Gear reviews and "guitar player interviews". The Guitar Zombie is the fastest spreading blog about guitars, amps, effects and other stuff.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

JOYO JF-09 Tremolo - A cheap and great sounding pedal (Video-Clip)

The Chinese company Joyo has a whole flood of pedals, mini pedals and other musical accessories in its range. They define themselves as a company that "focuses on the production of digital music oriented tools". It is an interesting company but for most guitarists it´s probably "just another clone-company". And it is true that they are making cheaper clones, but they also show tendencies to go towards a more innovative path.

It's not unusual for Chinese companies to draw the bow as hard as they can and at the same time look ahead to innovative world domination. The point is that many of them has a fair chance to be successful in a global perspective. To make clones in collaboration with other partners in the music industry is a smart and easy way to learn the basics and then when the timing is right take off to more innovative products. To ignore of these actors are both clumsy and stupid intimidation as they already have good stuff to offer.

The JOYO JF-09 tremolo is exactly such a product. In fact, it is a really good tremolo, from barely noticeable sweeping rate (speed) to fast and even large span of "intensity".

Tremolo, unlike Vibrato, creates variation in loudness (amplitude) which means that raises and lowers the volume. This technology has been around for vintage amps since the 50's. Vibrato on the other hand varies the pitch as you may already know. Anyway, Tremolo is a classic and very useful effect that throws pure or soft crunched sound back to the vintage mode. I think the best effects stays in the background and highlights the guitar without taking over. This pedal is outstanding on just that, it lifts the whole and it creates a good old fashioned vintage sound if you do not exaggerate settings, and it doesn't suck tone at all, at least not by my standards.

- True Bypass
- Built like a tank
- 9v battery or eliminator
- Light that indicates the rate

I made a little demo here which gives a hint of how it sounds. The pedal is connected in the effects loop on a Marshall JVMJS on the clean channel orange mode and the guitar is a Jeff Beck Stratocaster. There is a reverb there too, a TC Electronics "Hall of fame".

You can get one for $28 on Amazon and eBay, which is very cheap for this kind of quality pedal.

A tap tempo to easily change rate between songs had been great, but at the same time you may lose a bit of the vintage feeling.

4.5 zombies (5)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Bill Kelliher "Rig Rundown 2014"

I had the opportunity to interview Bill Kelliher of Mastodon before their gig in Stockholm and we talked much about "Tone Chasing".  I also took the opportunity to make a Rig Rundown, ie a filmed review of Bill's live stuff. If you want to read the interview you can find it here.

Otherwise, you can enjoy "The Bill Kelliher Rig Rundown 2014".

Stay Zombied and Merry Christmas....

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bill Kelliher Mastodon, "The Tone Chaser" (Interview )

One of the most interesting progmetal bands of today is Mastodon. The band played a few days ago here in Stockholm and I had the opportunity to see them. Mastodon is one of my favourite bands when it comes to guitar players in the metal genre. Complicated and beautifully created riffs all the way and the four band members are as tight as you hear them play on the albums. 

Bill Kelliher is, in my opinion, the best rhythm guitar player i the business and he is also a very talented soloist. I was asked to meet Bill for an interview just before soundcheck and I didn't hesitate long. Bill is known to be very particular about his tone, a tone chaser, and I asked him how it all started.

Foto: The Guitar Zombie
When did you become a "tone chaser"?
A good question actually, and I can't speak för everyone, but, what ever you do in life you always try to do it the best you possibly can. I have always been interested in recording and when I hear a guitar player on a record that sounds awesome I instantly want to catch that tone or sound. Thats where my addiction with starts actually, to find that tone that cuts through and sound fucking awesome.

Which guitar player was the first one to catch your interest?
It all started with Eddie Van Halens tone, and he is still to this day a tremendous guitar player. A clear tone with not to much distortion. Its funny because when you start playing you always try to collect as much distortion boxes as possible, and thats not what this thing is about at all.

Foto: The Guitar Zombie
What amps did you start out with?
I started out with Peavey Butcher and the VTM60 from the 80s, amazing amps. It was basically like a JCM800 but way cheaper. I also had a Chandler Tube Driver, the big yellow thing, for just a tiny extra overdrive. The thing is that after 20 years i the business I saw one of these VTMs on craigslist and bought one just out of curiosity to hear how it sounds today as myself and technology has developed. I was surprised that it still sound amazing... It struck me that I´ve had my tone since beginning and still chase for better all the time and I actually returned to the same spot.

