Gladden Guitar Electronics
Onboard electronics unravelled by unbored Dave Burrluck
In the search for the ultimate sound the guitarist can end up far from happy and a lot poorer. Simply, the add-on or retro fit industry has never been greater — pick ups, electronics, trems, locking this and locking that — you want it, somebody undoubtedly manufactures it. The trouble is of course the expense to experiment. Few companies offer a return service for a pick-up that doesn't suit its new owner (Labtek, Seymour Duncan's distributor being an exception) as I've found this an expensive business. I went through Di Marzio, Armstrong, Seymour Duncan, and Di Marzio again, finally swapping the first S.D. for another before being happy. I cringe to think how much that lot cost. It's not being fussy — if you can hear a sound you want I don't see why you can't try your hardest to get it!
Of course this 'search' goes on and encompasses more than just pickups. In this occasional series I'll be testing some of the products available as add-ons, from larger companies to small makers. I take a look this month at some electronics offered by Dave Gladden, a maker from Wivenhoe, Essex who takes care of Nik Kershaw's instruments amongst others.
Apart from Dave's construction and repairing he also feels perfectly at home with pickups and electronics and worked for while as a sound engineer for gigging bands. As he said to me that experience made him listen. And listen he does, rather like a concerned family doctor nodding and grunting while you spill out your problems, then he'll suggest a course of treatment.
The treatment we sorted out for my guitar — a Squire Strat — was to fit Dave's Pre-Amp/Buffer, PassiveTone Circuit and replace the volume pot with a notched pot specially made for Dave Gladden.
The Pre-amp/buffer circuit (RRP: £40) is mounted on a small board 26mm x 36mm approx placed between the pickup selector and volume control. It is designed to expand and emphasise the sound overall and not as a solo boost. It has about six dB of boost although this is variable via a trim pot in the circuit. The unit also converts the guitar to low impedance whilst still retaining the character of a passive guitar.
Dave Gladden is very much a 'passive' man hence his passive tone filter which costs £18. The electronics for this — a capacitor and inductor network designed with a nod to the past 'vintage filtering' — are potted in resin and the resulting 'mini-paint pot' shape is mounted between the bottom of the pickup switch and first tone control. The system relies on the interaction between the two tone controls which now become 'masters' for all pickup selections.
The tone control pots have been replaced with notched pots (£3.50 each) — has 21 notches which tie in with half a position on the old Gibson knob markings. Dave has had these especially made as a result of a idea of Nik Kershaw's.
Finally we have a mini-toggle (SPDT) switch fitted between the two tone controls to allow the passive tone filter to be switched in or out. The nine-volt battery used to power the pre-amp which only takes about four milliamps is placed at the bottom of the control compartment held in securely with a piece of gaffer-tape. The only irreversible alteration to the instrument therefore is the quarter-inch hole drilled in the scratchplate to take the mini-toggle switch.
Of course it doesn't matter a bit what a circuit is supposed to do it's what it actually does that matters. Firstly the pre-amp changes the sound from an also ran to a winner — in sound terms it takes what was a run of the mill Strat sound into the high-class world of EMG's and vintage noises. Why? Well its subtle boost pushes out those elusive 'glassy' elements of the 'Strat' sound giving 'edge' but not just high treble. The pre-amp is also designed to even out the volume discrepancies on the 'in between' sounds which it does superbly — maximum honk! Previously I was a bit concerned that not having a by-pass switch could be a drag but worries pale in respect to the sound and eventual uncluttered appearance of the guitar. I'm not a fan of push-pull volume pots on a Strat especially with a trem and Dave reckons the alkaline PP3 battery should last about six months so what's the problem?
Another advantage of the preamp is that it converts the guitars impedance to that of a desk input. Just in case he was wrong I thought I'd try it. Good? Yes, plugged straight into the patch bay the guitar kept all its highs, in fact the sound was hard to fault even with the eq flat.
The passive tone circuit is another thing altogether and takes a while to get used to. It is the interaction between the two controls which causes the subtle change in tones. While it is still a passive and therefore basically a low-mid pass filter the tones produced are extremely usable.
The small toggle switch fitted as a passive tone on/off means that you can pre-set a tone and just switch it in when required, no twiddling of knobs needed. The notched pots on the tone system also allow you to remember exact positions and more importantly the controls can't be knocked mid gig to change your pre-set tone.
In the time I've been experimenting with the system I've found the main use to be soloing and fat distorted chording. The trouble with a Strat is that the 'edge' can be too much when distortion is added making the sound equally and weak. By knocking off the top but still retaining bite and power the Gladden system will give a fair approximation of a smooth humbucking sound. Add to that a touch of compression and you've got the classic Gibson/Fender compromise out of one guitar. £18 well spent!
The final addition is the notched volume pot. As any Strat player knows it is all too easy to knock your volume down mid-song especially when pulling your trem arm in and out of action. The notched pot cures this and also allows precise rhythm/lead volumes to be set. However 'violin' effects aren't so easy. The notches are smooth so violining can still be used but you have to work quite a bit harder. The choice is yours.
Of course this system isn't just designed for Strats, the tone filter works equally well on a Les Paul or any Gibson type guitar. The tone system interestingly works best on standard single coil or side by side coil humbuckers, logically it seems that the wider the frequency response of a pick-up the more effective the filtering becomes.
Certainly the products reviewed here are far from expensive and provide sensible improvement for any guitar.
RRP: See copy
For further information contact: Dave Gladden Guitars, (Contact Details)