Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not your adverage little knob



Ah yes, they're back. The name is Rothwell Audio Products and their gear is most definitely something to write home about. Not too long ago Analog War Cry featured Rothwell's Switchblade distortion pedal in our OD/Dist/Fuzz Pedal Hunt Podcasts. Well once again the wonderful people at Rothwell have sent us another unique and great sounding product. It's called the Cool Little Knob, and the name doesn't do it justice. Let's imagine you had the ability to manipulate, shape, and mold your humbuckers to sound like some of your favorite single coils, p-90's, and everything in-between. Believe it my friends!!!


Rothwell Audio Products
CLK (Cool Little Knob)

When it comes to the world of splitting coils and different wiring schemes I am a rookie, all I know and like is what sounds good to my ears. Whatever works best for live situations is usually what I end up going with. When I started gigging heavily last year and realized how much of a pain in the ass it was to switch from guitar to guitar is when I started hunting for a way to make things easier. Then I tried my first coil splitter and it helped a little, but I knew there had to be something with even more tone control and flexibility. When I discovered the Rothwell pedal line is when I saw that they were also producing tone shaping knobs. At first I didn't think the CLK would be all that different from the basic coil tapping device, boy was I wrong. The CLK is 100% passive and works with any humbucking pickups fit with 4 conductor cable/any humbucker fit for coil tapping. Installation is super easy and very very quick to do. I chose to set the CLK into a Telecaster with a humbucker in the neck position and single coil in the bridge. I've always wanted to have a humbucker in a Tele with the ability to get back to traditional Tele neck tones, this was the answer. You might be thinking to yourself "What's the difference between this and any other coil splitting device?" The difference is not only can the CLK tap into full humbucking and single modes but it can also fly between both settings, which makes for some interesting and useful guitar tones. It's unique filtration circuitry works by controlling how each coil in the humbucker works together, the outcome is a world of familiar and rare guitar sounds. Your eq stays balanced, bright, clear, and defined, and every little nuance stays intact. To work the CLK simply pull the knob and rotate to the desired sound. One sweet trick is the ability to set your overdrive crunch and growl, roll back for mellow rhythm strumming and turn it full force to hit your lead lines. It's wonderful! Another great way to use the CLK is with your effects pedals, it can work to shape od's/dist/and fuzz pedals tones and sounds. You'll find a whole new world within your stompboxes which will not only keep things interesting for a long time but keep you from going out and buying more boxes. My favorite thing about the Cool Little Knob though was the ability to get P90 tones from a humbucker, yup P90 tones. This makes for one of the best mods I have ever come across and had a chance to try. The Rothwell pedal line rocks, these knobs are amazing, so now let's look into the man responsible for these fantastic products. Ladies and gents, Andrew Rothwell.


Analog War Cry:
Your favorite stock stompbox?

Andrew Rothwell:
Well, if you count the Rothwell Hellbender as stock, maybe it's that. Or is that cheating? Ok, I have a little Guyatone reverb that I use all the time and I have a very old valve Watkins Copycat echo that I wouldn't part with.

AWC:
Growing up whose sound/musicians had an impact on you? What pedals were you playing as a kid?

Andrew:
I think the first time I was struck by a tone so awesome it really moved me was when I was about 9 or 10 years old. My older brother had a copy of Deep Purple In Rock, and after the staccato bit in Child In Time comes the guitar solo. It was the slow, bluesy bit at the start of the guitar solo before the tempo picks up which really knocked me out. I thought it just sounded great, fabulous playing and fabulous tone. I still think it sounds great.
David Gilmour has great tone, too, of course. Whether he's playing clean, dirty or somewhere inbetween, it always sounds great. And when Eddie Van Halen burst onto the scene, everybody was knocked out. Eruption really shook up the guitar world. His sound had a awailing banshee element to it, but it was very fluid, too. I saw Black Sabbath in 1978 with Van Halen supporting them. That was a gig to remember!
The very first pedal I had was a fuzz box which I made myself, but that's your next question, isn't it?

AWC:
How did you get started in the effects building scene, how long have you been at it?

