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Archive for the ‘effect pedals’ Category

4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite

NineBuzz Software: Modal BuddySummary: Whether you’re a rank beginner who wants to learn about modes or a seasoned player looking for a quick refresher and reference tool, Modal Buddy provides a fresh, easy-to-understand reference that demystifies much of the hub-bub behind modes.Pros: Made for the iPhone, but easily viewable on the iPad (which is what I have the app on). Clear, step-by-step method of introducing modes. Touches on the fundamental theory behind modes, but doesn’t get bogged down in all the intricacies. Also has great backing tracks to practice.

Cons: My only nit with product is that it would be helpful to have examples of all the modes so users can hear what all the modes sound like. I suppose it’s easy enough to just discover that while playing against one of the backing tracks. But it would be a nice touch to hear an example to know what to expect.

Price: $4.99

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ As simple and straight-forward as this app is, over the months that I’ve had it, I’ve returned to it several times to brush up. I’m definitely not an academic as far as playing guitar is concerned, and Modal Buddy is a great way to both learn and practice the fundamentals of modes without having to do a deep-dive into theory.

UPDATE: The app is made for the iPhone, but I run Modal Buddy on my iPad. According to Ron at NineBuzz, Modal Buddy does include example solos of all the modes. So please base my rating on running the app on an iPad.

For the better part of my performing career, I’ve played solos purely by feel. And in the past, I’ve done some leads where I ask myself, “Where the hell did I pull that out from?” What I didn’t know at those times was that unconsciously, I was applying a mode over the chord progression. But being as busy as I have been over the last several years, I didn’t – or perhaps couldn’t – take the time to investigate and analyze what I had done.

But a couple of years ago during the holiday season, I was coming up with a more contemporary arrangement of the carol, “Do You See What I See.” In the middle of tooling around with the arrangement, which I recorded so that my church band could get a feel for the arrangement, I started playing a lead that really intrigued me. I figured it was a mode, so I stopped what I was doing, then went to YouTube to find some instructional videos and possibly find out about what I was playing.

The very first video I found pretty much changed everything for me with respect to improvisation. This was by Rob “Chappers” Chapman, and I often return to it to review modes (plus Chappers is pretty funny). From that video, I realized that I was playing an F Lydian mode over a C-Bb chord progression, which gave it this really cool sustained feel. From that point on, I started investigating and learning about modes in earnest.

But to be totally honest, once you figure out how modes work; especially from such clear explanations such as those that Chappers gives, they’re really not all that mystical. But as with anything, you have to practice, and especially for someone like me who has never really taken an academic approach to music, what you need are good references. This is where Modal Buddy has become a extremely handy for me.

I took the advice of Joe Satriani in a video he did on modes and learned just a couple of modes at first; specifically, Dorian and Lyrdian. I don’t recall Joe specifically mentioning these on the video, but those were the two that made sense to me to start out with; especially Dorian because it was so easy to get to – at least for me – from a tonic, and I could easily combine it with minor pentatonic in the relative major for a minor chord progression. For me, that was totally cool to discover because for a chord progression in Am as the root chord, I could do a G Dorian, then switch to the minor pentatonic in C if I got lost, and believe me, I got lost a lot at first. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I still use that combination just because it sounds great to me!

Sorry for the minor detour, but with respect to Modal Buddy, having a reference for the modes (it focuses on the key of G), has been invaluable for me because as opposed to going into all the deep theory (especially interval spelling, which I hate), Modal Buddy presents a mode in such a way that it’s easy to just pick up.

Granted, my only nit is that Modal Buddy only provides an example lead for the Dorian mode, and I’d like to be able to hear all of them. But with the practice tool, you can play the G scale yourself over the backing tracks. Come to think of it, that’s probably what the intent was in the first place: Rather than provide audio examples, they make you practice. Oh well… ๐Ÿ™‚ And here’s an important point about modes that the practice tool gives you: You learn to hear what a mode sounds like given a particular chord sequence. To me, being able to hear the mode is far more important than having the intellectual knowledge of it. When you can hear a mode, you can play it. That doesn’t necessarily apply when you just learn the theory.

Now some people who get the app may say, “There’s really not much to it.” But that’s the beauty of Modal Buddy. It gives you a quick reference on modes and doesn’t bog you down in the deep theory. If you want that, you can read a book, or go on YouTube for that stuff. For me, having the most important fundamentals of modes available to me is a lot more important than having an academic understanding. After all, I gig 3-4 times a week, and I just don’t have the time to spend studying.

Modal Buddy is by no means the do-all and end-all to modes. But as the name implies, it’s a great companion app to have around when you need to quickly brush up.

ROCK ON!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

ย deacci_greenfaze

deacci_greenfaze_logo

Deacci Pure Legend “Green Faze” Humbuckers

Summary: This is a set of PAF-style ‘buckers with a reverse-wound neck pickup that captures that Peter Green out-of-phase sound. Whether or not they’re true to the original, these are game changers for me! They’re so clear and articulate – even with that “woman” tone in the neck position, I’m like… “Hey baby! Where ya been all my life?”

