Archive for February, 2018

Nothing’s Ever Perfect…

When we find gear the works and get us totally inspired, it’s so easy to overlook the little quirks in our gear that, in other circumstances, might be a bit annoying. Such is the case with my magnificent Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic. I’ve raved and raved about how it sounds,  and though I knew that there would be a potential annoyance regarding the battery, I ignored it because it sounds so damn good.

What’s the issue? Actually a couple of things. First, the instructions say to mount the velcro strip at the base of the neck. That’s actually not too big of a deal, BUT if you put don’t make sure that the entire strip on the battery pack is making contact with the mounting strip, a simple jostle will make the battery pack come loose… which is a perfect segue into the more serious annoyance.

Even if you mount the battery pack squarely on the mounting velcro strip, a quick jarring of the guitar could potentially make the battery pop out of its holder. I had a gig last night, and my guitar case was inadvertently knocked over. Mind you, it wasn’t a full fall to the floor. The case tipped over from where I leaned it on a railing, and landed in a corner of the railing. All told, it was about a foot that it slid, then came to rest. I didn’t think too much about it because my guitar was in the case and I knew it would be safe.

But when I picked it up and plugged it into my rig, I got no sound out of it. At first, I thought it was my rig, but when I moved around, I heard the battery sliding around the inside of my guitar. So I removed the pickup, loosened my strings, reached inside, removed the battery holster, re-inserted the battery, re-mounted the holster, tuned up, plugged in and voila! I was in business.

But what concerned me at the time was looking forward, because when I’m performing on-stage or at church, the battery might pop out in the middle of a performance. I’m the kind of musician that gets kind of carried away when playing, and I jump around.

To mitigate this, and since I have another gig tonight, I wrapped a small piece of duct tape around the holster to hold the battery in place. I wouldn’t have had to do this if the holster’s edges wrapped around the battery a bit more. Plus, if the bottom edge of the holster that holds the battery in place was just a millimeter higher, it shouldn’t pop out so easily. Mind you, this isn’t enough to make me reconsider using the pickup. The sound just kicks ass.

But this is an example of how we gear sluts can easily overlook obvious design flaws…

Read Full Post »

Since I haven’t written on this blog very often for the last couple of years, I haven’t shared much about where I’ve been playing. Well, after about a 2 1/2 year hiatus from playing music in church, I decided to go back to doing a weekly church gig again. But this time, it’s at another church, and I’m happier than ever. It’s like making a fresh start, and that’s a GREAT thing.

So it was with a bit of nervous anticipation bringing my new acoustic-electric setup to church yesterday. It sounded fine at my restaurant gig, plugged into a board. But the real test was going be using it in the church where I’d plug it into my SWR Calfornia Blonde, then out to the board. With this setup, I run it through a small board that has Chorus, Delay, and Reverb, then into the amp, then out to the board. My big concern was maintaining the natural character of the guitar. Some guitars when plugged into an amp, sound a bit funky.

But all my concerns were laid to rest from the very first strum. I had the same visceral reaction I had on Friday, but it was even more intense this time because I was right next to the amp. The sound was absolutely sweet! Even my bandmates just smiled and said how good the guitar sounded, and one commented that he could tell how well-seasoned the wood was as the guitar just resonated. I have to say that with the guitar being almost 30 years old, it has a very special character due to its age. It reminds me of how my very first Yamaha FG-335’s wood aged so nicely. Before it had its accident and its neck snapped off the body, it had developed a gorgeous, woody tone.

The tone of my S&P PRO is deep, but with shimmery highs. But that wood not only projects the sound incredibly, it resonates. I can actually feel the vibration in the body – even with finger-picked notes. It’s pretty incredible.

