I recently had three different 4 x 12″ cabinets here to play around with. They all were different, and they all had different speakers. In the video below I am playing various licks and chords over the three cabinets, it might be helpful to find out for yourself what you like most. But first, the candidates are:
Electro Voice EV 12
On the left you can see a birch cabinet made by House of Speakers, which we got on ebay for just 60 € (without speakers of course). It is equipped now with four Electro Voice EV 12L, the same that Mark Knopfler has in his two red Marshall cabinets. The EV 12L is not available anymore, but you normally can easily get one on ebay. It really is a workhorse that was found not only in countless guitar amps but also in PAs or stage monitors. Each of these speakers can handle 200 watts (!), the only drawback: it is very heavy. A cabinet with four of these is like a bank safe!
Celestion Vintage 30
These are in a Fame cabinet. They are very common because they are not too expensive, loud, and can handle enough power (60 or 70 watts). They are probably one of the most frequently used guitar speakers these days, although they have not that much to do with any vintage Celestion speakers (and do not even have 30 watts as the name suggests).
Celestion G12M “Greenback”
These are the current version of the legendary 25 watts Celestion speaker, as used in most cabinets from the late 60ies or early 70ies. Mark Knopfler uses these, too, he got some nice vintage Marshall cabinets in his studio. Brothers in Arms was a song recorded over these speakers for example.
I must say I like all of these. They all are different and each has some particular advantages over the others. The Vintage 30 always sounds transparent because of his strong high end, and it is also rather loud which is nice to save power (just 3 dB more volume of a speaker would require two times the power of the amp!). Having much treble always sounds nice in a shoot-out but I think you need to be careful a bit because the treble can be too much in some situations.That Fame cabinet was returned by the way because it was not – as advertised – made of plywood (like the Marshall cabs) but of particle board. Nevertheless it is really good value for the money (a bit more than 400 € with speakers).
The Greenbacks have a very sweet sound, they never sound harsh, even if you dial up treble on the amp. On the other hand, they can appear slightly muddy compared to speakers like the Vintage 30. They also have a very deep and warm bass, and creamy mids.
The EV 12L finally seems to be a good allround speaker to me, the best of the different worlds. It has clear treble end, enough mids, and not too strong in the bass. It might not win every shoot-out with the world’s sweetest sound, but it still makes a good figure in most situations. It is loud and can handle more power than any other speaker. Maybe Mark decided for these as the workhorses in his stage cabinets for the same reasons. If only they were not that heavy…
With this blog post I want to introduce my latest product – the iSound-ST. The what you might ask? The iSound-ST is a rotary switch that is thought to replace one of the controls of your Strat, normally one of the tone controls (I recommend to make the other tone control a master tone control). It mainly changes the Strat’s behaviour when you put your 5-way switch into the 1&2-psotion (bridge & middle pickups), enabling new in-between sounds, plus some more.
What was the idea behind the iSound-ST
I came up with the idea some years ago. In a way it has to do with the mysterious black volume knob on Mark Knopfler’s Dire Straits Strats. From various pictures I knew that he did not have the original poti in his Strat (he had one with a solid shaft instead of a split-shaft) so there was a need for a new knob since the original would not fit anymore. The other thing I always felt was that especially his 1 & 2 sound was somewhat different from a normal Strat. This might be nonsense but I know of many others who feel the same. So I said to myself “What if the black knob (and the replaced poti) is not just a different knob but a hint to some modification of the guitar circuit?” In the seventies when he go his Strat such modifications were really common.
I took one of my Strats and led out all pick-up wires to outside of the guitar. This way I could easily experiment with all kinds of circuit modification, like different pickup combinations and more. As it seems Knopfler’s sound at the positions 3 and 2 (neck alone, middle alone) was “normal”, I was searching especially for modifications that affect the sound in the 1 & 2 position. In fact I found many interesting and good new sounds, and some of these seemed to be closer to what I was after than the normal Strat sound. Others gave me totally new sounds that also seemed very handy to me, e.g. the option to get sounds as fat as a humbucker pickup from a Strat, and all these were passive sounds, no active mid-boost, no battery was required.
Next task was a way to get these sounds without having to rewire cables outside of the guitar. One thing was a must for me: the look of the guitar should not be changed, and I wanted to keep all the original Strat sounds as well. I found that it was possible to achieve this, the answer was … the iSound-ST.
The iSound-ST is a rotary switch with 4 positions, in each of these the 1&2-psoition sound of your Strat will be different (in fact it will be warmer or fatter the more you turn it anti-clockwise). At some positions it also changes some other sounds of the Strat (e.g. when using the middle or bridge position of the 5-way), but at one position of the iSound-ST – the ’10’ position, all turned up – your Strat will still behave as it did before, so you’ll lose nothing, just win new sounds.