Pros: Absolutely articulate in any pickup position. Neck pickup is warm and deep-textured without losing that top-end bite. Bridge is bright and expressive, and that middle position… OMG! It’s going to give me countless tone-shaping possibilities!

Cons: None.

Price: $275.00 – $300.00 direct

Features:

  • Reverse-wound neck pickup to get that out-of-phase tone in the middle position.
  • Super responsive with an aggressive attack
  • Un-waxed potting
  • Available with nickel, chrome or gold plated covers – or unplated (all black, all creme, zebra-striped).

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 ~ As I said, this is a game-changer for me. With my Les Pauls, I use either the Treble or the Rhythm pickup; rarely do I use the middle pickup. But the tonal possibilities this particular set of ‘pups offers in the middle position will ensure I’ll be using that position – A LOT. Rex Kroff, the luthier I had install the pickups and do my yearly setup, said the pickups made “Amber” suddenly wake up. To him – and me – the difference in tone between the Burst Buckers and these pickups was like night and day. Where the Burst Buckers sounded a little subdued and “wooly,” the Green Faze pickups made my guitar come to life!

At the end of May, I got contacted out of the blue by Declan Larkin, founder and builder of Deacci pickups. He asked me if I’d fancy a set of “the best humbuckers ever made.” He’d send me a set to review, and I could do with them as I pleased. I’m used to reviewing gear then eventually returning it after I’m done. As I’ve mentioned in my about page, I don’t like to be beholden to any manufacturer or appear that I’m doing a review because someone comped me some gear. So admittedly, I was a bit wary of this seemingly blind giveaway.

So I started doing a little research on Deacci. I found some forum posts in a couple of UK forums (Deacci is based in Norther Ireland) discussing the pickups, and I found some sound samples. The sound samples turned me on my ear! They sounded absolutely marvelous! Needless to say, I was intrigued. Plus, as an amusing aside, I found that the pickups are in a “Patent Applied For” state, and that Deacci pickups are PAF-style pickups, so PAF-PAF’s. ๐Ÿ™‚

But seriously though, Declan also caught me at a good time, as I was considering swapping out the stock pickups in “Amber,” my ’58 Historic Les Paul. I was only using the bridge pickup on her because the neck pickup to me was just not clear enough. Even the neck didn’t have the “bite” that I was wanting. She had a gorgeous clean tone in the neck, but driven, the neck pickup was practically unusable; just way too muffled for my tastes. And having moved from a bluesy to a more straight-up rock sound, I needed brighter pickups.

So I looked at the various models that Declan builds and found that the Green Faze pickups had the slightly lower impedance ratings that I felt would brighten up Amber just right. And it must’ve been kismet because as I was doing my research on Deacci, I was listening to “Oh well, ” so perhaps there was some subliminal stuff going on because I just love that song! In any case, I contacted Declan and asked if it would be okay to evaluate the Green Faze set, as I was sensitive to the fact that his was a brand-new company, and I didn’t want to take advantage. But he said it was all good, and he’d send them over once he’d wind up a new set. Frankly, I was blown away by this, and absolutely humbled. All Declan asked for was a honest review, and if I didn’t like them, I could return them.

Well they’re not going back. They’re staying in my guitar – forever! I’m not saying this because of the freebie, I’m saying this from the root of my heart. The sound my guitar now makes with the Green Faze pickups installed in it moves me practically beyond words.

What’s so special about them? I think a lot of that has to do with how they constructed and especially, how they’re wound. Declan uses a Fibonacci number to determine the number of winds of wire to apply to the pickups. He has also established what he says is a much more efficient and consistent way to hand wind the pickups as well. As far as the Fibonacci stuff is concerned, that could all be just techno-voodoo. But Fibonacci numbers are extremely important because they exist in nature. So applying them to a man-made artifact – at least to me – makes sense as the Fibonacci numbers represent balance.

How They Sound

I’m not going to spend much time singing the pickups’ praises. Suffice it to say that to me, these pickups sound so good, they leave me short of words to describe them. In lieu of that, I recorded several clips. All clips were recorded with my Aracom VRX22 into a custom Aracom 1 X 12 with a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker in it. I also recorded the clips at bedroom level by running my amp into the wonderful Aracom DRX attenuator. Note also that absolutely no EQ was added in production, and I turned off all compression. So what you’ll be hearing, save for the lead break for “The Hit” is the guitar’s natural tone as picked up by my microphone.

Bloom

I played my guitar clean in the shop and was taken by the gorgeous overtones the pickups were producing, so I couldn’t wait to get home to see if I could get that classic Les Paul bloom. For this clip, I played the neck pickup, with the tone control turned all the way down to get that “woman” tone. I’m just picking single notes in an Am pentatonic.

