by Yoel Kreisler
The debate of guitar tone is an old flame that has seemed to be fanned by the advent of the internet. Online forums and Facebook groups focused on guitars or guitar tone have only heated up the arguments, with the veil of anonymity allowing people to spit vitriol at each other with no immediate social repercussion. Like many things with the rise of the internet, the entire structure of the market (not only for guitar gear) changed for good, and the conversations between manufacturer and consumer were opened up to a whole new level, making garage operations blow up to the new norm we see today.
With all the heated debate, there is one constant that can almost never be shot down. As almost letter of law, guitar players almost (we can never agree on everything) unanimously agree that there is nothing better than a good tube amp. Something unquantifiable about the magic of tubes (or valves, as you Brits like to call them) imparts a character to the electric guitar that has driven it from big-band backline to rock and blues’ center stage. This comes as no surprise, since tubes impart a richness and a sweetness to the tone that neither the best of digital or solid state gear can hold a candle to.
The Effectrode ‘Blackbird’ is more or less a realization of what we know and love about tube saturation, quantified and distilled into a package that can be taken with complete ease to a faraway gig, to a studio date, or across an ocean in my case (more on that later) . For the last few months, the Blackbird has been my constant companion; my wingman in tone (no pun intended). Since my plans for it were quite extensive, I wanted to make sure it was the absolute best it could possibly be before I really took it through its paces. Like a piece of hi-fi gear, changing or “rolling” the tubes in the Blackbird drastically changes the tone, especially when using NOS tubes.
Since getting the Blackbird, I have been on a quest to extract the best possible tone from out of it. The level of tweakability that comes from simply changing the tubes in this unit is an invitation to experimentation; or down a never-ending rabbit hole that inspired me to come up with a new term for our gear-centric lexicon, TAS (Tube Acquisition Syndrome), which I’m sure a number of you who own any tube equipment suffer from. It’s the constant chase for perfection, and it can be a difficult and expensive path.
To help those of you who are Blackbird owners and want to learn more about changing the stock tubes and what they do to the tone in different positions in the unit, look no further. To those of you who are prospective Blackbird owners and want to understand a little more about this incredibly versatile unit, tune in here, because we’re diving headfirst into glass-powered nirvana.
For this feature, I have collected a number of NOS tubes from eBay to test in many different positions in the Blackbird. Here they are: