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Archive for the ‘GAS’ Category

tl_pedal_bagtl_boxWhen I first made contact with Circus Freak Effects in mid-December, I came away from the meeting with the feeling that these guys mean business. It wasn’t enough just to create great pedals, the whole presentation was important from the enclosure all the way to the packaging, then to top it off, the pricing had to be such that the products would be accessible to a wide range of players.

Having been in various startups over the course of my career as a software engineer, this approach is something that has always reverberated with me. In the last few years, I’ve been in one successful startup and am currently in one that I believe will also be quite successful. With either of those companies, it hasn’t just been about the technology, but the whole package. The overshadowing philosophy is simple: Not only does our product have to be good, it has to look good and be priced competitively as well.

The guys at Circus Freak get that. When I opened the shipping box yesterday and remove wrapping from the Tatooed Lady box, I was blown away by the quality of the packaging. Sliding the cover off the box revealed a velvet-like bag that contained the pedal itself. Taking the pedal out of the bag, I was greeted by an enclosure the likes of which I’d never seen before. This wasn’t your typical Hammond pedal enclosure. This was a fully custom enclosure with a bottom that is obviously meant for something other than just sitting on a standard pedal board (in fact, Circus Freak is working on a board for mounting their pedals). tl_bottomFinally, included in the box was a small Ziploc bag with rubber strips for the bottom and a special Allen wrench-like tool for opening the enclosure (all Circus Freak effects will be tweakable). The point to all this is that the attention to detail that has gone in to every aspect of delivering a product to the customer is evident. Circus Freak means business, and they’re not going to settle on being a pedal company that looks as if it’s run in the garage of one of the guys’ houses. Here’s the kicker: The Tatooed Lady Overdrive is only $149! The packaging alone implies a much higher value, but to have it at that low price point makes it immediately attractive!

But of course, we’re talking about an effect pedal so not only does it have to deliver on appearance, it has to sound good as well. On that front, all I can say is, “WOW!”

That kind of reaction doesn’t happen to me very often. It’s actually unusual that I dig a pedal’s tone when I have everything set to 12 o’clock, but I totally dug this tone. For me, the first thing that I look for in an overdrive pedal is that my sound should “feel” bigger; that it’s my same tone, just more of it, and not necessarily volume. That’s what the Tatooed Lady does; it gives you more of your tone. But that “bigger” feeling is also attributed to what’s obviously a bit of compression being added to the signal. In some overdrives, the compression isn’t quite as evident. But with this pedal, it’s pretty obvious. But that is not at all a bad thing as my fundamental tone doesn’t change with the pedal.

For my initial audition, I plugged the pedal straight into my VHT Special 6. I was in my living room, so I didn’t really need much volume. But the VHT also has a lot of clean headroom on top of using a 10″ Jensen Jet Electric Lightning which gives the amp a lot of bottom end; making it sound A LOT bigger than its 6 Watts would suggest. The clean headroom would let me test the pedal’s drive on its own, and not rely on amp breakup. After playing around with it like that, this pedal could easily stand on its own as a clipping device!

In the time that I spent with it this morning, I found that I loved using the pedal purely as a breakup device. I set the volume at just past unity, cranked up the Gain knob on the pedal almost all the way, then set the Bass and Treble knobs to about 11 am and 1 pm respectively. At that setting, I could get this gorgeous, searing, but open overdrive with my guitar volume dimed, but I could also back off the volume on my guitar and the pedal would “calm down.” The dynamics are incredible, though I would fall short of calling them tube-amp-like dynamics. Suffice it to say that the pedal is very responsive to attack and volume knob adjustments.

The pedal also has some awesome sustain. I was absolutely digging playing long notes because the sustain of the pedal ensured that I’d get lots of overtones and subtle harmonics. Playing those long sustained notes what driving my little dog nuts as she started to howl whenever I played a high, bent note. ๐Ÿ™‚

In my initial conversation with the Circus Freak guys, one thing that they kept on telling me was that they wanted to make sure that their pedals had LOTS of volume. They weren’t kidding. This pedal has lots of volume on tap, so whether you want to use the pedal as a standalone clipping device at unity volume, or use it as a booster to slam the front end of your amp, you have that choice. With the volume that this pedal is capable of, you can really get your pre-amp saturated quickly.

On a final note, I was very impressed with how quiet the pedal was when engaged; no line noise whatsoever, which made me think right away that I will probably be using this pedal for recording in my upcoming session.

Initial verdict? I love everything about this pedal so far: The way it looks and the way it sounds. I’ll be using it at my church gig this afternoon, so I’ll be writing up a gig report on it later. I’m so excited to try this out in a real live situation!

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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!

Wegen "The Fatone"

Click to enlarge

Wegen’s Picks – The Fatone (Fat Tone)

Summary: This is now my new favorite pick! I had misplaced my Wegen GP 250 and wanted to get another GP 250. The store that I bought the last one at was out of GP 250’s so I dug in the Wegen pick box and found this beauty! The grip is awesome!

Pros: Beefy (5mm) pick that is amazingly accurate despite its thickness. Despite its thickness, this is tonally versatile pick!

Cons: Though it doesn’t take anything away from the rating, my only nit about my pick is that it’s black. Black gets lost easily on a dark stage. But Wegen makes them in white, so I’ll probably order a few of the white ones.

Price: $15.00 ea

Specs:

  • 5 millimeters thick
  • Hand-made
  • Perfect bevel that makes your strings really ring!
  • Don’t know the material, but it’s a VERY hard plastic that does not scratch. You will never need to buff or resharpen Wegen picks!

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 ~ Though I still love my V-Picks Snake (pointed), this pick is now my primary. It’s the perfect pick!

I’ve been searching for the perfect fat pick for a long time; or perhaps I should say that I’ve been looking for a pick that I could use for both acoustic and electric, but I never could. So I used a V-Picks Snake for electric and a Wegen GP 250 and a Red Bear Gypsy Jazz for acoustic. But all that changed when I got the Wegen “The Fatone.”

