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Archive for December, 2009

I walked into my garage/studio this morning and looked over to my gear – there’s a lot (though probably not as much as I’ve seen from other gear sluts’ pictures). Peering over my collection, the thought struck me: What if I could only have one of each type of gear… What would I choose? What would be the basis for my decision?

After ruminating on this subject over breakfast and coffee, I decided that I’d choose the gear that gives me the most versatility with respect to tone and usability given the various types of music I play. So based upon that here are my choices:

  • Squier Classic Vibe Tele 50’s
  • Aracom VRX22 with 1 X 12 Cab
  • BOSS TU-2 Tuner
  • Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator

Those four things will get me through any gig or recording session. Not to say that they’re my favorite pieces of gear, but that combination will give me the most versatility with respect to versatility and usability.

What? No Goldie? Man, I love that guitar, don’t get me wrong. But that guitar is so heavy, I don’t gig with it unless I’m at a place where I have to sit down. The Tele, on the other hand, is super-light, and with its pine body, it’s very resonant, so I can get thick, almost humbucker-type sounds to nice trebly tones. Goldie offers that up and more, but she loses on usability in a variety of venues due to her weight.

The Aracom VRX22 happens to be my favorite amp in any case, but it’s my favorite because of its versatility. Once I had Jeff do the footswitch mod so I could switch between channels, and remove the clean channel from the master volume, there’s nary a tone – except for super heavy, high gain – that I can’t produce with that amp.

With respect to my TU-2 tuner, yeah, I know, there are much better ones out there, but it’s what I’ve got. But despite that, I’d rather be in tune than to have a cool effect, so that pedal would stay.

Finally, the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator will always be a part of any rig I put together because it allows me to set limits to my max volume in any venue. Since I play mostly small to medium venues, this box is essential for dialing in just the right amount of volume for the house. And even if I have to play at super low volumes where the Fletcher-Munson effect comes into play, I can rest assured that when my amp is miked, I’ll get my true tone.

I was actually surprised by my own choice of guitar primarily because Goldie is such a tone machine. But for as much as I move around when performing, lugging a heavy guitar is definitely not my cup of tea; especially if it makes me throw out my back, which I did a couple of weeks back. But it also says loads about that Squier Tele. I’ve got some great guitars, but that little $329 wonder creates such awesome tones and it plays so great, that it’s a clear winner. I might’ve gotten lucky with my particular guitar because I’ve read some user reviews that their tone is inconsistent. I’ll play a few more to see how that holds up.

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O thou with such dirty little minds! I’m not talking about some Red Hot Chili Peppers-style playing with a tube sock around my member. I’m talking about playing with zero effects! So there!

For the past few weeks, I’ve recorded and gigged several times with no effects at all, and the only pedal I use is my trusty BOSS TU-2. The first time I did it, I was being lazy and didn’t want to break down my rig from my studio – especially since I was in the middle of laying down some tracks and didn’t want to lose my settings. But that first time turned into a second, then a third, and so on.

I’ve found it to be refreshing on a number of fronts; not the least of which is the much lighter load I have to lug around. But more importantly, I think it has really helped my playing as I can’t rely on pedals to fill in the gaps. For instance, I’m a lot more aware of how I’m sustaining notes, and trying to hold them as long as possible before I have to move on.

I know of lots of players who don’t use pedals at all, and for quite awhile, I couldn’t imagine life without pedals. But “playing naked” has really helped me to not rely on them. I used to always use overdrive pedals as my main source of drive, but I now use them as accents. I used to slather on the reverb but now, I rarely use it, except in the studio and even there, I use it sparingly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to put my board away. There are times when I need a pedal for a particular song, but for the most part, I can do without them, or just use them to provide tonal accents. In a way, I feel liberated…

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When I first talked to a guy at a shop about this guitar (it’s someone whose word I’ve learned to trust over the years) about the Squier Classic Vibe Tele, one of the first things he said was, “For the guys who know tone, this is one of the best kept secrets in the industry.” That, from a guy who pedals high-end Fender custom shop axes. His only nit about the guitar was the same as mine: The frets seemed a little small. But other than that, the guitar was a player in his opinion; and so it was with my own estimation of this wonderful little guitar.

Squier is supposed to be the budget line for Fender, and traditionally have been tagged as beginner guitars. But the way this guitar looks, feels, plays and sounds, there’s nothing beginner or budget about it. The build quality is excellent. There are no split or jagged joints or uneven painting. This guitar looks and feels solid. And it’s light, weighing no more than 7 pounds with its pine body and maple neck.

I was excited about this guitar when I first played it, as evidenced by the high marks it got on my original review. I couldn’t believe that a guitar with a street price of $349 could actually be this good. But the one thing that struck me about it was not just its looks, but its tone. This ain’t your typical, thin Tele twang machine. This guitar has balls. The pine body resonates – a lot – and that adds a fatness to the tone that is completely unexpected! Even in the bridge pickup that really brings out the twang, the Classic Vibe Tele sounds like a bridge humbucker with just a touch of twang!

Since I was able to bring one into my studio, I decided to record a couple of clips to demonstrate how fat this guitar sounds…

The first clip features the Tele clean in the neck pickup for both rhythm and lead, though I dirtied up the lead part just a tad.

This next clip demonstrates how the guitar sounds through a fully cranked up amp (Aracom VRX22 with 6V6’s). The three parts feature the neck, middle, and bridge positions of the same chord progression, respectively:

Finally, here’s my new song Strutter again with the Tele played in the bridge position through my Aracom VRX22:

As you can tell from the clips, “thin” is just not part of this guitar’s modus operandi. It’s actually unsettling at first because when I’ve played Tele’s in the past, they were pretty bright and thin. But this guitar just sings and resonates all day long! Must be the pine body. But who cares! It’s a player, and for the money, you just can’t go wrong.

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Click for full size view

What do you get when you have a group of product development consultants who are avid guitar players who want to find a way to stop “workin’ for the man,” but not create a bunch of “me too” products? You get StageTrix Products. These guys are brand-new, and from what I can gather, their approach to creating guitar gear centers around what you might call convenience products for guitar players.

Take, for instance, their pedal risers that I reviewed back in October. These gadgets that raise the back row of your pedal board may not make music, but they sure make the making of music a helluva lot easier. Here’s proof: The solo part of my latest song, Strutter, was recorded in a single take, with one punch-in at the very end of the song after I was done. In between sections, I was activating/deactivating effect pedals on the fly – something I’ve never done in a recording. I usually stop the recording, activate the pedals, then continue on. Granted, I had enough time between sections to do the switch on the fly, but I will submit that I couldn’t have done without the back row of my board being raised; in other words, how my board used to be. The point here is that that little convenience made a world of difference for me in my recording.

Enter the Pedal Fasteners. For $9.99, you get a pack of three, pre-cut hook-and-loop strips that are dimensioned to fit standard-size pedals. You might say, “So what? I can just get some Velcro from my local crafts store and be done with it.” You certainly can, but my experience with that stuff is that the glue used with these cannot withstand higher temperatures. They get all gooey, and once the glue has melted, the glue must change chemically, because its sticking power is lost. You ever get that stuff on your hands? I rest my case… 🙂 Pedal Fasteners, on the other hand, have a glue that can withstand up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit; more than enough for even a hot car interior, and the mere fact that you don’t have to cut them to size is killer!

I recently replaced the velcro strips on all the pedals on the front-row on my board with Pedal Fasteners. No cutting, (except for the center section (which you could conceivably push out, but I wanted clean edges and didn’t want to risk tearing, so I used a sharp utility knife). They work great, and even stick to rubber! I’d recommend removing the rubber though… I’ve had mixed results with that, but I did it to test it out – it’s sticking just fine so far.

So if you’re tired of having to cut fasteners to size, and even more tired of that messy goo once the glue has melted, you owe it to yourself to get a couple of pack of these!

For more information, please visit the StageTrix Products site!

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Song Information

Title: Strutter

Guitars: Rhythm – Strat, Lead/Melody – Saint Guitars Messenger (Goldie)

Amps: Rhythm – Aracom VRX22, Lead/Melody – Aracom PLX18 BB Trem

Guitars were recorded at conversation levels using the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator.

Effects: KASHA Overdrive, GeekMacDaddy Geek Driver

Audio

About the song

I wrote “Strutter” a couple of weeks ago. Like many of my instrumentals, it started out as a backing track that I could practice over. I was simply experimenting with doing leads over a dominant 7th chord progression after watching more of Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues with Brains” instructional video and wanted to try out some of the stuff he talked about. Well, one thing led to another, and I started getting ideas that I started running with. So I laid them down.

I actually completed the recording several times using different guitars and amps for the lead, but every time I listened to it, I just wasn’t satisfied with the lead. I knew I wanted a bright sound tone, either from a Strat or from a bridge humbucker, but I wanted the lead to have some hair as well. My Strat just didn’t work here because of the vintage-style low power single coils I have in it. And the PLX18 BB was just a bit too fizzy with the stock speaker. So I sat on the song for awhile, though I did keep on refining the phrasing. As far as amps are concerned, I have several to pick from, but their tones are very vintage smooth. Even my go-to amp, the VRX22, was just too “nice-sounding” for what I wanted.

The PLX18 BB got me right into the ballpark. It doesn’t have loads of gain, and while the breakup is smooth and expansive – very 3D – it also has lots of balls for which Plexi-style circuits are known. But even then, the speaker I had in it was just too harsh in the highs, with an overabundance of fizz. In earlier recordings with the amp, I had to bleed off highs. I really didn’t like doing that because I don’t like to EQ my guitar parts. So it wasn’t until last night when I swapped out the stock speaker (Eminence Red Coat Red Fang) with a Fane Medusa 150 where everything came together.

