A Brief Guide To Distortion

A Brief Guide To Overdrive & Distortion

In 1961, in a Nashville recording studio, producer Dan Law and engineer Glen Snoddy were recording Marty Robbins’ ‘Don’t Worry’ when a transistor in one of the channel strips of the console began to fail. This failed transistor produced a grainy sound that gave the bass an exciting and innovative tone that breathed new live into the recording. This was the precursor to one of the most popular guitar effects used in music today: distortion.
Fast forward to 1965 where Dan and Glen have teamed up with Gibson to develop a three-transistor schematic for a pedal that recreates the failed transistor sound and boom, we have the Gibson Maestro fuzz FZ-1, the pedal that started it all. Most notably used by Keith Richards on “(I Cant Get No) Satisfaction” the Maestro Fuzz and the birth of distortion brought new life to guitar playing and players alike, helping them push the guitar forward to create new genres of music.In 2018 there are thousands (and I mean thousands) of distortion pedals to choose from, ranging anywhere from low gain clean boosts to crunchy overdrives, all the way to the infamous Boss Metal Zone with its fizzy awfulness. As a young guitar player it can be hard to identify what kind of distortion you’re looking for when starting out on your sonic journey for the first time, so I thought I’d help out by breaking down distortion pedals into three distinct categories, and discuss what genres I feel they are best suited for, and maybe throw in a couple of my personal favorites to get you started.Overdrive:Overdrive is basically a fancy word for crunch, crunchy guitar sounds. The kind of guitar sounds that make you wanna rip a fat blues solo over pretty much any song you’re playing on, and in fairness that’s essentially where overdrive sits best in my opinion. Overdrive is basically a low gain version of a distortion pedal, meaning that the maximum gain increase you can get out of your pedal isn’t actually that high, think John Mayer, not Slayer. Overdrive pedals also tend to focus on boosting the mid frequencies giving your guitar a brighter more full sound for lead playing.Although there are no rules in the pedal world, overdrive is most commonly used in Blues, Country, Classic Rock, and Pop, although it can be seen used in pretty much any genre as its arguably the most versatile of the three distortions being discussed.

 Guide to Guitar Distortion


Dan’ Pick: Ibanez Tubescreamer Mini (£52)Arguably THE most famous overdrive pedal on the planet, the Ibanez Tubescreamer has been used on countless hit songs by countless artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, Noel Gallagher, Alex Turner, Carlos Santana, The Edge, and so many more. This compact affordable version is the perfect place to start understanding what overdrive can bring to your sound as a beginner and can continue to be used all way through your guitar-playing career. With is transparent tone and easy to play feel, the Tubescreamer is a must have pedal in any guitar players arsenal, end of story.Distortion:Despite the word being used as a collective term for all gain based pedals in the early days, distortion these days tends to refer to pedals that are capable of higher levels of gain than your average overdrive. Predominantly used in most forms of Rock, distortion pedals allows guitar players to achieve massive walls of sound by driving the transistors harder, which in turn overloads your signal giving you a bigger, more distorted sound. Distortion can be found anywhere from bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ACDC, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Metallica, Slayer, just all Rock. If you wanna rock, buy a distortion pedal, it’s as simple as that.Pro Tip:Some of the most iconic riffs and solos in Rock history don’t actually use as much gain as you’d expect. Try experimenting with the balance between the gain and volume controls on you distortion to get a more classic sound!

A Brief Guide To Distortion

A Brief Guide To Distortion


MXR Custom Badass 78’

Dan’s Pick: MXR Custom Badass 78’ (£82):Not the most famous of distortions granted, but this is a fantastic pedal at an affordable price and a great place to start for beginners. This pedal provides classic rock gain in a simple, easy to use box, and will cover most rock styles so you can get a feel for what you like and what you don’t like. It even has a crunch setting, which essentially gives you an overdrive pedal as well! Bargain.Fuzz:We’re back to where it all started. Since the Maestro FZ-1, people have been hunting for bigger, more gnarly distortion sounds, and boy did we find some. Fuzz works by changing the wave of the audio being passed through it to a square wave, which is jargon for making your guitar sound the most distorted that it can. They produce immensely saturated guitar sounds, screaming leads, and endless sustain, perfect for any guitar heavy band. No two fuzz are the same, but an important piece of info to know when starting with fuzz is the difference between Germanium and Silicon transistors. Essentially all that means is that the wiring that creates the distortion inside the pedal work differently, so the tone of the distortion is different. Put simply, Germanium Fuzz is smoother and emits are more classic tone and Silicon produces more gain and emits a brighter more modern sound. It’s not always that black and white but that’s enough info to keep you in loop as you start your Youtube pedal demo search.Fuzz has had many incarnations since its birth in the early 60’s, ranging from psychedelic fuzz used by the likes of Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck, to the epic fuzz sounds of the 70’s from guys like Dave Gilmour, right up to the 90’s and 00’s with bands like Queens of the Stone Age, The White Stripes, and Smashing Pumpkins. For anyone looking for an epic guitar sound that can shatter windows with its high gain endless sustain, then Fuzz is for you.


