News

GAD on photos and such.  

 It was a nice weekend for the Essex Lights crew. We had a gig at Rusty's surf ranch in Santa Monica on Friday and then a photo shoot in Hollywood on Saturday. I had to wait tables somewhere in the middle there too...which was not as cool as a gig or photo shoot...but kinda had to be done. Anyway I thought we played pretty well but I don't think the tall ceilings of the bar suited a loud raucous band like us. So, the sound was a wee bit deafening-but as always it felt good to strap on the Les Paul and wail. The weekend before we played an acoustic show which also went really well...we probably should have stuck to the acoustics at Rusty's but like I said...it just feels so good to get the electric juices flowing!!

So after putting on my waiter hat all day long I rushed home after picking up a foot long big hot pastrami melt from subway(which was pretty awesome). I then got together some clothes and guitars and other things that may or may not have been needed at a photo shoot and headed to Micheal's house to meet up with the mike and Ben. Ben is a hair stylist so he gave me a trim and fixed up Mike's hair. Which I gotta say...getting a hair cut on a balcony overlooking Hollywood while drinking a bud is definitely the way to get a haircut! Of course having the barber drink too got a little nervous...I think I've seen some casualties of drinking and hair cutting! But not to fear with Benzo...when done he said it looked a little more “Mitch Mitchell” which was fine with me...although I was going for more of a Jimi Hendrix.

We loaded a few guitars and our changes of clothes into my car, put on the new black keys album and headed around the corner to this photo studio...or really a large studio apartment that was set up with a back drop, lighting and computer screens to show images. Quite the professional set up if you ask me. We started out sitting on these boxes under the lights...the photo man Myles told us just to act kinda natural...i think we started just talking about Ben's tattoos which gives us a lot to talk about and can cover quite a bit of time. Also the handle of Jack Daniel's probably didn't hurt in getting us to jabber amongst one another. After a bit of time doing that we got our guitars and started running through songs and singing and playing-the whole time Myles was there...

ps...i think there are some uncanny parallels between Ben fixing my hair and the pic of Jimi doing Mitch's...that's my opinion anyway...

"The Great Kerrang" - Heart of a "Champ"-ion - Part 2  

The second portion of Michael's piece about making a bad-ass little guitar amp.  PART I reposed below...

This is “gear piece” - be forewarned - I have no doubts some might find this type of writing profoundly boring; but I, like many musicians, am fascinated by the tools that allow us to do our work.  Music equipment, or “gear”, is my one great vice.  While I’m the type of fellow who eschews fancy clothes and is happy to bang away on a battered, out-of-date laptop; from the day I got my first guitar, I became yet another (in the words of EVH) “tone-chaser”.  Having played the instrument (albeit only semi-competently) for almost 20 years I’ll be the first to admit that great equipment doesn’t make a great player.  That said, I get a huge kick out of actualizing the sounds that are in my head.  

That thrill makes me want to play more, and play better.  Still, I, like many musicians, don’t have much money so the offerings in the guitar-porn magazines are often out of my league. 

This piece is a document of just another of my endeavor to chase “the kick” - but on a budget.  In this day in age every penny counts, and we can’t all afford to spend 1200 bucks for a small amplifier.  For guitarists, I hope it might be helpful for achieving one’s own tonal bliss - and to those who don’t play, maybe it will be a glimpse into the way that we think.  The mythical allure of the electric guitar is very much “for real”; and its history and traditional connection to sound is an enormous part what motivates me to do what I do for a career.  Every time I time I fire up with the Essex Lights, that first “kerrang” from my electric guitar is every bit the gut-punching thrill that our collective psyche imagines rock & roll to be.  

This meandering bit, mercifully divided into three parts, is just one account of my many adventures in pursuit of “The Great Kerrang”.   

Love,

-MCB


PART II

So back to the build.

