Though I’m pretty satisfied with my current rig – actually, I’m pretty settled now as far as pedals are concerned – that doesn’t mean that I don’t look to see what’s out there. While surfing this morning before going off to work, I came across the new Voodoo TC line of pedals from Roger Mayer. These pedals feature huge knobs for changing the main pedal parameters, and they’re meant to be changed with your foot!
What a cool concept! No more bending over to change the drive on a drive pedal or the intensity or pulse of a vibe. Not only that, the Voodoo TC line has this retro, art-deco look, and sporting colors that were apparently inspired by 1950′s Chevy’s!
There are nine pedals in the line thus far, and from what I can tell from the descriptions, they’re heavily inspired by Jimi Hendrix tones, with a few drive pedals, a vibe, and an octavia. But there is one specifically geared towards bass distortion.
For more information, check out the Roger Mayer TC Series page. There are a couple of videos on the page from the Japan Music Fair, with one of the videos being an interview with Roger Mayer, explaining the motivation behind the pedals.
As an actively gigging musician, I’m always looking for the most efficient and safe ways to transport my gear. But I do have to admit that I value efficiency a bit more than safety. My thought behind this is that treating my gear with care is a given, so I want to make as few trips from my car to get my gear set up for a gig.
So I have always kept an eye on transport containers or even systems that can keep me as efficient as possible. For instance, a big reason that I got my Fishman SoloAmp was because the speaker array, stand, and cable could all be transported together in the provided transport case; the whole thing weighing only 25 lbs., and case has wheels! I would not have gotten it if it sounded bad, but not having to take multiple trips to the car was really key.
I also have a few different bags that I use depending upon the gig I’m playing. For my solo gigs, I use a heavy-duty laptop bag that has tons of space to hold my harmonizer unit, microphones, cables, and even music books. Again, only a single trip.
Enter MONO. These folks make bags and cases specifically tailored to DJs and guitarists. They have some nice, padded guitar and bass gig bags, and even make guitar straps. But I really dig their gear bags, such as The Producer, which has lots of room to carry all sorts of gig accessories. This will probably be my next accessory bag as it was purpose-built with the DJ or gigging musician in mind.
Wow! I didn’t realize how fun doing videos would be! Expect to see more video reviews in the future! In any case, here are some key points:
Tone Bone Rating
I LOVE this stand! I’m going to get a couple more! Very well built and lightweight, it’s a perfect stand not just for the stage, but also in the studio where its small footprint won’t take up much space!
Very easy to fold up and lug around
May not work for bass – it works for mine, but fat basses may not fit (this is not really a negative, just a warning)
Summary: Need to plug your acoustic guitar or bass directly into your mixer or DAW? Don’t do it without one of these units.
Pros: Completely passive DI, requires no internal or external power sources. Super-transparent, the ProDI adds no artifacts to your tone. Used with an acoustic guitar, it makes your guitar come alive!
Features (from the Radial web site):
Full range passive direct boxes
Isolation transformer eliminates noise
Very low harmonic and phase distortion
Compact and rugged design
Ideal for live sound and studio
Mono (ProDI) or stereo (ProD2) models
Price: $99 street
Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Talk about having my acoustic guitar just come alive! If you’re not using a DI when plugging into a board, you need to get this!
For my solo acoustic gigs, I’ve been using my DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 for the last couple of years, and it has been terrific. But back when my Ovation got damaged (which I’ve since fixed with a little wood glue), I’ve been using my Fender Stratacoustic with the Vocalist. Unfortunately, the Vocalist doesn’t like input gain of the Stratacoustic, and driving hard on the strings would cause the Vocalist to overdrive, and cause a pop in the PA system. Not good. Luckily, the Vocalist Live has a Guitar Thru jack, so I could route the signal to another channel on the board.
But that meant that I was going to be plugging direct, and I knew that plugging an acoustic directly into a board doesn’t sound very good at all. Not only is the sound muddy with way too much midrange “goop,” there’s also a huge loss in dynamics, ultimately making the guitar tone flat and lifeless. While I don’t completely understand the electronics, the problem apparently lies in the impedance mismatch between guitar and board; and if I’ve learned anything impedance mismatches from working with attenuators, impedance mismatch is a big culprit for loss of tone and transparency. Enter the DI, or direct input box.
