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Archive for August, 2012

If you’re like me and you’ve played a lot of reverb pedals (I’ve got 4 – though I only use two actively), then your reaction to the Hall of Fame might be similar to my own: “Ho-hum, another reverb pedal…” That’s how it was for me when I received the eval unit from TC Electronics. And despite having a choice of TC pedals to review, and my general attitude towards reverb pedals, I still chose to review this one because I was curious about how different it could be. Also, I wanted to compare it to my mainstay DigiTech Hardwire RV-7 Reverb.

I’ve used this pedal in four gigs since I got it, and I have to say that I’m impressed. A VERY cool feature that the Hall of Fame has that other reverb pedals I’ve used don’t have is the pre-delay switch. You have two settings: short and long. The pre-delay is the time between the dry sound and when the reverb kicks in. With a short delay time, the reverb kicks in pretty quickly, but that can sometimes create a really muddy sound. With a longer pre-delay, the reverb takes longer to kick in, so your tone is much more “in-your-face.”

This is one feature that is absolutely fantastic, and the one that I think sets this pedal apart from other mainstream reverb pedals. The gigs I played using this pedal were all acoustic. Most of the time I play fingerstyle, so note separation is very important to me. With a long pre-delay, every note I play comes through, and the reverb doesn’t become apparent until I have a pause in my playing. Very powerful function indeed!

As far as the reverb sounds themselves are concerned, they’re quite nice, and the pedal itself is dead-quiet. I placed the pedal in front of my amp and in the loop and it worked flawlessly in both positions, though admittedly, and especially with acoustic guitar, I prefer it in front of the amp.

In any case, I’ll be gigging with it a couple of more times this weekend, and I may even bring it to the recording studio for the sessions I’ll be recording. Stay tuned!

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I love it when a company re-invents a line. The Fender American Vintage Series has been a mainstay product line for Fender for many years – probably their oldest product line – and they’ve completely recently re-vamped the series with all hand-made in the US of A. Now normally when I get news of Fender doing anything “new,” my reaction is typically, “meh.”

But this news intrigued me because of the detail that Fender took in re-creating these guitars from actual vintage models; making direct measurements to the instruments themselves as opposed to going off blueprints, and more importantly creating period-correct pickups. Then when I reviewed the Fender American Vintage Series site itself, I smiled to see that what Fender was creating was NEW guitars, not banged up relicked ones like the Roadworn Series.

So what you get with these guitars is brand-new, showroom-quality guitars built as if you were buying them when they were released. That’s a deal-maker for me! And these aren’t cheap offshore repros. They brought production back to the US for these and that pleases me – a lot. So American-made, period-correct, fresh-off-the-showroom-floor guitars? SOLD!

My personal favorite is the ’58 Telecaster – I love blondes. ūüôā¬† John 5 compared that to his own ’58 and said he’d put his own safely under the bed and take the new on the road with him. What an endorsement!

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My friend, Jeff Aragaki, of Aracom Amps, and a fellow lover and collector of Les Pauls – way more so that myself – sent me an email about a kind of Les Paul that he had never heard of, the Les Paul Elegant.

This is a Custom Shop guitar that didn’t have a very long production run, and was apparently the first of Gibson’s chambered LP’s. Most all have some sort of flame top, and from what I could find out weigh in the 8-9 pound range.

Owners have said it has a bit deeper of a tone than a pure solid-body LP, and the chambering pattern is completely different than the ones used in the Standards. Comes stock with 57 Classic pickups which help balance out the deeper tone of the guitar.

Furthermore, the fretboard has a compound radius cut: round to flatter from nut to heel. My 59 replica has that kind of tapering and it makes it VERY easy to play. OMG! I’d love to play one of these. Anyway, after a little digging, I found a thread on the “My Les Paul” forum that sums up the guitar very well:

The Les Paul Elegant is features great looks and tone. The body is made from mahogany with a triple-A grade maple top. There are open cavities in the body to reduce its weight while at the same time increasing its resonance. They are called dynamic chambers and help to increase the guitar’s interaction with the amp. This is similar to a certain degree with what happens with semi-hollow or hollow body guitars but at a much subtler level. The maple top with its transparent finishes gives a deep glow as well as the highly figured wood grain. You’ll find white-black multi-ply binding on the top and bottom of the body. The bridge is a classic Tune-O-Matic O-matic with a stopbar tailpiece.