Previous versions of the lead track included wah, but I removed the wah and re-recorded that portion of the song mainly because I just wanted a slightly fatter tone. The amp was already dimed, so I just added a couple of stacked overdrives using my KASHA overdrive and Geek Driver. This resulted in a bit brighter, but fatter tone.

Finally, the cool thing was that I recorded the song in two takes. The second take was the ending. I think my hand was getting tired from all the bending, and I made a couple of mistakes. 🙂 It’s amazing how your playing flows when your tone inspires you!

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When I first reviewed the Fane Medusa 150, though I gave it a pretty good rating at 4.5 Tone Bones, I wasn’t really blown away by its tone because of its big bottom end, and recommended that the speaker be put into a 2 X 12 balanced out by a speaker with more top-end sparkle. What I didn’t consider was how it could be used to balance out the tone of a naturally bright amp.

Take, for instance, my review on the Aracom PLX18 BB Trem. One of the nits I had with the combo was that the Eminence Red Coat Red Fang was way too bright for the already naturally bright amp, causing me to bleed off highs when I was mixing the song. FYI, EQ’ing my guitars in my recordings is usually a real no-no with me because I like the pure sound of my guitars and amps on a recording. The only things I’ll add in production are reverb or a touch of delay if necessary. I love the tone of the PLX18, but that speaker just didn’t work for me.

Enter the Fane Medusa 150. That speaker is actually on loan from Tonic Amps. I’ve actually had it for a few months now, and I keep on forgetting to drop it off at Darin’s new place. Well, it looks like I’m probably going to buy it off him after all because I swapped out the Red Fang for the Medusa 150 in the PLX18, and suddenly the seas parted and a way was made clear! The PLX18 tone was completely transformed! Instead of being a purely bright amp, the PLX18’s tone became much more balanced. The highs and high-mids were still present but were much more tame. This resulted in a much richer tone.

As you may know, I’ve been working on a new song called “Strutter.” I actually had the song completely recorded, but I hadn’t finished it because I just haven’t been completely satisfied with the lead guitar tone. When I got the PLX18, I knew it would be the amp I’d use to record the song. But with the stock speaker, and even with my Jensen P12N, it still wasn’t cutting it for me. I even mentioned that the amp loves the Red Coat “The Governor,” and it does, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied. Now, with the Medusa 150 in the cabinet, I’ll be completing the song. Let’s compare, shall we?

Here’s the original, recorded with the PLX18 BB with the stock Red Coat. I’m playing my LP copy, Prestige Guitars Heritage Elite:

Now, here’s a clip of the song with the Fane Medusa 150. I’m playing Goldie in her bridge pickup:

Sorry for the differences in volume levels. But where the Red Fang has much more presence, and an in-your-face presentation, the Medusa’s tone is so much more three-dimensional and more refined. The mids and highs are still present and incredibly articulate, but they’re so much less piercing! And one thing that I noticed immediately with the Medusa is the clarity of the notes through the entire EQ spectrum, whereas the Red Fang seemed to lose a bit of clarity at high-gain settings – especially when I play those transition chords. Note that the amp and mix settings stayed completely the same between the two recordings, and both guitars were played through the Trem channel which was completely dimed. I also removed the wah from the second clip because I didn’t feel the need to mix it up. For that part, I did stack my KASHA Overdrive and Geek Driver overdrive pedals, but set to unity gain, and to add just a touch of compression and sustain. Not much, but just a touch.

So what’s the moral of the story? Simple: Amp and speaker combinations are critical to good tone. Some speakers, like my P12N work with a bunch of different amps. But some speakers, like the Medusa, work much better at balancing out certain amp characteristics. I’ve learned a good lesson here: You have to try out gear in different configurations and situations. Had I not tried to experiment with the Medusa, I probably would’ve just passed it off as a good speaker that belongs in a 2 X 12 cabinet with a bright speaker.

For more information on Fane speakers, talk to Darin at Tonic Amps! Tonic is the North American distributor for Fane speakers.

For more information about the incredible Aracom PLX18 BB Trem, please go to Aracom Amplifiers.

By the way, both clips were recorded at conversation levels using the fantastic Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, by far the best attenuator on the planet, from my perspective. I just couldn’t live without this device!

Now, both amp and speaker get:

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For the last couple of years, there has seemingly been a glut of new overdrives that enter the market on a weekly basis. I’ve been like a kid in a candy store as overdrive pedals are my favorite pedals. Though I’ve played through tons of ’em, I haven’t written about many mainly because there’s just so much gear out there, and I’ve got a limited amount of time I can spend reviewing and writing.

But I’ve noticed that in the past few weeks, there have been just a couple of new overdrives to enter the market; one of which I purchased (the KASHA Overdrive), and the Skull Crusher overdrive, both made by the same company. Since then, I haven’t seen anything new come out – at least no one is putting out press releases…

Are we at a saturation point now? Has all the overdrive territory been covered? Perhaps it is, or perhaps people are just waiting to release their pedals. One thing’s for sure, the overdrive tap has dried up.

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