Q: I play a humbucker equipped guitar, and want a fuzz that works well with high output pickups. What do you recommend?
The Electro-Harmonix Big Muff seems to “get along” with just about any type pickup, and has been a best mate of the Les Paul for decades. There are a ton of different styles and sizes of the venerable Big Muff available, from basic, to feature packed. Another good choice is the Earthquaker Devices Park Fuzz Sound, for a vintage style fuzz sound. If you want something small to fit your board you may like the Red Witch Ruby Fuzz. Play a few, not all Fuzz pedals go well with high output pickups. My favorite (nobody made me say this) …is the Sam Ash Fuzz. Works great with ‘buckers.
Q: My amp makes a horrible buzzing sound at a club I play at once a month, and when I get it home, the buzzing stops. Any ideas as to what’s causing this, or how to fix it?
A: If your amp misbehaves at one place and not another, it is probably not your amp that’s to blame. I’ve had my amp at “the shop” only to find puzzled techs. Take it home….works fine, back to the venue it acts up, right? This can be caused by “dirty” electricity. Old, or poorly wired buildings sometimes wreak havoc on sound gear. Don’t ask me to explain “ground loops”, or “shared neutrals”, but they can make a guitar amp sound like a forest fire. Try a power conditioner.
Many good examples are available. Furman makes a rack mounted unit called the PL-8C, and Rockn Stompn makes a great power-strip for the floor called the RS-4. Make sure that whatever you get has not only surge protection, but power conditioning also.
Q: How does Prince get that insane guitar tone in the guitar intro to “When Doves Cry”?
A: That tone mystified me when I first heard the song. Sounds almost like a synth! I came across something very much like that tone accidently. Trying out some pedals, I ran into the Catalinbread Perseus; it’s a sub-octave generator with some fuzz. We know that Prince didn’t use the Perseus (it simply was not on shelves in the 1980s). Prince was well known to be a Boss pedals user. The pedal used by Prince was likely a Boss OC-2 (along with some studio dust, and Prince’s talented hands). You may likely be able to mimic the sound with any quality sub-octave pedal. Today, Boss makes the upgraded version called the Super Octave OC-3.
Q: Mike, Stevie Ray Vaughan is my all-time favorite guitar player. I have a basic American Standard Strat, how do I get near his tone. Also, what are your thoughts on his cover of “Taxman”? Better than the original?
A: Tough question, because there are a lot of answers, all with different merits. The Strat is the guitar most associated with Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was a monster player, and had a great style, and tone. When someone like this pops up (rarely), everyone wants to capture his tone. SRV’s go-to Strat started out as a pre-CBS 1962 neck, with a sunburst body, that may or may not have matched the neck. The absolutely iconic (if ever there was one) guitar went through a constant metamorphosis. Pickups came and went, or were re-wound. The neck was swapped out at some point also.
Like everyone, SRV had his heroes also. SRV was chasing after a ‘Hendrix’ tone. On the advice of now legendary amp and guitar tech Cezar Diaz, SRV installed a left-handed 1950’s bridge/tremolo so he could access the tremolo with his elbow like Hendrix did on his flipped over right handed Strats. Stevie is said to use very heavy strings (tuned down a bit to relieve some tension). He had strong hands, and you can hear it through the recordings; Stevie man-handled his guitars! Fender amps are among his favorites, the Vibroverb with a 15-inch JBL speaker was a mainstay. Effects SRV is known to have used frequently are the Fuzz face and Univibe (a la Hendrix). A pair of tube screamers, with the drive set low, and output up high is a trademark also. Many of SRV’s Fender amps were tweaked by Diaz, adding even more dimension to his tone. If you want to sound anything like him, listen and practice. Playing similar gear will help, but when a player comes along like SRV, (or Hendrix) the details of his gear are secondary to his talent. Your American strat is a great start, stick with that, and a Fender tube amp, set with only a little grit, to start. Fender makes a signature SRV Strat, should you want to pay closer homage to him. He is known to have recorded with as many as 30 wired up amps at one time. Don’t get overwhelmed with detail. Start simple: Strat, and maybe a small tweed style Fender amp. Good luck!
As far as Taxman, SRV owns his version. Not released until nearly 10 years after its 1985 recording, it bears little resemblance to the George Harrison-written Beatles song. Stevie turned a standard 4/4 into a shuffle. Only a player like SRV could get away with taking a classic, and turning it on its ear the way he did. No matter what version you like better, the one thing I can say all will agree upon is that SRV’s Taxman, is as unique as the man playing it.