Archive for November, 2013

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!


Aracom DRX Power Attenuator

Summary: Truly an evolution of the attenuator, Jeff Aragaki has once again upped the ante with the DRX attenuator. This dual-level attenuator not only will tame your volume, but it will give you the ability to use two different volume levels; and with the optional foot switches, will give you flexibility not offered by any other attenuator on the market. Furthermore, the adjustable reactance allows you to tame your tone on top of controlling your volume.

Pros: The Aracom attenuation technology is the most transparent that I’ve tested – and I’ve tested and used several over the years. Nothing comes close. But the dual-level attenuation (normal and boost modes) blows away the competition in my book. Then add variable reactance to the mix, and there’s nothing that can even touch what this attenuator can do.

Cons: Is a little on the pricey side, but the capabilities are worth it to me. I’m having one built.

Price: Starts at $850.00 direct


  • Dual-level attenuation
  • True bypass, minimum attenuation, variable (which goes all the way to load)
  • 5-position Variable Dynamic Control – varies the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, acting like a high-cut filter.
  • 3 optional foot switches (boost only, boost + channel switch, boost + A/B)
  • Weighs only 7 lbs.
  • Line out with level control
  • Will handle 4, 8 and 16 ohm

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ A few years ago, when Jeff first showed me his prototype attenuator mounted on a pine board, I never thought that

Jeff Aragaki is a genius. I knew it from the first moment I met him. I started out by first being blown away by his “more Marshall than Marshall” amps and now the proud owner of three of them to witnessing his attenuator technology go from a project box, demonstrating to me a way to throttle output volume that was unlike anything at the time (and still no one has been able to duplicate what he has done), to now three iterations of attenuators (Pro, DAG, and now the DRX). The DRX is by far his most incredible riff on his unique attenuation technology. And no, if you think you know how it works, you’d be wrong. I’m no expert, but I’m familiar with the basics of traditional attenuation (read: everyone else’s attenuators), and the Aracom technology is like nothing on the market.

As I mentioned above, the DRX (short for DualRox) attenuator takes that technology to a new level by offering two modes of operation: Normal and Boost; at least if you’re just using boost mode (Type A foot switch). It opens up more possibilities with the Type B and Type C foot switches which provide the capability to switch channels (Type B), or use an A/B (Type C), perfect for two-channel amps that don’t have channel switching. These features alone had me completely sold on the unit, and I had only originally tested it with the Type A foot switch! My test unit which Jeff lent to me for review included the Type B boost and channel switch (which I’ll demonstrate in a clip below). But irrespective of the type of switching, being able to boost my volume under attenuation just blew me away!!! Here’s a clip that demonstrates only switching between normal and boost modes:

From a performance standpoint however, having both the dual attenuation levels, plus the ability to switch channels is absolutely HUGE! For instance, I can go from clean to full-on overdrive with the click of the foot switch; much like engaging an overdrive pedal. But there’s no pedal involved. Without an attenuator, going from clean to dirty on the amp usually involves a huge jump in volume. But with the dual-level attenuation, I can set my cranked up volume to just a bit over the clean volume. Again, this is just having an overdrive pedal, but this time, it’s only my amp, so I don’t have to worry about dialing in another device’s EQ to get the right tone. Check this clip out:

I used my Aracom VRX22 for that, which is another Plexi clone but with 6V6 tubes. This amp is notable for its haunting clean tone, and monster overdrive, which comes from 1950’s NOS 6V6’s that I have biased a little hot. I also had it customized with channel switching, so it fit the bill for testing out the Type B foot switch. I just can’t wait to gig with this come Sunday! It’s gonna be fun!

But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the dual modes is a feature that no one else has, and that’s the Variable Dynamic Control. While it acts essentially as a subtle high-cut filter, it’s not an EQ. Instead, it changes the reactance between the attenuator and speaker. Fully right is full reactance, and as you move left to the leftmost position (there are 5 positions), the reactance is reduced, producing the effect of rolling off the highs. But it’s very subtle, and you can really only tell a difference between the most extreme settings. This is an incredible feature in that it allows you to dial in your tone; especially your cranked tone. For instance, my Aracom VRX18 (18-watt Plexi clone) produces lots of highs when cranked. They’re not entirely undesirable, but they do get piercing, especially at gig levels. So by slightly reducing the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, I can get rid of the super-super highs while retaining my fundamental tone. In a word: Killer. Here’s a clip that demonstrates the Variable Dynamic Control:

As I said, it’s subtle. The fundamental tone doesn’t change much, but going from extreme to extreme, you can tell when the highs roll off a bit.

