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Archive for the ‘amplifiers’ Category

Dynamics. It’s what separates a mechanical  and boring piece from something that can move an audience to tears. In this episode, Doug talks about the incredible dynamics of the Dumble Overdrive Special.

This is the last video in the series of Doug Doppler on the Dumble Overdrive Special, but it’s not the last. I’ve got many more “Doppler on…” videos to come, so stay tuned!!!

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Some people may scoff at the diminutive Fender Champ 600. After all, it’s only 5 Watts and has a tiny 6″ speaker. But those naysayers may be missing the point about the Champ or any super-low wattage speaker for that matter. It’s not meant to be a performance amp; though you can certainly hook it up to an extension cabinet, and it’ll do just fine in a small venue – hey! I do that A LOT. But the secret behind the beauty of this little $149 wonder isn’t on the stage, it’s in the studio.

I’ve heard feedback from various people that they get frustrated with this amp because it’s missing certain features. Let’s face it folks, with a single volume knob, no tone control, and not much gain on tap, it would be easy to dismiss this amp as nothing more than a toy. But it’s no mistake that its venerable sibling, the Champ, has been a mainstay in professional studios for decades. It’s all in how you make use of what it has to offer.

First off, let’s establish what I think is the most important thing when recording this amp: The Champ is really good at creating your base tone, and that’s all that it should be used for. It’s up to you to shape it. Keep that in mind, and you’ll get more than a lot of mileage out of it. So let’s look at some key factors when recording with the Champ:

  • The Champ is naturally bright because of its small speaker. So microphone placement is absolutely critical. If you want to get a bright, twangy sound with lots of treble content, place your mic head on in the center of the cone, or just off center to avoid getting those treble “pops.” If you want less treble response, move the mic off-center, nearer to the edge of the speaker cone. I’ve found that the richest sound comes from angling the mic at about the same angle as the speaker cone, placed right at the outer ring about an inch off the grille cloth. The EQ response is a lot flatter there, and makes it easy to dial in your EQ in your DAW.
  • Even cranked in the high input, and even with humbuckers, the most breakup you’ll get is about “dirty blues” overdrive. But that’s why we have overdrive and distortion pedals, right? I’ve found that Tube Screamer and TS-type overdrive pedals work great with the Champ, though my Holy Fire distortion can make the Champ serve up some whoop-ass if dialed in just right.
  • Looking for Fender cleans? The Champ does raw Fender cleans – and quite well. Again, it’s all about mic placement when recording cleans with the Champ. My favorite is angled as I described above.
  • Do yourself a favor and replace the stock tubes with NOS tubes. I’ve never been a big fan of Groove Tubes (though I know some people like them). But with a great NOS pre-amp tube (I’ve got a ’59 GE long plate), and a solid NOS 6V6 (mine is a ’53 GE 6V6), you’ll immediately tame the harshness of the amp. In fact, I’ve never seen a need to replace the power transformer or the speaker because of this $50 investment.

So with those points in mind, go and record. What you’ll get after you’ve played around a bit is a great, raw guitar tone. But your work isn’t done yet – or it could be if you’re satisfied with the raw tone. Personally, I like to add filters and effects in production to make the recording sound like it’s coming from a much bigger amp. Yes, boys and girls, you can make it sound MUCH bigger!

A Word on Amp Modeling

One thing that I have also done with the Champ is to record a purely clean rhythm tone, then run it through IK Multimedia’s Amplitube plug-in to essentially “re-amp” my guitar. You can get some amazing guitar tones with the Champ when it’s re-amped through this software.

My Champ 600 Recording Process

A couple of people have asked me how to record the amp, so I thought I’d share the process I employ:

  1. First, it starts with the guitar. Am I looking for a single-coil or humbucker tone. The cool thing about the Champ 600 is that what you hear when you play through it is your raw guitar tone. There’s no EQ so you have to establish that on your guitar. Simple enough.
  2. Then I’ll determine whether or not I want to track with effects. Usually, I’ll only track with overdrive or distortion. I leave all the modulation effects to production.
  3. Next, I place my mic head, dead-center on the speaker, then record a chord progression and perhaps some quick lead licks.
  4. Then I’ll move the mic off-center and repeat the same thing I played with the mic centered.
  5. Finally, I’ll angle the mic as described above and repeat the same progression. More likely than not, I’ll use this position because I like it the best, but different guitars actually sound better with the mic positioned dead-center.
  6. Once I decide what mic position I’ll use, then I’ll record the track.
  7. Once I’m finished, it’s time to apply EQ, filters and modulation effects. I like to use a hi-pass filter on most recordings with Champ to “tame” its natural edginess.