Slow Blues – Fingerpicked – Neck Pickup

Putting the Bloom to Work

The next clip uses the fingerpicked clip above with a simple lead using the woman tone. Oh my…

After recording that, I wanted to see what the guitar would sound like on one of my more engineered songs. This is the lead break from my song “The Hit.” The first half features the “woman” tone, then I switch over to the bridge pickup to finish the solo.

Crunchy Tones

Here I’m playing the same riff for all three positions. The volume knobs are dimed, and my amp is set at the edge of breakup. These pickups through a lot of signal at the front-end of the amp forcing my pre-amp tubes to compress. It’s most evident with the Neck pickup.

Neck

Middle

Bridge

Clean Funk

I just love the fast attack of these pickups. The clean tones are right in your face, but not off-putting at all.

Neck

Middle

Bridge

Clean – Fingerpicked

The overtones that the pickups produce combined with the natural sustain of a solid body Les Paul, make for a rich, complex tone that makes me want squeeze every bit of tonal goodness out of what I’m playing.

Neck

Middle

Bridge

Oh Well…

Of course, I couldn’t do a review of Peter Green-style pickups without doing at least one Peter Green riff. Here’s “Oh well” (at least as close to what my ham-handedness could produce):

Overall Impression

Need I say more? I love these pickups. It’s past midnight and I’ve been writing this review since 8pm. It has been a stop and go affair as I’ve taken breaks to play my guitar. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t give 5 Tone Bones often. What I do give 5 Tone Bones are game-changers. The Deacci Green Faze pickups are game-changers for me without a doubt!

For more information on Deacci pickups, go to the Deacci site!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

voicetone

TC-Helicon VoiceTone harmony-G XT
Summary: This could be considered the little brother of the VoiceLive Play GTX, as they both use the same harmony algorithm. Great, automatic vocal tone-shaping, with five different settings (I just used the default which has presence bump and bit of compression). The doubling on this unit is VERY nice; very human-like.Pros: Simple and straight-forward setup, and super-easy to use. Great audio quality. Very human-like harmony voices. Internal vocal tone-shaping is fantastic.

Cons: Reverbs are good, but a little on the subtle side. This could be due to my inexperience with the pedal. But this doesn’t in any way reduce its usability or quaity.

Price: $224.00 – $275.00 Street

Features:

  • Listens to guitar and voice to create correct harmony parts automatically
  • Tone switch smooths vocals with adaptive Live Engineer Effects
  • 18 combinations of reverb, delay and ยตmod shared by vocal and guitar input
  • 10 presets available, each with A/B options
  • Harmony interval selection includes 3rds and 5ths above and below, octave up and down, and the unique Bass interval
  • Stereo or mono configurable output
  • Clean, studio quality mic preamp with phantom power and XLR input
  • Guitar signal can be mixed in and share reverb or passed through to separate amplifier
  • Fast, accurate guitar tuner

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ After my VoiceLive Play GTX went kaput, I wanted to find a suitable replacement without all the GTX’s bells and whistles. After just a single gig with this pedal, the harmony-G XT more than fits the bill!

I’ve had a harmonizer/vocal processor in my acoustic chain for over ten years. The difference that it has made in my solo performances has been immense; adding a dimension to my performances that make a pure solo performance seem bland in comparison. I originally started with the DigiTech Vocalist Live 4, but when that went south, I got the TC-Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX. Now THAT was a game-changer. The harmony algorithm made the voices so much more human-like than the Vocalist Live.

But alas, nothing works forever, and after around 500 or so gigs, my VoiceLive Play GTX finally went kaput a few weeks back. Due to finances, I couldn’t just go out and get a replacement. But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave me some time to check out other harmony/vocal processor solutions, but more importantly, to re-evaluate what my needs actually were.

With the VocalistLive and VoiceLive units, I enjoyed a lot of fine-tuned control over vocal processing and harmony parameters. But to tell you the truth, I rarely set the parameters much different from their defaults. And there were definitely times where I just wanted something much more simple. So I took a good look at both the DigiTech Vocalist Live 3 and the harmony-G XT. Both units had simple, straight-forward setups. Both were absolutely easy to use. But knowing how great the audio quality was with the TC-Helicon stuff, it was a pretty easy decision to go with the harmony-G.

So I purchased it yesterday a couple of hours before I had to leave for my gig. When I got home, I opened up the box, hooked up the unit, then went through the quick start procedure in the manual (yes, I read the manuals). What amazed me was just how easy it was to dial in the settings I needed. Granted, the first preset was voiced just how I wanted it with respect to the harmony voicings, so all I had to do was get the level right. I played around with it for about 10-15 minutes, then packed everything up for my gig, where the real test would take place.

How did it perform? Well, it was like I had my VoiceLive Play back in my chain. The harmonies were excellent. But more importantly, the compression and presence really made my voice jump out. Having been without vocal processing for the past few weeks, I can tell you that just a little compression can make all the difference in the world. And amazingly enough, even though I don’t have fine control over the amount of compression, I’m actually not missing being able to set it. The harmony-G seems to be set at the sweet spot. EQ-wise with respect to vocals, I just set the EQ on my PA to flat, and let the harmony-G drive my EQ. My vocals last night were clear and present without being mid-rangy.