Admittedly, I discovered this pick not because I was looking to add to my collection of picks, but because I lost my GP 250, which had served me well for the last couple of years. I simply wanted to replace it. Unfortunately – or fortunately – the shop that I bought my GP 250 at was all out of them. So I looked through the case to see if I could find an alternate. That alternate was the Fatone. I knew from the first moment I held it that I was onto something with that pick. Then when I strummed it on a guitar in the shop, I was completely sold! Playing it at my solo acoustic gig an hour after that sealed the deal for me. I’ll be hard-pressed to use another pick.

This is a FAT pick at 5mm. But the inset, thumb-side grip, combined with the beveled tip make this pick feel so much thinner. It’s truly a joy to play.

What is it about fat picks for me? Well, having used them for a few years now, the most significant effect they’ve had on my playing besides tone is how they make my right hand relax. The way that works is that in order to make the pick glide over the strings effectively you have to hold the pick a lot looser in your fingers. That looser grip affects the whole hand. Granted, it took a little while to get used to, but once I was comfortable with a fat pick, going back to my old nylon picks seemed absolutely foreign to me. But relaxation made my playing much more fluid, and I was actually able to play a lot faster because my hand was so relaxed. In any case, I’m hooked on fat picks, and I’ll never go back to conventional picks.

Now I know that I normally do a “How It Sounds” section, but I’m actually on the road right now, writing while my son is driving the car (I’m taking him to college). But also, I don’t know how useful that section would be in this case. All I can say is that the fat pick produces a big sound, but in the case of the Fatone, because of the nice pointy bevel, it produces a nice, bright ring in addition to the deeper tone. It’s a bit hard to describe. It “feels” so much more full than other picks. For instance, though I love the sound my V-Picks Snake makes, it’s definitely a lot more mid-rangy than the Fatone.

One thing that is significant about the Wegen pick material is that it has a texture that feels softer than tortoise, but it’s actually a VERY hard material. The cool thing is that it’s a lot more damp on the strings than either acrylic or tortoise (or natural material). But it doesn’t produce a damper sound. It’s a feel thing. ๐Ÿ™‚ In any case, I’m hooked on this pick. Also, tonally, this is a VERY versatile pick. By simply changing the angle and depth of attack, I can get thick, warm tones to nice bright tones. That’s extremely cool!

Overall Impression

As I mentioned above, I now have a new favorite pick. Not sure what else I can say about it. I won’t be getting rid of this one any time soon!

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Ovation 2006 Collector’s 2006-FKOA

Summary: One of Ovation’s popular collector’s series, the 2006-FKOA sports a solid Koa top over a deep contour body. Unlike other Ovations that can have bright, “tinny” tone, this guitar has a much deeper voice, but has that signature Ovation projection.

Pros: VIP (Virtual Image Processing) pre-amp with 5 different microphone images is the bomb! The Koa top is absolutely beautiful and adds so much warmth to the natural tone of the guitar.

Cons: Using an image is an absolute must for plugging in. The raw preamp sounds pretty bad.

Price: $1000 – $1500 (if you can find one for sale)

Features:

  • Deep contour body
  • Solid figured koa top
  • LX scalloped bracing
  • 25 3/4″ scale length
  • Deluxe grade ebony fretboard
  • Ebony bridge
  • Inlaid flame maple epaulet
  • Tortoise shell-like bracing on the body

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ What a fantastic guitar! I’m borrowing this guitar from a friend for my recording sessions. It has an absolutely killer tone! I don’t like the raw pre-amp tone (as you’ll see below), but the various microphone images completely compensate for that.

Well, it’s back to the studio again, but this time instead of my “man cave” home studio, I’m in a real studio. I borrowed this guitar from a buddy of mine who’s also playing in the sessions. He’s playing his Collings Dreadnought which has a completely different sound, so I figured that this would be a good contrast and I asked him bring to the Ovation along to the sessions. He’s letting me borrow it until we’re done with the project, so I’m going to have lots of time with this guitar.

We’re mostly recording the natural tone of the guitar with a couple different mics, but we’re also plugging in for an even richer sound. Thank heaven this guitar has the VIP pre-amp system because I’d be trashing the plugged in track. The sound that it produces is the classic twangy, honky, lifeless sound that you’d expect out of a cheap pickup system. My Yamaha APX900’s plugged in tone beats this guitar hands-down! Well, that is a testament to how good Yamaha pickup technology is… But I have to say that with the VIP system, Ovation did real good.

Fit and Finish

Talk about an easy guitar to play! Well, I’ve played a couple of Ovations over the years, and I’ve always loved the necks on Ovations. They’re immediately comfortable to me, and I felt right at home playing this guitar. My previous guitar before my Yamaha APX900, was an Ovation thin-body, and the neck on that was very similar to this one, though if memory serves, the 2006-FKOA’s neck is just a tad beefier, but I like that because it’s like my Les Paul R8, so I have a tactile cue to work with.

This is also a gorgeous guitar. I love the figured Koa top, and the flame maple epaulet adds a nice touch to the overall appearance of the guitar. The deep contour body is actually quite comfortable. I was a bit concerned that it might be a bit wide (especially with my extra girth around the middle), but it works even with a big boy like me. I also gigged with it today, and it was absolutely comfortable.

As expected, the build quality is superb. I haven’t played or evaluated an Ovation guitar that wasn’t rock-solid in build quality. There are no uneven seems, no extra lacquer bumps. It’s clean and tight, and that’s always a good thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

How It Sounds

The VIP-5 sports 5 different mic images. As Ovation explains it:

…the VIP-5 preamp replicates the sound of high-end microphones used in professional recording studios. Using spectrographic analysis, the VIP-5 compares a guitarโ€™s saddle pickup output to stored audio โ€œimagesโ€ of a guitar recorded with a studio condenser microphone. The pickup signal is then processed using approximately 1,000 filters and shaped to match the recorded sound image…

The question you might have is “But does it work?” I can emphatically say yes; and it works quite well. Compared to the raw pre-amp with no filtering (which you get by turning down the Image mix all the way), it’s like night and day, and the tone sounds like a guitar being mic’d. Ovation doesn’t specify which high-end studio condenser mics they modeled, but it doesn’t matter. You pick the one you like and go with it.