For those who are familiar with the previous Aracom attenuators, one feature that set them apart was the ability to mix and match amps and cabs with different impedance settings. For instance, you could match an 8 ohm amp output with a 4 ohm cab. But that came at the price of a huge transformer that made those units weight 18 lbs. The DRX requires that both amp and cab impedance settings match. But that’s not really a loss at least for me because all my amplifiers have multiple output impedance jacks, so it’s really not a big deal. And for what I get in return from the DRX, that loss of flexibility is not a very high price to pay.

Overall Impression

When I first tested the prototype of this unit a couple of years ago, I actually thought that Jeff had changed the circuit technology. But in fact, he didn’t, which is a good thing because when you have this unit, you’re assured of getting the most advanced attenuation technology on the planet. Yeah, I’m raving about it because for the past few years, this technology has afforded me the flexibility to play in ANY venue, large and small, indoor or outdoor, and not ever have to sacrifice my tone; something I can’t say of other attenuators I’ve used and tested. I can crank up my amp as much as I need, confident that my tone hasn’t changed, but never having to worry about pissing someone off about my volume.

But on top of that, with the ability to have two levels of attenuation, plus the ability to dial in my highs, I couldn’t be happier, and I can hardly wait for Jeff to finish constructing my unit.

And yeah, as I mentioned above, it’s a bit on the pricey side. But how much is great tone worth? I’ve spent countless hours and thousands upon thousands of dollars on guitars, amps and pedals over the years – especially the last few years – and with each one, I justified my expense. The DRX is a tool that will let me ensure that I keep the tone that I’ve worked so hard to achieve. It may not make sense for the solo bedroom player, but for working musicians like myself, the DRX is an investment in my tone that I’m willing to make.

For more information, go to the Aracom DRX product page!

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DualRoxWhen I get excited about new gear, it’s kind of hard to stop playing with it. No exception here with the Aracom DRX Attenuator. In my “First Impressions” article I posted earlier today, I mentioned the top three features of the attenuator that had me completely sold:

  1. The first was the “boost” or dual-mode feature that provides an output boost, great for changing volumes at the click of a foot switch.
  2. The second was the Variable Dynamic Control (VDC) that adjusts the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, essentially acting as a high-cut filter.
  3. The third was the weight of the attenuator, which is less than half the weight of a PRX unit.

As soon as I finished writing the article, I went out to my man-cave and started messing around with the unit that Jeff let me borrow. Man, I was giddy. This thing works great! In any case, I got ambitious and decided to do some quick demo clips demonstrating the first two features: Boost and VDC.

One thing that I forgot to discuss in my first impressions article was weight reduction. The reason why this unit weighs so much less than the PRX is due to the lack of a huge transformer. But that loss of weight comes at the price of a little flexibility. The transformer in the PRX allowed you to use different amp and cab impedance combinations. The DRX has variable impedance from 4 to 16 ohm, but your amp and cab impedance settings have to match. For me, that’s not a big deal because though I have cabs that are either 8 or 16 ohm, all my amps have output jacks for those impedance settings. But the features that this unit bring to the table make that particular issue almost irrelevant.

For both clips, I had the attenuator plugged into an Aracom VRX18 Plexi clone. Master is pegged and Volume is at 3pm, which is pretty dirty for this amp. I’m playing my Slash L Guitars “Katie May”

Boost Mode

In this clip I’m playing a single-chord riff, and switching in and out of boost mode without changing the way I’m playing. My “normal” mode attenuation is down about -20dB, while boost mode is probably around -14-17dB. It’s an analog sweep, so it’s tough to get the exact numbers. The idea behind this was to demonstrate the increase/decrease in volume but not gain, which would have changed my tone due to compression.

