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Archive for September, 2009

4 Tone Bones - Excellent gear, that exceeds expectations of its performance, value, and quality. Strongly consider purchasing this.

Pointless Picks

Pointless Picks

Summary: Really out-of-the-box approach to picks. They’re perfectly round with a raised bevel in the center so you don’t drop ’em.

Pros: Really easy to hold, and strumming with these picks creates a nice ringing tone – not nearly as fat as I thought, but that’s okay! Works great as rhythm guitar pickup or for playing acoustic guitar where a lot of strumming is involved. Great to use as a strummer!

Cons: I found picking out individual notes only okay, and if you’re one of those folks that holds their picks at a 45 degree angle to the string, it’ll take awhile to get used to this pick. It works best straight on, and it’s not that bad. But it’s also kind of big. If it was a smaller diameter, I’d probably love it!

Features:

  • Made from Acetal, which is similar to nylon, but very durable.
  • Raised bevel makes holding onto the pick easy
  • Comes in three thicknesses: .58mm, .72mm, 1mm

Price: < $1.00 ea. through various retailers

Tone Bone Score: 4.0 – These aren’t bad picks, though they do require that you spend a bit of time with them. I actually thought that I’d like the 1mm pick the best, but actually, the thinnest one actually worked best for me.

If you’re a regular visitor to GuitarGear.org, you’ll notice that I rarely review name-brand gear. My thought is that mainstream gear gets lots of coverage, so I tend to gravitate to either the novel or less well-known gear manufacturers. Pointless Picks definitely fall into this latter category!

When I received the envelope from Pointless Picks today, I opened it up in anticipation, and was surprised by them. The pictures you see online really don’t prepare you for the real thing. They’re totally weird looking in a good sort of way. But I’ve learned to keep an open mind, so I took one of each pick (I got several), and went out to my studio to try them out.

I systematically tested each thickness of pick. As a thick pick lover, I thought that my favorite would be the 1mm pick, but the exact opposite was true. The one I liked the most was actually the .58mm pick. I believe this is because of how large a diameter the pick is. When you strum, the pick hits the string with a lot of surface area. With the thicker pick, there naturally isn’t much give, and with my heavy strum technique, the thicker pick didn’t really work well for me. But with the thin pick, it was a different story. I could dig in and the give of the pick made for much easier strumming.

If you’re the type of player who turns their picks around to play with the fat end of the pick, you’ll probably like this pick. Me? I’ll be honest. I like these picks, but I’m not sure I’d like them enough to switch to them exclusively. I even gigged with them this past weekend. As an acoustic pick, I dug them – or at least the thin pick. I was able to get some nice, fat, but also ringing tones from my acoustic. Not sure that I’d use them for electric though. The feel is a bit too heavy for my tastes. You see, I like playing with the pointy end. 🙂

All in all though, these are pretty cool picks.

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Aracom Amps PRX150-Pro AttenuatorAs many know, I’m a big fan of attenuators. In the past I’ve owned a couple and have tried out several. And with the addition of the Aracom PRX150-Pro to my rig, I’ve finally got a device that is helping me realize all the tonal goodness my amps have to offer. But this entry isn’t about the Aracom attenuator. There are a few attenuators that have entered the market in the recent past including the Faustine Phantom and others that are having the same effect on axe slingers and how they approach their tone.

So what’s the big deal? Most folks know how an attenuator operates. It sits between your amp and your speaker(s), and squelches the output signal from your amp which results in a lower output volume, so you can drive your amp to high gain levels and not shatter your eardrums. That’s the basic premise behind attenuators in general. But up until recently, attenuation came at a price, and that is the loss of tone and dynamics, or completely changed tone at higher attenuation levels; to put it simply, loss of tonal quality. I’m willing to bet that this very thing has kept lots of people from using an attenuator.

But with the new breed of attenuators hitting the market, loss of tonal quality is much less of an issue, if it’s an issue at all. Now you can bring your output volume WAY down, and be assured that the tonal quality you’ve worked so hard to achieve is still there.

