guitar effects

The Marketing Myth of Carbon Composition Resistors in Guitar Effects Pedals

We have all seen the marketing. We all know the hype. What’s worse is that we should all know better.

I’m talking about the magic mojo of the carbon composition resistor. For years and years there has been a growing belief that the use of carbon comp resistors can somehow transform a lifeless, poor sounding circuit or effect into tone-breathing machine of which legends and tales will forever be told! There are many ways to go on from here. What I would like to do is cover two things; how or why this myth has taken root, and whether or not there is ANY truth or proof in it.

Before I go on, I should point out that I am speaking specifically of carbon comps being used in low power effects (under 30V or so). This pretty much includes everything on your pedalboard.

In order to truly understand this subject, we should uncover the roots of the belief. There are varying thoughts on this, but the one that makes the most sense to me is our obsession with the tones of the past. When researching guitar effects, how many times have we seen marketing lines like, ‘VINTAGE (insert trendy amp name here) tones!’ Better yet, which of us have not Googled the same things while trying to narrow our search for the next pedal that will make us sound more like SRV, David Gilmour, etc. ‘Forget practice,’ we think, ‘there must be a pedal for that.’                       *author’s note, build a pedal that actually DOES make you a better player.

Ok, back on topic. The point is that we often are in search of the gear that is going to make us sound like our heroes of old. Somewhere along the line, some genius actually thought, ‘Well, if everyone wants to buy gear that sounds old, why don’t I just build my new gear with the same parts as the old stuff?’ BOOM. The carbon comp resistor myth was birthed. Before we knew it we were bombarded with promises of NOS (new old stock) carbon comp resistors freeing us from our previously dull and boring tone, because obviously ‘they just don’t make them like they used to.’ And to be honest, it actually kind of makes logical sense, but does it make scientific sense? The answer is sort of yes and no.

So, we have uncovered a logical explanation to why and how the carbon comp craze was born, but the bigger, more important question is whether there is any truth in it, and if so how do we prove it? Much of what I cover in this next section will be referencing an article written by R.G. Keen. If you have read any of my previous posts you will probably recognize this name. I often reference his writing because he knows what he is talking about, much more than I. In his article here he talks about carbon comp resistors and there use in guitar amplifiers. After researching carbon comp manufacturer’s info there are a few things that pop up over and over.

1. Carbon comp resistors have excess noise (compared to metal film resistors)

2. Carbon comp resistors have a higher variability (a 100K CC resistor may actually measure anywhere from 90K to 100K)

3. Carbon comp resistors have high drift

So, I guess it is true, they don’t make them like they used to… they make them MUCH better than they used to.

All these shortcomings aside, however, there is one distinguishing characteristic that may just give this myth some legs. Carbon comp resistor have a high voltage coefficient of resistance. This basically means that the resistance of a carbon comp will actually vary depending on the amount of voltage applied to it! Because of this, a phenomenon called ‘resistor distortion’ can become present. This distortion is typically only in the 2nd harmonic and not enough to be HEARD as distortion, just enough to add a bit of love. And THIS, we love. So there you have it, proof that carbon comp resistors sound better than metal film!

#holdupwaitaminute

Not so fast. As we look closer at this resistor distortion we find that it is only produced when two variables exist.

1) there must be a high voltage applied, around 100V and higher

2) there must be a large signal swings across the resistor

So I ask you, does this sound like the parameters that your 9V powered Tube Screamer functions within? No, not at all. And oh, how the plot thickens! Essentially what has happened is we have let our love for the days (and tones) of old, coupled with a half-baked-half-truth steer us into believing these pedal builders when they claim that what REALLY sets them apart is their use of NOS carbon comp resistors. What I wonder is whether they actually know that it is false marketing. Unfortunately, there will always be the man with the Golden Ears claiming that he can hear the difference, leading the masses like the Pied Piper of tone and thus reinforcing this marketing myth.

For more in depth info, I encourage you to read the full article by Mr. Keen.

Sticky
May 01, 2015
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Annoucing the first Mercy Seat Effects endorsed artist! Chris Wrate!

I am more than excited to announce that the first Mercy Seat Effects endorsed artist is Chris Wrate. Chris is the musical chris wrate 2director/guitarist for Ariana Grande. He’s also involved in {l.a.}god Music, a conglomeration of L.A. based studio and touring musicians and writers from the secular industry all uniting for a new worship project. We were able to steal a few moments from Chris’s busy day to ask him a few questions about his life, gear and his outlook on pointy guitars. Check out the interview below!

MSE: “First things first, how many points on a guitar is too many?”

Chris: “Haha… no more than 2.”

