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Welcome to GuitarGear.org! Established in January of 2007, we’re still going strong and growing! I want to personally thank everyone for their support! You’ve made this site what it is today, and that’s a major destination for finding out about gear. I invite you to explore the site! There are over 900 articles and discussion on gear and the number grows each day. If you want to keep up to date, please use the subscription area to your right! Cheers!

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The Hottest Attenuator: Aracom PRX150-Pro

Looking for the “Doppler on the Dumble” series?

 

Yes. In fact, he was apparently a very accomplished guitarist who specialized in Russian and Gypsy folk music. He even recorded a couple of records over his lifetime.

I had always known Yul Brynner from his movies; as the Pharaoh in The Ten Commandments as “Chris” in The Magnificent Seven, and who could forget him as the lead in The King and I? Yul Brynner was a special and unique talent, and I have always been a fan; I guess not big enough to know about his musical history. But there it is. Yet another reason to appreciate his talent!


As the title says, I hate it when I’m not paying attention…

Last night, I went to see the Tower of Power, Steve Miller Band, and Journey concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA. The show opened up with Tower of Power, one of my favorite bands growing up. Steve Miller, at 70, is still absolutely incredible. And Journey? What can I say? While I loved the Greg Rollie years, I preferred the music from the Steve Perry years. Whether you liked him or not, Steve Perry’s voice was what took that band out of just being a collection of great musicians into pop rock legends.

Despite that, why am I a bit pissed? Well, I wasn’t paying attention when Neal switched from playing Les Pauls and moved to custom PRS guitars last year. I normally keep up with that kind of stuff, and I completely missed it! So much to my surprise, when Neal came out on-stage with a guitar that had those familiar PRS bird inlays, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed.

Neal Schon has been one of my Les Paul idols for many years, and to see him with a PRS… well, that just took getting used to. I also had to get used to the fatter tone. Neal’s tone wasn’t bad at all, but I felt that it lacked that top-end shimmer that you get from a Les Paul. I was expecting more bite from his tone, but what I got was just smooth. Like I said, it wasn’t bad, it was just different. He still sounded like Neal Schon, but I will admit it: that smooth PRS tone is not for me.

I’ve got to hand it to Paul Reed Smith. He has taken the electric guitar world by storm. So many artists play PRS guitars. I even have an SE model, which is great. But I still prefer the Les Paul bite.

 

 

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

 deacci_greenfaze

deacci_greenfaze_logo

Deacci Pure Legend “Green Faze” Humbuckers Summary: This is a set of PAF-style ‘buckers with a reverse-wound neck pickup that captures that Peter Green out-of-phase sound. Whether or not they’re true to the original, these are game changers for me! They’re so clear and articulate – even with that “woman” tone in the neck position, I’m like… “Hey baby! Where ya been all my life?”Pros: Absolutely articulate in any pickup position. Neck pickup is warm and deep-textured without losing that top-end bite. Bridge is bright and expressive, and that middle position… OMG! It’s going to give me countless tone-shaping possibilities!

Cons: None.

Price: $275.00 – $300.00 direct

Features:

  • Reverse-wound neck pickup to get that out-of-phase tone in the middle position.
  • Super responsive with an aggressive attack
  • Un-waxed potting
  • Available with nickel, chrome or gold plated covers – or unplated (all black, all creme, zebra-striped).

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 ~ As I said, this is a game-changer for me. With my Les Pauls, I use either the Treble or the Rhythm pickup; rarely do I use the middle pickup. But the tonal possibilities this particular set of ‘pups offers in the middle position will ensure I’ll be using that position – A LOT. Rex Kropft, the luthier I had install the pickups and do my yearly setup, said the pickups made “Amber” suddenly wake up. To him – and me – the difference in tone between the Burst Buckers and these pickups was like night and day. Where the Burst Buckers sounded a little subdued and “wooly,” the Green Faze pickups made my guitar come to life!

