New site shop launched

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Amps, Easy stuff for beginners, Effects, Guitar in general, Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Misc, Misc, MK guitar style and licks, Vintage guitars

Some of you might already have noticed that this site has its own shop since a few days. You can enter the shop with the MK-Guitar.com Shop button on the right side of the header section.

After some initial beta testing I am proud to announce that you can  buy stuff like

* Gear (partly vintage stuff)

Ernie Balls, Morleys, effects, instruments … mostly used, ocassionally new stuff
Not too much yet, but I hope to offer some more nice stuff here in the future (check regularly since these things are normally single items, first come, first serve…)

* My backing tracks

Many asked in the past for these, they are the ones I created to use on some of my youtube videos.
Note that I finally sorted out all legal aspects and can now offer these  legally here, which means with buying these you will not only support this site, but also MK himself 😉
If some of the articles of this blog were helpful for you in the past, you can now say thank you by simply buying one or more of these tracks alternatively to the Buy-me -a-beer thing below the posts.

At the moment there are only three backing tracks (Brothers in Arms, Six Blade Knife, Wild West End) but I have the following tracks already in personal use, still need to fix some final details: Sultans of Swing (long version), Romeo & Juliet (like on recent live versions), Song for Sonny Liston, Setting me up, Southbound Again (live  “boogie” version), Down to the Waterline

* Fan Items

I have a few spare copies of some of the Dire Straits books and stuff like that.

* Planned: Own products

Yes, there are actually some nice things in the pipeline …

* Planned: Video Tutorials & eBooks

There are occasionally some weird tricks, techniques, patterns etc. which I learned to play after actually studying these things since I started to play guitar in 1979. Please understand that I am not necessarily keen on giving *everything* away for free e.g. on youtube, but I decided to offer all I know in some kind of video tutorials.  I am still working on conceptual details, watch out for things to come.

Also note that I meanwhile reduced my regular job (one reason … to have more time for things like this site…) so it makes sense that this site might generate some income – the more, the more time for it in the future 🙂

Of course there will still be more free stuff on youtube as well.

Planned: Use the shop to sell your stuff

If you now or at any time want to sell any MK related gear, you might also want to offer it in this shop. This way you might reach an interested audience and the stuff can reside there as long as it takes to get a decent price. You don’t need to ship stuff to me of course, just use the shop as a platform to find a buyer. You can contact me in case for details.

I hope you will have fun browsing the store. Use the comment function of this article for suggestions or opinions.

"Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop 🙂

Trying to recreate that Sultans of Swing sound – The gear I used on the Puresolo competition.

Posted on 14 CommentsPosted in Amps, Effects, Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Misc, Recording

Like many others,  I recorded an entry for the Puresolo competition (you could play your solo over one of the following backing tracks:  Sulans of Swing, Calling Elvis, or Speedway at Nazareth). I always find it a bit frustrating to take part in such a competition because as it seems nobody knows before who decides basing on what criteria (authenticity, accuracy, originality, creativity, …??) Anyway, as the backing track was really great – the original recording of  Sultans of Swing without the lead guitar –  I simply used the opportunity to try how close I can get to the sound of the original. Note that you had to record the guitar with Puresolo’s software which did not allow you to fix mistakes later, so you had to play the whole song in one part and leave in all mistakes, or try it again with a second attempt.

Instead of a link to the competition entry, you will find a  player module with my version  at the end of  this post, mainly because Puresolo only plays back uploaded stuff in a horrible quality (something like 64 kbs). The guitar sound is surely not 100% as the original but closer to it than any of my previous attempts so I thought you might be interested in some details on the gear and settings.

The gear I used

I first played a few guitars I had here to see which one sounds closest over the backing track. I originally felt to go for one with a maple neck, but finally my ’62 Strat with rosewood fingeroard had something the others had not. This does not mean that Mark also played his rosewood Fender Strat instead of his maple-neck, you can never be sure of these things.

A Fender Stratocaster

I first played the guitar through a Morley volume pedal which makes the sound generally sweeter (it takes out some harshness) but for this particular recording I felt I need a lot of treble, so I left out the pedal. For the same reason a Fender Pro Reverb made it compared to an old Music Man amp. I dialed in enough treble and put on the bright switch. The sound was much brighter than I normally play here in the room but sounded alright over the backing track.

