Just ran across this brand-new fuzz pedal from Reinhardt Amps, called the "Willard" distortion pedal. This pedal is pure 80′s fuzz, a sound that I came to love! From the video, it’s clear that this pedal is capable of producing some serious hair, but it also retains a lot of clarity. Built around a true NOS LM308N op-amp chip and based around a big-box Rat of that era, this is a very nice-sounding distortion box. Check out the video below:
This is a bit of a continuation of my previous article about not getting fooled by pedigree. While I was singing the praises of a Saint Guitar Goldtop Benchmark that I was testing, my buddy commented to me, “You sure about wanting to get one of these? It’s gorgeous, and it plays and sounds amazing, but the problem I have with most boutique guitars is I’m not sure how well they retain their value. What if I wanted to sell it later on? Would I get what I paid for it? Will it appreciate in value?”
All valid concerns, but I simply replied that it’s all about your perspective: Are you a collector or a trader?
If you’re a collector, chances are you obtain gear to keep it and use it for a lifetime, or even just hang it on a wall (I know of someone who has 300+ guitars, most of which he never plays). I consider myself a collector. And from that standpoint, I’m what’s called “brand blind.” All I care about is if the gear looks good, plays good, and sounds good, no matter what the brand.
On the other hand, there are those whom I call “traders.” They get gear, but are always open to trading for another type of gear that might be better from their point of view. From that standpoint, brand awareness is important as people will tend gravitate toward known entities, and the brand-names definitely attract more traffic.
Mind you, I’m not saying one is better than the other. It’s just a matter of perspective in making a purchasing decision. I used to be pretty brand-centric, but ever since I started writing this blog, I’ve come across some awesome gear that I don’t think I would’ve even considered evaluating had I focused on the brand-name stuff.
And let me say that it’s not that you’re either one or the other. It also depends on the gear. For instance, I swear by V-Picks and Red Bear Picks. I won’t use any others. But I’ll buy off-brand pedals and guitars and amps.
I admit it: I’m an incurable GEAR SLUT! I jones for vintage and vintage style gear, as the music I play leans toward the blues and classic rock. And to satisfy that never-ending craving, I pore over the Internet and various magazines in search of all sorts of gear; hence, the existence of GuitarGear.org where I share with you, dear reader, the things that I come across.
Now in my search for gear, I occasionally buy things. They tend to be vintage-style modern gear because I just don’t have the money to buy real vintage gear; and that usually means I gravitate towards boutique gear; but not just any boutique gear. Remember, I don’t usually have all that much money to afford the real high-end stuff, so I spend a lot of my scouring my information resources to find boutique gear that I can afford. That’s what gravitated me towards Aracom Amps.
When I saw the price of a VRX series amp, my jaw dropped! Here was a hand-wired, vintage-style tube amp for $895!!! When I finally hooked up with Jeff Aragaki (founder of Aracom), and got a chance to play the VRX18, he shared that one of the ways he was able to keep the cost down was by using a solid-state sag simulating rectifier circuit. When I heard the words “solid-state,” the purist in me started reeling a bit. But then that amp sounded so freakin’ good that I didn’t give a flying you-know-what about the rectifier!
And that’s the point of this article. When you’re looking for and buying gear, don’t let yourself be swayed by an instrument’s or equipment’s pedigree or “all-tubeness” or lack thereof. LISTEN to the fuckin’ thing, and see if it turns you on! If it sounds good, and it works for YOU, then that’s all that matters, in my not so humble opinion on the subject. If I had let the purist in me take over, I would’ve never ended up with my VRX22! And for the record, I’ve listened to many, many, many amps, with and without tube rectifiers, and the circuit that Jeff Aragaki employs in the VRX series simulates the sag of a rectifier tube so well, I can’t tell the difference. And if there is one, it’s probably so minute that it doesn’t matter anyway. I’ll put that amp up against any other boutique amp in the same wattage range, and it’ll sound just as good, if not better. And I paid less than half the price of a similarly configured amp!