At the end of May, I got contacted out of the blue by Declan Larkin, founder and builder of Deacci pickups. He asked me if I’d fancy a set of “the best humbuckers ever made.” He’d send me a set to review, and I could do with them as I pleased. I’m used to reviewing gear then eventually returning it after I’m done. As I’ve mentioned in my about page, I don’t like to be beholden to any manufacturer or appear that I’m doing a review because someone comped me some gear. So admittedly, I was a bit wary of this seemingly blind giveaway.

So I started doing a little research on Deacci. I found some forum posts in a couple of UK forums (Deacci is based in Norther Ireland) discussing the pickups, and I found some sound samples. The sound samples turned me on my ear! They sounded absolutely marvelous! Needless to say, I was intrigued. Plus, as an amusing aside, I found that the pickups are in a “Patent Applied For” state, and that Deacci pickups are PAF-style pickups, so PAF-PAF’s. :)

But seriously though, Declan also caught me at a good time, as I was considering swapping out the stock pickups in “Amber,” my ’58 Historic Les Paul. I was only using the bridge pickup on her because the neck pickup to me was just not clear enough. Even the neck didn’t have the “bite” that I was wanting. She had a gorgeous clean tone in the neck, but driven, the neck pickup was practically unusable; just way too muffled for my tastes. And having moved from a bluesy to a more straight-up rock sound, I needed brighter pickups.

So I looked at the various models that Declan builds and found that the Green Faze pickups had the slightly lower impedance ratings that I felt would brighten up Amber just right. And it must’ve been kismet because as I was doing my research on Deacci, I was listening to “Oh well, ” so perhaps there was some subliminal stuff going on because I just love that song! In any case, I contacted Declan and asked if it would be okay to evaluate the Green Faze set, as I was sensitive to the fact that his was a brand-new company, and I didn’t want to take advantage. But he said it was all good, and he’d send them over once he’d wind up a new set. Frankly, I was blown away by this, and absolutely humbled. All Declan asked for was a honest review, and if I didn’t like them, I could return them.

Well they’re not going back. They’re staying in my guitar – forever! I’m not saying this because of the freebie, I’m saying this from the root of my heart. The sound my guitar now makes with the Green Faze pickups installed in it moves me practically beyond words.

What’s so special about them? I think a lot of that has to do with how they constructed and especially, how they’re wound. Declan uses a Fibonacci number to determine the number of winds of wire to apply to the pickups. He has also established what he says is a much more efficient and consistent way to hand wind the pickups as well. As far as the Fibonacci stuff is concerned, that could all be just techno-voodoo. But Fibonacci numbers are extremely important because they exist in nature. So applying them to a man-made artifact – at least to me – makes sense as the Fibonacci numbers represent balance.

How They Sound

I’m not going to spend much time singing the pickups’ praises. Suffice it to say that to me, these pickups sound so good, they leave me short of words to describe them. In lieu of that, I recorded several clips. All clips were recorded with my Aracom VRX22 into a custom Aracom 1 X 12 with a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker in it. I also recorded the clips at bedroom level by running my amp into the wonderful Aracom DRX attenuator. Note also that absolutely no EQ was added in production, and I turned off all compression. So what you’ll be hearing, save for the lead break for “The Hit” is the guitar’s natural tone as picked up by my microphone.

Bloom

I played my guitar clean in the shop and was taken by the gorgeous overtones the pickups were producing, so I couldn’t wait to get home to see if I could get that classic Les Paul bloom. For this clip, I played the neck pickup, with the tone control turned all the way down to get that “woman” tone. I’m just picking single notes in an Am pentatonic.

Slow Blues – Fingerpicked – Neck Pickup

Putting the Bloom to Work

The next clip uses the fingerpicked clip above with a simple lead using the woman tone. Oh my…

After recording that, I wanted to see what the guitar would sound like on one of my more engineered songs. This is the lead break from my song “The Hit.” The first half features the “woman” tone, then I switch over to the bridge pickup to finish the solo.

