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Archive for February, 2012

The Venerable Gibson ES-175

I was in Guitar Center last week, trading in my Gibson Nighthawk for my wonderful DV Mark Little 40. While I was talking to Nick , the trade-in guy, a gentleman walked asking if he could play an ES-175 that was hanging on the wall. This particular one was a vintage 1952 ES-175, and it was gorgeous. After the guy was done playing it, since Nick was trying to get an appraisal, he placed the guitar on the padded desk in front of me. Of course, I couldn’t help myself. I picked it up and started playing it. It was A LOT lighter than I expected – much like an acoustic, and the action was fantastic! I didn’t get a chance to plug it in, but it had a nice, natural voice from what I could hear from the dude that was playing it before me.

I didn’t think I’d like an archtop, but I was really digging playing that guitar. There was a certain vibe about the guitar, and being that it was 60 years old, really added to its charm. It was in truly great condition! In any case, it had a super fat, gorgeous sound. If I had the $4k to buy one of these gems, I’d jump at the chance.

Here’s a great example of the sound of an ES-175:

By the way, the guitar being played above is a two-pickup version that didn’t come out until 1953. The one I played was a 1952 with a single P-90. Here’s a history of the ES-175.

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Tuesday Meanderings…

I read an interview with Antonio Gallardi, “The Wine Advocate” magazine’s new California critic in which he responded in the comments section following the interview, “A pro has to be able to tune out everything and focus just on what is in the glass. I have had several instances where wines showed better in my office than they did at the properties.”Mr. Gallari was speaking in reference to a question that was asked him about maintaining his objectivity when he tastes wine at an estate.

Since I write about both wine and guitar gear, objectivity has always been an important factor for me. I started writing about gear primarily because I felt that the mainstream gear rags seemed to be beholden to their advertisers; giving more than favorable ratings to gear that my own personal tests didn’t favor as much. With wine, though I don’t feel as if – at least for the ones I regularly read – wine critics don’t fall into this trap. But even when reviewing wine, whether at home or at a winery, having no predisposition towards a wine is absolutely important to me. For instance, I went to a local winery near my home this past weekend, and ended up tasting with a friend who just happened to be there at the same time. He and his wife are wine club members, and they were looking to get a bottle. Though the winery’s Cabernets were popular, and something they mildly pushed, I wasn’t all that impressed with them, so instead recommended the Tempranillo, Terolgego, and their lower price, non-library Zinfandel purely based upon the merits of the wines’ characteristics which appealed to me.

Congruently, with gear, I’ve spoken to lots of manufacturers over the five years I’ve run this blog. Many send me gear to review, but you’ll notice that while there are lots of reviews here, there aren’t nearly as many as I’ve actually reviewed. The reason is that I like to play nice, and I’ll never publish a review that’s less than 4 Tone Bones. When I do review something that I don’t like, I notify the manufacturer, give them feedback, and make suggestions on what could be better. I’m also absolutely honest with them when I talk to them the first time and communicate my process. I do realize that I can get pretty excited in my reviews, but I only publish what I consider to be the best gear.

The point to all this is that objectivity goes a long way. Especially with gear, you hear and read about so much hype that it’s difficult to maintain your objectivity. I know I’ve succumbed to the hype several times, and I have a lot of gear that I just don’t use or have sold off. Luckily I never went so far as to sell everything to get a Dumble amp. Though it is truly impressive (and I know my videos didn’t really capture the sonic and dynamic magic of the amp), my own amps and several others I’ve tested come close enough to those dynamics that there’s no reason to spend over $40k.

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Had a great time with the Little 40 this evening at my weekly church gig. I set the amp to full clean-headroom on the Continuous Power Control, cranked the master, then set the gain to a little before the edge of breakup so that a normal, light strum would still be fairly clean with the volume knobs on my R8 both set to halfway. Of course, at that setting, I had to use my attenuator because while it would work just fine in a club, it would be way too loud for church. But that’s okay because the amp retained all of its dynamics and tone.

Also, with the way I set up the amp, I could strum lightly or play fingerstyle and be clean, then get a nice overdrive by digging into the strings a bit. Then I could get into overdrive completely by rolling on either of the volume knobs on my guitar. Then for leads, I used a footswitch to activate the boost which saturates the power tubes by hitting the amp with 10dB of gain. Like my Aracom amps (and vintage Marshalls, for that matter), when the power tubes saturate, lots of sonic goodness occurs. The signal compresses – with the Little 40, it’s not too much, but the sound definitely “feels” a bit beefier – but more importantly, you get very nice sustain and these subtle harmonics and overtones get added into the signal that are total ear candy!

