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Archive for July, 2011

The guys at Pigtronix are absolute mad scientists who are never satisfied with creating straight-ahead effects (though they have a few). Take, for instance, the Echolution. It’s unlike any delay pedal on the market. Sure, it does the standard delay types, but also adds the Golden Ratio type as well. If you’re not familiar with the Golden Ratio, you can read about it here. Essentially, the Golden Ratio is expressed as Greek letter Phi, and is approximately 1.6180339887… It is significant because it occurs in nature (the arrangement of eyes on a pineapple follow the ratio, even the arrangement of leaves on a tree), and the ancients also considered objects created using the Golden Ratio were aesthetically pleasing. Also look up the Fibonacci sequence. It’s fascinating, but I digress…

Anyway, the Pigtronix guys have come up with an incredible tremolo box that also includes features associated with an envelope filter; specifically, those features come on depending upon how hard or soft you play. For instance, you can set the Tremvelope to go faster with more depth as you play harder and vice-versa.

I dig stuff like this, and I dig how Pigtronix’ mad scientists think of combining different things to come up with original expressions of tried and true effect. Here are a couple of demo videos courtesy of Andy at Pro Guitar Shop:

Part I

Part II

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I know, I usually do a gig report AFTER I write a review of a product, but I used the speaker in a gig yesterday, and had to write about it. First though, let’s go over some general stuff…

The Jet series from Jensen is a break from Jensen’s vintage roots to go after more modern styles of music. Having two of their Jet Falcon 12″ speakers, I readily concur. For a long time I was into vintage tone, but as the music I’ve been writing as of late has taken on a bit more of an edge, the warmth and general mellowness of Alnico just hasn’t done it for me, let alone my music. Going to speakers that have a bad-ass attitude has really helped me explore different musical depths.

When I first heard the Falcon, I absolutely fell in love with that speaker. It has a big, bold tone and is supposedly reminiscent of old “green backs.” I’ve never heard original green backs, but I do know one thing: For straight-up rock and roll, the Falcon excels!

Enter the Electric Lightning. I got an announcement from the Jensen distributor that the Electric Lightning 10 had just come out, so I asked him if I could do a review on it. He replied by sending me a speaker for review. He’s not getting it back (I’ll pay for it), and I’m going to order one more to create a 2 X 10, or maybe get a couple of more to build a 3 X 10.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I don’t bullshit when it comes to gear. Gone are the days when I buy something based on hype. I have to play it to see if I like it, and with the Electric Lightning 10″, I found a speaker that completely blows me away – enough so that I’m going to be buying it!

To test the speaker out, I installed it in my VHT Special 6, which has a pretty small cabinet, and I expected that the speaker would be pretty bright, considering the small resonating space, and the size of the speaker. I was completely wrong.

I happened to be working on a new song before I installed the speaker, so the I just grabbed the guitar I was using, which was my Yamaha APX900 acoustic-electric. I took one strum, and got a queer look on my face thinking, “Does it really sound that rich?” I couldn’t believe it! I started playing through a few different tunes, and I just couldn’t believe my ears! The lows that I was expecting to be subdued were big and bold, and not at all flabby or mushy. Mids were well-controlled and smooth, and the highs were nice and dynamic without being over-pronounced. Even with an acoustic-electric, the net result was that this speaker had lots of presence.

As you can see on the frequency response chart below, the graph supports what I described above:

The low-end response is nice and wide, with gentler mids, and with a sharp high-frequency peak to help round things out.

Of course, this speaker is touted as a speaker to be used for heavier music, and perhaps that wide bottom definitely supports that, but I then used the amp in my church gig yesterday to test the speaker out in a live setting. For the service, though I was tempted to bring a couple of guitars, I just brought my American Deluxe Strat.

In a word, the combination of the Strat with that amp and speaker was stupendous. I chose to use my Strat because I haven’t liked any single coil guitar with that amp since I got it. But the bottom-end on the speaker completely tones down the highs; though I do have to admit that the amp itself is pretty bright, so I turned the tone knob down to about 11am to roll off some of the real high-freq sounds that amp makes.

Did I mention that the speaker is loud? It really is. Even with a little 6 watt amp, that speaker is so efficient that it seriously moves air. Another guitarist in my band looked at the amp quizzically, to which I said, “Don’t sound like a 10″ speaker, does it?” He replied, “Well, not just that, I mean, look at the size of the cabinet it’s in, and it’s making that kind of tone and volume.”

That really just sums it up for the Electric Lightning. A 10″ speaker is not supposed to sound this big and loud; especially when it’s only being driven by a little 6 watt amp. It’s simply uncanny.

