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Archive for July, 2009

neilyoungIn the latest issue of Guitar World, Neil Young was quoted saying (when it comes to his guitar playing), “I suck. I’ve heard myself!” That made me laugh when I read this, but it also got me thinking. From a purely technical standpoint, I will agree 100% with him. But despite that, I still love the way he plays, and have always loved his sound, and for the very simple reason that his playing is completely honest.

It’s clear to me every time I listen to a Neil Young song that he is clear with how he uses his guitar; and that is to express his musical message. You listen to his solos, and if you’re a technique snob, you’ll most probably say, “Yikes! What is he doing.” But try to put any other guitarist in the lead role, and the solo just wouldn’t work. Bad technique or good, Neil Young’s playing is integral with his music. It’s simply an extension of who he is, and while on the surface you might be lead to believe that his playing is simple, and you’d be right, but place his playing within the context of the whole song, and you realize that what he is doing with his guitar is meant to be simple. It’s meant to fit with the song. It’s not meant to show off his chops or showcase tricks that he can perform. It’s meant to act as a color on his palette as he paints the picture of his song.

From that perspective, I’ve always believed that he was a true genius at guitar. He may not rip it up, but even he says that his guitar playing is secondary to the song and the band. It’s only a part of the presentation. But it’s an integral part of Neil’s music that fits in perfectly with his musical vision.

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Well, Goldie is in her final stages, the clear coat is cured, and Adam is ready to install the pickups. This is amazing! Here are the latest pics:

I just love the open pore finish of the walnut back!!!

Click here to see the whole pictorial story

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kiyosakiBack in the late 90’s and into the turn of the century, I got swept up in the craze of Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” I soaked up what he was saying like a sponge. It made so much sense to me! I was hooked, and proceeded to buy all his books, and two of his board games! I wanted to learn how to get out of the rat race and get on my way to real financial freedom. I even went so far as creating my own business that was actually a great idea. Then reality struck. My business failed because of my inexperience and ignorance of running a business. I couldn’t keep up with my expenses. I sometimes couldn’t make payroll. It was tough!

Even still, I kept on buying Kiyosaki’s books. But by about the fourth book, I realized he was saying the same damn thing that he had said in the previous books, only rephrasing the message so it sounded different. That was also when I came to the realization that he perhaps Kiyosaki was just a front man, and that his “advice” wasn’t all that sound. What he was really after in getting rich was to sell more fucking books and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” paraphernalia!

It was like this personal development seminar company that I got involved with in the early 90’s. They had three courses: Basic, Advanced, and Leaderhip, plus a satellite seminar for couples. I took the Basic and Advanced and my wife and I did the couples course. Those three courses changed our lives forever! And for the good. But then we both realized that what the company was really after was getting people to take the courses, and go through all of them, then recruit more people! They weren’t really interested in creating leaders. They were interested in filling up the classes! Needless to say, I divorced myself from this organization once I realized what they were up to. I’m not the only one who became enlightened to this, as the company is no longer in existence.

I shared this with you because while I learned a great deal from reading through Kiyosaki’s books and attending these seminars, they ultimately led me to one ultimate truth: I am responsible for my success. Only I can make the choices to excel at something or remain in obscurity. I can pray as much as I want, and dream and scheme till the end of my days; but in the end, I’m responsible for where I take myself in life.

So what does all this have to do with the title of this article? I shared these two experiences because despite the fact that they ultimately turned out to be somewhat fraudulent, they did have a lot of great material. Common to them both was this concept of “You get what you pay for…” Within that context, both stressed that we should beware of “free advice.” Free costs nothing, and in many cases, it’s very appealing. But blindly heeding free advice is essentially putting your success into another person’s hands, and not taking the responsibility for it. Yeah, free is good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without a cost down the line.

This concept of free advice applies to buying gear. Like most gear sluts, I hang out in a few online forums to see what people are playing, and to engage in conversations. It’s great fun. But one thing I’ve noticed a lot in the forums is the plethora of free advice saying that things like “X cable is better because it has the lowest capacitance. You should get this.”

