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The Hottest Attenuator: Aracom PRX150-Pro

Looking for the “Doppler on the Dumble” series?

I recently saw a video of Frank Zappa sharing his thoughts about playing a solo. All of it was great, but the one section that struck me the most was this:

“My theory is this: I have a basic mechanical knowledge of the operation of the instrument and I got an imagination. And when the time comes up for me to play a solo, it’s me against the laws of nature. I don’t know what I’m gonna play and don’t know what I’m gonna do. I know roughly how long I have to do it, and it’s a game where you have a piece of time and you get to decorate it…”

OH MYYYYYY!

For me, that statement alone was affirmation to my approach to playing solos. No, I’m not super-skilled, and certainly not super-fast, but I’ve always taken the approach of doing solos organically.

To be honest, I’ve been embarrassed about not knowing licks or phrases that a lot of other guitarists seem to know. I’d go into a shop, and play a few different lines with a particular song in my head. Then the guy next to me would whip out Slash’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I’d chuckle to myself and say (to myself), “I really should learn that…”

But time has never permitted, so I play when I can play and when I’m jammin’ with a band or with my mates, when it’s my turn to solo, I tend to just feel my way through. Personally, I don’t think it’s anything technically special, and at least those who hear it don’t cringe, so I guess my solos work.

But listening to that interview gave me heart. I’ve recently been asked to play lead guitar with a cover band. I warned the guy who invited me that I don’t know any of the solos, and that when I need to solo, I’ll just do what I do. I’m not sure how that’ll go over, especially if they want to do note-for-note covers. That’s really not my thing…

In any case, check out the interview:

New Gear: BeatBuddy Mini

beatbuddymini-largeNow this is a box I can gig with!

No sound samples just yet, as I have been playing around with it and practicing before I do demos, but let me just say that this scaled-down version of the BeatBuddy is every bit as high-quality as the original. I’m impressed!

For those of you who are new to the BeatBuddy line, this is something you simply must have. It’s literally a drum machine housed in a foot pedal, and it ROCKS! It’s totally intuitive to use, and while I haven’t gigged with my original much, it gets a lot of use in my studio as a practice and writing tool; especially with songwriting where I need to get at least as close an approximation of a real drummer to help me visualize a song. Well, that said, it’s not just a close approximation…

The BeatBuddy has absolutely natural sound! This is because the actual beats are samples from a live drummer, not programmed from a synth to replicate a drum sound. All the sonic expansiveness that you’d expect from a real drum kit is present in the beats; even the slight – and I mean super-subtle – tempo misses, which is what you expect when playing with an actual drummer. This makes playing with the BeatBuddy very natural and organic.

However, it’s actually VERY useful with recording as well. Here’s an instrumental I wrote using the BeatBuddy:

Please excuse the little mess-up at the end. :) I played the rhythm part right along with the BeatBuddy, then layered bass, electric piano, and the lead on top of it. What’s really intriguing about the drum sound is that I didn’t have to do much with it when mastering and mixing down. I added a touch of compression and panning, and just a little reverb to open up the sound a bit.

So what’s the difference between There are three fundamental differences between the BeatBuddy and the BeatBuddy Mini: 1) Fewer built-in patterns (about half as many as the BeatBuddy) and; 2) No apparent programmability. For me, that’s not a problem whatsoever. When I’ve used the original BeatBuddy, I was using the stock, built-in patterns, and the Mini has the patterns I use the most. Finally 3) Price. This is $149 direct from SingularSound! What a steal!

Another big difference for me is that the smaller footprint means that I can put this on my PedalTrain Nano board as a regular pedal. One of the issues for me with using the original in my solo gigs was its larger footprint meant that I’d have to lose two pedals to make room for it. With the Mini, I can have four pedals on the board: Chorus -> Reverb -> Delay -> BeatBuddy Mini and go right into my TC Helicon Harmony G XT vocal and harmony processor, then right into a PA. SO COOL!

In any case, I’m very excited about this pedal! If you’ve never seen this in action, here’s a one of Singular Sound’s demos:

I love that wig!

For more information, go to MyBeatBuddy.com!

Baby Got Back (Reg-i-fied)

I’ve been studying different styles of modern reggae for the last several months. I’ve always liked reggae but never got into it. But as my older kids listen to a lot of it, it was inevitable that I’d catch the bug.

Most of my familiarity with reggae is the old school stuff from Marley and Tosh and others. But this new stuff, has taken reggae and expanded it, crossing borders between Pop, Hip-Hop and R & B. Also, while the basic rhythms are retained in the newer styles, melodies have also become very rhythm-centric. It’s pretty amazing, and some of it is extremely musically complex and sophisticated.