MSE: “Fair enough. I know I liked you for a reason. I’d ask if that includes the headstock, but that would be quite the digression. Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today.”

Chris: “I moved from Wisconsin to Los Angeles in 2008 to attend a school called Musicians Institute. The school is unique in that it brings a lot of opportunity to the students to find work whether through auditions for touring acts, song placements or other opportunities that most schools don’t present. While attending MI I met someone who works in musician referrals, assembling auditions for artists who are looking to put together a band for touring. He held an audition at the school for the Offspring that I tried out for and that led to me getting called for other auditions that would eventually lead to some of my first gigs after graduating.”

MSE: “Cool! I remember listening to the Offspring as a 12 year old in my first ever limo ride. We did what any other 12 year olds would do… went through the McDonald’s drive thru. Anyway, so that must be how you got your current gig? Tell us a little bit about that.”

Chris: “My main gig right now is serving as the Musical Director/Guitarist for Ariana Grande. When I’m not out on the road I would say the typical day for me would consist of morning coffee, devotionals, a few hours on the guitar, spicy food and a glass of Jack Daniels to cap off the day. As long as those few things happen everything else is an added bonus.”

MSE: “Coffee, devotionals, guitar, spicy food and Jack Daniels. I think you just summed up exactly what it is to be a man. So how long have you been with Ariana?”

Chris: “6 months.”

MSE: “Great! Sounds like it’s going well. And are you involved with writing with her at all?”

Chris: “I am not. She has a specific group of writers and producers that she’s been working with long before the band was brought in so…”

MSE: “Gotcha. Switching gears here, I’m sure you get asked about your gear all the time but I’m less interested in what you currently play. (that info can be seen here) I love to know where people have come from. What was the first guitar you owned?”

Chris: “Some jacked up, entry level, used Ibanez I found at a local shop for 70 bucks. I covered it with Jimi, Phish and Blink 182 stickers. I’m not sure why.”

MSE: “Maybe to cover up the points? Haha, just kidding. We’ve all been guilty of the Spencer’s Gifts mass sticker purchase. At least you didn’t put them on your car. So that may be a piece of gear you don’t mind forgetting about, but what is the one piece of gear you no longer own and you are now kicking yourself for getting rid of?”

Chris: “I had a 65 Twin Reverb I sold for a delay pedal. Kind of wishing I didn’t do that.”

MSE: “Wow! That must have been some kind of delay pedal!”

Chris: “Haha yes. It was the Eventide TimeFactor. This was pre Stymon TimeLine era so for me it was the must have delay at the time. I think I also bought a chorus pedal too with the money but still a regrettable decision nonetheless.”

MSE: “Believe me, we’ve all been there. I sold a ’73 Walnut Telecaster Deluxe about 6 years ago. I’ll never forgive myself. BUT! Gear does not make us a better player, so there’s that. Speaking of becoming a better player, what types of things do you do to keep progressing?”

chris wrateChris: “Listen. There’s so much to draw from out there. I think the worst thing a guitar player or musician can do is segregate certain styles of artists from what they have deemed respectable or likable. You don’t have to be a fan of every artist/musician out there but you can respect what it is about a particular person that has made them successful. In doing so you might find areas that another person is stronger in than you and it can develop a desire in you to cultivate those skills and make you a better all around player.”

MSE: “Great advice! So do you ever feel as though you are plateauing?”

Chris: “I’ve never felt close to peaking. I have always found the guitar to be infinite. There’s always some area you can develop or the “perfect tone” that we’re always trying to achieve.”

MSE: “Ahh yes. The “perfect tone.” Infamous, mysterious and oh-so just barely out of reach. Ok, last question. What is the one thing you can’t live without on the road?”

Chris: “My Bible.”

MSE: “Thank you so much for your time Chris and welcome to the Mercy Seat Effects family! We’re excited to have you and honored to work together.”

Chris: “Thank you!”

Be sure to follow @chriswrate on Instagram and Twitter! And if you’re extra adventurous, be one of the 12 Million+ followers of @ArianaGrande.

Check out @LAGodMusic and their new upcoming EP slated for release 2/12/14

www.chriswrate.com

 

Sticky
Jan 10, 2014
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Why Are Hand built, Handmade, Boutique and Non-Production Line Guitar Effects Pedals So Expensive?

ToL eagle layoutI’ve heard this question discussed quite extensively and read LOOOOONG discussions on this topic on numerous gear forums. The questions usually starts out with someone pointing out that guitar pedals only have “… like $10 worth of parts in them. Why do builders charge in the hundreds for them?” So, if you’ve found yourself wondering why hand built and handmade pedals cost so much here are a few reasons!