Here are some clips that I put together based upon the process above (I skipped recording head-on, off center):

Clean (Squier Classic Vibe Tele 50’s)

1. Mic head-on, dead-center

2. Mic angled along speaker cone, 1″ off the grille cloth.

Recording #2 with Graphic EQ, Chorus, Parametric EQ, Delay, Reverb, and Hi-pass filter applied

Overdriven with Tube Screamer for Extra Drive (Gibson Nighthawk 2009)

1. Mic head-on, dead-center

2. Mic angled along speaker cone, 1″ off the grille cloth.

Recording #2 with Graphic EQ, Flange, Delay, Reverb, and Hi-pass filter applied

It’s amazing what EQ, filters and effects can do to the recording! And it really didn’t take that much work to dial in the final version of what I wanted to ultimately print!

Finally, here’s a song I wrote and record awhile back (sorry for the over-abundance of bass). If I remember correctly, I used four guitars in six parts in that song (Epiphone Explorer, Gibson ES-335, MIM Strat, PRS SE Soapbar II), all recorded with the Champ – and with the stock speaker no less!

Rock on!!!

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This is a hotly debated topic, and there are great arguments for or against using one. I’m of the former group and have used attenuators to great success over the years. To demonstrate how useful an attenuator can be, I put together a quick video. Here you go:

I wanted to be as non-technical about the usage of an attenuator because there are so many attenuator designs on the market. So I kept this video at a fairly high level. I’ll get into more detail in the next video when I discuss the Aracom PRX150-Pro.

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So you’re thinking about taking the leap and buying your first electric guitar? Choosing a guitar, amp, and pedals doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it might seem. There are a few things you’ll want to consider and keep in mind though.

What are your goals?

In other words, what types of music do you want to play? The type of guitar and amp you get will largely depend on the type of music you want to play. If you can identify, the types of music you’ll be playing, this can help you narrow down what types of guitars you might buy.

For example, if country is your thing, you might want to get a more twangy type of sound, so you would look at something like a Telecaster. If you’re a rocker, to get a really fat and dark type of sound, you’ll want to look at a Les Paul or an SG with some humbucker pickups. If you’re into metal, you’re going to want to be focusing more on your amp and effects pedals to get a hi-gain distorted sound. And then, if jazz is more your thing, you might want to look at a semi-hollow body guitar like an Epiphone Dot to get that darker, warmer sound you’d except from jazz.

In all reality, one electric guitar is not just limited to play one style of music, but guitars generally have different tonal characteristics, so identifying the sound you’re going for can help narrow down your options too.

What’s your budget?

Before you even start looking at buying guitars, it’s really important you set some sort of budget. What can you afford? When it comes to buying guitar gear, the sky is the limit, so having a budget gives you a bit more focus in what you’re looking at and eliminates a bunch of options.

It’s been my experience with guitars that more often than not, like most things, you generally get what you pay for when you consider the quality (there are always exceptions). A $100 dollar guitar is most likely going to play, sound, and feel much different than a $500 guitar. Generally, the cheaper you go, the quality tends to be poorer (e.g. doesn’t stay in tune, poor action, fret buzz, poor electronics, etc.). You don’t need to shell out a ton for your first electric guitar, but you also want something that will be inspiring to play and won’t give a lot of trouble down the road either.

You’ll not only want to consider the guitar in your budget, but you’ll also want to consider your amp and effects pedals (e.g. distortion, delay, reverb, etc.) as well.

It’s important that you see your first electric guitar purchase as an investment. I think one of the fears is, “What if I shell out all this money and then end up not sticking to it?” Even if you do end up finding out that guitar is not really for you, if you’ve made a good investment, you can always make a good part of that money back in resale. You might want to consider buying used too. Check eBay, Craigslist, and your local newspaper’s classifieds.

All to say, what can you afford? Set your budget and stick with it.

Gear Recommendations

So you’ve thought about your goals and have set a budget. Now what? It’s time to start looking at some gear. You have to keep in mind there are literally hundreds of options for a beginner’s set up, so recommendations are going to vary person to person. For my recommendations, I hesitate to suggest you something so dirt cheap that it’s going to cause you grief later down the road, but I also realize you don’t need to break the bank either.