One thing I’ve learned in writing this blog for the past couple of years is to avoid giving advice. I’ll make suggestions for sure, and if asked, will say what I do to approach a particular problem. Usually, I’ll just tell people to try out a bunch of gear to see what they like because everyone’s idea of good tone varies from person to person, and tone being subjective pretty much behooves the buyer to “try before you buy.”

What sparked the idea of this article was a comment a reader left on my review about the Roland CE-5 Chorus: “I find it amusing that every other guitar player says that a pedal is better solely because it is analog, regardless if they actually own an analog pedal or not. I’d like to blind-test these people and see if the can actually tell the difference between a digital and an analog pedal. Maybe you can blind-test yourself, you maybe pleasantly surprise at the result. Well, unless you are Eric Johnson anyways…

That got me to thinking about all the free advice that’s out there regarding gear. I’m not saying you should ignore it. But use the free advice you get as reference points rather than guides. Make decisions based upon your own research. Even with the reviews I give here, remember, they’re my personal opinions. Ultimately, you have to make the choice. But if you go in blindly, and you’re disappointed with what you get well, you read the title…

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td_main
Effectrode has long been known for its tube-driven effects such as the Tube Vibe. But they’ve just released a new overdrive pedal with three tubes that give you up to six gain stages of drive! OMG! Talk about saturation city! Note that this pedal ain’t cheap at $399, but if it delivers on what appears to be very promising features, I might be hard-pressed not to take a serious look at this pedal. It’ll be interesting what people say about this pedal.

Here’s the description of from the Effectrode site:


The Tube Drive, pure class-A tube overdrive pedal featuring three triode vacuum tubes for a total of six gain stages. The drive knob simultaneously controls the gain of all cascaded stages so that they progressively clip allowing the Tube Drive to respond empathically to your pick attack with a graceful breakup characteristic. At lower gain settings this pedal excels at producing authentic blues and mild break-up to add some “dirt” to playing whilst always sounding smooth and musical. Pushing the drive a little higher produces the classic 70’s overdriven tube amp tone and at even higher gains the sound becomes rich in harmonic content without masking the the natural sound of your guitar and amplifier. The Tube Drive allows you to effortlessly climb the gain curve to create sustaining, super-saturated lead tones, inspire you and power your solos beyond escape velocity, through the stratocastersphere soaring into high energy orbit!

Features

  • All Tube gain circuitry: 100% analog, class-A, clipping circuitry based on three cascaded tubes. No silicon in the signal path – guaranteed. This topology gives the Tube Drive fine control over a wide range of gain characteristics from mild breakup to creamy saturation.
  • Bax-Stack “active” tube tone control: The Tube Drive is the only overdrive with an active tube tone control. The Bax-Stack is a real treble boost (and cut) circuit with zero insertion loss, unlike passive tone stacks which can only remove frequency content (“tone-sucking”). The tone range is optimized to work over important frequencies essential for mellow jazz tones to some serious crunch.
  • Low-end coutour switch: Active low boost for a warmer, richer sound. Especially useful with single coil pickups to thicken the sound or when playing at low volumes to compensate for loudness.
  • Orange L.E.D.: Indicates when pedal is engaged.

Very cool! But even cooler are the sound samples. Check ’em out!!!

335 solo

Strat Solo

YYZ solo

Crunch

Saturation

Mild Breakup

Strat Drive

Crunch Too!

Red Barchetta

Sustain

Description and sound clips courtesy of Effectrode Pedals.

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Tonic Amps

As you know, the Dawg spends a lot of time sniffing around to find gear, but sometimes, manufacturers find me. Recently Tonic Amps contacted me, and I checked out their offerings. Tonic builds some nice reissue amps with their own twists, but they are also the North American distributor for Fane Speakers, the noted UK amp speaker manufacturer.