A Fender Pro Reverb - I dialed in a lot of treble

I tried an exciter effect – an old Pearl Thriller – which made the sound even shine a bit more.The last effects I used was some chorus and a limiter. Here I took a software plug-in from my Creamware Scope system.

Pearl Thriller - a clone of the Aphex Exciter effect
A subtle chorus effect - speed was rather slow
I lately prefer a limiter over a compressor

I used an old Schoeps CM64 tube microphone which sounded sweeter than the Shure SM 57.

The position and angle of the microphone

Which Pick-Ups?

The next decision was the pick-up combination to use. Normally you’d say Sultans of Swing was the bridge & middle pick-up. I am still not sure what it was but bridge & middle definitely did not sound right here. The middle pick-up alone was too sharp, so I ended with the neck & middle pick-ups. However, note that this Strat has a Dimarzio FS-1 in the neck position, and this pick-up has a totally different impedance than a stock Fender Strat pick-up. This is why it does not sound as nasal when you play it together with another pick-up.

I had rather thin (08) strings on the guitar, maybe too thin. I also did not more experimenting to get that little bit of distortion that seems to be on the original recording. It sounds like an abrupt clipping, maybe from the desk (?!).

So, here is the result in uncompromised sound quality (MP3 320 kbs) as I can hear it from my hard disk. Unfortunately Puresolo compressed everything down to 64 kbs directly after the upload, what a shame since some of the entries are really great!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Simply click on the blue progress bar to make the player play a different part of the song.

"Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop 🙂

Ernie Ball volume pedal modification to make the taper like it was with the old Allen Bradley poti

Posted on 22 CommentsPosted in Effects, Mark Knopfler gear

Regular readers of this blog might know my first article about the different behaviour of Mark Knopfler’s Ernie Ball volume pedal compared to recent Ernie Ball models. In short: In the 80ies  a different poti was used that caused a completely different sweep curve than later ones (see diagram below).

Knopfler’s pedal changes volume drastically over the first part of the pedal sweep range. This allows him to perform the violin-like fade-in notes he is famous for with much more intensity than the new pedals.

Also, during the last part of the pedal sweep – from middle to full – Knopfler’s pedal changes the volume only moderately which means you can adjust the overall volume of the guitar much more precisely than with the new pedal. Let’s say you want to set the level to something like 80% (which Knopfler often does), the new models require a pedal position  that must be accurate to a tiny fraction of an inch, just a bit more and you are instantly at 90%, a tiny bit less and you are at 70% or even less. I found this extremely difficult to perform with your foot while playing and singing. Knopfler’s pedal can be rolled back for an inch to have the desired level, half an inch more and you might have 85%, half an inch less and you are still at let’s say 75%, so it is much easier to adjust.

Again:

Old style: great change in the first, small change in the second half of pedal sweep –> great for fade-ins, great to adjust volume
New style: small change in the first, great change in the second half of pedal sweep –> less intense fade-ins, difficult to adjust volume

Knopfler himself is aware of the problem so his roadie Ron Eve (or was it already Glenn Saggers?) just bought the remaining stock of the old potis from Ernie Ball to have replacements for all times.

My findings and measurements in detail

I have examined Ernie Ball pedals from the last decades but almost all had the new type of volume curve. I just managed to find one from 1986 which seems to behave like Knopfler’s, while my 1989 is already wrong. Surprisingly both the 1986 and the 1989 have an Allen Bradley poti, both made in Mexico. Later they came with a Canadian poti, today with one from Japan (custom-built by Tocos). I took a lot of measurements to see what really happens (diagram below), and found that all the newer potis behave almost identically.

Left to right: 1989 Allen Bradley poti - 1996 Canadian poti - the new Tocos poti

Unfortunately the original poti is no longer produced 🙁 . Allen Bradley was sold in the 80ies and soon stopped making them. The original type is – as I found out – extremely sought-after, in other words almost impossible to get. In addition, Ernie Ball changed some details of the pedal itself – e.g. to accommodate the new potis which have metrical threads instead of inch threads – so a direct replacement is often impossible anyway. Since these potis were all designed for heavy-duty usage (“extended life”), replacing it with some ordinary poti wouldn’t be a good idea – and possibly not easy anyway.