I’ve divided these recommendations up into three categories depending on the type of music you want to play: country/pop/blues, rock/metal, and jazz. And then, within those categories I’ve given a couple different price categories depending on your budget. Also, keep in mind that a lot of these guitars aren’t restricted to play only the music in their category. For example, I know a lot of guys who will play an Epiphone Dot in a rock setting.

Country/Pop/Blues

  • Epiphone Special-II GT ($199.99)
  • Epiphone Les Paul 100 ($299.99)
  • Fender Standard Telecaster ($499.99)
  • Fender Standard Stratocaster ($499.99)
  • Gretsch Electromatic ($699.99)

Rock/Metal

  • Dean Vendetta XMT ($159.00)
  • Epiphone Explorer-GT ($199.99)
  • Epiphone G-310 SG ($249.99)
  • B.C. Rich Metal Master Warlock ($299.99)
  • Epiphone Les Paul Studio Deluxe ($399.99)

Jazz

  • Epiphone Dot ($399.99)
  • Ibanez Artcore AF75 ($399.99)
  • Gretsch Electromatic ($699.99)

Now, choosing an electric guitar is only half the battle. You’re going to need an amp or a multi-effects processor. Some amps are “combo amps” which means they have some effects built in to them (e.g. distortion, reverb, chorus, delay, etc.). These are definitely worth looking at for a beginner.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of country, blues, and rockers can often use a amps built in overdrive and gain channel to get a distorted sound, but if you are playing metal, you probably need to look at some sort of hi-gain distortion pedal in addition to your amp.

Amps

  • Fender 25R Frontman Series II Combo Amp ($99.99)
  • Vox Valvetronix VT15 Combo Amp ($169.99)
  • Line 6 Spider IV 75W Combo Amp ($299.99)
  • Vox Valvetronix VT50 Combo Amp ($379.99)
  • Peavey Classic 30 Tube Amp ($599.99)

Sometimes players will opt out of getting an amp and just getting a multi-effects processor unit that has amp models and effects built in to one box. This might be a great option for your first guitar.

Multi-effects Processor Units

  • DigiTech RP255 ($149.99)
  • Line 6 Floor POD Plus ($199.99)
  • DigiTech RP355 ($199.99)
  • Line 6 POD X3 ($399.99)

This is just a starting point. The best thing to do is to go into the store and play as many different guitars and play through as many different amps as you can, or if you can’t play very well, bring someone along who can or knows a lot about guitars so you can get their opinion and hear what it sounds like.

So let’s recap. It’s important to think through your goals and your budget. Thinking through these things really eliminates a lot of your options. You don’t have to spend a ton on your first guitar, but do think of it like an investment. Your guitar is only half of the equation so don’t forget about an amp or a multi-effects unit. And lastly, there’s nothing like going into a store with a friend and trying out as many different pieces of gear as you can.

All of you guitar veterans out there… what would you recommend to a beginner player getting their first electric guitar?

Brett McQueen is a full-time music student, guitar player, songwriter, and blogs in his spare time. Brett is passionate about teaching free guitar lessons for beginners so other guitar players can take their playing to the next level and reach their goals.

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I’ve been using the Aracom PLX18 BB Trem in my studio for the past couple of months, and it is simply a great amp. As I’ve written in the past about this amp, I’ve made some modifications to it such as replacing all the stock pre-amps with NOS (the JJ EL84’s are killer in this amp, so no need to even look for NOS for these), and replacing the stock speaker with a Fane Medusa 150.

As most GuitarGear readers know, my go-to gigging amp is my beloved, customized Aracom VRX22. But every now and then, I like to take my other amps out for a spin. For this evening’s church gig, I took the PLX18. Based upon tonight’s experience, it looks like I’m going to gig with this amp a lot more.

One thing that I’ve come to love about Jeff Aragaki’s amp designs, is that he has got the vintage Marshall mojo down. Mind you, he doesn’t make clones. He takes the original circuit designs and innovates on top of them. The PLX18 BB started out as a classic “Bluesbreaker” design, but with improvements to the circuit to make it much more efficient. The result is a real smooth-sounding amp that – like the amp it is modeled after – has tons of clean headroom, and needs to be absolutely cranked to get grind. But when it grinds, it’s so rich and smooth and dynamic, you just close your eyes and let your fingers do the talking!

