Archive for November, 2007

pedal_tote.jpgOkay, yet another product review on a fairly mundane piece of gear, but hey, sometimes you have to be practical!

A few years ago, I was pretty spoiled when it came toting guitar gear around. I was using a Line 6 Flextone III as my amp, and as a modeling amp with all sorts of effects built in, the only thing I needed to hook up to my amp was my floorboard and guitar. That all changed when I moved to a tube amp for performance. All the things that I used to do to tweak my sound were no longer built into the amp! I had to get effect pedals to get the types of sounds I wanted.

At first, I only had a couple of pedals, so just putting them into my guitar’s gig bag wasn’t a problem. Then I got a couple of more pedals, so I started carrying my pedals and cables in an unused large camera bag. Still, it wasn’t a problem. Once I got to seven pedals, it became a problem. At every gig, I’d have to hook up the pedals to each other, not to mention having to hook up my 1 Spot power cable. What once was a five minute affair was now taking up to 20 minutes to get everything set up and dailed in. So I broke down and bought a pedal board.

There are lots of boards on the market. You can get them custom made, or go with fully powered units. For me, my needs were simple. I wanted a board that could carry up to 8 pedals, and I didn’t want a powered board. The reason was that most powered boards only provide 9V power for all the connections, and I have a couple of pedals that can take18V. Also, powered boards run pretty expensive (for an 8 to 10 pedal board, expect to pay close to $200). There are other powered boards that take 6 pedals, but that wasn’t a real option for me. Enter the Gator Pedal Tote.

The Pedal Tote is a non-powered, inclined pedal board made of 8-ply plywood. It’s covered in black tolex, and topped with small loop carpet. It comes with two 1-inch strips of velcro (about 2 1/2 feet all in all) to stick to the bottom of your pedals. I love the sturdiness of this board. The only beef I have with it is that Gator doesn’t come enough velcro for eight pedals. I had to go down to an arts and crafts store to buy more sticky-back velcro in order to attach all my pedals to the board. Not a big deal, just a minor inconvenience.

So how do I like it? I love it! It’s built like a tank, and has made my life a lot easier. Set up and strike are simple, five-minute affairs now.

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Talk about putting a product through its paces! My Mac fatally crashed yet again! Yikes! When that happened, I didn’t panic because based upon Boyd Jarvis’ input in my previous article on my Mac crashing, I went down to my local Apple store, and purchased a copy of Disk Warrior. I also talked to a few of the folks about Disk Warrior, and they said that’s the utility to get, so I also wasn’t bothered by spending the $99 I spent on it (it would also come in handy as I have another Mac at home that I purchased used with a corrupted drive).

Anyway, I got home all excited to repair my disk and be up and running. I opened up the box, inserted the disk in the drive, and patiently watched it do its thing. I watched in horror as Disk Warrior report that my drive was so messed up, it couldn’t be fully recovered. Looks like I have a real bad sector on my disk. So with a shrug, I opened up disk utility, re-partitioned my drive; this time making two: One really small one to isolate the bad sectors at the beginning of the drive, and another large partition. But I still wasn’t too worried because I had my data backed up with Time Machine.

To make a long story short, near the end of the installation, Installer asked me if I wanted to transfer information from a variety of sources. One source was Time Machine. Cool! I though to myself, I’ll have my data ready to go and not have to worry about finding it in the vault! That was a plus, though I was dreading having to install my applications again. Was I in for a surprise!

I let out a huge WHOOP when the restoration process not only restored my data, but also restored all my applications!!! I just simply had to let it do its thing! Now I’m back in business. No smell. No mess. No spending hours installing, and I didn’t lose any of the latest songs I recently recorded in GarageBand! YIPEE!!!

Now that I think about it, it’s a bit creepy that my last article turned out to be self-fulfilling prophecy…  Well, at least I know now that with Time Machine, I can replace my drive and get everything back. Talk about being stoked!!!

