Here I am in '72, only able to play some funky ninth chords, two or three blues licks, and completely clueless about tone. Before this I had an old 50 watt Marshall and Greenbacks, but the amp kept blowing up so I changed to Peavey. I was so clueless I didn't even know what I had. Anyway, I wrote this for the web site and hopefully it'll satisfy those of you who are curious about amps and recording, and maybe you'll learn something from my mistakes...

Previous records

I'll start with the first Tribal Tech album "Spears". Back then I was playing a basswood Charvel strat with Seymore Duncan double screw '59 humbucking pickups. Double screw pickups are smoother sounding than normal humbuckers, but they don't have much bass. I didn't care about that then but I do now, so I changed to the regular '59 after the Tribal Tech days. The amp was a Peavey Special 130 that I used as a preamp, with the power section of a Peavey 100 watt tube amp that I can't remember the name of. The mic was a Nuemann 87 and I was using EV speakers, which is why my tone was more midrangey back in those days than it is now. This was also my amp and mic setup on "Dr. Hee", but at the mixing session, Allan Holdsworth was kind enough to bring over some of his studio toys and give the guitar tracks some stereo imaging which helped a lot. The guitar on Dr. Hee was my first Ibanez, which was also basswood. My tone was kind of thin on these records but the transistor Special 130 probably wasn't the best choice for a preamp.

On "Nomad", I was using a Boogie Quad preamp that I modified a little with my very limited tech skills by changing the cap on the treble pot to voice the treble a little higher. The power amp was a Boogie 295. In the 80's I was using preamps and power amps instead of heads because back then everyone was playing in stereo on their gigs and lugging around lots of rack gear. I was young and my back was strong. My gear changed on the recording of "Tribal Tech" to a Boogie Studio preamp and a 395 power amp.

Then I switched to a Lee Jackson preamp that I used for the next three albums - "Illicit, Face First and Reality Check". My power amp for those records was a Boogie 290, and I switched to Celestion speakers. Also, those three records were done with my second Ibanez guitar which was alder instead of basswood. "Reality Check" was my first venture into home recording and is probably my worst tone to date. I was using a rather complicated system involving amp attenuation devices to lower the volume in the house and I learned an important lesson - don't do that. Volume is good.

"Dog Party" was done with a 35 watt Matchless amp, Celestion Vintage 30's, a Shure 57, and a Tube Screamer. The guitar was a re-issue '57 Strat with Lindy Fralin pickups. Since the guitar tracks were all done in the studio, I didn't get the chance to screw them up at home. I decided at this point that I really liked the good ol' Shure 57 and never went back to the Nuemann. On Tore Down House, I learned that the Matchless was great for that sparkley clean blues thing, but I needed a heavier, more gainy sound for the songs on this record so I bought an old 50 watt plexi Marshall that worked better with distortion pedals than the Matchless. The plexi was used for about half the album. For the rest of the album I used a Custom Audio 3+ preamp with the Boogie 290. I put John Suhr's pickups in my strat, which are warmer and a little darker than the Fralin's. The big mistake (again) on this record was made during overdubbing at home.... My wife wasn't too happy about my abandonment of the speaker attenuation gear but she put up with it, and I was thankful, knowing that really loud guitar in the house has probably been the cause of some divorces. Anyway, I thought I could put the extremely loud speaker cabinet in a small bedroom, but even though the mike was ultra close to the speaker, I learned that the sound of a bad recording room can really ruin the tone. The stuff I recorded at home sounds tanky compared to the studio tracks. Also, there are moments when I had the amp up too loud and those stupid Vintage 30's made their famous double-note sound. My engineering skills were..... well, the word crap comes to mind.

On "Thick", I was playing a Fender Strat that John Suhr made for me while he was working at the Fender custom shop. I finally got away from the preamp thing when Custom Audio made the OD-100 head, which I used for the whole record. I improved my home recording scene a lot by building a big box to put the speaker cabinet in. It was made of pressboard with a layer of cork inside and a layer of two-inch cotton. The box lowers the volume a lot, but it gives the tone it's own frequency that isn't completely natural sounding, though it's a fairly subtle thing that you wouldn't notice unless you were comparing it directly with the same cabinet miked up outside of the box. One cool thing about this idea was that I could take the box to the studio sessions with me, and when I wanted to keep my live tracks but fix parts of them at home, my tone stayed the same. If you're playing a loud cabinet and change rooms between sessions, you'll have a difficult if not impossible job of dialing up your original tone.

For "Rocket Science", I went back to Celestion 25 watt Greenbacks, which are the speakers I used when I was fifteen, and I should've stayed with them. The OD-100 got modded for this album by putting in a deep bass knob and was used for the whole record except for the cut "Econoline", which is a '64 Fender Bandmaster modified by Alexander Dumble. John Suhr was making his own guitars by now so I used them on this record, and that brings us up to date.

Oh, I forgot about the first VTT album... THAT's my worst tone ever! We recorded at Steve Smith's house and rather than try to rent a cabinet with 25's up in San Francisco, I brought a 4x10 cab with me, but this cab had a closed back! Yuck! Here I learned a huge lesson - Kendrick Blackframe speakers are great in open-back cabs but in a small closed-back cab they sound like pancakes! Also, the only place for the cabinet was in Steve's daughter's bedroom which was about 100 feet from the amp, so lots of tone was dropped off in the living room, kitchen, bathroom, etc. The second record was done in a real studio and the overall sound of the recording is much improved over the first one.

So that's it - best of luck to you all in the search for a great guitar sound.