The 24.7 5 inch scale length neck is made from a single piece of mahogany. It has an ebony fretboard with 22 frets with white binding around the neck. The binding also matches the pickup covers and 3-way pickup selector label. One interesting thing about this guitar is its compound radius fretboard. The fretboard at the first fret is flatter and gradually becomes rounder as you get towards the 12th fret. This allows for easier access to the upper registers while lead playing at the same time leaving the lower registers more adapted to chordal playing. The neck also has a long tenon to increase its connection to the body. The trapezoidal inlays are made of abalone and add a bit of ‘elegance’ to the already great looking guitar.

The pickups and electronics are all Gibson. It has the traditional two volume and two tone controls (one for each pickup) with a 3-way pickup selector wired: neck, neck+bridge, bridge. The pickups themselves have that great vintage sound. They are the ’57 Classic humbuckers which are replicas of the PAF (Patent Applied For) pickups found on the late 50’s Gibsons. The ’57 classic has a full rich and has enough to give it plenty of crunch. These pickups have Alnico II magnets and use vintage style enamel coated wire. The covers like the rest of the guitar’s hardware is nickel plated (chrome) for years of wear.

Features

* single piece mahogany back
* Carved figured maple top
* single-piece mahogany neck
* Cream binding on body and neck
* Nickel hardware
* Tune-O-Matic o-matic bridge
* ’57 Classic humbuckers
* Two volume knobs
* Two tone knobs
* Three-way selector switch
* abalone trapezoid inlays
* Dynamic chambers in body

The only wrong information is that they got the direction of the radius on the fretboard wrong. This sounds like a nice guitar!

Other people have called this guitar the pre-Supreme. Older version of this guitar sported the Custom Shop logo, whereas later versions just had the “Les Paul” scroll. Wow! Talk about GAS attack!!!

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A friend of mine has been considering buying a Les Paul Supreme or Custom (hoping to get it as a Christmas guitar). So as a favor, I did a bit of research on new Les Pauls and saw that all the new models, save the Standards use either Richlite or baked maple fretboards. Admittedly, I was a bit shocked by the use of Richlite, which is generally used as counter-top material, and thought what in the world possessed Gibson to make fretboards out of a fabricated material? But doing my best to keep an open mind, I perused my favorite forums to find discussions on the material.

What I found is that there are two camps out there: Purists and players. Purists want everything completely natural, and won’t even settle for laminated boards – they want a solid piece of wood. I was in this camp at first. However, I got brought back down to earth by the “players” whose only concern was that the guitar felt, played and sounded good. That has kind of been my ethos with gear, and I kind of forget it when I started getting into historic reissue Les Pauls. What I forgot is that my guitars are all players (with the exception of “Ox,” my ’59 replica which was specifically purchased for investment). What’s important to me is that a guitar feels, plays, and sounds appealing to me, and more importantly, that I can make music with it.¬† So I’m going to get off my high horse, and take a good look at Richlite, and see if I can play some new Les Pauls.

As far as Richlite is concerned though, it’s actually highly appealing to me because it’s made in a very “green” way. Part of it is made from wood pulp from managed and sustainable forests plus pulp from recycled paper. On top of that, the heat used to incinerate the volatile materials from the production process is used to dry the material, so there is little thermal¬† pollution, and finally, NO hazardous waste production.

Perhaps with Gibson getting busted for purchasing exotic woods from illegal sources was a good thing. Also, that Gibson, the manufacturer of what is one of the most iconic electric guitars in history, would choose to use a fabricated, “green” material for a tonewood is actually pretty cool to me, and could lead the way for other manufacturers to consider using green materials as well.

Can’t wait to try one out!