There are LOADS of kits available for the 5F1 Champ available on the internet, ranging from obscenely (and unrealistically) cheap to the absurdly expensive.  The thing about anything in a guitar signal chain is that component quality matters.  High dollar, however, doesn’t mean high quality.  One can walk into any guitar shop and purchase a big fancy piece of shit if they don’t know what they’re doing.  My instruments are tools - I don’t care much how they look - I care how they work.  A champ uses two transformers,  about 4 capacitors and a dozen or so resistors - this is NOTHING - relatively speaking, to something like the Mesa.  With that said, I think logic would dictate that the quality of the parts that ARE there really matters.  

With that in mind, I sourced my amp from the good folks at Triode Electronics.  For about 180 bucks I purchased a nice, prefabricated turret board, and all of the the amp’s components (Mallory caps, carbon comp resistors, switchcraft jacks, etc. if you’re keeping score) as well as a pair of really nice, USA made transformers.  (For the champ, the trannies really matter - I won’t get into it here, but if you’re curious, the topic is discussed ad nauseum all over the internet.  It goes back to the whole “there ain’t much there, so make sure what’s there is good” thing.).  I also sprung for a pre-tooled chassis for the build - very reasonable at 30 bucks.  I HATE tooling metal.  I work off of my coffee table, without a proper workshop, so 30 dollars is well worth it to me to avoid lodging dozens of steel splinters in my hands and scaring the shit out of my dog.  I suggest you do the same.  

Along with this kit, to get the amp in working order, one needs tubes (ordinarily a 5y3GT for the rectifier, a 12ax7 for the preamp stage, and a 6v6 for the power amp - though loads of experimentation can be done with others), and some manner of speaker/enclosure.  I built mine using an old Vox 1x12 as a test-cab, but have since picked up a baltic birch enclosure with an 8” speaker - to complete the “classic” configuration for the Champ.  

I received the kit about 3 days after placing my order.  And the first thing I noticed was the instructions, or rather, lack-there.  I cursed & panicked, but than I sat down to inspect the one-page schematic included with the amp and came to realized that it was more than sufficient to get me through the build - the amp is THAT simple.  I’m no Nicola Tesla, but I was easily able to navigate the diagram.  I’m in no way affiliated with Triode, but my suspicion is that that kit’s lack of detailed instruction, like many of the similar DIY products on the internet, was intended not out of laziness, but rather to encourage the builder to learn what the hell they’re doing and why.  I know I’m venturing soundly into “nerd” territory here, but I’m honestly glad that was the case.  Like Neo in “The Matrix”, after having spent hours pouring over that one page, things began to make sense to me - like, “oh, this is part of the rectifier circuit & that’s why it’s here, etc...”.  I definitively prefer this approach to the new-school, “connect wire a to lug b” approach.  Sure, your amp might work just fine, but you’ve learned nothing...

Man, I've turned into a cranky old bastard...

Anywhoo... 

From my prior wiring, EFX experience, wiring the turret board was a cinch.  If you’ve ever done any sort of PCB work, point-to-point wiring will be a welcome experience - the work actually looks like the fucking diagram!  What a revelation!  Also, the turrets in my kit were nice and sturdy, much easier to solder than PCB

*NB - if you’re reading this with the intention of making an amp of your own.  Yes, soldering is a necessary skill.  Soldering well is hard.  Soldering adequately for this purpose isn’t.  Don’t be deterred.  Get a good iron in the 30 watt range and remember to  flow the solder onto the component leads, not the iron.  It’s not rocket science.  

i chose old-school, cloth push-back wire for my build (triode also offers teflon) and I had the board and it’s appropriate wire leads put together in about two hours.  Following the circuit board assembly, I mounted the tube sockets and transformers to the chassis (this assembly could have been made easier with more detailed instructions - wiring makes sense to me, but my eyesight sucks and figuring out which nut/bolt went where drove me nearly to madness.  The next night, I mounted the board in the chassis - the kit had mounts included, but they either didn’t line up or I put the wrong bits in the wrong spots.  Fortunately, I had a few nylon standoffs from making Grady’s phase pedal that suited just fine to hold the board.  I clipped up the transformer leads and soldered the wiring to the tube sockets, in/out jacks, volume potentiometer/switch, pilot lamp & fuse holder.  The specifics of the transformer wiring WERE very clearly laid out on the triode schematic.  I ran a few tests with my DMM to confirm my joints were in the right place and went to bed...  