Variable Dynamic Control

As I mentioned above, VDC adjusts the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, essentially acting like a high-cut filter (though there are no filter caps). In this clip, I’m going between full-reactance (no cut), to the maximum setting, which is four clicks left on the five-position rotary switch. You won’t notice a stark difference between the two, but when I play at the maximum setting, the real high frequencies get cut off, due to the slightly lower dynamics.

Like I said, it’s a fairly small, but noticeable difference. For that particular amp, just moving it over one position tamed my tone just fine. But I wanted demonstrate by going to the extremes. I believe this will be particularly useful at gigs to get just the right amount of bite without feeling as if my tone is slicing.

So there you have it. For more information, visit the Aracom DRX product page!

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When being fat is good…

Okay, not for a human, but for a pick, at least for me, it’s what I prefer. I use a Wegen Picks Fatone (fat-tone) pick, and at 5mm thick, it’s one fat pick. I’ve sung the praises of fat picks I’ve used in the past, but this one is special in that I use it for both acoustic and electric guitar; something I couldn’t do with other picks.

In any case, last night I got a renewed appreciation for a fat pick because I actually left my Fatone at home. And not having enough time to set up for my gig and fetch it, I had to use the spare emergency pick I keep hidden in the piano at the restaurant. This is a medium Dunlop Tortex. Not a bad pick, as I used that very same pick for years until I discovered fat picks.

Tonally, it didn’t sound bad, but I had gotten so used to playing with a fat pick that I couldn’t get comfortable with the Tortex. The main issue was holding on to the pick. With fat picks, contrary to what you initially might think, you actually hold the pick much lighter, and let the pick tip do the work. Also, fat picks just glide over the strings effortlessly. In contrast, I felt like the Tortex was getting “stuck” on the strings when I played.

I eventually got used to it, but it was a huge adjustment for me. I was really missing my Fatone. I won’t be forgetting again!

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DualRoxI’ll say this first: The Aracom DRX power attenuator is everything a power attenuator should be!

Biased? Perhaps. After all I’ve made no secret about owning and preferring Aracom equipment, and Jeff Aragaki is a good friend of mine. But irrespective of my ownership of Aracom products and my relationship with Jeff, if you’ve followed this blog with any regularity at all, I don’t say things like that lightly. There’s too much competition in the marketplace to crown a “best” or make a claim like I just did without experience. Luckily, experience is on my side, and having kept tabs on the various attenuators that have hit the market over the years – especially the last few years – I can confidently say that no other attenuator on the market does what the DRX can do.

I was going to save this for the end, but yes, it’s bye-bye PRX150, once Jeff finishes construction of a DRX for me. But I will say this: For basic attenuation requirements, the PRX line of attenuators are fantastic. My PRX150 has been a stand-by on stage and in the studio for years, and has served me quite well. The totally transparent passive attenuation technology combined with the Aracom input/output impedance matching that Jeff invented has no match on the market. And if what you’re looking for is straight-up attenuation, you can’t ever go wrong with a PRX attenuator.

Every year, I write an article on game-changers for me. The PRX150-Pro has always made the list because I just can’t do without attenuation and get the high-gain sounds I need at a reasonable volume. But the DRX will unfortunately AND fortunately supplant it on the list.

So, with the preamble out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks…

In evolutionary science, there’s a term called “disruptive selection” (aka diversifying selection) wherein extreme traits are selected over intermediate traits within a given population. A good example of this is the evolution of the peppered moth in England (yeah, I was a biology major at university and genetics and evolution were part of the curricula). In this study, the light-colored peppered moth population was severely decreased due to predation; in large part because of the environmental changes brought on by soot covering the foliage, thus making the moths stand out. On the other hand, dark-colored moths increased in population because they could conceal themselves much better against the darker foliage. Darwin also observed this on the Galapagos islands with the finch population (this is a cardinal case, as it is known, and it is mentioned in the article to which I provided a link).

