09 Sep “Nothing is new…”
“… except what has been forgotten.”
Says he. And in fact, the core running underneath is always the good ole SoloDallas team. Same guys as always, but better (only Franz – former product manager – took a long pause, after being the real engine responsible for production and everything else, when we were back in Europe; seems like 100 years ago, now).
In these two+ years here in the US I (we) have worked so hard that I can hardly believe it. I forget how many hours a-day; every day, on Saturdays, Sundays included, non-stop. Hectically. Then I’d take off for a while – but could never not-think about SoloDallas stuff. Just got to do it.
It’s like what they say – however – about a job they love and “I never worked an hour in my life”, meaning they love so much what they do that they don’t really care. In my case it’s pretty much the same now. Nothing new; Ken Schaffer used to call me an Isolated Obsessive (or IO) for a reason. Only, I haven’t been isolated in a long while this time. Only obsessive. Right, Kenny? (now I dare calling him so – as opposed to my very first “Mr. Schaffer” every once in a while and he seems to let it pass).
This chasing of my dream (ours: I’m – thank God – not alone anymore and I have not been for a long while now that Ken Schaffer has joined, Greg DeGroat, Dries Pottevijn and for the longest time, probably, André Kozuma).
So it’s many of us now. Each one with their own role and we don’t want to bore you with it, but we try the hardest. Yes I know, you heard it a million times, it’s typical American company mission motto.
Enough with this.
What I (we) wanted really though is to make classic products. Once I tasted the wonders of being a manufacturer (oh the joys and the pains!) I really understood that I wanted to make stuff that people will own for years; will use without tire and that really will work in most situations.
The Schaffer Replicas are all this in the end; it’s a no-nonsense technology that I have not invented – only replicated the best possible way – and that it took, even back then in the incredible 1970s, years to be perfected. In fact, don’t think for a second that they got it right, right away. It took them several years (Vega first, then with Ken’s additions, inventions, modifications, implementations) to get to the point where they were at one given time.
And I do like this, because it tells me (and now that I have the experience, I understand it even better) that it was really an evolutionary thing back then as well and that we got to replicate something complex, sophisticated and that sounded great for all the necessary reasons in the world.
It just makes sense.
The first iteration of the product(s) – with the TSR Pedal and the first one of all, the GT Tower – were the best we could possibly make. Heck (I say it daily now, while promoting the new versions) they made it in some of the best hands (literally!) of the planet.
To this day, I know that AC/DC’s ‘Rock Or Bust’ has been recored with it (engineered by Mike Fraser) and AC/DC have been touring solidly for two years with our Towers backstage (check, for kicks, Premier Guitar Magazine AC/DC Rig Rundown showing our technology in Angus Young’s rig); Muse’s ‘Drones’ (produced by the legendary Mutt Lange, producer of Back in Black) won the best rock album award for 2016; Airbourne’s ‘Breaking Outta Hell’ (engineered by Mike Fraser); Green Day’s ‘Revolution Radio’, Keith Urban’s ‘Ripcord’ and Sting’s (playing the Tower on bass) latest discographic effort after 18 years. Plus others that I will add later.
Sting, for example, also chose to record the video (a major production video) with our Tower right behind him for his single ‘I can’t stop thinking about you’ (the video is not out yet at the day of writing this note of mine but the song itself has already been released and it’s simply beautiful).
But still, when you release for the first time a product that it’s in its very first iteration – if it will keep up and not fail immediately – you want to improve it.
And that’s exactly what we’ve done with the New Tower (we called it the EX Tower, an acronym reminiscent of the venerable SVDS 63EX, the receiver of the original system) and with the Storm.
EX Tower and Storm
So, let me spend a couple of words on them both.
What are they, Fil? Truly – no, but really though – what are they?
Dries Pottevijn could answer this easily, as it was him completely re-making them from scratch. And he will, because he’s writing the new manual for them.
The EX Tower is THE Tower. It’s now the one and only; the definitive one. It’s the best of the best we could possibly come up with after painstakingly reverse engineering again the whole thing.
This time it was easier and quicker, because not only Dries is a genius (authentic engineer, young, bright, with immense work ethics and super passionate about the product and its history), but also we had all the previous work and notes about our mistakes. So we started from that basis; what we didn’t consider as a basis was the reverse engineering itself, because I really wanted to get the sound 100% nailed.
You see, I am trying not to make it sound bad, but I was never able to capture 100% certain nuances of the SVDS with the first iteration. Even I didn’t know it at first and less than that I knew why.
Took me years and money to find out and Dries was instrumental in this. He too was a customer of the first generation and owning an original – too – had noticed something was missing.
Particularly, some essence in the higher registers. The guitar wound’t clean up right when rolling off the volume and this is something very dear to me, because my (our) hero (at least, Angus Young) does this all the time. If it doesn’t work, it’s a pain for me. Gotta work. Guitar sound gotta clean up wonderfully when rolling off the volume from the guitar itself.
So this made us think. It was a mixture of things, filtering inside the Replicas and somethings missing in the implementation of the circuit as it was in the original device.
So Dries realized this and quickly corrected it. Particularly, he found another component that we had completely overlooked in the first iteration, and that was the Opto Isolator.
A limiter based on light. That was it. It was what sounded so cool to my ears (in part at least) and I just couldn’t get it from our Replicas. Because it wasn’t there.
So he implemented it in both the Tower and our newest born, the Storm.
The Storm was born out of your requests, really. You, the People.
‘The TSR really it is 12V center positive, Fil? really?’
We heard that question regarding the TSR Pedal so many times I can’t even tell you.
At first, we were replying what we knew: too powerful of a boost to be under 12V. Nothing else would work.
But then, Dries figured out it could be done (keep in mind Dries wasn’t the first engineer I went to after our first one in Europe – we tried three more here in the US and they all failed).