Such was the case tonight. About a year ago, I re-arranged a classic Catholic hymn and gave it a bluesy, folk-punk vibe (think a cross between Death Cab and Clapton). I know, it sounds like a weird mix, but amazingly enough, it works. People know the song really well, but this arrangement gets them nodding their head in time – it’s cool to see! In any case, I also arranged it so that there was plenty of room in between verses for little solos. It’s a somewhat slow song, so you can’t go overboard, but the phrasing really lends itself to a lead played with an amp just at the edge of breakup, with lots of bends and vibrato.

And it helps to have an amp that has a lot of natural sustain. The PLX is just so damn good at that! I played the amp in the “clean” channel that I had almost cranked up all the way, since that’s where a vintage Marshall sounds great, and of course, it was plugged into my attenuator so I could crank it and still have a manageable volume level. The PLX is so responsive to attack and volume knob adjustments that it makes playing just a dream. Throughout the song, I just closed my eyes and got into pure expression mode. It was one of those occasional experiences where the tone just takes you right into the Zone! When you’re in the Zone, you just can’t do wrong. Hearing the PLX sing with my Squier CV Tele – I just floated away in absolute bliss.

For our closing song, I actually didn’t play, and gave “Blondie” over to my guitar cohort Dave so I could thump out on bass. For that song, I activated the wonderful Kasha overdrive pedal, in the Hot channel to really slam the amp with gain. The great thing about the Kasha overdrive is that it’s a really transparent overdrive pedal, and allows you amp to do it’s magic. With the OD engaged, the PLX took on this incredible character. It’s a bright amp by nature, but the tone became really jangly and ringy, with just a touch of compression coming from the EL84’s. It helps that I replaced the original JJ pre-amps with the NOS ones. In any case, talk about creamy smooth but articulate overdrive! Listening to that just got me thumpin’ out on the bass! We had a lot of fun with that song. Kind of felt like the White Stripes as we only had two instrumentalists (though it was two guitars, or a bass and guitar – no drums). It was raw and edgy, but oh so cool! You gotta just dig moments like this!

As I’ve mentioned, the PLX18 BB Trem is Jeff’s oldest amp design and unfortunately, his least-known amp. It’s tough to compete in the market when there are so many boutique, vintage Marshall-style amps on the market. I’ve played many, but the PLX18 BB is special. Others who own one of these will attest to just how special this amp sounds. Even though it’s not quite as versatile as the VRX22 that can get me over-the-top gain, for what it does, I can’t think of a better amp. Mind you, this ain’t just a one-trick pony. For blues, classic rock, and country, it’s simply killer. So if you’re looking for that classic “Bluesbreaker” tone at a price that won’t break you at the same time (the head is $1345, and the combo – which I have is $1750), I encourage you to check this amp out! And if you do get it, you won’t regret it in the slightest!

As far as equipping it, pay the extra for NOS pre-amps (the JJ EL84’s are just fine – I actually prefer them), and even though Jeff recommends an Eminence Red Fang Alnico to be paired with the PLX18 BB, for my personal tastes, I prefer something with a bit tighter bottom end; hence, the Fane Medusa that I swapped in. If you still want bright tone, then an Eminence Governor works insanely well, and will give you nice mids and high-mids, and I hear the Celestion Gold sounds killer in the the combo! YMMV…

For more information on this wonderful amp, check out the Aracom Amps site!

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Ever since Paul Reed Smith came out with amplifiers, I’ve been a little dubious about them mostly because anything carrying the PRS logo will invariably cost an arm and a leg. Don’t get me wrong PRS makes freakin’ incredible gear, but said gear also has a relatively large barrier to entry. So it came as a nice surprise that the PRS Sweet 16 is much more reasonably priced than one might expect of a PRS. For a hand-wired amp at just under $1700, that’s getting into Dr. Z territory, and that’s a GREAT thing!

During my latest sojourn to Guitar Center, my wanderings took me to the “quiet room” where GC has a few amps and guitars for people to play, isolated from the rest of the store. I like going in there because usually they have nicer gear like Custom Shop Strats, and high-end Gibsons. For amps, there’s always nice ones like classic Fenders (they’ve had the same silverface Twin in there for awhile now), and this time, they had the PRS Sweet 16 with its matching 1 X 12 cab.

