Buffalo FX Carrera review

Buffalo FX Carrera Overdrive

Every time I come across a new overdrive I always ask myself – Do we really need another overdrive pedal? You probably have a couple on your board already and a handful laying in a box somewhere. Still, I’m always excited when Buffalo FX comes out with something new and their most recent offering is indeed an overdrive. The Carrera. Here’s my review.

I’m a huge fan of the stuff Buffalo FX make (yep, I might be a little biased here…). The TD-X and Patriot are some of my all time favourite effects and while we’re certainly not talking about reinventing the wheel, Buffalo FX main man Steve has a unique way of tackling classics with a new, and often much needed, spin.

In recent years I’ve gone from a typical early/mid 70’s setup, with mids scooped fuzz and boosters, to more mids humped and cutting pedals. I still try my best to create those raw and edgy tones but nowadays I need big fat tones, with lots of presence and less struggle.

The Carrera address this issue. You want that tube amp chime but with enough mid range and presence to effortlessly cut through the mix regardless of what amp and pickups you have.

The Carrera feature controls for volume, gain, treble and bass, a bright led and top mounted jacks. It runs on 9V and like all Buffalo FX pedals, it feature true bypass switching.

Tonally, the Carrera sits somewhere between the TD-X and Evolution (or a Boss BD-2 and Rat). Whereas the TD-X can sound a bit thin and bright on some mids scooped high headroom amps, the Carrera has that extra mids hump that maintains the character and warmth of the pedal.

On some amps, the Evolution can sound a bit flat and the higher gain settings a bit too bright, but although with less gain on tap, the Carrera sounds creamy and fat when you crank it. For the same high gain tones you get from the Evolution though, you might want to pair the Carrera with a booster.

The Carrera is the perfect link between the TD-X and Evolution and the fact that it can do similar tones but with a bit more mid range and compression, makes it perhaps even more versatile than the other two.

As a clean booster, with the gain low and the treble and bass around 2 o’clock, the Carrera adds a nice chime and fat low end to single coils in particular. It’s almost like engaging a transparent compressor that just makes everything pop out a bit more.

Raising the gain and volume to around noon, while backing off the treble a bit, produce a crunchy tube-like tone that responds incredibly well to your picking and guitar volume. Light picking just adds a bit of sparkle but dig really deep into the strings and you get this really nice attack and crunch.

This is probably where the TD-X and Carrera is overlapping to some extent but again, the Carrera has that little extra mid range that makes it easier to set up on some of the more scooped amps and bedroom levels in particular.

There’s not a huge amount of gain available, both the TD-X and Evolution has considerably more, but the Carrera is fully capable of producing some powerful tones, with tons of sustain. The bass and treble controls also allow you to finely tune the gain and balance. Obviously, with a pair of humbuckers you can easily turn the Carrera into a loud and aggressive distortion pedal.

I really don’t have anything to put my finger on here. Again, Buffalo FX has managed to create a pedal that, at least for me, fits right into my setup and solve some of the issues I’ve had with similar sounding overdrives. If you’re looking for those classic tube amp sounds, with a bit of mids, high end sparkle and impressive dynamics, then look no further.

See buffalo-fx.com for more info.

How to use equalizers

David Gilmour - how to use equalizers

An equalizers can be a powerful tool for shaping your tone. A small nudge can do wonders but it’s easy to do more harm than good too. In this feature we’ll look at the importance of equalizers, how to use them and when.

Equalizers (EQ) are commonly used to alter or balance frequencies by either cutting or boosting. Depending on the equalizer unit, this could either be a specific frequency, like studio EQs or EQ pedals, or a frequency range, like the EQ controls on your guitar amplifier.

An EQ pedal, like the Boss GE-7 is active. This means that each filter or slider can both cut and boost the selected frequencies. In other words, each slider is a master volume for that specific frequency.

Almost all guitar amplifiers, with a very few exceptions, have a passive EQ. This can be a bit confusing because we usually think of 5 or noon as flat or neutral but 10 is actually flat. So when you turn the bass, treble and middle all the way up on your amp, you got a flat frequency response. Anything lower than 10 is cutting that frequency.

