Watch John Bohlinger play and offer up his unfiltered initial thoughts of Vox’s new little hybrid-tube monster.
Revolver is the album that made the Beatles recording artists in the absolute sense of the term.
Their previous six albums had demonstrated John Lennon and Paul McCartney's increasingly ambitious songwriting skills and the group's competence with a range of musical styles. But the productions, while strong, were undistinguished. Apart from some reverb, compression and EQ, the instruments and vocals were recorded in a wholly representational manner.
But even as early as 1963, while recording With the Beatles, the group's members had begun asking why their instruments and voices couldn't sound like something ... else. "Can we have a compressor on this guitar?" George Harrison had asked Norman Smith during the recording of his song "Don't Bother Me" in September of that year. "We might try to get a sort of organ sound."
At the same session, Lennon had been voted down by George Martin when he plugged into a Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone. By 1966, no one, not even George Martin, could hold back the Beatles' musical ambitions. Not only was their music changing; their consciousness was expanding, courtesy of experimentation with pot and LSD. This synchronism would culminate, creatively, in Revolver, the only album the group released that year. But what an album it was.
From its inception, Revolver was designed to be an exploration of sound as it had never been heard before in pop music.
And no one, apart from the Beatles themselves, was more instrumental to that end than 20-year-old Geoff Emerick, who engineered Revolver and created its many ground breaking sounds. Emerick had served as tape operator on a number of Beatles sessions with Norman Smith, during which time he had become friendly with McCartney. When Smith quit working with the group to become a record producer at the start of 1966, Emerick was asked to become the Beatles' engineer over some of his more qualified colleagues. "I suspect Paul had something to do with that," Emerick says. "We got along well, and I was young, so he knew I would be open to the kind of experimentation they wanted to do."
Though shy and quiet, Emerick was rebelliously disdainful of EMI's strict policies, which forbade microphones to be placed closer than 18 inches to drum kits and discouraged the overloading of audio signals to create distortion and "unnatural" sounds. On Revolver, Emerick systematically broke one rule after another in his efforts to give the Beatles the new and unusual sounds they demanded. "I've always thought of sound as images rather than in strict technical terms," Emerick explains. "A lot of the sounds I heard in my head were dark, with more depth. And with Revolver, it was more about making things sound different, rather than real."
The new direction was evident from the very first track recorded: "Tomorrow Never Knows." Titled simply "Mark 1" at the time recording commenced on April 6, 1966, the song was written by Lennon, the product of his experience with LSD, which he'd taken the previous January. Using lines from The Psychedelic Experience, an LSD manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, he wrote the song as a mantra composed of one repeating melody line over driving bass and drum track. "It's only got the one chord, and the whole thing is meant to be like a drone," Lennon told Martin and Emerick.
Additionally, he explained, he wanted his voice to sound "like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountaintop." Says Emerick, "I was thinking, Well, I've got an echo chamber and ... that's all! I didn't know what I was going to do. And suddenly, there it was, staring me in the face!" "It'' was the studio's Leslie rotary speaker cabinet, a standard piece of equipment for organs but one that had never been used for any other instrument or for voice.
As Lennon's voice came swirling through the Leslie, the assembled group listened in awe from the control room. "It's the Dalai Lennon!" exclaimed McCartney. Emerick also showed his ingenuity in recording the song's drums to achieve the "thunderous" sound Lennon had requested. In addition to moving the mics right up to the drum heads (earning him an EMI reprimand for "microphone abuse"), Emerick applied a heavy dose of compression using a Fairchild 660 limiter to give the drums a very forward, "pumping'' sound. "What on earth did you do to my drums?" Starr asked Emerick. "They sound fantastic!" (Emerick would go on to use close-miking elsewhere on the albums, including for the horns on "Good Day Sunshine" and the strings on "Eleanor Rigby.")
The day after Revolver's groundbreaking debut session, "Tomorrow Never Knows" was completed with another unusual technique: an overdubbing of tape loops assembled by McCartney, featuring distorted guitar and bass tones and sound effects. Tape loops had long been used in composition by avant-garde composers, but for the pop music world, it was entirely new.
For all of Emerick's sonic trickery, one of his greatest achievements on Revolver was his work on the Beatles' guitar tones. Over the past year the group had been unhappy with their guitar sounds, especially with the lack of presence. For Revolver, they had some new and powerful amps to work in their favor, including a cream-colored Fender Bassman (intended for McCartney but appropriated by Harrison), two new blackface Fender Showmans with 1x15 cabs and 120-watt Vox 7120 guitar amps.
New guitars for the sessions included Harrison's recently acquired 1964 Gibson SG Standard, his main guitar for Revolver, and Lennon and Harrison's sunburst Epiphone Casinos, a model that McCartney had owned for some time and also used on Revolver (Harrison's and McCartney's models had vibratos; Lennon's had a trapeze tailpiece). Lennon also used a Gretsch 6120 during the recording of "Paperback Writer" on April 3, and he and Harrison might have used their Sonic Blue Fender Stratocasters, acquired in 1965 during the making of Help! McCartney, for his part, relied on his Rickenbacker 4001S bass, which he had received in the summer of 1965.
