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Welcome to GuitarGear.org! Established in January of 2007, we’re still going strong and growing! I want to personally thank everyone for their support! You’ve made this site what it is today, and that’s a major destination for finding out about gear. I invite you to explore the site! There are over 900 articles and discussion on gear and the number grows each day. If you want to keep up to date, please use the subscription area to your right! Cheers!

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The Hottest Attenuator: Aracom PRX150-Pro

Looking for the “Doppler on the Dumble” series?

Of course it’s not. But that is a purely subjective. I’ve played with a number of solid state amps over the years: Roland JC-120, Line 6 Flextone III, Roland Cube 60, and most recently, the BOSS Katana 50 and Artist amps. The sounds I’ve gotten from all those amps have been stellar. Especially when I was playing my old Cube 60, I’d show up to a gig and people couldn’t believe the sound I was able to coax out of that amp.

And speaking of the Cube, Vinni Smith, maker and proprietor of V-Picks guitar picks, once told me that (at least at the time) he gigged with a Roland Cube 30. Now this guy can play!

A visitor to this site left a comment recently claiming that no solid state amp could ever match the feel and dynamics of a tube amp and then further going on to say that those of us who have or like solid-state amps like “cheap” sound. I actually laughed out loud at that statement, but to be honest, that condescending attitude pissed me off.

I’m one of those “tube amps are the only good amps” folks. Now I’m following my own philosophy that I share here: If it sounds good and plays good, it is good.

But cheap sound? Cheap sound my ass! Tell that to the likes of Albert King and Andy Summers and Joe Satriani. Tell that to the thousands of people who use solid state units like the Kemper Profiling Amp, Fractal Audio AxeFX, and Line 6 Helix, not to mention the thousands who’ve purchased Katana and competitor solid state amps. And speaking of the Helix, tell Pete Thorn his sound is cheap.

For me, I’ve gigged with both the Katana 50 and Katana Artist a number of times. With the 50, the guys in a band I played in several months ago remarked how big the sound was. The Katana Artist has an even bigger sound.

I get it. Haters gonna be haters. Ain’t nothin’ I can do about that. But to whoever it was who made that comment, there’s lots of evidence and more importantly, lots of well-known artists that prove you wrong.

I admit that I struggled when I first heard and played the Katana 50. How could an amp that wasn’t all-tube sound and play this good? I quickly got over that once I started gigging with amp. But like it or not, technology has now caught up to the point where the lines are blurred between solid-state and tube amps.

But then, maybe they were always blurred. Looking back at the old Roland JC-120, no one could argue about its performance and sound quality as a clean platform. The distortion on it absolutely sucked. But that’s not what you bought it for in the first place. You put pedals in front of it and used the on-board chorus. And make no bones about it. That amp has been around for over 40 years and used by lots of artists.

Fine. For the tube amp cognoscenti, go ahead and believe what you believe. I’m not here to change your minds. But for me and thousands of others across the world, we’ll enjoy the fruits of what new technology has to bring.

Answer: Because a bike only has two pedals

I saw that joke today and laughed. But it’s kind of true. Even though I’ve seriously shrunken the number of pedals on my board, I still use more than two. I know a few players that plug directly into their amp, and that’s it. But at least in my experience, they tend to be in the minority.

For me, I have to have three pedals minimum: Reverb, Analog Delay, and Chorus. But since I like different overdrives, I usually have one or two on my board. For a little icing on the cake, I also use a T-Rex Quint Machine, and I have a wah on my board because it’s always good to have a wah. 🙂

Mind you, these things aren’t crutches. I use them to enhance my sound. Admittedly, I used to use my overdrives as a crutch to get some sustain and compression. But I’ve been playing long enough now where I rely more on my fingers to get my sustain. It makes me work harder and lets me fight with my guitar a bit. With mod pedals like ‘verb and delay, it’s a subtle thing to add some ambiance to my sound.

But yeah, I dig havin’ me some effects…

Finding Your Own Sound

I’ve written articles about finding your own sound in the past. But the other day, I was reminded of the importance of this while watching the greawt documentary on Netflix called “Inside Bill’s Brain,” that documents Bill Gates’ philanthropy projects coupled with a history of his involvement in Microsoft.

So what does this have to do with finding your sound? At the end of the third episode, there was an old video clip from a speech that Mary Gates gave. In it, she said the following:

Each one of us has to start developing his or her own definition of success. And when we have these specific expectations of ourselves, we’re more likely to live up to them. Ultimately, it’s not what you get or, even what you give. It’s what you become.

That hit me like a ton of bricks! It’s so applicable to so many aspects of our lives, but my first reaction to it was with respect to music. In my musical career, you might say that how I’ve progressed has been a bit unorthodox. I’m mostly self-taught, though I did take piano lessons for almost a year when I was 12 years old. As such, I didn’t measure my progression in music in conventional ways. I learned fairly organically, and to be completely honest, my learning process bordered on the osmotic.

And with gear, I kind of took the same approach. I’ve been gigging and recording regularly for almost 40 years so the gear I’ve gotten has almost always been within the context of performance. While I love to listen to music, I’ve never been all that interested in sound like someone else, and quite frankly, didn’t want to invest the time in getting the exact same gear as my guitar idols.

But that actually helped me find my sound. I learned that I can’t sound like anyone else, and no one else can sound exactly like me. My gear’s different. My technique is different. I realized that pretty early.

What Mary Gates said simply affirmed my own belief that we are all the captains of our own destinies. That no one can define success for us. We have to define it ourselves.

It really is true. It’s not what we get or even what we give. It’s what we become that matters. And what we become is wholly determined by what we define is our measure of success.

Summary: The flagship amp of the Katana series, the Artist provides the ultimate in versatility to an already versatile line of amps. But with its larger cabinet and WazaCraft speaker tuned specifically for the amp, it has a richness in sound that surpasses the rest of the line.

Pros: As with the Katana 50, I have lots of praise to heap on this amp. The sounds it produces in addition to the feel and dynamics are incredible as with the other amps in the line, but the Line Out is really the secret weapon of this amp. And having the cabinet resonance and Line Out Air Feel – which simulates microphone distance – on the front panel makes it super-easy to dial in your direct signal to a board or a DAW.

Cons: My only nit with this is that I wish it had at 25 Watt setting. The difference between the 50 Watt and 0.5 Watt is so drastic, it makes me wish for a “tweener” power level.

Tone Bone Score: 5 
No two ways about it: This is a great amp.

Street Price: $599.99 

I’ve already written so much about this amp since I got it, but I’ll reiterate: This ain’t yo daddy’s solid-state amp. Ever since I got the Katana 50, I couldn’t believe that a solid-state amp could have touch and dynamics similar to a tube amp, let alone get as big a sound. And as I said in my review of the 50, I really tried to make it suck, but couldn’t. I did the same with the Artist.

Granted, when I first got it, the speaker was absolutely fresh. But now that I’ve been playing the amp daily for the last couple of weeks, the speaker is breaking in and the sound is becoming silky-smooth. I’ve done four gigs with the Artist and the sound just gets better every time I play it.

On top of that, I’ve been using recording with it daily. The Line Out is incredible. The sound I get out of it is so natural and so very close to a miked cabinet that I haven’t bothered to set up any of my tube amps. Of course, that could change depending on the song I’m recording because you just can’t duplicate something like a Plexi.

But make no bones about it, though it is said that the speaker was tuned to approximate an old Greenback through a vintage Marshall, this has more to do with feel and dynamics and less about sound. As I’ve said before, though the Katana is technically a modeling amp, using BOSS’ TubeLogic technology, it wasn’t voiced to sound like a Marshall or a Fender. It has a sound all its own.