Another thing about this speaker is that it is very well-behaved with overdrive and distortion. Before our service I cranked up the amp to really drive the speaker so I could get some speaker distortion, and the sound that speaker made was heavenly. Then I cranked up my EWS Little Brute Drive distortion pedal, and it took it with ease. No matter what type of drive/distortion I threw at it, note separation and clarity was fantastic!

As for cleans, if you’re into that scooped clean sound, this is your speaker. The wide bottom-end really helps give clean notes lots of oomph, while the high-freq spike provides for warmth and sparkle.

All in all, I’m totally impressed with this speaker! I’ll be doing a review with sound clips in the near future, so stay tuned! I know, there’s not much information on the speaker on the Internet right now, but there are some decent sound clips and videos that can be found.

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Back in the early 1990’s, I got into all that personal development, personal power stuff similar to those Tony Robbins’ Personal Power seminars. I got through most of the training, but then realized that the person who ran the business wasn’t actually interested in people becoming personally powerful in the world; she devised her programs so that people felt personally powerful only within the context of her programs. I saw through all that, and a few of us successfully broke away from the organization.

Mind you, it wasn’t that I didn’t learn anything. In fact, I learned life lessons that allowed me to face and process the skeletons in my closet and truly grow. For that, I’ll be forever thankful for having participated in the programs that I did. One particular lesson that I’ve carried with me since then, and have consistently applied to everything that I do comes from a simple phrase that one of the leaders riffed on during a session. It goes like this:

There’s a fine line between dreams and reality, and that line is called “willingness.”

Talk about the sky opening for me when I first heard that. It was a purely revelatory experience when I heard that phrase because it gave me a vital key to taking on any endeavor and completing it successfully. That phrase alone makes ANYTHING possible to achieve. Why? Simply because if you wish to attain anything; be it a skill, a material object, some abstract thing, all you need to do to start on the path of attaining it is to be willing to attain it; willing to do what it takes to attain it; willing to face your fears and doubts and let them move through you for you to be successful.

So where does all this lead with respect to guitar gear? I think I’ll answer that in a roundabout way, simply because the answer requires some context. At least for me, I acquire gear for one purpose: To make music. With respect to gear, it has never been about having the “best” of anything- though I have some pretty nice stuff. It has always been getting gear to expand my tonal palette. Yes, I do indeed have lots of gear, but I also have a fairly wide range of musical styles that I play, and it’s constantly in flux; sometimes it’s pretty simple; other times it’s pretty complex. I’m in a fairly simple stage right now where I’m either going direct into an amp with no effects, or only have a couple of modulation pedals in front of the amp, or running a clean amp and using just distortion and/or overdrive pedals to “help” the drive.

For me, my aim has always been to be a well-rounded musician, and have the flexibility and adaptability to play a variety of styles. While many know me as a rock singer and musician, I also sing country/western, blues, folk, broadway, contemporary christian and even opera. I never wanted to be limited to a specific genre of music. I’ve performed (and have gotten paid 🙂 ) in all these genres. To do all these different styles of music is and has been hard work. I knew it going in, but the point to all this is that I was willing to commit myself to learning all these styles. The net result is that I do over 100 gigs a year and I’m at a point in my musical career where I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.

To close out, willingness is closely related to choice. Life is a system of choices. You’re where you’re at now because of the choices you made, and you made those choices because you were willing.

Just some food for thought…

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This is SO AWESOME!!! I’ll let the videos speak for themselves:

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I get lots of press releases, but there are some that compel me to share. This is one of them:

Pigtronix announces release of the Class A Boost – Elegance In Tone

Pigtronix Class A Boost is the final word in high performance guitar preamps. This pedal’s elegant exterior and single knob layout cloth an ingenious “Class A” J-FET design that will fatten up the sound of any instrument or sound source.

Featuring discreet transistor topology (no opamps) this device can boost passive or active pickups and even line level signals up to 20db without ever clipping. Perfectly flat frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz ensures that your instrument’s tone and expressive character remain intact as signal power is increased.

The Class A Boost’s noise free performance allows you to put the effect anywhere in your pedal chain. It adds punch and extra output when placed after a classic overdrive or will happily push your gain pedals into new levels of saturation. The Class A Boost is also ideal for hitting the front end of a tube amp to achieve an added layer of sweetness and fat tone without unwanted clipping or noise.

The Class A Boost runs fine on a standard 9-volt supply, but ships with a Pigtronix 18-volt adapter in order to achieve superior headroom and maximum punch. Make your sound 1 louder with this handsomely dressed, J-FET masterpiece from Pigtronix.