Foto: The Guitar Zombie
But you are a Marshall guy?
Yeah, I have used Marshalls for a long time since then and they have always sounded good for me. But when I heard Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains and his awesome tone a while ago I was stunned.

What was it about his tone?
You know I was on the backside of the stage every evening and could hear his guitar from that isocab and it was so clear,  you could hear every single beautiful note he played, and that guy is a great guitar player. I asked him "what the hell are you playing through?" Whatever it is I got to have it. He said he had a Friedman "Marsha", a Marshall clone basically, and an isolation box with Celestion Creambacks. He said that he had an head one I could borrow on the tour.

Foto: The Guitar Zombie
So that was it?
Yeah. His guitar tech had a couple of guitar pickups called Motorcity Pickups that Cantrell use and he installed it in my guitar and I got his tone, or at least his sound. A couple of years later I bought a Friedman Head which I now use on tour back in America, they are way to heavy to move over to Europe.

What is the best thing with this Friedman head of yours?
I have two, one of modified Jerry Cantrell signature and one HBE. The thing is that you don't need that much distortion, once again, cause it blurs up stuff between the notes to much. I use to roll back the gain and turn up the mids, but I´m still out on the hunt and I have millions of distortion pedals but at the same time I like less of everything. I like it the best when the guitar goes right in to the amp. Once you start adding chains of this and that and wireless and stuff and you suddenly get confused and loose the things you´re actually chasing. I want it to cut through and define my playing the way I want it to.

Foto: The Guitar Zombie
On the European leg of the tour you use Marshall heads?
Yeah, JCM800 2203, one reissue and one original from like 2003 or something. Great amps too, and if something breaks a use a Blackstar for backup.

You have Creambacks in your isocab?
Yeah but I´m not the guy who can easily explain how stuff sounds, I just now when it sound great,  but they´re awesome. They are like Vintage 30´s which I have in my stage cabs but a bit more aggressive maybe.

When I was growing up I always had 20 watt speakers to use less distortion on the amp and distortion pedals and let the speakers do the job but the seems to have shorter life as I run them pretty hard. But then i found the Celestion 65 watt Creambacks that sounds great, somewhat in between 75 and 20 and when I cracked it up it sounded so good.

Foto: The Guitar Zombie
You have a signature Gibson Les Paul...
Yes, Gibson Les Paul "Halcyon" with my own designed pickups made by Lace called "Dissonant Aggressor". A beautiful guitar with Mahogany body, gold and black burst, mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard. On this tour I also have a 82 Les Paul Custom wine red and a white 1977 Les Paul Custom.

What about effects then?
I have moved on from the effect pedal stuff now and I use Fractal AxeFX II and a MFC 101 instead. I still use normal amps you know so I´m just half way in to the modern era. I´m not using the amp modelling thing yet.

How does your guitar tech  handle your "changing all the time" regarding your tone chasing?
Yeah ha ha he´s a bit frustrated sometimes but I am actually my own tech. He knows how to set things up but I want the last hand on everything to be satisfied. I use this Fractal thing for some stuff, and he doesn't have a clue about that sort of stuff. But its ok, cause I know how it sounds when it sounds good, you know what I mean... He basically keeps the guitars i tune and stuff. I want to problem shoot things myself and I am really anal about it, you would hate work for me...

I don't know about that.... 
Ha ha well I´m a nice guy but I now my stuff you know and I know exactly how I want it.

Looking forward to the show and to hear you play...
Your welcome

Thanks for letting me talk to you...
Thank you, it was fun talking about "tone chase"...

Tomorrow I will publish the Bill Kelliher Rig Rundown.... 12 minuets of pure nerd activity....

Stay Zombied.....

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review of Marshall JVM410HJS, Joe Satriani model - Best Marshall amp in years...

A while ago I made a "rig rundown" with Fredrik Åkesson from the progressive metalband Opeth. The rundown made me interested in his amplifier, the Marshall JVM410JS "Joe Satriani model". After buying it a couple of days later I realised that it´s the best amplifier Marshall have made in years. Now don't fall into the trap to think it´s the same amp as the first JVMs, because this is something completely different.