As you’d expect, if they sell speakers, Tonic probably builds cabs as well, and that is definitely the case. Darin (owner/builder of Tonic), has some very nice custom cabs in a variety of configurations and woods, all solid board cabinets: no pressed sawdust here, my friends. Tonic also offers custom cabs in a variety of hardwoods (though of course, you’re going to pay a premium for these, but hey! they’re available).

In any case, Premier Guitar has run a couple of videos that demonstrate Tonic Amps. You can check them out below:

From the 2009 New York Amp Show:

From the LA Amp Show:

These are some nice-sounding amps with some nice features! One thing that’s totally awesome for me is that Tonic Amps is literally ten minutes away from where I live! I can’t wait to try out Tonic’s amps and cabs!

Another cool thing is that Darin shares a shop with GeekMacDaddy, who makes a line of very cool pedals. Maybe I’ll get a chance to give ’em a whirl, in particular, his British Ball Breaker, which is touted as a Marshal stack-in-a-box. Yummy!

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I wrote this song a few years back, and had the hardest time trying to record it. Unfortunately, the stock drum tracks in GarageBand just don’t cover the blues very well, so I finally found some decent audio drum loops that I could use. Ostensibly, this is a song about everlasting love, and how in marriage or even lifelong relationships, despite their occasional downs, if you truly love someone, you’ll return to them.

With this song, I wanted to capture a smoky lounge with a jazz quartet kind of groove. And BTW, the guitar in this was recorded using IK Multimedia Amplitube Fender. Damn! That ’57 Champ sounds great! Anyway, here’s the song:

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I was perusing The Gear Page this morning, and saw one of Anthony’s postings of the colors the Bambino comes in. CHECK IT OUT!!!

bambino_colors

I have the blue tolex model shown at the bottom right. It is SO cool looking.

BTW, if you missed the sound clips, here they are again:

Clean fingerstyle in neck position of my Strat:

Clean, blues progression, with Strat in neck/middle position with just a minute amount of breakup:

All out, wide open with channels 1 and 2 dimed and StackMode volume at 3pm. I’m playing my Prestige Heritage Elite with ‘buckers in the bridge position:

This little amp has created quite a buzz on the forums, and at $699, it’s a deal. It has been so popular, that they haven’t been able to keep up with the demand, and that’s a good thing! To place an order or to get some information, contact the guys directly at info@reasonamps.com.

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bambinoDid my weekly church gig this evening and took the Reason Bambino along. Didn’t bring a pedalboard; just a 1 X 12 cabinet and a couple of cables. I wanted to test out the amp in its pristine state, with no added accoutrements. I also wanted to test the balanced line out to see how it worked with the building’s PA.

I have to tell you, Obeid Kahn being a noted Strat guy, even though the Bambino sounds killer with a guitar with ‘buckers, this amp seems to just love a Strat. It really makes it come alive. Whether I played fingerstyle or funky, the Bambino really made my Strat sing. Well… nothing helps to inspire me to play better than great tone. Like I mentioned in my review, the tone of the 6AQ5 sits right between an EL-84 and a 6V6, and that tone seemed to bring out the best of my Strat. The cleans were classic Strat, and the drive, oh yeah, the overdrive was open and bright, and just floated in the air. I may have been in worship, but I was also in tone heaven!!!

As for the balanced line out, oh man! The tone coming through my church’s PA was great! We have a pretty nice PA system, and the tone, whether clean or dirty, didn’t sound any different than what was coming through my cab. That was a concern for me because I’ve played through amps with line outs that just didn’t sound like the amp. The Bambino’s line out is very transparent, and that’s especially important with this amp because it’ll give you plenty of volume to monitor your tone on stage, but the line out going into your PA will ensure that it’ll get out faithfully to the audience. Make no mistake. This amp may only have 8 Watts, but it has plenty of volume to be used as a stage amp. I suppose it’s another way to approach performance. Especially in a church setting where lower stage volume is critical, having the ability to keep your stage volume down but knowing that it’ll get out to your audience is just so awesome. The Bambino rocks in this department!