The main purpose of a DI box is to take one type of electronic signal, convert it to a magnetic signal, then convert it back to an electronic signal again. The device used for this is a transformer. With a DI, the unbalanced, high-impedance signal coming from the guitar goes into the transformer, which “transforms” the signal into a balanced, low-impedance signal on the other end. The net result is that impedances are properly matched on both ends, theoretically retaining your tone. Now, enter the Radial ProDI.
I knew I had to get a DI, but wasn’t sure about which one to get, as there are many to choose from. But a quick call to Jordan at Gelb Music got me on track right away. I’ve been buying gear from him for years, and he knows my rig. So when I explained what I wanted to do, he had an immediate recommendation: The Radial Engineering ProDI.
Jordan told me, “I just recorded some acoustic tracks directly into a board, and used the ProDI. I was blown away by the tone. It totally made my guitar come to life – even plugged in! And at $99, it’s totally worth it.”
That was enough of an endorsement for me. Yeah, you could say it’s just another sales guy trying to make a sale, but I’ve been dealing with Jordan for awhile, and not only is he knowledgeable, everything he recommends, he plays. That’s Gelb’s shtick. They have an unsaid policy that their sales guys can’t make recommendations on anything they haven’t played, so you can be assured that their recommendations are reliable. I’ve been buying gear from them for years, so I’ve experienced that first-hand, AND benefited from that policy!
How It Sounds
I put together a couple of quick audio clips to demonstrate the difference between going direct into my DAW vs going through the ProDI.
Guitar straight into the DAW
Guitar into the ProID then into the DAW
One of the reasons I chose the Stratacoustic was because of the fantastic Fishman pre-amp and dual pickup system it uses. Plugged in, it sounds incredible. But even plugged in, there’s a detectable (at least to my ears) muffling of the tone, whereas with the ProDI, the guitar sounds richer.
I realize that with these recordings the differences are subtle at best. However, the difference was far greater plugged into the board at the restaurant I played at on Friday. I did an A/B test during sound check, and I couldn’t believe the difference in clarity between going direct into the board, and going through the ProDI first.
This is yet another piece of gear that I cannot live without for going direct. It’s a simple box for sure, but at $99, what it brings to the table is so much! For more information, check out the Radial Engineering ProDI page!
Could this be the last tuner pedal you’ll ever need?
I don’t see how I missed this! I scour the ‘net daily for new stuff, especially from companies that are known to create really high-quality stuff – like TC Electronic. These Scandinavians are incredible inventors, and I haven’t seen or played one one thing of theirs that I didn’t like – though I could rarely afford it. But they’ve come out with a new tuner – yes, a tuner, of all things – that is completely different from any other tuner on the market. It’s called the “Polytune.” As its name implies, it is a polyphonic tuner; that is, the tuner can detect all your strings at once, and you can see which ones aren’t in tune at the click of a foot switch. Unlike traditional tuners that require you to check each string individually, with the Polytune, you strum your open strings. The LED’s will show you which strings are in tune and which aren’t.
In my experience, more likely than not, at any given time only one or two will be out of tune. So imagine the time you save by NOT having to check and tune each string – only the ones that need it! Check out this video to see how it works!
And at $99 bucks… SOLD!!!
Here are some features:
0.5 cent accuracy
Standard size box
Tune by strumming
Can automatically switch between chromatic and polyphonic tuning (it will detect if you’re hitting a single string)
Customizable preference settings
Has a 9V output jack for powering other pedals
Adjustable reference pitch from 435Hz to 445Hz
Supports drop tuning all the way down to B!
Works with 4 and 5 string basses as well
It may not have the accuracy of a TurboTuner, but who the hell gives a flying f$%k! .5 cent accuracy is nothing to shake a stick at, and the fact that you can see the tuning of all your strings at once is incredible! Can you say KICK ASS!!! I’ve never even seen this thing and I want to give it 5 Tone Bones! Check out the TC Electronic web site for some detailed information!
Could this be the last tuner I’ll ever want? Until someone comes out with something better – and at a better price, for that matter, probably not. I want to get one right now. Unfortunately, they’re only available for pre-order. Hmm… oh well, I supposed I can wait.
I dig cool, off-the-wall stuff. Remember the Harmonic Capo I wrote about? I actually never got one, but that never reduced its cool to me. But this new, cool thing is something I’m definitely going to have to check out. It’s called the Guitar Hanger, made by the guys at The Guitar Hanger company. As the name implies, this little contraption literally lets you hang your guitar, much like you would a shirt or a pair of pants. Check out the video:
Right now, I’ve got all my guitars in my studio in their cases or gig bags, lined up along a wall, taking up valuable floor space. But with guitar hangers, I can free up A BUNCH of floor space. With guitar hangers, you could do something like this:
Summary: Need a great mic to close-mic your amp? Look no further! The e609 delivers on all fronts, able to withstand high SPL’s, and still accurately reproduce your tone.
