Archive for February, 2016

fender_drriI haven’t been this excited about some gear in a long time! Actually, I haven’t done all that much reviewing in awhile. Sure, I’ve done some little things here and there, but haven’t done an amp in a LONG time.

When I picked this up at my buddy Dave’s house yesterday (he was my right-hand man in my previous band), I remarked that I haven’t done any amp reviews in awhile, and that I’ll probably write a review of it since I’m testing it to see if I want to buy it from him. A large part of me not writing is that I haven’t been in a band for a year and a half, so my “need” for gear and subsequently my GAS has been seriously curtailed. He laughed, saying the same thing. Now that he’s in another band, he’s starting to buy gear again (actually, I’m jealous because he’s setting up his living room as a jam center).

He even showed me some pedals that I really need to check out, like the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb. OMG! Talk about gooey, wet ‘verb! I played that pedal with a Les Paul Custom, into a custom Aracom VRX18. Could’ve sworn I was playing through a Fender amp! Gorgeous!

What really excites me about this amp is getting it into its breakup zone. Fender amps are known for their clean headroom, so when I hook up my attenuator to this, I’m hoping it’ll be a revelation! We shall see… 🙂

So… GAS is in full flow right now! I’ll probably post a “First Impressions” article in the next couple of days. ROCK ON!

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This article leading up to the book advertisement is important. Give it a read…

In any case, that article kind of hit home with me in that while I feel it’s important to know theory and scales, I believe that you can eventually arrive at that knowledge in your learning journey. Music is meant to be played. And especially with guitar, which is a rhythm instrument, I feel it’s more important to get the movement of the right and left hands down, then get into theory way later, after you’ve learned to actually play some songs.

For instance, I’ve found that with many of the younger players who’ve played with me in my church band and who’ve taken a lot of lessons is that their left hand technique is often far superior to my own, but they can’t play anything outside of what type of music they like. To a person, I found that is because they have horrible right-hand technique. So I tell them that although it’s important to know chord shapes and scales and how to place your fingers on the fretboard, all that is meaningless unless you use your right hand, which is the hand that actually makes the sound! So I tell them that although they may not like various genres of music, I give them a challenge to be able to play reggae, country, blues and even latin music to get used to working their right hand.

You gotta love the energy of kids, especially if they love to play. All of them to whom I issued the challenge would go and practice, then show me later on what they’ve learned. Then I’d say, “Okay, open the book to number ____, and let’s see if you can play it.” And they can play. At that very moment, they get it.

For example, I had one kid who was absolutely flailing on guitar. He had the heart, but he couldn’t keep a beat. At the time, I was on kind of a blues kick, and I told him to go study John Mayer, and learn to play along while listening so he could practice playing with a group, and to be aware. The kid went off to school, then came back during his summer vacation, and just blew me away with what he’d learned. Not only could he play every single John Mayer lick, he had built the confidence to be able to play with the band.

The point is that all people need most of the time is a little nudge in the right direction. And with guitar, right or wrong, the direction I tend to nudge people is to simply play different kinds of music. I suppose that mimics my own experience as I learned to play via chord charts to songs, and figuring out how the original artists executed their tunes. I didn’t have YouTube. I just had vinyl records and cassette tapes. It wasn’t until years later that I started applying theory. I play with modes – a lot – now, but I’ll be absolutely honest: I didn’t start thinking about them until a few years ago when I wanted to expand my improv palate.

Circling back to lessons… Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all against taking lessons. I’ve taken them from time to time to learn different things. I think the problem I have is learning technique for technique’s sake, and learning it divorced from the context of playing a song. Take learning the major scale for instance. It’s one thing to know the notes of the scale up and down the fretboard. That’s pretty easy. And I suppose you could just take a scale and start playing around and eventually come up with something while playing over a chord progression. But the major scale doesn’t really become meaningful until you apply it to modes, and having a song or practice chord progressions to play against.

I’ll leave a deeper discussion of modes for another time, but I will say that it wasn’t until I started studying modes that all the work with the major scales that I had learned actually became useful because all modes are simply expressions of a certain major scale played over a chord progression.

And I didn’t even learn modes in the academic way, where a mode is described in the spelling of the mode. For instance, with the Mixolydian mode, R W W H W W H R, or something like that. To me, that was always confusing. Even when someone would say, “If you want to play the Mixolydian mode in any key, just remember that it’s simply that scale with a flat-7th.” WTF?!!