Andrew:
I made my first pedal over 30 years ago when I was still at school. It was a fuzz box which was a design from an electronics magazine. Basically, it was a copy of a Fuzz Face, though I didn't know that at the time. I thought it was great, but in actual fact the Fuzz Face is a very crude circuit and I don't think much of them now.
I started getting a really good sound when I got rid of the shitty transistor amp I had at first and got a WEM Dominator. That sounded great. I later got an old Vox AC30, a Fender Twin, and now I have (amongst others) a 50W Marshall head from 1969. They were all great amps. I don't believe it's possible to get a good sound with a pedal if you haven't got a decent amp to go with it. I like simple amps without channel switching and without high gain master volume circuits, and I like to get extra dirt by using pedals in front of the amp. The downside with that approach is that the setup really only sings at one volume, which is usually bloody loud. That means having to have a range of different amps, depending on how loud you want to play. In truth, it nearly always has to be pretty loud. I use a 5 watt amp at home, but it's still very loud when you turn it up to the point where it's really on song.
I made my first valve amp maybe 20 or more years ago. That's the 5 watt amp I just mentioned. I made that before the current craze for low powered amps turned up loud was fashionable. Back then it wasn't as easy as it is now to find information and circuit diagrams. The internet and the information superhighway were still years off in the future. I started by pulling apart an old Marshall Mercury (you've probably never heard of it - look it up) to copy the circuit and work out what was happening. Then I managed to get hold of circuit diagrams for Marshall and Fender amps and I started to get to grips with how they worked.
At this time I had no intention of making amps or pedals commercially because it just wouldn't have been feasible to produce anything cheaply enough to appeal to customers. Back then there was no "boutique" or "high end" market for guitar products. It's only in more recent years that customers have started to appreciate equipment made in small quantities and are prepared to pay the extra that low volume production inevitably entails. The boutique market became established in the USA long before it was accepted over here, but it's here now, and now it is feasible for me to produce pedals. However, I have been producing electronics commercially for about 20 years. I started by making domestic hi-fi amps. I made a valve outboard phono stage before outboard phono stages were common. Actually, I did make one guitar product back then - it was an effects pedal power supply. I don't think anyone else was making anything specifically to power guitar effects back then, certainly not in the UK.
The current range of guitar products from Rothwell started in 2004 with the Hot Little Knob and Cool Little Knob and the pedals were launched in 2007.

AWC:
With all the people out there making boosters, overdrivers, etc... You've still managed to create some with their own signature sound.
How do you approach the building of an effect? Do you go at it with a sound/tone already in mind?

Andrew:
I like to design circuits from scratch and try to do something which hasn't been done before. I hate the idea of simply copying someone else's circuit and I refuse to do clones of Fuzz Faces or Tubescreamers. With distortions or overdrives, I'll aim for a certain type of sound. The Hellbender for example is quite raw and has something of a vintage Marshall or early blues/rock sound to it. The Switchblade is more modern and has more distortion and a weightier bottom end. However, I don't want Rothwell to be a brand that does only distortions and boosters. That's why the next few pedals will be something else. I've just been working on a compressor and I think that will be available in the next few months. Then there's a tremolo which is currently on the drawing board, and there's a kind of Leslie simulator, too. I haven't exhausted all the possibilities for different flavours of distortion, but for now I think there are enough Rothwell distortion pedals.

AWC:
Is there any design you especially proud of?

Andrew:
The Cool Little Knob is a very simple but elegant circuit which goes way beyond what an ordinary coil tap does. I don't think that circuit has ever really had the appreciation it deserves. As far as pedals go, I'm quite proud of the Hellbender, simply because it was the first pedal I produced commercially and I think it allows the guitar the "breathe" and doesn't completely swamp it in distortion.

AWC:
One thing that separates you from some other effects pedal builders are the super cool custom tone shaping knobs you offer in your line, tell us a bit about them. How did that idea come about, and what other products do you build?

Andrew:
The Cool Little Knob is an idea I came up a long time ago. I initially submitted a patent application and tried to get one of the big guitar companies to use it under licence, but I made the mistake of employing an agent to do that and basically he was useless. It's amazing how quickly 12 months can pass and after 12 months you have to proceed to the next stage of the patent application process. Well, I decided it wasn't worth throwing good money after bad and let the application lapse. However, I designed some derivatives of the Cool Little Knob for Patrick Eggle Guitars and JJ Guitars. I can't remember the model numbers now, but a review of the JJ Guitars fitted with the CLK type circuit said "A coil-split is often only a passable impression of a genuine single-coil tone, and generally gets regarded as a useful option for occasional use at best. In this case, however, the results are extremely impressive. There are elements of a P-90 at work here in my opinion; the output is gutsy and rounded, with enough midrange punch to prove convincing with a generous dose of overdrive. With the Electra V, there’s more of an open, less focused vibe, only missing a touch of the standard model’s excellent definition. On both guitars in allswitch positions, however, these are just about the best tapped tones I’ve heard yet in a guitar."