Pros: Flat-face design makes placing the mic a breeze, but more importantly, placed correctly (as you should with any mic), it’ll capture your tone beautifully!
Features (from the web site):
Hum compensating coil reduces electrical interference (I can attest to this – it’s super quiet)
Neodynum ferrous magnet with boron keeps mic stable regardless of climate
Metal construction—rugged and reliable
Super-cardioid pick-up pattern provides isolation from other on-stage signals
Price: ~$95 streetTone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Going back to my “using the right tool for the job,” I don’t know why I didn’t pick up one of these earlier. I have some good mics, but now that I’ve got the e609 that was made explicitly for micking instruments, I kicking myself a bit. Lesson learned yet again!
I told myself that all I would get was a speaker cable for my cab when I walked into my local Guitar Center today. Unfortunately for me, the cables were located in the Pro Audio area where GC has a big case of very nice mics. And, gear slut that I am, I couldn’t resist a look. Granted, most of those mics were completely out of the ballpark for me, costing several hundreds of dollars. But it did get me thinking that I really should be using a dedicated instrument mic for my home studio when recording my clips and songs.
Fortunately, they didn’t have any instrument mics in the case, but silly me, I just had to ask the guy behind the counter if he had an e609 (I had researched this and other instrument mics several months ago). “Oh yeah,” said another sales clerk, “We got those. They rock, and they’re cheap.” Damn! Words that a gear slut should never hear in one sentence: ROCK and CHEAP! That will instantly elicit a fidgety, twitchy response as the pragmatic half of the psyche wrestles with the GAS half. And usually the GAS half wins, as it did today.
So now I am the very proud owner of a Sennheiser e609. And I do have to say that it does rock, and it costs far less than what one would normally expect to pay for a great mic. At less than $100, how can you argue with that?
How It Sounds
I recorded a little blues solo over a standard GarageBand backing track to demonstrate. Give it a listen:
For the solo, I used “Blondie” my Squier Classic Vibe Tele, the insane-sounding Aracom VRX18 amp (it’s customized with an EZ81 rectifier), and my custom Aracom 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N speaker. The e609 was placed about halfway between the dome and the speaker edge about an inch away from the grille cloth.
I added a touch of reverb to the dry clip in GarageBand, but that’s it. No EQ (I don’t like to EQ my guitar parts anyway). What you hear on the clip is what I heard in my studio. Freakin’ amazing! Like I mentioned above, after recording this clip, I should’ve gotten one of these a long time ago. It’s a great mic!
I re-read some reviews today, and interestingly enough, they come back mixed. Harmony Central user reviews rate it at about 7.5 on average. People other love it or hate it. But in reply to the negative experiences, I have to call into question mic placement. If it’s one thing I’ve learned from years of home studio recording, placing your mic correctly is critical to getting a good tone. Maybe they weren’t experimenting enough with mic placement. Who knows?
With the e609, I first went with the recommended placement in the user manual (yes, I am one of those anal people who do indeed RTFM), then moved it maybe half an inch more towards the speaker edge to reduce the highs just a tad. That made all the difference in the world because my amp is pretty bright micked up close, and I didn’t want that to dominate the recording, especially since the mic was only an inch away from the grille cloth.
The Tone Bones score says it all. I’m hooked! Frankly, it didn’t take me long at all to dial this puppy in. It’s a truly great mic!
Summary: It’s sharp alright; nice and pointy, and it feels great in your hand!
Pros: Like any sharp pick, this pick is accurate. It’s super lightweight, and made of a material takes a lot of pressure to even slightly bend. The pointy end makes pick harmonics a breeze!
Cons: It’s a small nit, but I wish the butt-end were just a bit wider.
Features (from the web site):
Based off of a coveted vintage tortoiseshell pick in our collection, the Ultex Sharp delivers a pick with a rigid body tapering into a thinner and sculpted tip for intense control and speed. The seamless contoured edge surrounds the pick for more playing surfaces and tones. Engineered of Ultex—the Ultex Sharp is virtually indestructible and delivers a crisp tone and quick release attack. Available in .73, .90, 1.0, 1.14, 1.40, and 2.0mm gauges.Price: 50 cents street
Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – Real nice-sounding and nice-playing pick. If you want to step up to a thicker, more rigid pick, but don’t want to shell out for high-end picks, this is a winner!
