Welcome to the first installment of “Ask Charlie…” Our purpose here is to provide a forum for performing musicians – and musicians who want to become performing musicians – where they can ask questions about equipment, stagecraft, gear purchases, or just about anything else that they might want to know about as it relates to performing. The goal is to remain objective as much as is possible – I don’t want to use this as a forum for advancing my own opinions – and when subjectivity is unavoidable, I’ll do my best to project a positive attitude and not trash any particular gear, methodology, or people.
I also want to acknowledge Jim McInnes’ fine introduction of me in his December column. I hope that readers will find this column to be as well written and informative as his. If you should find it lacking, please let me know as I have some very big shoes to fill. I want this column to do justice to the subjects we address while continuing to be an entertaining read. Thanks, Jim!
A little about me. I’m Charlie Loach and I’ve been a guitarist for fort***, ahem, a really long time, and I’ve collected a lot of practical knowledge about guitars, amplifiers, PA systems, stage setup, communication with bandmates, sound and stage crew, and even audiences. I’m also an electrical engineer and I hope to offer readers some insight into the technical aspects of their equipment so that they can better understand how it all functions. I believe that understanding how your gear works will help you to get the most “music” out of it and will help you to troubleshoot your rig or PA when the inevitable problems arise.
So let’s get started with an easy example of how this works…
A few days ago, my friend Brooks sent me an email:
Hey Charlie! I am looking to get an electric guitar sustain pedal. I’ll appreciate any recommendations you have. Brooks
Now that’s a rather open-ended question so I sent this response:
Hi Brooks, what do you have in mind? What sound are you going for? Do you want “clean” sustain or “distortion” sustain? Or even “boosted” sustain? Each of those requires a different type of pedal and there are plenty in each category that do the same thing but use different approaches. I’d love to help and I’m knowledgeable in all of the methodologies I’ve mentioned. Let’s narrow it down and we’ll be able to focus on some specific pedals. Charlie
Brooks: I’m looking for a gritty blues sustain. I listened to the “Blues Driver” and it sounded good. I been playing acoustic primarily, for so long, I am rather out of touch with electric stuff.
Now we’re getting somewhere! We’ve narrowed the options and we’ve even established a baseline for what he’s looking for. Since he referenced a specific pedal, and since I know Brooks, I did offer some “opinion” as to what I thought would be best for him, not that one pedal is better or worse than another.
Charlie: Distortion+Boost pedals are like chocolate, some folks can taste the difference and some can’t. And everyone has their favorite. There are plenty of mainstream pedals available as well as plenty of pricey boutique pedals. But how does the average player decide which is the right one? Here’s the rub – a really good player can get a “good” tone out of just about anything. That same good player can get an amazing tone out of a boutique pedal. So you have to ask yourself, “Where am I as a player? Can I get out of this pedal, something that will make me happy and feel like it’s money well spent?” Only you can know that. But don’t sell yourself short. How you play today will be different tomorrow as you re-acquaint yourself with the electric guitar, so I recommend that you consider purchasing “more” pedal than you think you’ll need because it won’t take long for you to find that what sounded really cool last week, now sounds really lame but your pedal won’t do anything else. The Blues Driver is a good pedal. Knowing you, though, I think you’ll find it sounds somewhat generic. I’m sure you’ll like it at first because it’s new and you’re getting back into electric, but I also think you’ll be bored with its limitations fairly quickly. For your particular situation, I’d like to suggest you take a look/listen to the Fulltone Fulldrive2 MOSFET Overdrive/ Clean Boost pedal. Go to the Fulltone website and check out the features, manual, and the sound clips so you’ll have an idea of what it can do. Then let me know what you think.
A couple of days later…
Brooks: Got the Full-Drive II Mosfet pedal. Thanks for the suggestion Mr. Loach, I really dig this pedal!
Charlie: That’s really cool. As an old fellow I used to work for would say, “Another satisfied customer.”
This was a relatively simple and specific example of how this column works. Some questions or subjects will be much more complex. That’s okay, so don’t be afraid to ask complicated questions. It may be that a multi-part response is required to fully answer some questions but hopefully when we’re done you’ll have something to refer to when you want to buy a new piece of gear or have to solve a problem at a gig. I’d be really happy to learn that someone was able to avoid a crisis at a gig because they had read one of these columns and knew how to fix the problem they’d encountered.
Finally, if you read a column and disagree with what I’ve written or you believe you know of a better way of doing something, by all means email me and let me know. I know a lot and I’ve experienced a lot but I don’t pretend to know everything. I would appreciate that you remain respectful in your criticism, and if your response is really solid and well presented, I might put it in the column. Admittedly, this type of correspondence favors the columnist (I do get the last word after all), but I want the readers to think of this as “their” column where they can ask questions that are significant to them and that they can trust my responses. Not all questions will make it to the column and some specific questions will likely be combined into something of a broader nature, but I will try to answer as many specific questions as I can as long as they are germain to the scope of the column. Here’s the email address to contact me: email@example.com.
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie.