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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?

Up until recently, you had two options in the digital modeling world: A full-blown modeling amp (BOSS Katana, Fender ToneMaster, etc.) or, a dedicated, self-contained amp sim and cab unit like the Helix, AxeFX, or Kemper. If you’ve read this blog as of late, I’ve personally gone the full-blown digital amp direction. I couldn’t be happier with how it works for me for live performances. And it works great in the studio as well.

But in my last recording session, I thought to myself that it would be great to have a compact, standalone unit that I could just plug into my interface and record; a middle ground between full-blown amp and a self-contained unit. One could argue that that could easily be accomplished by a Helix or AxeFx. No argument there. But what has kept me from going that route is the complexity of those units. I abhor deep tweaking. For me, I just want to twiddle a few knobs and be done with it. I want to get to making music.

And maybe the Iridium is the answer to that. With only six knobs and two three-way switches, giving me access to three different amp models, it could very well be that middle ground.

Granted it has much more in common with the Helix-like units being a self-contained unit itself. And though you can load your own IRs into it, you can’t do much more than that, whereas with the Helix and the like, you can affect everything in your virtual signal chain. For some, that’s a panacea for all their guitar sound needs. But for others like me who just want something basic, the Iridium seems to be a much better fit.

As for live use, at least as far as I’m concerned, I don’t know if it’s something I’d use live on a regular basis, though there’s one particular venue where I have an FOH tech that can send my guitar sound back to me where it would be useful. Where I know that I’d get the most use out of this is for recording.

I shared this video on my post about Keven Eknes and it demonstrates just how good the Iridium can sound plugged directly into an interface:

Granted, that dude is an absolutely killer player. But according to him, he just went direct into his interface. Reverb and delay were added in software.

As with all Strymon products, they don’t come cheap. At $399, it’s definitely a serious investment, which unfortunately is a limiting factor for me. Whether or not I decide to make the investment is going to depend heavily on being able to demo the unit to see if it works for me. Luckily, I know a few people who are considering getting this so hopefully I’ll be able to try it out.

For the past several years, I’ve had some sort of vocal/harmony processor in my solo acoustic rig. Some were all-in-one units that combined vocal processing along with guitar effects (DigiTech Vocalist Live, TC Helicon VoiceLive Play Acoustic and GTX). Others were focused mainly on vocals with limited guitar processing such as my trusty TC Helicon Harmony G XT. All in all, a vocal processor/harmonizer has become an invaluable component in my solo acoustic rig.

But like any gear that gets used often, it eventually wears out. I’m actually surprised my Harmony G XT lasted over 6 years because these units while they certainly look and feel as if they’ll last a long time, they just don’t stand the rigors of regular gigging, with some units like the VoiceLive Play units not lasting more than a year. Granted, I gig far less now than I used to, so chances are that the unit I eventually will get should last a bit longer. Let’s hope.

So I’ve boiled my search down to two units: The BOSS VE-8 Acoustic Singer and the TC Helicon VoiceLive 3. Both offer similar features, and from what I can tell, the sound quality of both units is pretty similar, though I do give an edge to the TC Helicon. But admittedly that could be bias since I’ve been using TC Helicon units for so long.

I’m kind of agonizing over which unit to get. All things being equal, I’d probably get the VE-8 because it’s less than half the price of the VoiceLive 3. BUT the big mark against it is complexity of the unit. You can set all sorts of stuff on the pedal, but to get to them and set them, you have to do a lot of knob and button twiddling.

Plus, there’s so much packed into the unit, it seems you have to have the manual handy; unless, of course, all you do is tweak it constantly and memorize everything. Um…. NOT! Clearly this is a unit where it’s best to preset everything you need for a gig then make adjustments in between gigs or on long breaks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve usually found that kind of stuff fairly tedious. On the other hand, at $299, damn! That’s VERY approachable.