Give the following clip a listen. I’m playing my Strat plugged straight into the clean channel of the VRX22. In some sections you could swear that the amp has a reverb, but that’s the solid-state rectifier simulating the sag of a tube rectifier. Also, this is the raw recording of the amp: No EQ, no filtering. The master volume was flat out, with the gain control around midway. My mic was about about 10″ away pointed directly at the center of the speaker cone.
I originally recorded that clip with my Prestige Heritage Elite. But that guitar has so much inherent sustain, it would’ve been cheating. A Strat on the other hand doesn’t have that much sustain, so it brings out the sustaining quality of the amp much better. The result is just amazing.
And as to the tube vs. solid state rectifier issue, at least in the Aracom VRX series, it doesn’t make one whit of difference, especially when you’re playing live at gig levels. When I’m gigging, I almost never use reverb unless it’s a song where I can really isolate my guitar. Sag gives the effect of reverb, but at loud gig levels, you’ll never hear it.
Another great example of buying what sounds good to you is my friend Vinni Smith of V-Picks. That dude is one of the best guitarists I’ve ever known, and he gigs all the time! You know what he plays through? A freakin’ Roland Cube 30 cranked all the way up and miked into the PA. When he told me that, I almost flipped. Here was a true pro guitarist, playing through a $200 amp!
So don’t be taken in by pedigree. Buy what sounds good to you, and what you can make sound good. After all, 90% of your tone is in your hands.
I recently read a press release on Harmony Central where this company, Hypnobusters, has just released a self-hypnosis audio to improve your guitar playing. I snickered at first because when the word “hypnosis” is mentioned, my gut reaction is, “Yeah, right… just some more of that New Age crap…” But then again, over the years, I’ve developed meditation techniques to help focus and quiet my consciousness to develop and extend my “chi” (for those martial artists out there), and even so far as performing self-healing. In a way, those meditation techniques are a form of self-hypnosis. And if I’ve used self-hypnosis to accomplish different things, why not apply it to guitar playing?
The mind is a very powerful tool. And if you have the ability to quiet your consciousness, and filter out the hustle and bustle of your waking mind, you’ll find that you can much more clearly analyze different subjects or help steer yourself towards accomplishing many things. It’s not hocus-pocus. It’s pure focus.
For instance, have you ever been playing guitar at a gig or in the studio, and you close your eyes because you’re so in tune with the song that what you’re doing is just pure expression? While you’re in that “groove,” nothing else exists. It’s just you and your axe reverberating with the song. That, my friends, is a form of self-hypnosis. That’s happened to me many times in my studio, and when I listen to the printed track, I’m sometimes in total disbelief that I actually played what I played! I’m not really all that good of a soloist, so I suppose any clean take is a good take.
In any case, I went to the HypnoBusters site, and found their guitar improvement page. The audio session only costs $9.95, so I said, “What the hell? I’ll give it a whirl. Besides, I could use a little mind quieting time.” And really, that’s what it’s all about – quieting your mind, and allowing yourself to explore the limits of your playing. I’ve often found that the limits of my skills on guitar aren’t merely technical – there is definitely that – but also because my conscious mind often tells me “You can’t do that.” It’s like an inherent fear. But as I break through those boundaries, I find that my actual limits are much further than what my conscious mind tells me.
I’ll give this audio a try, and report back. I’m not sure that it’ll make me a better player – that’s purely up to me. But one thing I know about things like this: They help you give yourself the permission to improve.
Can’t believe I missed the announcement of its release – I’m usually good about keeping on top of new gear – especially since VOX has been coming out with some pretty awesome stuff as of late. But here it is, the VOX Time Machine Delay. As with the other pedals of this VOX line, this pedal is the result of a very close collaboration between VOX and Professor Satchfunkilus (Joe Satriani). This pedal completes the three pedal line.
The Time Machine Delay features two delay modes (Modern and Vintage) and two EQ modes (Hi-Fi and Lo-Fi). The Modern delay mode provides a transparent delay to retain your orginal tone, while the vintage mode mimicks a vintage analog tape delay. The Hi-Fi/Lo-Fi switch does something similar to the delay modes. Hi-Fi retains your tonal color, while the Lo-Fi mode delivers a “distinctive EQ, combining both high-pass and low-pass filters” to blend better in a mix.