Dan’s Picks: Electro Harmonix Big Muff mini range (£67-75) Dunlop Fuzz Face mini range (£90-£130)Two classic ranges of pedals on show here, the Big Muff and the Fuzz Face are both pillars in the Fuzz world. Their signature tones can be found scattered across countless records over the years, and the mini range allows for great tone in a more affordable price tag. The mini range also contains several variants on the original circuits, experimenting with different transistors and components to get different sounds, so there is a Fuzz for everybody!


Distortion Pedals


How to get better at improvising guitar

Improvising: Ways to break out of the box!

Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of improvising at my gigs. This has been an amazing opportunity to release my creative side and I’ve definitely milked every chance for an over-indulged solo! However, I have found recently that having so much creative freedom can actually result in constraining it. You can end up stuck in the same phrases, getting comfortable with your ‘go to’ licks and inevitably getting tired of your own solos. So I tasked myself with figuring out how to break out of this solo rut, and here is what I found…

Breaking out of the box

Improvising: Ways to break out of the box!

As a guitarist that grew up listening to a lot of metal and studying the likes of Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai and crew at university, I have spent a lot of time learning scales and ridiculously fast licks, hammering in pentatonic’s to a metronome and endlessly chugging through modes. I found this incredibly useful over time and a great way to learn the fretboard, but it is easy to get stuck in these shapes and start to rely on them.

By breaking out of the box, I mean leaving the safety of scale positions and trying to play more fluidly, thinking carefully about note choice and melody. Try thinking of your solo lines as a vocal melody, something that tells a story and leads the song, as opposed to a sequence of licks and scales. You want your solo to be memorable and singable, the best solos are the ones that stick in your mind. As you practice this and get used to composing melodies as you play, then try adding some of your impressive scale shredding in-between your melodic ideas. This works really well for leading in more melodic phrases and for building intensity, which can be the cherry on top. 


In my opinion, rhythm is as important as the notes you choose, if not more so. This is the way we latch our playing to the song, create groove and structure our solo. So by really variating the rhythms we choose throughout our solo, we can start to create more interesting lines. There are a few useful and fun ways I’ve been using to do this!

Practicing over lots of different tempos has been a great way to prepare for all different kinds of solo scenarios. There’s nothing worse than soloing over a beat that is too fast for your licks and not being able to keep up, or too slow and being unable to lock into it. By consistently playing at varied tempos you will start to understand how to really work with different grooves and what kind of lines are suitable at different speeds. This will make your playing much more consistent. 

Practicing over drum beats is a really effective way of tightening up your playing and learning how to communicate with other musicians. Really focus on what the drummer is doing, listen to his hi-hat pattern and where he is placing his kick and snare. By locking in with his pattern and using accents to highlight the beat, the whole feel of the song will benefit. If you don’t know any drummers, you can do this with any of the many jam along backing tracks on the internet. 

Focus your practice!

I know, it sounds obvious… but REALLY focus your practice. The best way to improve your playing is to constantly analyse what your doing and identify how you can make it better. Try starting your practice by writing down exactly what it is that you want to work on in that session. If you’re the kind of person who likes to be super organised, set yourself a time limit for each topic, the added deadline will help you make the most of the time. However, don’t forget to give yourself a break too! I am guilty myself of picking up my guitar and losing hours at a time, but taking a break rests your hands and more importantly your ears. It will help you progress more quickly if you’re not fatigued while you’re playing. 

Another technique I’ve found invaluable is recording myself while I play. Listening back to yourself gives you extra perspective on how your playing is sounding and an impression of what people will be hearing when you’re shredding out. This way you can check your tone, identify bits you want to try again and hear everything you missed while you were in the moment. You don’t need to have a recording setup to do this either, using your phone or laptop webcam can work just as well. 

Try not to emulate other people too much

Every guitarist has their favourite artists. The ones who we will spend hours and hours trying to sound like by playing their solos and learning their riffs. But this in itself can make our own soloing sound familiar and sometimes, even cliché! Sometimes songs are begging for a bluesy B.B King inspired solo or some pentatonic whaling from the likes of Slash, but I think its important to put your own stamp on it. These guys are iconic because they all found their own individual style of playing and you should too. Trust your instincts more, find and write your own licks and ideas in a style that suits your playing. Not only will this make your playing sound unique, it will give you a way of creating your own melodies instead of being stuck around other peoples.  

Confidence is key…

and I think this is the crux of it. It’s easy to get comfortable with what you know. Using tried and tested patterns and familiar melodies is a good way to feel safe that you are going to nail the solo. But the main thing I have found, is that practicing all of the things above has given me the confidence to push the boundaries, which has made my playing a lot more intentional, creative and thoughtful. I found this to be a common phase that a lot of guitarists go through and can be a hard one to break out of, but with focused practice and some confidence the results can be rewarding!

How to get better at improvising guitar

2006 Gibson ES335 thin line

Repair log –  December 14th, 2006 Gibson ES335 thin-line double cutaway archtop guitar SN: xxxxxxxx made in the Nashville Plant, TN, USA

Copyright retained by Terry Relph-Knight 20/06/18

Current value range estimate –  £ 1,500 to 2,000

Weight =  kg. lbs.

Delivered with Gibson branded hard case

Strung with –  0.008, 0.010, 0.015, 0.024, 0.033, 0.046 ????

This guitar is an extremely well made, double cut away, thin line archtop electric. A classic Gibson dot neck, 19 frets to the body in cherry finished flame maple. In pristine condition.