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of pick snob. Ever since I started playing with V-Picks and Red Bear picks, I’ve mildly eschewed mainstream picks in favor of the insanely awesome picks those two companies produce. But I have to tell you that I was taken by complete surprise by the Dunlop Ultex Sharp pick! I wasn’t really looking to explore new picks, but a buddy of mine was looking for some Ultex picks at a local store, and offered to buy me a couple. Hell! They were only 50 cents apiece! I carried them around for a couple of days before I actually got to try them; not because I was dubious of them, I just couldn’t find time until this evening to sit down with an axe. Life happens, you know?
Anyway, I slung “Blondie” my trusty Squier Classic Vibe Tele, dug an Ultex out of my pocket, and started to play. Admittedly, I had a bit of trouble playing with the pick at first. Even though it’s slightly thicker than the thinnest pick I play – a Red Bear Tuff-Tone – it’s decidedly narrower in shape; something to which I’m no longer accustomed. But being the hard-headed type, and because I wanted to give the pick a fair shake, as it were, I kept at it, playing scales and riffs to get used to it.
I have to say that I’m really impressed by this pick! First of all, the material feels great in your hand, and like any real good pick, you forget about it. I love the rigidity of the material as well. Contrary to what you might think, a rigid pick actually makes you relax your hand. I know, it’s counterinuitive, but any player that plays a rigid pick will attest to this.
I spent quite a bit of time playing with this pick, and it’s a fast pick, though what I really missed was how my high-end picks really glide over the strings, like they’re lubricated. The Ultex material is pretty smooth, but there is a difference. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s bad in the slightest; it just has a different feel on the strings.
Most importantly though, the Ultex Sharp produces a nice, bright tone. That’s what I really dig about this pick! Part of it is due to it being rigid, but the other part is because of the pointy end. It really makes the strings snap in a very nice way!
Will the Ultex supplant my V-Picks and Red Bear picks? Probably not, but I will be using it for sure. It’s not even a small wonder why these picks are so popular among guitarists. They’re great playing and sounding picks at an insanely cheap price. I’m sold! Buy a few, and you’ll see for yourself!
Ever since I started this blog, I’ve talked about attenuators, and how they’ve enabled me to get tones out of my amp at reasonable volume levels that I could only previously get at super-high volumes. But before I get into the discussion part of this article, take a listen to this clip (it’s the same clip I recorded with my previous article on the Mullard ECC83):
Here are some details about the recording:
I plugged directly into my Aracom VRX22, which then fed into my Aracom PRX150-Pro, then out to a custom 1 X 12 with a Jensen P12N
The amp was in the drive channel with master at 6, volume (gain) at 6, and tone at 6 (the tone on this amp adds a little gain as well as an edge)
The PRX150-Pro was set at maximum attenuation
Volume-wise, this was talking conversation level!!!
No EQ was applied to the guitar – what you’re hearing is the raw tone.
With respect to “maximum attenuation,” I was in variable mode with the variable sweep pot all the way to its left extent. I shared my amp and PRX settings with Jeff Aragaki this morning, and he estimated that the output power was approximately 0.04 Watt!
Many people are apt to talk about how the speaker needs to move air, and that an attenuator doesn’t allow that to happen. But that clip simply demonstrates that with the right combination of equipment – and in my case, also a great set of tubes – you don’t necessarily need that speaker cone breakup to get great tone for recording purposes. Yes, SPL’s do play a big role in your overall tone, but to be able to achieve the kind of tone I was able to get at that very low volume level is nothing short of amazing!
So what about an attenuator being life-changing?
Maybe that’s a bit strong of a phrase, but ever since I’ve been using attenuators, and especially since I’ve gotten my Aracom PRX150-Pro, I’ve been able to explore tonal territory that I could previously only achieve using pedals – and only simulating at that! Take overdrive pedals for instance. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m crazy about them. I probably will still be nuts about overdrive pedals, but there’s one thing an overdrive pedal can’t do that an attenuator allows me to do, and that’s to get the thick, natural overdrive tone of my amp. Don’t get me wrong, I still use them, but I use them now more for tonal accents to my drive tone rather than giving me my drive tone. That’s very profound; especially for an overdrive pedal freak like me!
