The Musician's Room: A Couple of Interesting POD Applications

One afternoon I read an article about B.B. King in Parade magazine and then listened to Derek Trucks' album Soul Serenade as I took a short nap. I woke up at the end of the album with an urge to go back to my roots and play some Fender Amp-based blues. As I dug around for a sound in my head, I resorted to a rather funny collection of gear to play:

Les Paul
Early '70s Fender Champ Amp (6 big watts!)

An Unpretentious Powerhouse
Click to embiggen.

...and a surprise guest appearance from... a POD.

Weird, huh? It started with the Paul and the Champ. As you may know, the Champ is a class-A tube amp which, when pushed, has an very nice bluesy sound. It's just plain tiny, though. I remember chuckling into my hand at Champ owners during the age of the onstage "wall of amps". Right at that same time, some of the classic rock albums of all time were being recorded with Champs in the studio. Who'da thunkit? Anyway, at half volume with a humbucker-equipped guitar, you are automatically doing the Doobies "Listen to the Music" and at three-quarters you are "Rockin' Down the Highway". With a stock Champ wound out, you are almost there for lead. Almost, but it doesn't quite have quite enough singing sustain for me because the preamp just doesn't have enough gain. Also, with the volume "dimed", it begins to exhibit a bit of a brash sound just like Clapton's on "Layla and Assorted Love Songs", which was recorded entirely on Champs. I have to admit that though I love the album, I don't always like that brashness.

Anyway, that's where the POD came in. I connected it between the guitar and the Champ, selected the "Tube Preamp" model, and switched off the "A.I.R.". From there, I set the POD's gain low enough that it made little or no contribution to the tone of the affair. I then used the POD's channel volume and master volume to kick up the signal hitting the Champ's front end just a wee. Nice! Now comes the ultimate: On the POD, I twisted in just a pinch of compression to help the sustain, and a little spring reverb.

Yeowza! I was barkin' with the big dogs, singing with class-A power amp distortion, and all at living room volumes! I got a really nice round blues sound, with just enough razz and "hair" to keep it from being, *ahem*, "respectable," if you know what I mean. After some traditional blues, I added a little delay at a low volume and was able to spend a while evoking Jeff Beck's "Highway Jam." All from this tiny "practice" amp, with a little help from its modern cousin.

Addendum, 12/12/04: By the way, this rig works wonderfully for blues gigs at coffee-house-size venues where the house manager wants the level to be low enough for the patrons to talk at their tables. I'll work the volume pedal at the front end to allow me to pull back for rhythm work without loosing high-end (unlike the guitar's volume control). Tonally, I do approach things a bit differently from the above setup, in order to keep the amp's level low. I use the Champ as a power amp and get my sounds from the POD. On the POD, I select the Blackface Fender Deluxe Model and wind out the gain. I add the hidden function of TAP-Gain to push up the gain a little further and I add some brilliance because I often use a Les Paul. Next I select the compressor/delay effect and dial up just a touch of compression to aid singing sustain and some moderate-length delay at an almost inaudible level to fill in the silences between notes. I use a slight bit of reverb as well. I've got this saved off to a preset for quick access. I set the Champ's level to a moderate point and control the volume of the rig from the POD's output level.

I've been gigging with this rig for a year now, with great success.

Addendum, 08/07/17: I've also tried putting the Analog Alien Joe Walsh Double Classic pedal in the line to add a bit more grit, gain, and compression and it really brings the little Champ to life.