So how will this change the way we approach our tone? I would venture to guess that many guitarists have really never known what their amp sounds like fully cranked up – at least for extended periods of time. Sure, if you’re a pro and regularly play huge venues, you know what it sounds like. But for us mere mortals who rarely play in more than a dance club, we’ve never been able to fully experience the cranked up tone of our amps, and that’s where a great attenuator comes into play.

When I hooked up my PRX150-Pro, the first thing I did was to set it on load mode and turn the variable to full attenuation, then dimed the master and volume on my amp to see what it would sound like. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of new tones that were suddenly available to me: rich harmonics, tons of sustain, and incredible touch sensitivity. It was as if a whole new world was opened up to me.

With my old attenuator, I rarely went to real high levels of attenuation because it made my tone sound weak and lifeless.  Plus, I didn’t want to burn out my tubes – which I learned the hard way when I cranked my amp while hooked up to the attenuator. But with the Aracom attenuator, I knew I could crank it as high as I wanted to and still be safe. What this means is that I now have access to a wider landscape of tones and dynamics that I can also safely reach. And that’s another feature of the new breed of attenuators: They appear to be much safer to use than the older designs out there.

Here’s an interesting question I got from a buddy of mine: Will I get rid of my overdrive pedals as a result now being able to get the fully cranked tone of my amp? Not on your life! 🙂 I love how they add color to my tone. But I will tell you this: Now that I can crank up my amp to high gain levels without the concomitant high volume levels, I’m actually not using my overdrive pedals as much. Oh, I still use them because they add certain characteristics that aren’t possible with my natural overdrive tone; just not as much as I used to because when I want just straight amp overdrive, I just crank my amp. But when I want to use them, I run them through the clean channel of my amp that has lots of clean headroom, so I can take advantage of the tone that they offer.

So is it a significant change to how we approach our tone? Possibly. I know of some folks who’ve completely stopped using overdrive pedals altogether as a result of using an attenuator, and use a clean boost or even just their volume knob on their guitar to get the lead volume they want. Me? I like to have a few different “brushes” that I can use to create different textures, but in either case, getting that cranked up tone naturally without shattering eardrums is pretty huge.

I think the folks who will gain the most from these great new attenuators are the home studio musicians. Imagine being able to record a screaming guitar solo, and not have the wife or neighbors yelling at you to turn down your volume! I regularly do my recording into the wee hours of the morning, so having an attenuator has been a godsend. But up until I got my PRX150-Pro, I had to wait to record solos until it was day when I could turn up my amp to a gain level that didn’t get me yelled at, as my other attenuators just didn’t give me the tone I needed at high attenuation levels. Even if I used an overdrive pedal, it doesn’t sound good unless it’s working with your amp and pushing your pre-amp tubes, and that takes juice! With a great, transparent, or non-tone-sucking attenuator, you can push your amp hard, and keep your volume under control!

I know of a lot musicians who poo-poo the use of an attenuator. But an attenuator can do wonders for gigging. Want to make the sound guys happy? Here’s another way to look at it: With an attenuator, you can focus on your tone, and not projecting out to the audience. Get enough volume to hear yourself on stage, then let the sound guys do their thing. PA technology has come a long way since the early days of rock and roll, where amps had to be played loud to get the sound out to the audience. Also, if you think about it, speakers are highly directional. If you want to disperse your sound, use the PA.

There’s been an interesting thread that I’ve been lurking on The Gear Page entitled, “Sound guys think I’m too loud.” Someone suggested early on that the original poster could use an attenuator or a smaller amp to reduce their volume. The suggestion of using an attenuator went largely ignored, but as I followed this thread and read all the various insights, using an attenuator is the perfect solution for this.

I’ve heard a lot of the complaints about attenuators in the past, and I’ve also had my issues with them. But with the new breed of attenuators, tone suck is no longer an issue. And that tonal quality will be sure to change how guitarists approach their performances.

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Pointless Picks

I got a Twitter notification today of someone now following GuitarGear, so I checked Twitter to see who it was, and was intrigued by their website URL: http://www.pointlesspicks.com. Curious, I clicked on their link and was taken to their site. Sure enough, it was a product site dedicated to picks that were – as the name implies – pointless.

