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Archive for November, 2008

I love getting those intense spurts of creativity when I’m using awesome equipment. I just happened to have a couple of review pieces on hand: A Saint Guitars Benchmark and a Reason SM25 combo amp. This song started out as a simple riff this morning, and grew from there. It’s called Lookin’ for the Good Life. Let me know that you think.

The song showcases the incredible tones the Benchmark and SM25 make together. Just love it!

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teachwombat-banner

One of GuitarGear.org’s readers recently plugged his guitar instructional site, Teach Wombat, in one of my articles about moving into a new chapter of my guitar life. I normally don’t like random product plugs, but being a teacher, I’m always looking for teaching aids and resources, so I checked out the site, and it definitely showed promise. A little later after Ken left his comment, like a good businessman, he offered to let me review his material, so I did, and all I have to say is, “WOW!” This stuff is GREAT! Ken’s primary product, the Guitar Teacher’s Toolkit includes over 100 professionally produced handouts covering the C-A-G-E-D system and scalar modes, plus a bunch of other awesome diagrams.

As a new guitar teacher, producing my own handouts has been a very laborious and tedious task, but with the Guitar Teacher’s Toolkit, I’ve got pretty much everything I need for teaching. It even comes with blank neck diagrams for ad hoc instruction!

But I wouldn’t limit this just to teachers. Players of all levels and skill will find lots of value from the diagrams and can use them as quick references. Hey! For $12.00, you can’t miss! So do yourself a big favor and go to TeachWombat.com today and buy Ken’s Guitar Teacher’s Toolkit!

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Eric Crapton EngrishEnglish: Play Guitar

Earlier today, a friend of mine sent me one of the funniest Engrish things I’ve ever seen: http://www.rahoi.com/2006/03/may-i-take-your-order/

This inspired me to see if I could find good Engrish stuff about guitars. There aren’t many, but I did find this one:

http://engrishfunny.com/?s=guitar

I remember getting a kick out of some of the manuals I used to read on gear I’d get. Manufacturers are a lot better now about their manuals, but sometimes you get some real doozies like one I found.

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The problem with evalutating pedals online is that you can’t really audition them very easily – especially in combination with other pedals. But BOSS has gotten us one step closer with the new BOSS VPB-2 or Virtual Pedal Board. It’s very cool in concept. You go to the VPB site, select a style of music and a combination of pedals appears on the page. A loop in the style you’ve chosen begins playing, and you can then activate/and de-activate pedals to see how they change the recorded signal just by clicking on them. You can also swap some of the pedals out for the current style.

Check it out here: BOSS Virtual Pedal Board 2

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MXR '76 Vintage Dyna Comp Pedal

MXR

Over a year ago when I was looking for a compression pedal, one of the pedals I reviewed was the MXR Dyna Comp, along with the Boss CS-3. I didn’t like either of them. The CS-3 was way too squishy and I thought it significantly altered my tone. The MXR wasn’t quite as bad, but I still thought it did enough tone alteration to pass on it.

As many might know, I ended up going with the Maxon CP9 Pro+, which I felt didn’t alter my tone, no matter how far I squeezed the signal. I love the pedal, and when I play my Strat, it’s almost always on.

But in my search for a compressor back then, I ran across several discussions on the classic Dyna Comp from the 70’s. People raved about its transparency, and how it was a highly sought-after pedal. In fact, a search on eBay revealed that I couldn’t get a vintage one for under $250. Yikes! For a pedal that brand new goes for under $80, the vintage Dyna Comp must’ve been really special.

Well, the folks at the MXR Custom Shop have produced a limited run of the classic Dyna Comp replete with the script lettering, and more importantly, the EXACT same circuitry as the original. According to the article I read, the IC’s used in the original pedal haven’t been produced since the 80’s. But the Custom Shop folks seemed to have found some – at least enough to produce a limited run.

I looked on the Dunlop site for any information about the new pedal, and there was none to be found. No prices either. Count on this baby to hit collectable status real quick. Also count on it being priced a hell of a lot more than its newer sibling, which you can get at Musician’s Friend for $69.99. Now given that I already have a kickass compression pedal, I’m probably won’t be in the market for one, but I sure would love to get my hands on one just to review it.

For those of you who are a bit dubious of using a compression/sustainer, please don’t scoff. I will admit that for high-volume, high-gain situations, a compression sustainer is not really needed. You’ll get a lot of compression from your saturated power tubes. But for those of us who mostly play in low-volume applications, a compression/sustainer is a total life saver.

The restaurants and church that I play at have high ceilings, and of course, there’s the ambient crowd noise to deal with – especially at the restaurants. To help cut through the crowd noise, and to deal with the expansive acoustic environment without turning up too loud, I couldn’t do without a compression pedal. This is especially true when I kick in distortion, which tends to “spread” out your sound a bit. With a compression pedal, you fatten up your tone and produce a more even volume, albeit a tad less dynamic.

