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The Hottest Attenuator: Aracom PRX150-Pro

Looking for the “Doppler on the Dumble” series?

boss_ce2w

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!

 

replicaHere’s the Craigslist posting: http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/msg/5555910088.html

This was a pretty tough decision to make, but I realized I needed to thin my stock, as I’ve been wanting to get a Gretsch Brian Setzer for awhile, and the only way I could do that was to sell off some gear. Not that I don’t have a lot as it is…:)

I have to admit that it’s a little bittersweet for me. “Ox” has been a mainstay for me for the last few years, but I have to face the reality that I’m probably at the limit of the guitars I can have, and if I want to add another to my stable, I need to trade out duplicates. You see, I’m NOT a guitar collector. I gig and record with all the guitars I have – with the exception of some pretty old, crappy ones – and frankly, am not in the financial position yet where I can have thousands of dollars worth of guitars sitting around. Besides, my wife, God love her, being the pragmatic sort, would question not using my instruments.:)

So… life goes on, and I need to do some stock rotation… Check out the Craigslist posting. My contact info is there if you have questions.

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

I’m in a waking dream right now; caught in the solace after a night spent in the presence of pure beauty; her siren-song resonating into the deepest recesses of my soul. Closing my eyes, I see the visage of her elegant curves. I can feel the smoothness of her golden-brown skin. I can hear the dulcet tones she sings from my ministrations as I gently caress her smooth body and run my fingers up and down her neck. She is Katie May, and she is my lover.

Dirty mind… Katie May is my custom guitar made by Perry Riggs, good friend and luthier of Slash L Guitars. I have had her for a few years now, and every time I play this guitar, I’m transported to Never Land, and start waxing poetically; such is the effect she has on me. It’s visceral, sensual. I’m completely transported to another world when I hear the sounds she produces. When I play this guitar it’s the musical equivalent of making love. While there’s not an exchange of body fluids, there is certainly an exchange of energy; a connection that is too difficult to describe and would only be diminished by mere words. It’s like I’m having an affair!

To be honest, I’ve kept her at home and played her mostly in my studio because she’s so precious to me that I don’t want to even leave the possibility of her getting dinged or – God forbid – stolen at a gig. But last night, I decided to take her with me to band rehearsal. Don’t know why, but I felt she was calling to me. Felt this little voice in my head saying, “You need to play me… I want to sing…” So I packed her up in a gig bag, and went to rehearsal.

From the very first notes I played, I knew it was going to be a magical night for me. Clean or dirty, Katie May’s voice rang sweet and clear; never too deep, never too shrill. Just pure musical tones that just set my heart on fire. I had only played out with her with my old church band. But as both primary guitarist but also pianist, she didn’t get much play time. But with my new band, where I’m the lead guitarist, any guitar will get a workout, and Katie May proved her worthiness as a workhorse. So I’ve made the decision that for my new band, she will be Guitar Numero Uno.

Here’s a quick clip that – at least to me – demonstrates her incredible voice. In this song, she was plugged directly into my trusty Aracom VRX18 Plexi.

Last night, I played her though a Fender DRRI Limited Edition. Talk about a divine pairing! But truth be told, the real test for her will be this coming Saturday when the band plays a benefit concert. I’m SO looking forward to showing her off!

spearheadI’ve had several offers for reviews from manufacturers over the past year or so, but since I wasn’t in a band at the time and only doing solo gigs, I’d turn them down. You see, from the outset of writing this blog, I didn’t want to be a “me too” review site and review everything under the sun. The main reason was that since this blog is essentially a labor of love and done when I had available time, I had to be very choosy about what I’d review. To narrow down the list, I decided I’d only write about gear that I would personally use, or had real potential of being used in the studio or playing out. And that usage mainly revolved around gigging with my band.

But since I’ve joined a new band, my GAS has been ignited, so to say, so that I’m now much more inclined to look at gear and write about it. And it’s funny how energy works… As soon as I started thinking about getting and writing about gear, I started getting contacted by gear makers. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. But regardless of that, a recent contact I got was from a company called “Iron Age Guitar Accessories,” asking me if I’d take a look at their bone and horn picks.
jazzrtI have to admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for picks made with natural material. I still use my Red Bear Trading picks regularly, and the fact that the Iron Age picks are made from actual bone and horn – materials I’ve never played with before – intrigued me enough to accept the offer.

I asked to review the Spearhead (shown above on the left) and the Jazz RT picks (shown to the right). They have two other sets: Jazz XL and Jazz3, but I only asked for the picks that I thought would fit my usage. Let me share my first impressions. I’ll go over my general impressions then talk about each individually.

General

Before I received the picks, I was a little concerned that because they’re a natural material, they might not be very durable or have that much longevity. But once I got them, it’s hard to believe they’re made of a natural material. They’re absolutely solid.

