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Archive for the ‘amplifiers’ Category

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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When I first reviewed the Fane Medusa 150, though I gave it a pretty good rating at 4.5 Tone Bones, I wasn’t really blown away by its tone because of its big bottom end, and recommended that the speaker be put into a 2 X 12 balanced out by a speaker with more top-end sparkle. What I didn’t consider was how it could be used to balance out the tone of a naturally bright amp.

Take, for instance, my review on the Aracom PLX18 BB Trem. One of the nits I had with the combo was that the Eminence Red Coat Red Fang was way too bright for the already naturally bright amp, causing me to bleed off highs when I was mixing the song. FYI, EQ’ing my guitars in my recordings is usually a real no-no with me because I like the pure sound of my guitars and amps on a recording. The only things I’ll add in production are reverb or a touch of delay if necessary. I love the tone of the PLX18, but that speaker just didn’t work for me.

Enter the Fane Medusa 150. That speaker is actually on loan from Tonic Amps. I’ve actually had it for a few months now, and I keep on forgetting to drop it off at Darin’s new place. Well, it looks like I’m probably going to buy it off him after all because I swapped out the Red Fang for the Medusa 150 in the PLX18, and suddenly the seas parted and a way was made clear! The PLX18 tone was completely transformed! Instead of being a purely bright amp, the PLX18’s tone became much more balanced. The highs and high-mids were still present but were much more tame. This resulted in a much richer tone.

As you may know, I’ve been working on a new song called “Strutter.” I actually had the song completely recorded, but I hadn’t finished it because I just haven’t been completely satisfied with the lead guitar tone. When I got the PLX18, I knew it would be the amp I’d use to record the song. But with the stock speaker, and even with my Jensen P12N, it still wasn’t cutting it for me. I even mentioned that the amp loves the Red Coat “The Governor,” and it does, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied. Now, with the Medusa 150 in the cabinet, I’ll be completing the song. Let’s compare, shall we?

Here’s the original, recorded with the PLX18 BB with the stock Red Coat. I’m playing my LP copy, Prestige Guitars Heritage Elite:

Now, here’s a clip of the song with the Fane Medusa 150. I’m playing Goldie in her bridge pickup:

Sorry for the differences in volume levels. But where the Red Fang has much more presence, and an in-your-face presentation, the Medusa’s tone is so much more three-dimensional and more refined. The mids and highs are still present and incredibly articulate, but they’re so much less piercing! And one thing that I noticed immediately with the Medusa is the clarity of the notes through the entire EQ spectrum, whereas the Red Fang seemed to lose a bit of clarity at high-gain settings – especially when I play those transition chords. Note that the amp and mix settings stayed completely the same between the two recordings, and both guitars were played through the Trem channel which was completely dimed. I also removed the wah from the second clip because I didn’t feel the need to mix it up. For that part, I did stack my KASHA Overdrive and Geek Driver overdrive pedals, but set to unity gain, and to add just a touch of compression and sustain. Not much, but just a touch.

So what’s the moral of the story? Simple: Amp and speaker combinations are critical to good tone. Some speakers, like my P12N work with a bunch of different amps. But some speakers, like the Medusa, work much better at balancing out certain amp characteristics. I’ve learned a good lesson here: You have to try out gear in different configurations and situations. Had I not tried to experiment with the Medusa, I probably would’ve just passed it off as a good speaker that belongs in a 2 X 12 cabinet with a bright speaker.

For more information on Fane speakers, talk to Darin at Tonic Amps! Tonic is the North American distributor for Fane speakers.

For more information about the incredible Aracom PLX18 BB Trem, please go to Aracom Amplifiers.

By the way, both clips were recorded at conversation levels using the fantastic Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, by far the best attenuator on the planet, from my perspective. I just couldn’t live without this device!

Now, both amp and speaker get:

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Click on the picture for a larger view. Aracom Amps PLX BB 18

Summary: Reminiscent of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the PLX18 BB is a tribute to the classic Marshall Plexi’s of yesteryear.