Gibson ES335 thin-line double cutaway archtop

Body – Thin-line double cutaway arch-top semi-acoustic of laminated flamed maple ply with a maple centre block and two F holes. Finished in  cherry nitro with cream plastic binding back and front.

Neck – A one piece mahogany neck with a medium U’ profile and cream binding. 22 medium frets on a rosewood fretboard, 12 inch fret radius. Dot mother of pearl fret markers above the 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 19 and 21st frets. Truss rod adjustable from the headstock, 5/16 brass hex nut. The neck tenon extends half way under the neck pickup. 24 3/8inch scale length.

Hardware – The 2 Gibson humbuckers are ‘57 Classic’s (I unscrewed the pickups and checked the labels on the back). They have a replica black and gold Patent Applied For sticker (which is kinda funny) and a label – ‘57 Classic 1212060303 on the neck and ‘57 Classic 1212060237 on the bridge (made on the 12th of December 2006). They have nickel plated nickel silver bases and covers. So the two pickups appear to be the same. Gibson also make the ‘57 Classic Plus which has a few more turns on the coils for a higher output and you might expect to find it in the bridge position. That doesn’t appear to be the case here. The ‘57 Classic pickups, like the Burstbucker, are intended to mimic the best of the old 1957 PAF pickups. They have the lower strength Alnico II magnets and, unlike the Burstbucker, the two coils are balanced, which offers maximum hum rejection, but a slightly warmer tone than the Burstbuckers. In this guitar the ‘57 Classics do sound great, warm and smooth with great definition.

2006 Gibson ES335

2006 Gibson ES335

Gibson ES335

According to Jim DiCola, master luthier at Gibson USA, the ’57 Classic is made to Seth Lover’s original specifications, to the exact letter, in particular the two coils are very closely matched, while the Burstbucker is a consistent version of how the production PAF pickups were actually made, with an imbalance between the two coils. The Burstbucker version 1,2 and 3 also has Alnico II magnets. The legendary pickup maker Tom Holmes apparently worked for Gibson on the design of the ‘57 Classic. Holmes has built guitars for Billy Gibbons and is perhaps the first person to produce an accurate reproduction of the original Gibson PAF pickups.

In the original production PAFs the coils were used as they came off the winding machine, with no attempt at matching and the magnets used might be Alnico II, IV or V, depending on what Gibson happened to have purchased for each inventory period.

The controls on this guitar are the usual Gibson two volumes, two tones and three way toggle switch. I don’t know if the volumes are 300K linear or 500K log. The controls are fitted with Gibson small black witch hat knobs and metal pointers. Floating three-ply black pick guard. Nickel plated zinc alloy Gibson ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop bar.

Grover three on a side sealed nickel plated tuners with metal kidney buttons.

Gibson ES335 thin-line double cutaway archtop

Bridge height – guitar top to top of the thumbwheel – 8mm on the bass 8mm on the treble

Stop bar height – guitar top to underside of the bar – 6.5mm on the bass 3mm on the treble

I’m not sure why anyone would choose to tilt the stop bar like that. The two threaded bridge supports are screwed quite far into the body. Their tops are around 3mm below the top of the holes in the bridge.

The threaded bridge support posts are UNC 6-32 thread by 1 inch (25.4mm) long. Around 7/16 (12mm) of an inch is driven in to the top of the guitar. This leaves very little of the post within the post holes in the bridge.

Delivered strung with  – Ernie Ball Nickel wound Super Slinky’s 0.009, 0.011, 0.016, 0.024, 0.032, 0.042.

Problems – In for a general check and setup. Needs a good clean and polish. Exhibits the usual tuning instability of nut stick for a Gibson instrument with 3 on a side tuners. Customer also wanted to try a vibrato on the guitar. Originally a Bigsby, but by the time the necessary modifications were added to avoid drilling holes in the guitar and to stabilise the Bigsby tuning problems, this would have been a very expensive option. I suggested a Duesenberg Les Trem II vibrato.

Work done –

Guitar cleaned and polished. Frets level checked with a fret rocker. Frets and neck cleaned and polished. Polished the corian nut with metal polish on a toothbrush, including flossing the the string slots with string offcuts, to reduce friction through the strings slots as much as possible. Also sprayed on a coat of beeswax and buffed the nut to a high gloss. Tuning still wasn’t stable so I also fitted a String Butler (later upgraded to a String Butler Tremolo model).

Fitted the Duesenberg Les Trem II vibrato in place of the stop bar.

The Gibson 6-32 bridge posts are an acceptable fit in the Goldo bridge post holes so I stayed with them rather than removing them and drilling to fit the Goldo inserts and posts. I stabilised the Gibson posts by fitting 6 washers underneath the thumb wheels, drilled and tapped the Goldo for M3 locking screws and then locked the bridge in place. I had to fit the Goldo bridge with the locking screws and intonation screws facing towards the bridge pickup otherwise access to the screws is blocked by the Duesenberg vibrato. The bridge pickup height can be dropped down to improve access to the intonation screws while intonation is set.

Re-strung and set up the action and intonation. I tried winding the strings with one turn below the string through the post hole then two turns above the hole. I wanted to lock the strings and minimise the break angle over the nut to help tuning stability by reducing friction over the nut. In practice this didn’t work very well because the coils of the string didn’t settle smoothly around the post. The easiest way by far to get a tidy string wind around the post is to allow the right amount of slack for two or three winds around the post and then to feed the string on from the bottom.   