***Quick Update*** I just spoke with Anthony this morning and he nor Obeid didn’t anticipate the DI to be plugged directly into a PA, so he was pleasantly surprised to hear my application of it. Note that I went direct out and into my cab at the same time! This amp has versatility written all over it!

And if ever the 8 watts isn’t enough, the Bambino can be used as a reference amp to define your tone, and with the line out, you can re-amp into another amp or a power amp to boost your output power. I’ve tried this, and it works great. I can’t wait until I get to try this at a real gig!

So what’s the verdict? The Bambino rocks – plain and simple.

To get a Bambino…

I don’t think Anthony and Obeid anticipated the popularity of the Bambino, and the positive response has been enormous. If you’re interested in getting this $699 tone monster, contact the guys directly either through e-mail at info@reasonamps.com. They also hang out at the Gear Page (http://www.thegearpage.net/board). Search for “bambino” or find the users “Reason” or “OKahn” and send a private message. There will probably be a bit of a wait time to get the amp as it has create quite a buzz and they’re already getting orders. The amp is just out of prototype and review for goodness’ sake! It’s amazing!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!
Reason Amps Bambino
Reason Amps “Bambino”
Summary: Don’t let its diminutive size fool you. This 14lb amp packs tone for days! Capable of sweet cleans to massive overdrive, the Bambino is sure to keep you rockin’!

Pros: Even at 8 Watts, this amp will give you stage volume for small venue gigs. 2 Watt mode gives you the same tone as the 8 Watts, but will keep your family and neighbors happy.

Cons: None.

Features:

  • Preamp Tubes: Three 12AX7’s
  • Power Tubes : Two 6AQ5’s in a push-pull configuration.
  • Output Power: 8 Watts, switchable to 2 Watts
  • Channels: Normal (Push-pull Fat Boost), Bright (Push-pull Treble Boost), StackModeTM
  • Built-in Speaker Load Box Simulated Line Output with Level Control
  • Separate Headphone Output

Price: $699.99

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. The Reason guys did it again! This amp simply rocks the house! Yeah, I know, I’ve only had the amp for a day, but I’ve been playing with it since this morning, and I just had to write about it! It’s spectacular!

Having the gift of gab is not a very good thing when you want to talk about something and can’t. I mentioned in previous posts that I knew about this amp when it was in the planning stages months ago, but Anthony Bonadio asked me not to mention it until it was ready. So imagine wanting to blab about this new amp, and not being able to! Oh well… At least I know I can keep a secret! 🙂

A little history…

When I first talked to Anthony about the amp (it didn’t even have a name yet), he mentioned that it was going to be a 1-Watt bedroom/practice amp for under $700. But Obeid Kahn (Reason’s genius amp designer) being who he is, thought the better of it and decided to create a voltage-switchable amp that could be used in and out of the bedroom. I’m glad he decided to go that route, because even with my very short experience with the Bambino, it has versatility written all over it. Don’t let the 8 Watts fool you at all. 8 Watts is plenty for stage volume in small venues and churches. Keep in mind 1 Watt at 3 meters through a 1 X 12 is as loud as a jackhammer!

When Anthony mentioned they were ready to launch the Bambino, I got real excited, and was even more excited to be able to get a test unit to evaluate. As I mentioned in my previous post about the Bambino, I just got it yesterday, but haven’t been able to keep myself from playing it today. I’ve probably logged about 8 hours on the amp between late last night and today.

Fit and Finish

What can I say? Reason Amps are freakin’ gorgeous. There are no voids in the tolex and the cabinet is quite sturdy. The control panel is easy to manipulate and very easy to figure out. Hell! There are only seven knobs! The test unit I got sported navy blue levant tolex, just like my Aracom amps! Lined up together, it looked like a color-coordinated set! HA! The beige front panel really creates a nice contrast to the blue tolex. The Bambino just looks great. But, of course, it’s following the pedigree of its bigger siblings.

