…Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. For guitarists, that better mousetrap arrived in the early ’70s when Keith Barr gave the world the MXR Phase 90. It was the first of many brightly colored effects pedals that would find their way onto stages and into recording studios worldwide.
Barr and his partner Terry Sherwood owned an audio repair shop in Rochester, New York, where they were shocked by the poor quality of the guitar effects their customers brought in. Barr and Sherwood decided they could give guitar players a better sounding, cooler looking, and more reliable stompbox. MXR was born, and the company gave guitarists access to amazing sounds—some of which were previously available only in high-end studios—delivering those sounds in rugged, roadworthy enclosures.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. Starting with a few dozen Phase 90s constructed in a basement and sold out of a car at gigs, MXR added three more pedals to the core lineup: the Distortion +, the Dyna Comp® Compressor, and the Blue Box Octave Fuzz. Soon, the growing company was cranking out thousands and thousands of stompboxes and distributing them all over the planet. Guitarists everywhere were plugging into MXR pedals, and those chains of multi-colored boxes became synonymous with out-of-this-world sounds and limitless possibilities.
The long list of timeless recordings that feature MXR pedals includes classic tunes by such giants as Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, the Rolling Stones, Randy Rhoads, and many, many others. The vicious distortion on Blizzard of Ozz? MXR Distortion +. Jimmy Page’s “Fool in the Rain” solo? MXR Blue Box. Virtually every song on Van Halen I? Phase 90. Keith Richards’ trippy tone on “Shattered”? Phase 100. The intuitive operation and bullet-proof reliability of MXR pedals ensured that those guitar heroes could reproduce the sounds of their hit records night after night on the road as well as in the recording studio.
The music business can be fickle, however, and MXR’s fortunes would shift in the ’80s as other manufacturers began to catch up. MXR closed its doors, but the core products never fell out of favor. Jim Dunlop recognized this, and acquired and resurrected the MXR brand. Fittingly, Dunlop’s first MXR releases were the Phase 90, the Distortion +, the Dyna Comp Compressor, and the Blue Box Octave Fuzz. Dunlop’s acquisition meant that guitarists could once again get their hands on the classic MXR effects, and it also represented a continuation of Keith Barr’s innovative legacy with the eventual release of many new designs.
Pedals such as the Carbon Copy® Analog Delay, Custom Badass ’78 Distortion, and Smart Gate Noise Gate have become modern classics. The Bass Innovations line offers bass players pedals designed with their very specific needs in mind, and the MXR Custom Shop serves as a testing ground for the MXR team’s most ambitious and adventurous ideas.
What’s more, the MXR roster now includes classic non-MXR effects such as the Talk Box and the Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato—recreated with dead-on accuracy and imbued with all the qualities that made MXR famous—in addition to several signature effects developed in conjunction with guitar players such as Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Zakk Wylde, and Dimebag Darrell.
The 40th anniversary of MXR’s incorporation finds the company more vibrant and exciting than ever, offering dozens of models for guitar players and bass players, with the time-honored effects that got the company started sitting proudly alongside forward-thinking boxes never dreamed of by the founders.
The fact that we can’t remember a time when there weren’t hundreds of stompboxes to choose from is due in large part to MXR. The company’s first print ad, which appeared on the back cover of Rolling Stone and featured the then-unheard-of Phase 90, stated simply, “MXR: We Are Here.” Those words are far truer on the 40th anniversary than they were when they were written. The next 40 years will only bring more incredible sounds in neat little boxes to innovative musicians everywhere as the company that created such a big part of the soundtrack of our past provides the tools to take music into the future. Prepare to be amazed all over again.
This year, we’re celebrating MXR’s 40 years of innovation with a series of mini documentary videos covering its history—from being sold out of a suitcase to appearing on the world’s biggest stages—along with numerous artists, engineers, pedal designers, and original MXR personnel telling stories of sonic inspiration and discovery. Watch the trailer below for just a small sample of what’s to come…
This spring, the Experience Hendrix Tour is kicking off for another round. It’s got a huge lineup of amazing musicians, including original Band of Gypsys bass player Billy Cox as well as Dunlop artists Zakk Wylde and Buddy Guy to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Gales, and Eric Johnson. It’s going to be one hell of a fitting tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Go to experiencehendrixtour.com to see the rest of the star-studded lineup and find out where and when you can get your tickets.
Since many of the artists playing will be using Dunlop effects on this tour, we decided to revisit our look at the effects Jimi Hendrix used and how he used them. Do you use any of the effects he helped make famous? Let us know in the comment section!