Crunchy Tones

Here I’m playing the same riff for all three positions. The volume knobs are dimed, and my amp is set at the edge of breakup. These pickups through a lot of signal at the front-end of the amp forcing my pre-amp tubes to compress. It’s most evident with the Neck pickup.

Neck

Middle

Bridge

Clean Funk

I just love the fast attack of these pickups. The clean tones are right in your face, but not off-putting at all.

Neck

Middle

Bridge

Clean – Fingerpicked

The overtones that the pickups produce combined with the natural sustain of a solid body Les Paul, make for a rich, complex tone that makes me want squeeze every bit of tonal goodness out of what I’m playing.

Neck

Middle

Bridge

Oh Well…

Of course, I couldn’t do a review of Peter Green-style pickups without doing at least one Peter Green riff. Here’s “Oh well” (at least as close to what my ham-handedness could produce):

Overall Impression

Need I say more? I love these pickups. It’s past midnight and I’ve been writing this review since 8pm. It has been a stop and go affair as I’ve taken breaks to play my guitar. :) I don’t give 5 Tone Bones often. What I do give 5 Tone Bones are game-changers. The Deacci Green Faze pickups are game-changers for me without a doubt!

For more information on Deacci pickups, go to the Deacci site!

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

voicetone

TC-Helicon VoiceTone harmony-G XT
Summary: This could be considered the little brother of the VoiceLive Play GTX, as they both use the same harmony algorithm. Great, automatic vocal tone-shaping, with five different settings (I just used the default which has presence bump and bit of compression). The doubling on this unit is VERY nice; very human-like.Pros: Simple and straight-forward setup, and super-easy to use. Great audio quality. Very human-like harmony voices. Internal vocal tone-shaping is fantastic.

Cons: Reverbs are good, but a little on the subtle side. This could be due to my inexperience with the pedal. But this doesn’t in any way reduce its usability or quaity.

Price: $224.00 – $275.00 Street

Features:

  • Listens to guitar and voice to create correct harmony parts automatically
  • Tone switch smooths vocals with adaptive Live Engineer Effects
  • 18 combinations of reverb, delay and µmod shared by vocal and guitar input
  • 10 presets available, each with A/B options
  • Harmony interval selection includes 3rds and 5ths above and below, octave up and down, and the unique Bass interval
  • Stereo or mono configurable output
  • Clean, studio quality mic preamp with phantom power and XLR input
  • Guitar signal can be mixed in and share reverb or passed through to separate amplifier
  • Fast, accurate guitar tuner

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ After my VoiceLive Play GTX went kaput, I wanted to find a suitable replacement without all the GTX’s bells and whistles. After just a single gig with this pedal, the harmony-G XT more than fits the bill!

I’ve had a harmonizer/vocal processor in my acoustic chain for over ten years. The difference that it has made in my solo performances has been immense; adding a dimension to my performances that make a pure solo performance seem bland in comparison. I originally started with the DigiTech Vocalist Live 4, but when that went south, I got the TC-Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX. Now THAT was a game-changer. The harmony algorithm made the voices so much more human-like than the Vocalist Live.

But alas, nothing works forever, and after around 500 or so gigs, my VoiceLive Play GTX finally went kaput a few weeks back. Due to finances, I couldn’t just go out and get a replacement. But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave me some time to check out other harmony/vocal processor solutions, but more importantly, to re-evaluate what my needs actually were.

With the VocalistLive and VoiceLive units, I enjoyed a lot of fine-tuned control over vocal processing and harmony parameters. But to tell you the truth, I rarely set the parameters much different from their defaults. And there were definitely times where I just wanted something much more simple. So I took a good look at both the DigiTech Vocalist Live 3 and the harmony-G XT. Both units had simple, straight-forward setups. Both were absolutely easy to use. But knowing how great the audio quality was with the TC-Helicon stuff, it was a pretty easy decision to go with the harmony-G.

