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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?

Sometimes when I’m just messing around, I play something that sticks with me. This song was like that for me. I had the day off from work today, and went into my man-cave to play around. I was thinking of a blues waltz that popped into my head, and wanted to track it so I wouldn’t forget. Surprisingly enough, I started composing the song on the piano. But as I played it more and more on the piano to get the song down for tracking, It just didn’t feel right, so I tracked the rhythm track on guitar. Also, I was originally going to add lyrics. But as I played through the melody I had in mind, it sounded so good with just a finger-picked guitar that I decided to forgo the lyrics altogether. This is the result:

Mind you, I tried the song with three different guitars before I found the one with just the right chime. I thought my Strat would do it, but it sounded a little flat. Then I tried my ’59 Replica because it has a bit brighter voicing, but that didn’t quite sound right to me either. So I took “Katie May” out of her case (she was custom built by Perry Riggs of Slash L Guitars), plugged her in, and smiled. That was the sound I was after!

As far as amps are concerned, I used my Hughes and Kettner TubeMeister 18 using the built-in RedBox DI, and both guitars were recorded silently. This amp just hasn’t ceased to amaze me the more I use it!

When I got my Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18, I immediately thought to myself, “I need another amp like I need a hole in the freakin’ head.” But in the back of my head, I was thinking this was going to be a good purchase. I was counting on the RedBox DI solving a lot of my recording issues; especially with respect to ambient noise. In my home studio, which is my garage, I share the room with my water heater, and not having much sound padding other than a carpet, my mics pick up a lot of ambient noise. It’s especially challenging to record clean guitar. So I was hoping that the TubeMeister’s DI would solve a major sound problem for me.

Well, it has. The amp is billed as being able to do silent recording, and after playing around with it for the last week, I can confidently say that it lives up to the billing – in a big way.

I came up with a song idea this morning, and after just quickly laying down a rhythm and test solo track, I’m SO loving this amp. Check this out…

The guitar I’m playing is Katie May, my Slash L Guitars custom by Perry Riggs. For the rhythm track, I’m playing in single coil mode in the neck position, and the lead is played in humbucker mode in the bridge position. For the clean, I’m playing with the clean channel with the Master cranked and Gain about 9am so the signal is absolutely clean. For the lead, I’m playing the lead channel, with the Master at 10 am, and the Gain at 3pm.

Kind of weird settings from what I’m normally used to. What I found with this amp is that it breaks up pretty early. It’s not a bad thing, but I’ve had to kind of rethink my amp settings. But in spite of that, once I figured out how to set up the amp, I can’t believe the gorgeous tones it produces. And imagine that these tracks were recorded with the DI!!! OMG! It’s amazing!

Waxing Philosophically

Gear is a lot like life and the things we have or accumulate. Sometimes you’re in abundance, sometimes you’re not. With gear, sometimes you need a lot of it to make your “tone,” sometimes you’re just happy plugging straight into your amp.

Up until a couple of years ago, I used to use a lot of gear at my gigs. My pedalboard had a tuner, two overdrives, a distortion, a wah, chorus, delay, overdrive, reverb and booster. But as of late, I’ll use a single overdrive, a wah, chorus and delay. And sometimes, I just use the overdrive and wah, or just the wah by itself, and let my amp do all the overdrive sounds for me (really depends on the amp).

I think what has happened is that I’ve become comfortable with my sound after playing so many years that I don’t feel the need to adorn it with a lot of pedals. It’s not that I didn’t trust my sound all these years. What it boils down to is that no matter what guitar or amp I’m playing through; no matter what pedals I bring, I still sound like me. More stuff isn’t going to change that.

Granted, there’s nothing like the sound of a liquid chorus with a touch of slap-back delay. I dig that tone, and use it A LOT in my acoustic rig. In fact, my very warm Homebrew Electronics THC chorus smooths out the harsh highs that my acoustic can produce at times, so it’s always on, as is my Hardwire Reverb. For acoustic, it’s all about shaping a natural tone to compensate for the dryness of being plugged directly into a PA. I also add about 2.5 to 3 to 1 compression to fatten the tone so it carries in the room I play (which has very high ceilings).

