequency oscillator—before mixing it back into the original signal. Varying the duplicate signal’s delay time causes pitch shifting thanks to the Doppler effect. This pitch shifting mimics the slightly off-key sound created by a choir of singers—even though they’re singing the same piece of music at the same time, no one person is singing with exactly the same pitch and intonation as any of the others. And that’s why we call it chorus.
Guitar players first got their hands on the chorus effect in 1975 as a feature of Roland’s Jazz Chorus Amp. Pedal versions followed shortly after, but it wasn’t until the ’80s that chorus really found its place in popular music. Since then, artists from all over the stylistic map have embraced the effect, from Alex Lifeson and Andy Summers to Eddie Van Halen and Slash.
The MXR Line
MXR first entered the chorus market in 1980 with big, yellow, three-knob box simply called the Stereo Chorus. The original Stereo Chorus was all-around great sounding pedal, but its most defining feature was its Manual control. As with the MXR Flanger, the Stereo Chorus’ Manual control allowed players to adjust the effect’s delay time (the Speed control adjusted the oscillation rate).
The Micro Chorus followed the Stereo Chorus in 1981. With a single Speed knob for straightforward operation, this pedal is to chorus what the Phase 90 is to phasing. While compact and easy to use, the Micro Chorus pours out volumes of rich, modulated shimmer with a hint of flange around the edges. A few years back, we re-introduced the Micro Chorus—along with the Micro Flanger—as a faithful reissue of the original circuit.
The Stereo Chorus returned to the MXR line several years ago with a complete circuit overhaul. Today’s version has a very clean, modern sound with a very pronounced pitch shifting quality. Running on 18 volts, the Stereo Chorus now has a ton of headroom. The MXR team swapped out the Manual control for an Intensity control—essentially a wet/dry mix—and added Bass and Treble EQ controls and a Bass Filter switch to remove the effect from low end frequencies.
The Analog Chorus is MXR’s take on the classic “dirty” analog chorus sound. Compared to the Stereo Chorus, its pitch shifting quality is more subtle, but with lower headroom, this pedal breaks up nicely when pushed with a little extra gain. Like the Stereo Chorus, the Analog Chorus has controls to tweak the wet/dry mix and shape the high and low end of the chorus effect. The Analog Chorus is a natural fit for hard rock and metal—just ask Slash and Rise Against’s Zach Blair—but its tweakability makes it an incredibly versatile pedal.
Using the Chorus Effect
How you use a chorus pedal depends on your needs as a guitar player or bass player (bass players, be sure to check out the Bass Chorus Deluxe). Here’s a few tips to get the most out of the effect without overdoing it.
First, have an idea of why you want to add chorus to a song. Adding ambience and movement to a slow piece, making your solo stand out, thickening up strummed passages—these are all good reasons to use a chorus pedal.
When you decide how you want to use your chorus pedal in a song, experiment with different playing styles and control settings. You’ll have to play differently with a subtle tone thickening sound dialed in than you would with a spectral, ambient sound or with an all-out deluge of swirling oscillation.
Finally, try combining chorus with other effects. Experiment. Overdrives, distortions, and delays are a great place to start. If you want to take your modulation game to the next level, try adding a flanger or a phaser to the mix. As for the order of effects, there’s obviously no hard and fast rules, but most guitar players will tell you to place your chorus pedal after the effect you’re pairing it with. This allows the chorus effect to fully develop and work its magic on the rest of the signal.
We used the Analog Chorus to dial in the chorus tones of a few hit songs from all over the map to show the versatility of the effect. See below, and try them out yourself.
From the visionary depths of the Way Huge laboratory comes the Saucy Box™ Overdrive. Like the acclaimed Pork Loin™ Overdrive before it, the Saucy Box Overdrive derives its unparalleled versatility from discrete clean and overdrive signal paths, combining them to deliver one of the most organic, amp-like overdrive pedals available. To give discerning guitarists a dynamic, finger-friendly overdrive with plug-and-play simplicity, the Saucy Box Overdrive forgoes individual clean and drive controls and automatically balances the optimum ratio of the two with a single Gain control. This unique design provides for everything from pure a unity-gain buffer to a clean boost and all the way to a salaciously buttery overdrive. To top it all off, this pedal has a passive tone circuit that will play nice with any pickup type.
We sat down with Way Huge mastermind Jeorge Tripps for a look at what inspired this pedal and how it works. Check it out.
What can you tell us about the development of the Saucy Box Overdrive? Is it based on an older Way Huge circuit? If not, what inspired this pedal’s design?
