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Posts Tagged ‘VRX18’

When Biting Is Good…

At this past Sunday night’s Mass, I got the rare opportunity to crank my Aracom VRX18 AND play it loud. This only happens if the church is packed (which it was), and we break out the full trap set (which only happens when both our drummer and bassist are present). So, knowing that both were going to be there, I planned out a much more lively set than usual. Based upon the plan, I decided to go with a classic Plexi/Les Paul combination; specifically my Aracom VRX18 Plexi clone and “Amber,” my R8 Les Paul.

Invariably, I use this particular combination because it has “bite.” At least, that’s what I call it. “Bite” to me is a bright tonal character when overdriving an amp; the highs are certainly present, but not so over the top that they’re like icepicks. They’re at that level where they provide the clarity and note separation yet are still balanced with the overall sound. But on top of that, “bite” ensures you break through the mix. There’s nothing like muddy tone to get you lost in a mix. With bite, you’ll never get lost in the mix.

AmberI can achieve that bite with just about any guitar I have, but there’s a certain magic that happens when I crank the VRX18 and play a Les Paul through it. And while that amp/guitar combination sounds fantastic, when you throw the incredible Jensen Jet Falcon speaker into the fray and combine its breakup characteristics into the output, the result is absolutely magical.

So in this case, biting is good!

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Matches Made In Heaven

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

I was talking to Jeff Aragaki yesterday evening about his absolutely magical Aracom VRX18 Plexi clone and how Katie May sounded so perfect with that amp. I used that combination in my latest song, “The Lothario” and was completely amazed at how well they fit together.

I told Jeff that I hadn’t played the VRX18 in awhile, and hadn’t gigged with it for a long time since my DV Mark Little 40 does the job for playing out. But for studio work, the VRX18 and her more aggressive sister, the VRX22 (I had Jeff voice her a bit more aggressive), have been studio stand-bys for me for a long time. In any case, I was looking for a particular sound with that song, and thought that the VRX18, with her creamy-smooth overdrive and gorgeous sag would do the trick perfectly. I wasn’t wrong.

Katie May took to her like white on rice. Here I was thinking that Katie May was best played clean, and had shared that with Perry Riggs, Katie May’s builder. But what issued from the amp stopped me dead in my tracks. It was clear that I just hadn’t matched her up with an amp that would allow her to fully express herself. The Lollar Imperials with their lower output drive the VRX18 perfectly, producing a buttery/creamy-smooth overdrive tone. I was up till the wee hours of the morning yesterday just playing around after I had already finished mixing down the song. And come to think of it, Katie May has never disappointed me when played with my DV Mark Little 40, but she sounds absolutely incredible with a vintage Marshall-style amp.

Tonight, I was looking for a song I had recorded a couple of years ago to see if I could add an overdriven guitar to it, as a professional reviewer had given me feedback that it would be nice to make it have a bit of an edge. But in my search, I came across something I put together for practice (I’m not too good at playing without some sort of backing track to give me a reference) a few weeks ago, and immediately started tooling around with it. After about a half-hour of messing around, I decided to lay down a track to demonstrate just how good Katie May sounds with the VRX18. Give it a listen:

As you can see in the picture above, Katie May was plugged directly into the VRX18. No effects were used. In the recording though, I added some reverb and a little delay to add some ambiance to the guitar; just as with “The Lothario,” I didn’t EQ the guitar at all. Also note that I did the guitar part in a single take, and went from clean to dirty by simply turning up the volume knob on the guitar. Katie May went from this hollow body clean tone to a rock machine with a simple twist of a knob.  Of course, that’s also a testament to how responsive the VRX18 is. On the amp, I had the Master pegged, and the volume at about 2pm. That gives me plenty of overdrive with the guitar’s volume all the way up, but will also clean up real nice by turning the volume down.