“Pigtronix Class A Boost is crucial to my sound because it makes my guitar tone clearer and louder, without adding distortion.”  – Eric Krasno (Soulive)

Pigtronix Class A Boost carries a list price of $149 and is available now at Pigtronix dealers everywhere.  Check out the Class A Boost and the whole line of 2011 Pigtronix effects at http://www.pigtronix.com.

I’m a big proponent of boost pedals, especially when used to slam the front end of a tube amp to push it into full-on overdrive. What’s attractive about this particular pedal is that it is Class A – at least from an audiophile’s perspective – which means that it will not clip throughout its operating range. Don’t confuse this with the definition of Class A for an amplifier. They’re two different things. Here’s a great explanation of Class A operation with respect to amps.

In any case, this could be a VERY cool pedal to have…

For more information, visit the Pigtronix Class A Boost page!

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Just got an e-mail from Fender today, announcing the 60th Anniversary of the Telecaster. They’re calling it their “Tele-bration.” Nice. The beauty above is called the “Modern Thinline” Tele, and it’s an absolutely gorgeous guitar! Fender calls it a chambered body.

In any case, in honor of the 60th Anniversary, Fender is releasing special edition models throughout the year; some of which you can see here. One of the models that has particularly caught my eye is the “Old Growth Redwood” model. This is made from salvaged redwood from old buildings, and has the knots and nail holes from those buildings to give the guitar a really distinctive look.

MSRP on all these guitars is $2499, so count on street prices being around the $1500-$1800 price mark. That’s very attractive pricing for these models. 🙂

BTW, I found a GREAT video demo of the Old Growth Redwood model from none other than Andy @ ProGuitarShop.com:

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I’ve never been much of a distortion box kind of guy; at least until recently when I got my EWS Little Brute Drive. I didn’t think I’d be using it all that much, but I have to admit, it is quickly becoming an indispensable addition to my pedal board. It’s as transparent as my Timmy, which is a HUGE plus in its favor, but the gain and distortion goes way beyond what the Timmy can do. But at the same time, it behaves insanely well with the Timmy. For instance, at my church gig yesterday, I was playing a song and had the Timmy engaged to give me some mild overdrive. There was a lead break in the middle of the song where I had to do a short 8-bar solo. But instead of switching the Timmy off, I just activated the LBD. OMG!!! I was immediately rewarded with tons of sustain, and singing, sweet distortion that was not at all over the top (I had the single gain knob set at about 11 am)

Amazing that all this comes from this little pedal that’s about 1 1/2 times longer than a 9 volt battery!

One thing though is that both the Timmy and the LBD are making me rethink how I approach my overdrive tone. Since getting them, I haven’t been cranking my amps near as much as I used to. I still love that saturated power tube sound, but tend to put my amps on just below the edge of breakup, then use my Timmy, the LBD, or a boost to push it over the edge. Mind you, I still have the Master volume up there. It’s just full out like it used to be.

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Barron Wesley Guitars Alpha #7

Summary: Similar to the Alpha that I recently reviewed, this guitar sports Honduran mahogany, and the tonal difference is HUGE. I really liked the last edition (#5), but this rendition of the Alpha has it all going on. Ringing clean tones and lots of muscle. Nice.

Pros: Again, all hand-made, and the cleans – oh, the cleans – have a gorgeous bell-like tone. The body and neck resonate beautifully.

Cons: None.

Features

  • Scale length: 25″
  • Frets: 22 (medium)
  • Color: Natural
  • Top Wood: Quilted Maple
  • Back/Neck Wood: Honduran Mahogany
  • Finish: Hand-rubbed Tung Oil
  • Fingerboard Cocobolo Rosewood
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Bridget TonePros AVT II
  • Pickups: Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+
  • Controls: RS Super Volume/Bourns Push-Pull Tone/Switchcraft 3-way Toggle
  • Tuners: Gotoh Magnum Locking
  • Weight: ~7.5 lbs.
  • Build Completion: July 2011

Price: $1800 – Yes, you read that right. This guitar is for sale, and I would buy it myself if I had the cash on hand; this is a KILLER guitar!

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ From the moment I plugged it in, I fell in love with the tone and feel of this guitar!

It’s great to be close to local gear builders; especially when they make super-high-quality gear for a freakin’ fantastic price. Aracom was the first local builder whose gear I just had to have, and now it’s Barron Wesley Guitars. Russell at BWG, though a relative newcomer to the luthier scene is insanely talented. The workmanship of his guitars is on par with guitars that cost three to four times more, but more importantly, his guitars play and sound absolutely killer.