Then to have it amplified with a great pickup like the MagMic, well, it’s a match made in and for Heaven. I’m the type of musician that needs to feel what I’m playing. It’s the emotion that comes from my guitar that inspires me. When I don’t feel I sound that good, it’s hard to get inspired. But when I’m playing something whose sound shoots to the core of my being, I become one with the sound. It’s hard to explain… And that was exactly what happened yesterday. I was completely lost in the sound of my guitar. 🙂

Read Full Post »

Wow… That’s usually first – and only – thing I can say when having a visceral reaction to an experience. And a visceral experience was exactly what happened when I finally got my guitar set up for last night’s gig. After I played the first song, I had to pause for several seconds soaking in the tones that the combination of my Simon & Patrick PRO guitar and the Duncan MagMic produced. I already had a good idea of the dynamics of the pickup and how well it worked with my guitar, having had a few days before my gig to record with it. But until I actually gigged with it, I really didn’t know how it would perform in a live situation; especially in a room with a 25-30-foot vaulted ceiling.

It was not without its challenges. The sound system at the restaurant I work with is total shit. The board is going on the fritz and I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to play last night! But the gig gods were smiling upon me and just when I was about to pack it in and go home, I tweaked something on the board and it started working. Whew!

When I got my nerves settled with a few deep breaths and a long drink of water, I started my first song: “You’ve Got a Friend.” I felt that it would be a good song to start with because with any JT song (I know, it was written by Carole King), the fingerpicking patterns are sophisticated as JT plays a bass line in addition to a hybrid claw-hammer technique. I’m not nearly as adept at it as he is, but I tend to do the same. So with that song, I knew that I’d get the full presentation what the guitar/pickup combination had on offer.

Having moved to a dreadnought from an OM, I was concerned that the bass would be a bit boomy. It was not. It was certainly deep as I expected from a big-body guitar, but not at all over-powering. Another thing I was concerned about was not losing the shimmery highs my guitar naturally produces. But here’s where the MagMic really performs. The condenser mic is tuned to focus on mid-highs to highs. In fact, I had to roll off the condenser level a bit to subdue the highs. The sweet spot that I discovered leading up to the gig was setting the condenser level about 90%. This setting translated incredibly well to a live situation.

Another thing that had me wondering about the MagMic was the lack of an EQ. I’ve had the luxury of an onboard EQ in all my acoustic-electric guitars up to this point. But I found that with the higher-end, third-party pickups that none of them have that feature, as they’re designed to pick up the natural tone of your guitar; which kind of says you better have a good-sounding guitar in the first place before you install one of these babies… But as I mentioned above about the condenser mic’s focus on the high-mids and highs, adjusting its level is much like adjusting a treble knob. But it’s no problem in any case, as instead of setting EQ on my guitar, I can just set it on the amp.

With respect to the guitar itself, besides the larger size, I’ve had to contend with the absence of a cutaway, which makes playing notes above the 12th fret a little challenging. But it’s not undoable. I just make adjustments and play on a different part of the neck. The neck width is also much wider than my Yamaha, but this is also not a bad thing as it forces me to put my left hand and arm in the proper playing position. I certainly can’t be lazy with my posture with this guitar. 🙂

The other thing about the guitar is that it is naturally loud. It was built to project volume from the soundboard. So I definitely had to find the right balance between volume level and attack. Plus, the MagMic picks up pretty much everything with the guitar. In contrast, my Yamaha APX900 and its electronics are very mid-range focused. But with my S&P PRO, the audio content is so much more complex and robust. Combined with the MagMic’s sensitivity, it forced me to be very aware of how I was playing to the point where I felt some of the songs I played were a bit mechanical, or I was concentrating so much on the guitar that I’d mess up some words. 🙂 I’m confident that once I get everything dialed in I’ll be able to relax a lot more.

I do have to say that I love playing a dreadnought. My very first “real” acoustic guitar was an old Yamaha FG-335 dreadnought. When I moved to smaller body guitars, I missed the full sound. And now that I back to a big body guitar, I’m loving it! But the S&P PRO takes the sound to a completely new level. To think that it sat in a shed for 15 years prior to me getting it – and to sound this good still – is incredible to me.