With a simpler solution, there are trade-offs. For instance, I don’t have the kinds of effects like chorus that I could apply to the vocals, and mid-song switching between the A and B settings of a preset has a bit of delay. But that’s just going to take some practice to overcome. But considering my basic needs, I’ve basically everything I need to take me through a solo gig. I couldn’t be happier!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

ElectroHarmonix Soul Food Overdrive

Summary: Billed as a clone of a Klon Centaur (or “klone” as some put it), this overdrive purports to offer the same tone capabilities as that pedal but at five times less the original cost, and twenty times less than what they’re going for on eBay.

Pros: The Soul Food falls into my “ideal” category of overdrives: Pushing my front-end, but enhancing my tone. Super-usable Treble Boost; very touch-sensitive and expressive. Lots of boost on tap.

Cons: None.

Price: ~$62.00 – $65.00 Street

Features (from EHX site):

  • Transparent overdrive
  • Boosted power rails for extended headroom and definition
  • Super responsive
  • Compact, rugged design
  • Selectable true bypass or buffered bypass modes
  • 9.6DC-200 power supply included. Also runs on 9 Volt battery

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 ~ Some people have billed this as a one-trick-pony in that it is best used to boost the front end of an amp at the edge of breakup, then add just a bit of grind. To be honest, that really is the pedal’s sweet spot. But what it does to my tone with just that makes it highly expansive with respect to sustain, overtones, and harmonics, giving me an enhanced palate of drive and nuance. That’s no one-trick-pony to me.

I’m going to just get this out of the way right now: The Soul Food is NOT a transparent overdrive, no matter how it’s touted. As an aside, I think this whole transparency thing in the gear world is a little overblown. Yeah, I know, I’ve been on the transparency wagon for a long time, but I’ve started reconsidering my whole notion of transparency. I’ve been working on an article that discusses this that I’ll release some time. But everything you add to your signal chain is going to alter your tone in some way. Granted, if you ONLY use the pedal as a boost, with neutral EQ, and zero gain, then I suppose you could call it transparent. But let’s be realistic; I don’t know of any overdrive pedal that I’d use where I didn’t adjust the EQ to fit the gear I’m playing and also add varying levels of grit. With respect to the Soul Food, it may not be transparent, but WHO CARES? ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ll also say this: This pedal is the shit! I’ve never played a Klon, but if this pedal does anything near what the Klon does, then I’m not surprised why people are paying upwards of $1000 to $1500 for that pedal, but I’ll pay $62 all day! But that said, don’t mistake my enthusiasm for getting great tone for so cheap. I’m excited about the tone, period! If this pedal cost $200, I’d buy it for its wonderful sound.

I realize there are folks who say this sounds nothing like a Klon. I’ve viewed and listened to several demos head-to-head demos, and yes, there are differences; though I have to admit that the differences I observed were fairly subtle, at least recorded. But to me, based upon playing it for several hours over the last couple of days, I couldn’t care less how close or far away it is from a Klon. This pedal stands on its own as a great overdrive pedal.

EHX Is Classy

I mentioned this in my first impressions article, but EHX definitely went the extra mile with the Soul Food. Not only do you get the pedal, they include a 9V power supply as well! You might say ho-hum but to me it says a lot that a company would be willing to throw in some extra stuff for such an inexpensive pedal.

How It Sounds

In a word, awesome! I’m not excited about this pedal just because it cost me less than $70. That’s certainly something to be excited about. But to get the tone and performance that the Soul Food delivers at this price-point just blows me away. EHX has totally hit the ball out of the park with this pedal irrespective of it being a “klone.” Plain and simple, this is just a great overdrive pedal! Ancestry aside, the Soul Food stands on its own.

I’ve created some clips, but as opposed to saving the discussion till after, I’ll discuss it now. When I first hooked up the pedal, I did the usual thing I do with overdrives and set the volume to unity gain (about 10am), zeroed out the drive, and placed the treble boost at neutral (noon) – all through a totally clean amp. The first thing I noticed when I switched it on was how the Soul Food brought out subtle harmonics and overtones. My tone was also a little fatter, but with the high-frequency artifacts, also had a little more top-end sparkle. That alone was simply yummy to me and it got even sweeter when I upped the gain on my amp to the edge of breakup, then added a bit of treble boost and drive to the pedal.

When I found the sweet spot of the Soul Food, the skies parted and a chorus of angelic host sang out in joy. Not really. But lots of great things happened. What you get is more sustain, great touch-sensitivity, incredible response to both attack and volume knob changes, wonderful grind, all while maintaining note separation. One would think that with the extra sustain the tone would be muddy and feel squished, but not so with the Soul Food. Again, if this comes close to a Klon, I can see why that pedal is so highly coveted. There’s definitely some tonal magic that’s happening with the Soul Food.

