Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Vox in a Box

First, the bad news: the real thing will set you back at least $1,600 new. At the low end. A true, working, vintage model will cost considerably more. Much more. And there’s nothing like the real thing.

The good news: you can fake it for considerably less.

We’re talking about the Vox AC30 amplifier, particularly the Top Boost model. In a field that seems dominated by Fender, Marshall, and Mesa/Boogie (the sort of holy trinity of clean, crunch, and gonzo) and their “inspirations,” Vox amps kind of sit off to the side. Which is funny because if you run an AC30 light, you get the lovely, clear, chimey midrange and sparking treble associated with the amp. Turn it up, and you get a rich, soulful crunch. Crank it over, and you get this fantastic, singing overdrive. The trinity, all in one. And none of it sounds like anything else.

That’s where it gets tricky: what exactly is that Vox sound? You’d think you could nail it by listening to AC30 players, but the amp’s versatility and quirkiness complicates that. This is an amp serving the Beatles, the Shadows, the Stones (in the Decca years), Tom Petty, Peter Buck, Ray Davies, Radiohead (Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Thom Yorke), Matt Bellamy, Dave Grohl, Braid Paisley, Tom Verlaine, the Yardbirds, and Brian May.

If one player serves as a Rosetta stone, it’s The Edge. Famously he’s said to have played a battered, 1964-era AC30 (in a Seventies cabinet) on every U2 album and concert. Not every cut, of course. At this point, The Edge can pretty much own any amp made, and he’s known to use Fender Deluxes, Fender Blues Juniors, Roland JC120s (like that’s a surprise), and a 50-watt Marshall. But, if you say his name to a guitar freak, an AC30 comes to mind. And there’s probably no better example of the classic AC30 sound as “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

There’s the delay, of course—part of The Edge’s signature. I believe he’s playing a Fender Stratocaster: those single-coil pickups add to the chirp. But it wouldn’t have quite the same…shimmer without the Vox. Chime, jangle, ring—whatever you want to call it: it’s more than just a clear treble. There’s a fullness and a warmth to a sound that otherwise could prove piercing. Somewhere, there’s a piano hiding inside that box.

That broad, balanced clarity carries through to AC30 players who run their amps hot. Brian May runs a whole backline of them, and obviously he cranks the hell out of them for that overdriven, “violin-like” sound, but, despite the gain, you can still hear the notes. You have to work pretty hard, slathering on the effects, to blur the AC30’s crystalline qualities (that’s you I’m looking at, Kevin Shields…even though even Shields dirties it up with Marshalls).

And maybe it’s no surprise that “effects” and “AC30” go together: there’s something the amp loves about delays, tremolo, reverb, and other modulation effects. A touch goes a long ways, but the amp holds its sonic fingerprint even…if you’re The Edge.

The amp also weighs about 50 pounds and can get seriously loud—very likely more than you’ll need in smaller venues. So it’s not really the amp for open mic night.

The good news is that the modelers and pedal designers have long had their eyes/ears on the AC30, and digital approximations have been built into many multieffects units—high and low end. Ersatz, perhaps, but it’s a start, and the technology continues to improve.

A better option, especially if you already have a tube amp, is to set it up to run as clean as possible and add a stompbox dedicated to replicating an AC30. Tech 21 make a well-regarded Liverpool box, and similar boxes include: the Martin AC-tone , the Menatone Top Boost in a Can  (come on, that’s a great name), the Xotic AC Booster, the Catalinbread CB30  (note: one of many gifted Portland guitar effects companies), and the Joyo AC (which only runs about $40…Joyo’s a whole story in itself).

I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the Boss BC-2 Combo Drive. They seem to have bottled a bit of the AC30 mojo in a unit that rolls from sparkle to roar (with a sweet crunch in the middle), and I think I hear just a bit of compression to add a tube dynamic, because AC30s are known for their responsiveness. It works okay by itself or with a solid state amp, but pair it with a clean, neutral tube amp, and you might find yourself wandering down Abbey Road. For a couple of hours. This video from guitarist Pete Thorn lays it out quite nicely: (Hint: crank it up.)

Plus, you know, it’s hard to toss an AC30 in your gig bag. Your ears may be a little bummed, but your back will thank you.