So what does disruptive selection have to do with the DRX? Well, first we have to start with the PRX. Jeff’s attenuation circuit technology, while functioning in basically the same manner as other attenuators; that is, attenuating output power was actually a disruptive event in attenuator technology when it first arrived on the scene. Every other manufacturer at the time was basically using a variation on the same attenuation technology which, while effective, were tone sucks. So to get their transparency, they had to add EQ circuits to compensate for the high-end frequency loss inherent to the traditional attenuator design. Jeff, on the other hand, figured out circuitry that retained transparency and dynamics without the need for an EQ circuit. It truly was a game-changer, and sparked some heated debate on the forums. But with time, things settled down, people picked their attenuators, and the discussion moved on. Enter the DRX (I really wanted to say “Dragon”).

I had worked with a prototype of this a couple of years ago. It was on a pine board. 🙂 And even at the time I told Jeff that this was going to change everything in the attenuator market once he came out with the real deal, and now that I’ve had a chance to finally play with it, I wasn’t wrong. This attenuator changes everything for me!

I finally got to try out the DRX at Jeff’s workshop over the weekend. I was taking my PRX150 in for a bit of servicing because after hundreds of hours of use, I started noticing some weirdness in it that I wanted to have him check out. Also, Jeff wanted me to test a VERY special, new 100-watt amp that he was shipping to Australia before he packed it up. This amp will be his flagship 100-watt Marshall-style amp. I say “Marshall-style” because it has circuitry in it that will give it voicing for three different Marshal amps: Plexi 100, Plexi PA, and JCM800 – all in one amp! It’s absolutely killer, and I will be writing a review of it in the coming weeks.

After I played with the amp for quite awhile, Jeff hooked up the DRX to show that to me as well, then spent several minutes explaining its operation to me. As I listened to him, I started chomping at the bit to test it because it had everything that I had wanted in the PRX150! I also knew that based upon my experience and knowledge of other attenuators on the market, the DRX would be an ass-kicker.

I won’t bore you with technical details, as this is an “impressions” article, so you can read about the features here. But I will highlight the three most major features that get me so excited about this attenuator:

Dual-level attenuation. For clarity, Jeff has this labeled “boost” on the attenuator. But it’s not a boost in the traditional sense in that it doesn’t add input gain to your signal, which would result in a bit more compression from the power tubes. This is actually an attenuation reducer. In that sense, it is a boost as output power increases and you get more volume. But unlike input boost, no compression takes place, thus your tone stays the same. This is an absolutely HUGE feature for me, especially when I’m playing in overdrive and need to get into a lead break. If I’m already slamming my amp with input gain and my tubes are pretty well saturated, adding more input gain to do my leads doesn’t change my volume much. But with a “boost” mode on the attenuator, I can reduce the attenuation to increase the output power at the back-end of my amp and will get the volume boost that I need. Then switching back to “normal” mode, I can easily go back to rhythm volume.

This is the very first feature I tested on the DRX, and that feature alone sold me on it, and I asked Jeff if he’d build me one. This is something that I’ve wanted on my PRX150. The secret behind this feature is the foot switch; actually foot switches available for the DRX. I won’t go into detail about them here – because I only know about what mine does – so you can read about what each different type does here. I have a “Type B” foot switch which allows me to not only switch back and forth between normal and boost modes on the attenuator, but also allows me to switch channels on my two-channel amps. I could actually use this on my DV Mark Little 40. While it’s not a two-channel amp, the foot switch provides 6dB of gain boost. So I could have the amp set up in normal mode at just the edge of breakup, then when I engage the “boost” on the attenuator, I’ll simultaneously add the 6dB boost on the amp to take it over the edge.  OMG! Looks like I’ll have to test this. 🙂

You might be thinking “so what” about the foot switches. Well these are what set the DRX apart from the competition. Actually, you could do without a foot switch and in that case you’d have to switch between normal and boost by hand; still much more than what the competition offers. But combined with one of the Aracom foot switches, it suddenly opens up a bunch of possibilities, and further distances the DRX from the pack.