Maybe it has to do with increased experience at Marshall's development department, or that more efforts are required from the market in these "digital times" or that they finally started to look at what all the "modders" has done since 1980 or so. Most of the great guitarists have had modded Marshalls through the years and it feels like the focus now has shifted at Marshall, to once again take the customer perspective. A perspective they were so good at until 1973 or so, when the forces of customer demand took over and they had to compromise.

Anyway, this amp is a collaboration between Santiago, amp developer at Marshall, and Joe Satriani. Now, don't fall not in the next obvious trap, namely, the conclusion that this amplifier "just replicates Joe Satrianis tone". It can certainly do that, but the outcome of this collaboration has accomplished more important things than that. It´s a very versatile amp for pretty much every kind of guitar genre, from sparkling clean blues to heavy chunky riffs and outrageous high-gain lead tones.

The front panel probably scares the shit out of many vintage purists with its 28 knobs, but it's really not complicated at all. It´s actually quite intuitive, and I didn't  have to use any manual at all.

I've recorded a short demo for those of you who want to get a hint about how it might sound. Clean Orange mode with little effects, Crunch in Orange mode and OD in Red mode. I have shorten it down focusing on how the amp sounds. My suggestion is that you read this full review before you listen.

4 channels
The amplifier has 4 EL34 and 5 EC83 hard working tubes and delivers 100 watt pure guitar tone. It has 4 channels: Clean, Crunch, and 2 identical OD channels.

Each channel has its own noise-gate, which has replaced the reverb in the origin JVMs. These noise-gates are really good, Fredrik Åkesson pointed out it´s "musicality" and that they doesn't "eat" any tone at all, like many other amps do. The tone becomes tight and completely studio-silent. If you don't like it, just turn it off.

Green, Orange & Red modes
Furthermore, all channels has 3 modes: Green, Orange and Red. This means that the amplifier actually has 12 channels, which can be controlled from the pedalboard (foot-switch). Green is the starting position and the other puts each channel a step forward in to a different character.

There are also two master volume-sections with "resonance" and "precense" knobs, very handy.

The starting point for the clean chanel is the nice clean sound in the Marshall Anniversary 6100 and it´s just  incredibly good in the "Green mode", and it takes distortion pedals in an excellent manner. In "Orange mode" the clean is a bit more gained without cracking up and in Red mode it cracks up in a brilliant way without falling over in to distortion.  It all lands in one is exceptionally good tool for anyone who needs a clean sound with variety. This variation in clean tones makes it very easy to take advantage of different types of guitars and brings the best out of them.  Everything is controlled from the supplied foot-switch.

The Green mode sounds like a JTM Plexi and Orange as a JCM800. Red mode turns it into a hot-rodded JCM800. This is the amplifier's most exciting channel, I think. Orange mode with the gain at 2-3 a´clock should fit any classic rocker and with the right effects it grows brutal.

OD 1 and 2
These channels are identical, which I think is a brilliant idea. Instead of adding another hi-gain characteristic chanel it gives the guitarist an ability to vary their own sound in the same "personal tone area". Maybe a bit more gain in OD 2 or some different EQ, it´s "sick clever" based on the ideas of individual tone consistency. Another great thing obut the ODs is that Marshall has found a really good metal amp here, which should attract even the most modern metalheads. There is more gain than you ever need, and the fact is that it sounds best when you are not utilizing its full gain capacity.

Mid Shift
Another great feature is the Mid Shift, a function that was developed to let Sammy Hagars vocals cut through better in Chickenfoot, but its allows you to compress the tone a bit, it allows your metal sound in to deliver really good "Chucka-Chucka-down-strokes".

Effects Loop
Another very nice feature is the incredibly great effects loop. I have never experienced such good effects loop before and pedals appear flawless compared to loops in other amps.

The fact that there is no reverb may seem strange, but given the extremely well-functioning effects loop it doesn't matter. The thing is that a mediocre reverb, or other modulation effects, actually sounds brutally nice in this amplifier, thanks to the new effects loop technology and the amps great "basic sound" in general.