David Gilmour and equalizers

David Gilmour has been using EQ pedals in his live rig since the 1984 About Face tour. The Boss GE-7 has been his favoured EQ and during the 80s, 90s and 2000s his rig has featured several GE-7s assigned to different gain pedals for tone shaping and alteration. During the 2016-17 Rattle That Lock tour, the GE-7s was replaced by Source Audio Programmable EQs.

David Gilmour - How to use equalizers

David’s three Boss GE-7s from the 2016-17 Rattle That Lock tour. Each of these was assigned to each of the Tube Drivers. The EQs are set with slight adjustments on the sliders.

Obviously, all of his recorded guitars has been treated with some EQ for cutting and boosting certain frequencies to make the guitars sound just as he wants them and to make the guitar fit into the band mix. In addition to his amps, which also has the standard 3-band EQ, he’s also used different preamps, amps with active EQs and booster pedals.

Still, the Boss GE-7s has been a big part of his rig and tone since the mid 80s. If you look closely at the settings of these pedals though you can see that there is really not much going on. The sliders are cutting or boosting just a hair and, when assigned to the Tube Drivers, like on the last tour, the EQs are basically just balancing some of that slight harshness known to those pedals.

See the David Gilmour Album Gear Guide for more information on each album and tour.

Record your guitar!

The best way to learn how EQs work is to record your guitar. Doesn’t matter if its done with a fully mic’ed rig or with software. Use Garageband or whatever DAW you have available. There are tons of tutorials out there on how to do this but the important thing is that you spend some time getting the best tone possible from your guitar and record that.

Now, select a graphic EQ in your DAW (I’m using the built in Channel EQ in Apple’s Logic X). Play the recorded guitar (preferably a clean track, overdrive track and distortion track) and select one of the sliders or points and start dragging it around in the EQ. You will now easily hear how the tone is altered.

David Gilmour - How to use equalizers

A typical EQ used for guitars in a studio mix. How the EQ eventually ends up, or if you want to use any at all, depends on the recorded track and how you want that track to sound and fit into a mix.

Next step is to use the available sliders to create a usable EQ for your guitar tones. There are no rules but in a band mix you don’t really want too much low end that will take up the space of the bass drum and bass guitar (0-200Hz). You probably want to cut some low rumbling around 250-350Hz and, if you have a lot of mid range in your recorded guitar, you probably want to cut around 600-700Hz as well.

Moving up, a guitar’s main frequency range or where you want to place the guitar in a mix, is around 1200-2500Hz. You might want to boost that a bit and, for a bit of high end sparkle and presence, boost around 4000-4500Hz and 7000Hz.

Mind though that apart from the low end, which you often want to cut entirely, you should only perform minor cuts and boosts preferably no more than 6dB. Anything more will seriously alter your tone and you might want to change the settings on your amp or pedal or placement of your mic instead.

The idea is that once you start recording your guitar and also mix that with other instruments, you’ll get an understanding of how to approach your amp, pedals and, if needed, your EQ pedal in a band situation. Which frequencies will make your guitar drown behind a bass or loud cymbals? What can you cut or boost to make your solo really stand out?

Amp settings

My approach is that I always make sure I have the best possible tone coming from the amp before I start fiddling with any pedals. Amps change depending on where you play. A small rehearsal studio can make any amp sound huge and you might even struggle with some low end but on a bigger stage, your amp can sound thin and struggle with cutting through the band mix.

Don’t be afraid to boost the mid range. It might sound a bit overwhelming if you listen to the guitar alone but that’s really where you want the guitar in the mix.

The bass and mids should be adjusted before you start tweaking the treble. We often boost treble when we feel that the guitar lack presence or sparkle but cutting the bass and boosting the mids, while keeping the treble fairly moderate, will solve the problem. Increasing the treble alone will only place it right behind the cymbals and keyboards, which is not what you want.

The EQs on your amp should be enough to make the big changes and provide the platform you need for your tones. The right amp settings will make your guitar and pedals sound more natural too. However, an EQ pedal allows you to make those small changes and adjust specific frequencies.