This guitar suffers from the same problem that all recent Gibson’s with a corian nut suffer from – the strings do not slide smoothly through the nut. As a result any string bends result in the string going slack when the bend is released and the tuning goes flat by around 10 cents on every string.

Adding a vibrato system of course just makes things a lot worse! One difficulty is that with the vibrato the string tension of all six strings interacts because they are coupled together by the vibrato balancing spring. If even one string jams in the nut then this change in net tension affects the tuning of all six strings. When using a fixed stop bar, rather than the vibrato, any nut jamming problems with each string are confined just to that string.

Rather than replace the unpolished Plek cut Gibson corian nut straight away I wanted to try to get the existing nut to work. Extreme care is needed when making any adjustments to a Gibson nut because Gibson choose to set the Plek to cut the slots as low as they will go before buzzing on the first fret. Added to that the nut is shaped to a sharp edge to minimise the amount of cutting the Plek machine has to do. Unlike many other guitars, there just isn’t much leeway in the Gibson nut slots.

First I tried polishing the nut with metal polish on a toothbrush. Although this did a fine job of polishing the surface of the nut, it seems it did not get right down into the string slots. Next I tried flossing the slots with offcuts of guitar string coated in a few dabs of metal polish.  To my vast surprise this actually seems to have worked!


Intonation as received


E -5

A -7

D +10

G +5

B +5


Tuning stability

This test consists of first accurately tuning each string to pitch, depressing each string behind the nut until it touches the headstock, then releasing it. The pitch is then measured (and recorded). If the string is sticking in the nut the string will go sharp.

If any problems are found the nut slots are filed and lubricated and the test is repeated.

The second set of numbers are from tuning up to pitch then applying a whole step bend to each string.

Behind nut bendWhole step bend Bend – After all modifications

E +10 -10 0

A +11 -10 0

D +22 -3 0

G 0 -10 0

B +15 0 0

E +10 -3 0

Note – There is still some tuning instability for extreme use of the vibrato.

The Duesenburg Les Trem II

The Duesenburg Les Trem II won’t fit this guitar without modification because the inserts for the stop bar fixing studs are on 82.5mm centres. The DLTII requires the fixing centres of the stop bar mounting studs to be 81.5mm apart.

The nickel plated stop bar from this guitar looks like a standard Gibson part, but has no identifying marks. The distance between the inside faces of the two stud hooks is 73.6mm and the hooks are 7.9mm wide. So the fixing centres should be 81.5mm. Unlike the Les Trem II there is enough clearance left in the Gibson stop bar for it still to fit with the studs at 82.5mm.

Drawings of the Wilkinson stop bar show the centres as 82mm, Allparts shows it as 82mm and AxesRus Gotoh as 82mm, AxesRus aluminium as 82.5mm and AxesRus zinc as 82.5mm.

So the only way to fit the DLTII is to file or drill out the holes in its base plate to gain the clearance for the two bolts. Seems dumb that Duesenberg didn’t elongate the holes to allow for variations in the insert spacing.

I had thought perhaps that the guitar wouldn’t fit in the hard case with the DLTII installed, but I have done a test fit with it attached by only one of the stop bar bolts and there seems to be plenty of clearance.

Eventually I filed the outsides of both fixing holes just a little and managed to get the DLTII to fit the stop bar insert spacing on this guitar. I fitted just one washer under each end which was enough to clear the top curve of the guitar. The entire assembly with the arm fitted seems to go inside the case just fine, even without any string tension pulling it down.

Another possible drawback of the Les Trem II is that the spring and bar pivot are quite close to the bridge and some players may find that this protrusion gets in the way, depending on playing style.

The Goldo roller bridge

The Goldo bridge has 4mm holes at either end (the holes in the ABR-1 are close to that) and is supplied with solid posts with integral thumb wheel that screw in to press fit inserts. The guitar has an ABR-1 bridge with two threaded posts screwed in to the top of the guitar. So the option is either remove the two posts and re-drill the top of the guitar for the Goldo inserts, or keep the threaded posts and fit the Goldo to those.

With lock screws fitted to either end of the Goldo bridge, once those are tightened, the bridge will no longer be adjustable for height through turning the thumb wheels. I decided to stabilise the bridge and stop the thumb wheels coming loose and rattling, by fitting a stack of washers under each thumb wheel. The Gibson ABR-1 measures 12.1mm and the Goldo roller 13.3mm from the curved base to the top of the centre two saddles. So the Goldo is 1.2mm higher than the Gibson. To fit the Goldo subtract that 1.2mm from the previously measured 8mm thumb wheel heights and set them at 6.8mm to arrive at around the same action. Which is 6 x 0.63 mm thick washers = 3.15 under the 2.72mm thumb wheel.

Re-stringing – Three wraps of the strings around the Grover tuner posts requires 52mm of string. This is more than enough for the wound E, A and D strings. The lighter strings can be allowed a few more wraps. Unstable loops of string around the tuner post will contribute to tuning instability.