When I first get overdrive pedals, I try to be as skeptical as possible about them. They have to prove to me that they’re worth the money I’ve spent or if they live up to the hype. Within the first few minutes of getting the pedal, the Soul Food proved definitely its worth, and then some. The cool thing though was that it wasn’t EHX that was creating the hype. It was bloggers such as myself who were testing it out and writing positive reviews of the pedal. It just simply kicks ass!

I realize that there are those who pooh-pooh the Soul Food as a cheap imitation. But as I said above, this pedal can stand on its own, regardless of its supposed ancestry. For me, I’ve never had the opportunity to play a Klon, so I really don’t know for certain what it can do. If it does what the Soul Food does, but just better. That’s awesome. But I’m absolutely digging what the Soul Food is doing for my tone right now!

Okay… Time for clips!

This first clip is very short and demonstrates the sustain you get when the pedal is switch on. I’m playing my 59 Les Paul replica with the “woman tone” (volume cranked, tone to zero).

This next two clips demonstrate the clarity and definition that the Soul Food provides when switched on, making your sound just come alive. I suppose you could say that this is a demo of what the Treble Boost can do. Here I’ve got it set at 2pm. My replica is in the middle pickup position, with both volumes at about 6, and tones all the way up.

Did I mention that the Soul Food is incredibly responsive? In this clip, I’m just noodling. I start out with little blues riff in E major with the pedal off, then I switch it on and go from a light touch to greater attack. The pedal responds beautifully!

Finally, here clips from First Impressions article (I’ve just taken the whole excerpt so I don’t have to re-explain everything). All clips below were played on R8 Les Paul:

Testing the Treble Boost, from 0 to all the up

In this one, I have the drive set to noon, and the volume set to unity, so all the grit is coming from the pedal. Not really my favorite setting. But apparently, it’s the same with the Klon. It was best used with predominant boost against an amp on the edge of breakup, then add gain to taste.

This next one is with the pedal in its sweet spot for my R8: Volume at 12, gain at around 10am, and EQ at about 2pm.

Finally, I did a quick lead in the lead break of a song I wrote.

Overall Impression

Notice I didn’t do a “Fit and Finish” section as I normally do. EHX pedals are very well-constructed. I’ve never had a problem with one dying on me because of structural issues. Frankly though, the Soul Food isn’t going to win any beauty contests. It’s just a Hammond box with a sticker placed on the top. But who cares? It’s job isn’t to look good; it’s to sound good, and it does that in spades!

I always say that I’m done with overdrive pedals. And to be honest, once I got my Timmy, it was pretty much game over. The Timmy is truly what I’d consider a transparent overdrive. The Soul Food isn’t all that transparent, but it will surely be a great addition to my board, and I’m hoping a great stacker (haven’t played with that yet).

I’ll say it one last time: The Soul Food stands on its own as a great overdrive pedal. I don’t bandy about 5 Tone Bone ratings. There’s a reason this got my highest score: It sounds so good that it’s gone directly to my board and staying there!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

DualRox

Aracom DRX Power Attenuator

Summary: Truly an evolution of the attenuator, Jeff Aragaki has once again upped the ante with the DRX attenuator. This dual-level attenuator not only will tame your volume, but it will give you the ability to use two different volume levels; and with the optional foot switches, will give you flexibility not offered by any other attenuator on the market. Furthermore, the adjustable reactance allows you to tame your tone on top of controlling your volume.

Pros: The Aracom attenuation technology is the most transparent that I’ve tested – and I’ve tested and used several over the years. Nothing comes close. But the dual-level attenuation (normal and boost modes) blows away the competition in my book. Then add variable reactance to the mix, and there’s nothing that can even touch what this attenuator can do.

Cons: Is a little on the pricey side, but the capabilities are worth it to me. I’m having one built.

Price: Starts at $850.00 direct

Features:

  • Dual-level attenuation
  • True bypass, minimum attenuation, variable (which goes all the way to load)
  • 5-position Variable Dynamic Control – varies the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, acting like a high-cut filter.
  • 3 optional foot switches (boost only, boost + channel switch, boost + A/B)
  • Weighs only 7 lbs.
  • Line out with level control
  • Will handle 4, 8 and 16 ohm

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ A few years ago, when Jeff first showed me his prototype attenuator mounted on a pine board, I never thought that

Jeff Aragaki is a genius. I knew it from the first moment I met him. I started out by first being blown away by his “more Marshall than Marshall” amps and now the proud owner of three of them to witnessing his attenuator technology go from a project box, demonstrating to me a way to throttle output volume that was unlike anything at the time (and still no one has been able to duplicate what he has done), to now three iterations of attenuators (Pro, DAG, and now the DRX). The DRX is by far his most incredible riff on his unique attenuation technology. And no, if you think you know how it works, you’d be wrong. I’m no expert, but I’m familiar with the basics of traditional attenuation (read: everyone else’s attenuators), and the Aracom technology is like nothing on the market.

