Line of Despair

I am pleased to announce the release of my ambient/progressive guitar album – “Line of Despair”. You can listen to and purchase the album in these ways:

  1. My BandCamp Site
  2. iTunes – Search on “Bill Vencil” or use this link:
  3. Spotify – Search on “Bill Vencil” or use this link:

The album was a long time coming and is very different from “In the Wilderness”. For those of you who are curious about the title, please check out Francis Schaeffer’s book “Escape from Reason”.  Here’s a good blog on the concept:

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters

I wish you happy listening!

Seven Words

Scarecrow - Connell Patrick Byrne

The words of I Am on that fateful day.  A song to commemorate them.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43

“Woman, behold, your son!” – John 19:26

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34

“I thirst.” – John 19:28

“It is finished” – John 19:30

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” – Luke 23:46

[audio:|titles=Seven Words]


Spatial Tension

An outtake from “In the Wilderness”.

I was intrigued by the tonal tension in the song, the innate tension that exists in the elements of Creation, and the juxtaposition of the two.

Repetition, variation, textural exploration. ex nihilo.


[audio:|titles=Spatial Tension]

THD Univalve

Next post – more music! But in the mean time…

THD Electronics, in my opinion, produces some of the better amplifiers available in today’s market.  I was a Univalve user for quite some time, and never ceased to marvel at its tone and sensitivity.  Why don’t I own one now (as of 4/12)?  I sold mine to finance the purchase of my Lowden O35.  I’d like to get another one some day…

It’s a deceptively simple amp, with volume, treble, bass and attitude controls, a built-in attentuator, high/low voltage switch, and on the back a line out with volume and sensitivity controls in addition to the speaker outs.  At 15 watts, it seems like a pip-squeak of an amp, but don’t let that fool you.  15 “tube watts” is quite loud, and can keep up with a band through the right speaker cab.

One of the coolest features of the Univalve, is its ability to accept a variety of tubes, which changes the tone and output of the amp in potentially radical ways!  Here’s a partial list of tubes that work with the Univalve:

Power Amp
7027/7027A (require special adapter)
7189/7189A (needs THD UniYJ adapter or equivalent)
6AK6 (with a Smicz TAD adapter)
6BQ5 (needs THD UniYJ adapter or equivalent)
EL84 (needs THD UniYJ adapter or equivalent)

I’ve done a number of comparison recordings in order demonstrate tonal differences in various tube combinations.


The Uni loves 6V6 tubes!  They produce a lower output than a EL34 or a 6L6, but the amp really growls and sings with this type.  The best tubes are the older “NOS” American and European brands.  Here are some clips of my 2 favorites:

Visseaux 6V6GT – France.  Great cleans, but turns into a growling monster when pushed.  Marshall-like tonality with the right preamp tubes.

[audio:|titles=Visseaux 6V6GT]

Mazda 6V6GT – France.  Darkish tone, lots of depth.  Cleans are nice, however, distortion is where this tube shines.  Also, the Mazda really works well with a tube overdrive, such as a Tonebone pushing it.

[audio:|titles=Mazda 6V6GT]


Even lower powered (~4 watts) than the 6V6 types, the 6K6GT works really well with the Univalve.  Lo-voltage, of course.  A lot of the same flavor as the 6V6, but a slightly lower volume and typically, a lower price!

Visseaux 6K6GT – France.  Wonderful cleans; really sings; IMO, the best 6K6 out there.  Has an almost “wooden” (in a good way) overtone.  Not quite as dirty when overdriven, but you can get it cranking with the higher gain preamp tubes.  Sounds great with a Radial Tonebone too!

[audio:|titles=Visseaux 6K6GT]

Tung-Sol 6K6GT – haven’t seen too many of these.  And they sound pretty daggone great.  Less wood than the Visseaux, a little more sparkle.  And they overdrive more too.