And he did it. 9V, center negative, battery operated, market standard. There you have it.
So, many of you ask me – sonically – where does the Storm stand. I’ll tell you, frankly like always – it stands where it should have stood from the beginning: real deal.
It sounds like the SVDS, period. As does the Tower. The Tower naturally sounds even better. It was the same between the older TSR and Tower; some would like one better, some – the other.
It’s truly the same here with Storm and EX Tower. The TSR (Pedal) is definitely different; it has an edgier midrange that you will recognize instantly, especially comparing a Storm (for example) versus a TSR.
And it’s a nice thing to do; I should do it myself (on video, I mean).
What the newer products will give you that you didn’t get with the older ones are nuances.
They are way better at capturing nuances; they are more sensitive to touch; they clean up better when rolling off and they react better when you dig into the strings with a strong attack; you will hear it clearly.
It’s like you get more as you dig and then, when you’re softer, they respond kindly too.
That was my kind of ideal behavior from an electric guitar, you know. Which is why I fell in love with the SVDS. It’s not simply a matter of tone; it’s a matter of how the guitar reacts to your playing – as you feel it.
I must say, our products (all of them, in general) make it a little easier to play the instrument you’re paying with; including bass, keys etc.
And again, nothing to be surprised of: back then, the SVDS had to work well on multiple instruments (bass, guitar, miked strings, brass, etc.)
The EX Tower will also offer a few options with it; we thought of those options especially for studio use.
Since many found the Replicas to be a little noisy (hiss) when pushed or simply when used with certain amplifiers, we tried to lower the noise floor. The Towers are now more silent. Not only that though; we also added a switch that will make your tower basically the same thing as the original SVDS was; it will disable the internal opamp responsible for the boost and it will kill the hiss entirely. It works great. This mode also emulates what – for example – David Gilmour had been doing, while using the SVDS (for at least 10 years straight, the longest time!). He would come out of the rear XLR output of the system, thus not overdriving further the amplifier but using the SVDS in its original and intended use. With the EX Tower, you will be able to duplicate accurately this mode and that sound.
This, in fact, could be a mode to run the Tower in if you want those funky guitar sounds of yesteryear that are still affected by the internal audio processing of our filtering (companding, limiting, … ) but not boosting. And simply, no hiss. While driven (saturated) or clean, you will get some extremely desirable sounds.
Another mode we added is to disable the Opto-Isolator entirely; this will let the unit clip internally (by design) driving the sound even more, adding a crisp overdrive that we find very desirable.
Lastly, we added an XLR output (with its own amplifier) that will let studio professionals use the Tower for several applications. These were key elements that we really felt would contribute sonically and functionally.
If you like them aesthetically too, as I do, that’s all thanks to Greg DeGroat (who I don’t mention much publicly, but he’s in the USA what Franz was to us in Europe – Greg is everything). He took it to the next level. He would keep on telling me this, you know, ‘take it to the next level’. We used to have two square boxes that sounded great before; now we have two new beautiful boxes not-so-squared in shape that sound amazing. He’s responsible for that. He improved the looks with Elliot Sorkin (who revamped this site with Greg) and managed production. We changed production several times, not once. We had to go to Virginia, which didn’t work as good as hoped. Then to California, then to Colorado. Whew. Talking about the United States of America. Now we got it good.
SD-50 Amplifier Head
If you remember – any one of you – googling the following search string in the past years (even when I started clearing things up – or thinking I was) would return crazy results: ‘Angus Young amplifier’.
Everyone and their dog felt they needed to give you their opinion and not once they were demonstrating any of those theories with video or audio. Not once, over the years. Only this crazy Italian put himself to the task, for years. Doubtful results – maybe – but, boy, have I tried to get those results. This trial and error process, however, brought us to the Schaffer Replica, so in the end it was great; a great discovery process you can read of on this same site, as I have recorded in written form most of my research and thought process at the time.
But even with the Schaffer Replica, I knew something wasn’t spot on with some rhythm tracks of many AC/DC songs I was researching; you know the Schaffer-Vega wasn’t being used by AC/DC on most rhythm tracks back then, so it made sense to me that at least a few of the amplifiers I had amassed and was trying things with would sound right to duplicate certain tones. Nope. I wasn’t using the right one. And I didn’t have it, yet.
Only about two years ago, again, reading everything and everywhere about AC/DC’s early process of recording, I noticed that a mysterious 50 watts head would show up again and again in AC/DC inventories (check, for example, Compass Point’s inventory in 1983: ’23 100 watts Marshall heads and one 50 watts Marshall head’).
Another ‘document’ that was sent to me showed that a particular 50 watts head with ‘a great grain of sound’ – small head – was being used as the main source of sound behind Angus monster setup. Strange, we thought. That was 1979. And that made it suddenly clear. It was the JTM50 Blackflag. It was the only possible solution; if you hear ‘Shoot To Thrill’ you will realize that it’s got a particular ‘sag’ in the sound that it’s unmistakeable. Truly, only a JTM50 will react that way; not a JTM45 and not a 1987. I had them all, vintage and new (some I still kept) and none cut it but a JTM50 Blackflag that we ended up cloning. So now you know it, too.
To us here at SoloDallas – for obvious reasons – this is the ultimate guitar player’s amplifier.
Lastly, our pickup! I wanted to copy the ones I have that I like. Tried so many… boutique, cheapos, stock ones. Many are good but none sounded like I wanted. So we made it and now you can have it, too.
But I, like always, digress. I didn’t create from scratch any of this; nothing is new in what we offer; it just had all been forgotten, by many (if not, by most). You probably needed a geek like me to bring it all back to you.
Because we really make great sounding gear.
Nothing truly is new, except what has been forgotten.