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Aracom PLX100

Summary: Based upon the PLX amp “platform” that Jeff Aragaki has created for creating customer-specific amps, this 100-watt beast is actually 3 classic Marshall amps in 1: Plexi 100 SuperLead (JMP), Plexi PA, and JCM800 (high gain).

Features

  • Three channels (Plexi SuperLead, Plexi PA, JCM800)
  • “Bite” Switch (mild mid boost)
  • Master Volume Control with Bypass Switch
  • Presence, Treble, Middle, B ass Tone Controls
  • Solid State/Tube Rectifier Simulation Switch
  • Channel Disable Switch
  • Bias Test Points with user accessible bias pot
  • Handwired turret board construction
  • “M” style large box head cabinet

Price: ~$2900

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Talk about high-gain versatility. This is no gimmick. Each different channel has voicing that you’d expect out of that particular model. The SuperLead is classic, bright Plexi, while the JCM800 has a darker, much more aggressive tone, and the SuperPA is all about clean headroom. While the amp in an of itself is special; the PLX platform is what make all this possible. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it to the grave: Jeff Aragaki is genius!

About three years ago, Jeff Aragaki and I were talking about a new amp design. I told him that I would love to have a high-gain amp either in a 50 or 100 Watt version, but gave me the flexibility to voice it in various ways to fit the particular sound I wanted. We affectionately called this a “FlexPlex” because for me in particular, I wanted that Plexi sound, but wanted to be able to tweak it. Jeff actually built it, and I saw the prototype for it a couple of weeks ago.

But in the process of building the FlexPlex, you might say he “stumbled” upon a completely new way to build his amps; and that was basing his builds upon a platform. This wasn’t trivial, and no, I’m not just bandying about some buzzword. The platform that Jeff discovered has allowed him to create all sorts of different amps; starting with a common construct. I’m not sure about all the details, but the proof is in the pudding. Here Jeff’s words that describe this particular amp:

“The ARACOM PLX100 amplifier is a platform that allows us to build customer specific amplifiers with the features and specifications they desire.   For this custom build, our customer wanted a 100 watt amplifier with the vintage Marshall Super PA look.   The Super PA head cabinet has a “wide mouth” front panel opening, allowing access to four separate P.A. channels.    The model designation for this custom ARACOM amplifier is” Super H.T”.,  H.T. representing the initials of our customer.  However, instead of having 4 identical channels like a standard Super PA amplifier, the Super H.T. has 3 different channels, allowing for a highly versatile amplifier. 

“The JMP channel offers clean and overdriven tones as expected with a Plexi SuperLead amplifier.  It has two separate Bright switches that allow the channel to go from a Plexi Normal (Dark) channel tone to Plexi Bright channel tone, or something in between.   The Super PA channel provides slightly less gain than the JMP channel, with a fuller bass response.   The JCM channel is the high gain channel, designated for overdriven/distorted tones.   The JCM’s Bright switch allows for the standard JCM800 bright tone or a slightly darker tone.   The Master Volume control with a true bypass switch, allows for cranked up tone at lower volume levels.   The rear panel Bias Test points, allows for quick and easy tube biasing.”

Fit and Finish

It sure looks like a Marshall… 🙂 But in all seriousness, it’s an Aracom Amp, and that means quality. Jeff doesn’t skimp on components, and he takes a lot of pride in making sure everything that leaves his shop looks absolutely professional, and the PLX100 is no exception. The tolex is perfect, and all the knobs are snug and turn smoothly. And since this amp was going overseas, you can bet that Jeff made sure that everything was sturdy to eliminate or severely reduce the risk of breakage.

Ease of Use

I normally don’t have this section in my reviews, but I thought it necessary in this case. While I absolutely love the amp, with all the switches and the push-pull knobs, I have to admit that I’d have to take a lot of time getting familiar with it. I don’t call that really a negative mark on the amp. For goodness’ sake! How else do you pack in all those features? But despite that, the knob and switch layout is pretty clear. It would take me awhile to find the sweet spot in each channel for all the guitars I’d play through it. But that’s the beauty of discovery and experimentation, wouldn’t you say?