In contrast, in typical TC Helicon style, the VoiceLive 3 is set up to make setting parameters incredibly easy. From what I can tell, you can set everything from the foot switches entirely, making it so much easier to use than the VE-8. That has always been a hallmark of TC. It’s clear they put a lot into their user interfaces to ensure unparalleled ease of use.

On top of that, based on past experience, the TC Helicon harmony algorithm is incredibly natural-sounding and very fast, with no detectable lag. It’s actually pretty amazing. I’ve purchased and demoed five different TC Helicon units over the years, and have always loved how good the harmonies sound.

But the high-quality voices and ease of use of TC Helicon units are much more expensive than the competition. In fact, the VoiceLive 3 Extreme, which seems to be the one that all the distributors carry instead of the regular unit is over twice the price of the VE-8. Furthermore, the VoiceLive 3 has been plagued with reliability issues since its release.

But to be fair, from what I’ve been able to find out through research is that these problems are easily addressable and don’t require spending money on repair, though you will have to get electrical contact spray and a star Allen bit. I have both, so no expense for me. The problem stems from dust build-up and metal shavings from the switches themselves and from the internal Micro SD card either coming loose or collecting dust in the mount. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain, but the fact that the known issues are addressable makes the reliability issues less of a deterrent.

So I’ve got my work cut out for me in figuring out which one to get. I’m leaning heavily towards the VoiceLive 3 because frankly, ease of use is very important to me. But the big factor is simply this: Am I willing to pay over twice as much for that? It certainly does give me pause.

Several years ago, I wrote an article entitled, “Are New Overdrives Irrelvant?” It was a blog entry I wrote during the heyday of this blog where I was evaluating gear left and right; especially overdrive pedals. I answered my own question with a resounding “No” because of all the different overdrive sounds available.

Think about it. You have all sorts of overdrive sounds to choose from: Op Amp, Diode, Tube, Analog Tape, MOSFET, JFET, Germanium and Silicon Transistors, not to mention profiled and modeled overdrive sounds, just to name a few. They all make different sounds. And luckily for us, there’s an overdrive sound or many overdrive sounds that will be pleasing to us.

And it’s why I’ll never tire of overdrives. For instance, this afternoon, I watched a couple of demos of the Strymon Iridium and Deco pedals. The Iridium is a modeler/IR pedal (it sounds freakishly good, by the way), while the Deco is like a dual analog tape machine that provides saturation/overdrive on one side with tape delay on the other, then uses blend and wobble knobs to adjust the mix and interaction between the two sides. That tape saturation is freakin’ awesome!

However, for a while there, about 10-15 years ago, during the heyday of boutique everything, there were lots of copycats. I couldn’t believe how many Tube Screamer knock-offs that were being released to the market with fancy packaging and cool graphics, but inside were nothing more than TS circuits. But that said, there were lots of very very cool gems out there like the Geek Driver based on the ColorSound Overdrive. Totally different approach. Even the introduction of the TC Electronic Mojo Mojo Overdrive was totally cool.

And here’s the conundrum I face with respect to all the great digital amps coming to market: I love my overdrive pedals! For instance, as much as I’ve loved both BOSS Katana amps I’ve had, I have to admit that though the sound quality of the drive models in the amps are pretty good, I’ve never been a fan of BOSS drive pedal sounds.

I love the gain sounds these produce, but something about the drive pedal sounds whether in software or hardware form has always bugged me. So I put a drive pedal in front of either amp or, in the case of the Artist, I plug my drive pedals into the effects loop as I can place the loop immediately after the input (pretty cool).

The point here is that at least for me, I’ll never tire of exploring overdrive sounds. Someone will always come up with a new twist: Use a new material, discover a different chip, configure a different kind of circuit. I suppose eventually all the possibilities will be exhausted, but for now at least, we can enjoy a variety of new ways of expressing our distortion!

I discovered this guy completely by accident when he did a demo of Strymon’s incredible modeling pedal “Iridium.” This pedal might just be a game changer, and I don’t say that lightly. Here’s the demo, then I’ll post a bit more about Keven himself.