Fit and Finish

Though only 45 lbs., this amp is built like a tank. The cabinet is MDF and though there have been comments circulating that it would’ve been better for it to be made of solid pine or birch, the semi-closed back makes it incredibly resonant and able to capture the low frequencies very well.

I absolutely love that the controls are on a front panel! It makes it so convenient to tweak during a gig, which I had to do last weekend at church. We have a really finicky PA system (what can I say, it’s old), and for some reason, my guitar was sounding horrible through the Line Out. But all I had to do was turn the Line Out Air Feel to “Blend” and all was right. I had the same setup as the previous week and it sounded killer. Everything on the board was also set up the same. That the Air Feel control was on the front panel made it super convenient; not to mention that I didn’t have to go into the software to make that change…

As far as controls are concerned, if you have any of the other amps in the line, you’ll immediately be familiar with this control layout. The big difference is the exposure of the cabinet resonance and line out air feel knobs. On the back, there are jacks for a GA-FC (which I highly recommend getting), extension speakers (16 ohms), headphone/record out, MIDI in, expression pedal, an effects loop jacks. In other words, pretty much everything that you need.

As far as the GA-FC foot controller is concerned, that’s a must-have as it allows you to quickly switch channels but also turn effects on and off on the fly (which I find extremely useful). In addition, you can hook up an expression pedal directly to the GA-FC so you don’t need to run two long cables from the amp to use the foot controller and an expression pedal. The GA-FC also has an extra jack for a volume pedal.

How It Sounds

One striking difference between the Artist and the 50 is the Acoustic setting on the amp. My old 50 sounded okay with an Acoustic guitar, but the Artist has a rich, deep tone that rivals my old SWR California Blonde which I have always felt was the pinnacle of acoustic guitar amplification. The semi-closed back really helps in capturing and projecting the rich lows of an acoustic guitar. In fact, the lows are so good, that I have to roll them off a little on the EQ.

To date, I still haven’t miked the amp. For recording, the Line Out produces such a nice, natural sound that I haven’t seen a need to mic it. This is evidenced by the dynamics in the wave-form it produces. It is VERY dynamic, much like the output I’d get from miking the amp.

I’ve already posted these clips, but here’s a playlist I created:

The first three clips are of my acoustic guitar through the Line Out. The EQ was all neutral. With the last two songs, I wanted to see how the Line Out performed within the context of a song. Someone in a forum kind of bagged on me posting a song and should have only posted raw clips. But I argued that while raw sound clips are useful to a point, you really see how something performs when it’s done with a song. And in that regard, the Katana Artist’s Line Out is AWESOME!

Ease of Use

Like the rest of the Katana line, this amp is easy to set up. Even the Tone Studio software is pretty straight-forward to use. Some people might argue that there are lots of things to tweak and that, by virtue, makes it much more complicated. But I want to make absolutely clear that I believe the amp’s natural sound is great by its own merit. A lot of the tweaks and patches I’ve seen people make try to make the amp sound like another amp. But for me, I love the way the amp sounds on its own. So for me, it’s simply a matter of dialing in the gain settings and EQ. Since I make limited use of the onboard effects, I don’t do much tweaking, so set up – at least for me – is super-easy.

How It Plays

As I mentioned in my original Katana 50 review, this is what endeared me to the Katana in the first place. It was the first amp that gave me tube-like response and dynamics. But more than that, it didn’t feel as if the response and dynamics were simulated or artificial. In fact, it felt completely organic and natural, just as I would have expected with a tube amp. The Katana Artist inherits this but with the larger cabinet and much much better speaker, that responsiveness is coupled to great sound.

Is the Katana Price-Competitive?

One of the arguments people have made about the Artist is that its price starts getting into the territory of some low wattage amps. But the one thing you have to keep in mind is that while this is true, a tube amp at that price will not have anywhere near the features that come with the Katana by default. Plus, let’s face it, amps at that price are going to be fairly low wattage. They will not have the big sound that you can get out of the Katana. Furthermore, tube amps at this price point will most likely be heads. You have to spend more to get a cabinet.

