I remember constantly working my way through countless effects pedals, processors, equalisers and guitars in a quest for a richer, warmer, less clinical sound. Some great music came from that era and it was a revolution for some amazing new synthesiser based sounds from bands like Human League, Gary Newman, etc. However tube gear was considered out of date and past it’s time. At the time I was using a Gallien-Krueger 2000CPL preamp, an awsome looking machine, but the elusive tone I was looking for just wasn’t to be found anywhere inside. Later, I remember, testing out many amps in the music shops in Denmark Street, London and the Soldano SP-77 preamp, jumped right out – the tone on the clean and gain channels was beautiful, extremely musical, responsive and useable. It was literally impossible to get a bad sound out the thing. Once I’d got hold of one of these machines, it wasn’t long before I removed the top panel, started poking around it’s internals and began drawing a circuit diagram; the secrets of Mike Soldano’s ‘constant-clipping’ design were slowly revealed to me…
Incidentally, from my experience, I would say that tubes are naturals at delivering great tone, whereas transistor based designs struggle and must be coerced into performing well. For example, a tube preamp input can be overloaded without damaging the tube and it can actually sound pretty good. A overloaded transistor input, on the other hand is likely to burn out and sounds terrible. I’m convinced my playing improved, became more natural and fluid once I was back on track with tube based gear. All those great sounds you hear on recordings or imagine just seem to fall out effortlessly because tubes are responsive and work with you.
MGS: What are some of your musical influences?
PT: Alex Lifeson has been a huge influence since I began playing. He’s an extremely versatile and emotive player and gets an incredible, immense tone from his gear. Also, Todd Rundgren, Andy Powell; Knopfler have been inspirational in their structured and melodic approach to soloing. Finally, some of Jimi Hendrix’s beautiful and haunting interpretations of Dylan’s songs, such as “All Along the Watchtower”.
MGS: Do you remember your first tube driven amp?
PT: As a teenager I was lucky enough to stumble across a beat-up Laney 60W head. I used it with an even more beat-up Marshall 4 x 12 cabinet and an Arion distortion pedal. For some magical reason this setup produced a huge, raw tone which sounded very close to Lifeson’s and Jimmy Page’s early tones. The distortion pedal must have been overdriving the tube amp, which is how a lot of the transistor based booster and tube screamer effects work. They’re relying on the great all-tube electronics in the amps input stage to produce the crunch and sustain that we guitarists seek.
MGS: How did Effectrode get started? Can you tell us about the company?
PT: By my mid-twenties I’d become fascinated with tube amps and taught myself everything I could about the physics of vacuum tubes. This knowledge came from dusty old 1950s and 60s texts, I uncovered from the darkest recesses of backrooms in small, secondhand bookshops. I began repairing, modifying amps and “hot-rodding” tube amps – Fender Twin reverbs were a specialty and a pleasure to work on. Other projects included complete rebuilds and modification the original Watkins “Copicat” tape echo units and designing audiophile gear such as tube phono preamp stages. I then began work on an ambitious project to build an 8-stage phase shifter in pedal form. It was all point-to-point wired and even had a “magic-eye” indicator tube (remember those?) for the speed and depth of phasing. There were come pretty exotic tubes in there and built-in custom wound transformers for the high and low voltage power supplies. I remember thinking, “Okay you’ve proved you can build it, but can you design it for manufacture?”, after all who’s going to pay 2000 bucks for a phaser, no matter how good it sounds!
Things moved up a gear when I started analysing circuits on computer, designing circuit boards on computer and getting them manufactured professionally. Also, I began dreaming up new effects designs and thought how great it would be to have a company that specialised only in building no-compromise tube based pedal designs. My passion for designing tube gear culminated in the formation of “Effectrode Audiophile Effects Pedals” in 1996. The design philosophy is to build outstanding effects pedals in the true spirit of innovation; complete redesigns that fuse traditional pride of craftsmanship with the best modern components available.
MGS: The Tube-Vibe is amazing. How did that come to be? First one of its kind – correct?
PT: Thank you for that, it’s a pleasure to see someone enjoy something you’ve created. A substantial research and development effort went into Tube-Vibe to get the sound balance just right. I couldn’t simply rely on the warmth and transparency of the tubes to get the tone, a great deal of time was spent tailoring the response of the phase shifter section to integrate it smoothly with range of electric guitar. The aim was to produce a vibe tone that is much deeper and more liquid than any available. The tube based signal path is the first thing that makes the Effectrode vibe pedal stand out as being unique, however the bulb driver is tuned to produce a thick swampy vibe at high modulation speeds and more spacious chorusy sound at slower speeds.
MGS: The tubes get warm just like an amp. Am I to understand there are 350 Volts running thru the tubes?
PT: Yes, the tubes are operating at real amplifier plate voltages and the heaters are D.C. powered for low noise. Efficient power conversion without the use of specially wound transformers is always problematic and boosting 12VDC to over 300VDC was a big technical achievment for me. It took many months of development (and electric shocks!) to work through the design until I was completely happy that it was stable and quiet enough for audio. It also runs nice ‘n’ cool, which is good because the tubes run pretty warm!
MGS: Is there anything you would like to mention in closing?
PT: There is one thing I’d like to talk about. It’s about how effects pedals are perceived. Effects have traditionally been regarded as, well, special effects to be used sparingly or conservatively. My philosophy is to build very usable and musical effects pedals that integrate seamlessly into players rigs, amplifier/guitar set-up. The effect should complement and enhance tone, there should be shouldn’t be issues with ‘tone-sucking’, transparency, etc and the effect should do it’s job without any of these undesirable ‘artifacts’. Once you get past that hurdle then the effect can truely become part of your signature sound. For example, I’m using the Tube-Vibe practically all the time for chord work. With the ‘Blend’ trim pot set at around 10 o’clock and a slow speed and it works like a subtle chorus pedal adding a little swirl and depth. Sometimes I’m not even aware it’s on until I hit the bypass and then it sounds flat.
I hope that we’re building pedals that players will cherish and keep for life just like some of that classic studio tube gear that you hear about but never see being sold second hand – it’s so good players just hang on to it…