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Over the years, I’ve probably spent in the tens of thousands of dollars on gear; from guitars to amps and effects, to cords and power strips, to microphones and recording/PA equipment, to chairs and stands. Looking back, that stuff adds up! On top of that, when I started going on a gear-buying binge back in the early 2000’s then started writing about the gear I’d buy or potentially buy, I started to gain a keen insight on evaluating gear, so I thought I’d share how I evaluate gear for purchase.

This isn’t intended to include stuff like music/gear stands or cords or other common things like that (I know, some may argue about some cords not being common, but I’m not going to go there). It also doesn’t include things like recording hardware and software or microphones and what-not. What I want to focus on is gear that actually directly produces or affects your tone in some way, shape, or form; specifically, guitars, amps, and effects. So here goes…

The Seven Steps to Gear Nirvana

  1. Check its visual appeal
    1. Does it look good? If so, move on…
  2. Plug it in and play as is
  3. Tweak it to dial in volume and EQ (if necessary)
  4. Play it again.
    1. Play chord progressions and little solos.
    2. NOTE: Be honest, and play it how you’d normally play it. For instance, don’t try to see it does metal if you’re a blues player. That’s a distraction.
  5. Repeat 3 and 4 until you get a feel for it in all its playable range from both a sound and touch perspective. At this point, you might say it’s crap. But if you like it after playing it, move on.
  6. Check it for construction quality:
    1. Are there any loose knobs?
    2. Are there any obvious flaws?
    3. Are there open seams that you don’t expect to be there?
    4. Is it sturdy enough to withstand your intended use for it.
      1. For instance, if it’s plastic, but you’re just going to use it in your bedroom, chances are it’ll be okay.
  7. This is a late addition and a great suggestion by a reader: Check the weight.
    1. Think about what you’re lugging on stage. I gig – a lot – and it’s an issue.
  8. Finally, check your wallet.
    1. Everyone has a different budget, so what you’re willing to pay is entirely up to you.

Some might question item 1. But more often than not, I hear people say, “This thing LOOKS SO COOL!” So, visual appeal is a factor to consider. For me, I can’t stand the look of pre-worn guitars, no matter how good they might sound or play (though I did make an exception with my pre-worn ’59 Les Paul Replica). If my guitar shows scratches, dings, or wear marks, I want to be the one who does all that. But that’s me. Frankly, I prefer a nice, shiny guitar. Or take, for instance, my Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. For goodness sake, it’s a pedal! But that blue power coat finish and the bright blue LED just look killer on my board!🙂

At first blush, this process seems almost too simplistic. But I developed this process from reviewing gear for this blog. After all, I’d only review gear that I would consider buying. But also, since I have a regular day job and review time was at a premium, I had to find a simple, repeatable way to evaluate gear, and it had to be simple enough so that I could easily remember what I did. Turns out, I could use this process not matter where I was, and on any kind of gear.

In any case, try it out when you evaluate your next set of gear!

20161017_102120First, a little history…

My very first tube amp was a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I got it based on a conversation I’d had with Noel at Tone Merchants in Orange, CA back in 2007; soon after I created this blog. In fact, my Hot Rod Deluxe was the reason I created this blog in the first place! It started making me think about gear combinations, and thus GuitarGear.org was born in January of 2007.

I remember the conversation. It was sometime around November 2006. At the time, I was playing an earlier model Line 6 and a Roland Cube 60. Both amps served me well for playing with my church band, and from 2001 through 2006, I just played those two amps (also, I’d occasionally use a Roland JC120).

But as I started getting the gear bug (I had already started to acquire a few guitars and a bunch of pedals), I realized that where I was lacking was in the amp department. So I started going on the gear boards, and I saw a reference to Tone Merchants and gave them a call. Noel answered the phone, and we must’ve chatted for at least a half-hour. He explained how tube amps worked and how they respond to various inputs and how different types of tube configurations produce different sounds. I remember telling him that my head was spinning.

He laughed and said that the trick with tube amps is that you have to play a bunch until you find the right sound for you. This is where he made the distinction between Marshall and Fender tones, and until I knew what I liked, he recommended I don’t buy a boutique amp right away. Instead, he said that I should get a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. It was a great platform with which to start out. I could learn about swapping tubes and replacing speakers. And then once I’d gotten the hang of a tube amp, I could start looking at other amps. So I got a Hot Rod Deluxe II. Then over the next few years acquired a bunch more amps, all in search of that elusive unicorn of tone.