But for electric, I’m down to a pretty barebones setup. My latest board is a my little PedalTrain Nano board. I don’t even use a tuner pedal any longer, having gone to a clip-on. So I hook up my chorus, delay and reverb, stick those in my effects loop, then run my wah into the front of my amp. Sometimes I use my Timmy or Soul Food in place or in front of my wah.

Is it laziness? I don’t know. But then again, as I mentioned above, I’m comfortable with my sound, no matter what I’m plugged into, and hey! Less gear to lug to a gig is always good.

But looking back on all the gear I’ve acquired got me thinking – do I need all of this? Maybe. Maybe not. But there may come a time, where I want to do some major tone-shaping, and it’s good to have that gear on hand. I don’t think I’d ever get as obsessive about my rig as someone like The Edge, but there may come a time when I want to hook everything back up. Like life, you just never know…

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!

Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18 Head

Summary: This amp is truly a tone chameleon, capable of delivering vintage to modern tones in one 18 Watt package. I daresay that it is pretty much the most versatile amp I’ve ever owned; not only from a tone standpoint, but also from a power standpoint. 18 Watts too loud in your space? Bring it down to 5W or 1W or even 0W! The on-board RedBox DI is absolutely killer, and provides for truly silent recording, which is a huge for late-night recording when the kids are asleep (or roommates, etc.).  Super-responsive EQ makes for tons of tone shaping possibilities.

Pros:Where do I begin? This amp has it all for me; especially in the recording department.

Cons: This is a very minor nit, but even with a Strat, the lead channel can really compress at high gain settings.

Price: $599 Street ($50 for the optional footswitch)

Features:

  • Channels: Clean, Lead + Lead Boost
  • Power Soak: 5W, 1W, Silent
  • Preamp: 2 X 12AX7
  • Power Amp: 2 X EL84
  • Effects Loop (Serial)
  • Speaker Output: 8 & 16 Ohm (will automatically detect – no switch)
  • Tube Safety Control (TSC) – keeps power tubes biased properly for optimal performance.
  • Padded, protective cover included
  • Optional channel switching footswitch.

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ I have to admit, I really lucked out with this amp. I bought it used from a good buddy who had only gigged with it once, and to be honest, didn’t know too much about it. But after I researched it, what originally attracted me to the amp was the on-board RedBox DI. But after playing with it for several hours since I picked it up, I simply love all the tones I can get from this amp – and I’ve only played one guitar through it! It’s a winner!

I’m such a gear slut. When I got this amp, my buddy, who’s also a fellow gear slut chuckled and said, “As if you need another amp…” I also laughed, and almost got buyer’s remorse. BUT what I didn’t have was an amp that had an on-board DI. But the RedBox is a special DI in that it has speaker simulation, which means you’re going to get the reactance of an amp connected to a speaker. It’s one thing to DI into a DAW, but it sounds like an amp plugged directly into a speaker. Add speaker simulation and there’s something special that happens when you add reactance into the mix. You get the dynamics you expect when plugged into a cabinet.

Fit and Finish

This amp is built like a tank. I’m sure H&K had the gigging musician in mind when they built the amp because it’s very solid. The only nit I’d have with respect to it’s physical appearance is that the level dots on the knobs can be a bit difficult to see from certain angles because of the chrome finish. It’s a small nit, and when I gig with the amp, I’ll probably either paint dark lines or stick some thin pieces of colored tape to the top of the knobs so I know where I’m setting things.

Also, when switched on, that blue LED glow is pretty cool. To be honest, I don’t really care about how the thing looks and focus much more on the sounds it can produce. But hey! If it sounds good and looks great in the process, I’m not going to complain.

How It Sounds

To start off, whether plugged into a cab or outputting directly from the DI into an audio interface, this amp is dead quiet when idle, except at high gain settings where the power amp will hum just a tiny bit. But that humming also has a lot to do with my Strat’s single coils. Haven’t tried it with any of my Les Pauls just yet, and I’m anticipating that they’d be quieter. But any amp fully cranked is going to make some noise.