I’ve got some sample clips to share with you. All of the clips are with the guitar plugged directly into my pre-amp going into my DAW. I’ve got all filtering and compression and EQ turned off in Logic, so what you’ll be hearing is the direct sound. I recorded the individual images with the image mix cranked all the way up.

Reference Tone (raw, image mix turned all the way off)

Image Setting 1

Image Setting 2

Image Setting 3

Image Setting 4

Image Setting 5

The images completely transform the plugged in tone. The reference track was quacky and honky. Blech! But with the images, it’s a completely different animal. I love it! I used Image Settings 3 and 4 in my sessions this weekend. They seemed to fit well with the songs I was recording. And I think that that is the point of the images, and that is to choose an image that works with your rig. I’m going to gig with this in my solo acoustic gig. Who knows what will work with my SA-220 SoloAmp? I’ll just have to find out…

I also recorded a couple of clips with the guitar miked as well to give you an idea of the natural sound the guitar makes:

Comparison Clip to Clips Above

The mic was placed about a foot away from the guitar to allow its tones to develop.

Fingerstyle Clip

This is definitely where this guitar absolutely shines. The natural brightness of the Ovation is offset by the deep contour body which produces a gorgeous scooped tone that really comes out when playing fingerstyle.

Overall Impression

I’m thoroughly impressed with this guitar. Thought I was done with Ovations, but this is one that I have to have eventually. They’re pretty rare, but from what I can tell, people have been selling them for pretty affordable prices; far less than the original $3k+ street price.

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TC Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX

Summary: Great vocal processing PLUS great guitar processing all in one convenient box.

Pros: Superb vocal processing giving the singer powerful processing tools and very natural harmony voices. Guitar processing is top-notch. Output is super-quiet with no line noise whatsoever.

Cons: With such excellent sound quality, my only con is that there aren’t more harmony voices. Though of lower quality, the DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 has four voices of harmony, which opens up lots of possibilities. But note that this is just a nit, and definitely not a deal-breaker for me.

Price: $349.00 Street

Features:

  • 200+ song & artist inspired presets for vocals & guitar
  • Dedicated guitar effects processing from TC Electronic. No amp required
  • Key for harmonies and pitch correction set automatically from guitar input
  • Plug in your MP3 player to the AUX input and sing along using Vocal Cancel feature
  • Built like a tank
  • Fine control over parameters for both voice and guitar
  • Output: Stereo, Mono, Dual Mono

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ Used this unit all weekend long, and despite my minor misgivings about having only two harmony voices max, the sound quality of this unit beats the crap out of my DigiTech Vocalist Live 4.

I’m tired. Three gigs in three days, and some coin in my pocket, and I’m a pretty happy man as well. But I didn’t realize I was as tired as I was until I sat down for a little dinner and started writing this article. Part of me not noticing my exhaustion is due to the inspiration I got from using the fantastic TC Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX. It’s amazing what good sound quality can do for sparking inspiration. For the first time in the hundreds of solo gigs I’ve done over the years, I was completely satisfied with my sound.

Guitar-wise, I was already covered, but vocally, I always knew my rig was lacking. But it was usually good enough, and I knew that the real solution was to simply add some other gear like adding a side-chain to my PA and insert vocal processing units. But being a solo artist, the thought of lugging more gear around just didn’t appeal to me, so I did my best with what I’ve had for several years, hoping that someday I could get a unit that had all the vocal processing I needed in a box. That someday arrived on my doorstep last Wednesday.

I didn’t get a chance to start playing with it until last Thursday night, and I spent a couple of hours dialing in a few presets that I would use for my gig on Friday. And after my gig, though I knew I had to make a couple of tweaks to the presets, I was completely sold on the unit. One of the servers at the restaurant that I work at on Fridays is also a professional singer, and she commented that my sound was “different” than usual. When I queried what she meant by that, she said, “It sounds so much better. So clear and present. It’s gorgeous.” That was all the affirmation I needed!

The first thing I noticed when I started my gig was the three-dimensional quality to my sound. I use a Fishman SA200 SoloAmp as my PA and acoustic guitar amp. It’s a six-speaker array that has great sound dispersal. But Friday night was the first time I felt that it was being used to its full effect. As I mentioned, there was a three-dimensional quality to my sound. I didn’t have to even turn up very loud. The sound was being dispersed as it should be. I think a lot of that had to do with the compressor in the unit. With effective compression, the “tighter” sound seems to project much more, and that is exactly what was happening as my signal issued from the SoloAmp. I didn’t even have a lot of compression dialed in; only 2.7 to 1, which is pretty light, but it was enough to squeeze my sound just enough to make my sound much more full and rich.

Fit and Finish

The VoiceLive Play GTX is a really small unit, measuring about 8″ X 6″ X 2.” It’s uncanny how much power this unit packs with such a diminutive footprint. But I absolutely DIG that it’s so small because it fits in my cord bag! This means that unlike my DigiTech Vocalist Live4, I don’t need a separate gig bag to transport it! On top of that, the metal housing is absolutely rugged, so this unit is totally gig-worthy, and for the amount of gigs that I do per year – I do over 100 gigs a year – I have no doubt that the unit will stand the test of time and the rigors of gigging.

The switches are top quality, and they’re extremely smooth; maybe a bit too smooth. I wish that the toggles had just a little snap. The problem that I have with smooth switches is that it’s easy to press the switch and not know that you’re pressing it. I had a similar issue with my previous unit. But I can understand the reasoning behind it in that in a quiet environment, a the click of a toggle might be a bit distracting.