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The great thing about the iPad or iPhone is that there are lots of apps. The bad thing about the iPad or the iPhone is that there are lots of apps. Though all apps loaded to the app store are vetted by Apple, they’re only vetted for general functionality, and not on the quality of the user experience or making sure the app doesn’t do anything illegal. As a result, there are lots of crappy apps in the app store. That’s to be expected, but it takes a lot of time wading through user reviews to make a decision if you’re looking for a particular type of application and there are several that do the same thing.

Such was the case when I was looking for an app that would help me replace my song binder which over the years, had grown to about three inches thick. It was pain lugging that thing around. But then recently, I discovered LINKSoft SongBook, a wonderful app that has allowed me to put my binder away, and use my iPad to display charts. It’s so convenient! And inputting music? No problem. With its integrated web browser, you can search songs on the internet, and you can import them into the app!!! That’s the feature that sold me on the app!

So along comes Ninebuzz wanting to promote their new app, Guitar Jam Tracks. I’m usually pretty leery of being contacted out of the blue, but in this case, I figured it was just an app, and I was willing to check it out. So I downloaded the app. I was not disappointed in the least.

At first blush, I found myself saying to myself, “Is this all there is? Just the pentatonic scale in the major keys?” But then I realized that that’s the power of this application. You get five jam track styles: Acoustic Blues, Humbucker Blues, Jazz, Reggae and Rock; in both major and minor styles, so 10 tracks in all. Pick a key you want to play in and the five pentatonic scale patterns and their respective positions on the fretboard appear on the screen. Press the play button and start jamming.

More experienced players may poo-poo this app, but I actually found it to be a very cool way to review the different positions. Also, the more experienced and adventurous can use this as a way to explore variations and joining and linking other types of scales. For me, especially when I’m playing live, if I’m not quite “feeling it” when it comes time to do a lead break, I will almost invariably revert to a 1st position pentatonic in the key that I’m playing. Then I’ll use that to break into other scales; not that I actually think, “Okay, I’ll now go from this major pentatonic into a Mixolydian.” I’ll admit that I use the pentatonic as a crutch, but it’s a good crutch because it gets me comfortable, and helps me get my mind off of thinking about what I’m playing and really trying to feel the music.

Such was the case when I started playing through the jam tracks yesterday before work (and just prior to writing this article). I picked a key, started following a pattern, then when I felt comfortable, started playing outside the patterns and exploring different possibilities. I’m not very academic with how I jam, I typically just go for it, and I found that the app actually helped me a lot.

For beginners, this can be an invaluable tool for learning how to improvise. I was originally looking for more with this app, but then realized that it’s absolutely perfect for what it’s trying to do. The problem you see with lots of instructional stuff is all the extra fluff like, “In this situation, play this, unless you’re faced with this, then you should play this…” That’s fine for more advanced instruction. For instance, Chuck D’Aloia of “Blues with Brains” fame completely changed my approach to playing. In his series of instructional videos, Chuck is all about situational awareness, and that has been more helpful to me than memorizing scales.

Circling back to Jam Tracks, it doesn’t give you any of that fluff because it’s not important. What I realized is that they give you the patterns, then it’s up to you play around, plain and simple. Some players may stay within each box, others may figure out that they can use the patterns to “walk” the fretboard. It doesn’t matter. The idea behind this app is to simply PLAY. More than anything else, with guitar, you can learn things intellectually, but until you actually start putting it to practice, your learning will not be complete. Jam Tracks gets you “doing” very quickly.

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Gibson posted this on Facebook today… I love the green burst, but I’m not sure about the mint-green binding. White or black would work for me. But green? Anyway, they’re calling it the “Green Widow.” With that binding, I’d call it the Lucky Leprechaun because it reminds me of Saint Paddy’s Day. Since it’s a Custom Shop model, I wonder if you could request ivory-colored binding or even black binding. Other than that, that green burst is totally different, and something I’d consider. But with that green binding, the jury’s out for me…

Update 8/22/2012

Dammit! The more I look at that guitar, the more it grows on me. Binding aside, this is the one of the coolest burst patterns I’ve seen in awhile. The Manhattan Blue was gorgeous to me, but this Green Widow looks a little sinister as well as being gorgeous. IF I got one of these, I’d probably call her Morgana or Maleficent, or after some beautiful woman that has a touch of darkness to her. Joan d’Arc would be a cool name as well.

