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Archive for November, 2010

Yeah, I mention it a lot, but I thought I talk about it once again, because it truly has had a HUGE impact on how I approach amps. To me, there’s simply no attenuator on the market that can touch the quality of its sound; well, it doesn’t produce sound of course, but it lets all your tone come through, but more importantly, no matter where you set it, you will always have your dynamics. In any case, I recorded a couple of videos this afternoon, talking about this wonderful device by Aracom Amplifiers.

Part I: Discussion

Part II: Demo

BTW, recorded these clips with an Alesis VideoTrack. Nice little unit. Not sure how long I’ll actually use it because I actually do want a better picture. But for now, it’s great to have an all-in-one solution to get some video out!

For more information on this great attenuator, go to the Aracom PRX150 product page!

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People have asked me to do more videos, especially after I did the Doppler on the Dumble series. But the problem with doing video reviews is that I needed to set up a separate sound source to replace the video’s sound track, as it’s not all that good. So I’ve been looking at alternatives that had decent built-in sound, and a really inexpensive alternative I found was the Alesis VideoTrack. Mind you, I wouldn’t buy this one at full price. I got it for $80 today at Guitar Center during their Black Friday sale.

On the positive, it had great audio quality, which I’d expect from an audio company like Alesis. On the negative, the video quality is poor. But for gear reviews, it’s more important to have great sound than great video. That said, this will work for the time being until I get the Zoom Q3HD which has great audio and HD video. But it’s also almost four times what I paid for the Alesis, so I probably won’t be getting one anytime soon.

In any case, I did a test video. Check it out:

Not bad. Not bad at all. The sound quality is amazingly good, so I think we have a winner here!

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I did a “What is it about…” regarding the tone of a 100-Watt amplifier recently, and while I’m now hooked on higher-wattage amps, and will probably sell off a few of my low wattage amps, I’ve got some other lower-wattage amps – namely, my Aracom amps – that I will never part with because of their insanely fantastic tone and dynamics. While not nearly as beefy-sounding or -feeling as a 100 Watt amp, they just ooze great tone, and when cranked to the hilt, just sustain for days!

For instance, this morning I played a church service at my kids’ school and had two of my fellow church band members to play a power trio. Since we didn’t have a lot of room (the 5th grade class shares our normal band space), I just brought my Aracom PLX18 BB Trem combo with me so I wouldn’t have to hook up a cab. This amp is based upon the popular Marshall 18-Watt Plexi circuit, which is absolutely simple, as all vintage Plexi circuits were. It has a single gain stage that feeds into an EQ (and on the PLX, it’s a single tone knob to bleed off highs), then straight into the power amp. I believe it’s this simplicity that gives the amp and its Marshall ancestors such pure tone.

With their single gain stage, obviously amps of this ilk will not do over-the-top overdrive, and have to be cranked (as in dimed) to deliver any overdrive. But when they do deliver it, it’s smooth as silk and incredibly dynamic and articulate. This has always been my experience with Plexi-style amps, be they 100 Watts or 18 Watts. For my own PLX, as I said, it may not have the beefy tone that a 100 Watt version may offer, but that smooth overdrive and dynamicism is all present.

Anyway, I set up my rig this morning and I warmed up the amp. Then I plugged in my Gibson 2009 Limited Run Nighthawk, and started playing some warm-up scales. I hadn’t played my PLX for awhile, and running through my warm-up, I was reminded about how damn good that amp sounds! As Jeff Aragaki (Aracom’s owner) puts it, “It doesn’t matter what wattage the amp is. You just know a great amp when you play and hear it. And Marshall got that circuit right.” At least to me, Jeff couldn’t be more right. The PLX is pretty much an exact copy of the classic 18 Watt Plexi circuit (with some slight mods that Jeff has made), and that amp was made to be hit hard. When you do that, you’re rewarded with a tone that, at least to me, is other-worldly! If you’re looking a great Plexi-style amp, this is an amp you have to check out!

Here’s a little treat. Gene Baker of B3 Guitars recorded a great clip that demonstrates the PLX18’s wonderful crunch tone. Check it out:

Over the years, I’ve tried and tested a lot of different amps, and several that cop Marshall designs. No doubt, there are some great amps out there, but Jeff at Aracom really “gets it” with respect to vintage Marshall-esque amps. The cool thing is that instead of making an exact replica of the circuits as many amp builders do, Jeff sees where he feels the designs may be weak, makes corrections or improvements, or creates new amps altogether from the base. For instance, my VRX22 started out as a Plexi 18, but Jeff wanted to add more gain with the second channel, so he added another gain stage that acts as a tube overdrive that’s always on, went from EL84’s to 6V6’s, and what he came up with is an absolutely superb amp that has vintage-style Marshall dynamics, but a sound all its own.