So I purchased it yesterday a couple of hours before I had to leave for my gig. When I got home, I opened up the box, hooked up the unit, then went through the quick start procedure in the manual (yes, I read the manuals). What amazed me was just how easy it was to dial in the settings I needed. Granted, the first preset was voiced just how I wanted it with respect to the harmony voicings, so all I had to do was get the level right. I played around with it for about 10-15 minutes, then packed everything up for my gig, where the real test would take place.

How did it perform? Well, it was like I had my VoiceLive Play back in my chain. The harmonies were excellent. But more importantly, the compression and presence really made my voice jump out. Having been without vocal processing for the past few weeks, I can tell you that just a little compression can make all the difference in the world. And amazingly enough, even though I don’t have fine control over the amount of compression, I’m actually not missing being able to set it. The harmony-G seems to be set at the sweet spot. EQ-wise with respect to vocals, I just set the EQ on my PA to flat, and let the harmony-G drive my EQ. My vocals last night were clear and present without being mid-rangy.

With a simpler solution, there are trade-offs. For instance, I don’t have the kinds of effects like chorus that I could apply to the vocals, and mid-song switching between the A and B settings of a preset has a bit of delay. But that’s just going to take some practice to overcome. But considering my basic needs, I’ve basically everything I need to take me through a solo gig. I couldn’t be happier!

I know what you’re thinking… yet another new PAF pickup manufacturer; and you’d be right. But I’m pretty intrigued by what Deacci is offering based on what I read in their “About” page:

And this is where something special started to happen… taking inspiration from the mathematical sequences that underpin so much of nature’s seemingly random distribution, from flower petals to seed heads, Deacci created a winding distribution methodology based on the Fibonacci sequence that’s resulted in a range of pickups that deliver the very best of those vintage sets but with a consistency and purity that’s hard to achieve with hand wound pickups.

Fibonacci numbers? Those are nature’s magic numbers! 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13… Creating a ratio between adjacent numbers in the Fibonacci sequence form what the Greeks called the “Golden Ratio” or “Golden Mean,” (0.61538461538462…) the perfect balance. You see the Fibonacci numbers everywhere in nature! For instance, the number of clockwise rows of “eyes” on a pineapple versus the number of counter-clockwise rows are adjacent Fibonacci numbers. The length of your hand versus the length of your forearm create a Golden Mean. Pretty amazing stuff.

So if it works in nature, why not apply it to technology? Apparently, Deacci has devised a scatter-winding methodology that employs the Fibonacci sequence. Who knows how this will make the pickups sound? But it definitely is a unique approach, and frankly, since they’re going after discrete numbers, it would mean that there will be much less variation and much more consistency between different pickups of the same make as you find with PAFs (imagine the winders that were originally used to wind PAF pickups were made for winding yarn).

Of course, there’s no guarantee, except for hearing them, and from the sound clips I’ve heard thus far, these are very nice-sounding pickups. I’m going to be getting a set of the their “Green Faze” pickups based upon Peter Green’s ’59 Les Paul’s PAF’s. Very excited about that as I will be putting them into my ’58 Re-issue to brighten up its naturally warmer tone – especially in the neck pickup. I’ll be doing a review in the next few weeks! Stay tuned!

For more information, visit the Deacci Pickups site!

I’ve shared this story in the past, but decided to share it again because it has had such a profound affect on how I approach practically any problem. The article was first published in the Houston Chronicle in 2001, but I first heard about the story a few years ago when my aunt shared it. Here’s the transcript from the article:

—-

On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.

If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an awesome sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.

By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play.

But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap — it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do.

People who were there that night thought to themselves: “We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage — to either find another violin or else find another string for this one.”

But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And he played with such passion and such power and such purity as they had never heard before.

Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night, Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head . At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before.

When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.

He smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said — not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone — “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

What a powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it.

And who knows? Perhaps that is the definition of life — not just for artists but for all of us. Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings; so he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any that he had ever made before, when he had four strings.

So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.