So is the Katana price-competitive? To me at least, the value it brings for the price makes it a totally viable option.

Should You Upgrade?

This really is elephant in the room with respect to the Artist, so as opposed to giving you a pat answer, I’m going to take a bit of time with this…

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have considered the Artist had I not given my Katana 50 to my youngest son. I was using the amp mainly for gigging, and I was perfectly happy with it. I certainly didn’t need a 100 Watt amp, especially considering the venues that I normally play. The Katana 50 was plenty loud; besides, when I needed sound reinforcement, it was simply a matter of miking the amp.

But one shortcoming I saw with the 50 was that I didn’t like to use it for recording. I was not at all a fan of the headphone/record out. From that perspective, I was just fine recording one of my tube amps and using an IR and using the 50 as a pure gigging amp. But all that changed with the Artist. The Line Out output quality is killer, and as I spend a bulk of my playing in my home studio, the Artist is quickly becoming my go-to for my basic guitar part foundation, if not more. So for me at least, upgrading made a ton of sense.

But for those of you who are a bit conflicted about upgrading, it really depends on how useful it would be for you. For me, I’ve discovered a TON of versatility in it due to the Line Out. But then again, I’m actively gigging and recording, so it is invaluable in those respects.

But to be honest, take away the Line Out, and the only glaring thing that is better with the Artist is the sound quality which is much richer than both the 50 and the 100. It’s obvious at all volume levels. That bigger cabinet definitely makes a difference. And for some, while the obvious difference in sound quality could be a deciding factor, for me – and I know it sounds crazy given how much I love this amp – it wouldn’t have been enough for me to upgrade. And to be completely honest, it wasn’t until I started using the Line Out in recordings that I truly discovered its real value for me.

So am I or am I not recommending the amp? Well… yes and no. I’m basing my assessment of the amp on its versatility in both stage and studio use. And as far as versatility is concerned, I can give a resounding yes. But I have to be transparent and say that if you’re just going to play the amp in your bedroom, or just want a straight-forward gigging amp, stick with what you have for now. It’s great, but it’s not enough of an upgrade.

Seriously.

Though GuitarGear.org essentially started out as a vanity site, an online diary for me to write down my thoughts about the gear I’d get or evaluate, one thing I vowed to myself when I started this blog was to never talk out of my ass with respect to gear. I had been online in some way, shape, or form since the ’80s, long before there was an official Internet. The amount of bloviating that occurred online even at that time annoyed me as people would speak about subjects at length and really have no facts to back up what they were saying. That wasn’t going to be me.

Oh yes, I can write – a lot. But I wasn’t going to get trapped in my own misinformation by talking out of my ass. So I made sure that when I wrote about gear I did my best to become as informed and knowledgeable as possible. Take, for instance, when I started writing about tube amps. Though I’m no electronics expert, I understand the fundamental workings of how they work; enough to have an intelligent conversation. I did a lot of research and talked to and even befriended experts on the subject. This dogged determination to be as well-informed as possible carried over into my life outside of writing about guitar gear.

I now know way more about how toilets work than I probably cared to know in the first place…

A couple of years ago, I purchased three American Standard Champion 4 toilets. This is the model that American Standard claims can flush a small bucket of golf balls in one flush. When I first got the toilets, they worked like magic. I couldn’t believe how well they worked. Then after about a year and half, a one of them started requiring a couple of flushes to fully evacuate the bowls. And it got so bad that it would take a few flushes to clear the bowl, so I declared that toilet off-limits. Luckily it was the master bath toilet and not a guest bathroom toilet.

I jumped on the Web and tried all sorts of things, from using a snake to even clearing out the flush jets under the rim of the bowls. I did the bucket test to see if my toilet flushed well by pouring a bucket of water into the bowl. I tried everything with respect to the drain portion of the toilet.