[You can also find Splattworks at my new site:]

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mondo News

After a ton of work, I'm finally able to announce this: my new website, Splatterverse ( is now up and running.  My old site is just a lonely old placemarker. The new site, of course, has stuff on my plays (including samples folks can read), but, much more exciting to me, the site really tries to provide quality resources for writers, playwrights, theatre people, journalists, photographers, musicians, and artists in general. Some sections are still under development, but I feel there's enough good stuff there to announce the site; so folks can start using  the resources. My blog has also moved there, although I'll continue this blog for awhile, until the full transition is ready.
The project has been cool as hell to work on, and, if it sounds like your thing, I encourage you to check it out and get back to me with your comments. (And, if you dig it, pass it on to others.)
Much work remains to be done, but here's hoping the site will serve as intended: a hub that creative people can use to further their art and careers.
Steve Patterson

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why Write for the Stage?

For a change, money is not the answer.

Oh, one can make a buck or two writing plays, and there’s a refreshing point in one’s career where the contracts rise to the four- or five-digit level. And, if you write a hot play that does well at the Humana Festival and becomes a favorite among the regional theatres and you get a write-up in American Theatre magazine and make a dozen other perfect bank shots…you could see a pretty good year or two. Until the next flavor comes along. Winning a Pulitzer helps. Maybe.

But even the folks ostensibly making it usually have to supplant their incomes, often through teaching or, lately, writing for television…which is one reason why the writing quality for non-broadcast programs has increased so…well, dramatically.

What do you have left if you take money out of the picture? Control. And love.

Control because, unlike film or television, where you’re pretty much writing for hire, a playwright can say no. No to a wrongheaded rewrite. No to changing a line because it might conceivably upset the second cousin of someone who knows a backer. No because an actor can’t wrap their head around the words (even though they can play the rest of the part well). Never underestimate the peace of mind that comes from carrying the trump card (though it also means you have to accept the consequences). That is, until real money gets involved. Then you may have a contract, but you’re still playing three-dimensional chess.

Honestly? It always feels better to say yes: someone’s helping make your play better and handing you a gift. And you get to walk away with it, red-handed.

Which leads, oddly enough, to love. Even though you need a team to make theatre—a directors to realize your words and actors to voice them, along with a host of designers and other wizards, theatre presents a remarkably direct connection between the writer and the audience. One would think books create the strongest bonds, given the immediacy between words and thought, but books lack the feedback loop theatre provides.

See, it’s one thing for a reader to talk with you or correspond with you after the artistic transaction has occurred (i.e., they’ve read your stuff), and it’s another to hear an audience laugh, react, or, if you’ve done your job well, applaud. Your art has to happen in real time. When it works, you get this incredible rush. There’s some kind of direct line between an audience reaction and one’s euphoria receptors. (I can only imagine what it’s like for a rock musician to hit a chord and feel the air move through those speakers and the audience flow.) It’s also a serious bummer when you throw it out there and get nothing. (Which is why stand-up comedians are incredibly courageous. And maybe a little crazy.)

That’s your drama: whether or not the play will live or die, right in front of you, with everybody watching. The real kick arises from the tension, from that sense that you’re doing something genuinely dangerous, which might forever change you, for good or ill. The play might win itself a gold star in the memory achieves, or you might bury it at the bottom of the box. (A pointless gesture: the real embarrassments stick with you as much as the triumphs.)

And, once in awhile, the connection transcends getting a laugh or a gasp. Something really mysterious happens. It’s almost like the bit in a movie where the director uses slow motion to convey intensity or rapidly occurring action. The air drains from the room. There’s a kind of silence, despite the words—your words—being spoken and put in motion. You know and your cast and crew knows and your audience knows that you’re all in the zone: you’re experiencing something special, that will never, ever happen again the same way. Something akin to satori. Something…profound.

Those don’t come around all that often, but, when they do…. Man. That gets addictive. Any playwright who tells you they don’t feel a little buzzed witnessing that transaction is either being slightly less than honest (with you or with themselves) or has been doing it for so long, in so many places, that they’ve built up a certain tolerance. It happens.

