Friday, October 21, 2016

The Voodoo That You Do

Last year I wrote about putting wheels on one of my speaker cabinets.  It's the cabinet that I pair with my Crate Blue Voodoo.  Here's the link to it:

The Crate Blue Voodoo was the first 6L6 amp that I really liked.  I can hear the cork sniffing musicians yelling, "Then you must not have very good taste!"  I liked the Blue Voodoo for a different reason than a lot of players.  It was meant to be a metal amp, and was endorsed by punk and metal artists so that's what most people think of when they mentioned. 

I was looking for a Fender sound with bite.  Fender amps have that classic American rock sound, and I wanted that with an edge.  The Blue Voodoo can do that wonderfully, but only if you do a few things.  The first edition of the Blue Voodoo cabinet came with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers.  I'm not a fan of those speakers, but they were a great match for the Blue Voodoo.  The Blue Voodoo has a strong treble end, but lacks in mids and bass.  The Vintage 30 speakers have really fat mids so it filled out the sound. 

The big thing I keep reading on guitar forums is players asking if it sounds like a Marshall.  I wish I could yell at them, "NO!"  A majority of Marshalls use EL-34 tubes which are different than the 6L6 tubes.  Marshalls are known for the "British" sound, and 6L6 based tube amps (Fender) are known for the American rock sound. 

One of the biggest factors in adjusting the sound of a Blue Voodoo is pairing it with the right speakers.  Like I said, it has a lot of highs, but lacks mids and bass.  So I decided to pair it with an American sounding (Fender type) speaker instead of a Celestion (British) sounding speaker.  The American sounding speakers are smoother, balanced, not as bright, and have a medium breakup.  They would help me achieve my goal of having a "hot-rodded Fender" sound.

I found where Carvin was having a blow out sale on their "Vintage" speakers.  Their "Vintage" speakers were basically their version of Eminence "American" voiced speakers.  So it was exactly what I wanted.  I ordered four of them, and installed them in an old Laney cabinet.  I played a few different heads through the cabinet, and it sounded great immediately.  The Blue Voodoo paired awesomely with these speakers.  A lot of speakers need time to be broken in, but these were great right out of the box. 

But my sound wasn't perfect.  I had problems dialing in my sound.  Either the amp was too clean, and then it went straight into angry bee sound without any breakup in-between.  And that in-between is my sound.  I want it to sound like a "hot rodded" Fender.  I don't want to go into heavy metal territory.  If you ever heard Lynyrd Skynyrd live, that's the kind of sound I was going for. 

I was watching a YouTube video on things you could do to make your Fender amp sound better, and they talked about something I hadn't really heard before.  Pretty much all amps use 12AX7 pre-amp tubes.  They are the crunchiest pre-amp tubes available.  However, that doesn't mean they are musical. 

I was reading about other pre-amp tubes that could be used.  Namely, the 12AY7 had a lot less gain, and would allow a player to have a wider selection of gain.  It would also keep the amp from being too loud at lower settings.  Most players know what I mean.  On "1" the amp can barely be heard.  On "2" it's blowing out the windows.  The 12AY7 would still allow you to be loud.  You would just have to turn your amp volume up to "5" instead of "2." 

Most musicians know that feeling when the volume difference between "3" and "10" is nil.  It's annoying and doesn't help you at all.  By replacing the 12AX7s with 12AY7s you can have more useable gain and volume.  However, that's not the only benefit of the 12AY7.

The 12AY7 is also a more "musical" tube.  It has more warmth, and it's not as harsh as the 12AX7.  It's also has a "fatter" tone, something that my amp needs.  Again, since the Blue Voodoo has a lot of treble, but lacks in mids and bass, the 12AY7 is perfect.  It dials back the treble, and boosts the mids and bass.  In other words, it's balancing the amp out while helping to take out the fizziness and sterile sound that a lot of players complain about. 

So I decided to replace the tubes.  I won't go into the technical part of it, but the first pre-amp tube is the most important.  The gain comes from it while the other tubes "mirror" it.  However, the Blue Voodoo has four pre-amp tubes instead of three like most amps.  So I decided to replace the first two pre-amp tubes with 12AY7s. 

Luckily, the Blue Voodoo is easy to work on.  Just remove four screws, and the back comes off.

In go the pre-amp tubes.

Now I plug in and test her out.

I have to say, it took a bit to dial in "my tone."  On channel 2 (the gain channel,) I had to max out the bass since it was so weak.  I'm not a guy who usually uses much bass, but just to balance it I had to max it out.  I also had to boost the mids.  Luckily, I didn't have to boost them as much as I had before.  I dialed the treble back to four, and that seemed to be the right spot for it.  I put the presence knob right in the middle at 12 o'clock.  I could still get harmonics, but not be too bright.  Adjusting the EQ like that lead to a pretty balanced sound.

Next I adjusted the volume.  I could actually put it on "3" without it taking my head off due to the decibel level.  I played with the gain, and found I could get all sorts of rock n' roll sounds.  It just depended upon how crunchy I wanted it.  I have to say, I got it right where I wanted it.  I ended up playing it so much I drove everyone from the room. 

I then tested out channel 1 (the clean channel.)  The new tubes made a huge difference on the clean channel.  When you read reviews about how the Blue Voodoo is a "sterile sounding" amp, the clean channel is where you can really notice it.  However, the 12AY7's livened up the sound as well as helping with the warmth.  I think channel one was actually helped more than channel 2 by the tube change.

I'll admit, I am considering changing the other two pre-amp tubes to 12AY7s.  I don't know if it would change the sound much, but I'll admit I am a bit curious.  But I have to look at the big picture.  I am happy that I have been able to adjust the overall sound of the Blue Voodoo to "my sound."  Although I have to admit, I don't really know of any places you can really play a 100 watt head through a 4X12 cabinet anymore.  It's all coffee shops and small clubs.  Even if I can't play out with it, I can still have fun with it around the house. 

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