(a great explanation of digital multimeter testing for a guitar amp can be found here - the specific amp mentioned here is not a Champ, however the basic principals remain the same.  Follow the schematic for the appropriate testing points.  Procedure for testing electrical grounds, should however, be universal - regardless of amp model)


TO BE CONTINUED

(PART 1 REPOST)

PART I

Those familiar with either myself or my band know I’m an inveterate tinkerer - excluding Ella Mae, the guitars I play in the Essex Lights are largely home-built affairs.  I’ve also subjected poor Grady to being the guinea pig for a number of stomp boxes I’ve cobbled together.  I take a great deal of pride in using my hands to make the tools that we use as a band to make our apocalyptic racket, but until recently, the one thing I’d neglected to tackle in the guitar signal chain was the amplifier.  Do a web search on “building tube amps” and you’ll see why - every single article begins with something along the lines of “WARNING: dangerous voltages present!  if you fuck this up you will die!”.   Well, as a fellow who enjoys his life, this was kind of a deterrent.  But, like many things, eventually my curiosity got the best of me... 

The amp I play in the Essex Lights, a Mesa Boogie RA-100, is undoubtedly the crown jewel in my gear-nerd collection.  To those to those unfamiliar with the Royal Atlantic; It’s a ferocious beast of an amplifier - 100 watts switchable to 50 (thank god), that I’m running with good old Brit-style EL-34 valves. It’s got every bell & whistle I could ask for in an amp & the super-elegant power  attenuators rule.  Yeah, nothing beats running an amp “open”, but sometimes you don’t want to sonically skull-fuck your audience to get the tone you want. 

The RA can do the Fender clean thing (spring reverb onboard, as well as a switchable bias to 6L6 tubes if you want to get really nerdy), and REALLY slays when purposed for what I principally use it for - good old fashioned Marshall style crunch (think a plexi with usable volume levels; great “sag” and midrange punch).  This kind of versatility, as the guitar players out there know, often comes at a compromise.  An amp that does many things rarely does any “one thing” well, and while the Mesa doesn’t do “everything” per-se, having bought the amp after tracking my album, I was delighted to find it could nail the majority of the tones from the record with great success. 

In short, it’s exactly what a top-end amp from a top-end manufacturer like Mesa should be.  

The only “problem” of an amp like this; is that in a DIY context, I don’t just “build for the sake of building”.  I want to make stuff I’m going to use.  I started making guitars because I was dissatisfied by the offerings out there that I could afford.  For example, excluding my darling “Ella Mae” - a genuine Fender - I’ve found that the guitars I make myself often just suit my needs better and cost less money.  Same with the effects boxes - I will stack my NOS germanium-transistor fuzz against any vintage “Face” effect that cost 20x what I paid for the nearly identical parts in mine.  That said, while any idiot can cobble together a strat with enough time and patience; “cloning” a Mesa is a hell-fuck of an endeavor.  It’s a complicated and sophisticated amp designed by the very best engineers in the business.  It’s a fool’s errand.

So, for months I’d peruse the amp kit offerings on the web.  Some were too expensive, some were needlessly complicated, and others yielded a sub-par final product.  Accordingly, I happily played on with my Mesa.  

Recently, however, I saw a great piece from Fender about the manufacturing of their new Eric Clapton signature amps.  Like most of Clapton’s signature stuff, they sounded great.  More impressively, they were built in the USA by genuine artisans. Unfortunately the cheapest model, a 5 watt “champ” costs 1200 dollars - the “high end” goes for almost 3 grand.  I’ve got a high-output “main” amp, and have long dug on low-wattage pieces for studio uses; but after hearing that Clapton cut “Layla” with a little “Champ” similar to the base offering in his signature line, my gears started turning.  In the video, I saw the guts of amps that were lovingly, and expertly constructed, but were still very much simple circuits.  I thought, “Wow, that’s the kind of thing that’s easy to love”, I thought, “there’s something to be said for a very simple little “bedroom” amp that sounds great and is about the size of a 12-pack as I very much enjoy beer”.  

