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Archive for July, 2011

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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