The LCD screen is very easy to read, though as with any LCD, it can be a bit difficult to read in direct sunlight.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Presets

One thing the manufacturers tout with their vocal processing units – and TC Helicon is no exception – is the number of “artist-inspired” presets. My DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 had 50 factory presets and 50 user presets, which were essentially copies of the factory presets but were editable. To me, that was fine because it gave me enough examples to use a reference points for editing. The VoiceLive has 235 presets, and the demonstrators do a great job of showing what the presets can do. But frankly, I don’t give a crap about the presets. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I’ve got great amps and I know what I want out of them. The amp models in the VoiceLive are actually quite good, but I personally would never use them. Same goes for guitar effects. There are some very nice guitar effects in the unit, but I have some incredible pedals like my Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay that simply kick ass over onboard effects.

As far as the vocal settings are concerned, being experienced at recording, every singer requires different settings to optimize the qualities of their voice. For instance, I’m a second tenor/baritone, so while I can sing fairly high notes, my tonal color is darker than a full tenor. From a mixing standpoint, I almost always have to have the lows rolled off slightly and require less compression. Presets rarely, if ever, work for me because they’re set for an average. So given all of that, I end up editing a few presets, and use just those in my performances. Such was the case with the VoiceLive Play.

Ease of Use

From my perspective, ease of parameter editing is the “secret sauce” of the VoiceLive Play GTX. TC Helicon must be so confident of this that the only documentation they include in the box is a connection diagram. The user manual and preset list can be downloaded from the TC Helicon site, but for basic setup, you don’t need a manual. The only thing I used the manual for was finding out how to get to the fine controls for the effects, and that just takes pressing the Effects “soft” button twice. Other than that, the editing interface is easy. The LCD screen layout is below:

To access an editing screen, you simply press one of the six buttons, called “soft buttons” on either side of the screen. That will bring up the screen associated with the soft key. Most screens have multiple pages which you can scroll through using the arrow keys. Parameters are adjusted with the control knob in the center. Once in a parameter editing screen, you enter edit mode for the parameter by pressing the soft key next to the parameter. Parameters show up as labeled rectangles on either side of the screen. What absolutely cool though is that the soft keys will light for only the parameters you can edit, providing a great visual cue that indicates what’s editable and what’s not.

Sound Quality

As if making it incredibly easy to set up and dial in, the sound quality of the unit incredible! I already described the three-dimensional nature of the sound, but on top of that, there are no errant artifacts or line noise that issue from the unit. It’s dead quiet. But to protect against that, the unit also has a little ground lift switch on the back to protect from ground loops or differing ground references in power sources. Here are a few example clips I recorded direct into my DAW:

Eagles: Peaceful Easy Feelin’

Beatles: In My Life

James Taylor: You’ve Got a Friend

If you do hear any noise, it’s from my microphone pickup ambient noise, but there is no line noise whatsoever. Note that in all the clips, it is the raw sound of the unit. No processing occurred in my production software at all. In the last clip, I noticed that it sounded a little processed. That was fixed at my gig on Friday by removing the chorus effect on the vocals.

I’ve evaluated several vocal processing units, and occasionally sounding like chipmunks with the high harmonies is unavoidable, but I found that the VoiceLive does a much better job of blending vocals than other units I’ve used in the past and generally has a much more natural sound to the harmony voices.

Overall Impression

Save for only have two harmony voices, which I also said wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, this unit ROCKS THE HOUSE! I’m simply blown away by sound quality, but also from the fine control over all aspects of the presets. This unit is going to go on my list of game changers for sure!

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TC Electronic MojoMojo OverdriveSummary: This is a no-frills dirt pedal, and that’s a good thing. With toggle-switchable voicing and very responsive EQ controls, dialing in the pedal to work with your amp is a cinch! This overdrive will add an ever-so-slight dark coloring to your tone when active, but that’s a good thing as well.

Pros: Amp-like dynamic response. Works great as a dirt enhancer, and was obviously made for stacking. Nice, open distortion, and sags nicely at higher gain settings with minimal compression.

Cons: Can sound a bit compressed and mushy if EQ is not dialed in correctly, and finding the sweet spot can take a bit of time.

Price: $129.00 Street

Features:

  • Active Bass and Treble EQ controls
  • Drive and Level controls
  • Voice Toggle (up = flat response, down = slight treble boost for thicker-sounding guitars)
  • True Bypass

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ Yet another winner from the TC Electronic compact pedal line! As sort of a “mainstream” kind of overdrive, I really didn’t want to like this pedal. But after I got it dialed in with my amp and guitar, I found that I REALLY like this pedal!

Maintaining my objectivity is the hallmark of this blog. And when manufacturers send me gear, I am extremely careful to be honest with my reviews; not just in my writing but also honest with my tests; always doing my best to give the gear a fair shot. I want to exhaust all possibilities before I render a verdict – especially if I don’t like something, though that is certainly not the case with the TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive. As I mentioned above, I REALLY like this pedal and am impressed with it for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:

  • First off, this pedal is absolutely no-frills. One of the slogans that TC Electronic has used in the past is “No frills with a sound that kills.” That’s a very apt description of the MojoMojo. With this pedal, you set the voicing and EQ to match your guitar and amp, then set the level and drive where you want, and well… play.
  • Also, unlike a high-end overdrive like the Keeley Luna Overdrive that I recently reviewed that employs a fairly sophisticated Baxandall EQ that can drastically affect the voicing of the pedal to produce different overdrive sounds, the MojoMojo produces one type of overdrive. Once you dial in the EQ, you just adjust the drive and level to how much you need at a particular time.
  • I found that treating the pedal as if it was another gain stage in front of my amp worked best, as the pedal was designed explicitly to act with tube amp-like dynamics. Like high-end pedals, it’s super-responsive to pick attack and volume knob adjustments just like you’d expect with a tube amp. Very nice.
  • Though relatively inexpensive compared to other TC Electronic pedals – it’s $100 less than the Nova Drive – the quality that obviously went into the pedal from both a tonal and mechanical perspective is apparent. Tone-wise, the overdrive is open and smooth, with great note separation. Physically, the pedal is simply very well made. The knobs move smoothly but with good tension, and the on/off switch seems rock-solid. This is the type of quality that I’ve come to expect out of TC products.

