Archive for the ‘Guitars’ Category

Khan Audio Pak Amp

Khan Audio Pak Amp 2-Channel

In the early days of this blog and up until a couple of years ago, I spent a lot of time scouring the Web and trade rags in search of cool gear. I don’t do that nearly as much anymore, due to life and paying college tuitions, so when I do get the chance to explore, I’m amazed at some of the totally cool stuff I encounter, like the Pak Amp from Khan Audio.

Truth be told, the Pak Amp builder, Obeid Khan is someone I’ve known about for a long time. He was the lead designer for the now-defunct Reason Amps company, but he also designed the Ampeg Jet as well as the Crate Vintage Club. So this dude has some serious engineering chops.

I completely stumbled onto this amp; that is, Google stumbled on for me. 🙂 I was on YouTube, watching and Anderton’s video comparing the new Fender ToneMaster DRRI and Twins against the real thing, and on the suggested next videos column to the right, there was a video for the Pak Amp! Google’s algorithms must’ve dug really deep to put my association with Obeid together. I literally hadn’t even thought of the Reason guys in years. Kind of creepy…

Oh well, creeped out or not, I’m glad that I discovered this amp just the same, and I have to tell you, I’m VERY excited about this amp because I’m probably going to get one! No, not just because it’s cool-looking (it is) but I’m actually in the market for another amp as I gave my Katana 50 to my son.

Gave away the Katana? Amazing, right? I LOVE that amp. But my youngest son needed an amp for the acoustic-electric ukelele I got for him, and he’s also picked up the electric guitar, so he needed an amp. Besides, I was pretty much only using the Katana as a clean platform and for that, it has worked marvelously. But this is a perfect amp for my son to start with, and I know he’ll get a lot of mileage out of it.

Honestly, I actually was going to get another Katana, but when I saw the Pak Amp and watched videos and scoured the forums, I really started thinking about what I wanted sound-wise. The Pak Amp ticks off a LOT of boxes for me.

What’s so special about it? Well, for one thing, I’m familiar with the builder and the high-quality stuff he’s made in the past. He’s also a vintage Marshall freak and tuned the amp’s sound and feel to be like a vintage Marshall; something that appeals to me because the vintage Marshall sound is what I love. And finally, and most importantly, he packed some very cool shit into a 9″ X 7″ X 2 1/2″ box! In my older age, rig size and weight matter. At 6 1/2 lbs., and that form factor. I literally could put this in my gig backpack along with my cords and mics and get to my gig.

And though deeper, at 9″ X 7″, that freakin’ box has a smaller footprint than a laptop! Talk about the perfect fly rig amp! You could even mount this sucker on a board! But before I go too crazy, I should probably get into features. The amp comes in two flavors: A single- and a dual-channel. Technical specs are as follows:


  • Gain and Master Controls
  • (2) 12AX7 and (2) 6AQ5 tubes
  • Bright and Boost Switches
  • Boost foot-switchable


  • Dual Concentric Gain and Master Controls
  • (3) 12AX7 and (2) 6AQ5 tubes
  • Bright, Channel, Presence and Boost Switches
  • Channel and Boost foot-switchable


  • Switchable 9 or 18 watts @ 5% THD
  • Treble, Middle, Bass tone stack
  • Buffered FX Loop Send and Return
  • Speaker response simulated balanced line out
  • Silent operation with an internal 8-ohm load resistor
  • Speaker Impedance selector – 8 and 16 ohm
  • Built-in cooling fan with on/off switch
  • Fully CNC front plate for striking visual aesthetic
  • Made in USA custom Heyboer transformers
  • Compact size: 9″ x 7″ x 2 1/2″ (including knobs and feet)
  • 6.5 lbs. total weight
  • Export voltages of 100V 220V 240V available

If you’re not familiar with the 6AQ5 power tube, it’s actually a fairly plentiful NOS tube that has been around since the late ’50s. It is the power tube that was used for the Reason Bambino and it produces a very nice sound. Obeid discovered it in an old LA2A compressor.

Standard features in the amp are pretty incredible. Having a buffered effects loop is very cool, and I can see how the line out can be incredibly useful for recording (though I have yet to hear any clips on this feature). Obeid also mentioned that because it already uses speaker simulation, you probably can’t use IRs with it. That’s not too much of a problem because I have a solution for that if I want to use an IR for recording the amp.

Dual-Channel Model: More to it than meets the eye?

Now at first blush, based on the online specs, one might be led to believe that the Dual-Channel model just adds a second channel and Presence control. But I just discovered – from downloading the user manual – that the Dual-Channel has an incredibly useful feature that really should be called out. In fact, it is this feature alone that will make me lean towards the Dual-Channel model rather than the Single.