Once I set up the amp, I didn’t have to do any tweaking. My guitar was my control center, which is how I like it. But it does require that an amp be extremely responsive to dynamics, both from a playing perspective and from volume knob adjustments. It delivered all that in spades!

Here’s another extremely important tidbit that I hadn’t mentioned yet: The amp weighs just under 16 pounds! Dammit! That’s lighter than my attenuator! This is something that Marco De Virgiliis (DV Mark’s designer/owner) is known for in the bass world. For instance, my bassist uses a Mark Bass Little Mark II as his go-to bass amp head. That amp produces BIG sound, and it weighs less than 6 1/2 pounds! The Little 40 and its smaller and larger brethren follow the same pattern.

To top all that off, the amp looked so damn cool as DV Mark installed orange LEDs on the board that you can see through the amp grille-work. I tend to be fairly utilitarian about gear, not really putting too much stock on looks, but not only does this amp sound and play killer, it looks great on stage!

And speaking of stage, I actually did two gigs with the Little 40 today. The first gig was a mother-daughter church service at a local high school. Since there were lots of people attending, the service was held in the performing arts center, so I was up on stage. Before the gig, I had to run home really quick to pick up some sheet music that I left in my printer. When I returned, I looked at the amp on stage from the back of the theatre, and just smiled when I saw the extremely cool orange glow emanating from the amp. It was TOTALLY SICK!!! For that gig, I played all clean: Max headroom, Master full-on, then Gain set to pretty low. I controlled volume with my Gretsch’s master volume. The difference with that gig was that since we were doing a few different styles of songs, I adjusted the EQ to fit the songs. This is yet another area where the amp shines. You can dial up all sorts of different tones with the very-usable EQ! Nice!

Finally, if you happen to do some research on the Little 40 or other DV Mark amps, you’ll notice that it has just a single pre-amp tube (ECC83), which indicates that there areΒ  solid state components in the amp. There are. You can see them; plus everything’s mounted on a PCB board. But who the f$%k cares when the amp sounds this good and performs so well? Besides, he does list the other ECC83 in the power section – which I totally missed at first. The important thing to note is that while there are solid state components being used, the important parts involved in the amplification are valves.

But solid state components? I know, we all suffer from cork-sniffing; especially with tube amps. But I’ve gotten over it. As JKeith Urban’s guitar tech said in an interview, “If it sounds cool, then it is right…” Especially with the DV Mark Little 40, I’m getting the level of performance and sound quality that I get out of my Aracom Amps, and like my Aracom gear, I paid less than half the price for the features I got with the amp compared to other boutique gear manufacturers’ wares. The Little 40 retails at $799.

So what about my Aracom Amps? Well, I will definitely still be using them. The DV Mark has a completely different tone than my Aracoms, which are based upon vintage Marshall amps; specifically the Plexi style, Blues Breaker amps. While I most probably will use the DV Mark the most on stage because of its flexibility, my other amps will still get lots of use in the studio, though the VRX22 will also get lots of stage time because it too is extremely flexible. As for the other amps, no other amp does creamy-smooth overdrive like my PLX18. When I need high-end bite, which I like to have for funky rhythm lines, I can’t think of any better amp to give me this than my VRX18. And thus far, none of these amps is collecting any dust as I’ve been using them all this past week to complete the demos for my new album.

Damn! It just occurred to me that I’m really trying to justify why I have all this freakin’ gear… πŸ™‚ Or maybe I’m just rehearsing what I’ll be saying next to the wife when she queries me about my gear. Ha! ROCK ON!

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The DVMark Little 40 ROCKS!

No, this is not one of those excited-puppy-dog-with-a-new-toy types of posts, though with the way I’m feeling about the Little 40, it could very well be. But excitement aside, I did another test of the amp early this morning. I’m not a big believer in doing demo clips for demo clips’ sake. I do them because people ask for the raw sound, but when I started GuitarGear.org, I did it with intent of evaluating gear within the context of its application; specifically, how I might apply it to my own rig. My thinking has always been that unless you’re actually using the gear, you never really know how it performs.

So this next test was done to get a feel for the dynamics of the amp within the context of a song. I recently finished demo production of a song I wrote several months back called “I’m in Love with You Lord,” but hadn’t gotten around to create a finished recording until this past week. The one thing about that song is that it has a gradual build-up in feel and intensity as it progresses, and the electric guitar track plays an important role in this as it is the instrument – besides my vocals – that drives the emotion of the song. And my personal requirement was that I needed to do the entire electric guitar part in a single take, which means the amp has to be ultra-dynamic.