Jeorge: The Saucy Box Overdrive started life as an experiment. I was making tweaks to the Pork Loin circuit to make it simpler, and this pedal was the result of that process. Basically, the Saucy Box Overdrive is a clean blending pedal—that is, it has an overdrive circuit and a cleanish circuit that are blended together. So this pedal is similar to the Pork Loin Overdrive in that way, using a similar clean circuit path, but it has a totally new OD section.
How does Saucy Box compare to other Way Huge overdrives?
Jeorge: The Saucy Box Overdrive uses a similar British mic preamp style clean circuit just like the Pork Loin Overdrive does, but again, the OD circuit is a completely original design. It has a simple three-knob setup, with the OD and clean sounds blended together with the Drive knob. As the drive knob goes up, the clean sound goes down and vice versa.
What type of player will want this on their pedalboard?
Jeorge: This pedal is good for many types of players since it ranges from a cleanish boost to serious overdrive. So it’s very versatile while being really easy to use. You just find a spot on the Drive knob that gives the right clean/OD mix to let chords ring out with a nice chime and let single notes bloom.
Which amps, guitars, and pedals would you team up with the Saucy Box Overdrive?
Jeorge: It works great with both humbuckers and single coils. As far as amps go, I prefer non-master volume amps. But I always say the best thing to do is experiment. There is no right way.
There it is. Before you go, watch the awesome in-depth demo of the Saucy box Overdrive below.
MXR Bass Innovations has joined forces with Fuzzrocious Pedals to create the MXR Bass Distortion, a pedal that deals out huge, gnarly tones with all the low end your bottom-dwelling heart desires. We took a famously nasty sounding distortion circuit and re-tooled for the modern working bass player. It’s loud, it’s cutting, and it’s versatile, and with separate Dry and Wet volume controls, it’s like a split amp chain right at your feet.
Operating out of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, Fuzzrocious Pedals is a full-on family endeavor for indie phenom pedal designer Ryan Ratajski (pronounced “ruh-tie-skee”), his wife and head pedal artist Shannon, and their two children, who assist with the company’s more avant-garde artwork. Ryan has developed a reputation for over-the-top, face-melting distortion pedals that are heavily modded and tweaked to sound great with the bass guitar. When we decided to add a distortion pedal to the Bass Innovations line, working with Ryan was a no-brainer.
We talked with Ryan about how he got into designing pedals, what it was like to collaborate with the MXR design team, and a bunch more. Check it out.
When did you pick up your first bass, and when did you first start experimenting with effects?
Ryan: I bought my first bass—a J-style Fender rip off—from a local music shop in 2001, but I didn’t play for real until 2006 when I played in a psych/shoegaze band. My first effect on bass was a Sansamp 3 Channel Programmable Bass Driver DI. I knew nothing about effects and wanted something to shape my tone and drive my amp, so I bought the first thing I saw in Guitar Center marketed towards bass. In 2008, when I was in a heavy/spacey noisy band called Cavale, I was influenced by my fellow bandmates to start using better effects and even build my own.
I didn’t know any bassists that used effects, mostly because I didn’t really listen for that specifically. I just knew that, in the studio, they made things sound heavy/dirty. Once I knew what I was listening for, some bassists who were using effects in 2008 that influenced me alongside my bandmates were Nick Thieneman (Breather Resist, Young Widows) and Ed Breckenridge (Thrice).
When did you first start tinkering with pedals?
Ryan: My bandmate convinced me of how easy it would be to learn to solder and start working on pedals. I had my dad help me out, and we practiced on a General Guitar Gadgets BMP, which is similar to the EHX Big Muff Pi. It was all full-speed from there because I started building kits for friends, and my wife painted the housings, and we called the company Fuzzrocious.
I wanted to be cool like my bandmates because they had so many weird pedals. The GGG BMP helped me find my sound, and I haven’t had a clean tone in years! The first effect that was truly our own thing was the Grey Stache, which was not built on a kit board. Instead, it was done on veroboard/stripboard.
What made you decide to start actually selling pedals?
Ryan: I don’t know that it was ever a definite decision. Making pedals was like making music for me. Most people don’t get into playing music to just to make money from it—they do it first and foremost because it’s fun and enjoyable. Getting paid is usually secondary to the joy that making music brings. Same thing with making pedals: we did it for fun at first, and selling the pedals came second. We kept doing it because it was great to have people support and love what we were making for them. Things grew naturally from there. We made kits for the first year, but I didn’t want Fuzzrocious to just be a build service. I wanted to our work to be more original than that.
We first started selling on the TalkBass forums, starting with mods and kits and moving on to our original designs, and they embraced us very well. Word of mouth started there. After that, we started selling our pedals through MySpace—yes, MySpace—and then built our own website where we could take sales via PayPal. Fast forward to last year, when Jeff Klein of My Jerusalem helped us create a beautiful website and store to make things even easier for us and our customers.