But Revolver's guitar sounds aren't simply a product of the Beatles' gear. Again, it's down to Emerick's touch with, once again, the Fairchild 660 limiter. "It added a lot of presence," Emerick says. "Even if you just plug it in and use its circuitry—it sounds like the best tube amp ever." To record Revolver's guitars, Emerick used his beloved Neumann U47 tube mics. These, however, he kept well away from the speakers, "normally about a foot, 18 inches away." This, he says, is where the magic arrived. "That's where it sounded good." The payoff of his efforts can be heard all over Revolver tracks like "And Your Bird Can Sing," "She Said She Said" and, especially, "Taxman." The Harrison-penned track was considered so strong that it was chosen to lead off the album—though it was McCartney, not Harrison, who handled lead guitar duties on the song.
McCartney also joined Harrison to record the stunning dual-guitar lead work on Lennon's "And Your Bird Can Sing."
Twin-guitar leads, Leslie-phased vocals, tape loops, strings and horns ... It's no wonder that when, upon completing Revolver, the Beatles undertook what would be their final commercial tour; from August 12 to 29, 1966, the set list featured not a single song from the album. Nearly everything on it would have been impossible for them pull off as a four-piece. In almost every respect, Revolver represented a departure from the band's teenybopper past and, simultaneously, a signpost to the Beatles' psychedelic future. It was but a test run for the album that followed: their 1967 milestone, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band.
REVOLVER: EXTRA FACTS
Recorded: April 6 to June 21, 1966
Location: Abbey Road, Studio Three
Released: August 5, 1966 (Parlophone)
Taxman | Eleanor Rigby | I'm Only Sleeping | Love You To | Here, There and Everywhere | Yellow Submarine | She Said She Said | Good Day Sunshine | And Your Bird Can Sing | For No One | Doctor Robert | I Want to Tell You | Got to Get You into My Life | Tomorrow Never Knows
• "Paperback Writer" / "Rain"; June 10, 1966, Parlophone
• "Eleanor Rigby" / "Yellow Submarine"; August 5, 1966, Parlophone
We’re all familiar with stomp boxes designed to sound like tube circuitry, but most of these pedals really just enhance the sound of the tube amps they’re already plugged into instead of actually sounding like tubes.
Seymour Duncan’s new Palladium Gain Stage pedal is one of the few rare exceptions, featuring a versatile distortion and tone-shaping circuit that not only sounds like a tube amp but feels like one too.
As a result, the Palladium sounds as good driving the front end of an already overdriven tube amp as it does plugged directly into a power amp and used as a preamp.
With nine knobs on its front panel, the Palladium offers a selection of controls that rivals those found on many modern tube amps. In fact, in some ways it outdoes them, primarily thanks to the extra versatility of its semi-parametric midrange section, which provides a Frequency knob for selecting any midrange frequency between 255Hz to 1.1kHz and a separate midrange Level control. There are also amp-like Bass, Treble, and Presence EQ knobs plus a Resonance control that allows users to dial in the enhanced low-end thump of a 4x12 speaker cabinet. Like any good distortion pedal, the Palladium also includes the requisite Level and Gain knobs, and it has a separate knob for dialing in the gain level of the footswitchable Boost function.
The footswitch on the left is a hardwired true bypass on/off switch with a red LED that illuminates brightly when the effect is on, while the footswitch on the right engages the Boost function and a corresponding green LED. The mono input and output jacks are professional quality and are located out of the way at the back of the pedal. The Palladium operates with any 9- to 18-volt DC center negative power supply (no battery operation).
Because the Palladium’s controls are essentially identical to those found on most amps these days, it’s very easy to dial in any desired distortion tone or texture. The EQ section is active, providing +/-15dB of boost/cut at 100Hz for Bass, +/-12dB of boost/cut for Mid, +/-13dB of boost/cut at 2.7kHz for Treble, and +/-13dB of boost/cut at 5.2kHz for Presence. Most guitarists will find these EQ frequencies ideal for dialing in tones suitable for any style of music from blues and classic rock to high-gain modern metal. The EQ generally sounds the best with the knobs dialed between 9 to 3 o’clock, although more extreme boost or cut settings can compensate for an overly dark or bright sounding amp or speakers used with the pedal.
Whereas many “tube” pedals actually sound stiff and compressed, the Palladium responds to the dynamics of your playing, so overdrive tones can become more distorted as you play forcefully and cleaner as you play lightly or turn down your guitar’s volume knob. Similarly, most pedals sound harsh and one-dimensional when plugged directly into a power amp, but the Palladium turns even the most unforgiving solid-state power amp into a warm, expressive guitar amp with all of the harmonic complexity and richness of a dedicated guitar amp. Guitarists can even plug the Palladium directly into a recording console and achieve impressive tones, although a speaker simulator is also needed to achieve the most ideal, lifelike results.
The Boost function summons smooth, sustaining lead tones, particularly when the Gain knob is cranked up past 12 o’clock. Like many distortion/overdrive pedals offered these days, the Palladium can provide a transparent clean boost that will push an already overdriven tube amp into a sweet spot at lower volume levels, but it’s most effective when used like an additional channel added to your amp.
STREET PRICE: $299
MANUFACTURER: Seymour Duncan, seymourduncan.com
• The versatile EQ controls provide varying levels of boost/cut finely tuned to frequencies ideal for most overdriven and distorted guitar tones.
• The Resonance control makes the bass heavier but also tighter, replicating the tonality of a closed-back 4x12 speaker cabinet.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Palladium Gain Stage pedals offers impressive tonal versatility and dynamic responsiveness similar to a tube amp with a wide rainbow of tones from overdrive crunch to saturated high-gain distortion.