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The Marketing Myth of Carbon Composition Resistors in Guitar Effects Pedals

We have all seen the marketing. We all know the hype. What’s worse is that we should all know better.

I’m talking about the magic mojo of the carbon composition resistor. For years and years there has been a growing belief that the use of carbon comp resistors can somehow transform a lifeless, poor sounding circuit or effect into tone-breathing machine of which legends and tales will forever be told! There are many ways to go on from here. What I would like to do is cover two things; how or why this myth has taken root, and whether or not there is ANY truth or proof in it.

Before I go on, I should point out that I am speaking specifically of carbon comps being used in low power effects (under 30V or so). This pretty much includes everything on your pedalboard.

In order to truly understand this subject, we should uncover the roots of the belief. There are varying thoughts on this, but the one that makes the most sense to me is our obsession with the tones of the past. When researching guitar effects, how many times have we seen marketing lines like, ‘VINTAGE (insert trendy amp name here) tones!’ Better yet, which of us have not Googled the same things while trying to narrow our search for the next pedal that will make us sound more like SRV, David Gilmour, etc. ‘Forget practice,’ we think, ‘there must be a pedal for that.’                       *author’s note, build a pedal that actually DOES make you a better player.

Ok, back on topic. The point is that we often are in search of the gear that is going to make us sound like our heroes of old. Somewhere along the line, some genius actually thought, ‘Well, if everyone wants to buy gear that sounds old, why don’t I just build my new gear with the same parts as the old stuff?’ BOOM. The carbon comp resistor myth was birthed. Before we knew it we were bombarded with promises of NOS (new old stock) carbon comp resistors freeing us from our previously dull and boring tone, because obviously ‘they just don’t make them like they used to.’ And to be honest, it actually kind of makes logical sense, but does it make scientific sense? The answer is sort of yes and no.

So, we have uncovered a logical explanation to why and how the carbon comp craze was born, but the bigger, more important question is whether there is any truth in it, and if so how do we prove it? Much of what I cover in this next section will be referencing an article written by R.G. Keen. If you have read any of my previous posts you will probably recognize this name. I often reference his writing because he knows what he is talking about, much more than I. In his article here he talks about carbon comp resistors and there use in guitar amplifiers. After researching carbon comp manufacturer’s info there are a few things that pop up over and over.

1. Carbon comp resistors have excess noise (compared to metal film resistors)

2. Carbon comp resistors have a higher variability (a 100K CC resistor may actually measure anywhere from 90K to 100K)

3. Carbon comp resistors have high drift

So, I guess it is true, they don’t make them like they used to… they make them MUCH better than they used to.

All these shortcomings aside, however, there is one distinguishing characteristic that may just give this myth some legs. Carbon comp resistor have a high voltage coefficient of resistance. This basically means that the resistance of a carbon comp will actually vary depending on the amount of voltage applied to it! Because of this, a phenomenon called ‘resistor distortion’ can become present. This distortion is typically only in the 2nd harmonic and not enough to be HEARD as distortion, just enough to add a bit of love. And THIS, we love. So there you have it, proof that carbon comp resistors sound better than metal film!

#holdupwaitaminute

Not so fast. As we look closer at this resistor distortion we find that it is only produced when two variables exist.

1) there must be a high voltage applied, around 100V and higher

2) there must be a large signal swings across the resistor

So I ask you, does this sound like the parameters that your 9V powered Tube Screamer functions within? No, not at all. And oh, how the plot thickens! Essentially what has happened is we have let our love for the days (and tones) of old, coupled with a half-baked-half-truth steer us into believing these pedal builders when they claim that what REALLY sets them apart is their use of NOS carbon comp resistors. What I wonder is whether they actually know that it is false marketing. Unfortunately, there will always be the man with the Golden Ears claiming that he can hear the difference, leading the masses like the Pied Piper of tone and thus reinforcing this marketing myth.

For more in depth info, I encourage you to read the full article by Mr. Keen.

Sticky
May 01, 2015
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Big Changes #2 at Mercy Seat Effects

Mercy Seat Effects has officially moved to Germany. Yep, Germany. I am now back up and running at full production levels. Of course, now living in an EU country I will be charging prices in Euros. NEVER FEAR! That doesn’t mean you can’t pay with the good ol’ American dollar or good ol’ American credit! The price will auto generate at checkout. Welcome to the age of the geek.
Speaking of checking out, check out the new standard Tree of Life overdrive here featuring new screenprinted graphics. The insides are all the same of course, but the price is 20 Euros cheaper!