Knopfler has an Allen Bradley poti - note however that these look identical to the later Allen Bradley potis that had the wrong curve

The taper switch on some newer Ernie Ball pedals

Ernie Ball reacted to the situation and implemented a switch which enables two different volume curves, something that seems like a solution. However, my measurements showed me that it in fact changes the curve, but not really to what it was with the old poti. If you look at the diagram you will see what I mean. Besides, with the additional 220k resistor the taper switch puts in, you will lose a bit more treble, too (by the way, this is the reason you cannot simply increase the value of the resistor to make the curves more similar).

Quote from the Ernie Ball website FAQs on the problem

Q:I recently had you guys rebuild my older EB Volume Pedal and the new pot does not distribute the volume like the old pot did. Is this correct?
A: We have used at least 4 different companies to custom-build our potententiomers since the pedal’s inception in the 70’s. Since 1998, we have been using Tocos pots, which we feel are among the very best available today. However, they do have a different “sweep” than the older pots do. On top of the fact that potentiometers in general have very wide tolerances, the fact that upon rebuild we are removing one vendors pot and replacing it with another, there will be some obvious differences in the pedal’s sound. Here’s the scoop: we no longer stock the pots of old, not only because we can’t get them, but also because we do not think they are as consistently good as the Tocos pots. The Tocos pots are the most consistent, high quality pots we have tested. With regards to the sweep changing, that is due to modern day pot manufacturing techniques that are used across the industry.

In my first article I described that I swapped the cable from the guitar and to the amp on my pedal, so I got a curve closer to the old ones. This however had a technical drawback: you lose a lot of treble when the pedal is not at full position (much more than you normally do), so it was not really a solution.

Measurements

Measuring the output in relation to the pedal position
Ernie Ball volume pedal curves - After my modification (red curve) the pedal behaves just like the sought-after version from the early 80ies (yellow)

Without being a technician, you can see huge differences in the diagram. On the horizontal axis we have the pedal position, on the vertical we have volume output. The 1989 Allen Bradly (red) and the Canadian  poti used in the 90ies (blue) have almost identical curves. This is only slightly changed with the taper switch (green).

The yellow curve is the original poti style, and the orange curve is the 1989 poti after my modification (see below). Believe me, I myself am very pleased with my result 🙂 , and don’t forget that potis differ due to tolerances, so even two identical models will not measure 100% identical.

Now the great news

Coming from a family of engineers, I could not sleep (well not really 😉 ) before I found a solution for the problem. I finally managed to modify my two pedals to behave almost 100% identical to the old poti style, and this without any drawbacks, like the need to use (and first to find!) some low-quality poti with a similar curve, or to build in active electronic components that require a battery and introduce noise. The ease of use, look  and reliabilty of the pedal is not decreased in any way! The modification was  very tricky at first (you need inch allen keys that are difficult to get here in Europe,  or you constantly wish for thinner but longer fingers to operate things inside the pedal) and required a lot of experimenting (including making myself a little tool), but finally I got it done. I was really surprised about how close my modification is to the original curve (see diagram).

If you want me to modify your pedal (should work with all Ernie Ball types, at least for the common 6166 and the 6180 Junior pedals), I will happily do so. I thought it is fair to charge you the same fee as you pay for a repair at Ernie Ball – US $ 55 or 42,- € via PayPal (and what I do is more work than what they do, plus for some pedal models they even charge you US $ 75.)  Shipping: You pay shipping to me (Germany), I pay shipping back within Germany, within the EU it is  plus 5,- € . If you are from outside the EU, please ask for details before since customs seem to make handling rather difficult. Also ask for alternatives if you don’t want to use PayPal.

Use the contact form of this blog for first communication. I will reply via email then!

BTW, I will leave in your original poti which means if it is already scratchy, it probably will still be after (although one of mine was cured for some reason after the modification :). I also can open your poti when scratchy to see if I can clean it inside, please inquire for details in such a case.

Update: Check the MK-guitar.com shop for our stock of Ernie Ball pedals that are already modified.

"Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop 🙂