I did a minor setup on the guitar when I got it to straighten out a slight bow in the neck. But after last night’s gig, I’m probably going to have the action lowered a couple of millimeters. It’s not that it’s super high, but it’s higher than I like and playing a 4-hour gig, it takes a toll on the fingers. I suppose I could go with lighter gauge strings (I’m playing 12-54), but I’m not sure I want to sacrifice the resonance I get with the thicker strings just to make it easier to play. Oh well, there’s always a tradeoff somewhere. 🙂

Okay… so very first gig complete, and it was a total success! I absolutely LOVE the MagMic.

Read Full Post »

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!

Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic

Summary: The SA-6 MagMic combines a magnetic pickup with a condenser mic to capture full tone of your acoustic guitar, but does it at a lower price point than similar pickups. But don’t let the more than $100 price difference fool you. This acoustic pickup captures the full spectrum of your sound, down to the little harmonics. And being able to dial in the amount of condenser mic signal is a boon to adjusting the pickup for whatever sound system and venue you may play. There’s no midrange, lifeless tone with this pickup. But most importantly, once you dial in the amount of condenser mic that you like, what you’re left with is a very natural sound. It’s truly amazing!

Pros: Super, super, easy to install and use right away. Very easy to dial in a great balance between magnetic pickup and condenser mic to get the sonic presentation you want. The pickup is also super-quiet, no buzz or hum at all, which is what you’d expect out of a good acoustic pickup.

Cons: None. To be fair though, dialing in the condenser mic picks up a lot of high frequency, but rolling it off a tad fixes that nicely.

Price: $179.00 – $189.00 Street


  • Magnetic Pickup:
    • DC Resistance: 3.8K Ohms
    • Resonant Frequency: 16KHz
    • Gauss Strength: 780 max (adjustable)
  • Microphone Capsule:
    • Pattern: Omni-directional
    • Sensitivity: -35dB (it’s sensitive)
    • Frequency Range: -20 to 20 KHz
    • Signal to Noise Ratio:  >62dB
    • Current Consumption: -0.5mA (you’ll get 450 hours out of a single 9V battery)
  • Onboard Electronics
    • 2 Channels, summed at ouput
    • Supply Voltage: 9V
    • Current Consumption: 1.1mA (preamp + capsule)
    • Battery Life: 450+ hours
  • Noise:
    • Pickup channel: -102dBV with 5K ohm source resistance
    • Mic channel: -96dBV with mic capsule attached

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ Once I got it installed, which took about 5 minutes, I was off to the races! I have to admit that I had my doubts about this pickup. But I’m glad I got it. It’s a keeper!

I’ve been searching for a pickup for my Simon and Patrick PRO guitar for months. I’ve evaluated and played several guitars equipped with different pickups and pickup configurations. But every review I read and every video I viewed of the Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic further convinced me that this was the pickup I should go with. Funny thing was that I broke my own rule with gear and purchased it without doing an in-person test. I had to trust my instincts on this purchase and I can confidently say that my instincts were spot on with this acoustic pickup.

Fit and Finish

The MagMic is well-made. Built with what appears to be high-velocity plastic, I have no doubt at all that it will survive the test of time; especially after I have it mounted permanently in my guitar. But I’d expect no less from Seymour Duncan. I’ve got Duncan pups installed in half of my guitars, and they’re built to last. Once installed, the controls are easily accessible and reside on either side of the pickup. The volume knob is closest, sitting on the 6th string side of the pickup, while the condenser mic level sits on the 1st string side.

Luckily the battery lasts 450+ hours because the housing sits on the neck block, and the only way to change out the battery is to loosen all the strings and remove the pickup. Mind you, this is an expected inconvenience, not a complaint, per se. It’s the price you have to pay to be minimally invasive.

