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.
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!
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.
or… Doc Brown in Back to the Future saying, “I finally invented something that works!” Speaking in reference to the Flux Capacitor. Nah, it’s nothing of the sort, but it is by no means less cool. The Flux Density Modulation Speakers are a new approach to attenuation where the attenuation happens right at the speaker! Giving you up to -9 dB attenuation, while keeping your tone, that is what I call cool, and something I must check out! You know me, I’m an attenuator fan, and something like this has me absolutely GAS-ing! From what I could tell from the videos below, the tone is really preserved. Now, mind you that -9 dB of attenuation won’t get you down to conversation levels, but it’ll sure provide enough attenuation to take the bite off the volume. If you need to go lower, hell! Get an Aracom attenuator, and get it down REAL LOW! Check out the NAMM vids!
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:
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.
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.
There’s an unspoken battle raging on The Gear Page forum about which is the best “popular” attenuator on the market. Yeah, everyone claims theirs is the most transparent, and frankly, that’s true for very low levels of attenuation. But for really cranking down on the volume, my money, of course, is on the Aracom PRX150-Pro. To me, not only is it the most transparent attenuator based upon head-to-head comparisons of some of the popular attenuators done by me and others, and also being the safest with its input AND output impedance matching, it is also the most cost-effective attenuator out there. Don’t believe it? Well, the numbers don’t lie. When you consider the versatility of input/output impedance selections vs. cost of the unit that the PRX150-Pro offers, it’s simply no contest.
Let’s have a look at the numbers shall we?
Cost Per Impedance Selection Combination
# Impedance Combos.
Clearly, based upon the number of impedance matching selections, the PRX150-Pro is the clear winner in terms of value. Even if the Aracom unit only had three impedance matching selections, it still will have 9 different available input/output impedance selection combinations, and each combination would only cost $72.11; still far below the competition!
Furthermore, let’s say the PRX150-Pro didn’t have output impedance matching, reducing its impedance matching combinations to 4. It still outperforms the competition in terms of value at $162.25 per selection!
Let’s compare the PRX150-Pro with the Alex’s attenuator for example. People love the Alex’s attenuator, and I understand it works great. But you have to get 4 of those units to match the impedance matching capabilities of the PRX150-Pro. In absolute cost terms, yes, the PRX150-Pro costs more. But with respect to value, well, you can’t hide from the numbers. The same thing applies to the THD HotPlate (though I have other reasons not to like this product). As for the Faustine Phantom, it has more versatility than the Alex’s by far, but it’s also very expensive, and it is unclear whether or not you’ll get one in a timely fashion. Some people have been waiting for theirs for several months.
Sometimes you have to spend more to get much more, and in the case of the Aracom PRX150-Pro, you’re getting A LOT more!
Disclaimer: I will say this again that I am not an employee of Aracom – I’m a faithful customer because of the superior product Jeff produces.
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.
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.
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!