These are perfectly round picks, made of a polymer called Acetal. Acetal is a thermoplastic and apparently one of the stiffest and most durable plastics in the thermoplastic family. It has a variety of uses, and often competes with nylon for the same applications, according to the Plastics Web, such as the production of plectrums.

These picks are very interesting to me at first blush. As they’re round, there’s not a “wrong” way to hold them. And if you’re the type of player that almost always rounds off their points or plays with the fat end of a standard pick, then this pick may be appealing to you. It’s certainly a novel idea, and apparently they’ve got a lot of retailers selling them. They won a “Best in Show” at Summer NAMM last year, so obviously these picks made an impact on the judging panel.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many reviews of them, and the few that I found were pretty much copies from a single review, which was fairly short. I only found one video on YouTube that mentions Pointless Picks, and it wasn’t a review, though the guitar playing was pretty good, but you can’t see the dude using the pick!

Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about these. I love big fat picks, and these come in 1mm at their thickest. But if they’re really stiff, I may just like them. But it makes me wonder how to do fast alternate picking with them. I’m not a particularly fast player, but I hold my pick at about a 45 degree angle when I’m picking individual notes. It would seem to me that at that angle, the pick would just slide over the string. Maybe there’s some inherent friction…. Guess I’ll have to try them out to see what they’re like. But hey! Best in Show at NAMM is nothing to shake a stick at, so I’m game!

Anyway, for more information, check out the the Pointless Picks web site for more information.

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stagetrix_riserOne of the things that completely pisses me off when I’m gigging is when I reach my foot out to activate a pedal in the back row of my board, and I end up also activating a pedal in the front row. Aiiiyeeee!!! This happened to me recently at a church gig. I was playing a nice, sweet, clean solo, and want to texture my sound a bit by adding some reverb.

To give some background, my reverb pedal (Hardwire RV-7) is the last pedal in my chain and it sits right above my Holy Fire overdrive. Instead of a toggle switch, the RV-7 has a switch plate, and the travel before it actually activates is enough so that I have to really point my toe so I don’t brush my Holy Fire’s knobs or accidentally activate it. Well, in this instance, I did both: I somehow completely dimed the overdrive knob AND activated the pedal. The next note I struck not only startled me, but also startled the prayerful assembly – enough so that some people actually squeaked! Yikes! No doubt, it was a bit embarrassing…

Then today, I got a Twitter alert that a new user called StageTrix was following me, so I went to Twitter to do an exchange follow, and on StageTrix’s site, I saw a Twitter reply from Premiere Guitar. Intrigued, I checked out their site, and was greeted with a solution to my problem: An 18-gauge steel pedal riser that you can use to prop up the second row of your board to make your back row of pedals more easily accessible! What a great freakin’ idea! It’s one of those ideas where you slap your forehead and say, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” 🙂

I had the opportunity to chat with one of the StageTrix guys a few minutes ago to discuss StageTrix’s invention. They’ve apparently been developing it for about a year and a half, and doing prototypes with various musicians. And their reason for building it? Exactly for what I was lamenting just above!

Here are some details from their site:

  • Raises the second row of pedals to the perfect height.
  • Front, back and side openings enable effective cable routing.
  • Premium 18-gauge steel.
  • Attaches to board via heavy duty hook-and-loop fastener on base, which holds firm up to 200°F.
  • Designed to withstand temperatures of up to 200F without melting, so leaving your pedal board in your vehicle on a summer day won’t result in a gooey mess with all the Velcro peeling off.
  • Works with most pedalboards. To be sure, check that you have an extra 1″ of clearance when case is closed. The vast majority do.

If you go to their site, they’re doing a promotion by putting several of these units up for bid on EBay, with a starting bid at a $1.00. These pedals list for $23.99 on their site, so it’s possible that if you get the winning bid, you could get one for significantly less…

Right now, they’re only available through StageTrix, but they should soon be available in stores. I will be getting a review unit within the next week or so, and will do a review.

Check out the StageTrix site now!

