ToneQuest Report: June 2024 – Vol. 25, No. 8


In a world where craftsmanship meets passion, several stories stand out. One recounts the meticulous restoration of a 1960 Les Paul, lovingly named the Radius Burst, involving a team of skilled artisans, resulting in its glorious debut at the Milan Guitar Show. Another tale follows the journey of Blackie Pagano, whose love for tube audio led him to become a revered expert in guitar amp and audio repair, catering to legends like Lou Reed and GE Smith. Meanwhile, Steve Carr’s 25-year legacy in amp building culminates in the Bel-Ray, a modern marvel blending power, versatility, and timeless design, which captivates with its stunning tones. Not to be outdone, Jeff Bolin’s Analog Pedals presents the KY Hot Brown, a pedal crafted to summon the iconic “brown sound” reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen’s legendary tones, earning accolades as a must-have for any guitar enthusiast. Each narrative showcases a dedication to excellence, preserving tradition while pushing boundaries in pursuit of sonic perfection.

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What's Inside This Issue:

RESTORING THE RADIUS BURST – A very special instrument—a 1960 Les Paul. It’s not every day that one gets to restore an iconic instrument such as a ’burst! This story involves one of Italy’s most iconic instruments and the team of experts it took to restore this piece to its former glory. The restoration journey begins with Francesco Balossino, Cesco’s Corner, an architect with a deep passion for vintage guitars who meets Alberto Radius and the Radius Burst in 2022. Shipped to Joel Wilkens and learning he is not able to finish the guitar wood refinements, but available for consultation, it’s shipped to luthier Ken McKay who works on The Radius 16 hours a day, extracting a perfect match of old growth mahogany with sacrifice and good cause. And with two months left to go, the highly recommended Joe Riggio completes the final finish work on time beyond expectations to look and feel like the original for the Milan Guitar Show in November 2023.

BLACKIE PAGANO – EXPERT GUITAR AMP AND AUDIO REPAIR – Mentored by a friend, Blackie Pagano learned to repair things as a studio audio tech in midtown New York City. He always had the tube audio bug—even his stereo at the time was an old Harmon Kardon Citation. By 1989 he is repairing amplifiers on his kitchen table. A great guitar player and producer, Eric Ambel gave him his first independent job wiring the entire studio, Coyote, in north Brooklyn. Guitar amps were coming in and Blackie would buy tubes from Mike Matthews of Electro-Harmonix, who was nearby with his tube importing company in a loft just up the street. Today Blackie works with tone chasing friends including, John Peden, Lou Reed, GE Smith and Tim Parnin Of The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. For 35 years, day-in and day-out, six days a week, he’s here to repair amps, vintage restorations and plenty hi-fi work. Anyone can call and leave a message and he’ll call you back to answer your questions and satisfy your quest for the ultimate amp tone.

CARR AMPS – STEVE CARR FEATURE INTERVIEW – Now celebrating 25 years, we caught up with Steve Carr to get a refresher on his path in music and amps, with a spotlight on his latest creation, the Bel-Ray. One of our favorites has been the Skylark, one among many looking back on the amazing body of his creations—The Rambler, Steve’s second amp and his perennial favorite stands out as something special, used by so many pros and session players in Nashville. For him, The Mercury V, the Super Bee, and the Telstar all shine. His personal favorite vintage amps include the black-panel 1964 Deluxe Reverb and the Princeton, but getting older, he prefers making lower-power amps that can even be used at home. Steve takes us down the road and process to creating the Bel-Ray. Going for more a late-’60s robust and stout, clean Marshall sound, not a JCM 800 style, he wanted to make something powerful and driving. Each ingredient in the soup matters and with the Fane F25 speaker flavor, it all happens.

THE BEL-RAY – We have always felt that Steve Carr is at the top of the heap when it comes to modern amp builders whose work not only stands the test of time but raises the bar—He never throws anything but aces. Steve astutely understands what players are seeking as times progress and his amps take in consideration both power, feel and versatility; never one-trick ponies. The build quality of The Bel-Ray is stunning from the wiring details within the cabinets and the style is a blend of modern retro soulfulness that we dig big-time too. Discover what happened when we tried the Bel-Ray with different speakers: Fane F25, 1959 Jensen P12N, 1960 Jensen P15N, Celestion G12H30, Jupiter 12LA and The Allesandro Eminence SC-59 12. We found so many tones we could use to play legendary songs from Tom Petty to The Who. What more could you ask for? Outstanding.

MISSING LINK AUDIO’S ANTHEM DUAL DRIVE PEDAL – Lynyrd Skynyrd were a great band for sure. Endless dueling leads and wonderful songs, grooves, and heartfelt singing. When we got a chance to try out the Anthem Dual Drive pedal, dedicated to all things Skynyrd, we didn’t miss a beat getting Mark Hooten to ship us one. We worked our way through all of the Anthem settings with a sweet Gibson Custom Shop ’burst loaded with Ron Ellis Signature humbuckers, a 2010 Gibson Goldtop loaded with 59 A5 buckers from James Finnerty of ReWind, and a sunburst Strat with Slider’s 59 SRVs from Australia for good measure. We warmed up both the Marshall Plexi with vintage 1972 Greenbacks and the ’64 Deluxe Reverb. A cool pedal for Southern rock…We were free as a bird now, and that bird you sure can’t change. There’s more going on at MLA and more pedals…

LIKE GRAVY FOR YOUR POUTINE – JEFF BOLIN’S KY HOT BROWN – In an ever-exploding landscape of overdriven and distorted guitar tone, Analog Pedals’ KY Hot Brown emerges like an aged whiskey, steeped in sonic warmth and expressive nuance. Crafted meticulously with hand-built attention to detail, this pedal stands proudly among what feels like thousands of similar creations, a testament to the spirit of its creator, Jeff Bolin. The inspiration came from the Wampler Pinnacle, as it has six JFET gain stages and the closet thing heard in a pedal that can do early Eddie Van Halen tones—that warm “brown sound” that helped with the name. If you’ve been to Kentucky, they’re known for their KY Hot Brown, a comfort food. Its magic is the Contour control, which distinguishes it from the pack. We caught up with Jeff for the latest at Analog Pedals and how the KY Hot Brown came to be.

ANALOG PEDALS KY HOT BROWN REVIEW – We’re fans of the pedals Jeff Bolin has been crafting, and you have seen them here over the past couple of years. The KY Hot Brown is Bolin’s take on getting the famous Eddie Van Halen “brown sound” from a plug-and-play pedal. Eddie used Marshalls, a tube Echoplex, and a Variac, along with other mods, and often a flanger/phaser. We floored our KY Hot Brown through the 1959 tweed GA-40 amp, along with an Electric Orange Moon Vibe and our vintage EP-2 Echoplex, plus a dark-back goldtop loaded with Ron Ellis Signature humbuckers. It truly set free a lot of notes in us that had been waiting for the floodgates to open. For the money, this is a slam dunk you just can’t beat. We now call it the Hot Damn pedal.