Archive for April, 2009

Reinhardt Amps Willard Distortion Pedal

Just ran across this brand-new fuzz pedal from Reinhardt Amps, called the "Willard" distortion pedal. This pedal is pure 80’s fuzz, a sound that I came to love! From the video, it’s clear that this pedal is capable of producing some serious hair, but it also retains a lot of clarity. Built around a true NOS LM308N op-amp chip and based around a big-box Rat of that era, this is a very nice-sounding distortion box. Check out the video below:

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This is a bit of a continuation of my previous article about not getting fooled by pedigree. While I was singing the praises of a Saint Guitar Goldtop Benchmark that I was testing, my buddy commented to me, “You sure about wanting to get one of these? It’s gorgeous, and it plays and sounds amazing, but the problem I have with most boutique guitars is I’m not sure how well they retain their value. What if I wanted to sell it later on? Would I get what I paid for it? Will it appreciate in value?”

All valid concerns, but I simply replied that it’s all about your perspective: Are you a collector or a trader?

If you’re a collector, chances are you obtain gear to keep it and use it for a lifetime, or even just hang it on a wall (I know of someone who has 300+ guitars, most of which he never plays). I consider myself a collector. And from that standpoint, I’m what’s called “brand blind.” All I care about is if the gear looks good, plays good, and sounds good, no matter what the brand.

On the other hand, there are those whom I call “traders.” They get gear, but are always open to trading for another type of gear that might be better from their point of view. From that standpoint, brand awareness is important as people will tend gravitate toward known entities, and the brand-names definitely attract more traffic.

Mind you, I’m not saying one is better than the other. It’s just a matter of perspective in making a purchasing decision. I used to be pretty brand-centric, but ever since I started writing this blog, I’ve come across some awesome gear that I don’t think I would’ve even considered evaluating had I focused on the brand-name stuff.

And let me say that it’s not that you’re either one or the other. It also depends on the gear. For instance, I swear by V-Picks and Red Bear Picks. I won’t use any others. But I’ll buy off-brand pedals and guitars and amps.

So are you a “collector” or a “trader?”

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I admit it: I’m an incurable GEAR SLUT! I jones for vintage and vintage style gear, as the music I play leans toward the blues and classic rock. And to satisfy that never-ending craving, I pore over the Internet and various magazines in search of all sorts of gear; hence, the existence of GuitarGear.org where I share with you, dear reader, the things that I come across.

Now in my search for gear, I occasionally buy things. They tend to be vintage-style modern gear because I just don’t have the money to buy real vintage gear; and that usually means I gravitate towards boutique gear; but not just any boutique gear. Remember, I don’t usually have all that much money to afford the real high-end stuff, so I spend a lot of my scouring my information resources to find boutique gear that I can afford. That’s what gravitated me towards Aracom Amps.

When I saw the price of a VRX series amp, my jaw dropped! Here was a hand-wired, vintage-style tube amp for $895!!! When I finally hooked up with Jeff Aragaki (founder of Aracom), and got a chance to play the VRX18, he shared that one of the ways he was able to keep the cost down was by using a solid-state sag simulating rectifier circuit. When I heard the words “solid-state,” the purist in me started reeling a bit. But then that amp sounded so freakin’ good that I didn’t give a flying you-know-what about the rectifier!

And that’s the point of this article. When you’re looking for and buying gear, don’t let yourself be swayed by an instrument’s or equipment’s pedigree or “all-tubeness” or lack thereof. LISTEN to the fuckin’ thing, and see if it turns you on! If it sounds good, and it works for YOU, then that’s all that matters, in my not so humble opinion on the subject. 🙂 If I had let the purist in me take over, I would’ve never ended up with my VRX22! And for the record, I’ve listened to many, many, many amps, with and without tube rectifiers, and the circuit that Jeff Aragaki employs in the VRX series simulates the sag of a rectifier tube so well, I can’t tell the difference. And if there is one, it’s probably so minute that it doesn’t matter anyway. I’ll put that amp up against any other boutique amp in the same wattage range, and it’ll sound just as good, if not better. And I paid less than half the price of a similarly configured amp!

