ToneQuest Report: January-February 2024 – Vol. 25, No. 3-4


Explore the world of guitar playing and equipment in this collection of interviews, features, and reviews. Discover the career and influences of Australian guitarist Jedd Hughes, delve into the craftsmanship of Ron Ellis pickups endorsed by renowned musicians, and explore various guitar pedals and equipment, including the VFE Old School Tremolo, Prescription Electronics pedals, Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, Supro 1620T amp, and a long-lost 1973 Electro-Harmonix Big Muff. Uncover the history and significance of these musical tools and gain insights into the Universal Audio OX Box through a detailed review and interview with Tore Mogensen, the Senior Product Manager at Universal Audio. Plus, follow the journey of acquiring and setting up a vintage Marshall SV20H head for a desired tone.

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What's Inside This Issue:

INTERVIEW  – Jedd Hughes A Desert River – Hailing from Australia, Jedd’s story is hardly believable, yet it makes perfect sense to us. Consider the odds of making a living playing guitar, they are most likely one in a million if that. But Jedd is the one. Jedd’s playing is heartbreakingly beautiful, complex, rich with tones that are bigger than the desert, as soulful and life changing, mind altering, as a river in the midst of one. The open door… starting as background singer and guitarist for Patty Loveless at the Grand Ole Opry and the Down from the Mountain tour with amazing artists like Del McCoury, Alison Krauss. Next playing with Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, his childhood hero Albert Lee, and touring a bit with Sarah Jarosz and opening for Vince Gill and playing in his band afterwards each night. Let’s have some fun and get down to it with Jedd’s gear and going down the rabbit hole of his creative influences of signature tone.

FEATURE INTERVIEW – Ron Ellis  – Ron Ellis is now dedicated full-time to Ron Ellis (RE) Pickups with the support of plenty of great players like Julian Lage, Bill Frisell, Lee Roy Parnell, Jedd Hughes, and Kirk Fletcher. Ron works closely with the guys who know what’s going on behind the scenes— guitar tech Phil Taylor for David Gilmour and a ToneQuest friend, and most recently— Alex Alvarez from Lenny Kravitz and John Mayer, Trace Foster for AC/DC and Aerosmith, and Rick Wheeler for Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, and Landau. RE Pickups continues to grow and support relationships with guitar builders including the stellar Collings Guitar on board. Ron is duly staffed with “the crew,” including his son Alan and has pickups available in stock or within a week’s delivery. Ron’s passion for recreating classic sounds for players can be the perfect pickup for your playing platform and is yours for the taking… get the right pickups in your hands.

RON ELLIS PICKUPS – Signature Humbucker 50/60S & 64S Strat Sets – Where does the creative work of Ron Ellis fit in with all the past seventy years? There have been only a small handful of “modern” builders that stay around and walk the walk in transcendent ways. Ron Ellis is one of the very few. Ellis rolled up his sleeves through the years and figured it out. What we like most about his work is that he didn’t simply try to copy what some think is the quintessential mark, he is making pickups that he likes, that sound the way he feels they should. We will always keep celebrating and mining the truly special pickups for our ToneQuest brethren, because there is no perfect set—only hues and vibrant colors for whatever tapestry you want to paint your sonic canvas with. We were lucky to get our hands on Ron’s Signature Humbucker…the thrill ain’t gone B.B., it is right here, alive and well, and the Ron Ellis 50/60S Strat Set…Ron’s very own recipe of the Fullerton eras vintage classic vibes, and the Ron Ellis 64S Strat Set…all-around game on that’ll have you grooving for miles.

PETER RUTTER – The VFE Old School Tremolo – Let’s take a deep and candid look at some of the main pedals Jedd Hughes uses in his artistry. It just so happens some of his favorites are ours too. We’ve had the VFE tremolo for a while and were amused that Jedd named it as a favorite. We’ve never seen anyone else using one. It took six months, but we finally caught up with Peter Rutter to have him tell us the story. It begins with the DIY pedal scene, a prized original circuit sound common with the tone of amp vibrato tone—his first batch called the Yellow Submarine, name changing to Tremulator, then the first release of the Old School in 2012, and back to the past in its current version he describes as a bread-and-butter tremolo sound. Peter builds only a few at a time and for a few hundred bucks—it can also be a favorite of yours!