—-

The incredible thing about that quote above is that it doesn’t just pertain to art or music, but any creative endeavor, be it figuring out a business plan, programming; well, anything. In this day of having everything at our fingertips, what do we do when there’s no easy access to resources?

I occasionally re-read that story to help remind me to use what I have and do my best when I don’t have everything I need. Granted, some things just can’t be done in the absence of key resources (for instance, you can’t bake a cake when you don’t have flour). But in many cases, we can still accomplish incredible things if we only dig deep and use what we have instead of freezing in our tracks when we we’re missing things. To me, that’s character-building.

soulfoodI finally got a chance to take the Soul Food out of my home studio and use it at a gig. I had been playing with it practically every evening in my studio for a couple of weeks to cozy up to it. So before I went to the gig I learned a few things about the pedal:

  • While it could be used as a standalone pedal for producing grind, it’s best used to interact with the front-end of the amp, and push an amp at the edge of break-up into overdrive.
  • The treble boost adds a nice, VOX-like top-end shimmer to your tone.
  • The treble boost to me is central to this pedal. There’s a different sweet spot for each amp/guitar combination you use with it.
  • Switched on, you get very nice sustain, but the signal is only mildly compressed.

In my studio, I was playing at very low volumes so as not to piss off my family and the neighbors. So all the tone that I had been experiencing up that point was through my studio cans. It was more than acceptable – in fact, it was quite spectacular – and enough for me to give it a 5 Tone Bones rating based upon my studio tests alone. But nothing could have prepared me for the heavenly tones that issued from my amp when at gig volume. The guitar/amp/pedal interaction was fantastic, but add the speaker into the mix, and what I thought was awesome to start out with, turned into something otherworldly.

I believe this is what Klon owners talk about when they play through it. But from what I’ve read, no one has been able to discretely describe what it’s like, so a lot of people tended to poo-poo their enthusiasm as justification for having paid so damn much for it. And after experiencing what the Soul Food did at my gig last weekend, I’m beginning to suspect it’s not hype.

From a functional perspective, I’ve learned that a major key to its magic the Treble knob. That was evident at my gig, as I was playing with my Aracom VRX22 which has a much more muscular tone than my other amps, but at the same time, it has some wonderful highs that, if left untamed, can make the amp sound really harsh. Whereas with my DV Mark Little 40 that has a much more even EQ profile, and the pedal works best boosting the treble a bit, I cut the treble for my VRX22. Obviously, it’s not just the treble control that brings the magic to the table. But setting the treble allows the magic to flow. And once you have that set, and play the amp at volume, to me, it’s rock and roll time!

Now does all this compel me to save my pennies to get a real Klon? No. I’ve never played a Klon, and as I’ve said in past articles, the Soul Food stands on its own as a great overdrive pedal, so I’m happy to stick with it. If I ever get a chance to play a Klon though, it’ll be interesting to do a head-to-head comparison.

But that said, as I mentioned above, it’s difficult to quantify the tone quality of the Soul Food. I could use all the familiar terms such as “sustain,” “shimmer,” “bite,” etc., but none of those really help because lots of overdrive pedals do those things. What I can say is this: Up to this point, I haven’t played with an overdrive that interacted so well with my amps. Even my beloved Timmy can be a bit finicky with a couple of my amps, but the Soul Food just seems to work with all my amps.

And yes, that too sounds like a familiar description, but to my ears, there is certainly some sort of “X” factor that’s going on when that pedal has some room to breathe that I haven’t ever experienced with an overdrive pedal. Over the life of this blog, I’ve played bunches of overdrives, but this is the first overdrive pedal I’ve played besides my Timmy – or perhaps even more so than the Timmy – that has had such a profound effect on my tone. To me, the Soul Food – and by extension, the Klon – fit my archetype of an overdrive pedal. I don’t say this lightly. I really thought my Timmy was do-all, end-all overdrive for me. But that all changed with the Soul Food. I’ll always have my Timmy on my board, but it has a new brother: The Soul Food.

 

 

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