The best explanation for the Mixolydian I ever got was this: Since the Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode, simply take the root note, then count backwards along the scale where that root note is the fifth in a major scale. Then play that major scale. So for example, if we want to play D-Mixolydian, we’ll count backwards where D (the root) is the fifth of a major scale. In this case, it would be the G-major scale. So if you want to play D-Mixolydian, then play a G-major scale because that includes all the notes of the D-major scale with a flat-7th. There’s a lot more to it than that, but just learning how to find a particular node for any key really expanded my improvisational toolkit. That didn’t take any formalized lesson. It just took practice to learn.

That kind of segues into my final point which is simply this: Play or die. As I mentioned above, music is meant to be played, and there’s a price to be paid to become proficient with any instrument whether it’s a guitar or piano or even your voice. To me the only way to internalize anything that we learn is to apply it, and that’s especially true of learning an instrument.

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Please… Don’t Be Full of S$%t…

Check out this video of a Branford Marsalis interview…

The best line for me was: “We live in a country that seems to be in… …just a massive state of delusion where the IDEA of what you are is more important than you actually being that.”

OMG!!! That phrase rang true for me on so many levels, and not just music, and frankly, not just kids. I call it the “American Idol Syndrome,” where people have been led to believe that they’re good just because they happen to participate in something; or that they can achieve fame and fortune by simply showing up. I’d bet that 99% of the folks that enter aren’t very talented (remember, there are thousands that show up for the auditions in each city), and I’m also willing to bet most just don’t have the drive to do what it takes to achieve, let alone sustain their success. But they certainly think they do and that attitude is exacerbated by those around them saying how good they are.

Don’t believe me? Just look at all the past winners. While several have enjoyed professional success to some degree, arguably the most successful of them is Carrie Underwood. That chick has put in time! Sure, “Idol” put her on the map, but you don’t win multiple Grammys and other awards on talent alone.

Though not of the “Idol” ilk, the same could be said of Taylor Swift. Again, I’m not a fan of her music, but that young lady WORKED to achieve her success and fame, moving to Nashville at the tender age of 14 to pursue her dream of songwriting. She was recognized for her talent, yes, but if you think she didn’t work to get where she’s at now…

I’m not going to disparage any single person directly, but over the course of my long musical career, and especially the last several years, I’ve met so many people who have been told they’re good by those around them, and they just aren’t very good. The plain fact of the matter is that to be GOOD, you have to work at it. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his incredible book, “Outliers,” the best people in any profession that he studied spent at least 10,000 hours honing their craft. 10,000 HOURS! The best aren’t the best because they have talent. The best are the best because they have talent and are willing to put the work in to the point where they are recognized as being the best or at least among the best at what they do. These people are definitely not full of shit.

So what’s the point to this? Other than not mimicking the title of this article, realize that there are no shortcuts, and just because you have talent doesn’t mean you’re going to be a success. As I tell my kids, “You gotta work at it, baby…”

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Last week, after watching the video of George Benson describing the construction of his new Fender Twin Signature, I got that ol’ familiar feelin’ of GAS. I loved the sound of that amp, and as the new band I’m in plays mostly classic rock from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, I figured I’d be playing mostly clean, which just a touch of grit at times. While my Marshall-style amps from Aracom are absolutely awesome, I haven’t had a Fender amp in my lineup for awhile. That Twin Reverb seemed to me something worth checking out.

But then after a gig I did yesterday with members from my old church band, I was mentioning that Twin to my good buddy Dave, and how I just loved that clean sound. He pulled me aside and told me that he was going to be selling his Deluxe Reverb Limited Edition, and I could try it out first. SHIT! Instant GAS attack! I love that amp! Dave had brought it to church a few times in the past, and it’s sound is incredible! I played it with both a Strat and a Les Paul, and I just loved the creamy-smooth cleans that would issue forth from the amp. Such a sweet, sweet sound! I’m going to pick up the amp probably in the middle of the week, and I’m itching to play it; both in my man-cave and at my next band rehearsal.

In anticipation of playing it, I did a bit of research on this particular version of the Deluxe. What I didn’t realize was that as opposed to having a 75 Watt speaker, this amp sports a Jensen C-12K, which is rated at 40 Watt. Effectively, this means that beyond a certain volume setting, the speaker will break up more and not get too loud. For rock and roll, this is ideal, and what gets me excited about this amp.