Now to be completely honest, none of the clips I’m supplying here are with the amp hooked up to a cabinet and me miking the cab. My focus was on using the DI to capture my guitar sounds to see if I could get a usable recording that I could then tweak in production. Circling back a little with the DI, one thing that having a speaker simulation is that you get the subtle overtones and dynamics in the signal that you wouldn’t get with a direct signal. It’s typically a little dead when using a regular DI with no speaker simulation, thus no reactance. Truth be told, it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t sound nearly as good as the amp plugged into a cabinet. But it’s close. Real close, and though it doesn’t sound as good as a speaker moving air, it doesn’t suck tone. Dynamics are all retained. My thought behind getting this amp was to get a usable signal that I could then process in Logic and add the texturing there. So without further ado, let’s take a look (BTW, for these clips, I used my Strat plugged directly into the amp, with an XLR going direct to my MBox 2):

Raw signal, clean

My first test was to record a simple clean clip raw to see how it sounded. This clip has absolutely no plug-ins employed in neither the guitar tracks nor the output track.

When I finished the “rhythm” track for this, I immediately smiled. Not only did I have a usable signal, it sounded like my amp was plugged into a cabinet because the dynamics that I was expecting were all there, but with the added plus of no ambient room noise.

Clean, slightly processed

Since I had a usable signal, I wanted to fatten it up a bit and add some reverb to give the sound more space. Here’s the same clip as above, but slight processed (Note: I didn’t do any EQ on the either track).

After doing just those simple tweaks, I knew I had a winner with respect to a recording amp.

Dirty

I wasn’t going to originally include this clip because if there’s one nit I had with the amp while recording this last night, was that at real cranked up settings, the signal compresses – a lot. I guess I’m used to using vintage-style amps that never get that far. But with this amp, I have to be careful about cranking the amp too high. It’s a little hard to hear in the clip itself, but while playing, I noticed a reduction in note separation. But granted, I had the Master wide open, and the gain knob at 3pm. I’ve learned to set the Gain to around 10am, and I still get plenty of sustain, but much less compression.

Sustain test

Finally, I wanted to experience that noted H & K tube sag, and see how well the amp would sustain my guitar signal. In a nutshell, it sustains incredibly well.

The most impressive thing about this clip was at the end where the amp is picking up the overtones of the guitar. OMG! I couldn’t believe that when I was playing last night!

Final Impression

I don’t know what it is, but I’m running across a lot of game-changers for me. While I love my vintage-style amps, and will continue to gig with them, I have a feeling that I’ll be getting a of mileage from the TubeMeister 18. As a bonus, check out this video review from Guitar World. Paul’s a killer player, and he really brings out the gorgeous tones the TubeMeister 18 can produce. There are actually two videos, and the second video where he starts playing the lead channel, had me swooning over the gorgeous overdrive this amp can produce.

 

One of the things that sold me on TubeMeister 18 was the RedBox DI, that not only provides a speaker load for silent recording, but also has a built-in speaker simulator so you’ll get at the very least, a decent approximation of a miked speaker. Is it completely accurate. No. But it’s close. It’s very close.

But more importantly, the speaker simulator helps replicate the “feel” of a miked amp. An issue I’ve had with using amp models is that while they sound pretty good, they just don’t “feel” like playing an amp – you know you’re playing a model. With a tube amp, sag is a major component of the feel, and it’s missing from the models. On the other hand, the RedBox DI built into the TubeMeister 18 gives me all the feel of an amp; after all, I’m playing a real amp.

Tonally, it’s not nearly as good as a speaker pushing air, but that is easily remedied with some engineering. For me, it’s all about feel and dynamics, and the RedBox delivers that in spades. This evening when I played the amp plugged directly into my audio interface, I was amazed at the dynamics that were coming through; so much so, that I’m going to get an individual unit so I can use my other amps to do silent recording. Pretty freakin’ awesome.

I recorded a song this evening, which isn’t rock at all, but much more show tune-ish. It’s a scratch recording while I figure out all the orchestration, but I used the TubeMeister 18 to create a simple rhythm track with my Strat. The song’s called “One of Us.”

Yeah, the guitar track is pretty subtle, and way back in the mix, but the point I wanted to make is that recording even that simple track was an absolute joy.

I’ll have a full review of the amp with clips in the near future. But for now, I’m just enjoying this amp. It’s a winner!

 

Hmmm… I’ve got gear. Lots of it. And I’ve got plenty of amps to choose from. But a friend of mine texted me today and said he was selling his brand new Hughes and Kettner Tubemeister 18. I actually didn’t know too much about it; only what I’d heard when it originally came out.

