Tone Shop


I have been keen a motorcyclist since I was a teen and I still ride today. And yes, I am very old so before you ask, it does have a Harley Davidson engine – but might not be quite what you would expect.

It is more ‘hooligan’ than ‘head out to the highway’ and I use it for errands round town. So, as the motorcycles pass you on the High Street, see if you can figure out which one that funny mad old man from Abbey Mews is on.

Now my motorcycle has been tuned. On a motorcycle this is not just a case of pulling parts out of a box and bolting them in place – it had to go on a rolling road. There is a graph somewhere with a mechanic’s findings and the jetting in the carburettor was changed to suit this particular bike and exhaust system. When you do this, you also get the choice to make it utterly full on mental with a peak in the power band that will stand the bugger up on the back wheel and make you wee in your boots, or something more even. You see, the bike is setup to suit the owner and everything about those settings is unique.

So why am I talking about this on a music shop blog?

It strikes me that we should apply the same logic to guitars. I have plenty of customers who, come and see me and ask for expensive pickups. I ask them about the thought process that led to the decision about what to buy. Nothing against expensive pickups but I do stock some very interesting budget pickups that might surprise you. I also stock hand wound pickups and make my own hybrid pickups, often choosing what goes into them based solely on what I hear.

Having bought a pickup, put it in your guitar and found it sounds nothing like the guitarist whose tone you wanted to emulate? What do you do?

This is where I think guitars need the equivalent of a rolling road. I tend to do the whole thing on my lap with a bunch of crock clips and rainbow coloured wire. I work out the values of my filter circuits then analyse the spectrum on the computer. This is where I tend to find that a 2.8H Bournes inductor doesn’t work like the text books say it should. There is also a marginal difference between different types of capacitors. It makes no sense to me to buy a capacitor for a guitar for thirty bucks and to solder it in and try and convince yourself it sounds good. Or that there is a generic value for all guitars that sounds good. It really doesn’t work like that.

Dial in the Punk Hawk

I bought in an Epiphone Blues Hawk, expecting to be able to sound like B.B. King. It’s hung on my shop wall for a bit and confounded a lot of people. How can a passive guitar sound like a cocked wah? Or my question is more, how can it not? I got kind of bored of it and as nobody has bought it, yet … I thought I would tinker with it and see what else it has to offer.

First, I recognised several important factors were at play. And, B.B. King really wasn’t one of them! When it arrived I had created a little image of me rocking up at the local blues jam, pulling it out of a bag and squeezing some soulful licks out of it. Then, everyone, blown away by my prowess, digging out their wallet to order.

Hasn’t happened, yet.

Second, I recognise that the P90 pair in the Blueshawk isn’t quite the P90 that I like. I spend most of my time switching the varitone or tweaking the amp. It just didn’t have the bollocks. Until now!

Third, I like Johnny Thunders and Killing Joke. I want that kind of a gnarly guitar. I have a soldering iron and good ears, so I decided to fix it.

On a roll

With a sea of wires hanging out of it, I went through a load of capacitors (including a bucket of preloved ones I bought from a strange Russian on eBay). My advice would be, use your ears to find the values that work best for the tone you want to find. Do it with your specific guitar. Put up a scope and look at the curves. Ignore the curves when your ears tell you something different to what you are seeing on screen. Using the rolling road analogy, try the guitar at different speeds and decide if you want peaky mental cuts or something more even.

The final product

My modified guitar sounds ace, like a true Jet Boy. I binned the inductor and found something else that works. My Bowie riffs sound epic and Ziggy Stardust well voiced. You just can’t play that song with a muddy humbucker. Gnarly and scooped? That’s where I am at now I have my values!

But the Blueshawk also ain’t it for me. My Punk Hawk had to be something more in keeping with the kinds of bands that excite me. Ideally a Les Paul Junior with a P90. Instead, I found a Epiphone with a single humbucker and swapped it out for a fairly inexpensive Kent Armstrong (Sky) P94. In position 1 it sounds more like a P90 than a P90 and to my ears needs no introduction or adjustment. The more scooped sounds are also a lot more extreme than in the original Blueshawk. I have a guitar with character that is fun to play and reminds me of being a teenager.

The next part of the plan for this circuit, is to whack it into a pedal with a valve.

If you want Punk Hawk to be a part of your guitar, use the contact form and make an enquiry. From around £65 fitted, plus carriage. A little more if you want to put your guitar on my rolling road and try the Russian caps? Or, you can buy my prototype Blueshawk Punk Hawk off my wall for £ 432 Or the Junior Punk Hawk for £ 217 (if you can prise it out of my hands that is ;/)

by order of the sonus magus

Anurajyati (be in love)