Now I’ve come full circle. I’m back in a band that plays mostly 60’s – 70’s classic rock, but I’ve also made a foray into writing and playing reggae. Clean is the name of the game with almost everything I’m playing right now, and if I need some dirt, I just switch on an overdrive or distortion pedal. And since I’m gigging with the band, I’ve been wanting to use a simpler combo as opposed to my separate heads and cabs. Those give me a lot of versatility, but the fewer pieces to lug, the better.

Fixing my amp

With respect to the Hot Rod, it worked for a long time and though I didn’t use as much, I still played it. But about a year ago, I was recording a new reggae song, and it just started cutting out after a few minutes. And being in a rush to lay down a track, I just switched amps, not wanting to deal with my failed amp. So I covered up the Hot Rod and put it back on its shelf, where it stayed until this morning.

I recently wrote a blog post about the Fender Ultra Chorus and said I wanted to get one. But I thought to myself this morning that rather than getting yet another amp, let me see if all that was wrong with the Hot Rod was a bad power tube. Luckily I had a matched set of spare JJ 6L6GCs in my tube drawer.

So I pulled my amp off the shelf, I plugged the power tubes in, and let the amp run for several minutes in standby mode. Then I started playing and found absolutely nothing wrong. Damn! There was that Fender clean tone! And with the scooped tone of the Eminence Red Coat “The Governor” speaker that I installed years ago, it was simply audio honey!

I love it when a fix goes this easy! Especially for me, deathly afraid of electronics, swapping out tubes is about the most I will do. But more importantly, I now my gigging amp! I never thought I’d use my Hot Rod Deluxe again, but as they say, needs must.

Yesterday, I had band rehearsal. But since I had a gig immediately after, I just brought my little ’58 Champ in a custom 1 X 10 cabinet to keep things simple. When I arrived, our drummer, whose house we use for practice, told me to take our lead singer’s normal spot as he was out of town. And sitting there was a Fender amp. I immediately said, “Since there’s already an amp there, I’ll just plug into that instead of setting up my rig, since it’ll be faster to get set up and strike down.”

At first, at a distance, I thought it was a Twin, but when I could see it closer, I saw that it was an Ultra Chorus. I had actually never heard of an Ultra Chorus and figured it was one of the cheaper solid state Fender amps. But I thought, Whatever. We’re just practicing and it’ll do…

So I just set up my EWS Little Brute Drive, plugged in my guitar and ran a cord to the amp, and flipped the amp’s switch to the “On” position. Immediately, I got a scratching sound because I was moving my hand on the fretboard. I forgot that with a solid state amp, you get sound – now.🙂 But it also gave me pause because even though the volume knob was set to 4, the amp was loud; too loud even for practice and a full band, so I turned it down to 1.

I just started twiddling to get warmed up, and I just couldn’t help but notice just how good the amp sounded. I played it purely clean with a little reverb and a touch of chorus mixed into the sound. I was floored at the tone! My Les Paul sounded so deep and pure. I just closed my eyes and started playing some clean runs and chord progressions. The tone was dropping me into the zone!

Not really thinking about it, I started playing the opening riff to “Dock of the Bay,” just vamping on the G, then our bassist joined in, then the drummer picked it up. Our keyboard player took notice and she started playing, and then I just started going off with a clean solo for an intro, nodded to our singer, and she just opened up.

Throughout practice, I was doing runs and fills or playing under our singer, or adding little touches when I was singing. I was so inspired by the tone, I just went off. After finishing Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue,” our keyboard player commented that that was the best rendition we’d played, and then our drummer said he liked the guitar work. I immediately said, “You know, when I’m feeling inspired, I just get lost in the sound, and play my ass off. This amp totally reinforces why I want to get a Fender Twin. I’m tellin’ ya, I’m loving this sound right now.” That was met with simple smiles of agreement.

So… this amp is solid state! The tube amp purist in me says that it shouldn’t sound this good. But the realist in me believes in what Duke Ellington once said: If it sounds good, it IS good. Hell! I play through a solid state amp with my acoustic rig, and it sounds freakin’ killer! This is no different. This little gem of an amp is a cheap amp. In fact, you can pick one up for $200 online. I’m going to get one. Maybe today.

I’m still going to get the Twin Reverb – eventually. But for playing clean, and just putting an overdrive or distortion box in front of the amp, this’ll do. And before anyone scrunches up their nose about a solid state amp, consider this: A great guitarist that I know, Vinnie Smith, owner of V-Picks, gigs with an old Roland Cube 30 that he mics on stage! In fact, when he does demos, you never see the amp, but he plays through his Cube 30! So like I said, if it sounds good, it IS good!