Oh yes, I should have mentioned that the CLK is basically a sophisticated replacement for a coil tap. You get the clarity of single coil pickups without the weedy bass that tapped humbuckers normally have. The Hot Little Knob was an idea I had while I was looking through the original circuit diagrams I did for Patrick Eggle Guitars. I realised that a similar idea to the CLK could be implemented on strats, but sort of in reverse, ie instead of splitting the two coils of a humbucker and controling the way the two coils interact I could combine two of the coils of a strat and control the way they interact instead. Simply putting two strat pickups in series isn't the same as what a HLK does.

AWC:
I think it's great you're doing more than just pedals. Is there any upcoming pedals, projects or designs you're working on?

Andrew:
I'm working on stuff all the time. I've been working on a compressor for ages but now I think it's ready and that will be available in the next few months. It will do subtle compression with fattening and it will boost levels too, if you want it to. It has low noise and doesn't completely squash your signal. I don't like most compressors for those reasons but this one is something I really enjoy using. It sounds great with a Tele. I haven't chosen a name for it yet, though.
There's also a tremolo due to be available later this year. The difference with this one is that there's a spectrum control on it. The spectrum knob controls the frequencies which will be modulated by the tremolo. When it's set to full range, the full range is modulated, ie the volume goes up and down. When the spectrum knob is set to HF (high frequency), just the high frequencies are modulated, so the tone modulates between bright and dark. The spectrum knob can be set anywhere between the two extremes.

AWC:
Is there anything out there that can't be built? If you had access to any component or part what would you build?

Andrew:
I designed a compressor using LDRs (light dependent resistors) but those contain cadmium sulphide which doesn't comply with the latest EU regulations so it's illegal to make anything with LDRs in them now. That's a shame because it did sound good.

AWC:
If you could capture anyone's tone in a box whose would it be?

Andrew:
I don't really like the idea of capturing anyone's tone in a box because tone is just as much about the way someone plays as it is about their collection of gear, and I think we should all strive to create our own signature tone anyway. I saw a band in a rehearsal room a few years ago. The guitarist had an upmarket strat and an upmarket Marshall stack but it sounded awful, truly dire. Then when he took a break a friend of mine picked up his guitar and without touching any controls on the amp or touching the pickup selector he started to play and it instantly sounded like a classic strat/Marshall combination. The difference was night and day and it was all down to two different people playing. I think too many people are under the illusion that you can just go out and buy someone's tone by buying the same gear. You can't.
Having said all that, Brian May has always had superb tone, but Digitech have done the "Brian May Tone In A Box" thing already. I was never a big fan of Queen, though. Scott Henderson has great tone and I really dig his playing.

AWC:
What is it you hope people get from Rothwell Audio Products?

Andrew:
I hope they get a pedal (or knob) they really like using, that will last a lifetime, and will help them express their musical ideas.

AWC:
And last. If you were stuck with only 5 pedals for the rest of your life what would they be?

Andrew:
I'm actually not a pedal junkie in as much as I don't like to use too many pedals and I certainly don't like an over-processed sound. I have a Digitech modulator pedal that does chorus and Leslie simulations and such, and it sounds great, but the problem with it is that your original tone gets lost somehow, and even when you bypass it, your natural raw tone is gone. I could probably live with less than 5 pedals if I had to.

AWC:
Anything else you'd like our readers to know?

Andrew:
Only that it doesn't matter where in the world you are, we can take your order and deliver your pedal, no problem. A few weeks ago the pound was very weak against the dollar and it was a great time for people in America to buy a Rothwell pedal. But bear in mind that really great tone comes from really great playing - don't think you can just buy it, you have to work at it.



For more info on Rothwell Audio Products go to www.rothwellaudioproducts.com.uk or click the logo in our links. Look for more Rothwell products to come in the near future.

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