As for how they feel while holding them, they feel awesome! There’s nothing like the feel of a natural material; they feel “grippier” to me. For my solo acoustic work, I’ve been using Wegen picks “Twins.” These are great-feeling guitar picks, but my only beef with them is that despite the grip ridges etched into the picks, they slip. I don’t have that problem with my Red Bear Trading picks even though they don’t have any grip etchings. The Iron Age picks, on the other hand, are etched with cool designs that doubly serve as grip ridges. But the material itself is more grippy to me as compared to my Wegen picks, and that bore itself out on my Saturday-night gig where I used the Jazz RT.

All in all, I’m very excited about these picks! So now, onto my impression of the individual picks…

The Spearhead

Iron Age states on their site that this is a shredder’s pick. I can see that. It’s smaller than a standard pick (though bigger than a Jazz 3). It’s sharp and pointy for pinpoint accuracy while picking out notes and it’s a dream for pinch harmonics. It’s nice and thick without being too beefy, so movement over the strings is nice. But having said all that, this is just a great pick for playing electric guitar. The point brings out the highs, while the bevel makes it easy to move over the strings. The notches are actually cool, and make a nice guide for sliding the length of the string for a dramatic slide move before a power chord.:)

But I’m not a shredder, and love this pick! For playing solos, I prefer a pointy end because I want the highs to help cut through the mix. Plus the pointy-end provides much better note clarity. So for even one who plays at a much slower pace, this is a great pick! I’ll be using it this week at band rehearsal. I can’t wait!

The Jazz RT

As I mentioned above, I played with the Jazz RT this past Saturday evening. For me, this is the perfect pick for acoustic guitar. Its slightly larger diameter and round, beveled point produce a nice, balanced tone, and for leads (I solo over looped phrases), I got this incredible hollow-body tone out of my Yamaha APX900. This pick has just become my go-to pick for my solo acoustic work. And that’s saying a lot because I do roughly 150 solo acoustic gigs a year, so this will be a true test of the pick’s durability. Luckily you get two in a set, so I think I’m set for at least the next several months, if not the next year. It will depend on the wear.

I also love the pick’s tapered bevel. The beveling starts at about the midway point (lengthwise), then tapers to a nice edge at the point. That’s not apparent in the pictures, but what it amounts to is making it VERY nice for strumming. I strum with the pick angled at about 30-45 degrees, and the beveling really helps in this. I have to say that Iron Age really thought through the design of the Jazz RT.

Would I use it for electric? I’m not really sure. Perhaps. I see this pick as a great strumming pick. The point certainly has a nice edge to it, but the notes will come off much more warm. I prefer my electric notes to sit in the higher frequencies.

In any case, these picks arrived at just the right time because my Wegen Twins are finally showing their age after two years of regular use. Thee Wegen’s are still great, but there’s a lot to be said about these Jazz RT picks!

Overall Impression

I think Iron Age is onto something with this material. The feel and tone of these picks are perfectly suited to my style of play. I’m looking to be using these picks for a long time!

Like many, I tend to ignore ads when I’m surfing the Web, especially on Facebook. But this morning, I saw a picture on a Facebook ad that really intrigued me, so I clicked on it. It just so happens that I had been considering adding some kind of storage rack for my guitars to my living room, but the solutions I had seen, while certainly serviceable, weren’t furniture-quality. Wouldn’t make a big difference to me, but the boss-lady would not like it at all. Enter DRS Racks, modular, furniture-grade guitar and bass racks.

Now THAT’s totally cool. The racks come in two styles: Alpha and Bravo. Both can be stacked (Alpha on top of Bravo) to form a single unit (they call it A/B, duh:) ), so you can store up to 14 guitars in a single unit, and from what I can see, it doesn’t take up much space at all. Here are features of the Alpha rack:

  • Built from solid, environmentally sustainable Bamboo
  • Holds 7 instruments (Bass, Guitar, Acoustic / Hollowbody and Electric)
  • Replaceable finish safe padded inserts are designed to allow easy access while keeping your instrument from falling out of the rack.
  • The padded base can be assembled in two directions to help accommodate oddly shaped instruments.
  • Pre-drilled to stack on Bravo rack
  • 38″ w X 33″ h x 18″ d
  • Designed to fit in the most compact flat box, these racks ship anywhere in the world and assemble with a single (provided) 4mm Allen wrench.

Made from Bamboo? I LOVE things made from Bamboo! As an amateur gourmet cook, I’ve had several cutting boards made from bamboo, and I won’t use any other kind. The reason? Even if bamboo gets wet and warps, it’ll return to its original shape when it dries. Bamboo is also lightweight, but extremely durable. You can gouge bamboo, but it won’t chip because it’s a fibrous grain.

From what I could see from the pictures, these are beautifully finished. So, problem solved! A utilitarian piece that looks like furniture! For more information, check DRS Racks’ site: http://www.drsracks.com/.

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