BTW, he’s plugging directly into the pedal and getting all his overdrive from it then going straight into his DAW!

After watching the demo above and having a WTF moment about Kevin’s playing, I took a bit of time to do a bit of research on him.

Though obviously Asian, he’s actually from Norway and moved here to study at Berklee College of Music. Before coming to America, he recorded his first album when he was nineteen called “Extraterrestrial.” Here’s a video from back in 2013 of the title track:

Nineteen years old and playing with that kind of sound and technique? And from what I can tell from his review and instructional videos, he’s not at all arrogant. Kind of like the dude you’d love to hate but you can’t ’cause he’s too nice.

Anyway, he apparently now lives in Nashville, and I haven’t seen any videos or activity – at least from a songwriting and performance perspective – from him since 2017. But apparently the kid’s absolutely busy having gotten his union card, so chances are he’s a first-call musician; in other words, super-busy.

Here’s another fun video of Keven on the Opry Christmas show in ’17:

That would be totally cool to descend to the stage on a wire!

I think the thing that most impressed me about Keven’s playing is his musicality. He has technique and tricks I can only wish I had. But he doesn’t go on five-minute shreds. He lets his solos breath and takes his time where he needs to. There’s a restraint to his playing that makes me want to listen to him more.

Check out his YouTube channel here. He does lots of reviews and some very good instruction. I subscribed so I can keep up with what he’s doing.

Oh, you can get close. Damn close, like SoloDallas on YouTube. He’s an Italian guy who’s absolutely obsessed with AC/DC and specifically Angus Young. He can pretty much cop any of Angus’ licks and solos. He’s about the closest I’ve seen anyone get to Angus’ sound. BUT he still sounds like himself.

One of the greatest compliments I ever got was when a gentleman walked up to me at the restaurant I used to play at and told me my playing reminded him of Eric Clapton’s style. It was so cool to hear that. We talked a bit and I found out that he was also a guitar player and during the conversation he said, “I’ve found it’s pretty easy to play like another musician, but it’s an entirely different matter to sound like ’em. But even though the sound’s important, the emotion is more important.”

Wiser words could not have been spoken.

How we approach our playing and how we ultimately sound depends less on our gear and so much more on our emotional investment in what we play. And those emotions affect how we manipulate our instruments. So while it is possible to get pretty close to the sounds of our guitar heroes, there will always be something of ourselves that make us sound different; that is, like ourselves.

Back near the turn of the century, I purchased “Rusty,” a Gibson ES-333. It was the size and shape of an ES-335, but it was more of a budget model. The Gibson label was a sticker, it had dot inlays instead of trapezoids. It had a rear access panel on the back to get to the electronics and came equipped with uncovered Gibson 490R and 498T pickups. It was a rock guitar.

I got it for a song at the now-defunct Haight Ashbury Music store in Sunnyvale, CA, a place I frequented a lot in those days. The guitar was basically the “shop” guitar when I got it. There weren’t any dings, but there was a bit of fret wear and discoloration on the fret board due to the guys at the shop playing it. They wanted $1400 for the guitar at the time, but said they’d give it to me for $900. I talked them down to $700 after I nitpicked on the wear.

I played that guitar for a few years, then in 2008 the market came crashing down. And though the company I worked at the time didn’t lay anyone off, we all had to take temporary salary cuts and and that put my family in a financial jam. So at the urging of my wife, I sold the guitar to a local Music-Go-Round.

When I left the store, I knew that I had done the wrong thing. I was absolutely sick to my stomach as I drove away and totally pissed off that I had given into my wife’s – and my – financial worries.

When I got home, I handed the check over to my wife. But as I gave it to her, I told her that I was never going to do that again. I felt as if part of my heart was ripped out. I made sure to tell her that I wasn’t blaming her, but going forward, I wanted to consider other possibilities before I had to sell gear.