The genius of Leo Fender’s design in the old champs is in their simplicity.  Until recently, the modern small amp was usually a horrid solid state affair with useless bells and whistles like onboard flangers or chintzy sounding artist-presents.  The champ is exactly the opposite.  It has NO features - one volume know, no tone control, hell, not even an “on” switch - all it does is amplify the guitar, and it does that BEAUTIFULLY.  (The circuit board itself is even geometrically attractive). Clapton didn’t track “Layla” with one because he couldn’t get his hands on anything else - he was already a wealthy artist - he used one because he chose to.  

This is because the elegance of the champ’s circuit, along with the ability to pound the hell out of it, volume-wise, without blowing up speakers makes for a great fucking blues tone.  Playing one is a very naked experience in the studio (nothing to hide behind / nothing to obscure the sonic intricacies); and that simplicity encourages the guitar player to work in a way that’s truly special.  A musician truly plays the champ like an extension of his guitar (or harmonica, or vocal mic, or whatever for that matter - plenty more on the amp’s versatility can be found elsewhere).  

Basically, I finally appreciated what a perfect project the Champ made for a first-amp build.  Sure, it wouldn’t replace the Mesa on stage, but it would certainly be something I could use.  One of the best things about playing guitar is to lose time strumming away on the couch, playing with ideas.  The champ would be my “couch-amp”, so I decided....


"The Great Kerrang" - Heart of a "Champ"-ion - Part1 

The Great Kerrang

(Chapter 1 - Heart of a “Champ”-ion)

note from Michael:

This is “gear piece” - be forewarned - I have no doubts some might find this type of writing profoundly boring; but I, like many musicians, am fascinated by the tools that allow us to do our work.  Music equipment, or “gear”, is my one great vice.  While I’m the type of fellow who eschews fancy clothes and is happy to bang away on a battered, out-of-date laptop; from the day I got my first guitar, I became yet another (in the words of EVH) “tone-chaser”.  Having played the instrument (albeit only semi-competently) for almost 20 years I’ll be the first to admit that great equipment doesn’t make a great player.  That said, I get a huge kick out of actualizing the sounds that are in my head.  

That thrill makes me want to play more, and play better.  Still, I, like many musicians, don’t have much money so the offerings in the guitar-porn magazines are often out of my league. 

This piece is a document of just another of my endeavor to chase “the kick” - but on a budget.  In this day in age every penny counts, and we can’t all afford to spend 1200 bucks for a small amplifier.  For guitarists, I hope it might be helpful for achieving one’s own tonal bliss - and to those who don’t play, maybe it will be a glimpse into the way that we think.  The mythical allure of the electric guitar is very much “for real”; and its history and traditional connection to sound is an enormous part what motivates me to do what I do for a career.  Every time I time I fire up with the Essex Lights, that first “kerrang” from my electric guitar is every bit the gut-punching thrill that our collective psyche imagines rock & roll to be.  

This meandering bit, mercifully divided into three parts, is just one account of my many adventures in pursuit of “The Great Kerrang”.   

Love,

-MCB

PART I

Those familiar with either myself or my band know I’m an inveterate tinkerer - excluding Ella Mae, the guitars I play in the Essex Lights are largely home-built affairs.  I’ve also subjected poor Grady to being the guinea pig for a number of stomp boxes I’ve cobbled together.  I take a great deal of pride in using my hands to make the tools that we use as a band to make our apocalyptic racket, but until recently, the one thing I’d neglected to tackle in the guitar signal chain was the amplifier.  Do a web search on “building tube amps” and you’ll see why - every single article begins with something along the lines of “WARNING: dangerous voltages present!  if you fuck this up you will die!”.   Well, as a fellow who enjoys his life, this was kind of a deterrent.  But, like many things, eventually my curiosity got the best of me... 