How It Sounds

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and this “pudding” is freakin’ incredible! As soon as I plugged my guitar into my DAW, I knew I had something special. Playing a dreadnought, I wanted whatever electronics I installed on it to pick up the deep lows and shimmery highs of my guitar, and this pickup does hands-down. To prove it, I recorded some sound samples. The first three were recorded completely dry. No EQ, no compression. I play the same riff three times in each clip, varying the amount of condenser mic in each. The first part isolates the magnetic pickup with no condenser, the second part has the condenser opened up wide. The third part has the condenser mic set to about 50%. Here they are:


Percussive Strum


Note that with the MagMic, the magnetic pickup is always on. From what I can hear, this picks up the low- and mid-range frequencies and provides a fairly warm, almost mechanical sound. The condenser mic picks up the higher midrange and high frequencies and harmonics. It’s sensitive and provides a bit too much high-frequency content for my tasts, which is why I dial back the amount of condenser mic to about 90%. In this final clip, I again recorded the guitar with no EQ, but I added compression, some stereo spread, and reverb like I would if I was recording the guitar for a song. The sound is natural and haunting.

To me, not having to EQ my guitar is important as I want my guitars recorded with as much of their natural sound as possible.

Overall Impression

I’m really at a loss for words with this pickup. I don’t think I can utter any further superlatives that could sufficiently describe the feeling I get from it.

Read Full Post »

It has been months since I purchased some new gear, and as I wait for it to arrive, I’m squirming in anticipation! 🙂 I love that feeling! It reminds me of the early days of this site when I was buying all sorts of stuff. It was like I won the lottery! I had a garage full of gear. Now… not so much, and the frequency of my purchases has slowed to a crawl. Also, for me now, finally purchasing the item was the result of months of research. Unlike those early days where I’d read a review or two or peruse some forums. I took some time with this purchase. So I have to qualify that the “anticipation” is different from when I was going on buying sprees to discover new tones. It’s still an incredible feeling because I’m looking forward to using it as it solves a real problem for me.

So how is the anticipation different? As I mentioned above, this purchase was the result of months of research before I finally pulled the trigger. So the anticipation I’m feeling is one in which I’m looking forward to validating that research. This is different from previous purchases where I was seeing if some gear would actually fit the way I play or help me define my sound. This one is more akin to a scientist coming up with a theory, performing tests to prove the theory, then waiting for the tests to complete; reasonably confident that the tests will bear out their original ideas. Contrast this to what it was like for me before and that was more like a kid who just discovered a new candy, trying it out for the first time.

Both situations deal somewhat with the unknown. But the former is a proof, the latter is pure discovery. Both are valid, but I’ll go with the former every time now. Is it maturity? Partially. It’s actually more economics, to be honest. It should’ve been that way in the first place when I was going on my buying sprees. But hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and frankly, I don’t regret a bit of it. With a limited budget to spend on gear, I’m VERY careful about what I buy. I’m doubly careful now because I don’t like to return gear. It’s not that I won’t do it, but it’s a hassle. So I take a lot of time now to make sure I’ve covered all the bases.

You must be wondering what I’m getting… 🙂 I’m getting a Seymour Duncan SA6 Mag Mic, which is a combination magnetic pickup and condenser mic for my acoustic guitar. I thought long and hard and did a lot of research on choosing a pickup after I received my beautiful Simon and Patrick acoustic from a friend who was passing it on from her uncle who died 15 years ago.

I evaluated several pickups from LR Baggs, K&K, Seymour Duncan, iSolo, and IK Multimedia. A prevailing factor – after looking at the iSolo and IK Multimedia solutions was that I didn’t want a permanent solution right away, something that I really couldn’t do with the LR Baggs and K&K.

The iSolo, which is a wireless pickup is incredible. The recordings I heard were magnificent. But the problem with that is that even though they claim a battery life of 5 hours, actual usage was more in the two-hour range. Not good. The IK Multimedia solution was also good, but it looked kind of cheap. I do a lot of gigs per year, and I need my gear to be pretty durable.