For more information, please visit the Aracom Amps site!

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MXR Carbon Copy Delay Summary: Fantastic-sounding analog delay at an affordable price.

Pros: Out of the box, this baby oozes great tone, and creates warm, silky-smooth repeats as you’d expect from an analog and importantly it doesn’t turn your tone overly dark as analog delays are apt to do. The Mod button adds a cool and super-subtle modulation similar to chorus, to smooth out the tone even more.

Cons: The only nit I have with it is if I hit it hard with a lot of input gain. There’s almost a bit too much “flutter.” However, this is a small nit because this pedal sits on my acoustic board, and the input gain is low, so that flutter will never happen.

Features:

  • Bucket-brigade technology
  • 600ms delay time
  • Modulation switch to add subtle chorus-like modulation
  • Regen (repeats), Mix, and Delay knobs
  • Two internal trim pots to adjust width and rate (doubt that I’ll ever open up the box to adjust these. Factory settings are just fine)
  • True hardwire bypass

Price: $105 -149 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~I was really blown away by this delay. I was seriously considering getting another Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay – well, the PCB version, at least – to put on my acoustic board. But a friend showed me his Carbon Copy, and I was immediately sold. I’ll admit that if I’d gotten the Carbon Copy first, I probably wouldn’t have even considered the Deep Blue Delay, which is over double the price.

No, I’m not kicking myself… And yes, I paid over $300 for my hand-wired Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. But that particular delay is seriously in a class all by itself. In my mind, there’s the Deep Blue Delay then all the rest of the analog delays. But near the top of that “other” list sits the MXR Carbon Copy. It never crossed my mind to even evaluate this pedal after I got my Deep Blue Delay, but when I wanted to get another analog delay for my acoustic rig, fortune had it that a good friend happened to get the Carbon Copy. I originally turned him on to the Deep Blue Delay, and instead of that (he couldn’t justify the price), he got the Carbon Copy for use on his acoustic board. Of course, I had to try it out, and fell in love with it immediately! Plus, at less than $150, this pedal would be a steal! So I got it a couple of Fridays ago to use at my weekly solo acoustic gig, and have been a happy camper.

Built like a tank

I still have an 80’s MXR Distortion pedal that I used for many years. One of the reasons I dug it was that it was super-durable. I gigged with a lot, and it got knocked around and stepped on, but I never had to change a knob or switch in all the time I’ve had it. Though MXR is now owned by Jim Dunlop, I have to give kudos to the new ownership for maintaining the solid feel of the MXR line.

It ain’t cheap…

Make no mistake, though MXR has been traditionally known for affordable pedals, don’t equate that with them being “cheap.” They’re affordable, yes, but they’ve also made their mark on Rock and Roll (can you say Phase 90?). The Carbon Copy is yet another example of an affordable pedal that produces killer tone.

How it sounds…

I was very surprised by the quality of the sound that this pedal produces, and the range of delay tones you can get. For instance, here’s a clip that cops a bit of “Edge” delay:

In this next clip, I combine two modulation effects – heavy chorus and delay. The Carbon Copy is set to a long delay time with Regen set to noon. To keep the delay effect subtle and ambient, Mix is at about 10am.

Finally, here’s a video from Guitar World that really demonstrates the Carbon Copy’s capabilities:

Overall impression

I totally dig this pedal! Once I got it dialed in for my acoustic gig a couple of Fridays ago, it stayed on almost the entire gig! I only switched it off when I needed a more “in your face” tone. This is just a super pedal, and I highly recommend it!

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Click on each picture to see larger views

Pedaltrain NANO Pedal Board

Summary: Super-convenient and super-portable, the NANO is a great board for those that only need to use a few pedals.

Pros: Included gig bag has straps that make it easy to attach to a guitar gig bag or case. Includes enough fuzz to cover both rails. Nice.

Cons: None.

Features:

  • Durable metal frame with rubber feet on bottom
  • Light weight at 2lbs including gig bag

Price: $49.95 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~I recently decided to just use time-based effects (chorus, delay, and reverb) for my acoustic rig, and wanted a mini board that I could easily lug. The NANO totally comes through in this regard!