Last night, Russell dropped off Alpha #7 at my gig at Max’s Opera Cafe in Palo Alto, CA. When I took it out of its case, I just had to play it right away, so I plugged it in and was rewarded with such a natural, musical tone that I ended up finishing my last set playing that guitar. The clean tone was absolutely mesmerizing to me, and the fretboard made playing so effortless – it was scary easy to play. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…

Fit and Finish

There’s not much else to say that I didn’t say in my previous review of Alpha #5. Russell’s work is flawless. However, there are some differences in the finish that Russell explained to me last night. For instance, he put on fewer coats of Tung oil on the cocobolo fretboard as he wanted a much more “natural” feel to the fretboard. To me, the result was spectacular! Right out of the box, that fretboard had just about the best feel that I’ve ever experienced. The finish is silky-smooth.

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous article was that I absolutely love Gotoh hardware, and I love wraparound bridges as well. With a single point of contact, the string energy transfers almost directly to the body.

Finishing my last set with Alpha #7

Playability

Again, in a word just like last review: Awesome. The neck on #7 is absolutely perfect! Not sure what extra or even less shaping Russell did on the guitar, but to me, this neck feels just right, and moving around on it is a dream!

How It Sounds

Alpha #7, with the Honduran mahogany gives the guitar a real Les Paul-like quality when playing with lots of crunch. The resonance in the wood is such that like an LP, you feel the string vibrations as they course through the body and neck. When I first picked it up just to feel how it plays, I immediately took notice of how the body and neck resonate, which is why I had to play it right away. As I mentioned above, I played it clean, but the cleans were so delicious, I finished my last set playing the guitar.

This evening, I spent some time with the guitar – actually, several hours – and have not been able to put it down, save to write this article. I put together some quick clips to demonstrate the sound of this guitar (all clips were played through my beloved Aracom PLX18 “plexi” clone):

First, we’ve got the riff to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”

Amp was cranked, and I played it through the bridge pickup. Next, we’ve got the riff to the Doobie Brothers “Listen to the Music” to demonstrate the neck pickup played clean:

Next, I just started playing some random stuff fingerstyle in the neck pickup:

Then I played a riff to one of my own tunes in the middle position with both humbuckers coil tapped:

Finally, I quickly played a lead over a song idea I’m working on. The first part is played in the neck pickup, then I switch to the bridge to show the difference. VERY Les Paul-like in both response and dynamics:

By the way, those Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+ pickups are absolutely KILLER! Russell made a great choice in these, as they complement the guitar perfectly!

Overall Impression

OMG! I’m freaking out by how incredible this guitar is! If I had the money, I wouldn’t be giving it back to Russell. That’s just how damn good it is. But as I mentioned above, the guitar is for sale. The price is a VERY reasonable $1800, and from how it looks, plays, and sounds, you’d be hard-pressed to get a guitar this good for that kind of price. If you get it now, you’ll be one of the lucky few who get one before he raises prices. Right now, you can take advantage of Russell wanting to get his instruments out and his name known. Once he’s established, the prices will go up as I imagine he’s selling these for just a little over his cost right now.

For more information, check out the Barron Wesley Guitars web site!

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My trusty DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 is pretty much on its last legs. It has lasted four years of regular gigging – at least two gigs a week – and things are starting to become loose or not function at all. That’s okay because it was expected, so I’ve been slowly saving my pennies for a new TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch. This is a great harmonizer that not only will harmonize using guitar, but also keyboard; something that my Vocalist Live 4 could not do. It also has a built-in looper, which I had the opportunity to see in action a couple of months ago at an in-store demo with singer/songwriter Christine Havrilla. Check out this link in which Christine shows how she builds up a song using the VoiceLive Touch.

Pretty cool, huh? TC Helicon has placed A LOT of emphasis on the VoiceLive Touch’s looping capability. Even during the demo I saw, Christine focused on the looper. Now I’m not knocking it, but using a looper can be somewhat limiting, especially if you’re looping a chord progression. I have a small looper that I use occasionally, but I typically just use it for creating underlying rhythms. In that respect, it’s VERY useful. I’ve tried to use it with chord progressions for songs, but it’s difficult because songs have different parts, so it can be a bit impractical for that.

But as a harmonizer, this unit rocks! It has over 200 factory presets, and customizing harmonies on the fly is a snap. You simply hit the buttons on the right side of the unit to add or subtract harmonies. Very cool! The keyboard harmonization is a huge selling point for me, as I can hook up a digital piano and get harmonies that way as well.