Variable Dynamic Control. As if Jeff’s attenuator technology and dual-level modes weren’t enough, Jeff added another feature to the attenuator that to me, simply decimates the competition. VDC is a subtle feature (actually less subtle if you switch back and forth between extremes) that adjusts the reactance between the DRX and the speaker. The result is a smoothing out of the high-frequencies as you change the reactance. This is NOT an EQ, but it does act like a very subtle high-cut filter. For instance, when my Plexi-style amps are cranked, they produce a ton of bright tone (and no, I’m not talking about those undesirable high-end transients that some in the past have imagined hearing – I think it’s their tinnitus. 🙂 ). With the VDC, I can roll off a bit of that so my tone isn’t quite as piercing. In my test of the DRX, we had the 100-watter cranked in the Plexi channel with minimal attenuation (oh yes… it was LOUD). With Jeff moving from extreme to extreme, the sound went from piercing (no roll-off), to much smoother. The sweet spot for me was a couple of clicks down on that amp.

Why is this an important feature? One of the complaints that people had about the PRX line when it first came out was that when they cranked their amps, they’d hear these high-end transients or their sound was piercing. I don’t think they ever totally cranked their amps up before. A cranked tube amp takes a little getting used to because it transforms at higher-gain, with many amps seemingly producing more highs when cranked (or they’re just not as apparent when slightly overdriven). For some like me, I love those high-frequencies. But for others, they’re undesirable. So now, those complainers have nothing to complain about. If they don’t like all the highs their amp is producing, they now have a way to dial them down; without adjusting the EQ on their amp! How f-in’ cool is THAT?!!!

It only weighs 7 lbs!!! As much as I love my PRX, it weighs 18 lbs, and is about the height of an amp head. The DRX, on the other hand weighs less than half that, and has a lower vertical form factor than the PRX, making it much more easily transportable. For as much I gig, the less weight I have to lug, the better.

I could go on and on and on, and it looks like I’ve done a good job of that already. 🙂 But the DRX represents yet another turning point for me. I will be releasing gig reports and a studio test (with clips) in the near future. Jeff graciously lent me his first production model while my DRX is being built. Stay tuned!

For more information, check out the DRX product page!

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There’s an old saying, “No man is an island,” well, no one person is an island, no matter how much they might try to isolate themselves from people or the trappings of society. No matter what, our lives are touched and shaped by the interactions we have with other people and the environments in which we live. Even those who’ve chosen to live solitary lives have done so as a result of their experiences – albeit negative.

And in music, this adage holds especially true. Every musician is influenced by the people and things around them, past and present. For those who claim they have no outside influences, they’re lying to themselves, plain and simple.

What compelled me to write this article was I spent an afternoon  back in July (I actually wrote this article that day) sitting on the front porch of my sister’s house in Lone Tree, CO with my Aunt Kathy, who’s an incredible professional artist and an owner of the Allegri Wine Shop in Gresham, OR with her husband, my Uncle Bill (that’s one of her incredible watercolors to the left). In any case, we were mutually inspiring each other. She was painting these incredible “sketches,” while I played and sang.

Occasionally we’d stop and chat, and at one point I said, “You know, we really are a family of artists.” She enthusiastically agreed. Art was something that has always been a part of our family lifestyle for as long as I can remember. Everyone sang, and most played some sort of musical instrument. My dad was trained as a concert pianist, most of my aunts and uncles played something.

So it was not surprise that music came naturally to me. As I said to my Auntie in one of our conversations, “People ask me a lot how much training I’ve had. My answer to them is I’ve had very little training in my lifetime, but I grew up in a very musical and artistic family, so music has always been part of my life, and part of the makeup of who I am.

Sure, I have musical influences galore. But the root of my musicianship comes from sitting in a busy room at a family get-together, breaking out the instruments, and playing tunes. I had an uncle who was an incredible slack-key guitarist, but he could play jazz like a MoFo! I got a lot of my melodic phrasing from watching and playing with him. Another uncle taught me how to read guitar chord charts when I was eight years old. Once I learned how to do that, I took out all my dad’s pop music books (this was 1970), and proceeded to learn Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Lovin’ Spoonful tunes, and whole mess of others.

It was family that stirred and continues to stir the musical fire that burns inside me. When I sing a love song, I think about singing to my lovely wife. When I’m singing fun tunes, I think about playing with my kids. When I’m singing sad songs, I think about long-lost loved ones.

I know it’s not the same for everyone, but we all have our influences. I believe if we recognize the people and things that influence us as musicians, it allows us to tap into the emotions associated with those influences and make us much more expressive in what we play.