One of the challenges of 2-channel amp, especially when there’s only a single master volume is setting the volume balance between the channels. In my experience, the way this is typically solved is to only use the Master Volume on the second channel. It works. It’s not very flexible, but it works. But with the Pak Amp, Obeid took a different approach. Here’s the tip that is in the user manual:

TIP #2: Start by setting the gain and master levels for Ch 1 (clean). Switch to Ch 2 (dirty) and set the gain and master levels with the outer controls. Switch back and forth and adjust the outer (dirty) master to balance the two channels. At this point the volume balance between channels has been set. You are now able to control the overall volume with the inner master (clean), while maintaining the channel balance.

Yes, that’s right. The Dual Channel model has both dual volume and master knobs. I know that this may seem a bit pedestrian to some, but think about it: If all you have to do is click a footswitch to go from clean to dirty with minimal to no volume change, just how useful is that? This is EXACTLY how I set up my overdrive pedals. When I want a dirty sound, I add just a touch of volume boost.

This, to me, is HUGE: The mere fact that I can raise the Master levels for both channels at the same time means that I don’t have to screw around with my guitar volume knobs. I can use those simply for adding or subtracting input gain. Pretty f-in’ cool and to me, it’s a MAJOR feature that could easily be overlooked. Obeid’s a pretty humble dude, so he probably didn’t think to showcase this feature. But when I get this amp, you can be sure that I will do a video about this feature. It’s the feature that sold me completely on the Dual Channel amp.

Here’s a video of Obeid talking about the development behind the Pak:

And here’s the Pak amp in action:

For more information, check out the Khan Audio website!

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Get A Freakin’ Amp Stand!

I realize that I’m becoming one of those grouchy old men, but you can never accuse me of being an oldster. Though I look fondly back to the old days of rock and roll, and though I really don’t dig the new pop music, I don’t sit there pining away for a return to the old.

But I have to admit that I’ve become increasingly annoyed at some obvious things that I observe on a regular basis. Actually, let me rephrase that. My annoyance hasn’t increased at all. But I’ve definitely become more direct about my feedback. I think it happens to all older people. We’ve been around the block several times and we lose our patience when people just don’t get it.

I admit that I do my best to try to check myself. After all, you attract more bees with honey, but there are just some things, some things that I just won’t hesitate to snap at.

One of those things comes from several guitarists I’ve played with over the years who complain they can’t hear their amps, even in a quiet setting, so they crank up their volume and step all over the rest the band. My usual retort is the title of this post: “Then get a freakin’ amp stand,” or “Lean the amp back so the speaker’s pointing at you.”

Sheesh! I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone complain they can’t hear themselves. Sometimes yes, it is due to having their volume being low. But most of the time, it’s just due to bad positioning. What… you set up next to the drums? Then move your damn amp! You brought your vintage Fender Champ with the 6″ speaker to the gig? Well, there’s not much I can do for you there… But you could put it on a music stand and we’ll mic it up so you can be heard in the house.

Even with a small amp, there are always solutions. So I guess I’m ranting about the complainers and I’ll say what I say to my teams at work: Work the problem, people! There’s always a solution.

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This evening, I was watching “The Big Interview with Dan Rather” (one my latest favorite shows) and none other than Paul Stanley was the guest. I have to admit that I have always admired KISS, not just for their music which I’ve loved since I was a teen, but for their business acumen in creating a brand that has persisted for over 40 years.

I’ve seen interviews with or specials about the band in the past and they were your typical mix of short clips and questions and discussion that really only scratched the surface. But with Dan Rather, the interviews get deep. Dan asks pointed questions and he has this way of getting people comfortable enough to open up and spill their guts. It’s rather amazing, and I love watching the show.

In one particular segment, Dan commented that many people would consider Paul Stanley to be lucky. But Paul replied with something VERY profound:

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Whoa! Mind blown! Not because it was some revelation, but because it is something by which I live every day of my life! To have heard that from Paul Stanley is an incredible affirmation.

Just recently, I was speaking with a fairly junior software engineer about the things I’ve done and been involved with over the course of my career. At one point, he remarked that I was lucky to be able to do all I’ve done. But I immediately responded that it wasn’t luck. I worked hard to develop my talent and skills to where I created opportunities to do those things.

And the same thing goes with playing guitar – or just about anything in life – the harder you work, the more opportunities open up.