This is one of the the best Marshall amps ever, for reasons as:

1. The basic sounds in the channels, which are spot on, and especially Crunch Orange Fashion
2. Effects loop, one of the best I've ever heard
3. The versatility that basically allows you to sell every other amplifier

The variety of sounds you can get out of this amp to and how easily you can switch between them is actually quite stunning. From shimmering cleans to cocky crispy Plexi-Crunch and powerful high gain makes it´s suitable for virtually all music genres.

An additional nice gesture from Marshall is that this tone monster doesn't rob you of 5000 dollars, as it actually should be worth. It´s yours for 2600 dollars. A bargain considering the value this tone monster will bring you.

A bestseller .... Period!
Buy here

Zombies 5.0 (5.0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review of MXR Berzerker Overdrive, from blues to really high-gain

I can't get enough of overdrive and high-gain pedals, it's like a food for a Guitar Zombie. The latest in the line that danced in here is an MXR Berzerker Overdrive. That fact that Berzerker is a signature pedal by Zakk Wylde is perhaps not exactly a novelty, he has a whole series of gadgets with his name on it. Zakk is known for its unbroken and painstaking experimentation with his tone, and this pedal is excellent, if used properly, that is. 

Many people misunderstand the Berzerker for recreating Zakks unique tone. Thats not true, its an overdrive. Its just how marketing works, it puts images in your mind. You do not play like Zakk or sound like him if you buy this pedal.

The Berzerker is an overdrive that is designed to add an extra form and an additional density to an already great gain structure. Zakk himself carefully point out that he uses it precisely for that purpose, to get more out of his amps gain.

Everything starts with a good sounding amplifier. But once you have got a great high-gain through your amp this pedal adds that extra "sustain" you might need for solos and or extra fat licks.

There is no point in running it on the clean channel, if you're in to high gain. But if you're looking for a slightly overdriven clean sound it works really fine. It is basically a well-balanced overdrive and gets my VOXAC15 to emit new fine blues tones. And the basic rule, that people talk about today, is to "roll off" the gain to a minimum, letting your hands and your heart do the bluesy job.

This pedal is  built for something else, namely bold and quite comprehensive gain to get that screaming monster riffing, without becoming muddy.

When I run it in a proper Marshall, which has that perfect high gain, I can kick in that extra amount of gain needed for blasting harmonics and massive power chording the man himself is known for.

The prize from 100-150 dollars makes sense, if you're looking for ultra-gain solutions for your already great amp.

4,5 Zombies (5)

Stay Zombied

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Interview with Chris and Ben from Black Stone Cherry

"There are no Fractals here man"
Chris Robertson

Black Stone Cherry is a hardrock band with clear roots in the American South's musical treasures. The band started in 2001 and took over the same rehearsal house as country rock band The Kentucky Headhunters. 

The latest album "Magic Mountain" is another step in the direction they adopted from the beginning, in all cases since they released the first album. They have basically been playing together since their teens. 

The heavy stoner-groove is there on the new album and it fits properly along with the catchy refrains. Everything is refined and even more of the characteristics of the band. Powerful and very heavy guitars.

I meet Chris Robertson and Ben Wells just before their gig at "Klubben" in Stockholm last month. I was a little curious about if they have fell in to the digital trend and how they create their guitar sound as a band in studio and in live situations.

Have you stepped in to the digital world or did you use real amps on the latest album?

Chris: It´s real amps, no digital! There are no Fractals here. 

Ben: All Tubes man...

Chris: We use different kinds of stuff in the recording studio but all of them are old school amps with tubes in them and it goes to a speaker cabinet and the sound comes out that way, no digital wizzard-tricks going on.

Is it still Budda amps?
Chris: I just switched to PRS amps now and they´re great man. The best amps I´ve ever heard.

Ben: I have my same Peavey 5150 and 6505. On the new album we also used a VTM 120 from the late 70s. It´s a killer amp head. It´s sad to say that playing through amps is becoming old school.

Why did you leave Buddha for PRS?
Chris: I´ve used Budda or Peavey for years and the reason I switched over was because PRS asked us if we would like to have a couple of amp heads in the studio while recording. And you know, in studio sessions you use a lot of stuff, there is no limit. We had Soldanos, Ritchie Blackmoore Engles and much more. When the PRS amp heads came down I recorded the whole album with them. Totally impressed. The one I use right now is an PRS Original Sewell, but I´ve listen to the new amps they have and they're great amps man. 