Here’s a good example that I just recorded. This clip is part of a new song idea I’ve been playing around with. Setup is pretty much the same as above, but for the rhythm, I’m running Strat into my Kasha overdrive pedal to get a jangly, crisp tone. The lead is Goldie plugged straight into my VRX22. I did mix and do a simple master on the recording, but the guitars were all recorded raw, with no EQ. In my DAW, I added some reverb to both parts and a touch of delay to the lead, but that’s it.
Speaking of pedals, since I’ve started using a high-end attenuator (there are others such as Alex’s and the Faustine Phantom), I’ve actually started using pedals in general much less. I’ve really relying on the natural tone and sustain of my amp. For instance, I’ve found that I’ve only been using reverb in the studio. When I play out, I just don’t bother. In fact, for the last few weeks, I’ve only been taking two pedals to gigs with me: My BOSS TU-2 Tuner and my VRX22′s channel switcher. Same goes with my Reason Bambino.
Life-changing? Probably not, but definitely approach-changing. I may personally endorse the PRX150-Pro, but there are others out there. If you really want to hear what your amp has to offer when it’s fully cranked with the power tubes glowing, then you owe it to yourself to get a good attenuator!
Just put in a re-labeled 1960′s-era Mullard ECC83 into my Aracom VRX22 this afternoon. I had a JJ 12AX7 in there, and make no bones about it; that’s a great pre-amp tube. But the difference in tone between the two is immense. Where my JJ had a great tone, one thing that I noticed was that the highs tended to be rather harsh when the tube was overdrive, and I found myself turning my Tone knob left of center – a lot – to bleed off some of the highs.
But after I installed the Mullard, I was absolutely blown away! The overdrive seemed so much more focused, with zero high-end harshness. It was some of the smoothest overdrive I’ve heard, and definitely the smoothest the VRX22 has sounded since I got it. That’s saying quite a bit because I love the tone of this amp immensely, even without the NOS Mullard. Which brings me to the crux of this entry…
As a tube amp aficionado, I’ve gone through lots of pre-amp tubes, and almost invariably, I’ve gravitated towards NOS tubes to get the tone I like. Some people I’ve spoken to say it’s all hype but, at least to me, it’s not. I suppose for some types of tubes, there’s not much of a difference. For instance, I almost invariably use JJ’s for power tubes because they just sound great to me. They’re well-made, and run pretty hot, and they break up nicely.
But with respect to pre-amp tubes, I’ve found a marked difference between NOS and new tubes. I love Mullard and JAN Phillips tubes for pre-amp tubes. They’re just so smooth sounding, smoother than all the new make tubes I’ve played. Plus, they were made during a time when most electronic devices were run with tubes, so the build expertise, equipment and materials for making tubes was abundant. According to my friend Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps, the alloys used in NOS tubes are not as readily available nowadays, and that could account for the difference in tone. Not sure if this is true, but it certainly makes sense. The only drawback is the price. That Mullard sells for $129 retail, and that is by no means inexpensive.
But I look at buying NOS tubes very much like buying a great pair of shoes. For instance, I spend almost $200 a pair for my everyday shoes. These are absolutely comfortable, and not only that they last a long time because they’re constructed so well. In fact, it takes me about 4-5 years to really wear them out. This in contrast to lower priced shoes that I’ve worn out within a few months. After a long period of time, I’ll spend more on the cheap shoes. A better case is my father. His shoes cost at least $500. But they last almost 20 years! He just gets them resoled every few years until the shoe repair guy says that it’s not worth it.
NOS tubes are similar. I’ve had the same NOS tubes in my Hot Rod Deluxe for almost five years, and they still sound great! I play that amp a lot. On the other hand, the new Tung-Sol tubes I put in another amp lasted all of two months before they started to lose their character, with one becoming microphonic. Granted, they’re fairly inexpensive tubes and they sound great, but if I have to shell out $25 every couple of months, that starts to add up. NOS tubes, especially the mil-spec tubes that I prefer were made for military usage, which means they had to be well-built and durable. That’s a huge advantage NOS tubes have over newer tubes.
Jeff also shared a story with me today about a friend of his who used to be stationed on an aircraft carrier. He was telling Jeff that when the ship replaced electronic components, they’d dump boxes of tubes – good ones, mind you – over the side of the ship. So the ocean has NOS tubes littering its bottom.
In any case, please do not just take me at my word! This is simply my perception based upon my experience. In the end, as I am often apt to mention, you’re judge of what sounds pleasing to you. So only buy what makes sense to you!