In 2015, you and your wife decided to commit to Fuzzrocious full time. Where did you guys find the courage and confidence to make that final commitment?
Ryan: Neither of us felt fulfilled in our teaching jobs, in large part because of the New Jersey education system. Fuzzrocious was taking up all of our time away from work—before, during lunch breaks, on sick days, on days off, after work, and all evening.
It’s not healthy to be “on” for almost all of one’s waking life. Shannon took the leap first and found happiness in painting full time from home. We waited as long as we could for me to quit my day job. The first step was to make sure that we could survive on my income plus Fuzzrocious. By January 2015, it became a “fish or cut bait” situation. The wait time was up to 4 months for direct orders and growing, and that wasn’t fair to customers. And mentally, emotionally, and professionally, it wasn’t healthy for us! Once finances were in check, I resigned from teaching. It’s still VERY scary because we’re only making enough to pay the bills at the moment. We will keep pushing, though!
Why the obsession with dirt pedals? What are some of your favorite songs with distorted bass?
Ryan: Since dirt pedals were the first thing I listened for and understood musically, it was a natural progression. It just so happened that when we got into making pedals, the boutique market was missing a few sounds and modifications that we ready to provide.
Failure’s “Heliotropic,” “Another Space Song,” “Small Crimes,” and “Frogs” are excellent go-to songs for bass dirt. The entire Breather Resist and Young Widows catalog boasts bass distortion. O’Brother’s “Disillusion” album is a bass player’s dream for dirt thanks to Anton Dang’s love for going deaf. Brian Cook’s resume (Botch, These Arms Are Snakes, Russian Circles, SUMAC) is chock full of burly tones. This just scratches the surface for me…I could list dudes ALL day who make me a happy bassist.
Now let’s talk about the MXR Bass Distortion. What was your role in the design?
Ryan: One day, Scott Shiraki contacted me to buy a Rat King after years of our mutual friends Thom Brady and Dave Edwardson (Neurosis) badgering him to give Fuzzrocious a whirl on his rig. He shared his new RK with his colleagues at Dunlop when they were looking to design a new bass distortion. Scott hooked me up with Joseph Trau, who was our liaison to the R&D team.
We eventually decided on a simplified version of our design with the addition of MXR’s separate Dry/Wet configuration and some tweaks made by the MXR design team to basically “enhance” what was already there.
The process was actually really easy and never frustrating—they were clear about what they wanted from us and we made changes and revised month by month. We sent prototypes and schematics back and forth. Conversation was kept up between Scott, Joseph, and me on a weekly to bi-weekly basis. I couldn’t have asked for an easier transition into the designing world!
What is it about this circuit that makes it work so well with bass?
Ryan: The beauty of the circuit we used as a starting point is that it’s super cutting without completely thinning out or compressing your tone out of existence. But bass players always need the option of more low end, and this pedal’s Dry/Wet control setup gives you the ability to go from no clean to a lot of clean—or whatever effects you have on before—to ensure that you don’t disappear in the mix.
The LED/SIL switch gives you two different clipping styles, each with different max gain levels, which gives a bassist TONS of flexibility. Jazz, doom, ambient, shoegaze…bassists from across the genre spectrum can use this pedal equally well. There’s something to be discovered in this pedal no matter who you are as a bassist.
The Tone control—which has a wide sweep from mud to trebly grind—and the Distortion control—which can take you from clean to fully blown out—are the icing on the cake.
Explain the LED/SIL switch. What’s the difference, sonically, between LED and silicon clipping?
Ryan: As I mentioned, the LED/SIL switch changes the way the distortion signal clips. The default setting uses silicon diode clipping, which is a warmer, more compressed and growly sound. The LED clipping more is brighter, more open, and more biting. It’s also quite a bit louder, because you need more gain for tonal characteristics of LED diodes to totally come through.
If the Wet volume is too out of control for you in LED mode, you can use an internal control to bring that mode’s max gain down. The more you bring it down, though, the less distinguishable it is from silicon mode.
How do you see yourself, as a bass player, using this pedal?
Ryan: I like my clean tone to be dirty, in general, and this pedal can do just that. Mixing in some clean and running the distortion around 11:00/12:00 would be a great way to maintain a slightly dirty/overdrive sounding clean tone that would accent other pedals much more effectively in my setup than without the MXR Bass Distortion. This pedal opens up so many doors for me.
Now I can have a sound closer to what an engineer would set up in the studio in my live rig! I like having a more “open” sound with distortions and less compression, so using the LED mode is my best bet to keep the natural sound of my bass present. Silicon would be good for a heavier distortion setting, in my humble opinion.
This thing can get pretty insane, but it also cleans up well. Any tips for how to operate this pedal?