Pros: Looking for classic EL84 classic rock/blues tone? Look no further. This amp has tons of mojo that’s just waiting to be tapped, with two independent channels and a subtle, tube-driven tremolo that’s to die for!

Cons: Tiny nit, but the stock speaker – Eminence Red Coat Red Fang – is voiced way to brightly for this amp. For cleans, it’s great, but creates a bit of fizz when you’ve got it cranked.

Features:

General (from the Aracom site)

– On/Off Switch
– Standby Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– Custom Heavy Duty
Aluminum Chassis
– Impedance Switch:
4, 8, 16 ohm
– (2) Speaker Jacks
– Custom Handcrafted
Turret Board
– Handwired
– Gold Plexi Front and
Back Panels

Tremolo Channel

– Single Knob Tone Control
– Single Volume Control
– Tremolo Intensity Control
– Tremolo Speed Control
– High/Low Input Jacks
– Tremolo/Reverb Remote
– On/Off Footswitch Jack
– Reverb: Available with
optional Tube Driven
Reverb in the Combo 1×12
and 2×12 configurations.

Normal Channel

– Single Knob Tone Control
– Single Volume Control
– High/Low Input Jacks

Price: ~$1750 Direct

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – If it weren’t for the speaker, this would get 5 Tone Bones, but I remedied that very easily by running it through either a Jensen P12N or a Red Coat “The Governor.” I dig that Governor speaker! It really brings out the best in that amp by taming the highs and adding a nice and smooth bottom end.

When you live less than half an hour from a boutique amp maker, you get to try out lots of GREAT gear. It’s so convenient to drop by Jeff’s shop or have Jeff over. He’s someone I love spending time with because we both share a passion for vintage and vintage style gear (Jeff is a passionate Les Paul collector), and we spend lots of time just talking about different kinds of gear, and especially his approach to amp building. As of late, Jeff Aragaki and Aracom Amps have gained a lot of attention in the guitar world for his incredible PRX150-Pro attenuator. And while I love what that attenuator does (it really has made my home recording late at night so much more convenient), it was his amps I fell in love with, and to date, I have three of them, having added the PLX BB 18 to my growing collection of low-wattage amps.

In Jeff’s words, the PLX BB 18 “ …is our tribute to the Marshall 18 watt Tremolo amp that was originally introduced in 1967. The term “Bluesbreaker” originated from the Marshall JTM 45 Tremolo Combo amp that Eric Clapton made famous when he was with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. While the JTM 45 Tremolo is the original “Bluesbreaker”, many people also refer to the early 50 watt and 18 watt Marshall amps with Tremolo as Bluesbreaker amps.

This amp is the elder statesman in the Aracom lineup, and while lots of attention has been paid to his latest VRX line, it was the PLX that gave Jeff his start. Unfortunately, because there are lots of classic Marshall Plexi 18 remakes on the market, the PLX BB 18 is probably his least known amp. That’s too bad because the tweaks Jeff made to the classic Marshall circuit has produced a very distinctive amp that has a mojo that’s almost visceral in its appeal.

Based upon a pair of EL84 power tubes, and an EZ81 rectifier, the PLX produces a very three-dimensional tone that’s at once in your face, but also fills the space you’re playing; and mind you, this is at fairly low levels – maybe loud conversation levels – due to squelching the output volume with the PRX150-Pro. Strike a chord or bend a note, and you can feel the tone! It’s that way with my VRX amps as well. There’s something that Jeff has discovered in building his amps that make them ooze a certain mojo.

Like all Aracom amps, the PLX18 BB is packed full of character. It’s amazing how it responds to volume knob changes and pick attack. But one thing that really strikes me about this amp is how smooth the distortion is when I crank the amp. When pushed hard, it has tons of gain and oodles of dynamics, but they’re very well-mannered. Notes are well-defined, and especially played with humbuckers, bloom nicely when you attack a string. F-in A!