Make no mistake, we’re talking dopamine, serotonin, and all those other juicy brain chemicals that make or break your day. Maybe the equation should be: control, love, and addiction. You need just one more good show. One more. Then you can call it. Say you’ve done it. Just that one special gig that’ll really fly high and wild and fully realize all of your….

Congratulations. You’re a theatre junkie.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Instant Play Mix: Add an Event, Bake Until Firm

Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times this morning that one of America's first priorities this year should be seriously addressing mental illness because it affects everybody to some extent, and we won't talk about it openly. A noble premise, certainly.

But, when he's talking about how it touches all of us, he offers this paragraph: "A parent with depression. A lover who is bipolar. A child with an eating disorder. A brother who returned from war with P.T.S.D. A sister who is suicidal."

And, honestly, no disrespect intended, I thought: there it is--the modern American play. Just add a catalyst. They buy a dog--a comedy. They lose their house--a drama. Or, on the Pattersonian stage, they develop shape-shifting abilities. Which is why my plays get called weird.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How many again?

Note: Splattworks now has broken the 500-post mark. Time flies when one babbles incessantly.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tales from the Ice(pack)...continued

Where we last left Luke Murphy, he’d been seriously injured playing hockey, did not know if he’d ever return to the sport, and began to ponder his alternatives. One of those involved taking up the pen...

From Professional Hockey Player to Published Novelist, Part Two

I really enjoyed the process: coming up with a plot, developing characters and organizing a setting, problem and conclusion. It only lasted a couple of weeks, and once we were done, I kind of missed inventing, creating my own little world and characters.

 I remember walking to my bedroom one morning and seeing my roommate’s laptop sitting on the desk, and I thought…why not?

I sat down at the desk, took the characters my girlfriend and I had created, and wrote an extension to the story we had written together.

I didn’t write with the intention of being published. I wrote for the love of writing, as a hobby, a way to pass the time. Even after my eye healed up, and I returned to hockey, I continued to hobby write through the years, honing my craft, making time between work and family obligations.

Then I made a decision to take my interest one step further. I’ve never been one to take things lightly or jump in half way. I took a full year off from writing to study the craft.

I constantly read, from novels in my favorite genres to books written by experts in the writing field. My first two purchases were “Stein on Writing”, a book written by successful editor Sol Stein, and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King.

I read through these novels and highlighted important answers to my questions. My major breakthrough from Stein’s book was to “Show don’t Tell”. I had to trust my readers. I even wrote that phrase on a sticky note and put it on my computer monitor.

The Self-Editing book helped me learn how to cut the FAT off my manuscript, eliminating unnecessary details, making it more lean and crisp, with a better flow. I learned to cut repetition and remain consistent throughout the novel.

I continually researched the internet, reading up on the industry and process “What is selling?” and “Who is buying?” were my two major questions.

I attended the “Bloody Words” writing conference in Ottawa, Canada, rubbing elbows with other writers, editors, agents and publishers. I made friends (published and unpublished authors), bombarding them with questions, learning what it took to become successful.

Feeling that I was finally prepared, in the winter of 2007, with an idea in mind and an outline on paper, I started to write DEAD MAN`S HAND. It took me two years (working around full time jobs) to complete the first draft of my novel.

The first person to read my completed manuscript was my former high school English teacher. With her experience and wisdom, she gave me some very helpful advice. I then hired McCarthy Creative Services to help edit DEAD MAN’S HAND, to make it the best possible novel.

I joined a critique group, teaming up with published authors Nadine Doolittle and Kathy Leveille, and exchanging manuscripts and information. Working with an editor and other authors was very rewarding and not only made my novel better, but made me a better writer.

When I was ready, I researched agents who fit my criteria (successful, worked with my genres, etc.) and sent out query letters. After six months of rejections, I pulled my manuscript back and worked on it again. Then in my next round of proposals, I was offered representation by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.

After months of editing with Jennifer, and more rejections from publishers, my dream was finally realized in April, 2012, when I signed a publishing contract with Imajin Books (Edmonton, Alberta).

Even today, a year after publishing my first book, I’m stall amazed at the direction my life has taken. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed I would someday get paid to write books. Sometimes life can be impossible to predict.

For more information on Luke and his work, go to:, or check him out on Facebook!/AuthorLukeMurphy or Twitter!/AuthorLMurphy