Ryan: The trick with cleaning up distortions is to play with them in the live mix. What sounds good at your house may not—i.e. probably won’t—sound good in a mix, and then you’re convinced your pedal sucks.
You should really go through the following process with any effect you use as a bass player, but it’s especially important with overdrive, distortion, and fuzz pedals. I suggest that you:
1. Politely ask your bandmates to bear with you and keep playing. I know it sounds silly and they will most likely roll their eyes at you, but this allows you a moment to try what works for my ears when tuning a pedal to work in a band mix.
2. Turn the clean tone OFF, tone fully clockwise, distortion starting fully counterclockwise, wet/dirty to unity.
3. While alternating hitting an open note on your low “E” string then an open note on your open highest “G” string, slowly turn the distortion up to a slight to medium grind (around 10:30-12:00).
4. Slowly roll the tone counterclockwise until you feel a good mix of present bass, present mids, and present, but not overpowering treble (around 2:00-4:00).
5. Slowly mix in the clean signal now until you feel present in the band mix, but still dirty.
Want to learn more about the Fuzzrocious family business? Watch the Altar TV short doc “This is Fuzzrocious” below. After that, go and get yourself an MXR Bass Distortion and summon ancient forgotten things from the outer darkness.
Don’t let its small size fool you—the CBM95 Cry Baby® Mini Wah’s tones are just as powerful and expressive as those of its larger compadres. It’s built like a tank, and at half the size of a standard Cry Baby pedal, the CBM95 is perfect wherever space comes at a premium. Whether you’re trying to make room on a full-sized pedalboard or add authentic Cry Baby tone to your micro travel board, this pedal is a must-have.
Senior Engineer and Cry Baby design veteran Sam McRae sat down to give us a run down of the Cry Baby Mini Wah’s sound, feel, and construction. Read on.
How does the sound and frequency range of the CBM95 compare to the GCB95? Does it use a Fasel® Inductor?
Sam: The Cry Baby Mini Wah is indeed equipped with a classic red Fasel inductor, but it has three different frequency ranges, which you can select by removing the bottom plate and using the internal 3-position switch.
The High setting (H) gives you the same sound as the GCB95. The Mid setting (M) gives you more of a classic or vintage sounding range, and the Low setting (L) gives you a darker sound. Basically, we took our three most popular Cry Baby voicings and put them into a housing that’s half the size. That way, you can get pretty close to the voice of your favorite standard-sized Cry Baby Wah and save pedalboard space at the same time.
Does the CBM95 have the same physical sweep range as a standard-sized Cry Baby Wah?
Sam: Yes, the physical sweep range of this pedal is the same as our standard-sized Cry Baby Wahs. What that means is the rocker can travel just as far in either direction, so you have just as much control over the behavior of the effect.
Is there anything mechanically different about the CBM95?
Sam: The potentiometer is a totally custom design that preserves the historical taper of the original pedal but while being scaled down to fit the smaller space. We employed the latest technology to give it exceptionally long life (greater than 3 million cycles), minimize noise, and retain the iconic Cry Baby sound. We also sealed it to keep out dust and any other particulates that might interfere with the wiper and the resistive element. We further reinforced the longevity of this pedal by designing the rack and pinion gears so as to provide a constant relationship between the rocker rotation and the rotation of the potentiometers shaft without any variation in the interface pressure.
We designed the CBM95 for serious, rigorous performance—it’s not just a cute little afterthought.
Who is the Cry Baby Mini Wah designed for?
Sam: If you already use a Cry Baby Wah as part of your sound but you want to free some space on your board, or you’ve wanted to try a Cry Baby Wah but you were reluctant to do so because of the footprint, then this pedal is definitely for you.
And even if space isn’t an issue on your board, this pedal sounds great in its own right. The three voicings make it very versatile.
Last year, we expanded the tonal palette of our bass strings line with Super Bright™ Bass Strings. Their huge success got us thinking about how to extend the same design philosophy—pristine top end, solid fundamental—to guitar players.
Our strings team got to work and created Super Bright Guitar Strings. They’re for guitar players who want a bright and punchy sound with crystal clear chords and leads, players who want their tone to blaze its way to the front of any stage or studio mix. Guitar players have needs that are quite different from bass players, of course, so these strings aren’t just skinnier versions of the Super Bright Bass Strings. They were designed from the ground up—specifically for guitar players—to balance the low end and upper order harmonics for a sound that’s lively and expressive while remaining rock-solid.
How did we do it? Master string designer Les O’Connor, product manager Frank Aresti, and guitar player Bryan Kehoe sat down to fill us in.
Why did you decide to come out with Super Bright guitar strings?