How It Sounds

This amp sounds amazing! Jeff explained each channel as I would have, so I’ll just reiterate and say that his descriptions of each channel reflect my own experience with it. When I was in his shop testing the amp, we must’ve played around with it for at least an hour as he twiddled knobs and flipped switches to demonstrate the amazing number of voices that could come from this amp. The permutations of settings make this amp able to tackle practically any style of music. Oh! We did all the testing through a huge 4 X 12 at gig volumes, so it was LOUD! 🙂 I played a Les Paul, a Gene Baker prototype (it was a hybrid that is VERY cool), and a Strat through the amp, and each guitar sounded killer through it. My favorite channel by far was the SuperLead channel, which had lots of gain on tap, but wasn’t at all over the top. Next was the JCM channel – especially its dark mode which produced thumping overdrive. I wasn’t too wild about the SuperPA with a Les Paul, but with single coils, that channel was absolutely SWEET! It would be a perfect channel to use with overdrive pedals because of its clean headroom.

Overall Impression

What strikes me the most about the PLX100 is that you literally have three amps in one. If you had all three, you’d probably be close to $10,000. That this amp is only $2900 is pretty amazing to me. But that’s Jeff. He doesn’t make a huge profit on the gear he builds – that’s a personal choice. He just wants to build great amps. This is like my friend Perry Riggs of Slash L Guitars. He makes absolutely awesome guitars but sells them at a price-point that’s rather incredible. Both of these gentlemen are true artisans of their trade, and I’m glad there are folks like this.

With respect to the PLX100, I sure wish I played in venues where I really open up an amp like this and really do it justice. For my particular uses, this is way too much amp. But if I ever get the chance to regularly play large venues, you can bet that I’ll be calling Jeff Aragaki to build me an amp on the PLX100 platform. Or… maybe he has a 50 Watt version. 🙂

For more information, visit the Aracom PLX100 product page!

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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! 🙂 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. 🙂 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 Avatar  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. 🙂 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. 🙂

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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. 🙂 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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The Rock Lock

Summary: After a year-long wait, the Rock Lock has finally hit the market! What started out as an ingenious idea to provide some gig security for your guitar is not finally a reality.

Pros: Rubberized (or what appears to be rubberized) material around an obviously sturdy, metal locking “C” and attached to a 1/4″ steel braid rope, provide ample security for when you’re gigging, or even in a studio where you want to provide a level of deterrence as well as security.

Cons: None

Features (from the web site):

-Core Constructed from Cutting Edge Metal Replacement Technology

-Heavy-Duty Braided Steel Cable

-1 Year Full Warranty with Registration

-2 Keys Included, with optional Key Registration

-Fits almost all standard 6 string Guitars.
This excludes: 12 String Instuments, Flamenco/Spanish Guitars, and Bass Guitars.

Price: $49.95

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’ve been waiting for this to come out since Chris Goulet originally contacted me a year ago. For the gigging musician, this is a must-have.

To me, having a Rock Lock is like putting strap-locks on your guitar. The funny thing about strap locks is that you never think you need them until your guitar comes off your strap button and crashes unceremoniously to the floor. Once that happens, you heed the warnings. But it shouldn’t take having your guitar stolen at a gig to make you buy a Rock Lock. At least for me, even the prospect of having my guitar stolen is enough to make sure I always have good security  for my axes at gigs. But I almost had to learn the hard way.

From late spring to early fall, I play on the patio area outside of the restaurant where I do my Friday gigs. Where I play is a major thoroughfare into the shopping center, so it gets lots of traffic – it’s a great way for me to entertain lots of folks. But the high traffic also presents a much greater danger of my gear being tampered with or stolen. While there are plenty of staff and customers at hand to watch my gear when I take breaks, the position of the “stage” is such that if someone wanted to make a running grab at my guitar, they could do it and get away pretty easily.

Last summer, there was a kid who was watching me play. He was what you might call an “emo,” with long hair swept across his face and a brooding expression underneath. He paid me a couple of compliments on my playing which was pretty cool, then after awhile, he asked if he could play my guitar while I was on break. I nicely told him no as I didn’t have a backup guitar with me, and he walked away, though I saw him a few times walk by eying my guitar. About an hour later, I took a break, and left my guitar out. Lo and behold, there was the kid. He was just about to grab my guitar!