EQ on the pedalboard

In most cases you want the EQ after your fuzz, distortion, overdrive and boost. Most of these pedals are often just equipped with a single tone control or maybe controls for bass and treble. Some pedals needs more bass, while others can do with a bit of high end roll off for getting rid of unwanted sizzle. This, as explained above, is also how David uses his EQs.

If space is an issue then combine a high gain overdrive, like the Fulltone OCD, with an EQ and add a bit of mid range and boost for your solos. That should eliminate a couple of pedals. Likewise, an EQ is also an excellent tool for adding a bit of boost and sparkle to your clean sounds. Or, for a bit of that red Stat EMG SPC humbuckerish tone, boost the 400Hz and 800Hz 4-5dBs.

A different approach is to have the EQ last on your pedalboard after all the modulations and delays. It will act as a master EQ that can either assist the amp with those difficult frequencies or, for sculpting the whole signal coming from your board. This goes back to the studio situation where you often roll off some lows and highs on the delays and reverbs to make space in the mix.

I rarely have EQ pedals in my rig. I feel that I can get the tones I need from my pickups, amps and pedals and whenever I do need more or less of anything, I often combine pedals, like stacking two overdrives or leaving a booster on as a basis for several tones.

EQ pedals should be used with care otherwise you can end up ruining a perfectly good tone or messing up an issue that easily could have been solved with the right amp settings. However, I do recommend having an EQ in the chain if you have several different sounding gain pedals or swap guitars frequently. That way you can have a more consistent set up and avoid having too many pedals in your chain.

Please comment below and share your thoughts and experience on the subject!

Robert Keeley D&M Drive review

Robert Keeley D&M Drive

In this review I’ll be looking at the brand new D&M Drive from Robert Keeley. Promising to deliver mids-humped boost and saturated distortion, and the option to combine them, the D&M Drive offer a wide palette of tones suitable for most setups. Here’s my review.

If you’re like me, you’re probably waiting eagerly for each new episode of That Pedal Show. Dan and Mick are not only capable of making everything they touch sound like gold but, and more importantly, they have a passion and enthusiasm that’s incredibly inspiring.

I’m sure they inspire a lot of pedal makers too and the D&M Drive by Robert Keeley is designed in collaboration with Dan and Mick. Do we really need another overdrive? Probably not, and the guys also points that out in their description but the D&M sure offer something new and different.

The D&M Drive is a dual overdrive. The left side of the pedal, Dan’s side, offer tons of saturated gain, with an impressive clarity and rich harmonics. Unlike the typical modern mids scooped metal distortions or the more classic mids-boosted Rat, the drive side of the D&M is perfectly balanced and cuts through nicely without sounding boxy or overwhelming. 



The right side, Mick’s side, is a boost with lots of headroom and a nice mids-hump. Actually, boost is perhaps a bit misleading because although it has the ability to clean up nicely, there’s plenty of gain on tap. Tonewise it’s somewhere between a Klon and Tube Screamer although with lots more low end and the mid range sounds more balanced.

Each of these sides can either be used alone or stacked. Crank them both and get some really sick super distorted tones or, set them up much like your favourite overdrive and EQ adding a bit of both for some really smooth creamy tones. 



A mini toggle switch allow you to switch places of the two sides. Having the boost run into the drive, adds a nice mids boost to your saturated distortion and evens out some of the bright overtones and adds quite a bit of sustain. Place the booster after the drive and use it as a very subtle EQ.

Personally I like the Boost side best. Perhaps because I often prefer low gain overdrive over distortion but as much as I love the Klon and Tube Screamer, I’ve always found them too middy and they lack some low end. The D&M boost is incredibly well balanced and it really adds a lot of punch and confidence to your tone and playing. It probably sound best on a fairly mids scooped amp, like a Fender or Vox, with single coil pickups but it shouldn’t scare off Marshall and humbucker players either. 



The Drive is perhaps a tad too bright for my taste but I’m surprised by how well you can hear all the nuances and harmonics. High gain distortions often sound too overwhelming but this one allow you to pretty much crank the gain up all the way and still retain much of the characteristics of the tone.

My favourite setup is probably the Drive with a fairly moderate setup, with the Boost placed in front of it adding a bit of mid range and compression.