That doesn’t mean that this amp is quiet by any means. Fender amps are LOUD. But that’s why attenuators exist, right? 🙂 Besides, I’ll probably only have to attenuate my volume for rehearsal, which is in a pretty small room. For gigs, I may even have to use an expansion cab to add more dispersal, but we’ll see. In any case, I’m excited about getting to know this amp. Could it be something I add to my stable? We’ll just have to wait and see…

On another note, looking back on this blog, having created it in January of 2007 – hard to believe that it’s nine years old – I realized that my GAS is directly related to how active I am with a band. The last year and half, I haven’t been in a band at all, having played mostly solo, and the times I’ve sat in on a band, the gear I’ve got totally sufficed. But now that I’m in a new band, with entirely new responsibilities, I’m finding that I’m getting GAS – AGAIN!

BUT, I also realized that my particular form of GAS is more practical in nature – if you can call GAS practical – and has been a response to filling “holes” in my rig or to satisfy a particular need. With this particular GAS attack, I’m looking to get a combo to gig with. With my old church band, lugging my gear to the church wasn’t a problem. We rehearsed and performed on the same day, I live literally 3 minutes from the church, so I’d just bring whatever I need for the set to church, hook it up, and was fine for the 5-6 hours I’d be there.

But with the new band, we rehearse at a band member’s house, then play in different venues, so the fewer pieces I have to carry, the better, and a combo just makes a lot more sense. So we’ll see how this test goes. I’m pretty excited!

Correction:  Oops! My bad! A reader pointed out that I specified the Jensen C-12K as the speaker for this amp. It’s actually a Jensen P12Q, which has an alnico magnet and rated at 40Watts.

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You’ve probably figured out by now – if you’ve read this blog with any regularity – that I’m a huge fan of the Jensen Jet series of speakers. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Fender has just released the George Benson Twin Reverb, and he chose the Jensen Jet Tornado 12″ for his speakers. Wow! What an endorsement by such an icon of guitar! Here’s the press release that I just received:


NEWS RELEASE February 2016

Jensen® Tornado is George Benson’s Speaker Choice for the Fender® GB Signature Twin Reverb® Amplifier

Inspired by one of the world’s foremost jazz guitarists, George Benson, Fender’s GB Signature Twin Reverb amplifier is an all-tube amp that produces rich, punchy tone with smooth attack and singing sustain. The GB Twin Reverb is an updated version of the venerable classic amplifier tweaked to satisfy Benson’s discerning ears.

Features include an 85-watt all-tube two-channel guitar combo amplifier, a pair of 12- inch, 100 watt, 8-ohm Jensen Jet Tornado speakers with neodymium magnets, two channels, — normal and tremolo; re-voiced low-gain normal channel — a solid pine cabinet construction, gray vinyl cover, silver sparkle grille cloth, a George Benson badge on the lower right of the front panel and a protective amp cover.

The tonal character of the Jensen Tornado is perfectly designed to give the clean, articulate tone many jazz guitarists favor with a classic full-bodied sound. The neodymium magnet design and characteristics resemble Alnico magnets, contributing to its distinct behavior and quality of tone. The frequency response is noticeably extended in the upper range, generating a sense of airy openness and definition, essential to deliver all the details and the harmonic complexity of jazz chord play, and all the dynamic nuances in the fastest single note runs.

The high headroom from the two Jensen Tornado 12-inch speakers (each at 100 watts), allows every bit of the 85-watt GB Twin Reverb to flow through clearly and dynamically.

The Jensen Tornado speaker weighs only 4.45 pounds – less than half an average comparable 12” ceramic speaker. Combined with the solid pine cabinet, the GB Twin Reverb is 13 pounds lighter than a standard Twin Reverb amp.

Jensen is proud of its contribution to the tonal delight all jazz players will experience when playing the new Fender GB Twin Reverb.

Jensen remains dedicated to working with all musicians in pursuit of their perfect tone!