Les: Following the success of Super Bright Bass Strings, we felt that a Super Bright series for electric guitar players would be the perfect balance to our string line. So we set out to enhance the brightness of nickel wound guitar strings while keeping the mids and fundamental balanced and intact.
How are these strings different from standard Dunlop Nickel Wounds?
Les: The fundamental difference between the Super Bright sets and the regular sets is the nickel content. Our standard nickel wound sets contain 8% nickel-plated steel in their wrap, which is the industry standard. The Super Bright Guitar Strings, however, contain 2% nickel-plated steel. We experimented with different formulas, core-to-wrap ratios and winding technique, but we found that the 2% nickel plated steel rang out better using our proven core-to-wrap ratios and winding techniques.
Frank: From a technical perspective, this 2% nickel formula allows Super Bright Guitar Strings to generate twice as much complex harmonic content than traditional nickel wound strings. Complex harmonics are naturally pleasing and musical because of the structure of our ears and the way our brains process sound. What that means is that these strings give us even more of what we love to hear. It’s a very sweet sounding brightness and musical presence.
What can a guitarist expect to hear/feel when he or she tries them for the first time?
Les: To me, they sound like a fresh set of strings that have broken in for a day and still have that upper high end brightness. And they keep that brightness for over a long period of time, giving the string life longevity.
Bryan: The first thing I noticed when playing this set was that it has a different harmonic structure. They ring out in a more bell-like manner with a more present timbre. They just kinda bring everything to life, like when you add just the right amount of salt and pepper to a recipe.
Although the 2% nickel material is only on the wound strings, the plain strings interact tonally differently—they “clang” against the wound strings in a new and wonderful way.
The other thing I noticed was that they feel just like our standard strings, and as Les said, they seem to last longer. Maybe because of the accented harmonics, they don’t dull out as fast.
Frank: It’s like turning up the Presence knob of a really nice tube amp—string up, and your sound comes alive.
What genres or playing styles will these strings work best with?
Les: I tend to not think of genres, but rather of players themselves. These strings are for the player who’s always reaching for the treble knob, or the player who feels like they’re fighting for a little extra in the mix, or just wants their top end to ring out a little longer. I think that covers just about all of us guitar players.
Bryan: I second that. Any player, any genre. Want a set of strings with a unique timbre that is rich in mids and upper order harmonics, that’s not as sterile as steel, but with a bit more spice than standard nickel wounds? Get yourself a pack of Super Bright strings.
Frank: And all of that comes through whether you’re playing a gig or recording in the studio. They were designed to cut through the mix. Bright, solid, and always musical. Never harsh.
When guitar-driven rock ’n’ roll took over the music scene in the mid–1960s, the era’s trailblazers were equipped with Herco’s original nylon pick. By the end of the decade, nearly every guitar player was using them. Their smooth feel and warm sound appealed to the pros who were recording hit records and playing on the world’s biggest stages, while their widespread availability made it an easy choice for anyone wanting to learn to play rock guitar.
The list of greats who have used Herco picks over the years is extensive, and it includes Jimmy Page, Joe Walsh, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzy, Pete Townsend, David Gilmour, Don Felder, Tommy Bolin, Rory Gallagher, and Gary Moore. The popularity of those picks endures today, with some artists—such as Keith Urban, Steve Jones, Gene Simmons, Billy Duffy, Troy Van Leeuwen, Don Felder, Eddie Van Halen, Nikki Sixx, and Madonna—having their own custom molds.
Now, for the first time in years, the classic Herco nylon pick is available to guitar players once again in the form of the Vintage ’66 Series. To resurrect this iconic tool faithfully, we had to get right to the heart of what made the originals so great. How did we do it? Dunlop pick guru Jimmy Dunlop gives us the details.
What inspired you to bring back the original Herco pick?
Jimmy Dunlop: Last year, we discovered several pick molds had been stashed away in storage ever since we acquired Herco 20 years ago. When I realized they were the molds used to create the very first Herco nylon picks, I immediately knew that I wanted to recreate that classic pick magic. The problem was that the molds were just not in a condition to produce picks to modern standards.
So how were you able to capture the spirit of those picks?
JD: Even though they were unusable, they gave us some very valuable insights into the design process. To fill in the gaps, we gathered up as many vintage Herco nylon picks as we could and played and studied them relentlessly.
After that, we analyzed the pick material itself. Simply put, nylon is made differently today than it was 40 years ago, and that difference bears out in the sound and feel of a pick. We had to tweak a number of different parameters, but I worked with product manager Frank Aresti and the rest of my team to come up with a formula that perfectly captures the tone and feel of that old school nylon—it’s virtually indistinguishable.
Through all this analysis and experimentation, we arrived at the Herco Vintage ’66 Series, and we couldn’t be happier. Even our pick experts were at a loss to tell them apart from the originals.