Sticky
Oct 11, 2014
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Big Changes #1 at Mercy Seat Effects

Since Mercy Seat Effects began I had a very simple mission; to create effects pedals that inspire. In order to accomplish this I not only concerned myself with the sound and tone of my pedals but also in their apprearance. Making an effects pedal stand out in its tone is difficult enough, but making it stand out in its physical appearance is quite another burden. This is the reason I have always sought to give as much artistic control and customization to each and every customer. It has proven to be exactly what SOME players are looking for. However, what about everyone else who appreciates the more standardized, professional look?
I have realized not everyone is seeking a custom designed pedal. Not everyone cares about the color of their enclosure or the graphic that is handpainted on it. It is for these people that I am proud to offer a standardized version of my pedals with professionaly screenprinted artwork by Mammoth Electronics.
Slowly, one at a time, I will begin releasing these versions. The goal is to release one pedal each month, starting in August.
The first of my pedals to be released is the Tree of Life overdrive. For more information on its extremely versatile and impecable tone please click here.

For those of you who prefer the custom work, DON’T WORRY! I will continue to build custom pedals as well!

 

Sticky
Aug 01, 2014
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Annoucing the first Mercy Seat Effects endorsed artist! Chris Wrate!

I am more than excited to announce that the first Mercy Seat Effects endorsed artist is Chris Wrate. Chris is the musical chris wrate 2director/guitarist for Ariana Grande. He’s also involved in {l.a.}god Music, a conglomeration of L.A. based studio and touring musicians and writers from the secular industry all uniting for a new worship project. We were able to steal a few moments from Chris’s busy day to ask him a few questions about his life, gear and his outlook on pointy guitars. Check out the interview below!

MSE: “First things first, how many points on a guitar is too many?”

Chris: “Haha… no more than 2.”

MSE: “Fair enough. I know I liked you for a reason. I’d ask if that includes the headstock, but that would be quite the digression. Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today.”

Chris: “I moved from Wisconsin to Los Angeles in 2008 to attend a school called Musicians Institute. The school is unique in that it brings a lot of opportunity to the students to find work whether through auditions for touring acts, song placements or other opportunities that most schools don’t present. While attending MI I met someone who works in musician referrals, assembling auditions for artists who are looking to put together a band for touring. He held an audition at the school for the Offspring that I tried out for and that led to me getting called for other auditions that would eventually lead to some of my first gigs after graduating.”

MSE: “Cool! I remember listening to the Offspring as a 12 year old in my first ever limo ride. We did what any other 12 year olds would do… went through the McDonald’s drive thru. Anyway, so that must be how you got your current gig? Tell us a little bit about that.”

Chris: “My main gig right now is serving as the Musical Director/Guitarist for Ariana Grande. When I’m not out on the road I would say the typical day for me would consist of morning coffee, devotionals, a few hours on the guitar, spicy food and a glass of Jack Daniels to cap off the day. As long as those few things happen everything else is an added bonus.”

MSE: “Coffee, devotionals, guitar, spicy food and Jack Daniels. I think you just summed up exactly what it is to be a man. So how long have you been with Ariana?”

Chris: “6 months.”

MSE: “Great! Sounds like it’s going well. And are you involved with writing with her at all?”

Chris: “I am not. She has a specific group of writers and producers that she’s been working with long before the band was brought in so…”

MSE: “Gotcha. Switching gears here, I’m sure you get asked about your gear all the time but I’m less interested in what you currently play. (that info can be seen here) I love to know where people have come from. What was the first guitar you owned?”

Chris: “Some jacked up, entry level, used Ibanez I found at a local shop for 70 bucks. I covered it with Jimi, Phish and Blink 182 stickers. I’m not sure why.”

MSE: “Maybe to cover up the points? Haha, just kidding. We’ve all been guilty of the Spencer’s Gifts mass sticker purchase. At least you didn’t put them on your car. So that may be a piece of gear you don’t mind forgetting about, but what is the one piece of gear you no longer own and you are now kicking yourself for getting rid of?”

Chris: “I had a 65 Twin Reverb I sold for a delay pedal. Kind of wishing I didn’t do that.”

MSE: “Wow! That must have been some kind of delay pedal!”