I experimented with different methods of stringing such as winding the string upwards above the string through the tuner post (to reduce the angle over the nut) and one turn under the string through the rest above to help lock the string in the post. Eventually decided that winding the string onto the post neatly for two or three turns below the hole is the easiest, most efficient and most stable way to do it.

Note also that the brass ball on bridge end of the strings is attached with a simple twist. This can and does, act like slip knot and settling in this twist is one of the main causes of tuning drift when new strings are fitted. At worst slipping in the ball end twist can be a long term cause of tuning problems. The more expensive strings tend to have more reliable twists. D’Addarrio NYXL for example have solder bonded twists for the plain strings.

With this guitar it is very important to guide the strings in to the centre of the bridge rollers and rollers on the String Butler.

The String Butler

The String Butler is device that is intended to stabilise tuning for guitars which have 3 on a side tuner headstock’s, such as Gibson, by deflecting the strings into a straight path over the nut. It is attached using the barrel nuts on two tuners. It consists of a metal plate with an attachment forks on either side that clamp under the two tuner nuts. The plate carries four rollers on short vertical posts. The A, D, G and B stings are passed around the rollers, pulling them into a straight path across the nut. This helps to reduce friction in the nut slots, particularly on the D and the G strings which normally angle both downward and to either side and almost always exhibit tuning problems due to nut stick.

On the standard version of the String Butler the rollers have perhaps 2mm of vertical movement. This in itself can be a source of tuning problems. The ‘tremolo’ version has small rubber O rings fitted above the rollers to reduce vertical movement. Sven Dietrich at Sting Butler sent me a String Butler Tremolo version, which I ordered to replace the butler I borrowed from my Les Paul and a packet of eight 4.5mm outside diameter, 2.5mm inside diameter O rings. The String Butler Tremolo version ships with a single O ring fitted above each string roller, limiting the slack vertical space on the roller posts.

London Guitar School

Guitar Lessons in London with London Guitar School

Check out Guitar Lessons London : London Guitar Academy Adam and his immaculate guitar playing. Adam is a wonderful musician/teacher who has a unique command of the guitar. His musicality, fluidity & phrasing always shine. He has wonderful delicate balance to his playing and he has fantastic repertoire, and a huge plethior of guitar technique he is ready to share with you. Adam teaches from our Clapham studio and is ready & available to teach YOU!

Adam has been key member of the London Guitar Academy team for the past few years and is a true professional. His friendly, warm personality and eye for detail have made Adam a real favourite with our pupils. You can expect to learn lots of new songs and loads of great rhythms and to be able to finger pick like a guitar great.

London Guitar School

London Guitar School

One to one Guitar Lessons London

 London Guitar School  have teachers ready and able teach a huge array of guitar styles including pop, folk, rock, blues, funk, metal, country, flamenco and classical guitar lessons on electric and acoustic guitars. No matter what age or level you are you are always more than welcome @ Guitar Lessons London.

One to one Guitar Lessons London

One to One Guitar Lessons

Guitar Lessons


When I first started experimenting with DADGAD

Alternate tuning DADGAD

As a teenager I was so cool that most of the music I listened to was recommended to me by my dad. This was often in the shape of classic British and American singer songwriters such as James Taylor and Steve Earle, and while I have since diversified somewhat, the influence that this sound had on my development and style have been really important to me as a musician. I found there to be something soulful and joyful about this acoustic sound that seemed to have depth in antiquity as well as feeling effortlessly contemporary, even decades after release. I would spend a lot of time carefully listening through particular tracks so I could then attempt to work out the pieces on my guitar, trying wherever I could to replicate certain stylistic riffs and movements. Whilst I usually had little trouble working out faithfully accurate recreations, there were a few guitarists that would more often than not leave me stumped, and totally unable to recapture the mood and tone of their songs. This was made all the more annoying by the fact that I almost invariably had this issue with the guitarists whose style I most admired. They were, at the time, Stephen Stills, John Martyn and Richard Thompson. What I heard when listening to them was to me rich and engaging, and despite being able to find the correct structure and chord sequences, I just could not make my guitar sing in the same way. 

When I first started experimenting with DADGAD

When I first started experimenting with DADGAD

DADGAD tuning

Around this time, and during a family get together at the home of an uncle of mine who is an excellent guitarist himself, I did the done thing for a teenager and eventually sloped off for a bit of space away from the people I love. It was then that I found a guitar magazine and came across an article about the alternate tuning DADGAD. I followed the instructions, tuning both the low and high E strings down by a whole tone to D, along with the B string also down a tone to A, then picked through a couple of the riffs that were tabbed out in the piece. Suddenly something clicked, and I found there to be something familiar to me about this sound. Over the next few weeks I spent my practice time discovering more about this tuning, using my ear to find chords and patterns within these new parameters. I found it very exciting to be exploring this new way of playing, as there now seemed to be a new and greater depth and tone to almost everything that I tried. I then had the idea of going back to many of the songs that I had before struggled to learn, as now I was able to try them from a new angle, and with much more success. Suddenly I could emulate the dry twang of a Stills song, or the rhythmic strut and swing of John Martyn’s playing, all while keeping the sound rich and full. 