Jimi Hendrix: His Effects and How He Used Them
The modern age of the electric guitarist begins with Jimi Hendrix. His creative use of the tools at his disposal set a precedent for tone crafting and sonic texturing that countless numbers of players continue to pursue today. With a combination of effects that included the Fuzz Face® Distortion, the Cry Baby® Wah Wah, the Uni-Vibe® Chorus/Vibrato, and the Octavio® Octave Fuzz, Hendrix was able to vary his tones in seemingly endless ways that fail to sound dated nearly 50 years on. Equal parts sonic braggadocio and understated elegance, Hendrix used his instrument, his hands, his effects, and most importantly his ears to concoct a brilliant synergy of sound and song rarely, if ever, equaled.
Below we take a look at the key effects Hendrix used to change the face of music forever.
With a Fuzz Face Distortion, Hendrix could elicit an endless variety of tones by using different pickup combinations, manipulating his guitar’s volume control, and picking at different areas of a string. This unruly stompbox not only gave him a full-on primal howl with its burly, fat-sounding fuzz tones—it afforded him remarkably detailed clean textures as well.
The album Are You Experienced remains a shining example of Hendrix’s ingenious use of the effect. The song “Manic Depression,” for example, has Hendrix veer in and out of grainy yet-almost-twangy tones during the verses only to go to full-on meltdown during the solo with howling sustain and thick-as-a-brick midrange. By backing down his guitar’s volume control, Hendrix used the exaggerated treble bite and hyper-sensitive attack the Fuzz Face offers to enhance clean tones and make them really speak. Another example of this sonic yin-yang is, among others, “Third Stone From the Sun,” as it features some amazingly jangly chordal work as well as the insane sonic equivalent of WWIII, all achieved with help from the Fuzz Face.
Released in August of ’67, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” is the first recorded example of Hendrix using a Cry Baby Wah Wah. From then on, Hendrix used the effect often. “Up From the Skies” from Axis: Bold as Love shows Jimi’s jazziest and most subtle use of the wah wah as he uses it to add quick, throaty sweeps to the tune’s hip chord voicings.
For the most part, Hendrix’s wah wah technique was extremely bold. Whether it was for propulsive rhythmic accents, like on the stinky funk of “Little Miss Lover,” or as a constant force on tracks such as “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” or “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” Hendrix managed to use the wah wah in cavalier, over-the-top ways without ever wearing it out—not an easy feat!
With the release of Band of Gypsys in 1970, Hendrix managed to elevate another effect to hallowed status—the Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato. With its thick, smoky swirl, this effect’s complex “phasiness” throbs and undulates throughout the entire live album. Although Hendrix used the Uni-Vibe on a handful of studio recordings late in his career, it’s “Machine Gun” from Band of Gypsys that stands as his ultimate statement with the effect. From the tune’s outset, Hendrix’s use of space enhances the spookiness of the Uni-Vibe’s hazy modulation. As the tune ramps up, Hendrix ups the intensity and keeps it there, starting his solo with a single sustained note that tears right through your soul.”
And who can forget the singular, most important Uni-Vibe sound of all? On his version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, Hendrix single-handedly created the anthem for a generation. Utilizing the swirly, chewy goodness of the Uni-Vibe to great effect, he sent millions into a psychedelic trance that some have yet to return from.
Hendrix used the Octavio for some of his prettiest passages as well as for some of his gnarliest. The song “One Rainy Wish” from Axis: Bold as Love definitely falls into the former category as Hendrix uses the Octavio to add a dreamy otherworldliness that enhances the tune’s sweetness. However, “Who Knows” and “We Gotta Live Together” from Band of Gypsys find Hendrix eliciting barks, belches, and skronks as he unleashes a veritable clinic on using the Octavio while playing double-stop 4ths and 5ths—he even throws in some wah wah for good measure. Sick! Listen to the end riff of “We Gotta Live Together” for even more stony low note howl. The most famous Octavio track, however, is undoubtedly “Purple Haze.” You can hear how Hendrix uses his pickup and volume knob settings as well as his picking attack to vary between different flavors of effect on different parts of the tune. Master composer, interplanetary blues man, and sonic visionary—genius!
Finally, please watch the first in our series of artist interviews about the influence Jimi Hendrix had on the use of guitar effects in rock music, and his influence as a player and an artist, featuring Dweezil Zappa…
NAMM 2014 has come and gone. We’ve shaken our hangovers, head cold and flus, regrouped the troops and are back in office in full force.
We had another great show, introduced a whole host of new products—which you can read all about, with demo videos, in a previous post on the Dunlop Blog—saw a lot of old friends, made a lot of new friends, and did a lot of good business. As usual, the show was a whirlwind of new gear, loud sounds, camera flashes and video shoots, and we wouldn’t miss it for the world.