Chris: “Haha yes. It was the Eventide TimeFactor. This was pre Stymon TimeLine era so for me it was the must have delay at the time. I think I also bought a chorus pedal too with the money but still a regrettable decision nonetheless.”

MSE: “Believe me, we’ve all been there. I sold a ’73 Walnut Telecaster Deluxe about 6 years ago. I’ll never forgive myself. BUT! Gear does not make us a better player, so there’s that. Speaking of becoming a better player, what types of things do you do to keep progressing?”

chris wrateChris: “Listen. There’s so much to draw from out there. I think the worst thing a guitar player or musician can do is segregate certain styles of artists from what they have deemed respectable or likable. You don’t have to be a fan of every artist/musician out there but you can respect what it is about a particular person that has made them successful. In doing so you might find areas that another person is stronger in than you and it can develop a desire in you to cultivate those skills and make you a better all around player.”

MSE: “Great advice! So do you ever feel as though you are plateauing?”

Chris: “I’ve never felt close to peaking. I have always found the guitar to be infinite. There’s always some area you can develop or the “perfect tone” that we’re always trying to achieve.”

MSE: “Ahh yes. The “perfect tone.” Infamous, mysterious and oh-so just barely out of reach. Ok, last question. What is the one thing you can’t live without on the road?”

Chris: “My Bible.”

MSE: “Thank you so much for your time Chris and welcome to the Mercy Seat Effects family! We’re excited to have you and honored to work together.”

Chris: “Thank you!”

Be sure to follow @chriswrate on Instagram and Twitter! And if you’re extra adventurous, be one of the 12 Million+ followers of @ArianaGrande.

Check out @LAGodMusic and their new upcoming EP slated for release 2/12/14

www.chriswrate.com

 

Sticky
Jan 10, 2014
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3 Vintage Amps You May Be Overlooking

Vintage amps. Most of us love them, the ones who don’t love the amps that are modeled or based on vintage circuits. The problem most of us run in to is that the “good” vintage amps usually command a pretty high price in the marketplace. And rightfully so! These are amps made in the hayday of tube electronics, pioneers in the advent of Rock n Roll. It is not uncommon to see amps inflating to 10X what they cost new. An early to mid sixties Fender Princeton Reverb will cost you north of $1,000 and over $1,500 in great shape. Gearheads are continually searching forums, eBay and Craigslist to find the next, up-and-coming vintage amp and I am not any different! Here is a list of 3 vintage amp brands that many people overlook in their pursuit of vintage sonic perfection.

Danelectro Amps

00258_frontIn the old days, a single manufacturer would produce the same amp  and market it under multiple brands. Valco did this and so did Danelectro. Perhaps you are more familiar with Silvertone. Well, in the mid 50’s on into the mid 60’s Danelectro was producing amplifiers in their New Jersey shop for Sears and Montgomery Ward department stores. Sometimes they were marketed as Danelectro, sometimes as Silvertone or another brand but the guts were nearly identical. Many gear-hounds have shied away from Danelectro amplifiers because many of them have enclosures made of cardboard, but man, a lot of them sound pretty sweet! Check out the Corporal with the twin 8′ speakers or the larger Centurion. If you’re lucky you can find these amps for under $300!

Magnatone Amps

Otherwise known as Estey, Magnatone amps were total sleepers until Robert Cray let the cat out of the bag. As a result, the 400 series and now even the 200 series Magnatones, or “Maggies” as they have been coined, are going for well over $900. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still score a nice Maggy for less! The Melodier, although smaller and less wattage than its bigger siblings still sounds VERY good and will be closer to the $250 to $400 range. You may even get lucky and score an M series Magnatone for under $5o0. They sound good and have an amazing tremolo circuit (or is it vibrato?). In fact, the tremolo on some models is SO good that some boutique pedal manufacturers use the circuit as a starting point for their own effects pedal circuits! Here is a great resource for tracking down nearly any Magnatone model, even those under the PANaramic and Tonemaster badges!