Features (from PRS)

  • Hand-wired in Stevensville, Maryland
  • 16 Clean Watts (Smooth Overdrive at Max)
  • 2x 6V6 Output Tubes
  • Cathode Bias
  • Master Volume (Exits the Circuit at Max)
  • Reverb
  • Volume, Bass, Treble, Mid, Reverb, Master, and Bright Controls
  • Vintage-style Black and White Tolex Look

Fit and Finish

What can I say that hasn’t been said of PRS gear? It’s invariably lovely stuff! The black and white tolex and black grille cloth give the amp a very cool vintage look. As expected, there’s nary a blemish or seam out of place with this amp, and as expected, both amp and cab are super-sturdy. But that’s a given with pretty much any PRS gear.

How It Sounds

Here’s where we get into a bit of murky territory, primarily because even in an isolation room in a store, it’s not an optimal place to test – at least for me because I almost invariably don’t have my own guitars available when I do “random” tests. But that’s okay, I just spend a bit of time getting guitars that are close to what I have or had. With this test, I used a Strat and a very nice ES-335.

The Sweet 16 must have a pretty hefty output transformer because this puppy puts out some volume, even with a single 1 X 12. It has TONS of clean headroom, which made me turn down the Master and crank up the volume to get even a little grind, which indicated to me that to really get this amp to get into serious breakup, the master has to be dimed as well. The predominantly pre-amp distortion just seemed a little flat-sounding to me; it wasn’t bad, but it was nothing special. I did crank up the Master for just a little while, and even with it dimed, the breakup was  lot like a classic Marshall JTM; tons of clean headroom, with a modest amount of distortion when cranked. Definitely an amp suited for classic rock/blues.

Clean was another story. Really nice cleans with this amp, especially with a Strat. The CS Strat I played produced a smooth and complex tone with a chimey top-end. Quite nice. And the ES-335 sounded gorgeous through the Sweet 16. Adding a touch of reverb, really helped fill out the sound, and it was great playing fingerstyle with both axes.

For EQ settings, I just moved everything to 12 o’clock and didn’t have to tweak at all, though I did switch on the bright control to get some top-end shimmer; especially when playing the ES-335. The Strat didn’t need it, and the fuller sound really helped bolster the natural thin tone of the Strat.

Regarding the reverb, I do have to say that I’ve heard better. It’s not that it’s bad-sounding. I just wasn’t really impressed with it. I certainly wouldn’t use it to provide a sustaining effect with this amp. The sag is enough with the amp that I can get my sustain with my fingers. The reverb is not as pronounced as a Fender reverb, and it’s not very springy. I liken it to an Aracom reverb that isn’t very intense. It’s there, but it’s a heck of a lot more subtle than a Fender. But like I said, it’s not bad, but for me, I probably wouldn’t use it. For recording, I’d record the amp dry and layer a reverb as an insert or side-chain effect. That said, that amp sounds great without a reverb.

Overall Impressions

My gut impression is that it’s a great-looking and great-sounding amp, and it’s a good start for PRS’s entry into the low-wattage amp arena, but there are a lot better-sounding amps in that price range and below.Good examples of this are the Reason Bambino, the Aracom VRX series, and the Dr. Z Remedy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the Sweet 16. I really liked it, but it’s not an amp that blew me away with its tone.

Despite my rather contrarian comments, the Sweet 16 gets a 4.5 Tone Bones rating. It’s well-made and great-sounding. If I ever get one into my studio, I’ll do a full review, and perhaps my rating will change. But it’s a solid performer nonetheless, and you could do a lot worse.

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I’ve been extolling the virtues of the Reason Amps Bambino for several months, and how great it sounds. Among the things that I’ve mentioned is that for a little amp, it has a BIG sound. That was a design objective with Obeid Kahn, Reason’s amp designer, when he was designing the amp. He didn’t want to just build yet another affordable, low-powered amp. He wanted to build a great amp. Period.

Despite the sound though, what has really turned me on about this amp is its versatility. For instance, last Friday I did my regular, weekly solo gig at a local restaurant. I haven’t been very happy about my Stratacoustic’s tone into my DigiTech Vocalist Live box, so I decided to bring the Bambino to provide some pre-amplification and use its balanced line out to go directly into the restaurant’s board. What I was greeted with was simply put, a spectacular sound, and this from a line out directly from the amp! I’ve mentioned using this in the past, but this time, I had no speaker. I went direct into the board, and the only monitoring I had was from the PA. A couple of days later, I used it for my weekly church gig, with my 1 X 12 speaker cab, and also using the line out to plug into my church’s board.