We’d like to thank our friends and partners in the musical instruments industry who provided us with gear we used on stage… Aguilar, Carr Amplifiers, Mesa Boogie, LAA Amps, Fargen Amps, Atelier Z, Spector, Luttrell Guitarworks, Arcane Pickups, Echopark Guitars, GoGo Tuners, Moollon, Lava Cables, Trussart Guitars, Samson, Retro Guitars, and Hercules.
Please enjoy this gallery of photos chronicling our experiences on the NAMM Show floor…
NAMM 2014 is here, and that means it’s time to announce some sweet new Dunlop gear. Head over to our New Products section to see individual pages for each product, but here’s a rundown (with videos!):
First, let’s talk pedals. We have new releases from our standard MXR® line, including the FET Driver and the Uni-Vibe® Chorus/Vibrato. From MXR Bass Innovations, we have the Bass Preamp, and from the Custom Shop, watch out for the La Machine—a garage rocker’s fuzzy dream come true—the Phase 99—featuring two Phase 90 circuits in a single pedal—and the suped up Micro Amp +.
As if that wasn’t enough, we’ve brought back the tone conditioning mojo of the Echoplex® EP-3 tape echo unit in the form of the Echoplex Preamp. From Cry Baby®, we have the Halo™ inductor-equipped Clyde McCoy® Wah Wah. And for those of you who’ve been asking for the features of the Volume (X) volume/expression pedal in the larger housing of the DVP1 Volume Pedal, we’ve got the Volume (XL).
Last but not least, Way Huge® has some tasty morsels for you. The Havalina™ Germanium Fuzz and the Swollen Pickle™ Dirty Donny Edition, which serves up the same corpulent fuzz as the MkII but with a smaller housing, six external controls, and a sweet paint job from legendary rock artist Dirty Donny.
Now let’s talk accessories—we’ve got some sweet new Dunlop Picks and Bass Strings. Primetone™ Sculpted Plectra feature hand-burnished sculpted edges for fast, articulate runs and effortless strumming. By popular demand, we’ve inducted the Ultex® Jazz III XL, Tortex® Jazz III XL, and Tortex Jazz III White picks into the Cult of Jazz III. And finally, for you bass players out there who want to stand out in the mix with a crisp top end without giving up any of your fundamental, look no further than Dunlop Super Bright™ Bass Strings, available in both Steel and Nickel.
Are you or any of your friends attending NAMM 2014? If so, make your way over to our booth at #4568 and check out all the new gear firsthand.
In a new series of instructional demos from Dunlop, we dive into the nuanced performance points of the Way Huge Electronics superstar models. In this post, we take a closer look at the family of Way Huge Distortion, Overdrive and Fuzz pedals—namely the Red Llama, Pork Loin, Green Rhino, Fat Sandwich, and Swollen Pickle. Grab a bucket of popcorn, or your guitar and your favorite Way Huge pedal, and follow along with Tal Morris as he goes deep on these powerful and unique effects!
To further enhance the Way Huge mood and convey a little holiday spirit, we’ve giving away this rare, vintage Way Huge Foot Pig Germanium Fuzz, inspected and autographed by Way Huge Founder Jeorge Tripps!
Enter to win this amazing pedal—use the comments section below to tell us about your Holy Grail Pedal, the one vintage, hard-to-find effect pedal that’s the object of your unfulfilled desire! We’ll pick a winner at random next Friday, January 10, 2014!
For this Dunlop Strings Tip of the Week, we’re going to talk about pickup height, which has a lot to do with the overall sound of your instrument.
An easy way to tell if your pickup height is off is to play the strings on the bass side of your instrument and compare the way they sound to those on the treble side. If one side is a lot quieter (or louder) than the other, it’s time to check your pickup height. How? Usually, instrument manufacturers include setup guidelines with the purchase of your guitar or bass, and if they do, you can usually find that information online.
Here’s an example of the process, adapted from Fender’s Bass Setup Guide. We’re assuming you’re working with a standard “J” or “P” bass for this one.
1. Depress strings at last fret.
2. Using a 6″ (150 mm) ruler, measure the distance from the bottom of the first and fourth strings to top of the pole piece. A good rule of thumb is that the distance should be greatest at the fourth-string neck pickup position and closest at the first-string bridge pickup position.
3. Check for a 7/64″ (2.8 mm) on the bass side (E & A strings) and a 5/64″ (2 mm) on the treble side (D & A strings). If you’re off, adjust your pickups to those heights as a starting point. The distance you end up with will depend on the magnetic pull of the pickup and the width of your strings. In general, larger string gauges need more space to vibrate.