Top: Original Herco nylon picks. Bottom: Herco VIntage ’66 Series.
How is the Vintage ’66 Series different from the Flex Series?
JD: There are two important differences between the Herco Flex Series and the Herco ’66 Series. The first has to do with grip: the Flex picks have a grip on both sides, while the Vintage ’66 picks have a grip on one side. Grips add stiffness to a pick, so you’ll notice that the Vintage ’66 picks are more flexible—just like the originals—than the Flex picks.
The second important difference brings us back to the old nylon versus new nylon thing. Because the Vintage ’66 picks are designed with the characteristics of the older nylon style, they have warmer sound and a smoother attack than the Flex picks.
Ultimately, the Vintage ’66 Series was created so that you can get everything you love about your vintage Herco nylon picks without having to take your collectibles out.
What type of player should check out these picks?
JD: Plain and simple, if you want the classic warmth and smooth attack that you get from collectible vintage Herco picks, the same picks used by rock and roll giants to write music history, then the Herco Vintage ’66 Series is for you.
Check out some of our custom Herco artist picks below, and just below that, be sure to watch our interview with the Cult’s Billy Duffy, where he recounts his first Herco pick experience.
Simply put, Marcus Miller is a living legend. His prowess as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer has earned him two Grammy awards and the esteem of critics and musicians across genres. As a sideman, his credibility is well-attested—Marcus has played, and in many cases written and produced, for everyone from Miles Davis and Luther Vandross to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. His solo career has further cemented his status as the preeminent living bass player. With his groundbreaking style and carefully cultivated sound, Marcus has created a unique and massively influential musical voice. Marcus has honed that voice for decades, in part by embracing innovation and using the best tools available. And that’s what brought him to Dunlop Super Bright Bass Strings.
We sat down with Marcus to talk with him about where his new signature strings fit into the evolution of his musical voice as well as a number of topics, including the importance of tone and finding your own sound. This guy’s a true master, with insights that are valuable to any musician, whether or you play bass or not. Check out the video below for some of the highlights from our conversation—soundtracked by the legend himself. The full interview is packed with even more of Marcus’ masterful insights, so be sure to read that after you watch the video.
How important is tone for a musician?
Marcus: When I started playing bass—I was probably 13 years old, something like that—I wasn’t really at the point where I could tell the difference between the important elements of music: technique, intonation, tone. So I was just going by instinct, just playing the bass. I had a Fender Jazz Bass, and whatever sounded good, even if it was accidentally arrived at, I stuck with it. Later on, I realized that tone is the first thing that impresses people about your sound. That’s the first thing that people are struck by.
That first note, it makes an impression. I know a lot of great musicians who play some amazing music, but their tone isn’t that great, and you have to get past that as a listener. You have to go, “Ok, my first impression wasn’t that great, but man, he’s playing some great stuff.” But the really, truly great musicians who really make a full impact, to me they have the whole package, and the first element is tone. You hear a guy play that first note and you go, whoa! That’s everything, man. First impressions, right?
All the bass players I admired had a signature sound. Yes, they all had great technique, but you heard one note, two notes, and you knew it was Stanley Clarke, you knew it was Jaco Pastorius, you knew it was James Jamerson. And I really wanted to see if I could find something, maybe not on that level, but something that was easily identifiable as me. Once I got a sound that I liked, I didn’t fool around too much with it. Same bass, same settings, and I just changed the notes, I just changed what I’m playing. But I didn’t really fool around with the sound too much because I felt like I had something that was really identifiable, and that’s so hard to find as a musician. So tone is everything.
When did you first realize you’d found your sound?
Marcus: I was talking to a mentor of mine, a fantastic drummer named Lenny White from my neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens in New York, and I said to him, “Man, I want my own sound, how do I get my own sound?” I was probably 17 at the time, and we had these amazing musicians in the neighborhood who I admired. When we went to these jam sessions, I’d be walking to the club from my car parked two blocks away, and I already knew who was in there because the sounds were so identifiable, even from down the street.
So I’m saying to Lenny White, “Man I really want my own sound, how do you do it?” And he says, “You can’t worry about it, you just keep playing, and keep playing, and then one day, you’re going to hear a recording of yourself and go, ‘Oh that’s me.’” So he gave me some real abstract Karate Kid kind of instructions on how to get your own sound.
Later on, when I’m 21, I get a call from Miles Davis, and he says, “Come to the studio, I’m going to record.” I ran to the studio, and we played, and I’m like, “This is Miles Davis, man, I got to play something good.” And then we heard the playback in the control room, and I remember saying to myself, “Oh wow, that’s me.” I recognized that sound as me. And once you find your own sound, you got to hold on to that, man. You got to hold on tight, because that’s something that a lot of people don’t ever get.