After being frustrated several times, I finally decided to find out how a toilet works to see if I could get any insight on what could be causing my slow flush. What I found out was that toilets flush based on a siphon action. That is, the contents of the bowl are NOT pushed out by the flushing action. They’re actually PULLED down the drain! If you look at the bottom of your toilet, you will see the outline of the siphon. It is the tubing that curves upward.

The jets under the rim serve to rinse off the sides of the bowl but more importantly, they also serve to fill the bowl, which creates pressure in the siphon at the bottom of the toilet. When that tube gets filled, and the water starts flowing down the drain, it creates a vacuum that pulls the rest of the water out of the bowl.

The velocity of the water filling the bowl and subsequently the siphon is extremely important. If the velocity is too slow, the siphon will not fill fast enough and create a vacuum. In my case, the first flush would just barely fill the siphon and the second flush would take it over the edge, so to speak.

So given that, I took a little nail and started clearing the jets of scale and build-up. It was pretty bad as the water in my area has a high concentration of calcium. Great for our bones and teeth, but horrible for plumbing. But even that physical clearing of the jets didn’t work. The velocity was still too low, which meant that there was a lot of build-up within the rim tube itself.

Finally, after a little more research, I saw that there was a way to chemically clear the rim. So I got a gallon of CLR. I poured half of it down the overflow tube and let it sit for a day, then before I went to bed, I poured the other half down the tube.

When I poured the first half gallon, the cleaner was barely trickling out the jets. I had seen videos where you could see it streaking down the sides of the bowl! I realized then that there must’ve been a lot of buildup in the rim. When I poured the second half-gallon down the tube, it flowed much better. The end result was that this morning, I flushed the toilet and it worked like it was new!

Now you know more about toilets than you ever wanted to know in the first place!

The point to this is that had I not been so driven in the first place to do research, I would’ve never solved the problem and would’ve just purchased a new toilet. I just saved myself $300-$500!

EWF Guitarists Serg Dimitrijevic and Morris O’Connor

Last night, I went to see Earth Wind & Fire at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA. I first saw them way, way back in the late ’70’s. What a show and what showmanship! At least for me, at the time, nothing compared to their show replete with lasers and pyrotechnics and magic. At the end of the show, they all climbed into a pyramid that lifted off the stage, then with a bang, broke apart to reveal – nothing. They did a disappearing act!

Almost fifty years later, their show is much much much more tame but no less entertaining. And the fact that the three remaining original members have been doing this for almost fifty years and sounding just as good is incredible!

And while most might think that as a funk band, they’re all about the horns, in actual fact, guitars have always played a major role in their music. They may not be front and center, but without those funky guitars in the background, the music wouldn’t be complete.

For the past few years, they’ve EWF has used two incredible guitarists: Morris O’Connor as lead guitar and Serg Dimitrijevic on rhythm. These guys aren’t household names in the guitar world which tends focus on jazz, blues, and rock, but they are accomplished session musicians and producers in their own right.

As far as playing for EWF is concerned, they’re tight Tight TIGHT! Morris plays these incredibly funky lead lines underneath the songs, while Serg plays some of the most funky rhythms I’ve heard. Make no mistake: Playing funk is hard. It’s palm-muting, plucking bass lines and two- or three-note chords up and down the fret board. And you have to combine that with a syncopated funk rhythm, so all that technique must be applied while you feel the rhythm. And you can’t be off the tempo because it’ll throw off everyone else in the band.

Neither of these guys is flashy. They both get solos in the concert, though Morris naturally gets more as the lead guitarist. The have a workmanlike approach and are the ideal sidemen. They’re positioned stage-right and -left and tucked a bit back in the corner; as I said, they’re not front and center. But you can definitely hear the both of them in the mix. Their guitars are essential to the overall sound of the band.