Give the following clip a listen. I’m playing my Strat plugged straight into the clean channel of the VRX22. In some sections you could swear that the amp has a reverb, but that’s the solid-state rectifier simulating the sag of a tube rectifier. Also, this is the raw recording of the amp: No EQ, no filtering. The master volume was flat out, with the gain control around midway. My mic was about about 10″ away pointed directly at the center of the speaker cone.

I originally recorded that clip with my Prestige Heritage Elite. But that guitar has so much inherent sustain, it would’ve been cheating. 🙂 A Strat on the other hand doesn’t have that much sustain, so it brings out the sustaining quality of the amp much better. The result is just amazing.

And as to the tube vs. solid state rectifier issue, at least in the Aracom VRX series, it doesn’t make one whit of difference, especially when you’re playing live at gig levels. When I’m gigging, I almost never use reverb unless it’s a song where I can really isolate my guitar. Sag gives the effect of reverb, but at loud gig levels, you’ll never hear it.

Another great example of buying what sounds good to you is my friend Vinni Smith of V-Picks. That dude is one of the best guitarists I’ve ever known, and he gigs all the time! You know what he plays through? A freakin’ Roland Cube 30 cranked all the way up and miked into the PA. When he told me that, I almost flipped. Here was a true pro guitarist,  playing through a $200 amp!

So don’t be taken in by pedigree. Buy what sounds good to you, and what you can make sound good. After all, 90% of your tone is in your hands.

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I recently read a press release on Harmony Central where this company, Hypnobusters, has just released a self-hypnosis audio to improve your guitar playing. I snickered at first because when the word “hypnosis” is mentioned, my gut reaction is, “Yeah, right… just some more of that New Age crap…” But then again, over the years, I’ve developed meditation techniques to help focus and quiet my consciousness to develop and extend my “chi” (for those martial artists out there), and even so far as performing self-healing. In a way, those meditation techniques are a form of self-hypnosis. And if I’ve used self-hypnosis to accomplish different things, why not apply it to guitar playing?

The mind is a very powerful tool. And if you have the ability to quiet your consciousness, and filter out the hustle and bustle of your waking mind, you’ll find that you can much more clearly analyze different subjects or help steer yourself towards accomplishing many things. It’s not hocus-pocus. It’s pure focus.

For instance, have you ever been playing guitar at a gig or in the studio, and you close your eyes because you’re so in tune with the song that what you’re doing is just pure expression? While you’re in that “groove,” nothing else exists. It’s just you and your axe reverberating with the song. That, my friends, is a form of self-hypnosis. That’s happened to me many times in my studio, and when I listen to the printed track, I’m sometimes in total disbelief that I actually played what I played! I’m not really all that good of a soloist, so I suppose any clean take is a good take. 🙂

In any case, I went to the HypnoBusters site, and found their guitar improvement page. The audio session only costs $9.95, so I said, “What the hell? I’ll give it a whirl. Besides, I could use a little mind quieting time.” And really, that’s what it’s all about – quieting your mind, and allowing yourself to explore the limits of your playing. I’ve often found that the limits of my skills on guitar aren’t merely technical – there is definitely that – but also because my conscious mind often tells me “You can’t do that.” It’s like an inherent fear. But as I break through those boundaries, I find that my actual limits are much further than what my conscious mind tells me.

I’ll give this audio a try, and report back. I’m not sure that it’ll make me a better player – that’s purely up to me. But one thing I know about things like this: They help you give yourself the permission to improve.

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VOX Time MachineCan’t believe I missed the announcement of its release – I’m usually good about keeping on top of new gear – especially since VOX has been coming out with some pretty awesome stuff as of late. But here it is, the VOX Time Machine Delay. As with the other pedals of this VOX line, this pedal is the result of a very close collaboration between VOX and Professor Satchfunkilus (Joe Satriani). This pedal completes the three pedal line.

The Time Machine Delay features two delay modes (Modern and Vintage) and two EQ modes (Hi-Fi and Lo-Fi). The Modern delay mode provides a transparent delay to retain your orginal tone, while the vintage mode mimicks a vintage analog tape delay. The Hi-Fi/Lo-Fi switch does something similar to the delay modes. Hi-Fi retains your tonal color, while the Lo-Fi mode delivers a “distinctive EQ, combining both high-pass and low-pass filters” to blend better in a mix.