I’ve written reggae songs in the past, but they followed the old-school patterns, and I’ve been itching to write more modern stuff. But I was admittedly at an impasse. Well, the other day, I came up with a riff that I laid down, but couldn’t find the words. So I thought I’d practice a bit and see if I could convert an existing tune into a reggae version. For some reason, “Baby Got Back” came to mind. Here it is:

When I told my son what I was intending to do, he laughed out loud, and said, “Well Dad… it could be cool if you could pull it off.” I think I did. More importantly, I wanted to give justice to the original. It’s such a fun tune that I wanted to capture that fun in this one.

As far as equipment was concerned, here’s what I used:

Amp: Aracom VRX18 clean channel

Attenuator: Aracom DRX (volume was literally conversation level)

Guitar: Slash L Guitars “Katie May” (Both rhythm tracks were recorded with the neck pickup, with the coils split; the lead was recorded with either the neck or the bridge pickup).

Pedal: EHX Soul Food – All overdrive parts. I kept the amp absolutely clean.

I’ve had a list of the best of what I feel are the best rock guitarists floating in my head for years. I’ve shared many of them, but can’t believe I hadn’t mentioned one of my all-time favorites from the 70’s: Terry Kath. In an era of rock dominated by the likes Jimi, Townshend, Santana, Frampton, Van Halen and Schenker, it was easy to overlook the absolute genius of someone like Terry Kath. Quite possibly it is because he played with Chicago, who were jazz-pop, and not really factored into the rock scene, even though Chicago’s musicians as a whole were absolutely amazing.

In the following clip, Chicago plays their hit “25 or 6 to 4.” Terry Kath’s solo on this is nothing short of amazing. Bouncing in and out of different modes and intermixing both blues and pentatonic scales, and doing it at shredder speed… O. M. G!!!! His solo on this song is totally relevant, even today; forty-five years later!

Tragically, Terry Kath passed away in 1978 due to an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Like many artists at the time, he suffered from alcohol and substance abuse; yet another talent that left the world far too soon…

4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite

bohemian-guitars-21787167

Bohemian Guitars BOHO Series Motor Oil

Summary: Inexpensive but incredibly playable and most importantly, very nice sounding, the BOHO Motor Oil really took me by surprise. Yeah, it seems a bit gimmicky, but these guitars are inspired by the founder’s South African roots where people put instruments together from whatever they could find.

Pros: Super-easy and comfortable to play. Pickups are voiced such that there’s a clear distinction between the positions. Very response to volume knob variation.

Cons: These are nits at most: The tuners need to be tightened a bit, as the strings can go out of tune fairly easy. Tone knob almost acts like a volume knob, but it’s serviceable.

Price: $299.00 Direct

Features:

  • Model: Motor Oil!
  • Body: Recycled metal hollow body w/ removable back panel. Basswood frame for increased amplification and structural integrity
  • Neck Wood: Maple
  • Neck type: Bohemian Through-Body
  • Fretboard: Rosewood
  • Headstock: Red
  • Finish: Golden Glaze
  • Frets: 21
  • Nut Width: 1 3/4″
  • Width at 12th Fret: 2 1/8″
  • Width at 21st Fret: 2 3/8″
  • Neck Thickness: 7/8″
  • Scale Length: 25 1/2″
  • Hardware: Chrome
  • Tuners: 3R 3L screw in w/ removable keys
  • Bridge/Tailpiece: Tune-o-Matic
  • Pickups: Humbucker, Humbucker
  • Electronics: Volume, Tone
  • Switch: 3-way toggle
  • Self-standing: This model has a built in stand made from recycled rubber.
  • Inspired by South Africa. Designed in Atlanta. Produced in China.

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ The best word to describe this guitar is FUN. It plays as fun as it looks!

I’ll admit it right out of the gate: I really tried NOT to like this guitar. The moment I took it out of the box, my first reaction was literally, “Oh shit! HAHAHAHAHA!” and I chuckled about it for several minutes. In fact, I let the guitar stand in my living room for a few days before I even decided to play it because I didn’t think this was a very “serious” guitar. I imagined myself in a clown suit playing it. But since I asked for the review unit, my sense of obligation overcame my initial amused disdain for it. So I took it to my man-cave, plugged it into my amp, tuned up the guitar, then started to play. And play. And play.

A couple of hours passed by with me just tooling with the guitar, and I finally had to stop when my wife opened the kitchen door glaring at me because I hadn’t gotten to my honey-do projects for the day.

Did I really lose track of time? I asked myself, That ONLY happens when I’m getting lost in the sound and what I’m playing is pleasing to me. When something gets me in the “zone,” it’s special, and all my initial thoughts and bias about its appearance completely disappeared.

