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.