All in all, this is a great little unit, and at $499, it’s pretty affordable, considering what it does – though you do have to pay an extra $50 for the foot switch controller, which is an absolute necessity for live work. I should be getting one of these within the next couple of months.

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Source Audio Soundblox Guitar Envelope Filter

Summary: Nice, moderate vowel-tone envelope filter box for guitar. You can get downright funky with this pedal. While it may not get as “vowelly” as competitive products, it certainly has a lot of tone on tap.

Pros: Great features and tone, and the pedal’s super quite when active. The controls are super-easy to manipulate.

Cons: While I love the sound of this pedal, its physical footprint is just plain big, making it impractical to put on my pedal board. Also, the plastic enclosure makes me a little “iffy” about its gig-worthiness.

Features

  • 21 Filter Sounds including 2 Pole Low Pass, 4 Pole Low Pass, Single Peak, Triple Peak, Peak and Notch and Phasers.
  • Positive and Negative filter sweep with variable range and sensitivity.
  • Dual range speed control allows equal adjustment of Attack and Decay speeds, or alternatively, a fixed, fast attack and adjustable Decay.
  • Modern Design — a thoughtfully designed box that features rugged construction and sleek looks.
  • State-of-the-art DSP — our proprietary 56-bit Digital Signal Processor, the SA601 and crystal clear 24-bit converters.
  • Motion Control — all Soundblox™ pedals are “Hot Hand® Ready” and can be used with any Hot Hand motion sensor to extend the capabilities of the unit.
  • Active Analog Bypass — bypass is fully routed around the DSP and active input ensures zero signal degradation.
  • Dimensions: 7 in/17.8cm (length not including 1/O jacks) x 4 in/10.2 cm (width) x 2 in/5cm (height, including knobs).

Price: ~$120 Street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ On tone alone, I’d give this a 5, but its size and plastic enclosure give it a lower mark.

A few months ago, I was thinking that the next tonal territory I wanted to tackle was using an envelope filter. I love that “auto-wah,” vowel tone. I’ve tried out a few over the months, but I got a chance to spend a good deal of time with the Source Audio unit in my studio, and I have to say that tonally, it’s a real winner for me.

Out of the different envelope filters I’ve tried, this one has just about the most features I’ve seen to date, with 21 filter sounds, which means you can get A LOT of different tones out this box. But despite the amount of tweakability, it’s super-easy to dial in tones, and to be completely honest, though I’ve had this unit for a couple of months to play with (thank you Source Audio – and no, this is just demo unit, though I’ll probably buy it), I have yet to touch the manual. Source Audio even sent me a wired “Hot Hand” controller that allows you to manipulate the signal with a ring that’s wired to the pedal. But I haven’t used it yet – the Hot Hand-less configuration has just worked for me.

There are only a couple of things that really irked me about the pedal. The first, and this goes for all Soundblox pedals in general is its large footprint. For me to use it at gigs with my pedal board, I’ve had to remove my wah pedal. It’s 7″ long, for goodness’ sake! Plus the plastic enclosure makes me a little nervous. I gig a lot, and I’m not sure just how well this would hold up getting banged around in my car.

But despite those little annoyances, I still dig the pedal – A LOT. For one, it’s insanely priced at around $120 street. Plus, it’s dead quiet on or off due to the analog true bypass switch, which is a great feature for a lower-price-point pedal.

How It Sounds

Of course, its sound is what sold me. But it’s even more than that because the pedal also reacts to input gain. So in addition to getting the 21 different voicings, by adjusting your input volume and pick attack, you can affect the tone of the pedal. I’ve literally spent hours playing around with this pedal, and every time I play it, I discover something new. Love it!

The following clips were all played with my Fender American Deluxe Strat into my trusty Roland Cube 60, set to a clean “Blackface” setting. I didn’t want to color the tone with any kind of drive or distortion. Note that I don’t remember any of the settings that I used on the pedal. In fact, when I recorded these, I just set the pedal to what I though would sound good, then hit “record.” 🙂

First off, is a little ditty that I put together with a clean rhythm track, and doing a lead over it.

Second is another lead track, but I added in some reverb and delay to give the tone some space.

Next, it’s just my guitar and the pedal. The first part of the clip demonstrates the pedal’s response to pick attack. Then I just play a random lead and some fast funk chords.

Finally, I set the pedal to extremes. I was after the most raunchy tone that the pedal can  produce without going over the top (which it can), and this is the result:

Overall Impression

This is a fantastic pedal! Even with the misgivings I have with its size and construction, there’s no denying that the tone it produces really moves me.

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