But the thing that I think is pretty incredible is that the pedal has up to 5600 milliseconds of delay – that’s almost 6 seconds! With that you could really do a nice lead loop that you can play over! Damn! Six seconds is a LOT of time. There are lots of layering possibilities with that! That length of delay alone compels me to try the pedal out!
While there are several demos, there aren’t a lot of reviews. Reviews on Harmony Central are mixed. Sound-wise it gets high marks, but one user did point out that the switches seemed a little “rattly,” with no click. Hmmm…. that could be a potential problem. But so far, I haven’t seen any quality issues – but the pedal’s new, so that remains to be seen.
The pedal ain’t cheap, coming it a $199 street, but it has some really great features that definitely worth consideration. Me? I’m really leaning towards the TC Electronic Nova Repeater, mainly because it’s no frills and the tap tempo function using the strum of your guitar is friggin’ awesome – it’s also only $150 street. And based upon the venerable, Nova Delay, it’s a known quantity. However, to be fair, I’m going to have to an A/B to see how the two pedals stack up.
The title kind of sounds like a spam ad, doesn’t it? But it’s totally serious!
We’ve all heard of or even personally experienced guitars straps coming off their strap buttons, potentially causing serious harm to them. I’ve played for years without mishap without using strap locks. I’ve had some close calls, but no catastrophic accidents. My buddy Phil warned me awhile back that I was just asking for trouble by not having them on my guitars. I just said, “Yeah, I know I should do it, but hey, I’ve been lucky so far…”
Well, my luck almost ran out because I almost had a terrible mishap the other day. If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve just gotten my new Prestige Heritage Elite. I was in my studio jamming, and at the end of the song I was jamming to, I did a harmless thing: I reached over to my amp to turn it down; at which point, my body must’ve been at the right angle, and the strap came off the bottom strap button. My guitar quickly swung toward my amp, aimed straight at the grille cloth! Luckily for me, I was able to catch the guitar and press it against my leg to prevent it from doing any serious damage to either itself or the amp!
Soon after, I put the guitar down, turned off my amp, walked back into the house, told my wife I was going down to the local music store, got in my car and got a set of strap locks. I will NEVER be without strap locks again! Once I got them, it literally took five minutes to install them, and I thought that this would be good forum to share my experience, and to share how I installed them.
Installing the Strap Locks
I got Schaller strap locks because I could also use the locks on my Strat that came stock with Schaller butttons (Fender owns Schaller), so it was a no brainer to decide. So here’s how I did it:
First, remove the original buttons with a screwdriver.
When they come out, you’ll probably notice that the screws are a bit thicker with wider threads than the Schallers. This is not a problem.
To be safe, as opposed to using pure wood filler (I used Plastic Wood because it dries evenly), I happened to have really thin dowel material that I could use as a shim in addition the wood filler. I placed the dowel in the screw hole, and marked where it would be flush with the surface of the guitar, then simply cut that length.
Once the dowel was cut, I put some Plastic Wood into the screw hole, and with a toothpick, spread it up and down the hole. Take your time with this, and be as neat as possible. Then I wiped off the excess from the hole, then inserted my dowel. This made some Plastic Wood ooze a bit, so I cleaned that up as well.
Then with my little power drill, I screwed in the new Schaller button.
Repeat steps 3 – 5 for the next hole.
Let it dry for a couple of days.
Install the locks on your strap. That’s it!
That process took literally ten minutes! My strap ain’t coming off any time soon!
When I first saw the pictures of the new Deluxe Memory Man, I wasn’t too impressed only because I didn’t see the actual size difference between the old and the new version. But Electro-Harmonix has done it: They’ve made a DMM with a smaller footprint. I’ve played the DMM before, and really dug it. There is a certain mojo about this analog delay. But I never considered it because of the real estate it would require on my already space-starved board (though admittedly, it’s time to get a bigger board if I want all my pedals on a single board). Now, with it’s smaller size, this is definitely a pedal I’m going to consider – especially since I’m in the market for a good delay pedal. In any case, here’s the press release from EH:
The original Deluxe Memory Man is considered to be the finest analog delay ever designed. Organic and musical, it has been used by rock and Roll legends and countless musicians since its introduction in 1978. With the desire to make a flawless and smooth transition, Electro-Harmonix proudly announces the “new” Deluxe Memory Man in our rugged and pedal board friendly die-cast enclosure.