Originally, I recorded this with my Aracom VRX18, which performed flawlessly. But I wanted to try out the DV Mark with the song to see if I could achieve the same level of dynamics that the VRX18 had. Not only did it deliver, I’m probably going to use it as I love the snarling dog growl it delivers. πŸ™‚ Here’s the song:

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Wow! Is all I can say… This is simply a killer amp!

In my announcement that I made today about getting this lil’ bad boy, I promised some sound clips. So once got done with my gig this evening, I headed right to my studio to play around with the amp. For this first test, I didn’t want do the standard, here’s-how-it-sounds -clean or -dirty. What I wanted to test was the amp’s dynamics and expressiveness. So I did two tests that demonstrate a couple of different aspects of the Little 40.

One thing that I will mention before I get into the tests is that for a single-channel amp, the Little 40 has TONS of tonal options. Every knob has an affect on the tone, especially the very usable EQ’s. Plus if you hook up a mono foot switch, you can get a 10dB gain boost, so if you set up the amp properly, that boost can act like a second channel.

Dynamics

With this first clip, what I wanted to test was how the amp reacted to pick attack. So I set the amp to the edge of breakup. Master was set wide open, with the gain at about 10am. I set the EQ’s on the brighter side with the Treble cranked, Mid about 2pm and Bass at 11am. I also had the Continuous Power Control open all the way for maximum headroom. The clip is in three parts: First, I start on the “clean” side of the overdrive point. Then I dig in a little harder to get it past that point, then I engage the boost, which gets the amp into some serious crunch, and loads of sonic content (besides being dirty, with boost engaged, the amp grows some serious balls – even set to bright.Β I’m playing my R8 Les Paul with both pickups engaged and the volumes are both set to 5.

Continuous Power Control

A lot of the magic of this amp comes from the Continuous Power Control. This knob provides an output power sweep from 1 Watt all the way up to 40 Watts, allowing you to adjust the clean headroom of amp. This is an absolutely killer feature!

With this next clip, the amp is set clean, with the Master all the way up, the Gain at about 9am. EQ and Presence are all set at noon. I’m playing my R8 with both volume knobs at five. Again, the clip is in three parts. The first part is clean, bluesy riff. In the second part, I turn the CPC to noon (~20 Watts), and play the same riff. Finally, I engage the boost to demonstrate how over-the-top you can get with this amp. πŸ™‚

Admittedly, I have a lot of dialing-in to do. The tonal possibilities with this amp are immense. Looks like I’ll be spending lots of time getting to know it. πŸ™‚

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I can still recall the first time I ever saw and played this amp at my local Guitar Center. It sounded so damn good, and the price was absolutely excellent that I knew that getting it would be a no-brainer. Then after I got home that day, I looked the amp up on the DV Mark web site, and was astonished at the features for a sub-$800 amp! I’ve written about this amp before, and the two features that sold me on the amp (besides the great tone) were the Continuous Power Control (CPC) and the automatic and continuous biasing of the power tubes.

The auto-bias was a HUGE factor in my decision. As long as you get tubes that are matched within 20% of each other, the amp will automatically bias them to the optimal operating settings. Imagine not having to bias power tubes. Just get a matched set, plug them in, and you’re good to go! And you can use any socket-compatible tubes like 6L6’s and even 6V6’s as long as they can take the plate voltage. Freakin’ awesome!

The CPC was also a kicker for me in that I could lower the power output of the amp to control when I get breakup. But unlike other variable power controls I’ve heard or played with, there was little discernible difference in tone, whether I had the CPC all way up for maximum clean headroom, or dialed all the way back.

I know, I don’t have sound samples – yet. But they’re on their way. I just don’t have enough time before my gig this evening to get clips.

As far as dynamics are concerned, this amp is extremely expressive and super-responsive to pick attack and guitar gain. One thing I noticed when I had the master cranked, and the gain just past 2pm, when doing leads, this amp absolutely sings. I noticed some very very cool high-frequency artifacts that really added some complexity to the tone. I could’ve played this amp for hours, but alas, I had to turn it off so I could release this article and then get ready for my gig.

Check back to hear clips this weekend!