The amp I play in the Essex Lights, a Mesa Boogie RA-100, is undoubtedly the crown jewel in my gear-nerd collection.  To those to those unfamiliar with the Royal Atlantic; It’s a ferocious beast of an amplifier - 100 watts switchable to 50 (thank god), that I’m running with good old Brit-style EL-34 valves. It’s got every bell & whistle I could ask for in an amp & the super-elegant power  attenuators rule.  Yeah, nothing beats running an amp “open”, but sometimes you don’t want to sonically skull-fuck your audience to get the tone you want. 

The RA can do the Fender clean thing (spring reverb onboard, as well as a switchable bias to 6L6 tubes if you want to get really nerdy), and REALLY slays when purposed for what I principally use it for - good old fashioned Marshall style crunch (think a plexi with usable volume levels; great “sag” and midrange punch).  This kind of versatility, as the guitar players out there know, often comes at a compromise.  An amp that does many things rarely does any “one thing” well, and while the Mesa doesn’t do “everything” per-se, having bought the amp after tracking my album, I was delighted to find it could nail the majority of the tones from the record with great success. 

In short, it’s exactly what a top-end amp from a top-end manufacturer like Mesa should be.  

The only “problem” of an amp like this; is that in a DIY context, I don’t just “build for the sake of building”.  I want to make stuff I’m going to use.  I started making guitars because I was dissatisfied by the offerings out there that I could afford.  For example, excluding my darling “Ella Mae” - a genuine Fender - I’ve found that the guitars I make myself often just suit my needs better and cost less money.  Same with the effects boxes - I will stack my NOS germanium-transistor fuzz against any vintage “Face” effect that cost 20x what I paid for the nearly identical parts in mine.  That said, while any idiot can cobble together a strat with enough time and patience; “cloning” a Mesa is a hell-fuck of an endeavor.  It’s a complicated and sophisticated amp designed by the very best engineers in the business.  It’s a fool’s errand.

So, for months I’d peruse the amp kit offerings on the web.  Some were too expensive, some were needlessly complicated, and others yielded a sub-par final product.  Accordingly, I happily played on with my Mesa.  

Recently, however, I saw a great piece from Fender about the manufacturing of their new Eric Clapton signature amps.  Like most of Clapton’s signature stuff, they sounded great.  More impressively, they were built in the USA by genuine artisans. Unfortunately the cheapest model, a 5 watt “champ” costs 1200 dollars - the “high end” goes for almost 3 grand.  I’ve got a high-output “main” amp, and have long dug on low-wattage pieces for studio uses; but after hearing that Clapton cut “Layla” with a little “Champ” similar to the base offering in his signature line, my gears started turning.  In the video, I saw the guts of amps that were lovingly, and expertly constructed, but were still very much simple circuits.  I thought, “Wow, that’s the kind of thing that’s easy to love”, I thought, “there’s something to be said for a very simple little “bedroom” amp that sounds great and is about the size of a 12-pack as I very much enjoy beer”.  

The genius of Leo Fender’s design in the old champs is in their simplicity.  Until recently, the modern small amp was usually a horrid solid state affair with useless bells and whistles like onboard flangers or chintzy sounding artist-presents.  The champ is exactly the opposite.  It has NO features - one volume know, no tone control, hell, not even an “on” switch - all it does is amplify the guitar, and it does that BEAUTIFULLY.  (The circuit board itself is even geometrically attractive). Clapton didn’t track “Layla” with one because he couldn’t get his hands on anything else - he was already a wealthy artist - he used one because he chose to.  

This is because the elegance of the champ’s circuit, along with the ability to pound the hell out of it, volume-wise, without blowing up speakers makes for a great fucking blues tone.  Playing one is a very naked experience in the studio (nothing to hide behind / nothing to obscure the sonic intricacies); and that simplicity encourages the guitar player to work in a way that’s truly special.  A musician truly plays the champ like an extension of his guitar (or harmonica, or vocal mic, or whatever for that matter - plenty more on the amp’s versatility can be found elsewhere).  