I rushed over and said, “What part of ‘No you can’t play my guitar while I’m on break did you not understand?'”

“I thought it would be cool with you, dude,” he responded.

I said, “No. It’s not cool. Please leave.”

He did, and didn’t return. But in hindsight, if he took my guitar, it would’ve been my fault for not making it secure. And while I assumed that my gear would be safe because so much staff and people were around, the mere fact that that kid could just walk up to my guitar and pick it up made me think that I needed some sort of security.

For awhile after that, I resorted to packing my guitar during breaks and putting it my car or in the restaurant. But either of those options was a bit of a pain. However, with the Rock Lock, I no longer have to do that. I just lock up my guitar and it’s safe!

So how does it work? Well, it works very much like a computer laptop tether in that it has a loop at the end of the metal rope that you use to secure to a fixed object. The other end of the rope has a metal stud that gets inserted into the locking mechanism that is essentially a “C” clamp that goes around the neck of your guitar. The locking mechanism has one of those unpickable cylindrical keys. So talk about security! Look at the picture sequence below:

1. First, attach the cable to a fixed object like a pole:

2. Next, attach the cable to the locking mechanism (the stud end slides into an opening at the joint of the lock:

3. Finally, lock your guitar:

How much easier can it be? As I said, this is a must-have like strap locks for security-conscious guitar player. I’ll probably be getting a couple of more of these pretty soon!

For more information on the Rock Lock and to purchase one, visit The Rock Lock Company!

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Jensen Jet Electric Lightning JC10-50EL 10″ Speaker

Summary: A single 10″ speaker is NOT supposed to sound this big! Sure, Jensen may be marketing as a real “rocker” but this speaker will absolutely KILL with any style.

Pros: Big, ferrite magnet produces a fat, bottom end that is absolutely to die for! No loss of definition, no muddiness. This speaker absolutely KILLS!

Cons: None.

Features – It would be best to check out the link above to see the specs.

Price: ~ $69.00 street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 I’ve been using this speaker for a couple of weeks now in a little, 6-watt amp, and I’m simply loving the sound that this speaker produces.

I hate cliches. But sometimes a cliche is the only way to describe something. The cliche I’m thinking about regarding the JC10-50EL is “Big things come in small packages.” In this case, it’s a big sound that comes in a small, 10″ speaker. Every time I play through this speaker, no matter what guitar I use, I’m floored by the big sound (I know, I used that term before) that this speaker produces; not to mention the clarity. I’m so impressed with it that I’m going to put together a 2 X 10 or a 3 X 10 cabinet with these speakers in it.

How It Sounds

This afternoon, I quickly recorded a couple of demo clips this afternoon. All clips were recorded using my American Deluxe Strat, straight into my VHT Special 6 combo where the speaker resides. Note that I close-miked the amp and had it cranked! No attenuation, no sound dampening. What you hear in these clips is pretty much the raw sound with just a touch of reverb with the dirty clips (<10% wet). But I did no mastering or EQ. You’re getting the full range of sound in all the clips.

Clean (Neck pickup)

Dirty (Bridge pickup)

Dirty (Neck pickup)

Overall Impression

Like I said above, a single 10″ speaker is NOT supposed to sound this big. You normally need at last a couple of 10″ speakers to get a decently rich sound. But just one of these can move some serious air! I can’t wait to get my new cab put together!

The VHT Special 6 and JC10-50 combination is a match made in heaven, as far as I’m concerned. I mentioned in my previous gig report that I used this with my church band. That combo held its own throughout the service! Admittedly, I had to set the amp on a chair, but it worked out great!

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Barron Wesley Guitars Alpha #7

Summary: Similar to the Alpha that I recently reviewed, this guitar sports Honduran mahogany, and the tonal difference is HUGE. I really liked the last edition (#5), but this rendition of the Alpha has it all going on. Ringing clean tones and lots of muscle. Nice.

Pros: Again, all hand-made, and the cleans – oh, the cleans – have a gorgeous bell-like tone. The body and neck resonate beautifully.

Cons: None.

