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Archive for the ‘goldie’ Category

I’ve been working on a new instrumental for over a month now, called “Strutter.” I think I’ve probably made 50+ recordings of the song, and even though I dig the melody I’ve come up with, I’ve always thought it needed something… more… Couldn’t put my finger on it, but none of my recordings of the song were working for me completely. After I finished recording this final cut which I’ll share below, I believe a lot of my “frustration” had to do with me wanting to only use a single guitar and amp for the recording since I play this song live with only a single guitar.

But it’s different in the studio. I have a lot of options open to me, so I decided to break down and instead of recording the song in its entirety with a single take with a single guitar and amp, I recorded the two different parts of the song with two guitars and two amps. The result knocked my socks off! So the lesson learned is in the studio, you can be truly creative, and for me, I’ll use the tools I need in favor of what I’d like to have. Anyway, here’s the song:

Gear:

Rhythm: Fender MIM Strat / Aracom VRX22 (6V6) Clean Channel
Lead 1 : Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster 50’s (bridge) / Aracom VRX18 (EL84) Channel 2 (Master cranked / Volume 3pm)
Lead 2 : Saint Guitars Messenger (bridge) / Aracom VRX22 Channel 2 (Master 4pm / Volume 3pm)

All guitars were recorded at bedroom level using the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, with no effects. Estimated output of any of the amps was less than 1 watt! That unit is absolutely amazing!!!

Small room reverb was added during production to give a more spatious effect to the lead tracks, and absolutely no EQ was applied to the guitars.

Description:

This song was originally inspired by an image of a supa-mac-daddy-pimp dude struttin’ his stuff down the avenue. 🙂 At least that was the kind of vibe I wanted to capture: 70’s-style guitar-plugged-straight into the amp. It’s a raw kind of tone.

From a structure/feel point of view, what I was after with this song was a contrast in textures. The Rhythm track uses the VRX22 clean channel for that snappy clean attack. For the Lead 1, I wanted use the creamy smoothness of the VRX18 combined with a single coil, and take advantage of the awesome decay of the tube rectifier. For Lead 2, there’s nothing like the pure balls-out sound of the VRX22 drive channel played with a bridge humbucker. The distortion though is ultra smooth, but very complex.

I should be the Aracom Amps poster boy!

I just realized that this song could be an Aracom Amps VRX amp line demo! I make no secret that these are my amps of choice (I have three of them). Jeff Aragaki’s amp designs are absolutely killer – that’s why I buy his equipment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, both amp and speaker get:

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

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

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

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Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

I’m falling in love again with my Aracom VRX18. This was the amp that first got me introduced to Aracom and my good friend Jeff Aragaki. My amp is actually a tweaked version of the stock VRX18 as it sports an EZ81 tube rectifier, plus a tweaked circuit that adds a bit more sag and sustain. The result is just a gorgeous overdriven tone that really brings out the best of the EL84 power tubes.

One thing about EL84 amps is that if they’re done right, they have a distinctive overdrive tone that creates a subtle top-end fizz when they’re overdriven. I’ve played others that drive the power tubes too much, and they sound very harsh and incredibly compressed. Jeff did this amp right, and while the power tubes do indeed compress a bit, the overdrive tone retains its open character, while adding that nice top-end fizziness that EL84 amp lovers have come to appreciate.

The clip below is an excerpt from a slow blues song I wrote. It features my beloved Goldie plugged straight into the Aracom VRX18, and it also features the insane Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator! Believe it or not, the amp was recorded at just above loud conversation levels! We’re talking less than 1/10 of a Watt, and the amp still retains its tone and dynamics! Anyway, here’s the clip:

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KASHA KA-ODP-A
I finally got some time to record a couple of clips of the absolutely wonderful KASHA Overdrive tonight, and I am just so blown away by how it sounds! This little box is like having 4 differently voiced amps in a little box! I’m not going to spend too much time praising it because I’ve already done that a couple of time here, so let’s get into the clips, shall we?

The first clip is slow, slow blues clip in Am. The chord progression is actually adapted from one of Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues With Brains” video lessons. If you’re looking to get more into the blues, I highly recommend this set of lessons. It’s the best $40 bucks you’ll ever spend! In any case, I used the chord progression to test out the KASHA Overdrive, and to practice some of the concepts I learned tonight.

Anyway, there are two parts to the clip. The rhythm part was recorded with the KASHA Overdrive in Smooth with the gain set at 12 o’clock. This acts just like a clean boost, and at 12 o’clock it’s at unity gain. The first part features the Classic “channel,” and the second part features the Hot channel. Give it a listen:

The second clip has no backing track, and features the Melt channel with a simple chord riff. Excuse the sloppy playing, but instead, focus on the articulation of the notes. I had the Gain pushed up to about 3pm, which is almost all the way up. But even at a really high gain setting, you can still hear the individual notes. THIS IS AMAZING! And man, the touch sensitivity in this channel is to die for!

By the way, both clips were played through the clean channel of my Aracom VRX22, and recorded at conversation levels using the incredible Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. To me, this is the absolute king of attenuators. Oh! Almost forgot that I used my beloved Goldie to record the clips.

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SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

…but it will also make you a better player!