So, I said to myself, now that I have a sound, now I can go to the next level, now I can start to be creative, now I can start to try different techniques, improve my technique, improve my creativity, because I got the first element, the most important element. Sound was really the launching pad for the rest of my playing.
How important is style for a musician?
Marcus: Once when I was talking to Boz Scaggs, he said something that I’ll never forget: “People don’t buy technique. They don’t buy anything but style.” That’s what draws people to an artist—your style, your view of the world, the way you present yourself, but more importantly, the way you see things. You got a lot of great musicians, and then you got artists, and not all great musicians are artists.
I get demos from musicians, and they say, “Check out my demo, I want to make a record.” And the first song is a funk song, the second song is a salsa, and the third song is a bossanova. I say, “Each one is like a completely different player.” And they say, “Well, I want people to know I’m well rounded, that I can do it all.”
That’s really important, but what people want to know is, do you have a unique point of view? And I know the problem, because I was a studio musician for like 25 years. People think they know all the stuff I played on, but I played on hundreds of records that you don’t even know I played on. I’m on Mariah Carey records, Whitney Houston records, where I’m just playing what’s necessary. As a studio musician, you became who you needed to become for each record.
But eventually, I started moving more to an artist mentality where I found my own sound, my own style, and I decided I was going to try to make that sound and that style work in whatever situation I’m in. So, the difference between me 30 years ago and me now is that I have a much clearer point of view about how I want to play and what I think music should sound like. And that’s me really trying to become an artist.
Why work with Dunlop?
Marcus: So the thing about having your own identifiable sound, your own identifiable music, your own identifiable style, is that you still have to grow. You still have to figure out a way, particularly if you’re playing jazz music or any kind of improvisational music to maintain your identity. And it’s a very tricky thing. Because if you stay in the same place, then you’re staying in the same place. And if you change too quickly, you might lose who you are.
Now, everybody has their own version of how to deal with this, but for me, I wanted to continue to evolve. So I’m looking at these Dunlop strings, man, and I’m going, whoa, this maintains what everybody’s known me for, but it has a little bit of my old 17-year-old sound when I was playing more raw, you know what I mean? And I’m already feeling myself wanting to get back to that. This has the best of both worlds.
So it’s a way to grow, by finding this new string. And this is the whole thing: trying to evolve but maintaining who you are at the same time.
Why is it so important to evolve your sound?
Marcus: I always feel like I want to continue to evolve, like I want to push forward. And people ask me, why? Why do you feel like you need to change when you have such a good thing going? But it’s boring otherwise. You know what I mean? I really think that if you’re an artist, your responsibility is to show people the world as it exists today through your eyes. That’s what all artists do. It doesn’t even have to be music, it can be writers, photographers, comedians, they all do the same thing, they all present us with the world as it exists now, but through their own filter, and that’s what makes them interesting.
In the ’8os, everything was really, like, techno, and everything was clean, and everything was very exact because we had just discovered these machines that we could make music with, so we were playing really, like almost in a robotic fashion a lot of times. Because that was where the world was. We had just been introduced to these computers—how do we learn to live with them?
And for a while, computers were dominating. Everything sounded like this, and we found cool ways to do that, but now people are a lot more comfortable with the technology, people are a lot more comfortable with computers. And now things are starting to sound a little bit more natural, at least in a lot of areas of the world and a lot of areas of music.
So for me, I want my sound to sound less high tech. I want to still have a full range of bass and treble, but I want to get a little bit more growl, I want to get a little bit more urgency in my sound. And that’s how I used to play back when I was first starting. In New York, everything was always aggressive, and people didn’t want to hear jazz, so if you were going to play jazz, you had to play with an attitude. We were like 16, 17 years old, and people were like, I don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re really into it, I guess I got to respect them. That’s how we used to hit it. So now, I’m wanting to get back to that.
And in my band, I got like 21, 22, 25 year olds who are feeling like they want to prove themselves, like they want to make a statement, and that’s inspiring me. I want to make sure my sound is in there pushing them.
What is the role of the bass player?
Marcus: A lot of bass players who are solo artists are just sitting there waiting for their solos. But for me, I’m doing just as much work when I’m playing behind you—sometimes more work. It’s a shame that a lot of young bass players don’t recognize how important driving a band is. But that’s what a bass player does, man. You drive the band.
I’m really into that role.—it’s as important to me as playing a great solo. And with these strings, man, with this sound I’m going for, I want to make sure that I’m driving you, that I’m pushing everybody, that I’m pushing the musicians to be creative and reach new heights.
What are you trying to accomplish as an artist?