I just gave the track another listen-to and thought back to when I was up on something like the 20th fret to hit that high-high note. One thing that I love about playing Katie May is that the butt of the neck doesn’t get in my way. I don’t have very long fingers, so playing way up on the fretboard has always been an issue playing other guitars. But not with Katie May. I can get to those notes now – and she has 24 frets – all playable! But note one VERY important thing: On other guitars where I’ve been able to reach the really high frets, though most have been playable, they haven’t had the sustain that Katie May has. I believe this has to do with the neck-through construction. Since there’s no break in the neck, the sound waves are allowed to reverberate continuously throughout the neck and create much more sustain than bolt-on, or even set necks. Even my Les Paul, which is a sustain machine doesn’t sustain nearly as much way up high as Katie May does.

In any case, this marriage gives me the same kind of feeling I get when I play my Les Paul R8 through my Aracoms and DV Mark Little 40. “Amber” loves to scream through those amps, though I have to admit, I love her best with the Little 40. They pair so well together that I forget about twiddling knobs to dial in the right tone. I set it my amp in the sweet spot and play. Those kinds of things are to me at least, matches made in heaven.

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Aracom Amps VRX18 Tweed ComboSummary: No… Surprisingly enough, I didn’t buy this one, as I already have the VRX18 head. But my good friend and bandmate just bought this, and I tested it out for him so he could listen while he was making his decision. Anyway, this is classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi tone, but with Jeff Aragaki’s tweaks and modifications. It’s such a sweet-sounding amp, clean or dirty.

Pros: Handmade, and hand-wired on turret board. The VRX18 brings out the best of what I love about EL84-powered amps, and combined with the custom Weber speaker that’s in the cabinet to balance out the natural highs of the amp, this amp is capable of producing some of the most gorgeous clean tones I’ve heard, plus some incredible vintage overdrive.

Cons: None.

Features

- Channel 1: Volume and Tone Controls
– Channel 2: Volume and Tone Controls
– Master Volume Control (PPIMV)
– On/Off Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– (2) EL84 Power Tubes
– (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
– Cathode Biased Power Tubes
– S.S. Rectifier with “sag” circuit
– Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
– ARACOM Power Transformer: hand-wound and interleaved
– ARACOM Output Transformer: hand-wound, interleaved on a paper bobbin
– 4, 8, 16 ohm Speaker Jacks
– Detachable Power Cord (IEC320-C13 Socket)
– External Fuse Holder
– Custom Turret Board (G-10/FR4 Flame Resistant)
– Handwired and Handcrafted in the USA.

Price: $1095 for Combo (see Pricing Schedule for complete options)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Yeah, I’m biased towards Aracom Amps as I am a faithful customer, but this amp is yet another example and an affirmation of why I love Aracom amps so much!

As most know who read this blog with any regularity, I’m a faithful Aracom Amps customer. I play three of them: VRX22 (6V6), VRX18 (EL84), and the PLX18 (EL84); plus I have the venerable PRX150-Pro Attenuator. Can’t believe I’ve been playing Aracom equipment for almost four years now, but I can’t think of any other amp to play, except for, perhaps, the DV Mark Little 40, which I still intend to get eventually.

In any case, my bandmates have known my passion for Aracom equipment, but have purchased other amps in lieu of the fact that I’ve been raving about Aracom for years, and in lieu of them commenting on how great the Aracom tone is. It always puzzled me, but hey! To each, their own.

A few of weeks ago, my right-hand and cohort in the band Dave started looking into getting a new amp, and to my pleasant surprise started taking a look at the Aracom site and listening to the clips. He was actually considering buying a Carr Viceroy, but held back until he took some time to evaluate amps. Now he’s glad he did.

In any case, he contacted Jeff and set up a meeting to go out to Jeff’s shop, and asked if I wanted to tag along. Never one to turn down an invitation to hang out with Jeff if I can help it, I accepted and a couple of days later, we made the short trek out to Jeff’s shop.

The wonderful thing about working with a builder like Jeff is that because he’s a small operation, he can be fairly agile in the combinations of equipment that he offers. So on that day, we took a couple of hours to play through different cabinet/speaker combinations to find a combo that “fit.” After playing through the tweed cabinet with a custom Weber 1 X 12, it was clear that that combination was the best for the style that Dave plays, which is mostly clean.

