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Archive for the ‘aracom amps’ Category

Reintroducing Aracom VRX22

I make no secret about the fact that I play Aracom Amps. I’ve played TONS of different amps, and though many tickle my fancy, I’d consider buying a very select few; actually there are only two other amps that I want besides another Aracom, and that is an original Fender ProSonic and a DV Mark Little 40.

At this point in time, I have three Aracom amps: The PLX18-BB w/Trem, VRX18, and the VRX22. The PLX18 is Jeff Aragaki’s rendition of the venerable 18 Watt Marshall Plexi “Blues Breaker.” The VRX18 is a souped up version of the PLX18, with more modern circuitry, and it sports an extra gain stage so that its second channel is more aggressive. The VRX22 is the 6V6 version of the VRX18, though its second channel is even more aggressive than the VRX18. I use all three amps in both studio and stage, and I love ’em all. Each has a different character. But my VRX22 is hands-down my rock machine.

A couple of months ago, I tripped over a guitar cable that I had plugged into the VRX22, broke the darn tip off in the jack! Yikes! I tried taking it out myself, but Jeff used a fully-enclosed jack, and I didn’t have the right tools to dig it out, so I knew that I had to take it to Jeff. Turns out that he had to replace the entire jack altogether. Oh well, clumsy me…

While he had the amp, I asked him if he could adjust the second channel a bit. The last time I had him work on it, I asked to get a bit more gain out of the drive channel. Plus at the time, I had gotten a pair of nice 1959 RCA 6V6’s and had Jeff install them and he biased them a bit hot. The problem with my requests was that the distortion of the second channel was a little harsh, plus with that extra gain, I couldn’t get a clean tone out of the channel unless I turned the volume way down. So this time, I asked him to take the gain down a few notches. He also lowered the bias of the power tubes.

When he was done, he called me up, and told me what he did, and in his very understated manner, told me that the amp was sounding pretty good. When Jeff says something like that, I know he’s worked some magic on my equipment. This time was no exception.

I got the amp back this past Saturday, and finally got to play it for the first time in a couple of months last night. I was in the process of re-recording guitar parts on a song I wrote a few years ago, and was actually using the VRX18. But I wasn’t getting a tone that I wanted, as I needed more “oomph.” The VRX18 is pretty bright, and it has some great distortion, but I needed a “bigger” sound.

So I plugged in the VRX22, and was absolutely shocked at how it sounded. The aggressiveness was still there in the second channel, but it was much more tame and smooth. But overall, the tone was incredibly FAT! OMG!!! Jeff did something that completely transformed the amp, and I practically had a religious experience. It sounded so much bigger than it had previously; almost scooped, but not in a high-gain metal way. Could it be that the power tubes were working optimally? Who knows? All I do know is that the VRX22 was totally inspiring me!

I kind of got lost just noodling around, but I finally got down to the business of re-recording the guitar parts. At first, I was using my Les Paul ’58 Reissue, but that was just too fat. So I went with my Strat. After evaluating my takes, while I dug the Strat rhythm part, I wasn’t fully buying into the lead tone. So I went back to my R8. Then I realized that I had originally recorded the R8 on a predefined Logic track that had a lot of compression and rolled off the high EQ. So I created a raw track with no compression and EQ (though I did add a bit of compression – like 2.7 to 1 during mixdown). That made all the difference in the world as the those high-freq artifacts that I love were back. I still had to record the R8 doing rhythm part using the bridge pickup, but it definitely had the “oomph” for which I was looking.

So, here’s the song:

I replaced the right channel rhythm and the lead part with the R8. The left rhythm part is my Strat in the neck pickup plugged straight into the VRX22. Note that I didn’t use any effects save a touch of compression and some reverb in the channel strip. So the guitar sounds you hear are just the guitar plugged into the amp; no EQ. The natural fatness is amazing! 🙂 Also, the amp was plugged into my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, and recorded at loud conversation levels, so there’s no speaker breakup adding to the tone. It’s all the amp.

While Jeff Aragaki and Aracom are best known for the PRX150 attenuator line, more people are discovering just how gifted Jeff is with amps. The man’s a genius, and yet so very humble. I really am very lucky to have Jeff as a friend.

For more information on Aracom Amps, drop by Jeff’s web site.

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One of the guitarists in my church band recently got a Carr Mercury, which is a great little amp. In addition to sporting vintage styling, it has some great power scaling from 8 Watts down to 1/10 Watt, a three-position boost to vary the drive to the single EL34 power tube, and a very nice and liquid reverb. All in all, it sounds pretty killer. Add my bandmate’s Barron Wesley custom guitar, and it’s a great tone combo!

But as he plays next to my rig, which consists of a Les Paul going into an Aracom PLX18BB Trem (“PLX”) which is a clone of the very simple Marshall 18 Watt Plexi, I felt the Carr’s tone paled in comparison to the tone my rig produces. Mind  you, the Carr sounds  killer. But in comparison to the PLX, its attack is much faster, and there’s noticeably less sag from rectifier than the PLX, so my perception is that there’s not much sustain with the amp..

Granted, I realize this is purely subjective, but there is something very special about the PLX. Perhaps it’s due to that classic “Bluebreaker” tone – hence the BB designation of the amp – that Clapton made so popular while with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. The Les Paul/Plexi combination is absolutely magical. Perhaps it’s also due in part to the absolute simplicity of the 18 Watt Plexi’s circuitry. Or perhaps it’s due to how the amp sags that gives it this almost reverb-like tone. Whatever it is, it’s a tone with which I completely identify.