As I mentioned above, the DRX (short for DualRox) attenuator takes that technology to a new level by offering two modes of operation: Normal and Boost; at least if you’re just using boost mode (Type A foot switch). It opens up more possibilities with the Type B and Type C foot switches which provide the capability to switch channels (Type B), or use an A/B (Type C), perfect for two-channel amps that don’t have channel switching. These features alone had me completely sold on the unit, and I had only originally tested it with the Type A foot switch! My test unit which Jeff lent to me for review included the Type B boost and channel switch (which I’ll demonstrate in a clip below). But irrespective of the type of switching, being able to boost my volume under attenuation just blew me away!!! Here’s a clip that demonstrates only switching between normal and boost modes:

From a performance standpoint however, having both the dual attenuation levels, plus the ability to switch channels is absolutely HUGE! For instance, I can go from clean to full-on overdrive with the click of the foot switch; much like engaging an overdrive pedal. But there’s no pedal involved. Without an attenuator, going from clean to dirty on the amp usually involves a huge jump in volume. But with the dual-level attenuation, I can set my cranked up volume to just a bit over the clean volume. Again, this is just having an overdrive pedal, but this time, it’s only my amp, so I don’t have to worry about dialing in another device’s EQ to get the right tone. Check this clip out:

I used my Aracom VRX22 for that, which is another Plexi clone but with 6V6 tubes. This amp is notable for its haunting clean tone, and monster overdrive, which comes from 1950’s NOS 6V6’s that I have biased a little hot. I also had it customized with channel switching, so it fit the bill for testing out the Type B foot switch. I just can’t wait to gig with this come Sunday! It’s gonna be fun!

But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the dual modes is a feature that no one else has, and that’s the Variable Dynamic Control. While it acts essentially as a subtle high-cut filter, it’s not an EQ. Instead, it changes the reactance between the attenuator and speaker. Fully right is full reactance, and as you move left to the leftmost position (there are 5 positions), the reactance is reduced, producing the effect of rolling off the highs. But it’s very subtle, and you can really only tell a difference between the most extreme settings. This is an incredible feature in that it allows you to dial in your tone; especially your cranked tone. For instance, my Aracom VRX18 (18-watt Plexi clone) produces lots of highs when cranked. They’re not entirely undesirable, but they do get piercing, especially at gig levels. So by slightly reducing the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, I can get rid of the super-super highs while retaining my fundamental tone. In a word: Killer. Here’s a clip that demonstrates the Variable Dynamic Control:

As I said, it’s subtle. The fundamental tone doesn’t change much, but going from extreme to extreme, you can tell when the highs roll off a bit.

For those who are familiar with the previous Aracom attenuators, one feature that set them apart was the ability to mix and match amps and cabs with different impedance settings. For instance, you could match an 8 ohm amp output with a 4 ohm cab. But that came at the price of a huge transformer that made those units weight 18 lbs. The DRX requires that both amp and cab impedance settings match. But that’s not really a loss at least for me because all my amplifiers have multiple output impedance jacks, so it’s really not a big deal. And for what I get in return from the DRX, that loss of flexibility is not a very high price to pay.

Overall Impression

When I first tested the prototype of this unit a couple of years ago, I actually thought that Jeff had changed the circuit technology. But in fact, he didn’t, which is a good thing because when you have this unit, you’re assured of getting the most advanced attenuation technology on the planet. Yeah, I’m raving about it because for the past few years, this technology has afforded me the flexibility to play in ANY venue, large and small, indoor or outdoor, and not ever have to sacrifice my tone; something I can’t say of other attenuators I’ve used and tested. I can crank up my amp as much as I need, confident that my tone hasn’t changed, but never having to worry about pissing someone off about my volume.

But on top of that, with the ability to have two levels of attenuation, plus the ability to dial in my highs, I couldn’t be happier, and I can hardly wait for Jeff to finish constructing my unit.

And yeah, as I mentioned above, it’s a bit on the pricey side. But how much is great tone worth? I’ve spent countless hours and thousands upon thousands of dollars on guitars, amps and pedals over the years – especially the last few years – and with each one, I justified my expense. The DRX is a tool that will let me ensure that I keep the tone that I’ve worked so hard to achieve. It may not make sense for the solo bedroom player, but for working musicians like myself, the DRX is an investment in my tone that I’m willing to make.

For more information, go to the Aracom DRX product page!

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HOF_REVERB

TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb

Summary: This is a super-versatile reverb that gives you tons of flexibility with reverb tones, whether you want to add a little “grease” or slather on the ‘verb thick and soupy.

Pros: 10 presets plus it’s TonePrint enabled to give you virtually limitless reverb sounds.

Cons: Can sound a bit monotonous between presets – very spring-reverby – but adjusting the decay and level fixes that easily.

Price: $149.00 Street

Features:

  • TonePrint Enabled
  • Short/Long Pre-delay toggle
  • 10 reverb types
  • Stereo in & out
  • True Bypass
  • Analog-Dry-Through
  • Decay, Tone and Level controls
  • Easy battery access
  • Small footprint
  • High-quality components
  • Road-ready design

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ Once I sat down with the pedal for a few hours in my studio, I fell in love with it! This is is a great reverb pedal that can provide lots of different reverb options if you’re willing to explore its capabilities. Believe me, it’s totally worth it!