*Note, I used the term “boutique” in the title of the article. I am increasingly getting more and more fed up with this term. I have used it, incorrectly I might add, at times but I think it’s high time we put it to bed. I simply used it in the title to grab attention of those searching for info on the topic.

Cost of Parts

Let’s start with the “$10 worth of parts” statement. Umm, no. The enclosure alone, especially if it is powder-coated, will cost more than $10 from most manufacturers. You can get Hammond clones, as most builders do, that are built just as well and cost a couple dollars less but as soon as you add the cost of powder-coating you are north of $10. Next, if you want a true-bypass pedal the switch will run anywhere from $3 for a Taiwan made part to $8 for an ROHS compliant Carling brand switch. Sure, there are some junky switches out there, but I have never encountered a Carling switch that outperformed the less expensive generic switches. Some may disagree, but you’re basically paying for the name. Open up nearly any “boutique” pedal and you’ll most likely find the “classic blue” switch. Affordable, durable and long lasting. Next you have your input and output jack(s). I always use Switchcraft jacks. It’s simply a personal preference. Neutrik jacks are also pretty good, but I find that Switchcrafts are easier to solder and work with. This is where builders should not cut corners. There are plenty of crappy, cheap, low quality jacks out there. Don’t use them. Switchcraft jacks run about $2 a pieces. Are you keeping up with your math? Now add all the insides, PC board, DC jack, wiring, capacitors, resistors, op-amps, transistors… You’ll quickly find that, depending on brands used, the “guts” will run anywhere from $10 for a circuit with minimal parts to more than $70 for circuits with multiple op-amps or expensive NOS Germanium clipping diodes.

Time

So far we’ve looked at the cost of the actual parts. Now add in the time involved with not only building the guitar pedal but prototyping and breadboarding new circuit ideas, testing and improving designs of PC boards and designing the graphics and physical payout of the pedal. Some builders have been known to spend MONTHS crafting and perfecting a design. Even a conservative $10/hr pay shows us the time and work involved with this market.

After doing the math it’s pretty easy to see why a hand built pedal from a smaller guitar effects company can cost anywhere from $150 to $400! Are some of them overpriced? Of course! But that’s the nature of supply and demand. In the end, a product is worth what people are willing to pay. Is an original Klon worth more than twice what it would cost to clone one? Of course it is as long as there are people out there willing to spend over $600 for one. Does that mean it is any better than the others? Purely electronically speaking, no, but the crazy (and awesome) thing about guitar gear is that the beauty is always in the ear of the beholder. Some will swear that there is something absolutely magical about *insert trendy/vintage/boutique pedal here.* Who am I, or you or anyone else for that matter to tell them what they hear is wrong or just a marketing ploy? However, check out this somewhat hilarious video from Brett Kingman comparing the Klon Centaur to the Digitech Bad Monkey. Sure they don’t sound exactly the same, but compare the $30 Bad Monkey to the $600 Klon and you start to get my point 🙂

Long story short: let your ears make your decisions; don’t buy into hype; have an understanding of why certain pedals cost more than others; and finally understand what you like and be prepared to talk about why you like it!

Sticky
Jun 27, 2013
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Guitar Gear Companies You Can’t Afford Not to Know

As you might imagine, I spend quite a bit of time looking at gear, reading about gear and trying to educate myself as much as I can. I have dreams of one day owning a boutique/vintage guitar shop. Nothing fancy, just something kind of small with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and guitar gear ALL OVER THE PLACE! In doing this research I have found quite a few guitar gear companies who not only exemplify excellent building technique but also an attention to their customers through social media interaction and the like. I thought it would be fun to point a few out and say, “Hey guys, keep it up.”

You might think I’m crazy for pointing you in the direction of other builders, but they way I see it, we’re all in this together. My builds offer something different, just like these builders offer something special. Just find what’s right for you. If it’s a Mercy Seat Effects pedal, great, if it’s something else, awesome.

Salvage Custom is a VERY new company, maybe not quite as new as Mercy Seat Effects, but under a year old. If you are a fan of Gungor, it’s important to note that Salvage Custom recently built a custom pedal board for Michael Gungor and the new tour! Specializing in hardwood pedal boards that are built into suitcases, Salvage Custom does amazing work for a great price. Each board is built to order, allowing you to choose the grain, stain and finish. Check out their site for prices. I especially like the tweed boards. Very vintage and very cool.

Gungor Board Overview from Salvage Custom on Vimeo.