About the amp

From what I could gather, this amp was made from 1992-1994. By 1995, Fender re-dubbed it the “Ultimate Chorus.” This is a 2 X 65W solid state amp. It has two foot-switchable channels, with built-in reverb and, of course, chorus, and two input jacks. You can play it stereo at 65W, or mono at 130W.

As I said, this amp is LOUD. For the entire practice, I didn’t play over 1 1/2! Granted, our drummer was playing with rods, and we had our practice volume pretty far down. But even at gig volumes, I doubt I’d put it over 4. Or, if I do get one, I’ll see if I could swap the pot out for something that has a bit smoother taper.

As far as the distortion is concerned, playing around, I set up the 2nd channel for distortion, but it gave me pretty much what I was expecting: A pretty compressed distortion sound that was not at all pleasing to my ears, not matter how much I twiddle the EQ knobs. But clean, this amp oozes that “Fender-clean” goodness. Add a little reverb grease, and a touch of chorus, and it’s a nice smooth sound.

Apparently, the amp is my bandmate’s son’s amp. He had the EQ set up scooped, and I kept it set like that for the most part, though I did turn the bass down a bit because my Les Paul has a naturally deep sound; especially with the neck pickup.

Sourcing the amp…

Finding one isn’t going to be easy. And even after that, it’s not going to be easy finding one that’s in good working condition. There are a couple of them on E-Bay for $300+. But they’re only rated in “good” condition and sold as-is. That’s a crap shoot. Guitar Center has one for $200 but the face plate is bent up on the left side, exposing a sharp corner that could cut. Not sure where that amp is located, but I might be able to get them to ship it to my local GC so I could inspect it.

Am I Over the Guitar Thing?

I started this blog in January of 2007. For the first few years, I posted to it at least five times a week. It gained in popularity, and became a destination site for people looking for gear. In my mind, I never wanted to be an “uber” gear site where I reviewed anything and everything. Frankly, I started this blog simply as a diary to get my thoughts down on gear I was testing to potentially add to my rig.

So here I am, nine and a half years later wondering about this blog. And no, I’m not considering closing it down. It’s a useful resource for many people. But it’s most likely that unless I get some new gear that totally blows me away, I probably won’t be posting here much at all, as has been the case for the last couple of year.

Why is that?

Simply because I’ve found my tone. Being ever so pragmatic about the gear I have, I’ve sold off most of my electric guitars because I just need a couple to get the sounds I need. I’ll hold onto my amps because I just love them, but quite honestly, I only play with two amps now (though I am looking at getting a Fender Twin since I’ve been focusing a lot on Reggae as of late). As for pedals, I still have a bunch of ’em, and I’ll probably hang on to those as well.

So here are my electric and acoustic rigs right now:

Electric Rig

– Gibson ’58 Les Paul Historic with Deacci Green Faze pickups
– Slash L Guitars “Katie May”

– DV Mark Little 40 with Groove Tubes 6L6 tubes (will also take EL34’s)
– Aracom VRX22
–  Fender ’58 Champ in a custom 1 X 10 cabinet

Effects (These are switched out depending on my mood):
– Overdrive: Paul Cochrane Timmy, Tone Freaks Abunai 2
– Distortion: EWS Little Brute
– Chorus: TC Electronics Corona, HBE THC, BOSS CE-2
– Reverb: Hardwire RV-7
– Delay: Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (handwired version)
– Wah: VOX Big Bad Wah (I love this wah)

Acoustic Rig

Guitar: Yamaha APX900 Acoustic/Electric

Amp/PA: Fishman SoloAmp SA-220

– Same modulation effects as above
– Looper: Roland RC-2 LoopStation

As I mentioned above, I’m looking to get a Fender Twin. I’ve played both the new and vintage ones, and didn’t hear much of a difference between the two, and you can find decent used reissues for a great price.

But circling back to the title of this article, that electric rig that I described above is about two years old. It gets me pretty much where I want to go tonally. I’ve found my sound, so I don’t need anything else. I’m now in a cover band, and it could be argued that if I was going to be true to the original sounds, I should get the “right” equipment. But with our band, which is really a bunch of old farts, we’re just getting together and having fun. As long as it’s close, we’re good.

All that’s not to say that I won’t succumb to a GAS attack in the future, but I haven’t had a serious GAS attack in a LONG time. Chances are I probably won’t any time soon.


Several years ago, I lamented getting rid of my original BOSS CE-2 Chorus pedal, having traded it for a DigiTech multi-function pedal that I thought was cool. Hey! I only paid $79 for the CE-2, and at the time, I wasn’t very sensitive to my tone. After all, that was almost 40 years ago, and I was pretty much a rank beginner at guitar. But years later, I was missing that chimey chorus tone and just had to get another. Oh, I found one, but ended up paying almost $300 for it. But I was glad to get it, because it has taken an active role on my board since then.