You might think that the loss volume dynamics is a bad thing, but before I got my CP-9, I had to fight my volume all the time – it was frustrating.

Apparently, the newer M-102 version with serial numbers starting with ABxxx are true bypass, and sound really nice. Maybe the one I tried at the time was not one of ’em. Oh well… In any case, if you’re interested, you can check it out at Musician’s Friend:

MXR M-102 Dyna Comp Compressor Pedal


You can also check out the Maxon CP-9 Pro+ here:
Maxon Nine Series Compressor Pro+ Pedal

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Reason Amplifiers

This is a continuation and expansion of the original new gear article I wrote previously

Riddle me this…

So what do you get when you cross a veteran cabinet maker with an electrical engineering guru? Right. A new amp manufacturer. But the two guys I’m talking about, Anthony Bonadio and Obeid Kahn, didn’t just want to create another boutique amp outfit; they had to have a “reason” to create yet another amp manufacturing company; and after putting their heads together they did come up with a “reason.” It’s called Reason amps!

I recently had the privilege to speak with Anthony Bonadio at length about his new company, and I’m incredibly impressed with the vision behind Reason amps. As Anthony put it, their new amp had to be different: Not just a re-expression of existing designs, but something truly different; otherwise there wouldn’t be a reason to build one (get it?). And at first blush, it certainly appears that they’ve realized their desire to be different. But in order to be different, you have to know what you can do against the existing paradigms, and both Anthony’s and Obeid’s pedigrees as amp cab manufacturer and electrical engineer respectively have given them a certain industry perspective that have allowed them to produce an amp that does indeed push beyond the current paradigms.

So what’s so different about Reason amps? You might look at the amp and say, “This is just another flavor of a vintage-voiced two channel amp.” And if all you used were the Normal and Bright channels independently, you’d be mostly correct. In fact, both Obeid and Anthony are vintage gear freaks, and wanted to produce a vintage-voiced amp – but take it elsewhere… And it’s the third mode of operation that makes this amp really stand out. It’s something Obeid coined “StackMode.” Make no mistake, StackMode isn’t just adding a gain stage to an amp. It’s actually running the two amp channels in series.

“So what,” you might say, “That sounds like a bunch of marketing mumbo-jumbo. There are lots of multi-channel amps on the market.” Not like this. In almost all multi-channel amps, the signal handling for each channel is performed independently. Channel switching is pretty much an internal A/B box. Some amps will have independent EQ on each channel, though most have a “Master” EQ that controls the EQ for all the channels.

StackMode is different – and more importantly, it hasn’t been done before (at least not that I know of).

With StackMode engaged, the fully amplified signal from the first channel flows into the next channel in a series, so what you do to the input gain, EQ and output from the first channel directly affects the signal of the second stage; hence the term, “StackMode.” So in reality, this is not just a different take on an existing pattern. It’s taking an existing pattern and creating a completely new application out of it.

In light of this, I asked myself, why hasn’t this been done before? It seems so simple in concept. But in reality, it’s not easy at all because of the power management issues that arise from essentially re-amping a previously amplified signal that has already gone through a gain stage. With the Reason amps, it’s all about the engineering behind managing the voltage and current, and that’s where Obeid Kahn’s engineering genius has come into play.

So to re-answer the original question that I started the article with: What do you get when you cross a veteran cabinet maker with an electrical engineering guru? You get a new amp that completely breaks the mold of existing amp designs. To say I’m excited about this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what I’m feeling.

The Amps

Reason amps come in two tonal flavors depending upon the power tubes you choose, either EL34- or EL84-based. From the EL34 side Reason offers the SM50 head, SM25 head, SM25 combo for 50 and 25 Watt ouput respectively. On the EL84 side, there are the SM40 head and SM20 combo, with 40 and 20 Watts of output respectively. And of course, they 4X12, 2X12, and 1X12 speaker cabs for the heads as well. No matter what amp you choose, all come with StackMode, so all you have to decide upon is your tonal and power requirements!

Amazingly enough, prices are “Reason-able” considering the engineering that has gone into the amps and compared to other boutique amp manufacturers. Here’s a quick list:

EL34

SM50 Head – $2295
SM25 Head – $2195
SM25 Combo – $2395

EL84

SM40 Head – $2195
SM20 Combo – $2295

Cabs

412 Cab – $995
212 Cab – $595
112 Cab – $395

So why are the prices for the different amps so close together? Simply because the circuitry is the same for each amp. The only significant difference between the amps is in the power handling for each amp, and according to Anthony, that doesn’t impact the production cost in any significant way.