On the new album your guitars sounds really simple, big and consistent through the whole album, is that something you actually worked hard on?
Chris: Well it´s much about keeping it simple and take advantage of the "sonic air" on the tracks as a whole. If you listen to an old Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath or an AC/DC album they may not have much "low end" but they sound so huge because there are so much space. 

So it´s back to basics?
Chris: Yeah. First of all we wanted to record on a two inch tape which is totally awesome and it was the first time ever for us. We wanted to get that space and as heavy as it could get.

So your going back to the origin that everyone is running away from…
Ben: Yeah let them run from it man…it´s good for us ha ha ha...

Chris: Why go to a concert and see a band that has a Pro Tool rig behind the drummer that plays half the music. A lot of band has three guitars but only one guitarist up infront. That doesn’t make sense, it´s weird.   
Is it to much focus on technology today?
Ben: Yeah, you know, Tony Iommi could sound like two guitarists with his vibrato back in the days. I mean lets get back to that, that awesome playing without to much effects and layers. We all want to sound big but much of it is in your playing, in your hands and heart. We are two guitar players but we use to keep it as simple as we can. I think that´s what makes us different. Fortunatly and unfortunately I guess. 

How about the learning perspective today and when you started?
Chris: We grew up when there was no YouTube. I had to sit by the record player or the cassette deck and use my ear to learn. Big difference from today. 
Many guitarist today seems to play from visuals or from memory, or reading tabs to play something thats cool, they don’t wanna pick up the guitar and play stuff that sucks. When I started I played a lot of stuff that sounded like shit, and thats a part of the learning process to. 

Ben: Everybody does….I mean playing shitty in the´s natural and something you have to pass. 

How important is the guitar sound to your ability to play well?
Chris: It´s one of the most important things in a way. A good sound inspires you. 

Ben: Yeah and most guitarists are actually depending on their sound, but really great players can use whatever amp they can find and sound like themselves anyway. 

Chris: Most of your sound or your tone is in your hands as you say. But a good sound encourage you...

What stuff did you start out with, like your first amp?
Ben: My first amp was a Peavey Combo, I don't remember which one but it was one with the old logo. I had a lot of distortion pedals too, you know like everyone else who starts out, trying to get your first shitty amp sound better. I had a one called Rat Distortion that I liked and a Boss Super Distortion. Now, when you getting older, you find yourself a good amp instead of loads of pedals. My first guitar was a Peavey Stratocaster, but my first "real guitar" was a Fender Telecaster Japanese reissue. 

And what was your first attempts?
Chris: I had a Create 30 1x12 combo and my first guitar was an Epiphany Telecaster copy. I know the guy who have it now but he refuses to sell it back. Then my grandpa let me use his old Fender Bassman 1966, and I really learned to really play on that amp. That old amps have what I use to call "three nobs and the truth",  volume, bass and treble and thats it. I didn't have any pedals, I wanted a wha wha but my dad didn't let me get it before I could play the Jimi Hendrix songs. I think pedals are cool för like effects and stuff, but they're not cool if you use them covering up shitty playing. 

How stripped down are you pedalboards today?
Chris: I have a Poly Tune, MXR La Machine which is a Octave up Fuzz, Dunlop Cry Baby Wha, GT-OD Overdrive and a Carbon Copy delay and a chorus with some weird name on it, I don't remember. I use the chorus as a "vibrato", not the way Zakk Wylde does.

Ben: Same tuner, same wha,  a Talk-Box, a Swollen Pickle Fuzz and a MXR Phase 90. And of course my channel switcher. Pretty much so... I like pedals, I must admit, I like experimenting with crazy sounds. If we have an odd pedal sometimes it´s just to create a sound in a particular song which reflects the album, most of the time only one song in the set. The most used pedal is the wha...

Is it hard to translate the studio sound on an album in till live performances?
Ben: Well it starts in the studio actually. If you don't put 1000 layers on each song you don't have to worry about it. 

Chris: We have done that misstakes in the past, with like 5 guitars over the chorus and it´s just not possible to do with the same emotion live. 

Ben: Yeah and we have learned our lessons. 