I’ve been using my ToneCandy Spring Reverb for my solo acoustic gigs for the past couple of years. Hands down, there is no better spring reverb simulator pedal on the market. But one drawback of the pedal is that it is extremely sensitive to the power supply used with it. If it doesn’t like it, it’s noisy. Up until recently, I didn’t have a problem with its finicky behavior, as I had a power supply that worked just fine with it. But a couple of months ago, the OneSpot power supply that I was using with my acoustic board went on the fritz, and for some reason, the Spring Fever doesn’t like the new one, and the pedal would produce a very low-level, high-pitched buzz. I could filter it out a little bit with EQ and signal padding on my Fishman SoloAmp, but plugged into the restaurant’s board, the sound was noticeable.

Frustrated by that, I remembered that I had the Hall of Fame reverb in my box of toys. I had gotten it months ago from TC Electronic for review, and though I had written a “First Impressions” article on the Hall of Fame, I hadn’t gotten around to doing a formal review of the pedal. So the other day before my gig, I pulled it out, hooked it up and started tweaking knobs to really see what it could do. After about a half-hour of playing around with it, I was kicking myself for not putting it on my board sooner. Back in August of last year when I first got the pedal, I actually gigged with it a few times; both in my solo acoustic gig and my church band. But I had only used the “Hall” and “Spring” settings, which I did find to be superb. But my formal test revealed a certain character of the pedal that I hadn’t noticed before. It really took setting it up in my studio to discover its subtleties.

Fit and Finish

What can I say? TC gear is always rock-solid and gig ready, and the Hall of Fame is no exception. The footswitch is solid, and provides nice tactile feedback when activating or deactivating the pedal. The knobs sweep smoothly and the pots have good resistance. I do not like loose-feeling pots, it feels cheap. But that’s certainly not the case with the Hall of Fame reverb.

I dig the low-profile, small footprint enclosure. And while the pedal is light in weight, it just feel solid and well-constructed. Again, this is a trait of TC Electronic gear.

How It Sounds

I don’t do surf or real ambient stuff very often, so typically I like to use a reverb to add a little grease or provide a little expansiveness, and the Hall of Fame Reverb does this swimmingly well. I recorded some clips below. All clips were recorded with my Slash L Katie May plugged into the Hall of Fame, which in turn was plugged straight into my VHT Special 6 with a Jensen Jet Electric Lightning (even for a 10″ speaker, it produces a nice bottom end).

The first clip starts out with a dry, then moves from Room to Hall to Church. Level and Decay are both set at noon. This was a test to see how the reverb provides what I call “distance;” that is, just as in real life, as you move to a larger and larger room, the guitar moves further away, and the sound bouncing off the walls provides depth.

The next three clips are my favorites that I used in my last three gigs:

AMB – Level 100% Wet, Decay 3pm

This is by far my favorite setting for acoustic guitar plugged directly into a PA. As the name implies, “AMB” stands for ambient, and it is meant to simulate room ambiance, but not actual reverberation off the walls of a room. As such, it’s a very subtle reverb with an extremely quick decay. It adds just a touch of grease to smooth out the signal. Combined with my Yamaha APX900’s ART pre-amp system, I get a very natural sound. And unless I’m playing a song that requires a bigger room sound, the pedal is set to AMB for 95% of the songs I play.

Room – Level 10am, Decay 1pm

This next one is great with a chorus pedal set to real warm, then used for slower, finger-picked songs

Church – Level 2pm, Decay 10am

When I first started playing around with this setting, I didn’t like it much. I’ve never been much into cathedral settings. But slathering on the wetness level while shortening the decay, makes for a very useful super-ambient sound that I actually used for a few songs over the past few days. It works real well.

Overall Impression

This is definitely a keeper. I love that it is true bypass, so switching it on and off doesn’t produce an audible a signal pop. And owing to its pedigree, this is a great pedal that can easily find a home any board. Of course, as sort of a Swiss Army Knife type of reverb, it could never substitute a real spring or plate reverb or something like a ToneCandy SpringFever. But to add a bit of grease and providing different reverb sounds, the Hall of Fame reverb performs wonderfully and it does it at a price that’s very affordable, and that’s always a good thing!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Slash L Guitars
Summary: Yet another custom beauty from Perry Riggs, owner, and luthier of Slash L Guitars. This amazing through-neck guitar is not only aesthetically gorgeous, it’s capable of some incredible tones!

Pros: Lightweight (Perry lists at 8 lbs, but it feels even lighter). There’s a lot to be said about the through neck design. Tone comes from the neck and this laminated mahogany and maple neck creates both a jangly and lush tone, with sustain that’s on par with a Les Paul. I’m in heaven!