But I’ve been very judicious in its use because – after all – it is a vintage pedal, and with the number of gigs I play every year, I’ve been careful about not using it full-time. So I switch off between the excellent TC Electronics Corona Chorus, Homebrew THC and the CE-2.

But today in an ad I saw on Facebook, I saw that BOSS is about to release the new Waza Craft CE-2W, which supposedly perfectly reproduces the CE-2 sound. On top of that, it includes circuitry for the original CE-1! Then to top it off, it has stereo output!

Talk about instant GAS attack! When it hits the shelves, its price point is going to be about $149 street (if what I’ve read is true). OMG! That is SO affordable! I’m going to get one when it’s available. Period. That way, I can retire my original CE-2 and put it back in its box for safe-keeping.

Why am I crazy about this? Well, one of the first amps I ever played through was a Roland JC120. Yes, the same amp that Albert King played, and the same amp that Joe Satriani used on his breakthrough “Surfin’ with the Alien.” I LOVED that amp and the chorus effect it housed. I never got the CE-1 but got the CE-2 after seeing the venerable Michael Hedges sport one in a concert. He was my idle at the time, and I loved that sound.

To me, while there are TONS of chorus pedals out there, the BOSS chorus tone is the definitive chorus tone for me. They were the first to come up with it, and frankly, they’ve got it down. So for BOSS to release a faithful reproduction with modern circuitry and the higher reliability of new components, well, it’s a no-brainer.

So what about the “Waza Craft” stuff? This was BOSS’ response to the modders and boutique pedal builders. Rather than make updates to their foundation, they took those pedals and “tweaked” them, much like modders would do, but do it on a larger scale. For other pedals like the CE-2, they kind of “reissued” them but with a twist. Very cool concept! Furthermore, from what I can gather, all Waza Craft pedals are made in Japan, though I’m not sure if that just means assembled, or completely constructed. In any case, they’re likely to be pretty high quality.

The interesting thing about the Waza Craft pedals is that they’re not expensive. What you’re getting is “boutique” upgrades or repros, but not at the boutique price.

Yeah, yeah, I know that there are some boutique purists out there, but in the end, it’s how it sounds. Even for the Waza Craft stuff. But if it sounds great and I can get it for a reasonable price, well, I’ll for that. Can you say “Bad Monkey” overdrive? (look it up if you’re not familiar).

In any case, this pedal was announced just a couple of days before Summer NAMM, so it’s not on shelves, and no, I don’t have an ETA. But I am for sure going to check it out as soon as I can!

All that said, here are a couple of GREAT videos!

Intro Video 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjbLzteYKMg][/youtube]

Sound Samples

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onJasW8E5eg][/youtube]

ampendage1Normally when I get gear, I put to the test in a gig, then report on it. And while this Gig Report is no different, it’s coming three years late. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. It wasn’t as useful to me with my 1 x 12 cab and an amp head, so I only used it for my small combos at first.
  2. I lent it to a friend soon after I got it, and he had for over three years before I finally asked for it back so I could use it at my gig this past Saturday.

My friend’s feedback was simply that he loved it. He put his Fender SuperSonic on it for several of his gigs, and it elevated his amp just nicely; not only that, he loved the way it looked! As I said in my original article, it looked like a piece of furniture. Even now after my gig, I have it my living room with an amp on it, and it looks great!

In any case, for my gig last Saturday, I brought my big Avatar 2 X 12 cabinet, and wanted to eliminate ground effect, so I needed to get my Ampendage back so I could elevate the cabinet. To make a long story short, I got the stand back from my buddy, and I was all set to go!

The first thing I noticed when I set up my rig was that the tilt-back angle was perfect! I mean perfect. Not sure what the actual angle is, but it was back just enough to elevate the projection angle, but not so steep that I couldn’t set my head on top of it. Like I said, just perfect.

And as far as getting my sound out there, the elevation combined with the tilt angle definitely got my sound out… well… so much so that I was stepping on the rest of the band. The sound guy told me I was WAY too loud, and I even turned my amp down, but I still cut through almost too much according to him. I said I that I think it has to do with my amp cab being up off the floor and tilted slightly up. It made for much better projection than my bandmates’ amps whose amps were pointed straight ahead, and on the floor. Ground effect is real folks…

Also, having the cab tilted up, even ever so slightly, made it very easy for me to hear myself, even when the drums were pounding.

But still, while this stand is incredibly useful, it still looks KILLER!

