Matt Blackett's Unsung Gear Heroes

September 15, 2011
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You can find a ton of blogs on the web about '59 Les Pauls,'56 Strats, plexi Marshalls, original TS-808 Tube Screamers, and other Holy Grail pieces of tone-producing goodness.

This is not one of them.

As much as I love awesome vintage gear (and as fortunate as I am to have actually played some of the aforementioned beauties), I'm a man of means by no means and I've never tried to acquire classic equipment. My beloved Grandma gave me a Martin acoustic that her parents bought her new in 1930—thanks, Bunny!—but that's pretty much it. So, what I'd like to do here is list some left-of-center gear that has served me well over the years. Most of it is totally affordable and all of it is totally vibey. In no particular order, here are some pieces that have rocked my world, even if they didn't light the rest of the world on fire like a '59 'burst.

Lab Series L7 amp
My first loud amp, I had wanted one of these ever since I saw Ronnie Montrose use one with Gamma back in 1979. I got it in 1983 or '84 and used it on loads of gigs. It has great distortion for a solid-state amp, a compressor that really worked, bold, semi-parametric EQ, and tons of power (conservatively rated at 100 watts). I typically ran it loud and clean, using my Roland GP-8 (yeah!) for all my dirt and effects. This model has 4 10" speakers, is relatively lightweight, and—at the risk of repeating myself—is loud as hell. I still have it.

Alesis Midiverb II
Okay, not the cleanest or most versatile reverb unit in the world, but this was an integral part of my first rack system. It did a couple of things very well: It had a warm hall 'verb with pre-delay that enabled me to get my Neal Schon on and it had some wacky doubler that took a mono signal, split it into stereo, and just made everything sound bigger on my Tascam 4-track. Tommy Emmanuel still swears by these things. Hey Tommy, I'll sell you mine for $500.

ProCo Turbo Rat
I've never been able to get the lead sound I like out of a single distortion pedal. The ones that have enough gain can be too noisy and they generally don't bark like a good amp does. My solution in the '90s was to take two Turbo Rats (I know, I know) and run them in series. I set the first one for almost no distortion (that was my slightly dirty blues tone), and the second one with the gain about halfway up (that was my rock dude crunch tone). For my lead tone, I turned them both on. What that gave me was a perfect volume boost and limitless sustain at almost any level. It was also super quiet and had great definition, with a throaty midrange that delivered a little bit of Brian May. Speaking of Dr. May...

Fender Mini-Twin
I was layering guitars a la Bri on a recording and I found that when I used my killer tube amp with a fat-bottomed tone, the frequencies started to build up really quickly and it kind of wasn't cool. I thought about the little Deacy amp that is on so many great guitar choirs, looked over at my bookshelf and spied my toy Fender amp and got an idea. What do you know? Brian May does know a thing or two about overdubs! The tone of the Mini-Twin is small, thin, and buzzy—in other words perfect for stacking gobs of harmonized guitar lines. You can do a cool, faux-string section by progressively rolling off your tone control as you track the lower parts.

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