THE PRESCRIPTION ELECTRONICS EXPERIENCE – Jack Brossart built pedals under Prescription Electronics Inc. and are underground favorites of a few tone hounds, such as Doyle Bramhall II, Jedd Hughes, and Eric Johnson. Jack’s not with us anymore, unfortunately, but what he left behind is special—it’s an Octave Fuzz we think was inspired by the Foxx Tone Machine and certainly the Hendrix era. Let your freak flag fly
and find one if you can.

Vintage Deluxe Memory Man – If you’ve read ToneQuest for a while, you have heard us rave about our hallowed pair of vintage tube EP-2 Echoplexes. For countless years we have tried modern pedal after pedal, all claiming to be an Echoplex—None were, and we sold them all. Where does the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man fall into place here? Suffice to say, it is the only pedal that even comes close to an Echoplex. We are crazy for these and have a stash of four of them we use all the time. As Tom Bukovac said to us recently, “Who doesn’t love a Deluxe Memory Man?” What did the Edge use on all those U2 albums? The big box. Quest forth forth forth forth forth…

THE SUPRO 1620T – A Valco Barn Burner In A Small Package – The Valco Company made heaps of smaller amps over the years. In 1958 they began to use 6973 output tubes in amps like the 1600B Supreme amp and the 1624T Dual Tone. This was a time for Valco when their circuit design would change, evolving into a whole different type of circuit construction and layout using more terminal strips and ceramic disc capacitors creating their own new and distinctive sound. Terry Dobbs aka Mr. Valco explains just how the 1620T can sound so freaking good for its size and, how compared to the 1600 Supreme has more fidelity and a more refined overdrive and character. Both the 1620T and the 1600 Supreme are very desirable smaller Valco amps that will surprise you if you don’t know much about them, and they each have their own characteristic breakup. Here’s to small fires with huge burns!

A LONG-LOST 1973 BIG MUFF – James Mastro With Mike Matthews Of Electro-Harmonix – James Mastro shares his tale of woe for his beloved 1973 Electro-Harmonix Big Muff that he had as a kid in the seventies. Sometime around 1980 the pedal just vanished…Fast forward forty-two years and a Facebook message from an old acquaintance, they slowly piece the amazing story together. James’ long-lost Big Muff is found—unleashing a flood of memories…gigs, recordings, loudness! How would it sound fifty years later? Plugged into a ’73 Strat, going into a ’67 Ampeg Reverberocket and there it was…all the rage and glory and drive he had as teen. How could that be? What was the inspiration behind this classic pedal? What better way to get an answer than to go straight to the source, Mike Matthews, the founder of Electro-Harmonix the driving force behind the development of the Big Muff and arguably the most popular distortion pedal ever! Mike’s story is a colorful one, a behind the scenes innovator who has had as much influence on music as those who are standing on stage every night with a guitar in their hands.

The Russian Green Machine Big Muff – We could not resist sharing our own Muff tale, since it was such a bread-and-butter staple of our touring years. A 1992 black Les Paul Standard that Aerosmith Joe Perry’s tech sold us, a 50-watt Marshall half stack with matching 4×12 cabinet, the Green Big Muff, and a 1967 Wah pedal. That was it. Not sure what happened to ours, but we found one in the original box in excellent condition and there it was…David Gilmour with Pink Floyd, Black Keys…Oh yea.

Brown Vibrasonic Home Brew – Mark Shanahan sets out on the road in his Ford F-250 with a mounted truck camper inspired by the music played by our heroes where a cranked amp was the order of the day. Times have changed and the hunt is on for smaller amps for the modern player. Vintage or boutique, choices abound. Mark visits Joe Glaser’s Instruments and Todd Sharp’s Amp Service in Nashville with a 1956 Gibson ES-350T and 1961 Ampeg Reverberocket being fixed up and then making his way to George Gruhn’s shop of wonders and Carter Vintage Instruments. Back home in Madison, Wisconsin he eventually finds a brown Vibrasonic at a ToneQuest approved shop, Dave’s Guitars in Lacrosse. A call to Jeff Bakos Amp Works in Atlanta—Sold. Could Terry Dobbs, Mr. Valco coax the amp to give up the goods at lower volume settings or…stay with the original vibes and intent?