For a church gig, minimal stage volume is important because voices are reinforced through the house audio, not from the band area. So to have this kind of amp where all I have to get is my stage volume, then use the house to get my sound out, it’s simply a boon.

The only other amps I’ve ever used that have this kind of versatility are acoustic amps. I realize that there are probably other tube amps that may have this capability, but getting all the great sound and versatility AND boutique quality in a $699 package is just unheard of! If you’re looking for a great amp that’ll work in variety of places, look no further!

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I’ve been working on a new instrumental for over a month now, called “Strutter.” I think I’ve probably made 50+ recordings of the song, and even though I dig the melody I’ve come up with, I’ve always thought it needed something… more… Couldn’t put my finger on it, but none of my recordings of the song were working for me completely. After I finished recording this final cut which I’ll share below, I believe a lot of my “frustration” had to do with me wanting to only use a single guitar and amp for the recording since I play this song live with only a single guitar.

But it’s different in the studio. I have a lot of options open to me, so I decided to break down and instead of recording the song in its entirety with a single take with a single guitar and amp, I recorded the two different parts of the song with two guitars and two amps. The result knocked my socks off! So the lesson learned is in the studio, you can be truly creative, and for me, I’ll use the tools I need in favor of what I’d like to have. Anyway, here’s the song:

Gear:

Rhythm: Fender MIM Strat / Aracom VRX22 (6V6) Clean Channel
Lead 1 : Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster 50’s (bridge) / Aracom VRX18 (EL84) Channel 2 (Master cranked / Volume 3pm)
Lead 2 : Saint Guitars Messenger (bridge) / Aracom VRX22 Channel 2 (Master 4pm / Volume 3pm)

All guitars were recorded at bedroom level using the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, with no effects. Estimated output of any of the amps was less than 1 watt! That unit is absolutely amazing!!!

Small room reverb was added during production to give a more spatious effect to the lead tracks, and absolutely no EQ was applied to the guitars.

Description:

This song was originally inspired by an image of a supa-mac-daddy-pimp dude struttin’ his stuff down the avenue. 🙂 At least that was the kind of vibe I wanted to capture: 70’s-style guitar-plugged-straight into the amp. It’s a raw kind of tone.

From a structure/feel point of view, what I was after with this song was a contrast in textures. The Rhythm track uses the VRX22 clean channel for that snappy clean attack. For the Lead 1, I wanted use the creamy smoothness of the VRX18 combined with a single coil, and take advantage of the awesome decay of the tube rectifier. For Lead 2, there’s nothing like the pure balls-out sound of the VRX22 drive channel played with a bridge humbucker. The distortion though is ultra smooth, but very complex.

I should be the Aracom Amps poster boy!

I just realized that this song could be an Aracom Amps VRX amp line demo! I make no secret that these are my amps of choice (I have three of them). Jeff Aragaki’s amp designs are absolutely killer – that’s why I buy his equipment.

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There are two things you should consider doing before you decide to get rid of it. I’ve done this on two amps, and have ended up keeping them both.

1. Change your speaker(s)

Let’s state the obvious: An amp’s speaker produces the sound, but it is amazing how many people I’ve come across who don’t look at replacing this vital component first when they’re not happy with their tone. I know, evaluating speakers is tough, and a lot of the time, you can only rely on people’s words and frequency response charts. I actually find frequency response charts useful in making a decision on a new speaker. If I want more mid-range and presence, I’ll look at speakers whose frequency response charts are big in the mids and high-mids, with a much more smooth bass response curve, like the Jensen P12N. If I’m looking for more bottom end, and a slightly scooped tone, I’ll look for a speaker that has those kinds of characteristics, such as the Fane Medusa 150. Of course, you have to hear the speakers in the end to decide if they work for you, but the frequency response chart is a good place to start.

2. Change your pre-amp tubes

I’m a NOS tube fanatic. To me, there’s nothing like the build and tonal quality of a good NOS tube. The ones I’ve chosen tend to have a bit less gain than newer tubes, and they break up so much more smoothly. But that’s just me. I want a smoother overdrive tone, whereas someone else may want a harsher tone. To each their own on this. However, changing tubes – especially pre-amp tubes – can have a profound effect on your tone. Like speakers, you have to try several before you find ones that fit your tastes, but it’s worth it once you do. And note, with respect to tubes, you get the most bang for your buck by replacing the pre-amp tubes as opposed to the power tubes. I use JJ power tubes for practically all my amps, and you know what? I’ve never replaced any of them because I just haven’t seen that much tone improvement by replacing them.