I’ve got lots of pedals. Truthfully, I’ve got a LOT of gear. 🙂 And for a long time, I used just a single board and swapped out pedals depending upon the type of gig I was performing. But then there were times when I played both electric AND acoustic during the same gig, and so I’d have to compromise on what pedals to put on my board. Then I got one of those Wicked Woody pedal boards which supplanted my old Gator board, and that meant I could put my acoustic pedals on the Gator board.

That Gator board has served me well for years, but I found myself using only three time-based effects for my acoustic rig, and that board, which can fit 8 full-size pedals, was way too big, and actually kind of heavy. But it’s what I used this past summer during my outdoor gigs, mainly because by the time I’d think about replacing it with something smaller, I was setting up for my gig. 🙂

So last week when I purchased my Homebrew Electronics THC chorus pedal, I asked my trusty sales rep, Jordan, over at Gelb Music in Redwood City, CA if he had a small board in stock. He first directed me to the Pedaltrain Mini. That was a cool board, but I remarked that I didn’t need all that space. Then he remembered that he had just gotten a NANO in stock. I picked up the box, looked at the picture and said, “Sold. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for since I’m only using three pedals for my acoustic rig.” So that’s how I ended up with the NANO.

After having taken it to couple of gigs, I have to say that I just dig the convenience of this board! As you can see in the picture above, you can attach it to your guitar gig bag. The straps are actually long enough to wrap around the entire bag. This makes it so easy to lug around!

Now for some particulars…

  • There’s plenty of space underneath the board to run wires and do a neat job of it, as you can see in the picture I took of my board this morning.
  • The rubber feet are a god-send! This board will not slip, which is yet another convenient feature.
  • With the board itself weighing only 1 lb. it’s easy to lug.
  • I recommend using a 1-spot with this board – this is what I use, and it keeps things neat while giving you plenty of cord to run to an outlet.

Overall Impression

At $49.95, you just can’t go wrong with this board. I love it! Now a real cool thing would be to have a powered version of this, but I’m not complaining at all. Besides that would just add some weight, and it’s great that this is nice, lean board. So if you only use a few pedals at most, this is definitely a board you should consider!

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To me, Mother Father is the quintessential Journey tune that showcases Steve Perry’s voice and Neal Schon’s composition and phrasing. I remember hearing that song when it first came out, and listened to it over and over – probably wearing out the grooves on my LP (ya, I’m dating myself). 🙂 And like him or not, no one can do that vocal like Steve Perry. Dean and Arnel can come close to Steve’s vocal range, but the soul and dynamics of his voice was truly unique.

If you look at later versions of the song with Dean Castronovo singing, you’ll see Neal playing his customized Les Paul Custom with the sustainer toggles. I actually prefer his Les Paul tone to his original “Schon” guitar tone, which is a bit thinner sounding.

So what inspired me to write this entry? I watched Journey Live in Manila on cable last night, and was in pure awe of Neal’s guitar tone – especially in Mother Father. Plus, that chord progression is classic Neal, who is the master of the rhythm riff.

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You know me, I’m a low-wattage amp kind of guy. I find them really versatile and use them in a variety of venues and especially in the studio. But lately, I’ve been playing with a Sebago Sound 100 Watt Double Trouble – it’s a D-style amp – and I can say with confidence that I know what the big amp guys are talking about now. I have to use an attenuator with the amp, but even at lower volumes, there’s a certain thickness to the signal that a low wattage amp just can’t produce naturally.

Now, through the wonders of technology, I’ve been able to EQ low-wattage amps on recordings in such a way to make them sound a lot bigger than they are, but when an amp produces that fatness naturally, all I can say is “Wow!”

Tonight, I brought the amp to my church gig, and just couldn’t believe what I was hearing! The amp sounds great, yes (and I’ll have a full review of it soon), but the sheer power of 100 Watts – even attenuated –  was something I hadn’t experienced before. It’s hard to describe what it was like, but there is definitely a certain dynamicism in the tone and – excuse the pun – a power that my low wattage amps just don’t produce.

Does this mean I’ll get rid of my low wattage amps? Absolutely not because they’re just great tools. But I’ll probably be gigging with something more powerful more often than not from now on… 🙂

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As kind of a follow-on to the original article, Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps and I spoke this morning, and the real difference-maker between the big amp and small amp – at least to me – is really evident when you have the power tubes in play. In my studio (read: garage), the amp at low gain sounded like any other amp – even my small amps – through a 1 X 12. But when I hooked up the Sebago to my attenuator, and opened up the master volume, all sorts of great things happened in terms of getting a much more complex tone; even clean. So yeah, the power tubes have A LOT to do with the thick tone of a high gain amp.

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