Blog Archive

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Phil Taylor talks about tubes and circuit design

INTERVIEW: Effectrode founder Phil Taylor

MGS - Welcome Phil Taylor owner of Effectrode Tube Effects.

PT - Thanks, it's a pleasure to be here.

MGS- Can you start us out with a history of how music came into your life
and how tube driven gear was part of it?

PT - I began playing guitar at age 15. In those days I had no inkling how
important tubes were for tone. This was during the early 80's when gear
was rapidly evolving, becoming more complex, sophisticated and technical.
Digital effects were coming in vogue and all the rage. A setup that looked
like Houston mission control were essential accessories for the modern
guitarist in those times! I rememeber 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considered out of date and past it's time.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 piece of gear, 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 tone 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! 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 - Who are some of your musicial 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, B-I-G 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

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

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 & 60s texts, I uncovered from the
darkest recesses of backrooms in small, secondhand bookshops. I began
repairing, modifying & '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 'Copycat' 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
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 modelling 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 tube effects company 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 - Thanks for that, it's a pleasure to see someone enjoy something
you've created. A substantial R & D 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 richer than any available. The tube based signal path is the first
thing that makes the effectrode vibe stand out as being unique, however
the bulb driver is also highly configurable. Current models of the
Tube-Vibe come configured for pseudo triangle and square wave; the square
wave is
very similar to the original Univibe. I'm now looking to develop other
wave shapes to drive the bulb. For example sawtooth gives an interesting
hypnotic lopsided effect. I'll be putting sound samples of these new wave
shapes on the website and free modifications will be available to give
Tube-Vibe users the ultimate in custom tone.

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 DC 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
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 - Besides the Tube Vibe what else is in the works?

PT - Well, I'm working on the 'Twin Drive', which is a pure class-A
all-tube distortion/overdrive pedal. Dual-tone operation offers two
entirely different voicings. Mode 1 faithfully reproduces classic 70's
overdriven tube amp tone. Mode 2 utilises three triode tubes to produce a
creamy, super-saturated and sustaining tone. I'm also working on a revamp
of the
original phaseomatic vacuum tube phaser pedal and have ideas about a
simple tube clean boost pedal. Over the much longer term, I have a project
to develop a tape based tube chorus/flanger, which will sound phenomenal
when its completed.

MGS - Is there anything you would like to mention in closing?

PT - Seriously, there is one thing, I'd like to talk about. It goes along the
lines about how people think about pedals. 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
setup. 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 'artifacts'. Once you get past
that hurdle then the effect becomes part of your signiture sound. I mean,
I'm using the Tube-vibe practically all the time for chord work. With the
blend control 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 value and keep for
life, you know, like some of that classic studio tube gear that you hear
about but never see being sold second hand - it's so good people just hang
on to it . . .

Also, I'd like to thank all our customers for their interest and
enthusiasm. We really do appreciate your support.

Phil Taylor owner of Effectrode speaks about the Tube Vibe on his forum

" The Tube-Vibe internals are pure vacuum tube signal path, which means there no transistors or ICs between your guitar and your amp - your guitar is basically seeing a very high quality tube amp input stage. So yes, they are intergral. I know there are quiet a few manufacturers who use the tubes as buffers in effects and run them in starvation mode at 12Volts. Our practice is to use tubes throughout the signal path to do buffering and audio-processing. The tubes operate at true amp plate voltages too at 300 Volts!

The tube signal path loosely follows the original transistor path in the original Univibe, however its quieter and purer sounding. The phase shifter section has been optimised to sound great with guitar - the Univibe was designed for organs.

The bulb driver is completely different from the univibe too, much smoother and more flexible."