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pick ups to get the "clarence" sound

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Joined: 10 Jul 2010
Posts: 21
Location: NY, USA

PostPosted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 3:39 pm    Post subject: pick ups to get the "clarence" sound Reply with quote

I think Brian addressed this at one point (although I can't find the post), but what would be the best pickups to have installed in order to get as close as possible to the sounds of "Clarence" (the guitar).
All suggestions would be welcome as well as dealer, pricing, etc.
Thanks to all that answer.
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Joined: 23 Aug 2006
Posts: 324
Location: Hermosa Beach CA

PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 6:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow - I can't believe this post got missed!

As far as the answer - it depends.

Clarence used several different setups during his career (if we're just counting the ones with the sunburst bender Tele alone):

1. Single-pickup Esquire mode (the earliest bender pics show it configured that way). Very short time, probably '68 only.
2. Stock or possibly rewound bridge pickup and Strat neck pickup (rewund by Red Rhodes). '68 or early '69-early or mid '70.
3. Dual-coil Red Rhodes bridge (later named the "Velvet Hammer VHTBX" - NOT to be confused with Fender's awful TBX tone circuit.). '69 or '70-on.
4. Possibly changed to a single-coil rewound bridge pickup shortly before his death in '73, as that's what was in it when Marty Stuart go it - but it was thrashed, had been played and strings were there's no way to know if Clarence changed it or someone else did...if the latter finding that bridge pickup with be the Holy Grail!

Note that the Velvet Hammer ("VH") is really not just *a* pickup, but a "system". Without Red's wiring harness diagram the pickup seems bass-ackwards - but it makes perfect sense once you get used to it (I swore my first pickup was defective because the main output was SO low, and the "boost" coil SO hot...and they WILL NOT work if reversed - the whole mess shorts out.).

My good bud Brian and I agree to disagree about this - he thinks it IS wrong and Clarence never used it, saying you can get ALL CW's tones using a specific wiring mode and stock bridge/hot Strat pickup combinations.

Unfortunately, Brian is wrong. Evil or Very Mad Razz Evil or Very Mad Razz Very Happy

The way it works IS how Brian describes it - which is EXACTLY what I was told by Red, Skunk Baxter (who worked in Red's shop and tried to sell me one - I was a poor student and couldn't afford it though) and Clarence, who I talked to for quite some time in the "Green Room" at the Ash Grove.

Amp(s) are cranked up. Playing on the "normal" (low output coil) gives you a range of sweet, bell-like to lightly more biting clean tones simply by pick attack and use of BOTH volume and tone control (if you are not used to rolling your tone off or running your volume turned down a bit you will have a hard time adjusting - but it's a better way to play ALL the time). In the two-pickup position you have much more output and more mids. Neck is the Strat pickup alone and sounds like you would expect...but there is a big difference in level between the "boost off" bridge and the "both" and "neck" switch positions.

When you turn the "boost switch" on the full bridge output slams your cranked amp, and this is where learning to play with 1) a light touch, digging in when you want breakup, 2) rolling the tone back a hair for more "meat", and 3) with this particular system, having the highest volume at around 75-80% up on the volume control - which then starts to shunt signal to ground as you go up all the way.

There is a "balancing act" point with the "boost" on, volume in the "notch" (as I call it, as it's almost working like a "notched wah" would) and tone control in certain spots where pick attack, varied with a tremendous amount of control and position relative to the saddles, gives you a VERY wide range of sounds.

Once you find "the spot" on the controls with your amp on 7-10 (depending on type, tubes, bias, etc...and it does NOT work well with SS amps for the most part) you can get a VERY string humbucker-ish clean sound with a mid-emphasis, a sweeter trebly tone (moving your hand closer to the saddles) and crushing overdrive (by picking harder...but not TOO hard.).

Except for the odd volume control quirk of Red's wiring (which looks like it should be a phase switch - and I believe it WAS one in around '69) but is missing one side and has wires in the "wrong" place, it reacts to the player with superb touch-control...which most players sadly never learn (The "too much amp" syndrome is the problem - playing a club with a Twin Reverb turned up to "3" sounds like poop and disengages any type of right-hand dynamics. My system is to always ue the SMALLEST amp I possibly can and drank it up, relying on pick attack for dynamics, compression,saturation, and quite a bit of tone...but while ALWAYS adjusting the interactive volume and tone controls).

Playing this way usually eliminates any need for a compressor - which actually defeats the use of right-hand control by "leveling the playing field". I only use compression as an "effect", very sparingly...while many Tele players have one on ALL the time.

That's one gadget you need to NOT use to get any kind of Clarence tone. A cranked up tube amp (Fender type with lower gain - not a Soldano, for example!), a Fender Blender or one of Brian's excellent versions (for the early "bucket of drunken bees" fuzz sound Clarence got - NOT my favorite of his sounds), or a lower-gain fuzz...actually more of a distortion pedal...that he used later on (from a circuit at Valley Arts Guitars, possibly similar to Sneaky's later self-made unit), a Fender Vibratone or Leslie 16 - same thing - WITH the specially wiring harness/crossover (that sends mids to the Leslie and highs/lows to the guitar amp - in Clarence's case his Super Reverb, which was connected to the Vibratone) and you pretty much have it. No reverb...and trem only on some early stuff. He DID have a tube Echoplex and it may have possibly been tied in somewhere...there was a piece of 2x4 or similar with several switches n it that he had to control his limited range of effects.

To sum it up, for the Fillmore-ish tones (and the Boston Tea Party boot) a stock bridge and possibly Strat neck with a cranked up amp will get you in range; for later sounds you really can't get completely there without the VH harness (one specific example - the Buckaroo/Nashville West medley on the boot I think is from the middle of Nashville West is a tonal change SO severe there's NO way to do it with stock pickups. None. And as many copy-degraded generations as the Palladium boot has been through it's the same situation - a cranked amp and pick attack get your halfway there...but you still need the right tools to REALLY nail those tones.).

FWIW Seymour Duncan has been analyzing a VHTBX bridge pickup, and says it's totally bizarre - two coils interleaved in some kind of scatterwound way that *appears* random and "wrong". When he called me to tell me about it he was, I think, a couple of months into unwinding* it, mapping te whole thing along the way. Haven't heard the results from him yet.

Hope that helps-


PS anyone who HAS a VH and is confused about the proper wiring, email me and I'll send you a wiring diagram - the same setup Clarence used or one slightly modernized with the additional 4-way series tones.
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