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large-relay-2

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How ’bout a completely different take on an overdrive pedal? Well KASHA is at it yet again, teaming up with Tone Box, Inc., with the brand-new Skull Crusher Drive! Utilizing KASHA’s RockMod technology, the Skull Crusher sports four voicings and a tone and gain knob. Plus with a 10db boost, you have 8 different analog overdrive possibilities in a single pedal!

Sounds hauntingly similar to the KASHA overdrive pedal I just tested last week. It is a bit different, as it has a Tone knob, which is different from the KASHA overdrive. But I can personally attest to the quality of the tone of the KASHA overdrive, so you can bet the Skull Crusher will have that same sweet tone itself!

BTW, my KASHA OD is in production and on its way. I got lucky, and will be getting one of the signed models with a handwritten serial number… Oh goody! Might be able to sell one of these for a grand in 30 years! HA!

In any case, I’ve never seen a pedal like the Skull Crusher before! This is a totally new approach to pedals, adding a visual as well as tonal touch to an effect. The pedal will be distributed by Tone Box, Inc. and will retail for $399.

As for the physical appearance of the box, each pedal is hand-sculpted stainless steel, and comes in four finishes: gun metal, stainless steel, aged and ancient. According to KASHA, there will also be 24K gold and Sterling Silver models as well. Damn! Imagine having a stomp box that’s worth more than your guitar! HAHAHAHAHA!!! I LOVE IT!

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Aracom Amps PRX150-Pro AttenuatorAracom Amps has just posted a page on their site which features Gene Baker – luthier of the famed Baker Guitars and now of Fine Tuned Instruments producing “B3” guitars – demonstrating the transparency of the Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator at various attenuation levels.

Gene has also provided commentary on the recording and how no EQ adjustments were made to the amp – even down to bedroom levels! This is a re-affirmation of what I’ve been saying all along about this awesome device! The PRX150-Pro simply retains the tone you work hard for – no matter how much attenuate your signal; and more importantly eliminating the need to compensate with EQ.

Check out Aracom’s Gene Baker audio page here!

Having someone like Gene Baker demonstrate the capabilities of the PRX150-Pro is huge! Gene is an incredible guitarist!

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Reason Amps BambinoCruising the forums this morning, I came upon a statistic that just blew me away; probably more so because I completely missed it when it first came out. But better late than never… Anyway, the guys at Creation Audio Labs did a loudness comparison of various amplifiers in different wattage ranges at the recent Nashville Amps Show. For the 1 – 20 Watt category, the Reason Bambino had a loudness of 120.2 dB through a Greenback!

That’s moving some serious air for an 8 Watt amp, and just goes to show you that’s it’s not necessarily wattage that determines how loud something is. Power handling is the key, and Obeid Kahn of Reason Amps is wizard with power handling.

I’ve been extolling the Bambino not only for it’s great tone, but also for how loud it can go. Friends have said an amp this small will never move enough air to gig with; I’ve proven them wrong time and again, but mostly through verbal argument. But now, with a number to back up the argument, I can confidently say that this amp can do it! I regularly use it for gigging with my 1 X 12 cabinet, and have absolutely no problem hearing myself over the drums. But let’s be clear: I’m not using the amp to project my sound out to the audience. I’m using it more as a direct stage monitor, of which it is PERFECTLY suited. I get my sound out to the audience by plugging directly into the PA board from the balanced line out, or miking my cabinet.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again. Going lower wattage with your amp(s) is really a change in performance setup philosophy. Those who’ve embraced this understand that you really only need stage volume nowadays with the much better PA system technology that’s out there. Even moderately sized PA’s work better than stuff twenty to thirty years ago. The important thing to them is to be able to get their cranked up tones without peeling the skin off their faces and turning their eardrums into a liquid mess. Take for instance Matthew Followill of the Kings of Leon, a band that is really gaining popularity and starting to play a lot of arenas. I was amazed to read in an interview that he plays through a 50 Watt Ampeg Reverb Rocket. As he said in his interview, “I’m a big fan of smaller amps turned all the way up, instead of big amps turned up halfway…”

Circling back to the Bambino, it is a great, versatile amp that is really starting to turn heads; not just from its tone, but how well it can project its voice!

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