I was working on a new Praise & Worship song the other day and had one of those moments where I realized that something was missing. I had just finished adding piano and organ which made the sound bigger, but I wanted it to be even more expansive. Then it hit me: A big, distorted guitar would do the trick.

And for that sound, the only thing I could think of and what was repeating inside my head was, “Plexi… plexi… plexi…” To me, and I know I’m dating myself, but that is the big guitar sound that I grew up with – it’s my archetype. So I took out my Aracom VRX18 which is an 18-watt Plexi clone and went to town. I didn’t even give it a second thought that that was the big sound I needed. Combine that with a Les Paul, and it’s just sonic goodness.

After I mixed and mastered the song, I got to thinking that there are gear sounds that I equate to archetypes. Mind you, these represent my own perspectives. Others will have their own “truth.” But here are mine:

Clean Tones

For me, doesn’t matter the guitar, but the archetypal clean tone has to be a Fender Clean; but not one of the low-wattage Fenders like a Blues Jr. (I actually can’t stand that tone). But a Deluxe Reverb or a Twin. Oooo, that clean tone is magnificent! But if I’m not using a Fender, what I look for is a deep, haunting clean.

Chorus

I have several chorus pedals, but the archetype for me is the BOSS CE-2. It was the first pedal of any kind I ever bought, and its sound sets the bar for all choruses that I consider. I’ve recently retired my CE-2 because I don’t want to ruin it. So I’m probably going to replace it with a BOSS Waza Craft repro, which sounds very, very close. The only thing that it appears to be missing is the slight gain boost that is sort of the trademark of the original CE-2. But that’s okay. The sound is right on par.

Overdriven Amp

I already mentioned that the Plexi sound was my archetype. I’ve played or owned various models from 18 Watt Blues Breakers all the way up to 100 Watt 1959. Even the low wattage amps with the right speaker have a huge sound to me. And mind you, it’s not just “Marshall” breakup. There’s a growl in these amps that’s absolutely distinctive.

Acoustic Guitar

Without any reservation, it’s the Gibson J-45. Ever since I played one a few years ago, I knew that I had to have one. I finally got the J-45 Avant-Garde that technically isn’t a true J-45 because it has a walnut body and maple neck and Richlite fingerboard, and it’s a cutaway. But it has all the mojo of the venerable J-45. I’ve played lots of different acoustics, but there is something about the J-45 that just speaks to me. For others, it’s a Martin sound; others, a Fender or Guild sound. But for me, it’s J-45 all the way.

Electric Guitar

I actually wasn’t going to add this section, because I have a bunch of electric guitars. But then I realized that unless I’m looking to get a specific tone, I always go to my ’58 Les Paul Reissue, which I have equipped with Deacci Green Faze pickups, based on Peter Green’s out of phase pickups. I always dug his sound from the early days of Fleetwood Mac. “Oh Well” still pumps me up!

But my backup – actually I shouldn’t really call it a backup because I use it a lot – is my custom Slash L that has Lollar Imperials. So with that in mind, I think

Delay

I’ve always preferred analog delay for some reason, and I like it on the darker side. So for me, the Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay sets the standard. Handwired or PCB, doesn’t matter. It produces that deep, rich analog delay that I absolutely love.

Reverb

We kind of get into murky territory here because there are TONS of reverb options out there. Personally, I’m not a big fan of spring reverb, even Fender, which frankly is what I consider to be the best spring reverb out there. But let me qualify that I don’t like spring reverb slathered on, but I do like a subtle spring reverb.

I also like digital reverb models, especially the Lexicon algorithms. I’ve used those as PA board inserts and in pedals like the Hardwire RV-1 Reverb. I’m currently using the excellent TC Electronic Hall of Fame, but I will probably go to the Digitech Polara, which uses Lexicon reverb algorithms.

Are there other archetypes? Probably so, but I just can’t think of them right now, but these are the major ones that stick out for me right now.