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Coil Splitting vs. Coil Tapping

My good buddy Phil sent me a link to an article that discussed coil splitting vs. coil tapping. For years, I thought they meant the exact same thing. But according to the article, which was written by a Fender tech, they’re completely different animals. Coil splitting is usually associated with humbuckers where a switch is used to turn off one of the coils. On the other hand, coil tapping “means taking the signal from somewhere within the coil of wire rather than from the end of it, thus reducing pickup output (more windings means higher output).” I never knew that.

Taming that Sonic Boom

After I read the article above, I perused other “Tech Talk” articles, and found one that discussed an issue that has been a real issue with my Hot Rod Deluxe: Low-end boom. The article stated that that boom is called floor coupling and is caused by an amp being close to a reflective surface such as a floor or a wall. The reactance can cause a 3dB boost to the low-end. The solutions to this are actually quite simple: Either elevate the amp, or tilt it back. Some Fender cabs, such as the VibroKing come with retractable legs to allow you to lean the amp back. I always thought it was meant to be able to hear your amp. I never realized that there was an actual purpose for this other than being able to hear your amp while the band is blasting. πŸ™‚

 

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Reintroducing Aracom VRX22

I make no secret about the fact that I play Aracom Amps. I’ve played TONS of different amps, and though many tickle my fancy, I’d consider buying a very select few; actually there are only two other amps that I want besides another Aracom, and that is an original Fender ProSonic and a DV Mark Little 40.

At this point in time, I have three Aracom amps: The PLX18-BB w/Trem, VRX18, and the VRX22. The PLX18 is Jeff Aragaki’s rendition of the venerable 18 Watt Marshall Plexi “Blues Breaker.” The VRX18 is a souped up version of the PLX18, with more modern circuitry, and it sports an extra gain stage so that its second channel is more aggressive. The VRX22 is the 6V6 version of the VRX18, though its second channel is even more aggressive than the VRX18. I use all three amps in both studio and stage, and I love ’em all. Each has a different character. But my VRX22 is hands-down my rock machine.

A couple of months ago, I tripped over a guitar cable that I had plugged into the VRX22, broke the darn tip off in the jack! Yikes! I tried taking it out myself, but Jeff used a fully-enclosed jack, and I didn’t have the right tools to dig it out, so I knew that I had to take it to Jeff. Turns out that he had to replace the entire jack altogether. Oh well, clumsy me…

While he had the amp, I asked him if he could adjust the second channel a bit. The last time I had him work on it, I asked to get a bit more gain out of the drive channel. Plus at the time, I had gotten a pair of nice 1959 RCA 6V6’s and had Jeff install them and he biased them a bit hot. The problem with my requests was that the distortion of the second channel was a little harsh, plus with that extra gain, I couldn’t get a clean tone out of the channel unless I turned the volume way down. So this time, I asked him to take the gain down a few notches. He also lowered the bias of the power tubes.

When he was done, he called me up, and told me what he did, and in his very understated manner, told me that the amp was sounding pretty good. When Jeff says something like that, I know he’s worked some magic on my equipment. This time was no exception.

I got the amp back this past Saturday, and finally got to play it for the first time in a couple of months last night. I was in the process of re-recording guitar parts on a song I wrote a few years ago, and was actually using the VRX18. But I wasn’t getting a tone that I wanted, as I needed more “oomph.” The VRX18 is pretty bright, and it has some great distortion, but I needed a “bigger” sound.

So I plugged in the VRX22, and was absolutely shocked at how it sounded. The aggressiveness was still there in the second channel, but it was much more tame and smooth. But overall, the tone was incredibly FAT! OMG!!! Jeff did something that completely transformed the amp, and I practically had a religious experience. It sounded so much bigger than it had previously; almost scooped, but not in a high-gain metal way. Could it be that the power tubes were working optimally? Who knows? All I do know is that the VRX22 was totally inspiring me!

I kind of got lost just noodling around, but I finally got down to the business of re-recording the guitar parts. At first, I was using my Les Paul ’58 Reissue, but that was just too fat. So I went with my Strat. After evaluating my takes, while I dug the Strat rhythm part, I wasn’t fully buying into the lead tone. So I went back to my R8. Then I realized that I had originally recorded the R8 on a predefined Logic track that had a lot of compression and rolled off the high EQ. So I created a raw track with no compression and EQ (though I did add a bit of compression – like 2.7 to 1 during mixdown). That made all the difference in the world as the those high-freq artifacts that I love were back. I still had to record the R8 doing rhythm part using the bridge pickup, but it definitely had the “oomph” for which I was looking.