So the verdict? Well, I really enjoy the D&M and although there are similar pedals out there, the D&M is well thought out and cover a lot of ground. Wether you’re a bedroom player or needs something versatile for your cramped board, the D&M offer great sounding tones and pretty much any drive tone you need. Check out robertkeeley.com for more.

How to use volume and gain to create killer guitar tones

Volume

Volume is a crucial part of a good tone but it’s perhaps a bit elusive and easy to overlook. In this feature we’ll discuss different types of amps, how to set them up and how to use the volume controls on your guitar and pedals to create great sounding tones.

A lot of guitar players consider the volume controls as something you use if you either want things louder or more quiet but it really is a lot more to it than that and bad tone is often a result of not knowing how to use volume as an active part of the tone.

I don’t want to go too much into detail and get all technical. There are lots of great articles out there that will provide all kinds of minutiae if you want to dig a little deeper. I also urge everyone to use the comments field below and share your experience and tips.

Amplifiers

A typical tube amplifier consists of two stages. The pre-amp, which takes your guitar signal and distorts it, and the output section, which amplifies the signal coming from the pre-amp and makes it louder.

Most tube amps has controls for gain (channel volume/volume) and master (output/volume). The gain control controls the amount of clipping or distortion that goes into the signal. The master controls the output of the amp.

A single channel amp often has one single control for volume/gain. This controls both the pre and output stage of the amp.

Volume Laney Lionheart

A two channel amp, like the Laney Lionheart, often has one output control for the clean channel, controlling both stages, and two controls for the gain channel, one controlling the pre-amp and the other controlling the output.

A Hiwatt has four inputs, which can be a bit confusing. Each channel, normal and bright, has a dedicated gain control (labelled “volume”) and the output for both is controlled by the master control. The additional two inputs are attenuated inputs for each channel for different pickups and instruments.

So, with all this in mind it’s clear that understanding how to set the balance between the pre and output stages, or the gain and master, on your amp is crucial for getting the tones you want.

David Gilmour’s amp setup

Let’s use David Gilmour’s typical Hiwatt settings as an example to understand how this all works.

David has his Hiwatts set clean and he’s using pedals to get the amount of drive or gain he needs for the different sounds. However, much of the secret behind David’s cutting and punchy tone, lies in the balance between the pre and output stages.

My Reeves Custom 50 set up with the same settings as David Gilmour's Hiwatts used on the 2006 On an Island tour.

The pre-amp, which in his case is a link between the normal and bright channels, is set just at the very edge of breakup. It’s set to match his guitars and pickups and a different guitar with hotter pickups would make the amps distort even more. The tubes are pushed just enough to add a bit of compression, making the amp sound fatter and more balanced.

The master, or output volume, is set to match the venue/studio/rehearsal space but also high enough to push the speakers, which again will create more compression and bring out more of the speakers sound qualities.

Setting up your amp

So how does all this apply to your amp? Well, each brand and model is different but the first rule is to know how the controls on your amp works and how they interact with the rest of the circuit. Manufacturers often use different labels on the controls, which can be confusing but there’s always a gain and master – either separately or combined in one control.

A clean amp isn’t just about making an undistorted tone louder. Cranking the master control, often makes the amp sound thin and flat. A good clean tone that will cut through a band mix and create a powerful platform for your pedals, needs a bit of that pushed pre-amp and tube saturation, which in turn will make your guitar sound (and feel) much more dynamic and respond much better to your playing. 



This can be hard to achieve on a typical bedroom setup but as discussed in detailed in “How to get killer tones on your bedroom setup”, choosing the right amp for each application is crucial for being able to utilise its full potential. I guarantee you that although a large Hiwatt always looks great, a small 5w will always sound better in a small room.

Guitar volume or volume pedal?


Using the guitar’s volume control to control the tone and volume seems to be a lost art among the modern guitarists. We have all kinds of pedals that can do all kinds of things but back in the early days of pedals, and even before then, guitarists would use the volume control to produce subtle changes in their tone.