I’ve known about this pedal for over year, and have read feedback on forums. From what I was able to gather, it’s a split-decision with how people feel about this. The people who like it, love it; there wasn’t much negative feedback that I found, but more tepid responses along the lines of “I couldn’t dial in a good sound with this pedal.” That actually puzzled me because even though I recorded playing through my DV Mark Little 40, I tested the pedal with four different amps and was able to get a great sound out of all of them.

What I came to realize is that more than any other pedal I’ve tested and reviewed, overdrive pedals are the most challenging to get to work in a rig. Dialing in EQ is usually pretty easy for meย  (there are exceptions, like the Keeley’s Baxandall tone stack that took me awhile to dial in because that was unfamiliar territory, EQ-wise). Where overdrives are challenging is balancing the distortion and level gain to fit with the amp. This is where I take a lot of time because I have to make a decision: Where do I want the distortion to come from? With some pedals, it’s better to get most or even all of the distortion from the pedal, with level set to unity gain. With others, I might want just a touch of distortion from the pedal, and add more level gain so that my pre-amp tubes do most of the work. Still, with others both amp and pedal may share equal duty.

With each different amp I tried the pedal with this evening, I had to go through the process of finding where I wanted the distortion to come from. With my DV Mark Little 40 (with 6L6’s), I found the best result was to let the pedal do a lot of the heavy lifting, and I set the level to just past unity gain so I could get a little volume boost, plus push my pre-amp tubes just over the edge to slightly break them up. Then I could vary the amount of drive to my heart’s content. On the other hand, with my Aracom VRX22, it was a more balanced affair, with the amp and pedal taking equal responsibility for the overdrive.

I think this is where a lot of people who didn’t really like the pedal – many claiming the tones to be too thick and harsh – may have strayed a bit in their evaluations. Quite simply, dialing in overdrive takes time because not only are you dealing with a clipping section, you’re also dealing with level gain. Add getting EQ dialed in, and it can get a bit hairy. Looking back, I’ve perhaps panned a lot of overdrives simply because I didn’t take enough time.

As for the MojoMojo, getting the pedal dialed in took less than a 1/2 hour. At first, I had everything at noon, but at that setting with my Les Paul and my DV Mark that outputs into a speaker that has a pretty big bottom end, the tone was a little muffled. Thank goodness for the voicing switch on the pedal. That cleared things up a bit almost immediately, then rolling off the Bass to about 11 o’clock and boosting up the Treble to about 2 o’clock added all sorts of clarity. With the EQ set, I was able to vary the Drive and Level, and maintain clarity, no matter where I set those controls.

How It Sounds

To me, the MojoMojo sounds killer. It’s mostly transparent, but it does have a bit of a darker color to it. There’s lots of midrange on tap, but apparently TC Electronic designed the pedal to retain lows. What has really sold me on the pedal though is its amp-like dynamics, which are superb. Here are some clips that I did:

The first clip, I wanted to demonstrate the response to volume knob adjustments. The first part is my amp with my Les Paul in the middle position with both volume knobs at 5. In the second part, I switch on the pedal, and you can hear how well the pedal’s breakup blends with the amp breakup. In the final part, I do a simple lead line with the pedal engaged, then crank up my bridge pickup. The pedal really responds!

In the next clip, I cover more dynamics; basically following the same pattern as the first: Amp only, guitar volumes at 5, then pedal enaged, then bridge pickup cranked:

The thing that’s very noticeable in the clips above is that the pedal loves a lot of input gain, and like a tube amp, with more input gain, reveals more sonic content in the form of harmonics and overtones. By the way, the pedal was set in both clips with Level at just above unity, and Drive at about 2 o’clock.

Finally, I thought that I’d try it out within the context of an actual song. In this clip, it’s the bridge section from a song that’s going to be on my next album that’s actually played underneath the vocals, which I muted here. For this, I had the Level at about 3 o’clock and the Drive at 11 o’clock, which slams the front end of my amp, plus adds a healthy amount of distortion. The result is a very touch-sensitve, singing overdrive distortion.

The original track is actually a bit on the brighter side. But what I love about this particular track is the darkness of the tone. I feels so much richer, and though there’s a LOT of gain with the combination of the pedal and amp overdriving, there is a distinct smoothness to the tone. To me, it’s very magical.

Overall Impression

It shouldn’t be too hard to deduce that I dig this pedal! I’m a huge fan of open-sounding overdrives, of which the MojoMojo produces. But that slight darkness is absolutely killer! I think this is a pedal that I intend to keep for awhile. Can’t wait to bring it to a gig!

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Keeley Luna Overdrive

Summary: Two-and-a-half years in the making and combining what Robert Keeley feels are the best in overdrive pedals, tube amps, and tone stacks. The Luna overdrive is the result. This pedal covers a wide range of overdrive possibilities, from light grit to fuzz-like, square-wave distortion.

Pros: The Baxandall tone stack is KILLER and totally sells me on the pedal. On top of that though, the pedal reacts to attack and guitar volume adjustments just like a tube amp, so you’ll be right at home.

Cons: It’s pricey for one, and the tight interplay between the EQ, Drive and Master controls makes it difficult to dial in just the right amount of overdrive. But these aren’t big enough cons to give it a lower score.

Features:

  • Hand-made in the USA
  • Op-amp clipping and JFET gain stages
  • Baxandall tone stack
  • Drive and Master controls
  • Classic and Modded overdrive modes

Price: ~$219 Street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ This is a great pedal. I’d give it a 5 on tone alone, but I knocked off just a bit for making it difficult to get a decent tone out of my amp. I suppose that’s part of the fun in playing around and discovering what a pedal can do, but I have to be fair. It got a little frustrating as the Drive knob is pretty sensitive.