Cons: None. Absolutely none.Price: Call

Features:

  • Body: Quilted Soft Maple over Ribbon Sapele Mahogany
  • Neck: Grain-matched Flamed Hard Maple and Mahogany / Wide, Shallow “C” profile
  • Fretboard: Bound Honduran Rosewood / 24 frets – very nice
  • Nut: 1 11/16″ Bleached Bone Nut
  • Gotoh 510 hardware (my favorite – a wraparound bridge, and super-accurate tuners)
  • Lollar Imperial Pickups
  • Master Volume, Master Tone
  • 3-way pickup selector

Tone Bone Rating: Wow! Starting off the year with two 5.0 reviews! What can I say? I got pretty lucky! ๐Ÿ™‚ Perry Riggs is a guy who loves building guitars, and the workmanship and tone of his excellent instruments never cease to amaze me!

What comes out of Texas? Great barbecue beef (especially brisket), a fantastic music scene in Austin, and Slash L Guitars out of Richmond. Perry Riggs discovered my blog a couple of years ago and asked if I’d like to review one of his guitars. He was a luthier whom I had never heard of, and after having a nice phone conversation, I agreed to review “Lana.” If I was impressed by Lana, I am even more impressed with Katie May. It’s clear that in the couple of years since I reviewed Lana, Perry has honed his craft even more. Katie May is an incredibly expressive and sophisticated-sounding guitar, and I’ll just say it now: If I had the money on hand, I’d keep this guitar, and make it my numero uno! That’s how good this guitar is!

Fit and Finish

When you purchase a custom guitar, you’re not purchasing something that you’ll resell. After all, a custom guitar is a pretty personal thing. Perry usually builds on commission, but then he occasionally builds some for inventory, like Lana and Katie May. I have to say that Katie May feels as if she was made just for me. ๐Ÿ™‚ The neck is absolutely perfect, and dynamics and feel are EXACTLY how I like them.

The finish and workmanship that went into this guitar make it look like a piece of furniture! Everything about this guitar just screams organic. There’s a certain understated quality to this guitar that’s hard to describe, but it just looks “natural,” as if everything that should be on the guitar is on the guitar. There’s nothing extra, and there’s nothing missing. Check out some pictures:

The pictures don’t do the guitar justice. I wish I had more time to do a photo shoot of the guitar, but unfortunately, the demands of work precluded me from doing so. The quilted maple top is absolutely insane. I love how Perry used a simple stain then glossed it over with lacquer. I know, I’m really a burst kind of guy, but I’d use this on stage any day!

How It Sounds

The Lollar Imperials are absolutely incredible. They’re the perfect set for this guitar. Even though they’re just standard wound, they have a gain range that super-wide, and when dimed, they produce an absolutely velvety-smooth overdrive tone. When I gigged with the guitar over the weekend, when it came to leads,ย  I just closed my eyes and soaked up the wonderful tone of this guitar! Here are some clips (all recorded with an Aracom VRX18 in the drive channel cranked. The Lollars clean up fantastically!):

  • Middle-clean / Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi)

With this clip, I wanted to capture that simultaneous lushness and jangle that the guitar can produce. It’s best when in the middle position. When I gigged this weekend, I used the neck pickup with delay and spring reverb for a haunting, fingerstyle tone.

  • Neck-dirty

With that clip, I wanted to demonstrate the punch of the neck pickup, from which the guitar gets is super-lush, deep tones.

  • Bridge-dirty

This clip was all about “fun.” I used that song to demonstrate the “spank” of the neck pickup. It can create some searing lead tones, but with the volume backed off, will provide lots of snap.

  • Bridge clean and dirty

Remember I mentioned the spank of the bridge pickup? That’s most evident when playing a funky, clean riff. Combine that with an incredibly smooth and refined lead tone, and you’ve got a guitar that can create all sorts of tones!

By the way, my total rig for these demo clips was the guitar plugged directly into the Aracom VRX18 into an Aracom PRX150-Pro then out to my custom Aracom 1 X 12 cabinet with a Jensen Jet Falcon 12″ speaker. Amazingly enough, all clips were recorded at normal conversation levels. The PRX150 never ceases to amaze me! In any case, I miked the cabinet with a Sennheiser e609 instrument mic fed into a Presonus TUBEPre and into my audio interface. Everything was recorded using Logic on my Mac with no EQ or effects added, so what you hear is the raw guitar sound. I didn’t want to muddy the waters by running it through any effects.

Playability

Normally, it takes me awhile to get used to a guitar; especially a custom guitar. But Katie May was playable right out of the box. For me, the neck is absolutely perfect. It’s super-fast and the medium-jumbo frets just do not get in the way. They’re deep enough to provide some room for vibrato, but they’re low enough where they allow you to move around very easily. In fact, when I record the lead for the last clip, I actually had to take several takes because I kept on going too fast! That’s saying a lot for me because I’m not really a fast player.

Overall Impression

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way, Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. ๐Ÿ™‚

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. ๐Ÿ™‚

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. ๐Ÿ™‚

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