When I put the BOHO down, I resolved to do a sound test with it as soon as I could. I had a gig that night, so I couldn’t get to it until the next day, but I looked forward to playing that guitar throughout my gig.

Even still, this guitar reeks of “gimmick” when you look at it. But how it plays and sounds completely overshadows any gimmickry that its appearance may imply. It totally took me by surprise, and I have to say that hands-down I love it! And the fact that it’s made in China is actually a good thing. Chinese guitar construction has come a long, long way over the years, and labor is still cheap, which means these guitars are affordable, so you shouldn’t let price-bias get in your way.

Fit and Finish

I could see nothing wrong with the guitar’s appearance. Other people have reported dents in the past, but my review unit had none. Note that those reports were from earlier models, and I don’t think they had the bracing that the new models have that make them tougher. The only nit I really had was that bending the first string at around the 12th or 13th fret while really digging in would fret out the string. But I attributed that more to a setup problem, and it’s quite possible that the bridge settled a bit during shipping. Raising the bridge a millimeter or two would solve that issue. It certainly wasn’t a neck angle issue. Everything appeared to line up just fine.

As far as overall construction is concerned, amazingly enough, the guitar’s pretty solid-feeling. I was thinking that it might be a bit flimsy; after all, its body is a freakin’ gas can! But the internal bracing provides plenty of structural integrity, so fragility isn’t an issue at all.

But other than my little nit, the guitar actually looks pretty cool, and over time, as I played it, it grew on me. That had more to do with how it plays and sounds than its appearance.

Playability

Amazingly enough, moving around the neck is smooth as silk. I love that it has a rosewood fret board because it provides a tactile feel that makes it feel familiar (most of my many guitars have rosewood fret boards). I personally prefer fatter fret wire, but that’s just personal preference, and doesn’t take away from how well the guitar feels and plays. And surprisingly enough, even with my belly, the guitar’s very comfortable to play despite the obviously fatter body from the can.

How It Sounds

Okay, so this is where the rubber hits the road, and where, most importantly, the guitar impacted me the most. Once I got past the guitar’s appearance, it was its voice that really struck me. While the folks at Bohemian Guitars tout this as the “rock” model, and it certainly has a great voicing for rock, I actually loved its voicing clean or just slightly dirty. For comparison, the voicing has elements of a later model Les Paul with sort of deep voice, but also has the “woody” elements of a semi-hollow body like a 335. It’s a cool voice. I would’ve liked to have a better EQ response with the tone knob because changes in the tone knob affected volume, but I found a good spot that worked for all three pickups and kept it there.

The first three clips you’ll hear are the same phrase played through each of the pickup positions, starting with neck pickup and moving to the bridge. With the first two, I just made up stuff off the top of my head, but with the third clip, I used the main riff from Oasis’ Wonderwall. No matter what I’m playing, the one thing I always look for is note separation, especially when played dirty. I didn’t play any lead lines because frankly, 97% of the time I’m playing rhythm. So it’s important to get a sense of how well the guitar articulates. The amp I used for this was my trusty Aracom VRX18 with EL84’s, played in the drive channel. The amp was set to the very edge of breakup so I could get it to overdrive with volume knob changes and attack.

All clips were recorded raw with the exception of the last clip where I added some hall reverb.

Clean, all three pickups

Dirty, all three pickups

Edge of breakup, all three pickups

Jazzy Blues w/reverb, middle pickup

Admittedly, the clean and edgy tones were the ones that got me to lose myself for those couple of hours when I first played the guitar. And to be completely honest, I love the sound this guitar produces clean and at the edge of breakup best. This probably has to do with my Les Paul bias with respect to a “rock” sound. It’s not that I don’t like the overdriven sound of the guitar, it’s just that I have a preference for the sound I want to produce when playing with overdrive.

Overall Impression

Once I got over my initial doubts about the guitar, I discovered a very nice-playing and nice-sounding guitar under the covers. And at $299, this an incredibly approachable guitar that won’t break the bank in the process. Would I gig with it? To be honest, I’m not sure. But I have no doubts with its solid construction that it would be able to stand the rigors of gigs. But for its gorgeous clean tones, I’d certainly use it in the studio, especially for the new reggae-style tunes I’m working on.

And truth be told, its appearance has actually grown on me. I still don’t know if I’d gig with it regularly, but that has nothing to do with how it looks. With a gigging guitar, I typically look for versatility. I’d have to bring it to band rehearsal to see how it would perform. But other than that, I love this guitar. For what it is, it’s the ultimate in “cool.”

bohemian-guitars-21787167
A couple of weeks ago, I got a press release from Bohemian Guitars saying that they were getting ready to launch their BOHO series of guitars. I had previously seen a video of these guitars from NAMM 2014, and honestly, originally dismissed them as yet another gimmick. After all we’ve got cigar box guitars, and other “interesting” construction guitars. I suppose the purist in me has had a hard time accepting that a “real” guitar has to have a traditional wood body.