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Actually, this goes for any Mac user: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE!!! Spend $100 on a decent FireWire drive, and save your life!
I was going to go into the horror story first, but I decided to just come out with the point of this article  instead. About a month ago, my iMac started acting up, running real slow. So I closed all my running programs, and shut down and restarted my machine. To my horror, when the machine tried to boot up, I just got a folder icon with a flashing “?” onscreen. I didn’t panic. I opened my software file cabinet, got my install disks, and ran the disk utility, only to find that my disk was unrepairable. My only option was to reformat the drive and re-install the operating system.

What was the result? Though I had backups of completed GarageBand songs made, I lost ALL my GarageBand project files! That’s hours and hours of work that is simply gone. While I’m happy with the quality of the finished stuff (for demo purposes), I’m in no way happy with the fact that I don’t have the source files in order to make tweaks. After that experience, I saved a bit of money to buy a backup drive, and upgrade OSX to Leopard.

Among Leopards fine virtues is a no-brainer backup utility called “Time Machine.” Just plug in an external drive. Finder will pop-up a Time Machine dialog box asking you if you’d like to use the new drive as a backup. Select “Yes,” and that’s all you have to do! No thinking, no complex setup. Time Machine does it all for you. I won’t go into a lot of technical or usage details about it, though I did learn that you should let Time Machine run its initial imaging overnight. It takes several hours, and if you’re using your machine while it’s running, it’ll take longer. But once it’s done, Time Machine works automagically, continuously checking for changes to existing files and backing up new files – all in the background! With this ease-of-use, you’d be a fool to not go out right away and get a decent drive.

Myself, I got a Maxtor One-Touch III 320GB FireWire drive at my local electronics store for $99.00. It’s a decent drive with middle of the road performance. I didn’t need a 10K rpm drive. I just needed something that would back up my files – especially my GarageBand files! To test this, I created a new GB project and saved it immediately. After that, I opened up Time Machine and was pleasantly relieved to see that the file got backed up immediately! What a wonderful utility.

Even if you don’t have Leopard – get a backup drive anyway. Most drives,  like my One-Touch, come with backup management software. They’re not as easy to use as Time Machine as they require a bit of configuration, but doing regular backups can save you hours or days of work!

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Dunlop DCB10 Brick A power supply? I know, kind of mundane, but if you’re still using 9V batteries, you might want to rethink your power supply needs. Here’s a common situation: You’re in the middle of a set, and your beautifully clean tone starts getting kind of fuzzy. It’s not too bad at first, but worsens as the gig progresses. You look down at your effect pedals, and one pedal’s light seems to be a bit dimmer than it normally is. You realize the battery is going dead. So after the song, you go back to your gig bag to get another 9V. You’re shocked to find that you don’t have a spare!

That situation happened to me this past weekend. I recently added a couple of pedals to my chain, but because my 1-Spot only had 5 connectors, I had to use batteries in my new pedals. The batteries were only a couple of weeks old, so I thought I was safe. Was I ever wrong. I had to rewire my signal chain to bypass those pedals. It wasn’t so bad, but it was a pain in the ass because I was in the middle of a set. After this experience, I decided to look into getting a more robust power supply that could power all my pedals.

So why the DCB10? Simply because as far as power supplies are concerned, I think it’s the best one I’ve ever had! It has 7 9V connections, and 3 18V connections – plenty to power up most boards. What really excites me about this pedal are the 18V connections. I have a Fulltone OCD that can take 9V or 18V power. At 18V, the headroom on the pedal just soars! But I digress… In addition to all the connections, the unit doesn’t introduce any hum. My 1 Spot could get a little noisy, and was a bit of frustration point for me. But the brick makes my chain as quiet as can be. A lot of this has to do with the fact that in addition to being a power supply, the Brick is also a power regulator/conditioner, so you get a consistent current going to your pedals at all times. This also means that you have built-in surge protection, which could be fatal to your pedals.

The Brick is also built like a tank, with a heavy-duty metal casing, so it is definitely a road-worthy power supply. Finally, the Brick can be used with any power source, from 110 to 240 (you’ll have to get an adapter for 240), which means you could gig anywhere in the world and not have to worry about swapping out your pedal board’s power supply.