It is almost limitless what you can already achieve on a guitar in standard tuning, but when you discover the use of alternate tunings it is almost like being introduced to several new instruments. The quality and timbre of each string can be manipulated in many ways, to help you to discover a plethora of new voices within your guitar. When I first started experimenting with DADGAD, I initially placed my first finger on the second fret of the 3rd string, and strummed all 6 of the strings, giving me a D5 chord. All I had with this chord was a D in three different octaves, and an A in two octaves, but what enticed me about this sound was a deep hum and buzz in the strings; there was something much more alive about this simple D5 chord. From there I began to explore songs in the key of D, and found that the richness and simplicity of the chord shapes gave me much more freedom to play around with the rest of the fretboard, generally finding more ‘diddly’ bits on the higher strings, while still allowing low tones to ring out and mingle underneath. 

Music is so often about exploration and discovery, and I find that many guitarists can lose much of their interest once they feel that they are repeatedly playing the same pieces and running down the same dead ends. While it is very important to be meticulous in practice, and to perfect anything that you begin to work on, musical motivation can often falter with the loss of discovery and excitement. This is where alternate tunings can become invaluable. Changing the voicing and tones available to you is a great chance to start again, and to experiment purely through what you hear as opposed to what you know. Whenever I am faced with a tuning that is entirely new to me, I frequently begin by trying to forget what I know about scales, progressions and intervals, and simply begin by picking out various strings and placing my hands along the fretboard, attempting to follow feelings and voices, and seeing where it leads me. This can be a massively liberating way of learning, as pleasing moods and patterns will begin to emerge through your own, totally independent discovery, and the sound that you create will feel unique and personal. 

Alternate tuning DADGAD

Alternate tuning DADGAD

So next time you find yourself falling out of love with your guitar, look up some new tunings, and find one that sits well in your ear. Take your time then to discover it, and you may find yourself to be captivated by a whole new set of voices, and then to be compelled to spend more time with your guitar, not working through a tab or following a YouTube tutorial, but instead just getting to know it all over again. The use of alternate tunings has since become integral to the development of my style and ability, and I often find myself returning to where it all began with the DADGAD tuning. Even now after all this time, it still has so much for me to discover. 

Arthur Randle

Martin D28 rosewood back and sides

Repair Log: 1998 Martin D28 rosewood back and sides, figured spruce top dreadnought SN: xxxxxx

23/06/18 Copyright retained Terry Relph-Knight

New D28s list at $3,299

Current value – £1,089 to £1,479

Supplied with a Martin ABS hard case.

Serial number is on the inside face of the heel block.

A classic Martin D28 14 frets to the body, with one piece mahogany fake bridal joint dart neck, with rosewood headstock veneer, rosewood fret board (20 narrow frets, mother of pearl dots) and bridge, bone nut and saddle and Indian rosewood back and sides. The guitar has had a headstock repair at some point. A small crack is visible just below the volute and the area has been over sprayed in a dark brown. Top is of highly figured spruce with a black scratch plate. I contacted Martin and they confirmed the date of the guitar, but said they had no special notes on its construction and that the highly figured top must just be luck of the draw. 6 ply binding/purfling back and front of the body. The two piece rosewood back has a dash pattern centre stripe. The Martin name and est. in 1833 is stamped on the top of the headstock in gold ink.

The 6 white bridge pins look fancy with a central abalone dot, but they are in fact soft plastic.

Bone nut and saddle. The saddle may have been replaced since it does stand quite high and contributes to the high action. Removing the saddle from the bridge reveals a pencil line 2mm above the bottom, so it looks as though it was marked to be cut down, but the cut was never made.

The guitar has a high action due to a combination of a belly bulge and the high saddle. If, as suspected, the high saddle is a replacement that was never cut down then this itself will put extra tension on the top and be contributing to the degree of belly bulge.

The bridge has been drilled at either end for an under saddle pickup and the body is fitted with a wooden end pin with circumferential scratches in the finish, well below the waist of the pin. This may indicate that the guitar was at one time fitted with an under saddle pickup and an end pin jack which have now been removed. This would explain why the saddle had perhaps been replaced and never properly fitted. 

Martin D28 rosewood back and sides Repair Log

A tap test on the body shows it is very lively and resonant. As you might expect the back has higher, harder pitch than the boomier front. 

Stamped onto the liner strip that spans the join between the two halves of the back is the instruction – USE MEDIUM GAUGE STRINGS OR LIGHTER ONLY

Small sealed chrome plated tuners branded Martin, probably made by Ping. 

The truss rod adjusts inside the body at the end of the fret board, accessed via a cut out in the top brace just inside the soundhole. A large L Martin 3/16 inch hex key is usually required (supplied in the case). Owner says this is jammed – he is right, it won’t move.

Problems – High action. Needs a good clean. Is missing the heel cap. The guitar has a fair bit of belly lift. We agreed the first thing to try would be to lower the saddle by 2mm (fit a new saddle and keep the old one just in case). Owner likes ease of play and a bright punchy sound so agreed to fit a set of Elixir 11 to 52 bronze. These are light gauge for acoustic so they will put less stress on the top and feel easier and slicker to play. The brass wound strings gives them a brighter sound.