Volume guitar

Like Hendrix, David Gilmour used fuzz pedals in the early days of Floyd. Just by adjusting the guitar volume, a single pedal would produce boost for the cleans, overdrive for rhythms and screaming armageddon for the heavier stuff. Likewise, plugging the guitar into a cranked amp and using the guitar volume to control or attenuate the amount of gain, would produce a large palette of tones.

I always roll back the volume to around 8.5-9 for my clean tones. It takes care of the sometimes harsh overtones and makes everything sound smoother and more dynamic. How much you should roll back, either for gain or cleans, depends on how hot your pickups are and what sort of pots you have on your guitar.

As an exercise, plug your guitar straight into a distorted amp (or use one high gain pedal) and just by using the guitar volume, see if you can create convincing tones (doesn’t have to be perfect and never mind modulation and delays for now) for the clean intro solo on Shine On, the slightly overdriven intro on Have a Cigar and the fully distorted solo on Comfortably Numb!

A volume pedal is often used as a master volume controller on a clean amp setup. Lowering the volume doesn’t colour the tone, it only lower the overall volume. A volume pedal can also be placed in front of gain pedals or a cranked amp. Lowering the volume pedal will attenuate the amount of gain just like rolling off the guitar volume control. Personally, and since I always run a clean amp, I have my volume pedal last in the chain as a master controller.

What about the volume control on your pedals?

As we’ve discussed above, an amp with the right balance between the pre-amp and output stage will provide a powerful platform for your pedals. Be sure to always set up the amp with the guitar plugged straight into it. Only then will you be able to hear the subtle nuances created by the combination of your amp and guitar. 



All gain pedals, including compressors, has a volume (level, output) control and as with your amp, knowing how to use this will make it easier to get the tones you want. Again, we tend to overlook the qualities of the volume control and focus on how much gain we need. Still, we’ve all experienced tones with too much gain, noise issues and sustain that just chokes up the minute you hit the string.

Volume pedal

Let’s take a Big Muff (or a similar high gain pedal). Set the pedal volume to unity with your amp (the same level as when the pedal is off). Set the tone to around 11:00 and the gain/sustain to around 2:00. This is probably not perfect but that’s not the point. Now, lower the volume slightly and hear how the Muff sounds less compressed and perhaps a bit thinner but you will also hear more of those subtle harmonics much like with a fuzz pedal.

Next, increase the volume to slightly above unity. Hear how the pedal sound a bit fatter, darker and perhaps smoother as well. Increase the volume to around 75% and hear how the harmonics are almost gone and the tone is perhaps a bit too much compressed.

Now, 75% is obviously too much but it gives you an idea of what happens when you increase the volume on a pedal. Unity gain is usually a good start and often, just a hair is enough to find that sweetspot between a flat and sterile sounding pedal and one that sounds smooth and well balanced.

This exercise works best on a tube amp set as described above. Increasing the volume on the Big Muff (or whatever gain pedal you use) will drive the front end of your tube amp and create more compression and mid range. Again, using the right wattage for your location, will enable you to get the same result on both a large and a small amp, given that it’s set up with the right balance between the pre-amp and output stage.

I hope this gave you some insights to the importance of using volume as a part of your tone. Again, please use the comments field below and share your thoughts, experience and tips!

New solo album out May 19th – preorder now!

In a unrelated to David Gilmour post, I’m very excited to announce the release of my second solo album, Forever Comes to an End! Set for a May 19th release it is now possible to pre-order the album and get your copy personally signed by me.

Forever Comes to an End is the follow-up to my 2014 debut, Lullabies in a Car Crash. The album feature 7 songs with musical inspirations from Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, Porcupine Tree, Black Sabbath and movie scores. It’s very much a guitar oriented album, with everything from lush soundscapes and soaring lead work to heavy riffing.

Produced by me, Forever Comes to an End is engineered by long.time collaborator Vegard Sleipnes at Subsonic Society in Oslo, Norway and mastered on analog tape at Reel to Reel Mastering.

The album is available on limited edition digisleeve CD and a beautiful 180g vinyl presented in a uncoated reverse jacked.

Listen to the title track from the album here.

Head on over to my website and shop at www.bjornriis.com and place your order now!