So, here’s the song:

I replaced the right channel rhythm and the lead part with the R8. The left rhythm part is my Strat in the neck pickup plugged straight into the VRX22. Note that I didn’t use any effects save a touch of compression and some reverb in the channel strip. So the guitar sounds you hear are just the guitar plugged into the amp; no EQ. The natural fatness is amazing! πŸ™‚ Also, the amp was plugged into my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, and recorded at loud conversation levels, so there’s no speaker breakup adding to the tone. It’s all the amp.

While Jeff Aragaki and Aracom are best known for the PRX150 attenuator line, more people are discovering just how gifted Jeff is with amps. The man’s a genius, and yet so very humble. I really am very lucky to have Jeff as a friend.

For more information on Aracom Amps, drop by Jeff’s web site.

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At my solo “acoustic” gig that I play every Friday night, I haven’t been playing an acoustic guitar, instead using my beloved Gretsch Electromatic. It sounds awesome plugged into the house board but admittedly, it only sounds good when I’m playing finger-style. Last night it became very apparent that with songs that require strumming, my Gretsch just didn’t sound all that good. On the other hand, when I use the guitar with my own PA (a Fishman SA220 SoloAmp), strumming is not an issue because I also have great effects that I run the guitar through which make strumming not an issue.

But plugged directly into a board, even if I’m running effects such as reverb and chorus, the Electromatic sounds like an electric guitar plugged into a PA when strummed. Kind of lifeless. So this morning, I plugged my guitar into my trusty Roland Cube 60, switched over to the Acoustic channel, and smiled. It sounded close enough to an acoustic that strumming wouldn’t be an issue. The amp is set set up to run right into a board as it has a recording out which defeats the speaker. I’ve used it in the past precisely for this purpose.

What is an issue is the limited space I have. I could make it work, but it’s not optimal. Besides, all I’d be using the amp for would be as a pedal. Then it hit me. Roland is notorious for offering its on-board effects as pedals and vice-versa. So I did a search to see if Roland or BOSS made an acoustic simulator similar to what is on my Cube 60, and I found the BOSS AC-3, which uses the COSM technology that they put into the Cube line. For modeling/simulation, I’ve found that the COSM tech works really well with my equipment. Others’ mileage may certainly vary, but in my years of using my Cube 60, it has never failed to deliver – at least for playing clean, which is how I’ve used that amp for years.

Here’s a great video from Andy at Pro Guitar Shops that demonstrates the pedal’s capabilities:

The cool thing for me is that I won’t have to lug my Cube 60 to get an acoustic sound. Admittedly, it won’t sound _exactly_ like an acoustic, but it’ll get me close enough, and close enough is good enough.

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Aracom Amps VRX18 Tweed ComboSummary: No… Surprisingly enough, I didn’t buy this one, as I already have the VRX18 head. But my good friend and bandmate just bought this, and I tested it out for him so he could listen while he was making his decision. Anyway, this is classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi tone, but with Jeff Aragaki’s tweaks and modifications. It’s such a sweet-sounding amp, clean or dirty.

Pros: Handmade, and hand-wired on turret board. The VRX18 brings out the best of what I love about EL84-powered amps, and combined with the custom Weber speaker that’s in the cabinet to balance out the natural highs of the amp, this amp is capable of producing some of the most gorgeous clean tones I’ve heard, plus some incredible vintage overdrive.

Cons: None.

Features

– Channel 1: Volume and Tone Controls
– Channel 2: Volume and Tone Controls
– Master Volume Control (PPIMV)
– On/Off Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– (2) EL84 Power Tubes
– (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
– Cathode Biased Power Tubes
– S.S. Rectifier with “sag” circuit
– Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
– ARACOM Power Transformer: hand-wound and interleaved
– ARACOM Output Transformer: hand-wound, interleaved on a paper bobbin
– 4, 8, 16 ohm Speaker Jacks
– Detachable Power Cord (IEC320-C13 Socket)
– External Fuse Holder
– Custom Turret Board (G-10/FR4 Flame Resistant)
– Handwired and Handcrafted in the USA.

Price: $1095 for Combo (see Pricing Schedule for complete options)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Yeah, I’m biased towards Aracom Amps as I am a faithful customer, but this amp is yet another example and an affirmation of why I love Aracom amps so much!