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Matches Made In Heaven

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

I was talking to Jeff Aragaki yesterday evening about his absolutely magical Aracom VRX18 Plexi clone and how Katie May sounded so perfect with that amp. I used that combination in my latest song, “The Lothario” and was completely amazed at how well they fit together.

I told Jeff that I hadn’t played the VRX18 in awhile, and hadn’t gigged with it for a long time since my DV Mark Little 40 does the job for playing out. But for studio work, the VRX18 and her more aggressive sister, the VRX22 (I had Jeff voice her a bit more aggressive), have been studio stand-bys for me for a long time. In any case, I was looking for a particular sound with that song, and thought that the VRX18, with her creamy-smooth overdrive and gorgeous sag would do the trick perfectly. I wasn’t wrong.

Katie May took to her like white on rice. Here I was thinking that Katie May was best played clean, and had shared that with Perry Riggs, Katie May’s builder. But what issued from the amp stopped me dead in my tracks. It was clear that I just hadn’t matched her up with an amp that would allow her to fully express herself. The Lollar Imperials with their lower output drive the VRX18 perfectly, producing a buttery/creamy-smooth overdrive tone. I was up till the wee hours of the morning yesterday just playing around after I had already finished mixing down the song. And come to think of it, Katie May has never disappointed me when played with my DV Mark Little 40, but she sounds absolutely incredible with a vintage Marshall-style amp.

Tonight, I was looking for a song I had recorded a couple of years ago to see if I could add an overdriven guitar to it, as a professional reviewer had given me feedback that it would be nice to make it have a bit of an edge. But in my search, I came across something I put together for practice (I’m not too good at playing without some sort of backing track to give me a reference) a few weeks ago, and immediately started tooling around with it. After about a half-hour of messing around, I decided to lay down a track to demonstrate just how good Katie May sounds with the VRX18. Give it a listen:

As you can see in the picture above, Katie May was plugged directly into the VRX18. No effects were used. In the recording though, I added some reverb and a little delay to add some ambiance to the guitar; just as with “The Lothario,” I didn’t EQ the guitar at all. Also note that I did the guitar part in a single take, and went from clean to dirty by simply turning up the volume knob on the guitar. Katie May went from this hollow body clean tone to a rock machine with a simple twist of a knob.  Of course, that’s also a testament to how responsive the VRX18 is. On the amp, I had the Master pegged, and the volume at about 2pm. That gives me plenty of overdrive with the guitar’s volume all the way up, but will also clean up real nice by turning the volume down.

I just gave the track another listen-to and thought back to when I was up on something like the 20th fret to hit that high-high note. One thing that I love about playing Katie May is that the butt of the neck doesn’t get in my way. I don’t have very long fingers, so playing way up on the fretboard has always been an issue playing other guitars. But not with Katie May. I can get to those notes now – and she has 24 frets – all playable! But note one VERY important thing: On other guitars where I’ve been able to reach the really high frets, though most have been playable, they haven’t had the sustain that Katie May has. I believe this has to do with the neck-through construction. Since there’s no break in the neck, the sound waves are allowed to reverberate continuously throughout the neck and create much more sustain than bolt-on, or even set necks. Even my Les Paul, which is a sustain machine doesn’t sustain nearly as much way up high as Katie May does.

In any case, this marriage gives me the same kind of feeling I get when I play my Les Paul R8 through my Aracoms and DV Mark Little 40. “Amber” loves to scream through those amps, though I have to admit, I love her best with the Little 40. They pair so well together that I forget about twiddling knobs to dial in the right tone. I set it my amp in the sweet spot and play. Those kinds of things are to me at least, matches made in heaven.

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I have several friends and acquaintances who, after their breakups or divorces, went on a bit of a tear on electronic dating sites and seemed to go through women – quickly. I used to tease them that they were fast becoming lotharios. But they always had a reason for not committing. So I wrote this song from their point of view. It’s called “The Lothario.”

Here’s the final mixed version. For the guitars, I added just a little high-end boost to make them stand out a bit more, but I kept their levels pretty much the same.