[audio:|titles=Tung-Sol 6K6GT]


A wonderful low-powered tube that works in the Uni.  Puts out ~2 watts or so, and the Uni runs it somewhat above its spec, so the little guy really cranks!  The best ones are the RCA JAN military type.  Cheap and pretty easy to find.  Here’s a demo:

[audio:|titles=6G6 Demo]


A 1.1 watt tube that works with an adapter from the now defunct amp company, Smicz.  Even all these years later, I think that THD should consider making these adapters.  It puts the Univalve into “loud stereo” mode, which is great for living room use.  Here are comparions of several different brands:

[audio:|titles=Cifte] [audio:|titles=GE] [audio:|titles=Jan Phillips] [audio:|titles=Motorola] [audio:|titles=RCA] [audio:|titles=Tung-Sol]

Joy Found a Way

Another tune from the recent past.  2005 vintage.  I was listening to Bruce Cockburn’s Joy Will Find a Way, and at some point in the proceedings, it struck me that Joy did a find a way (Hebrews 12:2).  I picked up my trusty Lowden guitar, and this was the result:

[audio:|titles=Joy Found a Way]

Strong Zeal Trail

A tune recorded in 2006.  Unabashed roots in Martin Simpson’s wonderful Pretty Saro-Long Steel Rail on his album “When I Was On Horseback”.  Played on the Lowden O35.

[audio:|titles=Strong Zeal Trail]

Tacoma Thunderhawk – Acoustic Baritone Monster

Sobell Lust

I’ve wanted to get a Sobell guitar for a long time, but have never had the money to get one. At some point, probably in 2004, I found out that Stefan started making a “D Guitar”, that is, a long scale version of his models, designed to be tuned 1-2 steps lower. Well, that sounded very interesting, but still out of reach for a guy with a wonderful wife, a passel of kids and a mortgage. Put it on the backburner.

Tacoma Thunderhawk

Enter Baritone

In the meantime, I sold a bunch of old gear, so I had a little dough available. I was waffling between a Carvin Bolt kit guitar and a cool little Martin (OOO15S), when all of a sudden, the Sobell came to mind.  The word baritone also came to mind, so I did some searching and found that Tacoma (at the time) was making a 29″ scale baritone called the Thunderhawk. Also found that Elderly Instruments had one used for a good price. I decided to try it out. Wow! It is like having a piano sitting in your lap.  Awesome tone, and it goes really LOWWWWW…

I would still really like to get the Sobell, but for now, I am working with what I have.  I find myself playing this thing all the time, and in fact, have been working to get a number of songs recorded with it for a future album.

Alas, Tacoma is out of business, and the Thunderhawk is no longer in production.  It’s a shame, as it was a great option for a moderately priced acoustic baritone.  Sorry, mine is not for sale!

Here are some short improvs of the beast, which will give you a feel for what it sounds like:

[audio:|titles=Improvisation 1]

[audio:|titles=Improvisation 2] [audio:|titles=Improvisation 3] [audio:|titles=Improvisation 4] [audio:|titles=Improvisation 5] [audio:|titles=Improvisation 6] [audio:|titles=Improvisation 7]

Lowden O35

I had a wonderful Martin Custom 15 as my main acoustic guitar for a number of years.  Incredible classic dread tone, expecially with its forward x-bracing.  Over time though, I found that the guitar just wasn’t going where I was going.  In particular, I was finding its 1 11/16″ neck cramping my style, literally.  I also found myself looking for a different tone.  One that rang a little more and had a little less of the dreadnaught thing.

Since the Sobell guitars I lusted after were way out of my league pricewise, I began to cast about for other options.  Being a long time ogler of DreamGuitars, I soon found out about Lowden.  After doing some additional research, and listening to soundclips, I decided to try one or 2.  I found a dealer in the area that had a few in stock, schlepped on over, and spent a few hours with them.  I was very impressed.

Being the thrifty music equipment shopper that I am, I soon found some out of state dealers willing to ship me one for an audition period.  I pulled the trigger on a O23, gorgeoously built, cedar top/walnut sides and back.  It played like a dream, but the top end was way too harsh.  Strike 1!  I sent it back, and called Paul at DreamGuitars.  He then sent me a McIlroy A30, a very nice ax, built in the Lowden tradition.  It had some setup issues, so I had to send it back.  Strike 2!

I spoke with Paul again, and we decided that a Lowden O35 with spruce top/koa sides and back might fill the bill for me.  I decided to try one last mail order round (I get nervous sending expensive guitars through the mail!).  The O35 arrived, and it has not left!  It plays like a dream and sounds like one.