As most know who read this blog with any regularity, I’m a faithful Aracom Amps customer. I play three of them: VRX22 (6V6), VRX18 (EL84), and the PLX18 (EL84); plus I have the venerable PRX150-Pro Attenuator. Can’t believe I’ve been playing Aracom equipment for almost four years now, but I can’t think of any other amp to play, except for, perhaps, the DV Mark Little 40, which I still intend to get eventually.

In any case, my bandmates have known my passion for Aracom equipment, but have purchased other amps in lieu of the fact that I’ve been raving about Aracom for years, and in lieu of them commenting on how great the Aracom tone is. It always puzzled me, but hey! To each, their own.

A few of weeks ago, my right-hand and cohort in the band Dave started looking into getting a new amp, and to my pleasant surprise started taking a look at the Aracom site and listening to the clips. He was actually considering buying a Carr Viceroy, but held back until he took some time to evaluate amps. Now he’s glad he did.

In any case, he contacted Jeff and set up a meeting to go out to Jeff’s shop, and asked if I wanted to tag along. Never one to turn down an invitation to hang out with Jeff if I can help it, I accepted and a couple of days later, we made the short trek out to Jeff’s shop.

The wonderful thing about working with a builder like Jeff is that because he’s a small operation, he can be fairly agile in the combinations of equipment that he offers. So on that day, we took a couple of hours to play through different cabinet/speaker combinations to find a combo that “fit.” After playing through the tweed cabinet with a custom Weber 1 X 12, it was clear that that combination was the best for the style that Dave plays, which is mostly clean.

Jeff told Dave that he should take the amp with him and play around with it before he made the decision, so we loaded the amp in Dave’s car. On the way home, I mentioned to Dave that he will probably not want to return the amp and left it that while we talked about other stuff.

A few hours after I had returned home, Dave called me. He wasn’t returning the amp. πŸ™‚ I knew that would happen. That amp was magical. Earlier, I shared with Dave on the way home that he’d know if he found the right amp if he lost track of time. He did. Now he is the proud owner of the best amp he’s ever played.

Fit and Finish

I love the classic tweed finish of this amp. Jeff personally built the enclosure and covered it with tweed. It’s really beautiful to look at. He also used 1/2-inch ply to construct the cabinet, which is something I look for in cabinets. With 1/2-inch ply, I believe the wood provides a lot more resonance as opposed to cabs built with thicker boards. Compared side-by-side with my Avatar 1 X 12, which uses thicker wood, the Aracom cab sounds so much more deep and lush (I’m not knocking my Avatar – that cab is perfect for more aggressive tones).

How It Sounds

Unfortunately, I don’t have any clips to demonstrate, but Dave’s VRX18 sounds absolutely KILLER! I’ve played three of Dave’s guitars through the amp, which include a custom Carvin acoustic/electric, a custom Rick Turner Renaissance, and a Gibson ES-335. All three guitars sound absolutely gorgeous through the amp which, with the custom Weber and dynamite cabinet produce a very lush and deep clean tone, while retaining great note separation and definition. Note separation and definition are especially important with an amp that produces such deep cleans because it could become extremely muddy. Not so with the Aracom VRX18 combo.

It’s important to note also that in addition to such great cleans, the amp really projects the sound well, with a very three-dimensional quality about it that makes it sound as if it has a reverb tank. Jeff attributes a lot of this quality to the sag simulation circuit that he built into the amp. It provides just a touch of sustain to add depth to the sound.

Playing right next to Dave is another guitarist (another Dave) who has a Carr Mercury. Maybe the “higher end” Carr models sound better, but the Mercury’s tone pales in comparison to the VRX18. Where the VRX18 sounds three-dimensional, the Carr sounds brittle and hollow. I don’t like the tone of that amp at all, and constantly have to help the other Dave dial in his EQ to make it sound even halfway decent. Also, the reverb on that amp is horrible, and I always have him turning it WAY down. Amazing that that amp costs more than twice as much as the VRX18. Anyway, I don’t want to make this a Carr amp smack-down. Suffice it to say that the Aracom VRX18 simply outperforms the Carr hands-down.

Overall Impression

Jeff Aragaki makes killer amps. He’s not building near the amount of amps at this point in time as he has in the past because his attenuator business is so good. But when he does get amp orders, he takes extra-special care that it’s right; and that’s exactly what he did with this particular amp. In fact, this particular model of the VRX18 is much more simple than his other models in that it doesn’t have the 1/2 power switch, nor does it have a tube rectifier. But it sounds incredible as it is. And as I mentioned above, this amp is yet another example of why I will remain a faithful Aracom customer!

For more information, go to the Aracom Amps web site!

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