The above instructions should be used as guidelines. The most important thing here is to use your ears. If it sounds right to you, it is right.
A couple of weeks ago on the Dunlop Blog, we posted a series of new instructional Way Huge Electronics videos, announced that we’re giving away a handful of rare, vintage Way Huge pedals, and put out the call for questions from users directed at Way Huge Founder Jeorge Tripps (whose suave visage recently appeared in the Japanese magazine, Electric Guitar, pictured above).
Here’s the first installment of answers to a few of the questions we got, from the Blackberry of the man himself. Take it away Jeorge!
When you create a new pedal, how do you translate an idea into a tangible effect? Is it a strictly technical process, where you are selecting and arranging components to achieve an exact sound, or is there some experimentation involved as the circuit develops?
It’s not often that I sit down at my desk and say, ”I’m going to create a new pedal today,” and then start sketching it out. Like all creative activities, the spark can hit at any time, and usually when you least expect it. Pedal inspiration for me comes at all different times and places…no set rule. I just try and go with it when it arrives. The ideas start in many different forms and are translated to a schematic and then to some sort of prototype, then the listening and more experimenting begins, then it gets tested by players in the real world.
Do you personally think there is any validity to the claims that the original versions of your pedals are superior to the mass-produced reissued versions or do you think the reissues are just as good as the originals? Why or why not?
No. I always wanted to build the Way Huge pedals the way they are built now, but didn’t have the skill or finances to do it back in the early ’90s. The same thought and listening goes into the new Way Huge pedals as the old ones. I use the components that sound best for the tone I’m looking for.
You’ve worked on many projects in the Dunlop family, like the MXR reissues, the different Fuzz Faces, big name artists signature pedals and of course the Way Huge line. What was your favorite project and why?
If I have to pick just one I’d say it was the Jimi Hendrix Octavio because I got to go and take apart Jimi’s original Octavio unit that’s up at the Experience Music Project in Seattle.
Congratulations to Andy B. of Salisbury MD, the winner of the vintage Way Huge Blue Hippo analog chorus!
Stay tuned for a new blog post containing more Way Huge instructional demo videos, and another chance to win a different rare, vintage Way Huge pedal inspected and autographed by Jeorge Tripps!
It pays to learn how to make basic adjustments and tweaks to your instrument. Otherwise, you end up spending a ton of money to have someone else do minor work you could have done yourself with a little time and patience. It also pays to have the right tools for the job. For this Dunlop Strings Tip of the Week, we want to let you know about a company called Cruz Tools.
They make great tools for guitar players, bass players, and drummers (they also make a ton of motorcycle tools, which we think is pretty awesome). Here’s a look at some of the Cruz Tools gear we have here at the shop. We use each of them all the time.
1. Jack and Pot Wrench. A great tool for tightening instrument and amp jacks.
2. Standard Driver. This is a great tool to have if you own a vintage instrument that requires you to remove the neck to adjust the truss rod. The tip fits fully into the slot to minimize slippage and improve torque.
3. Guitar/Bass Multi-Tool. This is a Swiss Army Knife for guitar and bass players. It’s got four metric and three fractional hex keys, two Phillips screwdrivers, a 2.5mm slotted screwdriver, and ruler so you can check your action. Really worth keeping in your gig bag at all times.
4. Bass Player Tech Kit and Guitar Player Tech Kit. Practically every tool you need to work on your instrument.
5. Cheater Driver. Like the Standard Driver, this is great for owners of vintage instruments. Its small tip lets you get in and make minor adjustments without having to remove the neck in most cases.
If you want to treat your instruments right, go with Cruz Tools. Their stuff is the real deal, high quality and purpose-built. Note: Always be cautious when working on your instrument—chances are small that you’ll do any damage as long as you are patient and pay attention to your doing. Don’t try to rush anything.
Now, let’s have a little fun. We’ve got one spare Guitar Player Tech Kit and one spare Bass Player Tech Kit. Share a setup horror story with us in the comments below, and we’ll choose two people at random to receive one of these gig bag must-haves.
Twenty years ago, Jimmy Dunlop and Sam McRae created the 535Q Cry Baby Multi-Wah in response to 15 years of artist requests and feedback from guitar players. This pedal gave guitar players control over their wah wah sound for the first time ever allowing players to tweak the most important wah wah parameters and make the Cry Baby sound their own.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the wah wah experienced a comeback thanks to its masterful use by thrashers such as Kirk Hammett and grunge rockers such as Mike McCready. This renewed interest motivated Dunlop to develop a Cry Baby wah wah that was better suited to a time when guitar players were becoming more involved in shaping and personalizing their sound than ever.