Basically, I finally appreciated what a perfect project the Champ made for a first-amp build.  Sure, it wouldn’t replace the Mesa on stage, but it would certainly be something I could use.  One of the best things about playing guitar is to lose time strumming away on the couch, playing with ideas.  The champ would be my “couch-amp”, so I decided....

TO BE CONTINUED....


 

A dispatch from Grady Axton Davis 

 (A little history on the Essex Lights via a post from Grady on his personal blog...)

well hello there! i again haven't been good about keeping up with this thing but i think i'll be better going from here. also sorry about the tester posts...we were trying to get my blog linked up to the essex lights website, which is a new group i'm in. pretty excited about that. the essex lights was started by a guy named michael brawer from essex county new jersey. he works in la now, you can read more about him on the official essex lights website essexlights.com where he also has a blog. i met brower at one of the very first coffee shop places i played here in santa monica...he played first that night and talked about a record he was working on...i remember him playing a song about postcards from rio, which i thought was a pretty interesting song...anyway, we met that night and exchanged cds and talked a while, as any good musicians trying to make good contacts would. we happen to stay in touch for one reason or another- i went to his house one time to borrow an audio recorder to record my first full set here in la. of course as things go i didn't hit record properly before i played, which is typical but also makes me mad because i think i did a pretty good version of "strawberry fields forever"...i think it was john lennon's birthday that day. anyway...a few months had passed and we ended up on the same bill again at a coffee shop...this is actually the night the alice cooper guy busted his guitar 15 seconds into his first song-i believe i have a blog about that so you should go back and read some more about that. so a little while after that michael sent me an email about needing a guitar player to join his band to hit the road on the east coast, promote the album, tour etc...So!!! i'm in this new band now and am really excited! i will be needing to update this thing a little more often so get ready for that! along with mike brawer and myself we have a really cool drummer in ben nelson or benzo...'cause he kinda plays like bonzo bonham of the great led zeppelin. and last but not least is diedrich the bassist...he's the newest so he still has some hazing to go through. i'm still playing shows on my own but this has quickly become a priority. it's nice to be in a band of dudes as opposed to the lonely road of being a solo guy. we have played our first show, got a permanent rehearsal space, cds came in last night, press kits going out soon, t-shirts in...we will, we will...rock you! i believe we even have a photo shoot coming up soon-so maybe that'll be something good to tell ya bout soon! until then...check out the essex lights!!!

New Shirts - Coming Soon!! 

Hey all, while we're in the midst of reconfiguring our online merch shop, we've just placed the order for some new t-shirts (designed by the amazing Rob Helmstetter of Foundations Design).  We think they look fantastic and will be available soon, both on the website and at shows.  Sign up for our mailing list in the meantime so that we can be sure to let you know as soon as they go up for sale.  (click on the shirts to enlarge)









Jersey Boys Stick Together... 

so it's with appropriate gratitude that I send my thanks to my friend Kenny Santucci (native son of the Garden State, entrepreneur & MTV Personality extraordinare) who has been amazing as of late in his ongoing support of the Essex Lights. In this crazy game of ours, it's this kind of love that means all the difference between my making new records as opposed to say, joinining the French Foreign Legion. As I can't speak French & my Hebraic build doesn't exactly lend itself to feats of valour in colonial warfare, I'm enormously indebted to guys like Kenny so that I may continue to rely on a Stratocaster as opposed to an entrenching shovel as my primary tool of trade. Check him out on MySpace or Twitter ....

Coffee, A Weird Guitar Weilding Jew & More! 

 Hey all, I'll be playing this show in Santa Monica this Saturday night (8/21).  I'm on at 7:30...

SATURDAY, AUGUST 21, 2010

"Java with Javelyn Indie Music Nite, a Nite of Songs Brew & CD's too"

UNURBAN CAFE
3301 W. Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA
starts 8:00 p.m. - Cover: $3.00
www.javawithjavelyn.com



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