Here’s the great George Benson talking about the construction of his signature amp:

To me, this is absolutely exciting! In the video GB talks about the headroom of the amp, and how he can play with the volume sweep a lot more than with his previous amp (which was a custom Fender Hot Rod Deluxe). One thing that has frustrated me about Fender amps is that they go from very low to very high volume in very little sweep. Mr. Benson mentioned that he’d have to play with the volume control and keep it between 2 and 3 to dial in the proper volume. I smiled when I heard this because that’s exactly my experience with my Hot Rod Deluxe, and it was the driving factor in me experimenting with attenuators so I could drive the amp more. So it looks like Fender has created a much more forgiving volume sweep with this version of the amp. I definitely will have to check this one out!

As far as the Jet Tornado speakers are concerned. Damn! What a sound! At 100 Watts, they are certainly all about clean headroom. And the sonic content in that video recording just affirmed my belief that Jensen was definitely onto something with the Jet Series of speakers. Originally, I thought that this was Jensen’s answer to lower-cost, entry-level speakers, since they were known for their superb vintage Alnico and Ceramic speakers.

But time and time again, I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the performance of all the Jet Series speakers I’ve tried. Whichever one I’ve gotten, they’ve stayed in the cabs I’ve placed them in, and they aren’t coming out any time soon. They are that good.

So to have such a great player such as George Benson use a pair of Jet Tornados in his signature amp is a HUGE endorsement for this wonderful line of speakers. With the features this amp has, and the sound that it produces, I’m getting that old familiar feeling of GAS.

For more information on this amp, check out the Fender web site! And lest I am remiss about the crux of this latest entry, check out the Jensen Jet Tornado 12″ spec site!

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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!

Jensen Jet Nighthawk (P-A-C12-75NH)

Summary: As described by Jensen, the Nighthawk features fat lows, firm mids, smooth highs, and smooth overdrive. My experience in a band setting is fairly similar, but I would characterize the lows as more “full” rather than “fat,” which seems to imply almost overbearing; and the lows are not at all overbearing. Played with an American Strat Deluxe with Kinman HX pickups and a ’59 Les Paul replica with Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups, through a DV Mark Little 40, this “new” Jet series speaker creates super-rich tones with a wide frequency-range of lows that provide a gorgeous texture without sounding boomy.

Pros: This baby pushes air! My little Aracom custom 1 X 12 cab hooked up to my DV Mark Little 40 completely stomped the rest of the band, and I had to really be aware of my volume. Loved playing my Strat through this speaker as it provided a nice bottom-end that gave incredible texture to the single coil sound. With my Les Paul, which has a real high-mid tone, the added bottom-end help balanced out its tone as well.

Cons: My band mates would probably complain that I’m too loud. 🙂 But from my perspective, that’s a good problem to have!

Price: ~ $109 Street


  • Rated Power ~ 75W
  • Sensitivity (@ 1W,1m) ~ 98.8 dB
  • Impedance (as tested) ~ 8 Ohm
  • Magnet ~ Ferrite
  • Voice Coil Winding ~ Aluminum
  • Voice Coil Former ~ Fiberglass
  • Cone Material ~ Paper
  • Surround Material ~ Integrated Paper
  • Dust Dome Material ~ Non-treated Cloth
  • Basket Material ~ Pressed Sheet Steel


Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ Every time I try a new Jensen Jet speaker, I fall in love yet again! There hasn’t yet been a Jensen Jet I haven’t absolutely loved, and I will freely admit that all my cabs now sport some form of Jensen Jet speaker.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know… This speaker came out in July 2015 and I’m only now getting around to writing a review. But if you’ve followed this blog for awhile, most of my writing about gear has been within the context of being in a band or recording. I haven’t been recording at all in the last year, and it wasn’t until recently that I was in a band. But with joining a new band, I have new inspiration, so I’ll probably be more active here in the months to come. Okay… now on to the review!

Don’t be fooled by the demos…

When I wrote my original announcement of the speaker, I included the sound clips that Jensen provides. I’ll just say it: While the playing was good, the sound was not at all representative of what this speaker is capable, especially with the Jazz clip. Jensen bills this speaker as a “warm” speaker, but that Jazz clip sounded like someone threw a thick, wool blanked over it. I will emphatically state that this was NOT my experience with this speaker.

A lot of factors go into dialing in a sound. Who knows how they set up the chain for the Jensen demos. As for me, I used my DV Mark Little 40 set up in a slightly “scooped” EQ and from the first chord I hit, I was in love with tones this speaker produces. It just goes to show that recorded demos don’t necessarily give you a good picture of a device’s capabilities, and can sometimes be detrimental if you don’t do ’em right.