In any case, here’s the gear I used:

Guitar: Slash L Guitars “Katie May”
Damnation! That guitar played just slightly dirty through my little 18-Watt Plexi clone sounded absolutely incredible! Didn’t have to EQ it at all. Katie May was set to the middle position (both pickups), but in single coil mode so I could get a bit of that Strat Position 4 jangly sound with the dirt.

I was originally going to add a clean guitar track on the left side of the mix, but started noodling with my amp much more overdriven, and decided that I wanted to give the song a bit more of an edge than what it had. So I added it in plus some really simple, but thematic lead breaks over the main riff.

Amp: Aracom VRX18
This is a VERY special amp to me, and while I don’t gig with it much, this amp with its tube rectifier has a very distinctive tone and dynamics. Standard VRX’s (18 and 22) come with a solid state rectifier – that’s not bad. My 22-watter has one. It just has more attack, and I wanted the feel of bit more sag as I was playing a bit behind the beat.

But being a Plexi-style amp, cranked up, this amp has a big sound, and on the “lead” track, I had to make sure I was doing a lot of palm muting to tame the overdrive a bit. But it turned out awesome!

Bass: Ibanez G-10
Cheapo, but it totally serves my purposes.

Here are the lyrics:

The Lothario

I was just a regular guy
…at least I thought I was
going day to day through life
All I wanted was to pass the time
…just doing my thing
You live your life and I’ll live mine
Then I saw her and she turned me all around
Don’t know which way is up or down!

Wasn’t looking for a good time
it must’ve come from outer space
all I know is that she launches
my heart into the sky
But I know I shouldn’t get too high
too much risk of falling
so I’ll enjoy the warmth I’m feeling inside
Enjoy her till it’s time to say goodbye

Please don’t judge me too unkind
…I know how it must look
But they shouldn’t be surprised
I never mean to make them cry
…the truth just hurts
But I have to draw the line
I don’t need no one to
spend their life with me
But I don’t mind the company

I wish she wanted just a good time
and be satisfied with that
but I know that what she wants is more
than what I had in mind
So we can have ourselves some good wine
and compelling conversation
and we’ll enjoy this warmth we’re feeling inside
Enjoy it till it’s time to say goodbye.

Spent so many years in losing myself
Not about to apologize
Though I haven’t put my heart on a shelf
I’ve just had to take the time to realize…

I just want to have a good time
don’t want no one depending on me
as if I have to fill up their lives.
So if you want to have a good time
Kick off your shoes and just go with it
enjoy this warmth we’re feeling inside
Enjoy it till it’s time to say goodbye.

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No One’s Interested In Science

I was watching this video (http://goo.gl/C5FCOF) of a blues demonstration that the great Charlie Hunter was giving, and in the video he said some VERY wise words that really struck a chord with me – excuse the pun. He said, “No one’s interested in science. You save the science for the practice shed and bring the magic to the stage.”

While I’m no virtuoso on guitar, I’ve developed my own chops over the course of 40+ years of playing, and one thing that I never wanted to do was sound mechanical when I was performing. I practice every day – and most of it is just noodling over backing tracks – and that’s where I discover licks and/or work out scales that I can internalize, and incorporate once it’s time to perform. But once I’m performing, I’m not thinking things like, “Oh this mode would go great with this particular progression,” or if playing a rhythm groove, I’m not thinking about the tricks I or little fills I want to throw in.

Speaking of which, one thing that I do pretty religiously when learning a new song – especially for my solo acoustic gigs is to record the rhythm riff using an electric guitar plugged straight into my computer (I use a StealthPlug). This has helped train me to instinctively know how I should be approaching the song because there’s no hiding behind effects or the natural resonance of my acoustic. I figure if I can sound half-decent with a totally flat sound, I’ll sound great when I’m doing it for real.

Below is an example of what I spoke about above. Here, I’m working out the chorus part of “As” by Stevie Wonder. It’s just my trusty Slash L Katie May plugged right into my Macbook and played alongside a looping drum track.