How It Sounds

As I mentioned in my first impressions article, tonally, the Bambino, with its 6AQ5 power tubes, sits right between the EL-84 and the 6V6. Its cleans aren’t as glassy as the EL-84, and not as fat as 6V6. It truly does reside in the middle. Overdrive is more like a 6V6, with an open and airy quality that retains note clarity, even at high-gain settings. I’ve heard mention that the Bambino sounds like a couple of different amps, but from my perspective, the 6AQ5 has a voice all its own.

The Normal channel is the clean channel, and it’s actually tough to get breakup on this channel until you get the volume past 2pm. I love playing a Strat through this channel. You get that classic Strat tone, but expressed completely differently by virtue of the power tubes.

The Bright channel is actually not that much brighter than the Normal channel, though it does have that treble booster to get more top-end sparkle, and instead of a single tone knob, you have treble and bass knobs, so you can tweak the voicing a bit more. In this respect, the Bambino’s channels are set up very similarly to Reason’s SM40, where the two channels are fairly similar in tone.

StackMode, which combines the two channels in series and adds an extra gain stage is just simply to die for! The StackMode volume acts as PPIMV, so you can absolutely crank the first two channels and not blow out your ears. But when you have the ability to really open up the amp in StackMode, very very cool things happen with respect to overtones and high-order harmonics. The amp really comes alive when you’re running a lot of juice through the tubes!

Here are some clips I recorded of the Bambino (all were recorded in 8-Watt mode):

Clean fingerstyle in neck position of my Strat:

Clean, blues progression, with Strat in neck/middle position with just a minute amount of breakup:

All out, wide open with channels 1 and 2 dimed and StackMode volume at 3pm. I’m playing my Prestige Heritage Elite with ‘buckers in the bridge position:

OMFG! I love that last clip. The harmonics are incredible, and as you can tell from the clip, even though the overdrive is absolutely snarling and the gain is way over-the-top, the clarity of the notes is just amazing! Obeid had mentioned that good things start to happen when I could play the amp all out, and based upon my experience, he was right on the money. This amp just sings when you can let it breathe!

Sorry, I don’t have anything in between clean and in your face overdrive – I’ll record some more later.

Re-amp Anyone?

I also tested the balanced line out with the Bambino, running it into my Aracom VRX18, then into a 1 X 12 cabinet. Talk about a great, bright tone. The VRX18 “inherited” the grind from the Bambino, then added its own voice! The result was incredible. In fact the VRX18 helped to smooth out the highs from the Bambino. I’ll see if I can record some clips with that. But in any case, it really demonstrated the possibilities of how you can use this amp!

Overall Impressions

The Tone Bone score of 5 says it all. This is a great amp, period, and I will soon be adding it to my growing collection of low-power amps. Yeah, it’s a low-power amp that may not work for medium to large venues, but for small venues and for recording, this amp is spectacular. And at a street price of $699, it’s definitely a great value proposition to boot!

Okay, I want one… How do I get a Bambino? It’s not even listed on their site yet!

Contact the guys directly either through e-mail at info@reasonamps.com. They also hang out at the Gear Page (http://www.thegearpage.net/board). Search for “bambino” or find the users “Reason” or “OKahn” and send a private message. There will probably be a bit of a wait time to get the amp as it has create quite a buzz and they’re already getting orders. The amp is just out of prototype and review for goodness’ sake! It’s amazing!

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Reason Amps BambinoWhat three word phrase begins with an “O” and ends with an exclamation mark (!)? You guessed it, OH MY GOD! That was my reaction when I first turned on the Reason Bambino I got for review today. For the unfamiliar, the Bambino is Reason’s brand-new entry into the sub-10 Watt amp market, and if this little monster doesn’t make a big splash, I’ll be very disappointed!