I was going to update my original post on Prince, but realized I had enough to say to write a whole new article…

Bob Lefsetz of “The Lefsetz Letter” blog is fond of saying that the true artists know that it’s about the music; that what gets remembered is the music; what penetrates through the masses is the music. Most of that is a cut against today’s music personalities who are known, not because of their music, but because of their image or how much money they make. But I’m not going to open that can of worms…

While I agree with Mr. Lefsetz on a lot of what he says, with respect to Prince, I don’t think even Bob’s arguments can really apply. Prince was an anachronism on so many levels. He gained fame from pop music, but his sound was so different from pop at the time. On the surface, he seemed part of the system, but his years-long battle against Warner proved that he didn’t buy into it. He was considered a pop star, but his musicianship transcended any definition of a pop star.

And he could play guitar.

Talk about the understatement of the year! When he played the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, et al, you could see Tom Petty in the background not at all pleased with Prince. George Harrison’s son loved it, but old, cool, BORING Tom Petty couldn’t deal with it. It was Prince’s anachronism at play, front and center. It was clear to me that Tom Petty probably saw Prince as a mere girlie pop star of yesteryear. But watching him – and listening to him – demonstrate his complete mastery over his instrument, and his depth of understanding of music in general, and his innate ability to connect with an audience, that it probably evoked massive internal conflict with Tom, which expressed itself in the reaction, “I hate this guy!”

Apparently, the backstory that I learned by watching a recent documentary on Prince was that in rehearsal he was a lot more tame. But when he got in front of an audience, all bets were off. He went for it with a vigor and a devil-may-care attitude that defied the reverence that the other rockers were attempting to convey by covering George Harrison’s song.

But that was what Prince could do. To me, he was the epitome of a Rock Star. He didn’t so much rebel against the mainstream as he walked his own path. So many people made the mistake of trying to pigeonhole him into a specific style of music. He played what he played, wrote what he wrote. Check out Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL, “She’s Always In My Hair:”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyyS0FSztKc][/youtube]

Can you say SHRED? Definitely elements of power funk in the song itself, but there’s no way you can call that guitar playing “funky.” The phrasing in his solo at around 2:06 in the video is decidedly rock, with what sounds like a mix of different modes. The song itself is an anachronism. You see Prince, and you expect funk, but here he is playing rock, and just rippin’ it up! And his final solo? It’s simply a work of rock and roll magic! So it’s not a surprise why ol’ Tom Petty might’ve appeared to dislike Prince. He wasn’t supposed to be able to do that!

And comparing his guitar playing back in 1985  to 2014 when the video above was released, he developed and evolved his playing where it transcended genres. Simply amazing!

Prince’s RRHF appearance brought me back to my early church band days when old conservatives would get on my case about being irreverent while playing. I used to say to them, “What’s the face of reverence? For you, it’s someone down on their knees, eyes closed, head pointed to the ground. That’s perfectly valid. But for me, it’s a loud, screaming electric guitar cranked up loud enough so God and the heavenly host can see how much I love my God. After all, what’s reverence.” That never went over too well with them…🙂 But they couldn’t argue with the number of people who’d attend our service so they could rock out for God.

Circling back to Bob Lefsetz, I think what set Prince apart and those people who have lived on in our memories like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Alice Cooper, KISS, AC/DC, The Who, The Beatles was not just the music. These people were true entertainers. This is in contrast to what you see today in pop. It’s all about “look at me” and “look at the money I make.” For the true entertainers, it is certainly about their music but it is also about how they presented it and touched the hearts of so many people.

Back in my old, much lighter days as a ballet dancer, the artistic director of my college dance company once told me, “You know, you started late, so technically, you’ll never be as good as the other guys. But you have natural stage presence which they don’t have. You just have to kick it up a notch, and make love to your audience.”

I laughed at the statement at the time, but I did get what he meant. As a performer, when you “make love” to your audience, it’s much like making love; that is, you’re fully present, in the moment, and willing to give all of yourself to your partner – body, mind, and soul – to form an intimate connection. And to me, that’s what sets true entertainers like Prince apart: They make love to their audience. When you watch Prince perform, he’s fully committed to his audience, giving everything he has. Even in “Purple Rain” all those years ago, I dug the performance scenes. While yes, it was acted out and part of the script, the execution of that script was all Prince making love to his audience. To me at least, it didn’t feel contrived, and was completely believable.

In any case, as opposed to lament the loss of Prince, I want to celebrate the influence he’s had on music, and quite honestly, the influence he has had on my own approach to performing. I’ll always remember him with a smile on my face!