Emerson Custom Guitars is another fairly new company. Emerson Custom initially started making prewired control assemblies with vintage specs for guitars that were essentially drop in replacements for the factory pieces. Using NOS PIO (paper in oil) capacitors and other high quality parts, Emerson quickly built a name for themselves and have since moved on into building guitars and pedals! Leaves one to wonder, is there anything that Emerson Custom Guitars can’t do?!? The arrival of the Em-Drive has players tripping over themselves to get that awesome transparent overdrive tone. It’s not a gain monster, but it IS a tone monster. I give credit where credit is due, and the EM-Drive is one amazing sounding pedal.

 

KLH Custom Guitars is a builder located in Noblesville Indiana, a somewhat sleepy little town just north of Indianapolis. Kevin Heffernan is the owner and lone builder. He likes to play things tight to his chest, doing all the building and promoting on his own. He’s a GREAT guy, and I had the pleasure of meeting him for an interview and hanging out with him at his shop for an afternoon. Oh, and by the way, he builds the most dead-on relics you’ll ever lay eyes on. Other relic builders, like Nash guitars, simply take factory replacement parts, put them together, give them a relic paint job and old looking hardware and sell them for more than $2000. Kevin builds each piece, neck and body, in his shop. He ages the parts himself. Every single piece is completely customized, and all for the same price as a Nash “Parts-Caster.” And did I mention that he features Porter Pickups in his builds? When you add that to the fact that he’s the kind of guy you WANT to support, choosing between a KLH and any other relic build is a no-brainer.

KLH Custom Guitar

Lady Luck, by KLH Custom Guitars

Ty Cobb

 

Sticky
Oct 18, 2012
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How Effective Are Guitar Gear Video Demos?

Today I’d like to talk about something a bit more subjective and less complex. I was pondering this simple question today while I was planning the video for a new, to be named, one knob fuzz I’ve been working on. It’s a simple design, just a volume control but sounds pretty unique and awesome. Anyway, I digress.

The question I was pondering was just how effective are guitar gear video demos? I, like many players out there, can spend hours scouring YouTube on Gearmanndude‘s channel, or Proguitarshop.com‘s site checking out effects pedals, amps and guitars. One reason I LOVE to watch Gearmanndude videos is because they are very “true.” He isn’t trying to sell these pedals, he is simply showing what they sound like. That little fact right there means that he often uses similar gear in his reviews, a Maz Jr. by Dr. Z Amplifiers, a King Bee Telecaster and a “white, coily cable of love” from Bullet Cables. All great gear, but keeping it similar gives the watcher a better sense of how different pedals react in the same setup. Sure, he’ll throw in an SG or Les Paul every once in a while and sometimes a Jaguar Amplifier, but he keeps it consistent.

One of my biggest hangups with demo videos is that they depend SO much on the gear being used. The old saying “A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link,” is extremely relevant when speaking of guitar gear. Sometimes I’ll watch a video (usually by the manufacturer of said product being demoed) and you can just tell it’s been recorded in a professional studio, pushed through an Avalon tube preamp and then mastered to perfection. None of that is bad in any way, but it kind of defeats the purpose. How many of us have that gear? Most of us can’t even justify spending $2000 on a nice tube amp let alone dropping that cash on offboard recording gear.

The question I often ask myself is this; what does my ear hear? It’s similar to seeing a band play live. Do you really want to hear a band play live that sounds EXACTLY like the album? Probably not, and plus live music just doesn’t sound the same… it’s live!

The reason I say all this is because I want everyone to know that when I do demo videos I don’t do anything special. I record with an iPhone camera, and in most cases I don’t even mic the amp separately. What is going into the iPhone camera is what goes into the video. I play (usually) on a Mexican made Stratocaster from the 90’s with Kinman noiseless pickups through an Orange Tiny Terror into a Trutone 2×12 cab with Warehouse speakers (a Celestion vintage 30 clone and a Celestion Greenback clone). My guitar and amp rig all together comes in under $1500. I want the work of the effect pedal that I’m demoing to be the focus.

With so many different rigs out there I feel like the simpler setup in the demo gives the watcher the best idea of what their ear will actually hear. The last thing I want is to misrepresent a pedal. That said, the more rigs you can hear a specific pedal played through the better idea you’ll get of it’s versatility. So if you ever get the itch, throw together a demo of a pedal! If you do a Mercy Seat Effects demo let me know! Curtis Kent did this demo of the Mercy Seat Effects Liquid Reverb and it’s killer! I’ll put it up on the site and give credit to you and a link to wherever you posted it.

So I guess to answer my own question, yes, demo videos can be helpful, just be mindful of all the pieces that go into a specific demo and realize that the same pedal may very well sound totally different through your personal rig.

Ty Cobb

Sticky
Sep 20, 2012
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