But when I went to research its features, dammit! I texted my buddy back and told him I’d buy it off of him. I THOUGHT I was amp’d out. After all, I have been gigging and recording with my Aracom VRX18 and VRX22 amps for years, and those are kick-ass amps!

But as the title says, once a gear slut, always a gear slut.

The worst part of it is that despite all the research, all the reasoning, and all the restraint, as a gear slut, I’m subject to bouts of compulsion, no matter how much self-control I’ve exhibited in the past. It’s uncanny.

With respect to the H&K Tubemeister, truth be told, it sounds great, but it’s the built-in DI that sold me. Shit! I can do that with all my amps, using my Aracom DRX attenuator. But nooooooooo….. I had to have an amp that had it built-in. Yeah, the amp has some really nice features like it’s very useable power-soak, and it’s also a multi-channel amp, which is a HUGE plus. BUT, I still gave into my GAS, and I’m now the proud owner of another fine piece of gear.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m writing this very much tongue in cheek. I’m super-excited to be playing a new amp; especially a brand that I haven’t really played before. I’m looking forward to exploring what it can do. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, I can still turn around and sell it.

 

 

In Blue Handmade Guitar Straps

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!No, this isn’t a formal review like the ones I normally do, but let’s get the rating out of the way: I’m giving this strap 5 Tone Bones! Check out the strap I got here…

Since GuitarGear.org has gained widespread popularity in the guitar community, I occasionally get contacted to review all sorts of gear and accessories. But because I’m a busy software engineer by trade, I have to turn down most of the review requests, or accept review material if it isn’t too complicated; that is, it won’t take too long to review. But then again, sometimes something catches my eye, piques my curiosity, and I have to see it to believe it.

When I got contacted by the publicist for In Blue Handmade, Inc., who said they make a line of guitar straps and composer journals, I was intrigued. But when I went to their site and saw the absolutely gorgeous, handmade leather straps, I knew I had to take more than a gander at them. So I accepted the review invitation.

The package was waiting for me when I came home from work this evening. I excitedly opened the package, and was immediately greeted with the heady scent of fresh leather. It’s an aroma that – ever since my childhood – spoke of quality and durability, and more importantly, something handmade. I guess that came from all the trips my parents used to take us on throughout the Pacific Northwest, where we’d visit replica frontier towns like Columbia, CA that invariably had a shop of handmade leather goods. That smell has always evoked a sense of security. To me, something made of pure leather was going to last.

When I pulled the strap out of the shipping bag, I just smiled. My wife noticed me admiring the beautiful strap, and said, “Wow! That’s pretty good workmanship! It’s gorgeous!” My silent thought was… NO SHIT!

The leather is thick, so thick, that it’ll take a bit of time to break in. But that’s part of the allure of natural leather. It ain’t soft when it’s new, but when it’s broken in, there’s nothing like the feel of it. I’ll help the process a bit with some neatsfoot oil to help replenish the oils lost in the tanning and drying process. That should help a bit. Imagine that! Using neatsfoot oil on a strap. But it’s the kind of care that you have to take with natural leather goods. They’ll last that much longer!

But, of course the real test was to try it on a guitar, so I attached it to my trust acoustic. DAMN! It felt SO good on my shoulder. The strap is essentially in three pieces. Two skinny pieces act as a belt (yes, there’s a brass buckle, by the way), and the belt runs through a thicker padding piece, with the center “belt loop” adorned with a hand-stamped design of “bat man” (well… that’s what I got).

I know, I know… it’s JUST a strap. But it’s SO F-IN’ cool! Who doesn’t like cool? If you say you don’t, you’re a frickin’ liar. This strap exudes cool. Okay, it ain’t cheap at $75. But hell! We spend thousands on gear and don’t bat an eye. On a relative scale, $75 is a small price to pay to look this good. :)

In my best Leo Getz imitation… Okay, okay… You REALLY need to take a look at these straps! Here are some VERY cool things to consider:

  • All straps are hand cut, hand dyed, and printed by hand.
  • There are over 3000 images available to choose from… (I just found this out…)
  • In Blue can do custom text and images as well, as well different dyes (personally, I prefer the natural dye).
  • The design is absolutely cool… :) Had to throw that in…

For more information, check out In Blue Handmade, Inc.’s web site!

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