Hybrid Construction

A lot of purists scoff at the idea that any PCB board is used in the construction of a vintage-style amp. But Reason actually uses a combination of turret boards and PCB boards to handle specific tasks for optimal performance. For instance, all signal handling (read: the tone producing stuff) is done with point-to-point wiring on turret boards, while all the switching is done on PCB boards to ensure fast response and reliability. All boards employed are high-grade, 1/8” thick, so even the PCB boards have ample traces to ensure great current flow. So the idea is to use the best and most appropriate components for a particular job. That’s just plain intelligent engineering.

Made by players for players

A lot of companies claim this, but with Obeid’s and Anthony’s collective experience as performing musicians, they really had the gigging and session guitarist in mind when building their amps. For instance, the amps are voiced bright by design, as brighter amps will be able to cut through a mix a lot easier. They also record a lot better. Case in point, even though I love my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, I have to admit that it doesn’t record very well because of its naturally expansive output that makes it sound a bit muddy in a mix. It works great on stage, especially in the low volume venues I play. But in the studio, I tend to use smaller amps that have a real mid- to high-freq voicing because the guitars just sound so much better through them. But with a brightly voiced amp like a Reason, I wouldn’t have to rely so much on tiny, less “ballsy” amps.

One thing I do have to mention is that the volume knob on all Reason amps is a push-pull knob. When you pull it out, you get a high-freq EQ boost, to get more high-end freqs that’ll add extra sparkle and shimmer to your output. This is great for recording!

All that said, Anthony did stress that he didn’t want to alienate any players who didn’t happen to be gigging or session musicians; it’s just that those kinds of guitarists would definitely find an immediate advantage of using a Reason amp because of how it’s voiced.

My Take Overall

Yeah, yeah, I’m excited about yet another thing – if you read this blog with any regularity, when am I not? But really, it’s not too often that new gear totally blows me away. To me, the concept behind StackMode is a staggering achievement. As an engineer myself (though in software), I have a genuine appreciation for new and innovative solutions to different problems, and StackMode is something that really tickles the geek in me. Granted, I’ve only heard sound bites, but I’m soon going to be demoing the SM25 in the near future, and I just know I won’t be disappointed!

Check out the whole story at the Reason Amps web site. It’s awesome.

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Reason SM25 Combo Amp

Reason SM25 Combo Amp

Need a tube amp? Now you have a Reason. Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun. All right, I know what you’re thinking, “Another amp manufacturer?” That’s what I thought at first until I saw some video clips (I’ll get to those in a sec). But on the flip side of that mild complaint, thank the universe that people have the creativity to come up with different approaches to existing paradigms.

I found out about Reason amps from none other than Mr. Phil Vickman of Fat Tone Guitars just outside of Chicago, Illinois. Being a fellow blog freak, I found Phil’s Fat Tone Blog awhile ago, and signed up for his newsletter. Much to my surprise, his latest newsletter featured an upcoming in-store demo from the guys at Reason Amps on November 12 at 5-7pm. Go to Fat Tone Guitars for address information, or give ’em a call at: 866/512-8663.

So, being curious, I checked out the Reason Amps web site, checked out their sound bites, and much to my surprise, they didn’t have a dealer list, and they didn’t even list MSRP’s for their amps! So, I gave Phil a call, and we had a nice chat. Apparently, Reason Amps is NEW. So new, that not too many people have heard of them. But I have a feeling that their amps are soon going to get some traction.

So what makes Reason amplifiers so special?

Whether you go low wattage or up to their 50W amps, they all come with three modes: Normal, Bright, and Stack. It’s actually two channels, with the third mode being a blend of the two channels that Reason calls “Stackmode.” Stackmode uses a “cascade series connection that sets up the circuit architecture to blend the independent gain stages” of the two channels.

The net result? Yikes! Tones that you wouldn’t expect to find from an amp that is essentially a vintage-style amp. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the YouTube demo:

You can also view all their videos here by clicking here.

Granted, YouTube audio is not the most desirable audio to be heard, but if the amps sound that good over YouTube, you gotta believe they’re going to sound outstanding live. So check out the Reason web site!

A Little Plug for Fat Tone Guitars

Phil Vickman has a nice little business going with Fat Tone Guitars. I go to the Fat Tone site to get on my drool factor for the wonderful gear he sells. Amazingly enough, there’s not a Fender guitar listed on his site, though he does carry Gibson. But make no mistake, Fat Tone sells high-end gear from several boutique guitar makers like Baker, St. Blues, and Ram. From my recent conversation with Phil, he likes unique approaches to guitars. For instance, Ram guitars make Tele-style guitars made from pine! Wow! We spoke at length about Saint Guitars and how Adam Hernandez likes using different kinds of woods like walnut or bloodwood. That’s cool and unique. Adam told me he spoke to Phil, and will be sending him a couple of demo guitars. That’s so awesome! Way to go Adam, and way to go Phil! You won’t be disappointed!

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