The LR Baggs and K&K pickups were also incredible. I think a prohibitive factor for me was the cost. The K&K actually was not expensive by itself, but as a simple transducer setup, I would need to purchase an external preamp. That said, a friend of mine has this setup and plugs directly into his amp. He has to crank the sound, and it sounds fine, but a preamp would be better – especially a tube pre to warm up the signal.

What I dug about the Mag Mic was that it hit all the marks for me with respect to price and performance, and I could choose to make it a permanent installation. I will probably do that in the long run in any case, but for now, I have an “out.” But on top of that, I love the fact that I get the best of both worlds: a magnetic pickup and a condenser mic that I can combine. EQ is not an issue, as I do that at either the board or my amp. I think a major factor for me was that I didn’t want to wait to use it. 🙂 I know a little impatient on my part. But as I said, economics is a factor. I have to wait another month to have the money to get it installed, and I want to gig and record with it right away. I’ll just have to make sure I take good care of it in the interim.

Read Full Post »

What I Look For in an Amp


Image from gearrank.com

I’ve got amps. Ten of them, in fact. Truth be told, I only play three with any regularity – though I’d play the fourth had I not burned out the transformer – but I still want another amp; specifically, I’m eyeing the new Fender Hot Rod V4 with its updated overdrive and tighter reverb. Frankly, I never really had too much of a problem with the original reverb, but when Fender mentioned that they made it a bit tighter, it made sense to me because I rarely set it past 2 or 3 because my sound would get “mushy.”


In any case, on thinking about evaluating the new Hot Rod, I asked myself the very question that I used to entitle this article: What do I really need from an amp, and what do look for with an amp that deems it “buyable?”

For me, the tone of an amp is not really an issue. After 48 years of playing guitar (shit – am I really that old?), my tone is my tone. With different amps, effects, guitars, etc., sure, I’m going to get different textures, but how I ultimately sound will sound like me. So I’m no longer chasing after gear that will help define my sound.

Given that, especially with amps, there are specific things I look for when evaluating one for purchase – or for plain review, for that matter. I’d thought I’d share these factors because they might be useful for anyone who is evaluating an amp. Granted, these are subjective evaluation points – I freely admit that – but as I’ve evaluated literally hundreds of amps over the years, I’ve found them to be useful and these features inform my decision to either buy or give an amp high ratings.

And note: I realize we all view the world through the lens of our own experience, so what I find valuable may not be at all what you look for, but I’ll share my thoughts just the same.

These aren’t in any particular order, but here goes:


Of particular interest to me is an amp’s clean tone. I was actually going to talk about clean headroom, but I realized that I have different amps set up for varying degrees of headroom. For my classic rock and church gigs, I use amps that are biased hot to break up relatively early. For my classic rock band, I always play a little dirty and for playing in church, I need the early breakup so I can get amp distortion at a lower volume since I have to play a lot lower in volume in that venue.

But one thing all my amps (at least the ones I gig with) have in common is this: The clean tone is thick; that is, the full EQ range, from low to high, is represented in the sound.

EQ Adjustability

Though I prefer a much thicker, richer clean tone, sometimes I want to roll off or boost the highs or cut out some of the lows. So an amp’s EQ responsiveness is important to me. With some amps, the EQ adjustments are so subtle as to be useless. But other than using EQ as an effect, it is important to me that I’m able to adjust an amp’s EQ so that the guitar I use it with sings properly. For instance, if use a Strat in front of one my Aracom amps, which are Plexi-style amps, they’re voiced high. So I always roll off the highs a bit with a Strat. On the other hand, with a Les Paul, I crank up the highs to compensate for the deep voicing of my Les Paul.

Dynamic Response

This is probably the most subjective area and probably means different things to different people. But to me, the dynamic response has to do with how the amp responds with varying levels of input gain; either from my guitar’s volume knob or with an overdrive or booster pedal and attack on the strings. When I set up an amp for performance, I always set it on the clean side of the edge of breakup, with my guitar’s volume knob(s) set at dead-center. This way, if I roll on the gain, the amp will break up. If I crank my gain, I should get some nice, smooth overdrive from my pre-amps. If I roll it all back or pick lighter, I expect the amp to settle down. But bear in mind, this is all relative. For me, I don’t like to play with oodles of distortion, but what I do want to be able to do is control my amp from my guitar. Of course, there are circumstances where I may have to make adjustments at the amp, but those should be few and far between.