You had a Les Paul on soundcheck?
Ben: Yeah it´s a Classic Lemon Burst with the 60´s neck, that´s what I grew up playing. I have 4 Les Pauls and a PRS SE.  It´s 496 and 500 pickups you know, the ones with higher output. Thats why I love the Classics, cause the come in stock with those pickups and it saves me from changing. 

And you are endorsed by PRS Guitars?
Chris: Yes I am. I have the same guitars and amps here (in Europe) that I have have back home in the States. The green one is a PRS Starla S2 with a 25 inch scale and then I have another S2 24 1/2 inch and aother guitar I have is a PRS Stripped 58 Antique white. We were on tour with Alter Bridge and Myles had PRS guitars and he told that they were awesome. 

At the same time I had som consistency problems with my guitars, they played differently and sounded differently depending on the humidity and I asked my guitar tech which guitar he thought would be the best up on consistency and he said "you probably don't want to hear´s PRS". And I was the guy like "everybody plays PRS" and I wanted to be that guy playing old beat up Fenders and stuff. But I gave it a shot and since then that guitar changed my life as a guitar player. I was hooked from there. In my opinion PRS are the best guitars, playing the same day in and day out. 

What about tuning?
Chris: Most of the time its C sharp or drop C but some of the songs on the record is drop B actually. 

What guitar players inspires you?
Chris: The 80s brought out some great guitar players, but Im not that found of that era except from Slash. I like the old Whitesnake guys and of course Doug Aldrich. But the top three today is Gary Clark Jr, Ian Thornley from Big Wreck and Joe Bonamassa. Myles Kennedy is another great guitar player. Those guys make me wanna be a better guitar player. 

Ben: My influences comes from Joe Perry, Jimi Hedrix, Brian Setzer and Scotty Moore. Amazing guitar players. 

You are both playing solos nowadays?
Ben: Yes but Chris still does the most of them. 

Chris: Yeah but we both love playing riffs and solos, I could never be in a punk band man. Playing E, A and D power chords all day, it gets boring. Our solos are longer on this album, it´s kind of boring to do chorus playing and we are always waiting for the bridge or the solos in our songs.

Thats how a guitar player works isn't it? Waiting for the singer to stop....
Chris: Yeah ha ha ha and that sucks for me cause I have to do the singing too right...

Ben: ha ha ha

Chris: But it is a good balance for me though, singing makes me appreciate playing guitar even more...

Thanks for hanging out with The Guitar Zombie, appreciate it.
Chris: Thanks man, it was fun talking guitar stuff...

Ben: Yeah and thank you for having us. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rig Rundown with Fredrik Åkesson Opeth

It's time for the first "Rig Rundown" as promised.  First up is Fredrik Åkesson, lead guitarist in the Swedish progressive metal band Opeth. The RR was recorded in Stockholm November 15, 2014 during soundcheck. Fredrik guides us through the rig he´s currently using, which is based on the PRS guitars and Marshall JVM 410HJS, an amplifier I will return to for a review later on.

Fredrik Åkesson is not only one of our most talented guitarist, he is also extremely careful about his tone. This becomes clear when you hear him play live. Every little detail is perfect and he knows his rig inside and out.

The actual rig is designed by Göran "LEO" Elmquist at Sound Of Silence in Stockholm. It is interesting to see how Frederik and Göran has created an advanced but controllable switching system for Frederik's very diverse playing and at the same time been able to secure tonality, ie the minimun loss of tone. The same challenges most guitarists face every day, mostly by long cables and signal chains that suck tone.

Those of you who knows your Opeth stuff may notice some new gadgets in the rig. In addition to the Marshall JVM Joe Satriani model there is a thing called Box of Doom and a Piezo system for acoustic sounds.

Follow Fredrik around his rig anno 2014 and enjoy some totally stunning solos recorded during soundcheck at Münchenbryggeriet 15/11 2014.

Enough said! Zombies....Please enjoy:

There will be more "Rig Rundowns" in the future and I will return as I said with a review of the Marshall JVM 410HJS, an amplifier that is not unimportant in this context. Not at all the same as the first JVM series, even if they look identical.

Thanks to Fredrik Åkesson and Darren Edwards for giving me the opportunity to do this "Rig Rundown".

Stay Zombied...

// The Guitar Zombie