Jeff told Dave that he should take the amp with him and play around with it before he made the decision, so we loaded the amp in Dave’s car. On the way home, I mentioned to Dave that he will probably not want to return the amp and left it that while we talked about other stuff.

A few hours after I had returned home, Dave called me. He wasn’t returning the amp. :) I knew that would happen. That amp was magical. Earlier, I shared with Dave on the way home that he’d know if he found the right amp if he lost track of time. He did. Now he is the proud owner of the best amp he’s ever played.

Fit and Finish

I love the classic tweed finish of this amp. Jeff personally built the enclosure and covered it with tweed. It’s really beautiful to look at. He also used 1/2-inch ply to construct the cabinet, which is something I look for in cabinets. With 1/2-inch ply, I believe the wood provides a lot more resonance as opposed to cabs built with thicker boards. Compared side-by-side with my Avatar 1 X 12, which uses thicker wood, the Aracom cab sounds so much more deep and lush (I’m not knocking my Avatar – that cab is perfect for more aggressive tones).

How It Sounds

Unfortunately, I don’t have any clips to demonstrate, but Dave’s VRX18 sounds absolutely KILLER! I’ve played three of Dave’s guitars through the amp, which include a custom Carvin acoustic/electric, a custom Rick Turner Renaissance, and a Gibson ES-335. All three guitars sound absolutely gorgeous through the amp which, with the custom Weber and dynamite cabinet produce a very lush and deep clean tone, while retaining great note separation and definition. Note separation and definition are especially important with an amp that produces such deep cleans because it could become extremely muddy. Not so with the Aracom VRX18 combo.

It’s important to note also that in addition to such great cleans, the amp really projects the sound well, with a very three-dimensional quality about it that makes it sound as if it has a reverb tank. Jeff attributes a lot of this quality to the sag simulation circuit that he built into the amp. It provides just a touch of sustain to add depth to the sound.

Playing right next to Dave is another guitarist (another Dave) who has a Carr Mercury. Maybe the “higher end” Carr models sound better, but the Mercury’s tone pales in comparison to the VRX18. Where the VRX18 sounds three-dimensional, the Carr sounds brittle and hollow. I don’t like the tone of that amp at all, and constantly have to help the other Dave dial in his EQ to make it sound even halfway decent. Also, the reverb on that amp is horrible, and I always have him turning it WAY down. Amazing that that amp costs more than twice as much as the VRX18. Anyway, I don’t want to make this a Carr amp smack-down. Suffice it to say that the Aracom VRX18 simply outperforms the Carr hands-down.

Overall Impression

Jeff Aragaki makes killer amps. He’s not building near the amount of amps at this point in time as he has in the past because his attenuator business is so good. But when he does get amp orders, he takes extra-special care that it’s right; and that’s exactly what he did with this particular amp. In fact, this particular model of the VRX18 is much more simple than his other models in that it doesn’t have the 1/2 power switch, nor does it have a tube rectifier. But it sounds incredible as it is. And as I mentioned above, this amp is yet another example of why I will remain a faithful Aracom customer!

For more information, go to the Aracom Amps web site!

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Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

I’m falling in love again with my Aracom VRX18. This was the amp that first got me introduced to Aracom and my good friend Jeff Aragaki. My amp is actually a tweaked version of the stock VRX18 as it sports an EZ81 tube rectifier, plus a tweaked circuit that adds a bit more sag and sustain. The result is just a gorgeous overdriven tone that really brings out the best of the EL84 power tubes.

One thing about EL84 amps is that if they’re done right, they have a distinctive overdrive tone that creates a subtle top-end fizz when they’re overdriven. I’ve played others that drive the power tubes too much, and they sound very harsh and incredibly compressed. Jeff did this amp right, and while the power tubes do indeed compress a bit, the overdrive tone retains its open character, while adding that nice top-end fizziness that EL84 amp lovers have come to appreciate.

The clip below is an excerpt from a slow blues song I wrote. It features my beloved Goldie plugged straight into the Aracom VRX18, and it also features the insane Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator! Believe it or not, the amp was recorded at just above loud conversation levels! We’re talking less than 1/10 of a Watt, and the amp still retains its tone and dynamics! Anyway, here’s the clip:

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