Sano Amps

There was a time that one could find a nice vintage Ampeg Reverberocket for a decent price. Along came bands like Kings and Leon and those vintage Ampeg prices went SANO2x12.89through the roof! But wait! In the late 50’s and 60’s, literally just down the street from the Ampeg plant was a smaller, lesser known amp manufacturer called Sano. Often misappropriated was an Ampeg offshoot, Sano was actually its own entity from the very start. The great news is that many of those early Sano amplifiers were nearly identical to the more popular Ampegs. Check out the Sano Twin Twelve with its two 12 inch speaker pushing out about 30 watts of vintage mojo tone. Not only do you get a strong, clean amp for a good price but the Twin Twelve also boasts tube reverb and tremolo! How’s that for a vintage amp deal?!? Be mindful and do your research as many of the solid state Sano amps look identical to the tube models.

So there you have it. Proof positive that there are still some amazing vintage tube amp deals out there. Just do your research and find the one that is right for you. Who knows, maybe one of these will be the next big player in the vintage amp market. Get in early while you can still afford one on a working musician’s salary!

Sticky
Jul 09, 2013
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Why Are Hand built, Handmade, Boutique and Non-Production Line Guitar Effects Pedals So Expensive?

ToL eagle layoutI’ve heard this question discussed quite extensively and read LOOOOONG discussions on this topic on numerous gear forums. The questions usually starts out with someone pointing out that guitar pedals only have “… like $10 worth of parts in them. Why do builders charge in the hundreds for them?” So, if you’ve found yourself wondering why hand built and handmade pedals cost so much here are a few reasons!

*Note, I used the term “boutique” in the title of the article. I am increasingly getting more and more fed up with this term. I have used it, incorrectly I might add, at times but I think it’s high time we put it to bed. I simply used it in the title to grab attention of those searching for info on the topic.

Cost of Parts

Let’s start with the “$10 worth of parts” statement. Umm, no. The enclosure alone, especially if it is powder-coated, will cost more than $10 from most manufacturers. You can get Hammond clones, as most builders do, that are built just as well and cost a couple dollars less but as soon as you add the cost of powder-coating you are north of $10. Next, if you want a true-bypass pedal the switch will run anywhere from $3 for a Taiwan made part to $8 for an ROHS compliant Carling brand switch. Sure, there are some junky switches out there, but I have never encountered a Carling switch that outperformed the less expensive generic switches. Some may disagree, but you’re basically paying for the name. Open up nearly any “boutique” pedal and you’ll most likely find the “classic blue” switch. Affordable, durable and long lasting. Next you have your input and output jack(s). I always use Switchcraft jacks. It’s simply a personal preference. Neutrik jacks are also pretty good, but I find that Switchcrafts are easier to solder and work with. This is where builders should not cut corners. There are plenty of crappy, cheap, low quality jacks out there. Don’t use them. Switchcraft jacks run about $2 a pieces. Are you keeping up with your math? Now add all the insides, PC board, DC jack, wiring, capacitors, resistors, op-amps, transistors… You’ll quickly find that, depending on brands used, the “guts” will run anywhere from $10 for a circuit with minimal parts to more than $70 for circuits with multiple op-amps or expensive NOS Germanium clipping diodes.

Time

So far we’ve looked at the cost of the actual parts. Now add in the time involved with not only building the guitar pedal but prototyping and breadboarding new circuit ideas, testing and improving designs of PC boards and designing the graphics and physical payout of the pedal. Some builders have been known to spend MONTHS crafting and perfecting a design. Even a conservative $10/hr pay shows us the time and work involved with this market.

After doing the math it’s pretty easy to see why a hand built pedal from a smaller guitar effects company can cost anywhere from $150 to $400! Are some of them overpriced? Of course! But that’s the nature of supply and demand. In the end, a product is worth what people are willing to pay. Is an original Klon worth more than twice what it would cost to clone one? Of course it is as long as there are people out there willing to spend over $600 for one. Does that mean it is any better than the others? Purely electronically speaking, no, but the crazy (and awesome) thing about guitar gear is that the beauty is always in the ear of the beholder. Some will swear that there is something absolutely magical about *insert trendy/vintage/boutique pedal here.* Who am I, or you or anyone else for that matter to tell them what they hear is wrong or just a marketing ploy? However, check out this somewhat hilarious video from Brett Kingman comparing the Klon Centaur to the Digitech Bad Monkey. Sure they don’t sound exactly the same, but compare the $30 Bad Monkey to the $600 Klon and you start to get my point 🙂

Long story short: let your ears make your decisions; don’t buy into hype; have an understanding of why certain pedals cost more than others; and finally understand what you like and be prepared to talk about why you like it!

Sticky
Jun 27, 2013
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