In any case, I’ve been looking for details on hardware and such, and even the Gibson site doesn’t have information that I could find. I’m hoping this isn’t a one-off because this would be a great guitar to check out. That translucent green burst is sexy as hell!

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TC Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX

Summary: Great vocal processing PLUS great guitar processing all in one convenient box.

Pros: Superb vocal processing giving the singer powerful processing tools and very natural harmony voices. Guitar processing is top-notch. Output is super-quiet with no line noise whatsoever.

Cons: With such excellent sound quality, my only con is that there aren’t more harmony voices. Though of lower quality, the DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 has four voices of harmony, which opens up lots of possibilities. But note that this is just a nit, and definitely not a deal-breaker for me.

Price: $349.00 Street

Features:

  • 200+ song & artist inspired presets for vocals & guitar
  • Dedicated guitar effects processing from TC Electronic. No amp required
  • Key for harmonies and pitch correction set automatically from guitar input
  • Plug in your MP3 player to the AUX input and sing along using Vocal Cancel feature
  • Built like a tank
  • Fine control over parameters for both voice and guitar
  • Output: Stereo, Mono, Dual Mono

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ Used this unit all weekend long, and despite my minor misgivings about having only two harmony voices max, the sound quality of this unit beats the crap out of my DigiTech Vocalist Live 4.

I’m tired. Three gigs in three days, and some coin in my pocket, and I’m a pretty happy man as well. But I didn’t realize I was as tired as I was until I sat down for a little dinner and started writing this article. Part of me not noticing my exhaustion is due to the inspiration I got from using the fantastic TC Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX. It’s amazing what good sound quality can do for sparking inspiration. For the first time in the hundreds of solo gigs I’ve done over the years, I was completely satisfied with my sound.

Guitar-wise, I was already covered, but vocally, I always knew my rig was lacking. But it was usually good enough, and I knew that the real solution was to simply add some other gear like adding a side-chain to my PA and insert vocal processing units. But being a solo artist, the thought of lugging more gear around just didn’t appeal to me, so I did my best with what I’ve had for several years, hoping that someday I could get a unit that had all the vocal processing I needed in a box. That someday arrived on my doorstep last Wednesday.

I didn’t get a chance to start playing with it until last Thursday night, and I spent a couple of hours dialing in a few presets that I would use for my gig on Friday. And after my gig, though I knew I had to make a couple of tweaks to the presets, I was completely sold on the unit. One of the servers at the restaurant that I work at on Fridays is also a professional singer, and she commented that my sound was “different” than usual. When I queried what she meant by that, she said, “It sounds so much better. So clear and present. It’s gorgeous.” That was all the affirmation I needed!

The first thing I noticed when I started my gig was the three-dimensional quality to my sound. I use a Fishman SA200 SoloAmp as my PA and acoustic guitar amp. It’s a six-speaker array that has great sound dispersal. But Friday night was the first time I felt that it was being used to its full effect. As I mentioned, there was a three-dimensional quality to my sound. I didn’t have to even turn up very loud. The sound was being dispersed as it should be. I think a lot of that had to do with the compressor in the unit. With effective compression, the “tighter” sound seems to project much more, and that is exactly what was happening as my signal issued from the SoloAmp. I didn’t even have a lot of compression dialed in; only 2.7 to 1, which is pretty light, but it was enough to squeeze my sound just enough to make my sound much more full and rich.

Fit and Finish

The VoiceLive Play GTX is a really small unit, measuring about 8″ X 6″ X 2.” It’s uncanny how much power this unit packs with such a diminutive footprint. But I absolutely DIG that it’s so small because it fits in my cord bag! This means that unlike my DigiTech Vocalist Live4, I don’t need a separate gig bag to transport it! On top of that, the metal housing is absolutely rugged, so this unit is totally gig-worthy, and for the amount of gigs that I do per year – I do over 100 gigs a year – I have no doubt that the unit will stand the test of time and the rigors of gigging.