“I was doing artist relations at the time, and the 535Q was a result of listening to all of the guys I was working with and trying to come out with something that would satisfy them all,” Jimmy Dunlop says.
“Jimmy asked me if there was any way that we could make the Cry Baby a little more versatile,” says Dunlop Senior Engineer Sam McRae. “I said, ‘Yeah, we can vary the range.’ He said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Sam then designed the 535Q’s first innovation—a four-position Range Selector control. To get each position just right, he and Jimmy tested various wah wahs and chose the four sweetest sounding pedals across a range of frequencies. In later years, two more positions were added, and now the Range Selector has six positions. Each position is based on the unique tonal characteristics of the best sounding wah wah pedals we could find.
Once Sam gave the 535Q its signature tonal variation, he added a Variable Q control, giving players control over the behavior of the wah wah effect. This control allows you to take the 535Q’s response from an extremely sharp quack to a fuller broad bandpass sound with the twist of a control.
Sam rounded out the 535Q’s features with a switchable boost that can add up to +18dB with its Volume control. The boost was necessary because, at lower Q settings, there is a reduction in output volume. To compensate, we added a very low-noise Class A op-amp.
“We just boosted the whole circuit,” Jimmy Dunlop says.
The 535Q Cry Baby Multi-Wah hasn’t always existed in its current form. We’ve already mentioned that its Range Selector switch has evolved to include six positions instead of the original four, but other changes have taken place of the years. When it was first released, the 535Q ran on 18v power, and all controls except for the Range Selector were located on its bottomplate. Later, in response to player demand, we moved those controls out to the sides of the pedal and switched to 9v power. Some players still prefer the original 18v version for its higher headroom and additional harmonic content, such as Adam Jones from Tool.
The 535Q has become our flagship Cry Baby pedal, and its roster of users has grown since its inception to include a diverse selection of the world’s top musicians, from Soundgarden and Tool to the Allman Brothers and Prince.
“Back when we were recording Scenes From A Memory I discovered the 535Q pedal and have been using it in the studio ever since,” says John Petrucci. “You can hear it on the main riff in the song ‘Home’ off that album. I just love the deep, throaty character that the 535 delivers.”
“The 535Q really changed everything for a lot of players,” says Art Thompson, senior editor at Guitar Player. “It really gave them that ability to truly personalize the wah. I think that was the most adjustable and flexible wah you could buy at the time.”
To learn more, and see a demonstration of the 535Q’s features, check out our 535Q Wahisode below.
In a new series of instructional demos from Dunlop, we dive into the nuanced performance points of the Way Huge Electronics superstar models. This week: Our man Tal goes in depth with the Way Huge Aqua Puss and Supa Puss Analog Delay pedals, exploring the slapback and feedback options on the Aqua Puss, and the Tap Tempo and Subdivision features of the Supa Puss; and gives a full overview of the Ring Worm rig modulator…
BONUS: We dug into the Way Huge archives and pulled out four sonic treasures—vintage and/or unique Way Huge pedals that Jeorge Tripps has inspected, cleaned up and autographed—and we’ll be giving one away each week throughout the month of December. This week, we’re offing up the classic Way Huge Blue Hippo Analog Chorus!
This aqueous effect is famous for the incredibly diverse range of lush, liquefied sounds it delivers through its simple two-knob interface. With the Rate and Depth controls, you can go from slow, mildly dampened tone-widening to full-on modulated madness at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. And no matter where you set the controls, the tone and character of your guitar remain fully intact.
ENTER TO WIN: Use the comments section below to ask Jeorge Tripps a question about Way Huge effects—the line’s origin, his approach to design, tonal inspiration, whatever! We’ll select a few questions for Jeorge to answer, and post those here on the blog. One lucky question-asker will be randomly selected to take home this rare Blue Hippo!
About Way Huge: Launched in 1992 by Jeorge Tripps, Way Huge Electronics quickly created a buzz among southern California guitar players and began to define the boutique effects market. In late 1999 with 15 models, the company closed its doors as Tripps pursued other opportunities to hone his skills as a designer. As Way Huge exited from the market, the demand for the products soared, driving online auctions well into the hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. In 2006, Dunlop welcomed Tripps and Way Huge into the family. Finally, Tripps was able to make Way Huge Electronics the way he had always envisioned, with a dedicated design team and production facility at his fingertips. Since then, Dunlop has helped Way Huge Electronics bring their hot-rodded vintage tones to the mass market at an affordable price.