How It Sounds

I got the amp this past Saturday, and I’ve been playing with it since. I spent Saturday evening and most of Sunday just getting used to it, and experimenting with different speakers. As I said, the stock speaker is a little bright (admittedly, I’m experimenting with it), but it’s also brand new, so that probably accounts for the abundance of highs. With time, that speaker will mellow out. But as I wanted to use the amp right away, I ran it through my custom 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N and also my Fender Hot Rod’s cab that has the Governor in it. Amazingly enough, this amp LOVES the Governor. The P12N sounds awesome (and I’m a huge fan of Alinico speakers), but the Governor seems to bring out the best qualities of this amp. Anyway, here are some clips I recorded:

  • This clip features the stock Red Fang. I’m playing my Prestige Heritage Elite (an LP copy) for the lead with the Treble pickup engaged. This is a clip from a song I’m working on called “Strutter.” I normally don’t EQ my guitar parts, but I did bleed off some of the real high-frequencies to cut down on the natural fizz.
  • This next song is called “Plexi Lullaby” because it reminded me of a lullaby. The base rhythm track was recorded on the tremolo channel with my Heritage, then I created a second rhythm track with my Strat. The Lead is also played with my Strat. You’ll notice that you really have to listen for the trem. The tube-driven trem is killer. It’s very subtle and oh so smooth! Almost forgot! The base rhythm track was played through the stock speaker, while the Strat parts were recorded through a P12N, and no EQ was applied to any of the parts.
  • Finally, here’s a simple track I recorded just with my Strat for both parts, running the PLX18 BB through the Governor. This in the drive or “normal” channel of the amp with it cranked up to about 3pm, which is almost full out. To achieve the cleans, I just used a light touch, and played it finger style. I picked the Lead so I could get some occasional grind sneaking in:

I really love the tone on the last clip. The cleans it produces just make me close my eyes and play; which is pretty much what I did when recording the lead part. Just hearing how the chords just rang was so inspiring! The amp the entire time was just on the edge of breakup – it’s so expressive! I just added a touch of room reverb in the mix, but the guitars were all recorded completely raw. I didn’t do any adjustments.

Overall Impressions

I know, I say this quite a bit about Aracom amps, but I LOVE THIS AMP! As you can hear from the clips, it has an abundance of character. Jeff has recommended a few times that I try some NOS tubes with it, as all the pre-amp and power tubes are all JJ’s. But I’ve resisted because it just sounds great with the stock tubes. As I told him, “I know, I’ve got some NOS tubes on hand, but there’s no reason to put them in there. It sounds great with the JJ’s.” I may eventually do that, but for now, I won’t replace the tubes until they start getting dull.

The PLX18 BB yet another one hit out of the ballpark by the humble genius, Jeff Aragaki!

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bambinoSome amps were just meant to be used with a certain kind of guitar. The Reason Bambino is one such amp. Mind you, it sounds great with any guitar, and I play it with a wide variety of guitars. But considering the amp designer, Obeid Kahn, and his love of vintage Strats, it’s no small wonder that the Bambino sound absolutely gorgeous with a Strat.

When I play a Strat, I like to play mostly clean with just a little bit of grit, and the Bambino does this oh-so-well! Here’s a clip of a song I’m working on that demonstrates the Bambino’s gorgeous voice with my MIM Strat with ’57 Tex Mex re-issue pups:

You may have already heard a version of this clip when I demonstrated the KASHA Overdrive pedal, but I thought I’d try the lead plugged straight into the Bambino, and adding just a bit of reverb during production. At least for my Strat in the Bambino, pedals? We don’t need no stinkin’ pedals!

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PRX-front-543Ever since I started this blog, I’ve talked about attenuators, and how they’ve enabled me to get tones out of my amp at reasonable volume levels that I could only previously get at super-high volumes. But before I get into the discussion part of this article, take a listen to this clip (it’s the same clip I recorded with my previous article on the Mullard ECC83):

Here are some details about the recording:

  • I plugged directly into my Aracom VRX22, which then fed into my Aracom PRX150-Pro, then out to a custom 1 X 12 with a Jensen P12N
  • The amp was in the drive channel with master at 6, volume (gain) at 6, and tone at 6 (the tone on this amp adds a little gain as well as an edge)
  • The PRX150-Pro was set at maximum attenuation
  • Volume-wise, this was talking conversation level!!!
  • No EQ was applied to the guitar – what you’re hearing is the raw tone.