Since I had no other reference to go on with the speaker other than Jensen’s demos, I didn’t go into rehearsal with my expectations. But that all changed once I started playing.

How it sounds

Even though the speaker is billed as “warm,” I found that using a scooped EQ configuration on my amp produced the best sound. The most apt description I can give for the speaker is that it has balls. Even clean, the tone was rich and full, and with its sensitivity and power rating, I had no problem cutting through the sound of the band, and in no way did it sound muddy. I think this may be due to the pronounced high-mid to high hump in the frequency response chart. This makes me think that setting my amp to a scooped tone probably served to emphasize the frequency response of the speaker. And playing clean lines up and down the neck, well, the sound was inspiring. So subtly complex, like a vintage fine wine.

As far as overdrive sounds were concerned… Wow! Smooth as silk! Whether I was overdriving from my amp, or using my EWS Little Brute Drive distortion pedal, there was absolutely nothing harsh about the overdrive of this speaker. Admittedly, I was little concerned with using the LBD with the speaker as it emphasizes the bottom-end. But used with my Strat, the sound was absolutely heavenly, and I didn’t lose the highs as I originally suspected might happen. With my Les Paul and using only amp overdrive, the tone was nice and crunchy for rhythm, and pushed into full overdrive, I just experienced simply heavenly tones. With a warm speaker, I was expecting a little less note separation, but that was not at all an issue with this speaker, and I didn’t have to adjust my EQ on either my guitar or amp unless I wanted to do it for effect. For instance, I like to do “woman tone” leads for some songs (turning the EQ all the way down on my neck pickup), and the speaker didn’t muddy up at all.

Now all that said, a comment our front man said after a song was that my sound was a bit too metal – as I said, this speaker has BALLS. And that became apparent as I experimented with pushing the speaker to see what it would be like at band volume and a lot of drive. For sure, it really wasn’t appropriate for the song, but it sure did RAWK! We all laughed at the comment, and I said that this speaker has a pretty full bottom end, so I backed off on the overdrive and all was well. After that exchange, our bassist asked me how I liked the speaker, and I replied, “I’m smooth as silk today, baby. It’s a keeper!”

Overall Impression

I have a tough decision ahead of me. I absolutely adore the Jensen Jet Falcon, which is great to cover a wide variety of styles. But the Nighthawk is simply so kick-ass that I don’t think I’ll be taking it out of my cab any time soon. It can rock and it can also play some very deep, clean tones.

A big test for me about how good some gear might be is its ability to get me into what I call the “inspiration zone.” And the sound that comes out of this speaker gets me there – and quickly. It certainly is worth checking out!

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Frank Zappa on Guitar Soloing

I recently saw a video of Frank Zappa sharing his thoughts about playing a solo. All of it was great, but the one section that struck me the most was this:

“My theory is this: I have a basic mechanical knowledge of the operation of the instrument and I got an imagination. And when the time comes up for me to play a solo, it’s me against the laws of nature. I don’t know what I’m gonna play and don’t know what I’m gonna do. I know roughly how long I have to do it, and it’s a game where you have a piece of time and you get to decorate it…”


For me, that statement alone was affirmation to my approach to playing solos. No, I’m not super-skilled, and certainly not super-fast, but I’ve always taken the approach of doing solos organically.

To be honest, I’ve been embarrassed about not knowing licks or phrases that a lot of other guitarists seem to know. I’d go into a shop, and play a few different lines with a particular song in my head. Then the guy next to me would whip out Slash’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I’d chuckle to myself and say (to myself), “I really should learn that…”

But time has never permitted, so I play when I can play and when I’m jammin’ with a band or with my mates, when it’s my turn to solo, I tend to just feel my way through. Personally, I don’t think it’s anything technically special, and at least those who hear it don’t cringe, so I guess my solos work.

But listening to that interview gave me heart. I’ve recently been asked to play lead guitar with a cover band. I warned the guy who invited me that I don’t know any of the solos, and that when I need to solo, I’ll just do what I do. I’m not sure how that’ll go over, especially if they want to do note-for-note covers. That’s really not my thing…

In any case, check out the interview (the “juicy” part is around 13:30):

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