I think at that moment, when my wife saw how deeply hurt I was, she understood that my guitars were more than just “stuff” to me. And though she had a hard time accepting it, she nodded her assent, and that was the last time she ever suggested me selling stuff off when the subject of finances came up.

That didn’t stop her from telling me a few years later that I had too many guitars which, at that point in time, I actually did. 🙂 So I thinned my stock and have the guitars I’ll play for the rest of my life. Though there is one unicorn that I want and that is a Gretsch Brian Setzer. I’ve played that guitar several times, and it’s magic!

But I do regret selling that ES-333. It gets me thinking what direction my music would’ve taken had I held onto that guitar. To date, I haven’t played an ES-33x that even felt or sounded like my 333. I thought I’d bond with a gorgeous 1987 ES-335 that I picked up on vacation. It just didn’t have the mojo of my ES-333.

All that said, do I want to get another ES-333? No, not really. My Les Paul pretty much covers everything for me, and I have a few other guitars in my arsenal when I need a different sound. At this point, an ES-33x would be a bit redundant. And let’s face it, though I’d love to get a Gretsch Brian Setzer, that would be a guitar I’d get just because. I can’t justify nor could I afford spending $3600 just because.

So from another perspective, if I hadn’t sold my ES-333, I may not have eventually gotten my Les Paul. I found my sound with my Les Paul despite the ES-333 being so near and dear to me. And I do realize that it’s the optimist in me that wants a silver lining. But truth be told, my Les Paul really is the silver lining to this.

That’s doesn’t diminish the anguish I felt at the time. It’s a sickening feeling that I never want to experience ever again. I will never get rid of my Les Paul – ever. I may get another one down the road, who knows? But I’ve found my sound. I’m not going to be willing to give that up.

I Hate New Strings

A buddy of mine and I were having a discussion once about when we change our strings. He changes strings every week, whether he’s gigging or not because he likes that brightness and his hands sweat a lot. Me? I’ll only do a full change maybe once every couple to three months, if that. And in between, I just change them as they break. Plus my hands don’t sweat much, if at all, so I’ve never experienced the corrosion my friend described – yuck!

And mind you it’s not laziness. I just don’t like the bright sound of new strings. And almost never play unplugged – even with acoustic – if my sound seems a bit dead, I just add a little treble, and it usually doesn’t require much.

Plus, I like to fight with my guitar a little and older strings require a bit more work to get a good tone. To me, there’s something to digging into the fret to make a string sing. Is it weird? I don’t know. Maybe it is. And maybe my tone sucks and people are too nice to tell me to my face.

My personal preference for a guitar sound, especially with my acoustic, is for a much more subdued sound than with brand-new strings. I eventually do get to a point where I’m just not getting anything out of them and I’ll change them out entirely. But my usual practice is to just change a single string if it breaks.

But that said, I did change strings a bit more often, like every three or four weeks when I was gigging over 200 days a year. With that much time on my guitars, they got to their point of no return a lot faster. These days, I’m gigging maybe 75-80 days a year, so I just keep them on – sometimes for months.

I also think that part of it is due to the picks I use and my pick technique which has gotten much lighter. I use Wegen Picks Fatone (it’s literally misprint on the labeling for “fat tone”) picks. These are 5 mm thick with a nice bevel. Using a fat pick has made me pick a lot lighter which means less stress on the strings.

I used to use Dunlop Tortex Medium and Heavy picks (orange and yellow), and used to absolutely hammer my guitar. I’d break strings all the time. But with my Fatone, it’s more of a brushing action. So they just don’t wear out. Plus with a fat pick like the Wegen, the bevel makes a bit brighter of a strumming tone.

And I also play with coated strings (Wyres Coated Phosphor Bronze 12 16 24 36 46 56 I prefer the fat 5 and 6 strings), so they last a long time. And by the way, Wyres are awesome strings, handmade in Canada. If you’re interested in checking them out, don’t order direct. Buy them from Elder Instruments. If you order from Canada, it’ll take weeks for delivery. They offer a bunch of different gauge combinations. Great bass response!