But the thing that I think is pretty incredible is that the pedal has up to 5600 milliseconds of delay – that’s almost 6 seconds! With that you could really do a nice lead loop that you can play over! Damn! Six seconds is a LOT of time. There are lots of layering possibilities with that! That length of delay alone compels me to try the pedal out!

While there are several demos, there aren’t a lot of reviews. Reviews on Harmony Central are mixed. Sound-wise it gets high marks, but one user did point out that the switches seemed a little “rattly,” with no click. Hmmm…. that could be a potential problem. But so far, I haven’t seen any quality issues – but the pedal’s new, so that remains to be seen.

The pedal ain’t cheap, coming it a $199 street, but it has some really great features that definitely worth consideration. Me? I’m really leaning towards the TC Electronic Nova Repeater, mainly because it’s no frills and the tap tempo function using the strum of your guitar is friggin’ awesome – it’s also only $150 street. And based upon the venerable, Nova Delay, it’s a known quantity. However, to be fair, I’m going to have to an A/B to see how the two pedals stack up.

For more information, go to the VOX Time Machine web page.

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Schaller Strap Locks

The title kind of sounds like a spam ad, doesn’t it? But it’s totally serious!

We’ve all heard of or even personally experienced guitars straps coming off their strap buttons, potentially causing serious harm to them. I’ve played for years without mishap without using strap locks. I’ve had some close calls, but no catastrophic accidents. My buddy Phil warned me awhile back that I was just asking for trouble by not having them on my guitars. I just said, “Yeah, I know I should do it, but hey, I’ve been lucky so far…”

Well, my luck almost ran out because I almost had a terrible mishap the other day. If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve just gotten my new Prestige Heritage Elite. I was in my studio jamming, and at the end of the song I was jamming to, I did a harmless thing: I reached over to my amp to turn it down; at which point, my body must’ve been at the right angle, and the strap came off the bottom strap button. My guitar quickly swung toward my amp, aimed straight at the grille cloth! Luckily for me, I was able to catch the guitar and press it against my leg to prevent it from doing any serious damage to either itself or the amp!

Soon after, I put the guitar down, turned off my amp, walked back into the house, told my wife I was going down to the local music store, got in my car and got a set of strap locks. I will NEVER be without strap locks again! Once I got them, it literally took five minutes to install them, and I thought that this would be good forum to share my experience, and to share how I installed them.

Installing the Strap Locks

I got Schaller strap locks because I could also use the locks on my Strat that came stock with Schaller butttons (Fender owns Schaller), so it was a no brainer to decide. So here’s how I did it:

  1. First, remove the original buttons with a screwdriver.
  2. When they come out, you’ll probably notice that the screws are a bit thicker with wider threads than the Schallers. This is not a problem.
  3. To be safe, as opposed to using pure wood filler (I used Plastic Wood because it dries evenly), I happened to have really thin dowel material that I could use as a shim in addition the wood filler. I placed the dowel in the screw hole, and marked where it would be flush with the surface of the guitar, then simply cut that length.
  4. Once the dowel was cut, I put some Plastic Wood into the screw hole, and with a toothpick, spread it up and down the hole. Take your time with this, and be as neat as possible. Then I wiped off the excess from the hole, then inserted my dowel. This made some Plastic Wood ooze a bit, so I cleaned that up as well.
  5. Then with my little power drill, I screwed in the new Schaller button.
  6. Repeat steps 3 – 5 for the next hole.
  7. Let it dry for a couple of days.
  8. Install the locks on your strap. That’s it!

That process took literally ten minutes! My strap ain’t coming off any time soon!

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depression This is one of the toughest songs I ever wrote; not from a technical standpoint, but from an emotional one. It’s really an emotional purging. I’m glad I got through it!

Anyway, give it a listen and let me know what you think! Thanks!

Gear Used:

Guitars: Prestige Heritage Elite and Strat

Amps: Aracom VRX22 and Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

The VRX22/Heritage combo is just insane! You gotta check this gear out!

Aracom Amps : http://www.aracom-amps.com
Prestige Guitars: http://www.prestigeguitars.com

The only effect I used was my lovely Hardwire RV-7 reverb on my VRX22 (this is by far one of the best reverbs I’ve ever used). I also used the spring reverb in the Hot Rod.

And lest I forget, I used my trusty V-Picks “The Snake” pick for the lead. What an incredible tone it produces.

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