I realize that I probably mention the PLX in this blog more than any amp that I have or have tested. But it has become my “go-to” amp. As the title of this article says, some rig combinations just never get old.

In front of the PLX, I have just a few pedals because I like to keep things simple. Here’s the complete chain:

Les Paul R8 -> Timmy Overdrive -> TC Electronic Corona Chorus -> Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (handwired) -> DigiTech RV-7 Reverb -> Aracom PLX18 BB Trem -> Aracom PRX150 Attenuator -> Fane Medusa 150 12″ speaker.

I typically only use the  delay and reverb when playing clean, which is actually quite a bit.  But when I’m  playing driven, either with the Timmy or with the amp cranked, I just let the amp speak for itself. 🙂

I mentioned the sag of the PLX. It’s not so saggy that you get a lot of crosstones. But Jeff Aragaki (amp builder) did find a sweet spot in setting up the rectifier that balanced the classic responsiveness of the original Plexi with enough sag in the rectifier to make the amp absolutely expressive.

I made some modifications of my own in the way of tubes. I have gorgeous 1959 RCA grey glass pre-amp tubes in it to drive the pre-amp. I actually kept the original JJ EL84 power tubes in the amp because they compress quite nicely when driven without over-compressing into mush. Then to add fatness, I dropped in the gorgeous, super-sensitive (103 dB) Fane Medusa 150 12″ speaker. Combine that with a large 1 X 12 combo cabinet, and you’ve got a nice resonating chamber for the speaker which adds further depth to the tone.

Upon writing the above, I think a huge reason why I love the tone of this amp so much as compared to the Carr probably has a lot to do with the size of the cabinet, which can also easily house 2 10″ speakers.  That extra room for the sound to bounce around creates a lot of complexity.

 

In any case, that particular combination of gear never gets old to me. Even though I have lott of other guitars and amps, when I gig, I go to that setup. Now if only Jeff will build me my FlexPlex 50… 🙂

 

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When you’ve got a guy like Lance Keltner singing the praises of your equipment and calling you a genius to boot, you must be doing something right. Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps is someone I’ve been praising for quite awhile, and I’m glad he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves.

As far as the DAG unit is concerned, that’s available exclusively through Destroy All Guitars. I’ve played through one of those units myself, and the high-cut filter works great, and definitely takes the edge off, without throwing a blanket over your tone and dynamics like many attenuators do that include one. If you have an amp that outputs lots of highs when cranked – or somehow hear high-frequency transients –  then the DAG unit is the way to go.

Coming up…

While Jeff has gained lots of popularity with his attenuators, often overlooked are his wonderful amplifiers of which I have three. In the next couple of days, I will be getting a 50 Watt Evolver to test out in my studio. I’m so excited! I’ve played through an Evolver at Jeff’s workshop and that amp has tons of balls! It’s definitely Marshall-esque, but with Jeff’s particular twists. I’m excited to be getting this unit for a full test!

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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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I know, I know… I talk about this pedal A LOT, and I’ve already reviewed it a few times… (here’s the original) But I keep on discovering so many great things about this pedal that makes me want to talk about it. Just when I think I’ve got it dialed in, I find yet another thing that it does that just completely turns me on!

Tonight, I was screwing around with my song Strutter yet again. I’m done writing it, but I wanted to practice, and that song is really fun to practice to; I just mute the lead tracks and have at it. Mind you, all I wanted to do was practice and play “Blondie,” my Squier CV Tele – I didn’t have anything else in mind.

So I hooked up my Aracom PLX18 BB and started playing over the rhythm track. Folks, this amp just oozes classic Marshall “Bluesbreaker” tone as is, but just for shits and giggles, I decided to switch on my KASHA Overdrive to add a little flavor to my tone because I was working on a new song recently where I loved what this pedal did – especially with the PLX18 BB! For that song (which I’m still writing) I didn’t want to add too much gain. All I wanted to do was add some texture. So I thought it might just sound good while I practiced over Strutter. Man, was that a good call!

Here’s an A/B clip of sorts of the first two verses of the song. In verse 1, I’m playing the PLX18BB with nothing added – just a touch of room reverb as an insert in the mix. In the second verse, I switch on the KASHA overdrive (still with some reverb in the mix). The pedal is in the “Hot” channel, and I set the gain knob at 12 o’clock, which just provides a bit of a gain boost (it’s capable of adding up to 15dB of boost in this channel), but this channel also sustains for days, adding a touch of high-end sparkle. Here’s the clip:

Please excuse the little playing mistakes I made… 🙂 It’s nothing really egregious. In any case, when you compare the two verses, the difference in tone is actually subtle, at least to my ears. But from a playing standpoint, the amount of touch-sensitivity and sustain that was added made the second verse so much more musical and so much more inspiring to play. And speaking of subtlety, I think that is yet another mark of a great overdrive pedal. To me, overdrives should be transparent, they should never alter your tone – that’s what fuzz and distortion are for. At the most, they should simply add EQ emphasis, and that’s it. And that’s why I love the overdrives I play through: Tone Freak Abunai 2, GeekMacDaddy Geek Driver, Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire, the KASHA overdrive, TubeScreamer, and believe it or not, a Bad Monkey. They all bring to the table their own little voicings, but none of these alter your basic tone.

Great gear evokes a sense of inspiration – at least in me – that makes me want to keep playing and playing and playing. I just can’t say enough about this pedal. At around $200, it is worth every penny I paid for it. Thanks, John Kasha for coming up with such a fantastic pedal! Now back to playing!

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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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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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