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A Wee Bit O' Gumbo
By Mick Polich - 05/24/2011 - 09:56 AM EDT

This month’s column is a bit of a mix - a little pot of gumbo, with a few insights and ideas……

First, some tech: most of you folks might know this by now, but in tube amplifiers, there are certain tube types that can be interchanged with the resetting of tube bias current, and a few parts. One of my favorite quick-n’-easy fixes for different tone (but not gain) is changing out a pair of 6L6GC tubes for a duet of KT66 tubes.  For awhile I had been hearing about the 6L6/KT66 sub, so I decided to try the mod on my long-running experiment know as the “FrankenDeluxe”, which is a blackface 1964 Fender Deluxe amp that I bought off of a customer back in 1990 while employed at Rieman Music as an electronic service tech, in Des Moines. The ”Dee” has been thru some ch-ch-changes – power supply/output has been gutted, and stuffed with a Fender Tremolux circuit, thus giving the little hummer at least 30-35 watts o’ juice. While living in Texas, I decided to take another step in the amp’s evolution, and replace the 6L6 duet of power tubes (which, of course, had replaced the original 6V6 output line-up in the old circuit) with the British designed KT66 duet. I knew I wouldn’t get any more significant gain – a misnomer of info when people try this, because the amp is slated for “X” amount of gain anyway – but I figured I would get at least some more clean headroom, tighter lows, and perhaps a nice, almost Class A overdrive ( which takes a bit to get ‘er up there, because the s.o.b. is LOUD).

A few figures: the KT66 tube has a max plate voltage of 550 VDC, as opposed to the 6L6 tube at 500VDC. I don’t concerned about that figure as I am current draw specs on the tubes – putting an ‘oversized’ tube in an amp circuit not made to handle the amount of current draw given for the tube can hurt the amp ( still open for debate in some circles, but a general rule). I’ve never had a problem with my FrankenDee’s original Deluxe circuitry supporting a 6L6 duet as opposed to the 6V6 design – I figured the amp would approach Class A mode more, which would be cool, and even at higher volumes, thus drawing more power, I never had a problem with stability. But, after the power supply/output reconstruction, the KT66 mod was never a worry.

I spread the KT66 gospel a few weeks ago – had a guy bring up two amps for repair, one being an early Boogie Mark 1. I put a matched duet of KT66’s in the Boogie, and got some great results – the amp still deliver the infamous ‘cascading gain staging’ in the front end pre-amp, while giving an even tighter low end, and clearer sound on the back end. So, a great mod, even better on a self-biasing amp because you can slip those puppies in (matched set, o’course), and try it out.

There are recording artists whose work I tend to revisit during the course of my life –Coltrane, Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Hendrix, to name a significant few.  Recently, I can say that I’ve added Paul Simon to the mix. If anyone of out contemporary songwriters is deserving of the Gershwin Award, it’s him. You look at the body of work, and, well, I think it’s a rare feat indeed, where pop hits with meaning and substance, artistic growth and change, and the longevity of a five to six decade career  have managed to blossomed and thrive for the human populace.  And there is much to celebrate from Rhymin’ Simon’s catalog – reissues of the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, at least the first three classic Paul Simon solo albums in remastered form next month, and a new CD called “So Beautiful Or So What?” With this new collection of music, Paul has brought every element of all his stylistic changes and evolutions through his career – a truly remarkable and beautiful, to say the least, journey.

Right off, I will say my favorite number is “Dazzling Blue” – a glimmering amalgamation of thoughts on love, marriage, and building a solid ’ wall of love’ to support that. According to Simon, it’s a love letter to his wife, singer Edie Brickell - what a present it is. Amazingly, Americana roots  (fiddle, dobro),and Indian music devices(table, clay pot) get stirred together for a lovely mix ,along with background vocals from bluegrass greats  Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, and Karakudi R. Mani ( who gives new meaning to using the voice as a percussive instrument). It really isn’t amazing that all these diverse musical forms can be woven  together  - the world’s musical forms are only a few harmonics and rhythms away from each other, anyway – but leave it to Paul to gather the troops, and lead the charge.  I’ve always given credence and support to those artists who are willing to take chances – I’d rather hear someone’s misses than paint-by-numbers boo-hoo,anyway. Paul Simon has gotten my vote with this collection……. 

Another cool item to pop into my effects collection is Electro – Harmonix’s “Ring Thing” – a wonderfully, odd programmable device that involves modulation of different bandwidths, along with using  the five modulation waveforms – square, sine, ramp up/down, and triangle – to drastically alert any input signal.

The Ring Thing is definitely one of the cooler, weirder effects that I’ve gotten my paws on in years. Surprisingly, the first patch that I dialed up was a GREAT Univibe effect ( so, I guess my Dunlop Univibe will stay non-repaired for a little while longer…). The ring modulation effects were good, and the fact that you can tune a patch to a note or chord is a beautiful groove also.

I knew there was a reason I had to re-read Jimmy Webb’s excellent book on songwriting, ”Tunesmith” – the insightful Mr. Webb quotes a Portuguese proverb, which in turn, states,” The road to Paradise is paradise.” That quote brought me full circle to what I’ve been doing for my vocation in life, and why I need to keep going.

I had spent the better part of last week in a funk - at 52 years of age, wondering why I’m starting another set of businesses that are music-related, what drives me, why drag my family into this again, yahda,yahda,blah. This is part of my journey, as is my family involved, and our return to where it all began, the state of Iowa. Who knows how these latest endeavors will work, if they’ll work at all – in the practical (and believe me, there’s nothing like ‘the practical’ in the Midwest – forget the smoke and mirrors, give me the practical, because it works.….). As much as I’m enlightened at this point in my life, there are the complexities of regret and loss that creep in, too. But unlike Mr. Townsend, I don’t wish to die before I get old – in fact, I’m just getting started. Thusly, that little quote reminded me not so much of what could not be, but what could BE. Writing this column is part of that journey, and I’m glad that you all are on board to read whatever b.s. I’ve learned in this crazy business of the arts. Because if you keep readin’, I’ll keep passin’ it on……….

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