After some time of using it I forgot to wonder if Mark Knopfler might had something similar in his Strat or not because I liked it so much. In fact you always heard it on most of my youtube videos, I think I really never used the ‘normal’ 1&2 position sound. So the ‘i’ in iSound might stand for your individual sound, or for Ingo’s sound. And I have it in all of my Strats (except those with the Schecter-style pickguards since these allowed many pickup combinations anyway).
Chances of a modification in Mark Knopfler’s Sultans Strat
Today his red ’61 Fender Strat has the normal white volume knob again, and his other red Fender Strat (the one with the maple fingerboard) was given away for some charity some decades ago, so there is no option to find out details of his guitars then anymore. In a Guitar Player interview he said that both of his Strats were stock (except the DiMarzio pickup in one of these). On the other hand, he got it 2nd-hand about 1977, it it imaginable that he himself was not even aware of a circuit mod (I think I heard something similar about Chris Rea’s red Strat who also found out years later that his red Strat had been modified all the time). Or he simply did not want to tell about it, remember, in the late 70ies he was new on the scene and his unique guitar sound was really one of key elements of their success then. Would you have told the world about a sound secret if there was really one?
Some years later he said in another interview: “I liked the 3-way switch better than the 5-position; it had a better sound. But I kept knocking it out. I have a 5-position switch on the Strat now. The roadies are always pulling bits out and sticking things in.” This indicates that he maybe was not always aware of what was in his guitar. One thing is sure: a 5-way switch cannot sound different from the 3-way, it is exactly the same switch with just an added notch to make it rest more stable at the in-between position! Maybe the roadies also changed something else here except replacing the switch.
Another detail: he had the black volume knob, and two normal white knobs. Have you ever noticed that these two did not say ‘Tone’ as they normally do, but the middle one says ‘Volume’?
And finally, he got a solid-shaft poti (or even switch?) in both of his red Strats at that time.
iSound-ST – more details
It seems we will never know all details behind those early Dire Straits sounds. I for myself stopped worrying about possibly modification of his guitar since I love the iSound-ST in my Strats. This is what matters for me. I get warmer sounds and can my Strat even make sound fat – very fat. I played Money for Nothing and Brothers in Arms with cover bands on my Strat, and I missed nothing.All in all, the iSound-ST gives you six new sounds, in addition to the normal five sounds of a Strat, so you will get 11 sounds from a Strat.
In some of my Strats I also added a second mod that is described in the manual of the iSound-ST: I use another of the Strat’s controls as a blender poti that blends between the normal Strat sound and the fat Strat sounds. This is really what does it for me: normal Strat sound which I can beef up to any agree whenever I need more warmth. (I took the volume poti for this since I use a volume pedal anyway, and it is still possible to mute the guitar with the blender poti and the 5-way at a certain position).
Installing the iSound-ST- Is it difficult?
You need to replace one (or even two if you want, see above) poti which requires soldering of course. In fact you will have to unsolder various cables and connect them differently with the iSound-ST. It comes with a detailled step-by-step instruaction, including different pictures of the curcuit, so it is not too complicated. You don’t have to drill or change anything else as long as your guitar has Standard Strat measurements ( I cannot guarantee for any Strat like Japanese copies from the 70ies that often had different internal routings of course).
Note that my current version of the iSound-ST features a normal split-shaft so that you can use your existing knob, no change to the look of your Strat.
Sound clips will follow, as said, most of my old youtube videos feature it anyway, however, there are none demonstrating the real fat sounds. Watch out for things to come. Feel free to use the comment function of this post to ask for more details.
Here are a few comments from user reviews:
Dermot aka Strat61: “If you have a few strats put this on all of them starting with your favourite one – you can’t lose.” “The iSound-ST will give you additional extremely useful range sounds and tones regardless from Tele tones through to a beefier out phase to even a Les Paul type tone” “Well on a decent stock strat and a good tube amp you may already be getting good out of phase DS tones, but this switch will provide additional clarity and boost to those clean out of phase tones from normal setting (thin) to stronger (thick) – now that has to be good as the normal strat out of phase tone can be sometimes too weak especially in a live setup.” read the full review
TheWizzard: “The new combinations are great for those old Dire Straits songs, as your guitar will sound much fatter and warmer now. But it is also very useful for other music styles too. For me the iSound ST is one of the best sound-tools I have ever bought because it’s much easier now to get excellent tones out of your guitar and that just by turning a rotary switch.” read the full review
After the last video in which I already compared the VFS-1 pickup to a 1955 Fender Strat pickup and to the DiMarzio FS-1, here is a first demo of the complete Schecter-style pickguard with the VFS-1 pickups. I was jamming in the Mark Knopfler style over a self-produced 2 chords backing groove on my metallic pink Strat, which is mainly a 1983 Japanese vintage Squier but with a new bird’s eye maple neck. You are hearing the combination of neck & middle pickups, the switches are in the up position (tapped coil). More demos of others of the 26 possible sound combinations will follow.