Marcus: When I first started playing music, I just wanted to be a good musician. My father’s a musician, his father’s a musician—I come from a musical family—so I just wanted to step into the shoes that were laid out for me. And then I’m in my neighborhood in New York, everybody had a band, and I just wanted to be in a good band and just be known as a good musician.
And what happens is that, as you get older, you start realizing the possibilities with music. So first, I just wanted to play the bass, I just wanted to be good. Then I saw somebody who had just written a song, he said, “Hey man, here’s a song I wrote.” And I said, “Wow, I would love to write a song on my own.” And that became a goal. And then I saw arrangers making sure that everybody’s part worked together, and I got into that. And then producing. At each step, I just looked to see what else is available from that new step. I’d reach a certain level and go, okay, now what?
And so, for me, at this point, I’m still going, okay, now what? I’m recognizing how powerful music is, how it can communicate things that people have difficulty communicating with words. So we’re playing in Africa, we’re playing in Russia, we’re playing in China, we’re playing all over the world, and we’re able to bring people together who normally wouldn’t come together like that.
So now, what I’m feeling, is how effective, how powerful music can be. That’s my next goal, to take advantage of that, to communicate, try to establish goodwill around the world. It sounds really kind of corny, but when you’re on the stage, man, and you can’t say hello in the audience’s language, but you got like, six, seven thousand people all moving together, all sharing the same emotions, you begin to realize that we all have a lot in common. We just need to establish that first, and then work out the details.
Let’s at least establish that we have a universal commonality, and music is the best example of that.
Tons of people came through our booth to check out the new gear and see many great Dunlop artists—including Marcus Miller, Charlie Parra, Eric Gales, Wojtek Pilichowski, Javier Reyes, and Marty Friedman—perform and sign autographs. Marcus Miller and Marty Friedman each had the place jam-packed during their respective appearances. Some other friends who stopped by included Troy Van Leeuwen, Billy Duffy, Paul Gilbert, and Bryan Beller.
On the gear side, the unquestionable star of the show was the Cry Baby Mini Wah, which won NAMM’s Best in Show award, but all the new stuff—from the MXR Iso-Brick Power Supply and the MXR Bass Distortion to the Band of Gypsys Fuzz Face Mini Distortion and the Way Huge Saffron Squeeze Compressor—got huge amounts of love from all the great people who came through.
And to top it all off, founder Jim Dunlop was on the show floor to shake hands with players from around the world who thanked him for his contributions to the craft of music.
As always, it was great to see old friends and make new ones. Check out the photo gallery below for a look at some of what went down last weekend. For more information about 2015 releases, including availability, keep up with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and right here at www.jimdunlop.com.
In 2015, we’re celebrating our 50th Anniversary—50 years producing high quality, reliable tools that help players express their musical vision as clearly as they possibly can.
This year is no different. We’ve got a ton of new gear this year, and we’re debuting it all at the 2015 NAMM Show, which kicks off today at the Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California. Are you going to be there this weekend? If so, come on over to booth #4568—you’ll be able to demo our new electronics, as well as some of the classics, and catch some great performances and signings from Dunlop artists.
Here’s the Dunlop booth artist performance schedule:
Winter NAMM 2015 Artist Performance Schedule
Friday Jan 23rd
11:30am Leonardo Guzman (Guitar)
1pm Josh Martin (Guitar) & Ryan Donald (Bass) – Little Tybee
3pm Marcus Miller (Bass)
5pm Eric Gales (Guitar)
Saturday Jan 24th
11:30am Jose Macario Tovar (Guitar)
1pm Chris Letchford (Guitar), Travis LeVrier (Guitar) & Mark Michell (Bass) – Scale The Summit
3pm Wojtek Pilichowski (Bass)
5pm Charlie Parra del Riego (Guitar)
If you can’t make it to the show, be on the lookout for NAMM demos and previews from your favorite gear sites. Here’s a sample of what’s coming in 2015:
Cry Baby Mini Wah
Marcus Miller Signature Super Bright Bass Strings
MXR Iso-Brick Power Supply
MXR Bass Distortion
Super Bright Guitar Strings
Way Huge Saffron Squeeze MkII Compressor
Herco Vintage ’66 Nylon Picks
New Primetone Sculpted Plectra shapes and gauges
50th Anniversary Gold Nylon Pick
And of course, we’ll be serving up a ton of content as these products come out, including our famously cool video demos, informative content on the Dunlop blog, and a whole lot more. Keep up with new releases by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course, right here at www.jimdunlop.com.
Tags: band of bypsys, bass distortion, cry baby mini, dunlop picks, Dunlop Strings, fuzz face, herco, iso-brick, Marcus Miller, MXR, namm 2015, new products, saffron squeeze, super bright, Ultex, Way Huge