Work done – Replaced the original bone saddle with a Graph Tech saddle shaved to produce the 2mm height reduction and lower action. Fitted a set of brass bridge pins replacing the old plastic pins. Brass pins are harder wearing and add a little mass, improving sustain. Soft plastic pins damp some of the string vibration. Cut and glued on a new rosewood heel cap. Cleaned and polished the body and neck. Checked the fretboard for high frets, buffed the frets and cleaned and oiled the fretboard. Loosened the jammed truss rod, lubricated the truss rod nut and re-adjusted for a little forward bow. Fitted a set of 10 to 47 Elixir (bronze) brass winding on the wound strings.

Straightened the bend out of the case lid, cleaned the outside of the case and vacuumed dust and grit out of the inside.

Analysis – 

This guitar does seem to have a particularly flexible top and it may at some point have been fitted with heavy strings, which Martin warns against with the internal stamp – USE MEDIUM GAUGE STRINGS OR LIGHTER ONLY. This may account for the belly bulge (see below).

 Rosewood back and sides 1998 Martin D28

Evidence suggests that at some point it may have been fitted with an under-saddle pickup, with the original saddle shortened. If so the pickup has been removed and the saddle has probably been replaced with a new saddle that was never trimmed to height for the correct action.  

Martin D28 rosewood back and sides Repair Log

The guitar has a fairly pronounced belly bulge and the bridge noticeably tilts forwards. With the strings off and therefore tension off the guitar most the bulge relaxes and the bridge and top flattens out. None of the bracing seems loose. A JLD Bridge Doctor could be fitted to completely remove the bulge.

Even without the belly bulge the action seems a little high. With only the low E string replaced and measured ‘open string’ there is 7/64s of an inch between the top of the twelfth fret and the bottom of the string. 

Apparently the Martin guitar factory considers the action to be within specification if the distance from the 12th fret to the bottom of the low E string is between 2.38 mm (3/32″) minimum, to 2.78 mm (7/64″) maximum. So without the belly bulge this guitar would meet that spec. 

The high ‘e’ treble string should measure between 1.59 mm (1/16″) and 1.98 mm (5/64″) at the maximum.

Fitted with the 10 to 47 Elixir and with the new saddle lowered, the guitar meets the Martin specification, Low E is at 7/64 and the high E is at 1/16.

The truss rod was adjusted so the neck was dead flat, there may even have been a little back bow. The owner says he has tried adjusting the truss rod, but it seems jammed and won’t move. Eventually managed to unscrew it (anti-clockwise). It had been turned clockwise as tight as it could go, probably in an effort to reduce the high action. Seems to be a single action rod and the adjustment nut feels like it will come off altogether. It does – hex tube or rod nut 9mm diam by 30mm long. I lubricated it with a little grease in the threads and replaced it. Tightened it by 2/3rds of a turn from slack.

Martin Acoustic strings run from 10 to 47 extra light, through 11 to 52 custom light and 12 to 54 light, up to 13 to 56 medium. String makers seem to have stopped using the description ‘heavy’ for strings, so ‘medium’ is now the old ‘heavy’.

As delivered the guitar was fitted with a set of 

0.011, 0.016, 0.025, 0.032, 0.042, 0.054

Re-strung with Elixir 80/20 Bronze Nanoweb

0.010, 0.014, 0.023, 0.030, 0.039, 0.047

It will have less bulge and be easier to play with the set of 10 to 47 as detailed above.

1981 MusicMan 75 Head 2100

Repair Log: 1981 MusicMan 75 Head 2100 – 75 EX SN: xxxxxxx

23/06/18 Copyright retained Terry Relph-Knight

RRP in 1980 $445 Value today – £ 200

Supplied with a 1M Fender speaker jack cable.

This MusicMan head is a hybrid transistor / valve design, rated at 75 Watts r.m.s. !! from a pair of 6L6GC output valves (it currently has a pair of JJ’s).

The B+ voltage must be very high (yup it’s 700Volts, the JJ 6L6GC is rated at 500Volts maximum). 

This would seem to be pushing what can be achieved from a push-pull pair of 6L6GC, which are rated at 30Watts maximum anode dissipation each, to almost insane levels. It is set for 220Volt mains, which probably means it is over-volting even further. Power rectification is of course solid state.

Like apparently all Music Man amplifiers this amp can be switched to low power or (75 Watts) high power on the three way Standby switch, which is standby in the middle, up for Hi power and down for Lo power. This is done by switching between two voltages for B+. Hi power is 700volts and Lo is 350volts. Actual measurements into an 8 ohm resistive load show 63Watts and 30.25Watts, so no you can’t squeeze 75Watts out of a pair of 6L6GCs and Lo power is half the high power output

The pre-amp is entirely solid state. It has two channels – Normal and Bass. Each channel has two inputs – 1 and 2 with 2 being -6dB quieter than 1. Both channels have a Bright/Normal rocker switch and Volume, Treble, Middle and Bass controls. The Bass channel has in addition a Master volume and a Deep/Normal rocker switch.

 1981 MusicMan 75 Head 2100 – 75 EX Repair Log

According to the dscription on the Reverb site this design is intended to provide good clean tones with a little added warmth from the push-pull valve output stage. However the circuit shows it has a master volume mixing stage that has back to back transistor / diode pairs in the feedback loop of an op-amp, which looks very much like a distortion circuit to me. This model was manufactured from 1980 to 1984. It uses a mix of op-amps (LF353 or TL072 in the pre-amp) and transistors right up to the the output valves. The push-pull output circuit has a pair of identical JE1692 transistors driving signal into the cathodes of the output valves, preceded by two op amps (dual op-amp LM1458) one of which provides signal to drive one transistor, and the other a phase inverted version to drive the other transistor. There is an internal adjustable bias control which sets the output valve idle current via the two cathode drive transistors. All four op-amps are fitted in sockets.

