Ty Tabor’s Early and Latest Gear (Part 1)

August 28, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More

tabor_ty_live_maybe05If you don’t know who Ty Tabor is, or haven’t heard King’s X’s music, please do your ears a favor and buy every King’s X CD right now. Seriously.

At the risk of sounding like an uber-fan, King’s X is one of the best American rock bands ever. And although it seems like there’s some sort of record-industry conspiracy to prevent that fact from getting out, it’s out!

Ty is the band’s guitarist and occasional lead singer, and has always had a unique style and tone – hallmarks of every great guitarist.

Many guit-slingers have tried to figure out how Ty got his early tone, and some of them have – see the vids below for a great example. Aside from Ty’s fingers and style, his early tone appears to have two main components: a Lab Series amp – solid-state, but unusually so – and a Fender Elite Strat (and a chorus, Marshall cabs, etc.).

If you’re not familiar with Lab Series amps, they were made by Norlin, which apparently was owned by an Ecuadorian company (can someone check me on that?) that bought a controlling interest in Chicago Musical Instruments, which owned Gibson. Eventually, Norlin picked up Moog, and the Lab Series amps were a solid-state creation of both Moog and Gibson – not! That seems to be conventional wisdom, but it was all Moog, according to this authoritative site: “Norlin used Moog’s resources to release Lab Series in a response to Gibson seizing its amplifier production. Gibson did handle the distribution of these amplifiers, though.”

It makes makes sense too – what did Gibson know about those kinds of amps?

To this day, Lab Series amps – production of which began in 1977 and appears to have stopped in the early ’80s – are revered for great tone and tube-like response by players like BB King (he still plays through one every night), Joe Bonamassa (he snaps them up whenever he finds them) and Ty, who no longer plays through one live, but has a custom module for his current Egnater rig that was designed to sound like a Lab Series preamp.

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, Ty apparently went straight out from his Lab Series L5 preamp to a power amp. In the May 1996 issue of Guitar Player, according to this excellent Ty gear page, “Ty said he used the ‘LO’ input on the second channel and did not use the compressor or the bright switch. Ty basically left the distortion of the L5 on at all times, and to have a clean sound he would roll back the volume knob on his guitar.”

[More on Lab Series amps coming in a future post!]


Here's an L5 (click to see it bigger).

Never heard of an Elite Strat? Me neither, so I looked into it. Apparently it was an ’80s, CBS-era (CBS owned Fender at the time) Strat model designed as an “improvement” on the basic Strat design. It had a ‘Freeflyte’ trem, which apparently wasn’t liked a whole lot; active pickups (to eliminate hum); an onboard preamp; and instead of a five-position pickup switch had three buttons that allowed the pickups to be used in any combination.

An example of an Elite Strat and Ty with his signature Zion (note the pickup buttons).

An example of an Elite Strat and Ty with his signature Zion (note the pickup 'buttons').

Don’t know how many people liked that preamp + pickup flexibility, but Ty sure did. He liked it so much that his first signature guitar, made by Zion, had the same electronics.

One Fan’s Quest for Ty’s Tone (Part 1)

One Fan’s Quest for Ty’s Tone (Part 2)

– End of part 1 (of 2) –

Category: Lab Series, Strat, Ty Tabor

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