With respect to “maximum attenuation,” I was in variable mode with the variable sweep pot all the way to its left extent. I shared my amp and PRX settings with Jeff Aragaki this morning, and he estimated that the output power was approximately 0.04 Watt!

Many people are apt to talk about how the speaker needs to move air, and that an attenuator doesn’t allow that to happen. But that clip simply demonstrates that with the right combination of equipment – and in my case, also a great set of tubes – you don’t necessarily need that speaker cone breakup to get great tone for recording purposes. Yes, SPL’s do play a big role in your overall tone, but to be able to achieve the kind of tone I was able to get at that very low volume level is nothing short of amazing!

So what about an attenuator being life-changing?

Maybe that’s a bit strong of a phrase, but ever since I’ve been using attenuators, and especially since I’ve gotten my Aracom PRX150-Pro, I’ve been able to explore tonal territory that I could previously only achieve using pedals – and only simulating at that! Take overdrive pedals for instance. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m crazy about them. I probably will still be nuts about overdrive pedals, but there’s one thing an overdrive pedal can’t do that an attenuator allows me to do, and that’s to get the thick, natural overdrive tone of my amp. Don’t get me wrong, I still use them, but I use them now more for tonal accents to my drive tone rather than giving me my drive tone. That’s very profound; especially for an overdrive pedal freak like me!

Here’s a good example that I just recorded. This clip is part of a new song idea I’ve been playing around with. Setup is pretty much the same as above, but for the rhythm, I’m running Strat into my Kasha overdrive pedal to get a jangly, crisp tone. The lead is Goldie plugged straight into my VRX22. I did mix and do a simple master on the recording, but the guitars were all recorded raw, with no EQ. In my DAW, I added some reverb to both parts and a touch of delay to the lead, but that’s it.

Speaking of pedals, since I’ve started using a high-end attenuator (there are others such as Alex’s and the Faustine Phantom), I’ve actually started using pedals in general much less. I’ve really relying on the natural tone and sustain of my amp. For instance, I’ve found that I’ve only been using reverb in the studio. When I play out, I just don’t bother. In fact, for the last few weeks, I’ve only been taking two pedals to gigs with me: My BOSS TU-2 Tuner and my VRX22’s channel switcher. Same goes with my Reason Bambino.

Life-changing? Probably not, but definitely approach-changing. I may personally endorse the PRX150-Pro, but there are others out there. If you really want to hear what your amp has to offer when it’s fully cranked with the power tubes glowing, then you owe it to yourself to get a good attenuator!

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Mullard Zaerix 12AX7Conventional tube-amp wisdom states that you get the most bang for your buck by replacing your pre-amp tubes. I’ve been a believer of this for quite awhile, and have tried out all sorts of pre-amp tubes in my amps over the years. A couple of days ago, I wrote that I had installed a new Mullard ECC83 (12AX7) into my Aracom VRX22. This particular Mullard is a Zaerix-labled ECC83 that probably came from the GDR (I didn’t look at the numbers – I really don’t care, for that matter). All I know is that it made a HUGE difference in the way my amp sounds. The overdrive instantly became smoother and more focused without top-end artifacts, and the notes are still very defined even at high overdrive settings on my amp.

The clip below says it all. I recorded this clip playing in the bridge pick up of Goldie, plugged straight into the VRX22, which then fed into the ever-so-awesome Aracom PRX15-Pro attenuator. The amp’s master, tone, and volume knobs were all set at 6 (about 2pm on the amp), and the clip was recorded at bedroom level!

To my ears, the VRX22 sounds like a much bigger amp than its 22 Watts! I’m really in tonal heaven right now!

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