Features

  • Scale length: 25″
  • Frets: 22 (medium)
  • Color: Natural
  • Top Wood: Quilted Maple
  • Back/Neck Wood: Honduran Mahogany
  • Finish: Hand-rubbed Tung Oil
  • Fingerboard Cocobolo Rosewood
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Bridget TonePros AVT II
  • Pickups: Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+
  • Controls: RS Super Volume/Bourns Push-Pull Tone/Switchcraft 3-way Toggle
  • Tuners: Gotoh Magnum Locking
  • Weight: ~7.5 lbs.
  • Build Completion: July 2011

Price: $1800 – Yes, you read that right. This guitar is for sale, and I would buy it myself if I had the cash on hand; this is a KILLER guitar!

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ From the moment I plugged it in, I fell in love with the tone and feel of this guitar!

It’s great to be close to local gear builders; especially when they make super-high-quality gear for a freakin’ fantastic price. Aracom was the first local builder whose gear I just had to have, and now it’s Barron Wesley Guitars. Russell at BWG, though a relative newcomer to the luthier scene is insanely talented. The workmanship of his guitars is on par with guitars that cost three to four times more, but more importantly, his guitars play and sound absolutely killer.

Last night, Russell dropped off Alpha #7 at my gig at Max’s Opera Cafe in Palo Alto, CA. When I took it out of its case, I just had to play it right away, so I plugged it in and was rewarded with such a natural, musical tone that I ended up finishing my last set playing that guitar. The clean tone was absolutely mesmerizing to me, and the fretboard made playing so effortless – it was scary easy to play. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…

Fit and Finish

There’s not much else to say that I didn’t say in my previous review of Alpha #5. Russell’s work is flawless. However, there are some differences in the finish that Russell explained to me last night. For instance, he put on fewer coats of Tung oil on the cocobolo fretboard as he wanted a much more “natural” feel to the fretboard. To me, the result was spectacular! Right out of the box, that fretboard had just about the best feel that I’ve ever experienced. The finish is silky-smooth.

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous article was that I absolutely love Gotoh hardware, and I love wraparound bridges as well. With a single point of contact, the string energy transfers almost directly to the body.

Finishing my last set with Alpha #7

Playability

Again, in a word just like last review: Awesome. The neck on #7 is absolutely perfect! Not sure what extra or even less shaping Russell did on the guitar, but to me, this neck feels just right, and moving around on it is a dream!

How It Sounds

Alpha #7, with the Honduran mahogany gives the guitar a real Les Paul-like quality when playing with lots of crunch. The resonance in the wood is such that like an LP, you feel the string vibrations as they course through the body and neck. When I first picked it up just to feel how it plays, I immediately took notice of how the body and neck resonate, which is why I had to play it right away. As I mentioned above, I played it clean, but the cleans were so delicious, I finished my last set playing the guitar.

This evening, I spent some time with the guitar – actually, several hours – and have not been able to put it down, save to write this article. I put together some quick clips to demonstrate the sound of this guitar (all clips were played through my beloved Aracom PLX18 “plexi” clone):

First, we’ve got the riff to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”

Amp was cranked, and I played it through the bridge pickup. Next, we’ve got the riff to the Doobie Brothers “Listen to the Music” to demonstrate the neck pickup played clean:

Next, I just started playing some random stuff fingerstyle in the neck pickup:

Then I played a riff to one of my own tunes in the middle position with both humbuckers coil tapped:

Finally, I quickly played a lead over a song idea I’m working on. The first part is played in the neck pickup, then I switch to the bridge to show the difference. VERY Les Paul-like in both response and dynamics:

By the way, those Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+ pickups are absolutely KILLER! Russell made a great choice in these, as they complement the guitar perfectly!

Overall Impression

OMG! I’m freaking out by how incredible this guitar is! If I had the money, I wouldn’t be giving it back to Russell. That’s just how damn good it is. But as I mentioned above, the guitar is for sale. The price is a VERY reasonable $1800, and from how it looks, plays, and sounds, you’d be hard-pressed to get a guitar this good for that kind of price. If you get it now, you’ll be one of the lucky few who get one before he raises prices. Right now, you can take advantage of Russell wanting to get his instruments out and his name known. Once he’s established, the prices will go up as I imagine he’s selling these for just a little over his cost right now.

For more information, check out the Barron Wesley Guitars web site!

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