Exactly the same components are used in order to maintain the superior analog sound with exactly the same performance qualities. In this case, downsizing to a more rugged chassis was important and only second to maintaining the legendary sound. The exact same sound!
The original Deluxe Memory Man will still be available for a limited time. Musicians in the US and UK can now choose to get the new Deluxe Memory Man, or opt to get the classic. Musicians in the EU can now choose to get the classic original (as right now they only get the die-cast)
Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac once said (paraphrasing), “Ask any songwriter how music comes to them, and they’ll probably say, ‘I don’t know.’” This tune came to me several years ago during one of the darkest and bleakest points in my life. The market collapsed and I was out of a job, and couldn’t find one; I had been bitten by a poisonous spider that left me bedridden for months; my relationship with my wife was tepid at best. Then on top of that, I had a bad case of sleep apnea that hadn’t been diagnosed at that point. The net effect was that I was suicidal; or short of that, wishing my life would end.
In a particularly bleak moment, where I was contemplating ending my life, this tune came into my head, accompanied by a mental slideshow of images from my entire life: Growing up, my own family. It was if someone out there was using the tune and the images to show me what really mattered in life. Since I first heard the song in my head, it has never left. It pops up now and then, though the pictures have changed as I have changed and my kids are getting older. It’s both a reminder of how bad it was for me, but also a reminder of how good my life has been and still is.
Putting this song down – and mind you, it’s pre-pre-production right now – was very difficult because of the emotions that came with it. But I thought I’d finally lay it down to share it. Someone suggested adding words, but I think the only thing I’ll add is a clean guitar solo on top. By the way, the background sounds you hear on this version are from my three-year-old playing floor hockey in my garage/studio. Without further ado, here’s the song:
Prestige Guitars Heritage Elite (sounds acoustic on this song!)
Fender Hot Rod Deluxe (left)
Aracom VRX22 (right)
What’s the difference between a terrorist and a woman with PMS? You can negotiate with a terrorist.
Joking aside, I’m actually serious that PMS can be a good thing, especially for the guitar-playing husband. Let me share my story…
My wife gets PMS – BADLY. It comes on suddenly, sneaking up from behind, and whacking me smack in the back of the head before I have any time to react. One day I’m Super Man and can do now wrong. The next day I’m the Antichrist and everything that’s wrong in her world is all my fault.
I used to fight back all the time, and we’d get into these huge shouting matches, usually with me leaving in a huff, calling my best friend, then going down to the local watering hole so both of us could complain about our PMS-ing wives while burying our anger in a cocktail or four (honestly, we have a two-drink maximum because we usually have to work the next day).
But I’ve learned a new tactic: That is simply to not put any energy into fighting back against something I can’t control – and neither can my wonderful wife. Instead, I play guitar. As in the second line of the graphic, I “Move out of the way.” I will also do some simple maintenance things around the house like scrub the kitchen floors (it’s actually a big job) before she has time to complain that I’m not doing anything. Once I’m done with my little chore, I then retreat to my garage/studio to play, and let out the pent-up stress by practicing or writing music.
A lot of my best stuff has come from pining away, pondering why I’m going through my private hell at the hands of the woman I love, who doesn’t realize how ragingly bitchy she’s being. In fact, my latest instrumental, “Running from the Future” was written when I just got my feelings trampled, “hiding out” and sipping a shot of fine scotch in my studio. The ultimate thought that triggered the song had nothing to do with how I was feeling about my wife, but that melancholy surely helped me through the writing process. Funny enough, some of the feedback I’ve gotten is that the song is really uplifting. I guess that was my response to how shitty I was feeling. I needed something to pick me up!
All that said, PMS has been a great thing. My wife leaves me alone when I do the chores, and I can be free to play guitar. Hmmm…. looks like the kitchen counters need clearing.