The inputs to this amp are quite low impedance, around 300K, rather than the ‘standard’ for guitar amplifiers of 1Megohm. Each channel uses one half of a dual op-amp as a pre-amp before a ‘classic’ passive tone stack. The second half of the op-amp buffers the tone stack. A dual gang channel volume has one half in the feedback loop of the input amp, controlling it’s gain and the second half as a passive volume on the output of the tone stack buffer with the buffer driving the wiper of the passive volume.

The outputs from the tops of the two passive channel volumes drive the input of a single op-amp stage that appears to be configured as some kind of distortion stage with transistor / diode pairs in its feedback loop. The output from this drives the top of a master volume and the wiper drives the input of a two op-amp phase splitter for the power amp.  The two outputs from the splitter drive common emitter NPN transistor stages, each of which drives the cathode of an output valve. The suppressor grids of the pair of 6L6 pentodes are both connected to the 350 volt rail via 470 ohm resistors and the control grids are both connected to a +22 volt rail via 220 ohm resistors. The anodes drive either side of the centre tapped primary of the output transformer. 

Problems – The output valves have been replaced with new JJs without re-biasing. The Bass channel hardly passes any signal (it’s possible that corrosion on the op-amp pins and socket has caused loss of contact). Amp is quite dirty and has some rusty bits. Looks like it was left standing in a shallow pool of water for a while.

Work done

Output stage biasing checked and re-set. Replaced the dead TL072 dual op-amp in the Bass channel. Cleaned the cabinet, knobs and the amplifier front panel. Much of the original knob numbering had worn away so I rubbed white wax into the knob engraving to improve the visibility of the numbers. Tightened several loose nuts on the controls. Measured the output into a resistive load while observing the output on an oscilloscope for power measurement, purity and clipping point.

Diagnosis –

The cabinet of this amp is quite dirty and various metal parts are quite rusty, with some rust on the transformer laminations! It looks as though the amp may have been left sitting in a shallow puddle for a while. The chassis is a welded steel tray with an angled front for the controls, suspended upside down in the cabinet from four long bolts in the four corners in the fashion of all the old Fender amplifiers. Getting the fourth nut, which is tucked behind the power transformer, into place on the thread of the bolt is an absolute PIA!! 

Hand written on the pre-amp PCB is – BC 1/12/81. Assuming the American convention of month/day/year this probably means the amplifier was assembled or final tested on the 12th of January 1981. The chassis has a paper self adhesive label 81-4.

Since the dead ‘Bass’ channel has a dual TL072 op-amp as the main active component and the op-amps are socketed, the easiest thing to do, rather than poke around measuring things, was to try replacing the op-amp. Seems to have worked.

An online source says this about bias


A. This applies to all models containing the following circuit boards:

DB-2, DB-3, DB-4, GP-1, GP-2, GP-3, GP-3A,GD-1,GD-2 AND GD-2A.

B. Adjustment is as follows:

1. Turn the amplifier to “ON” with the HI / LO Standby switch in the HI

position. No Signal.

2. Using a voltmeter measure the voltage from emitter to ground on each of

of the two driver transistors. Across the 3.9 OHM emitter resistors is a

convenient measuring point.

3. Adjust the bias trimpot (TR-1) until you read 25mv DC across the 3.9

OHM emitter resistors. If there is a difference in voltage between the

emitters of the two driver transistors, set the lower of the two to 25mv.

The higher of the two should not exceed 55mv DC. 

Voltage across the 390 ohm nearest the back panel is 16.4mV and 14.4mV across the in-board (which at some point had burnt out and has been replaced by two 680 ohm).

Reset to 25.7mV and 24.3mV. Remeasured 28.9mV and 28.1mV. 

Voltage on either side of the Standby / output power switch is 242.5V and 362.2, basically the voltage is the same on either side and it changes as the switch is flipped ???? Hmm, seems there is some odd voltage doubling circuitry. The actual B+ to the red wire on the output transformer does what it is supposed to. Pin 3 (anode) on the output valves flips between 483volts and 722volts as the switch is thrown.

The amplifier is set for 220V mains so yes the B+ will be even higher than the specified 700V.

Output transformer primary has a red wire to B+ a blue to the anode of V2 and a brown to the anode of V1 (V1 is the valve nearest the end of the chassis, anodes of 6L6GC are pin 3).

Red to Blue = 212.4 ohms, 1.207 on Hi     Red to brown = 191.0 ohms, 0.99volts on Hi

Red to ground = 726volts Hi, 485 Lo

Anode current V1 = 1.207/212.4 = 0.005682674 amps = 4.1Watts dissipation  !? doesn’t seem right

Anode current V2 = 0.99/191 =  0.005183246 amps = 3.758 Watts dissipation

Output power tests

Standby switch up Hi power measured output into 8 ohms = 63 volts p-p = 63 Watts r.m.s.

Standby switch  down Lo power measured output into 8 ohms = 44 volts p-p =  30.25 Watts r.m.s.

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