Pictured to the left is the very first Saint Guitar that I ever played. Even though she wasn’t mine, I nicknamed her “Baby Blue” and the name kind of stuck; she’s technically called the Faded Blue Jean Benchmark. But to me, she’ll always be Baby Blue because I spec’d her out, and it will always be a special guitar to me. But that’s not the point of this article. The point is that Baby Blue is a great guitar, and when I first got it to test, I will finally admit that it scared the livin’ shit out of me!

Why? The answer is simple: Great guitars make you play well; no, not from the standpoint that by just playing them you immediately start playing better. It’s actually the converse: More likely than not, when you pick up a great guitar, you may find yourself flailing!

I’ve seen several good players pick up a great guitar such as this and flail away. Most, like me, don’t want to burst their bubble of pride, and simply say that it’s because the guitar is just not easy to play. But in my case, and I’m willing to bet in other players’ cases, what happens is that a great guitar takes your bad habits, emphasizes them, then throws them back in your face.

But let me qualify that a bit: What a great guitar does is pretty much emphasize everything you do. The good things you do feel and sound better, but the bad things you do well… they’ll scare the shit out of you. 🙂 That was my experience with the Saint Guitars Baby Blue and recently – but not as bad, thank God – a PRS McCarty that I had the chance to play.

I remember the first time I picked up the Baby Blue. She felt so nice to hold. The D-shape neck was a bit foreign to me, but not unpleasant, and the weight and shape were just perfect. I plugged her in, did a few chords and some standard licks, then turned on a jam track to start playing. Again, I started out with some pretty standard stuff that I normally do like bending and vibrato to listen for the inherent sustain (which Saint Guitars are known for). But when I started to do some faster runs – OUCH!!! It was like getting my ass completely kicked.

Even though I was alone in my studio, I was embarrassed and humbled. But being as hard-headed as I am, I wouldn’t let that deter me. I knew I had to swallow my pride and take some time to get used to playing the guitar – properly. The problem stemmed from my being used to playing a Strat for so long. With its narrow neck radius, wrapping your entire hand – even as small as mine – around the neck and still maintaining speed and control is easy. But with the Saint, while the neck radius is bigger, it’s the D-shape that doesn’t really facilitate wrapping. Oh I could do it, but it seriously hampered my ability to move, and seriously hampered my ability to correctly articulate the strings.

So I had to go back to fundamentals and learn to place the pad of my thumb right on the neck – like you’re supposed to do… It took me about a week of hours-long practice every day to adjust to playing with a correct left hand position. But the great thing about it is that I now play in a good position without thinking about it. I do have my lapses, but once I catch myself, it’s all good.

goldie_full

Once I got Goldie (shown at right), the initial experience wasn’t nearly as acute as with Baby Blue since I’ve spent A LOT of time working on my technique, but I wasn’t exempted from an ass-kickin – even though it may have been  just a little. I ordered Goldie with medium-jumbo frets because I wanted deeper frets to aid in producing more pronounced vibrato when I was sustaining notes, and also making it easy to do those little microtonal bends.

I thought I had developed a much lighter touch through all the practicing that I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, but with the jumbo frets, I REALLY had to lighten my touch. This is a great thing because playing with relaxed hands ultimately makes you faster. But nevertheless, it’s still a little unsettling. The positive thing is that I’m spending every bit of spare time I have learning her every subtle nuance; and I have to tell you, this guitar is capable of producing A LOT of different tones from Strat-like chime to full-on, thick, rich, and chocolate overdrive tones.

Sometimes a good ass-kickin’ is a good thing…

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goldie41I spoke about Tone with a capital “T” the other day and how your Tone is the combination of your gear plus what’s in your heart. One thing that I didn’t discuss is that when your heart and your gear are in alignment, the visceral effect it has on you borders on a religious experience. Put simply, you become truly inspired. I got Goldie back from Saint Guitars a few days ago to correct some wiring and action issues, and plugging her into my amp, I was immediately floored by her tone. I already was in the first place, but with everything working right, the effect it had on my spirit was tremendous!

So I decided to completely re-write and re-track a song that I had recorded earlier as a demo of the Reason Bambino – turn it into a real composition. But I also wanted to demonstrate the wonderful voice she has. Here’s the song. It’s called “Sunset By the Bay” because it reminded me of sipping a mojito on the beach at sunset:

The opening of the song and the first “verse” demonstrate Goldie’s neck pickup in single-coil configuration. Man, it’s chimey like a Strat! The second part of the song stays in the neck pickup but with both coils working, and adding a bit of crunch in the second channel of my Aracom VRX22. I recently had a mod done to the amp to add channel switching, and remove the Master Volume control from the first channel so it acts more like a Class A amp in channel 1. Continuing on, in the bridge of the song, I switch both pickups and remain in channel 2, then I finally finish up back on the neck pickup.

I can’t believe the sounds that come from this guitar, and my VRX22 just sounds so sweet with it!

By the way, as far as the recording of the melody goes, I recorded Goldie completely dry, just plugged right into my amp. I then added some reverb and a tiny bit of delay to give the melody an airy feel. The rhythm part was recorded using my Strat directly plugged into my Reason Bambino and played entirely in the Bambino’s Normal Channel. I love the natural presence of the Bambino – it was if it was made for a Strat!

I also recorded the entire song at bedroom level using my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. I just love the purity of my tone at any volume level!

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