After my beloved Timmy pedal, I thought I was done with overdrive pedals! ๐Ÿ™‚ I should know better because I’ve been a slut for overdrive pedals, and I guess there’s really no cure for that. Playing around with the Keeley Luna Overdrive has been a joy, though I will admit I did briefly get frustrated while trying to dial in the pedal. It simply took a bit of time to get used to the active Baxandall EQ. Unlike other EQ’s, it’s not a cut type of EQ, where the EQ knobs turned all the way up give you flat response. With a Baxandall EQ, the 12 o’clock position is flat response. Turn up an EQ knob and you get a boost, turn it down, and you get a cut. But the midrange is left alone. That means that if you turn both knobs fully counter-clockwise, you get a midrange hump; fully clockwise, and you get a scooped tone.

This is a totally different animal from other EQ’s, and it takes awhile getting used to. However, despite the learning curve, this type of EQ provides a much better way of dialing in your tone to fit your guitar, amp, and cabinet. For instance, for my test, I played the pedal in front of my DV Mark Little 40, which goes out to a 1 X 12 cabinet that has a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker, which has a pretty big bottom end. Putting the pedal in flat response made my tone sound really muffled because of the lows (I had my amp’s EQ completely flat). But after playing around, I found that placing the bass at 11 o’clock and the treble at 1 o’clock brightened up the tone just the right amount, then it was all about getting the Master and Drive knobs set.

About the Drive knob… it’s super-sensitive, and you’ll start getting breakup as soon as you start turning the knob clockwise from its minimum position, which is about 7-8 o’clock. I found that the sweet spot for me was the Drive just past 9 o’clock and the Master set between 2 and 3 o’clock. With my amp set at just the edge of breakup, the boost from the Master got the tubes overdriving, and the combination of distortion from both the pedal and the amp was quite pleasing to my ears.

How It Sounds

In my First Impressions article that I wrote earlier today, I said that the pedal adds some color. I’m going to retract that now because depending upon where you set the EQ’s, you can have a transparent tone, or add as much color as you want. I like to err on the side of transparency with most overdrives, and when it came down to it, this pedal was no different. I originally had a nice treble boost, but when I did some test recordings, found that I didn’t like how I had set the EQ’s because of the color. Here are a couple of test clips. Note that both of these were done in the Classic mode, and I was using my Gibson Les Paul ’58 Historic Reissue.

In the first clip, I do a quick clean rhythm riff with an almost imperceptible grit, then do the same riff with the pedal to add some dirt.

With the next clip, I decided to do a dark rhythm track then play a lead alongside it. In both rhythm and lead, the pedal was set the same way, and I vary the amount of overdrive simply by adding more guitar volume or hitting my strings harder. This clip was made purely to demonstrate the pedal’s dynamic response. I also added just a touch of reverb to grease the sound a bit,.

I absolutely love the tone of the lead track. I started out with my LP in the middle position, with the neck pickup at 5 and the bridge pickup at 6. Then when I started driving it harder, I switched to the bridge pickup entirely and dimed it. From there I just closed my eyes. The sonic content that the pedal produces is amazing. There are lots of little harmonics and overtones in the signal, and the note separation is awesome. The note separation takes a little getting used to as well. But this is a good thing because this pedal does not produce mush – even at high gain settings.

In this third clip, I just do a few seconds of a Journey riff. here the tone is scooped with both the EQ knobs at about 2 pm, the Master cranked wide open and the Drive at about 10 o’oclock. Unfortunately, my mic didn’t pick up all the little harmonics and overtones, but the point to this one was that even pushing my amp hard, and with much more gain, the note separation is still maintained.

I know, I only have a couple of clips, but admittedly, I’m still playing around with the pedal. I want to try it front of one my Plexi-style amps to see how it performs.

I did take it through its paces with the Modded mode, and that mode with my amp just past the edge of breakup created some real aggressive overdrive; not over the top, but I have to play around more with this mode and cranking up the gain to experience the upper limits of the pedal.

Overall Impression

As I said above, this is a great pedal. It’s a little steep in price at $219; Keeley pedals have never come cheap. But that said, I’d totally add this to my board to stack with my Timmy (hmm… going to have to try that out). It has been a long time since I’ve been jazzed about an overdrive, and I’m really jazzed about this one.

Interestingly enough, besides a few video reviews out there (that do nothing but blues licks), and one that I saw done by Musicians Friend staff member, there’s not much in the way of reviews, which is surprising. Some of the feedback I saw on a couple of forums said it didn’t work well with people’s amps. I think that has more to do with not playing around with the pedal enough. That Baxandall EQ takes some getting used to, but once you “get it,” this pedal rocks!

For more information, visit Keeley Luna Overdrive product page!

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Sebago Sound PrototypeSummary: I don’t know what an original Steel String Singer sounds like, but if Sebago’s take on that amp is any indication, we have a winner here! This is an incredibly versatile amp that can fit any genre of music. This is my next amp.Pros: Versatility is the key with this amp. The notch High and Low notch filters let you dial in your tone to fit the genre or help fine tune the amp to your guitar.

Cons: None. But not a 5.0? I’ll explain below…

  • 100-150 Watts (150 with 6550’s) from 4 power tubes
  • Reverb “loop” with send and receive knobs (send is signal gain into tank, receive is similar to mix)
  • Single input with switchable FET circuit
  • Gain control
  • Three-band EQ
  • Bright, Mid, Rock/Jazz mini toggles
  • Master control
  • Presence control
  • Individual High and Low notch filter knobs.
  • Power and Standby switches

Price: TBD, but will probably be somewhere between $2500 and $3000

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ The only reason I took off a quarter point is because the reverb receive circuit was a bit noisy. I was able to dial back the hum by upping the send gain and dialing down the receive signal, but this is a prototype, so it’s understandable that there would be some tiny issues, and believe me, this is tiny.

 

My First Impressions article pretty much said everything that I had to say about this amp. My opinion hasn’t changed. This is an absolutely SUPERB amp that has me GAS-ing VERY BADLY. And after playing with this amp for the last few days, I’m in a dream state from the hypnotic tone that this amp produces – with all my guitars.