But something about the press release intrigued me. Not sure what it was. Maybe it was the Manhattans that I was drinking (I was on vacation when I got the press release). Or maybe it was the high altitude; our resort was close to 8,000 feet above sea level at the top of Heavenly Valley ridge at South Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Whatever it was, I replied to the press release and asked if I could get a review unit.

Amazingly enough, the guitar was waiting for me when I got home, so I opened it up and saw… a gas-can with a guitar neck attached to it…

Okay, I will honestly admit that at first blush, I thought “gimmick.” I really didn’t want to like the guitar. It looked kinda cool, but I was extremely dubious about it being a real instrument. So I let it sit in my living room for a couple of days.

But I did ask for a review unit, so to be fair, I brought it into my man-cave studio, plugged it in, and… was VERY surprised at how good it sounded. The neck felt very nice, and the action was set just right. As for the sound, I have to admit that I really dug the sound; REALLY dug it. And when I dig a sound, I know I can make music with it. So I recorded a quick reggae clip to demonstrate the guitar’s clean tones. Take a listen:

The rhythm track was recorded with the neck pickup, while the lead track was recorded with the bridge pickup. Both guitars were plugged into an Aracom VRX18 running into a custom Aracom 1 X 12 with a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker. For the lead, I used a VOX Big Bad Wah. Also, while the clip is mastered a bit with some compression and reverb, the guitars were not EQ’d. Very nice tone.

What impressed me about the guitar is that amazingly enough it has some very nice sustain. I didn’t expect that out of a guitar that’s selling for $299.00. But I’ve learned in my many years of reviewing gear, that you can’t judge gear based upon its price. For heaven’s sake! Look at the Squier Classic Vibe series guitars: Cheap but by no means lacking in quality.

If I have one nit, it’s that bending the first string around the 12th or 13th fret while really digging in will cause the string to fret out, but I think that’s something that could be solved with a setup. After all, this thing was shipped to me, and who knows how it was handled. Plus, I think this is the same guitar that you see on the YouTube videos, so it has seen some use. But other than that, the guitar has kinda grown on me.

I’ve actually been recording raw tracks for my formal review which I’ll release in the next couple of days. So stay tuned. I think this is a totally fun guitar. Can’t wait to gig with it!

I recently wrote a song – not even sure I shared it here – called “Love Is More Than What It Seems.” It’s kind of a fast-moving, “happy” rocking tune. I originally recorded it with my Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18. Gorgeous little amp that’s totally versatile. I love it. I used the silent recording option with it, and for the initial recording, it worked great. But as I got into mastering it, I was less and less satisfied with the electric guitar sounds. They just didn’t sound “right.”

So I switched to my beloved DV Mark Little 40, and that got me closer. But I was still not really digging the electric guitar tones. Then I realized that what I love the H&K and Little 40 amps for is their live performance versatility. But for recording, they just don’t quite cut it for me. For the biggest strength happens to be their weakness in a recording environment.

So… being a vintage Marshall fan, I pulled out my Aracom VRX18, based upon the classic Marshall Plexi 18. I’ve got NOS Pre- and Power-amp tubes in it, and this amp just oozes classic rock tone. Combined with my ’58 Historic Les Paul, and outputting through an Aracom Custom 1 X 12 equipped with a Jensen Jet Falcon, it was the exact tone I was looking for! Methinks I should’ve just used it to start out with, but hey! Live and learn right?

Here’s the song:

The interesting thing about that amp is that it doesn’t have the sustain, nor even touch-sensitivity of my other amps. But that works to its advantage because it makes me work a lot harder on the fretboard, and that makes my playing much more expressive as I have to work every note. But best of all though, the “bloom” I expect from any of my Les Pauls is right there; it just decays a little quicker than my other amps. But who cares? It works…

By the way, I also used the wonderful Aracom DRX attenuator to record the electric guitars at just a little louder than bedroom level. I was a long-time user of the PRX150, but with the dual-level attenuation, at least for live performances, I can get a nice volume boost at the press of a footswitch button.

Equipment:

Guitars: Yamaha APX900 (acoustic, direct-in); 1958 Les Paul Reissue

Amp: Aracom VRX18

Cabinet: Aracom Custom 1 X 12 Jensen Jet Falcon

Bass: Fender Jazz Bass (direct-in)

Note: Guitars were not EQ’d, though to bring them out in the mix a bit more, I used a stereo spreader.

Everything was recorded in Logic Express 9.

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