Again, this is a subjective thing, but another thing I look for is how long an amp will “hold” a note before it tapers off. Some amps just die a quick death with this particular test. Pluck a note with no vibrato and see how long the note lasts. What I look for in this particular test is the nature of the tapering off. If it’s relatively long and smooth, that will appeal to me. But if I pluck a note and it stays at a certain level then suddenly drops off, that’s problematic for me. I’m not a fast player, so what I tend to do is try to squeeze as much sound out the notes I play. It helps if the sound doesn’t trail off quickly.

NOTE with this test – and to be fair – I crank the volume on the guitar to make sure as much signal gets to the amp as possible. It’s also best to do this test at a moderate volume as high volumes tend to blow your ears out. 🙂 At a lower volume, you’ll see just how fast the decay is.

Cabinet Construction

To me, the construction of a cabinet – its build quality as well as the materials – plays an important role in how it sounds. Granted, this is a minor factor relative to the other things I look at, but given the choice of two equally good-sounding amps, I will go with the amp that I feel has the better cabinet. Also, this really doesn’t apply to independent heads – I couldn’t care less what they’re housed in. First, I will look at the thickness of the walls. I prefer cabinet walls that are no more than 3/4″ thick; better if they’re 1/2″. Why? Thinner walls resonate better, which is also why I prefer solid pine or birch cabinets because you can get that thin with the wood without making too big a sacrifice with structural integrity. But irrespective of thickness, I still prefer solid wood over MDF. But let me say that while this is a consideration, I typically use it as “icing on the cake” rather than it being an absolute determining factor. If an amp sounds killer and hits all the marks on the other factors, I’ll get the amp or give it a high rating.

What About Tubes?

I don’t care. A great-sound and responsive amp is a great-sounding and responsive amp. Period. I know, tube amps have been all the rage for years. I went to tube amps exclusively for quite a long time. I can’t deny it: Twiddling with tubes and bias settings and all that hand-wired, point-to-point shit is cool. BUT I’ve always loved amps like the Roland JC-120, a foundation in both the blues and rock world (don’t forget that Satch recorded “Surfin’ with the Alien” with a JC-120). But now, there are some FANTASTIC amps made of solid-state components that simple rock the house. The Roland JC-40, Quilter amps, and hybrids like the DV Mark amps. These all sound incredible! I have a DV Mark Little 40. This is my go-to gigging amp with my classic rock band because of its versatility. I can shape the sound with this to make it sound like a Marshall or a Fender. It’s not the SAME sound, but close enough.

Usability Features

These are more “icing on the cake” things, but they can be important; especially if I’m evaluating an amp for a specific usage. But in general, I look for obvious usability items. These include easy-to-read labels. easily accessible auxiliary inputs/switches, usable knobs. For instance, when I’m playing acoustic guitar, I invariably use my SWR California Blonde. Great amp. I usually run the direct out from the amp into a board for sound reinforcement so I can keep my stage volume down. But the jack is positioned in such a way that I have to use a key or a knife to unlock the XLR when I’m done. All they had to do with turn the jack upside down and this wouldn’t be a problem. Something like this is not a deal-breaker, but a collection of these things can be so annoying as to make me feel as if the amp is unusable to the point that I wouldn’t buy it.

I know that these factors aren’t necessarily standard, but they’ve served me well over the years. I think the reason I went this route is that it’s easy to fall into the marketing crap and look at charts and graphs. They can certainly inform you of an amp’s capabilities, but in the end, you have to use an amp, and for me, the things I look at just can’t be measured by numbers. They have to be felt or heard.

Read Full Post »