One thing I will add is that Bill Dunham emphasized that the amp is a great pedal platform. I still agree with that assessment, but frankly, this amp produces almost all the tones that I need, so I haven’t hooked my pedal board once this past week. The reverb is fantastic, and when I’ve taken the amp into overdrive, I just haven’t seen the need to use a pedal. The only exception to that is with the last clip I recorded where I ran my Strat through my Timmy overdrive before going into the amp, which was not quite at the breakup level; just slightly below.

Granted, at 100 Watts, I couldn’t take the amp into breakup without an attenuator. But luckily, my trusty Aracom PRX150-Pro comes to the rescue yet again in that department. A quick note on the distortion. I wasn’t really liking the fully cranked up tone of the amp with my Strat. It’s an entirely different matter with my Les Paul. The lead tone – which you’ll hear shortly – is just incredible. With the FET activated, and both Gain and Master cranked up (Gain at 9, Master at 10), the sustain, harmonics and overtones create this absolutely gorgeous lead tone. Now by itself, this amp won’t do metal. It’s not made for that, and I don’t think it was ever intended to do that. But crank it up and throw a distortion pedal in front of it, and I believe you could easily do metal.

Fit and Finish

I really won’t comment on this much because the final face plate is being produced so Bill modified a Double Trouble face plate. That’s also why I didn’t take pictures. It’s not finished, and I don’t want people to get the wrong idea that the amp will be in the condition in which it was tested. It looks great, but I’d rather get pictures of the finished product.

How It Sounds

Bill kept on saying when he dropped off the amp that it’s real strong point was clean. After playing with it, I heartily disagree. ๐Ÿ™‚ Clean, dirty, it don’t matter. I dug the sound. In any case, I’ve recorded three clips to give you a general idea of the amp’s tonal possibilities. Mind you, I don’t have a mild breakup clip with a Strat. Once I get the real thing, I’ll share lots more clips. For now, you check out the ones I’ve recorded thus far. Note that these tracks are raw tracks. I used no EQ nor compression because I wanted to ensure that I’d capture all the dynamics of the amp.

Clean, Gretsch Electromatic (thin body)

Clean, Les Paul

Rock, Crunchy Rhythm (left), Solo (right)

Clip from an SRV tribute song I wrote called “In The Vibe”

All the clips were recorded using an Avatarย  1 X 12 closed back cabinet with the fantastic Fane Medusa 150 speaker. I used a single mic – a Sennheiser e609 – positioned about 18″ from the cabinet pointed directly at the center of the cone. Part of why you might hear a little static is the ambient room noise from my garage. Barely detectable, but it’s there.

With the rock clip, one thing I had to get used to was the note separation in touch sensitivity of the amp when I’ve got it cranked; actually, even in heavy overdrive. I didn’t really have to change the way I play, I just had to make sure that if I was chording, then I needed to be smooth with my strums, otherwise you’d hear every dang string being plucked. ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a pretty easy adjustment.

With the SRV tribute song, as with the other clips, I didn’t EQ the guitars at all, though with the lead, I did add some reverb and a touch of delay to give the tone some air. I also ran the guitar through my Timmy overdrive in front of the amp. Other than that, what you hear is what the amp and the Strat are producing naturally though the final recording has a touch of compression. With the first part of the clip, I’m playing through the neck pickup, then switch to the bridge pickup and turn the volume of the guitar up a couple of notches.

In any case, to me, the clips I’ve provided tell a good story of what this amp is capable of. As I mentioned, in a clips, what I’ve laid down is the raw amp sound, completely unprocessed except for the SRV tribute. The tones are absolutely gorgeous!

Overall Impression

I suppose you can pretty much guess what my impression is of this amp. Once Bill gets this into production, it’ll be my next amp. Better start saving my pennies. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Though I’m pretty satisfied with my current rig – actually, I’m pretty settled now as far as pedals are concerned – that doesn’t mean that I don’t look to see what’s out there. While surfing this morning before going off to work, I came across the new Voodoo TC line of pedals from Roger Mayer. These pedals feature huge knobs for changing the main pedal parameters, and they’re meant to be changed with your foot!

What a cool concept! No more bending over to change the drive on a drive pedal or the intensity or pulse of a vibe. Not only that, the Voodoo TC line has this retro, art-deco look, and sporting colors that were apparently inspired by 1950’s Chevy’s!

There are nine pedals in the line thus far, and from what I can tell from the descriptions, they’re heavily inspired by Jimi Hendrix tones, with a few drive pedals, a vibe, and an octavia. But there is one specifically geared towards bass distortion.

For more information, check out the Roger Mayer TC Series page. There are a couple of videos on the page from the Japan Music Fair, with one of the videos being an interview with Roger Mayer, explaining the motivation behind the pedals.

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Aracom Amps VRX18 Tweed ComboSummary: No… Surprisingly enough, I didn’t buy this one, as I already have the VRX18 head. But my good friend and bandmate just bought this, and I tested it out for him so he could listen while he was making his decision. Anyway, this is classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi tone, but with Jeff Aragaki’s tweaks and modifications. It’s such a sweet-sounding amp, clean or dirty.

Pros: Handmade, and hand-wired on turret board. The VRX18 brings out the best of what I love about EL84-powered amps, and combined with the custom Weber speaker that’s in the cabinet to balance out the natural highs of the amp, this amp is capable of producing some of the most gorgeous clean tones I’ve heard, plus some incredible vintage overdrive.

Cons: None.

Features

– Channel 1: Volume and Tone Controls
– Channel 2: Volume and Tone Controls
– Master Volume Control (PPIMV)
– On/Off Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– (2) EL84 Power Tubes
– (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
– Cathode Biased Power Tubes
– S.S. Rectifier with “sag” circuit
– Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
– ARACOM Power Transformer: hand-wound and interleaved
– ARACOM Output Transformer: hand-wound, interleaved on a paper bobbin
– 4, 8, 16 ohm Speaker Jacks
– Detachable Power Cord (IEC320-C13 Socket)
– External Fuse Holder
– Custom Turret Board (G-10/FR4 Flame Resistant)
– Handwired and Handcrafted in the USA.