Fuzz Phrase Ltd – Purple suede as the cover material for a fuzz with a graphic of Jimi attached to the lower left? And oh yeah, a clear plexiglass backplate option with a zipper to quickly remind your nerdy self how beautiful the layout of well-conceived circuit wiring with vintage transistors and a tropical fish cap can be. Very Shagadelic. Hours will melt away as you get lost in the experimentation, inevitably with stops in Gilmour and Hendrix land. Let’s hope that the golden-eared JAM team can source more CV7003s, because this one is special.

1970 SHIN-EI UNIVIBE – Lilt and Shimmer – There’s a 1970 Univibe listed on Reverb as we write that claims to have been owned and played by Jimi Hendrix for sale for $35,000 which allegedly includes a letter of authentication from the surviving patriarch of the Hendrix family, Leon Hendrix. Whether or not the listing is legitimate, there is potential magic to these old pedals, and the history behind the dates of manufacture and by whom is somewhat cloudy. Research and history aside, some of the remaining early examples of Univibe sound amazing, but in typical fashion, others just don’t have it. There are gearheads everywhere on this planet and in this case, an introduction from Josh at Music Villa, we have a new friend, Rich Nelson who lives down the street and spent many years in New York City collecting beautiful examples of old gear. Rich was willing to share his Univibe pedal and let us “hold on to it as long as you like and have fun.” We sure did and we still are.

REVIEW – The Universal Audio OX Box – We bought an OX Box to see what all the hype was about, and it was nothing short of illuminating, let alone exquisitely versatile. The 20-watt Marshall was so loud, this offered the perfect opportunity to explore it for our needs. It does a range of things, so don’t let the price point stop you from going for it. We checked with our TQR Editorial Board member Corey Congilio before we bought ours and he shared with us what he loves about his OX and how he got involved with Universal Audio—”Everyone works to bring the most authentic experience to the end user. One can’t mention OX and other UA guitar products without the knowledge and wisdom of James Santiago and Tore Mogensen. I had to sell my other gear and go full on what I think is the single most important product to hit the market in ten plus years.”

INTERVIEW – Tore Mogensen – Tore Mogensen is the Senior Product Manager for guitar products at Universal 
Audio and according to Tore, a fancy title for being the guy who comes up with the idea for new products and decides which ones should be developed. We asked him to share his wisdom on the OX, the research, design process and evolution. “The second goal was to help guitar players and studio engineers achieve album quality guitar tones without having the studio environment, equipment and expertise typically required to record great guitar sounds. With OX we wanted to provide users with a perfectly treated studio tracking room, a huge selection of expertly modeled guitar speakers and cabinets, a dream list of every studio owner’s favorite microphones, and a set of master effects—all developed and tuned to make it fun and easy to quickly dial in and record killer guitar tracks.” For recording needs, it’s hard to imagine anything else in this league…it walks the walk. We are believers.

THE PENNSYLVANIA PLEXI – A Black & Gold Beast – Oh, the stable of vintage Fender black panel amps from the mid-1960s have been our forever go stash. There are a pair of Deluxe Reverbs and a pair of Princeton Reverbs, along with a blonde Super Reverb. We have always felt we can pretty much cover most of what we might care to or desire with them and a few pedals. But not everything. A vintage Vox AC30 would deliver chime and kerrang for miles, we still dream of owning one. And as for Marshalls, nothing will ever sound like them but the real thing. So, after hearing from Peter Frampton via David Wilson years ago that the modern SV20H head delivers the goods, we patiently bided our time, and waited for a decent price on one, went for it, mint condition in the original box. On the road last summer, we shipped it to Ohio and wasted no time getting it to the Guitar Riot Shop in Cleveland to crank it in a back room to make sure it had traveled safely. Very nice, but this amp deserved us to go the usual ToneQuest distance for you…Speaker recommendations from Jeff Bakos, a dozen hand-picked pairs of vintage tubes from Bart Wittrock, Rockin Robin Guitar Shop. Can’t do much better than this little badass plexi that could.