Where I have seen LOTS of improvements is in replacing the pre-amp tubes, as you’ll see below…

As I stated above, I saved two of my amps from the chopping block. Yeah, I had to spend a bit of money to save them, but save them I did. My most recent “save” experience was with my Aracom PLX18 BB. This amp is based upon the classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi “Bluesbreaker.” When I first got it, I loved it, but one thing that I didn’t quite bond with was the fizz that the amp naturally produced. I really dug the mild distorted tone of the amp, but there was just something that wasn’t quite “right” when I’d crank the amp all the way.

So the first thing I did to bleed off some of the highs was to replace the stock speaker. The Red Coat Red Fang is a nice, bright speaker, but brand new, it’s pretty harsh, and I didn’t want spend a lot of time breaking it in. But even still, the amp was naturally bright, and with a bright speaker, I just didn’t feel it was a good fit. As luck would have it, I had another speaker on hand, a Fane Medusa 150. The thing about this speaker is that it has a real strong, tight bass response. Once I had it installed, I couldn’t believe my ears! It really balanced out the brightness of the amp, and curbed a lot of the fizz.

But there was still some fizz left. Knowing that there were JJ’s in the pre-amps, which have a lot of gain, my thought was that they were throwing a lot of gain at the EL84 power tubes, which can get fizzy when driven hard. So I swapped them out for a set of NOS circa 1959 GE and RCA long plate 12AX7’s, which are oh-so-smooth and a have a bit less gain than the JJ’s. The result was simply magnificent!

That clip was recorded with the Aracom PLX18 BB, and using my LP copy Prestige Heritage Elite. Sorry, I don’t have a “before” clip, but before I did those two simple modifications, the amp produced a ton of fizz that I just couldn’t connect with, even though I loved the dynamics when it was fully cranked. Now, I can crank that puppy up, and get those rich tones with no fizz.

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I walked into my garage/studio this morning and looked over to my gear – there’s a lot (though probably not as much as I’ve seen from other gear sluts’ pictures). Peering over my collection, the thought struck me: What if I could only have one of each type of gear… What would I choose? What would be the basis for my decision?

After ruminating on this subject over breakfast and coffee, I decided that I’d choose the gear that gives me the most versatility with respect to tone and usability given the various types of music I play. So based upon that here are my choices:

  • Squier Classic Vibe Tele 50’s
  • Aracom VRX22 with 1 X 12 Cab
  • BOSS TU-2 Tuner
  • Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator

Those four things will get me through any gig or recording session. Not to say that they’re my favorite pieces of gear, but that combination will give me the most versatility with respect to versatility and usability.

What? No Goldie? Man, I love that guitar, don’t get me wrong. But that guitar is so heavy, I don’t gig with it unless I’m at a place where I have to sit down. The Tele, on the other hand, is super-light, and with its pine body, it’s very resonant, so I can get thick, almost humbucker-type sounds to nice trebly tones. Goldie offers that up and more, but she loses on usability in a variety of venues due to her weight.

The Aracom VRX22 happens to be my favorite amp in any case, but it’s my favorite because of its versatility. Once I had Jeff do the footswitch mod so I could switch between channels, and remove the clean channel from the master volume, there’s nary a tone – except for super heavy, high gain – that I can’t produce with that amp.

With respect to my TU-2 tuner, yeah, I know, there are much better ones out there, but it’s what I’ve got. But despite that, I’d rather be in tune than to have a cool effect, so that pedal would stay.

Finally, the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator will always be a part of any rig I put together because it allows me to set limits to my max volume in any venue. Since I play mostly small to medium venues, this box is essential for dialing in just the right amount of volume for the house. And even if I have to play at super low volumes where the Fletcher-Munson effect comes into play, I can rest assured that when my amp is miked, I’ll get my true tone.

I was actually surprised by my own choice of guitar primarily because Goldie is such a tone machine. But for as much as I move around when performing, lugging a heavy guitar is definitely not my cup of tea; especially if it makes me throw out my back, which I did a couple of weeks back. But it also says loads about that Squier Tele. I’ve got some great guitars, but that little $329 wonder creates such awesome tones and it plays so great, that it’s a clear winner. I might’ve gotten lucky with my particular guitar because I’ve read some user reviews that their tone is inconsistent. I’ll play a few more to see how that holds up.

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