I won’t go in-depth into the features since I covered those in my recent pre-release announcement, but the Bambino is simply a miniaturized version of the Reason family of amps, sporting three modes: Normal, Bright, and Stack. Stack Mode ROCKS folks, as it runs the Normal and Bright channels in series, adds an extra gain stage, while retaining full EQ control over the individual channels. Can you say, “High Gain?” 🙂 The volume knob on Channel 1 is a push-pull fat booster, while the volume knob on Channel 2 is a treble booster to add top-end sparkle. And of course, the Bambino is powered by two 6AQ5 power tubes. But enough of the features…

I opened up the shipping box and pulled out the amp to find a Navy Blue Levant tolex-covered amp. I just smiled as that is the exact color of my Aracom Amps! Talk about matching a set (though I don’t get to keep this eval model)! I’ve been so excited to get this amp as I’ve known about it for months, and couldn’t say a word about it. So despite the fact that I just finished a 4-hour solo gig tonight, how could I not open it up and try it out!

So I checked the tubes to see if they got unseated during shipping (they were fine), hooked it up, plugged in my Strat, and being that it was 10:30pm, switched the amp to 1 Watt mode (it’s switchable between 7 Watts and 1 Watt). I put the amp in Stack Mode, cranked the two channel volumes, turned the amp on, and got the Stack Mode volume to a reasonable level; that is, loud enough to move a bit of air but soft enough so as not to wake the neighbors (my studio is in my garage).

I struck an A chord on the fifth fret, and almost jumped out of my shoes! I could not believe what I was hearing! As expected, like all Reason amps, the Bambino is brightly voiced. But the 6AQ5 has a sound all its own. The overdrive tone is sizzling, with a nice, open character, incredible touch-sensitivity and dynamics, but it’s amazingly smooth at the same time. I liken that type of overdrive to the way 6V6’s break up, but the Bambino with its 6AQ5’s has a tone that is wholly unique! I LOVE IT!!! I did a few legato runs, and tested out the sustain and feedback. All I can say is that I was totally blown away! And I got this tone running the amp at bedroom levels in ONE FREAKIN’ WATT MODE!!!

Now, before you go thinking that 1 Watt doesn’t seem like a lot. In amp vernacular, it’s not much at all. But from an audio perspective, a 1 Watt amp running through a 1 X 12 speaker is as loud as a jack-hammer! That’s where the Stack Mode Volume comes into play as it is a PPIMV (Post Phase Inverter Master Volume), which effectively controls the amount of signal going into the power amp. At the volume I was running at, I was probably down to 1/2 or maybe even a 1/4 Watt, and that was at about loud conversation level.

But the gain that I was getting in Stack Mode was plenty for my needs, and as a home studio recording amp, being able to get that kind of tone without needing an attenuator, is incredible! I do have to say, that if I really want to take advantage of the third gain stage, I’d have to run the amp through an attenuator. Even at 1 Watt, with Stack volume cranked, it’s very loud, and that’s a testament to Obeid Kahn’s genius with power management.

As far as cleans are concerned, from what I can perceive with my Strat, the tone sits between an EL-84 and a 6V6 clean tone. It’s not as glassy as an EL-84 clean, and not as rich as a 6V6 clean. But what I like is that the clean tone has a real nice three-dimensional quality about it. There’s nothing flat about the cleans this amp produces. Adding just a touch of reverb accentuates this quality. It’s pure ear candy. While I love high-gain, to me, the real test of the amp is how it sounds clean. From that perspective, the Bambino totally delivers!

It’s almost midnight, I’m incredibly exhausted, but I have to play a little more before I turn in. So, in summary, my first impression of this amp is that it KICKS F-IN ASS! I haven’t even begun to explore all its features like its balanced line out (can’t wait to re-amp this with my Aracom VRX22 or do direct recording). All I know is that this is one special amp, and one that I am definitely adding to my collection! It’s a no-brainer at $699 for a hand-wired, US-made amp. Like the Aracoms amps that I love so dearly, I’ll take this amp over any name brand boutique amp out there!

Check out my review of the Reason Amps Bambino

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