Price: $190 retail / $99 – $109 street

A note about pricing: If you look for this on EBay, make sure you figure the shipping costs into the total price you pay. A lot of EBay vendors list the Brick for $99, but charge $19.95 for shipping. I bought mine from a local shop for $109 flat. Caveat Emptor!

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For several years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with E-Bay. I’d gotten burned a few times by dishonest people, so I stayed away from buying really expensive things, save some trinkets that I’d get for the wife. But being a tone freak, and a gigging musician, I’m always in need of gear, either to replace worn out stuff, or add to my tone. As you know, gear ain’t cheap if you buy it retail. But there are some great deals to be had if you look for them, and you have a bit of trust. The trust part was tough for me, especially with EBay, as I’ve had some really bad experiences. But the need for gear has outweighed my reluctance of late, so I’ve decided to go back to using EBay as a way to get new gear.

This year, I’ve bought three things off of E-Bay sellers:

  1. Dr. Z AirBrake Power Attenuator. Retail: $329. I got it for $150
  2. Maxon CP9 Pro+ Compressor/Limiter. Retail: $230-$250. I got it for $150
  3. BOSS TU-2 Tuner. Retail $139/Street $99-$129. I got it for $70.

All in all, I’ve saved around $300 bucks on gear by going this route! I’ve been totally satisfied. But I was also pretty careful about how I went about the purchases. Here are some tips to make sure your purchases are safe.

  • Research the seller as much as you can – don’t make the mistake of ignoring the ratings other people give, especially the negatives. Sellers may have a 98-99% positive rating, but read through the negatives, because some negatives are REALLY bad. If a seller has even a couple of these, and especially if they have not responded to the negative feedback, I don’t even bother dealing with them.
  • Buy only “mint” and “excellent” condition products.
  • I’m reluctant to buy things that don’t have a picture of them taken by the seller – especially guitar equipment. Buyer beware!
  • Don’t be afraid to contact the seller and ask questions about the product they’re selling, and pay close attention to how quickly they respond. I usually give sellers a full day to respond. But if they take more time than that, and don’t have an explanation, then I’m usually reluctant to deal with them. Here, I’m thinking ahead. If I win the sale, how long will it take them to process the order? If they don’t keep on top of their messages, then how will they keep on top of their sales?
  • Power Sellers are usually the safest, but they’re not necessarily the cheapest. Again, look at the ratings and reviews.
  • If you’ve won an auction, don’t hesitate to give the seller a call to settle up and confirm the payment and shipping terms. I’ve saved a lot of time by doing this, and it also puts a voice to the name. It also sends a subtle signal – “I know who you are, and I know how to contact you.” I know that that may sound a little devious, but the way I figure it, I’m spending money, and I want my investment protected.
  • Don’t get caught up on the bidding process! Set a maximum that you will spend, and don’t go over it. Period. With the BOSS TU-2 I won, my limit was $75, and I got it for $70. That’s almost 50% off retail, and not as good as a deal with mail-order, but it still beats the mail-order price with shipping. To set my limits, I check prices on the item my local retailers, then set my limit at 40% off of the lowest local price. This usually means I’ll save 25%+ off mail-order. If my winning bid comes in even lower, then I’ve really gotten a deal. With my CP9 Pro+, the cheapest I could find it locally was $225, and mail-order was even higher at $232. My winning bid of $150 made it a steal! Plus I got free shipping because I won the TU-2 from the same seller, and he shipped both of them in the same box!
  • Finally, be mindful of shipping costs. Some sellers of sub-$50 stuff tack on outrageous shipping costs. For instance, I want to buy a small powered pedal board. Several list the item at $38.99, but add $15-$19 worth of shipping! Another seller is selling it for $49.50 with free shipping. It’s a much better deal!

So, be smart, be safe, and you’ll get great deals on gear on EBay.

Craigslist is another place I look, but I’m even more wary there because there’s no way to research the sellers. So I tend to look at local people where I can just pick up the gear directly from them, and save on shipping – and time.

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