That track is absolutely sloppy! But I recorded that shortly after I learned the song. What I got from that though were ideas on what I could do in that part of the song, and mind you, while I didn’t record my voice, I was also singing over it while I was playing. Later takes were much smoother, and I used a lot more palm-muting to get less pop on my downbeats. I do the same thing with lead breaks (sorry didn’t have any of those clips on this particular machine). In both cases, by the time I get to performing, I’ve built up enough ideas to just let things flow.

Now granted, there are times when I’m absolutely stumped when I get to a lead break. But I’m not afraid to say, “Minor pentatonic, here we come!” 🙂 But most of the time, even if I get stumped, I’ll end up feeling my way through it, and it usually doesn’t sound half bad. That comes from practice. So Charlie Hunter is right on: The magic truly is in the moment, and you gotta leave the science in the woodshed, and bring nothing but the magic to the stage.

And speaking of magic, so many of the big time illusions you see from prominent magicians of the day like Criss Angel and David Blaine are deeply rooted in science. It’s the ultimate expression of that science that makes things “magical.”

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I was in a rush yesterday to get to my weekly church gig, so I grabbed Katie May, my VHT Special 6 combo, and my small gig pedal board that had my Timmy on it, loaded up my car, and jetted off to pre-service rehearsal. The set that I picked out for yesterday had a couple of rocking pieces and I figured that when I needed dirt, I could get it from my Timmy.

Rehearsal was going great until we got to one of the songs where I needed some dirt. When I switched on the Timmy, it was about the ugliest overdrive sound that I’ve ever heard! I tried to mess around with the EQ on the amp and the pedal and Katie May, but to no avail. Then I remembered that the Special 6 doesn’t do well with overdrive pedals. It works best with a booster and making its own overdrive; and it didn’t help that Katie May already has a naturally bright and thin voicing, and the Timmy doesn’t do anything to tame that. Unfortunately, to get the Special 6 to break up, the volume would’ve been too high for church because the Special 6 has so much clean headroom, and I didn’t have my attenuator.

So I ended up just playing clean and adapted my playing to the clean tone, which actually didn’t sound too bad. But man o man, did I learn a couple of lessons:

  1. Be prepared; that is, make sure you know that the gear combination you’ve chosen is going to work BEFORE you go to the gig. Shit! I know this and normally do it, but got too pressed for time. In the future, since I now know that that combination doesn’t work, I won’t use it.
  2. As much as you might like to play a certain guitar, don’t try to force the issue by just wanting to play that one. I’m pretty attached to Katie May, but what I should’ve done was grab Amber or Ox (my Les Pauls). I know that either of them work great with that combination, and the Timmy seems to like them a lot.

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km1Before I drive into the office each day, I usually start out early and do some work. But sometimes, there are exceptions; especially when I get a musical idea running around in my head. Then I drop everything and track it so I can come back to it later. Yesterday morning was like that. I was happily pounding out code for a project I’m working on then suddenly I heard this tune on an electric piano.

I went to my man-cave and quickly laid down the track. But since I was pressed for time, I just got down the piano part. So this morning I resolved to get a guitar part down. To be honest, I just wanted to jam over the piano part. I never intended my idea to be a full song. Part of it was testing myself to deal with a change from a maj-7 to a minor-dim, and the phrasing I might use.

Of course, there are many ways to skin a cat, but I thought about it for a little bit, and practiced some ways I might deal with it. In the end, I decided on keeping it simple.

Here’s the track:

It’s really nothing special as far as the music is concerned, and to be completely honest and transparent, this track is just one of several takes I took while playing around. What was incredible for me in this experience was “Katie May.” This guitar has never ceased to amaze me since I got her. She’s such a dream to play in both tone and feel that she lets me slip into an altered state where my creativity can take over. That’s the mark of a truly great instrument.

Katie May has so much natural sustain and a real purity in her tone. There’s a depth to her voice that’s indescribable. Her voicing is perfectly balanced; I haven’t ever had to EQ this guitar when I play her both in the studio and playing out. I just keep all EQ flat, and let her sing! The only thing I do is add some modulation effects to enhance what’s already there.

Perry Riggs and Slash L Guitars may not be widely known, but take it from me, if you’re in the market for a hand-built guitar, this is a builder you should consider.

Gear used:

Katie May plugged directly into my 1958 Fender Champ (that’s where the noise comes from)

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