The switches are top quality, and they’re extremely smooth; maybe a bit too smooth. I wish that the toggles had just a little snap. The problem that I have with smooth switches is that it’s easy to press the switch and not know that you’re pressing it. I had a similar issue with my previous unit. But I can understand the reasoning behind it in that in a quiet environment, a the click of a toggle might be a bit distracting.

The LCD screen is very easy to read, though as with any LCD, it can be a bit difficult to read in direct sunlight.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Presets

One thing the manufacturers tout with their vocal processing units – and TC Helicon is no exception – is the number of “artist-inspired” presets. My DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 had 50 factory presets and 50 user presets, which were essentially copies of the factory presets but were editable. To me, that was fine because it gave me enough examples to use a reference points for editing. The VoiceLive has 235 presets, and the demonstrators do a great job of showing what the presets can do. But frankly, I don’t give a crap about the presets. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I’ve got great amps and I know what I want out of them. The amp models in the VoiceLive are actually quite good, but I personally would never use them. Same goes for guitar effects. There are some very nice guitar effects in the unit, but I have some incredible pedals like my Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay that simply kick ass over onboard effects.

As far as the vocal settings are concerned, being experienced at recording, every singer requires different settings to optimize the qualities of their voice. For instance, I’m a second tenor/baritone, so while I can sing fairly high notes, my tonal color is darker than a full tenor. From a mixing standpoint, I almost always have to have the lows rolled off slightly and require less compression. Presets rarely, if ever, work for me because they’re set for an average. So given all of that, I end up editing a few presets, and use just those in my performances. Such was the case with the VoiceLive Play.

Ease of Use

From my perspective, ease of parameter editing is the “secret sauce” of the VoiceLive Play GTX. TC Helicon must be so confident of this that the only documentation they include in the box is a connection diagram. The user manual and preset list can be downloaded from the TC Helicon site, but for basic setup, you don’t need a manual. The only thing I used the manual for was finding out how to get to the fine controls for the effects, and that just takes pressing the Effects “soft” button twice. Other than that, the editing interface is easy. The LCD screen layout is below:

To access an editing screen, you simply press one of the six buttons, called “soft buttons” on either side of the screen. That will bring up the screen associated with the soft key. Most screens have multiple pages which you can scroll through using the arrow keys. Parameters are adjusted with the control knob in the center. Once in a parameter editing screen, you enter edit mode for the parameter by pressing the soft key next to the parameter. Parameters show up as labeled rectangles on either side of the screen. What absolutely cool though is that the soft keys will light for only the parameters you can edit, providing a great visual cue that indicates what’s editable and what’s not.

Sound Quality

As if making it incredibly easy to set up and dial in, the sound quality of the unit incredible! I already described the three-dimensional nature of the sound, but on top of that, there are no errant artifacts or line noise that issue from the unit. It’s dead quiet. But to protect against that, the unit also has a little ground lift switch on the back to protect from ground loops or differing ground references in power sources. Here are a few example clips I recorded direct into my DAW:

Eagles: Peaceful Easy Feelin’

Beatles: In My Life

James Taylor: You’ve Got a Friend

If you do hear any noise, it’s from my microphone pickup ambient noise, but there is no line noise whatsoever. Note that in all the clips, it is the raw sound of the unit. No processing occurred in my production software at all. In the last clip, I noticed that it sounded a little processed. That was fixed at my gig on Friday by removing the chorus effect on the vocals.

I’ve evaluated several vocal processing units, and occasionally sounding like chipmunks with the high harmonies is unavoidable, but I found that the VoiceLive does a much better job of blending vocals than other units I’ve used in the past and generally has a much more natural sound to the harmony voices.

Overall Impression

Save for only have two harmony voices, which I also said wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, this unit ROCKS THE HOUSE! I’m simply blown away by sound quality, but also from the fine control over all aspects of the presets. This unit is going to go on my list of game changers for sure!

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