Price: $1095 for Combo (see Pricing Schedule for complete options)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Yeah, I’m biased towards Aracom Amps as I am a faithful customer, but this amp is yet another example and an affirmation of why I love Aracom amps so much!

As most know who read this blog with any regularity, I’m a faithful Aracom Amps customer. I play three of them: VRX22 (6V6), VRX18 (EL84), and the PLX18 (EL84); plus I have the venerable PRX150-Pro Attenuator. Can’t believe I’ve been playing Aracom equipment for almost four years now, but I can’t think of any other amp to play, except for, perhaps, the DV Mark Little 40, which I still intend to get eventually.

In any case, my bandmates have known my passion for Aracom equipment, but have purchased other amps in lieu of the fact that I’ve been raving about Aracom for years, and in lieu of them commenting on how great the Aracom tone is. It always puzzled me, but hey! To each, their own.

A few of weeks ago, my right-hand and cohort in the band Dave started looking into getting a new amp, and to my pleasant surprise started taking a look at the Aracom site and listening to the clips. He was actually considering buying a Carr Viceroy, but held back until he took some time to evaluate amps. Now he’s glad he did.

In any case, he contacted Jeff and set up a meeting to go out to Jeff’s shop, and asked if I wanted to tag along. Never one to turn down an invitation to hang out with Jeff if I can help it, I accepted and a couple of days later, we made the short trek out to Jeff’s shop.

The wonderful thing about working with a builder like Jeff is that because he’s a small operation, he can be fairly agile in the combinations of equipment that he offers. So on that day, we took a couple of hours to play through different cabinet/speaker combinations to find a combo that “fit.” After playing through the tweed cabinet with a custom Weber 1 X 12, it was clear that that combination was the best for the style that Dave plays, which is mostly clean.

Jeff told Dave that he should take the amp with him and play around with it before he made the decision, so we loaded the amp in Dave’s car. On the way home, I mentioned to Dave that he will probably not want to return the amp and left it that while we talked about other stuff.

A few hours after I had returned home, Dave called me. He wasn’t returning the amp. ๐Ÿ™‚ I knew that would happen. That amp was magical. Earlier, I shared with Dave on the way home that he’d know if he found the right amp if he lost track of time. He did. Now he is the proud owner of the best amp he’s ever played.

Fit and Finish

I love the classic tweed finish of this amp. Jeff personally built the enclosure and covered it with tweed. It’s really beautiful to look at. He also used 1/2-inch ply to construct the cabinet, which is something I look for in cabinets. With 1/2-inch ply, I believe the wood provides a lot more resonance as opposed to cabs built with thicker boards. Compared side-by-side with my Avatar 1 X 12, which uses thicker wood, the Aracom cab sounds so much more deep and lush (I’m not knocking my Avatar – that cab is perfect for more aggressive tones).

How It Sounds

Unfortunately, I don’t have any clips to demonstrate, but Dave’s VRX18 sounds absolutely KILLER! I’ve played three of Dave’s guitars through the amp, which include a custom Carvin acoustic/electric, a custom Rick Turner Renaissance, and a Gibson ES-335. All three guitars sound absolutely gorgeous through the amp which, with the custom Weber and dynamite cabinet produce a very lush and deep clean tone, while retaining great note separation and definition. Note separation and definition are especially important with an amp that produces such deep cleans because it could become extremely muddy. Not so with the Aracom VRX18 combo.

It’s important to note also that in addition to such great cleans, the amp really projects the sound well, with a very three-dimensional quality about it that makes it sound as if it has a reverb tank. Jeff attributes a lot of this quality to the sag simulation circuit that he built into the amp. It provides just a touch of sustain to add depth to the sound.

Playing right next to Dave is another guitarist (another Dave) who has a Carr Mercury. Maybe the “higher end” Carr models sound better, but the Mercury’s tone pales in comparison to the VRX18. Where the VRX18 sounds three-dimensional, the Carr sounds brittle and hollow. I don’t like the tone of that amp at all, and constantly have to help the other Dave dial in his EQ to make it sound even halfway decent. Also, the reverb on that amp is horrible, and I always have him turning it WAY down. Amazing that that amp costs more than twice as much as the VRX18. Anyway, I don’t want to make this a Carr amp smack-down. Suffice it to say that the Aracom VRX18 simply outperforms the Carr hands-down.

Overall Impression

Jeff Aragaki makes killer amps. He’s not building near the amount of amps at this point in time as he has in the past because his attenuator business is so good. But when he does get amp orders, he takes extra-special care that it’s right; and that’s exactly what he did with this particular amp. In fact, this particular model of the VRX18 is much more simple than his other models in that it doesn’t have the 1/2 power switch, nor does it have a tube rectifier. But it sounds incredible as it is. And as I mentioned above, this amp is yet another example of why I will remain a faithful Aracom customer!

For more information, go to the Aracom Amps web site!

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As an actively gigging musician, I’m always looking for the most efficient and safe ways to transport my gear. But I do have to admit that I value efficiency a bit more than safety. My thought behind this is that treating my gear with care is a given, so I want to make as few trips from my car to get my gear set up for a gig.

So I have always kept an eye on transport containers or even systems that can keep me as efficient as possible. For instance, a big reason that I got my Fishman SoloAmp was because the speaker array, stand, and cable could all be transported together in the provided transport case; the whole thing weighing only 25 lbs., and case has wheels! I would not have gotten it if it sounded bad, but not having to take multiple trips to the car was really key.

I also have a few different bags that I use depending upon the gig I’m playing. For my solo gigs, I use a heavy-duty laptop bag that has tons of space to hold my harmonizer unit, microphones, cables, and even music books. Again, only a single trip.

Enter MONO. These folks make bags and cases specifically tailored to DJs and guitarists. They have some nice, padded guitar and bass gig bags, and even make guitar straps. But I really dig their gear bags, such as The Producer, which has lots of room to carry all sorts of gig accessories. This will probably be my next accessory bag as it was purpose-built with the DJ or gigging musician in mind.

Check out this video review of The Producer:

Lots of space and pockets. Love it!

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