But let’s be clear: Hard work doesn’t mean toiling and grinding; though admittedly, it can seem like that at times. Hard work is the willingness to make an investment in time to develop your craft. Hard work is putting yourself out there. Hard work involves being open to opportunities that might even seem beneath you. It’s all part of the learning experience. It’s what creates luck.

I did a weekly, two-night gig at a local restaurant for almost 18 years up until the restaurant closed down recently. My fellow musician friends would say I was lucky to have that gig. I was grateful for sure, but they also knew that if I wasn’t gigging, I was playing at home for at least an hour every single day. I was putting in the time.

I also play and lead music for one of the services at my church. People have remarked in the past at how it all seems to be easy for me. What they don’t realize is that I spend most of the day leading up to rehearsal going over all the music and coming up with all the arrangements and writing songs when appropriate. Again, it’s an investment in time. It’s effortless because by the time I get to the church, I’ve got everything down cold.

You see, I’m firm believer in making my own luck. When I decide to pursue something, I don’t even give it a second thought about putting in the time it will take to get me to where I’d like to be. And even when I achieve a goal, I keep on developing my skills to get to the next plateau and so on and so forth. And in the process, better and better opportunities present themselves.

Especially for you young folks, if you want to become a professional musician or a rock star. Go for it! There’s nothing holding you back, and though others will say it’s impossible, just keep at it. They can’t make your luck for you. You make your own luck!

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For over a decade, my main acoustic amp has been an original California Blonde; no, not the v2, but the original. I got it used from a good buddy, and it has been on stage in several hundred gigs to this point. And even though my Katana 50 serves very well as an acoustic guitar amp, there’s just nothing like the depth of sound that comes out of the behemoth that is the California Blonde.

They’re not made any longer, having a final production year of 2006, and SWR got scooped up by Fender to expand its product line offerings. But these were special amps. Inspired by the WorkingPro 12 bass amp, which acoustic guitarists were finding useful to amplify their guitars, the California Blonde was – and still is for me, at least – an amp that could create super-rich tones, and at 120 Watts, pump out the volume.

It’s a heavy-ass amp at 50 lbs. and I use a handcart or small rolling platform to transport it. But the sound, oh the sound, that the amp produces to me, at least, is unparalleled. Yes, there are some great amps out there like the HK Audio Elements and SoundCaddy. But you’re talking 5-6 times the price – at least! Not an easy expenditure. You can get a used Cali Blonde II for under $400 if you look carefully.

The wonderful thing about this amp is the semi-parametric EQ section that allows you to get the perfect EQ balance. In the tone circuit is also a built-in Aural Enhancer that acts much like presence knob. Plus, it has a side-chain effects loop on top of that! It also has an XLR direct out to plug the amp into a board, which is exactly what I do.

To me, this is an archetype acoustic amp. If you look at the picture, it really doesn’t have that many bells and whistles. The bottom row of knobs are for the second channel. I sometimes use this for solo acoustic gigs (though I use my Fishman SA220 SoloAmp for the most part). It is so plug and play!

All that said, despite the fact that it’s almost 20 years old, I don’t see myself getting another acoustic amp for quite a while. The only time I’ll consider one is when this one breaks. And even then, I’ll probably take it to my amp tech and see if it’s unrecoverable. Yeah, the labor may cost more than the amp’s monetary value, but if the repair gets it back to 100%, I don’t have much reason to switch another.

Admittedly though, I think I’m getting close to that point. The reverb no longer works, and it sometimes makes a funny noise when it’s powering on. But I’m still using it. The effects loop still works great, and there are no problems with the DI.

Speaking of which, the DI signal on the Blonde is actually super, super clean. On top of that, unlike other amps’ DI’s I’ve used, it doesn’t hammer the board. I used to use these great Genz-Benz amps and their DI’s were super-hot, and since it was tied into the Master Volume, it was difficult to get a good balance between stage and FOH volume. I had to turn the master down so low that with a full band, I just had to hope and pray that I sounded okay in the mix because I couldn’t hear myself on stage. 🙂

So yeah… My amp ain’t broke just yet. I’m not in any rush to replace it.

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There’s a certain mystique about the Les Paul that seems to pervade the market that intimidates people. I look back on the time before I purchased a Les Paul and I was definitely intimidated; having these “I’m-not-worthy” moments when thinking about getting one. But I know I’m not alone in this.

This morning, I was searching the Internet for a Les Paul Supreme. It’s no longer made, but if I’m going to get another Les Paul, that one is going to be it. I played a few back when Gibson was still producing them, and I want that guitar (visions of Wayne’s World…)

I had actually amassed 10 electric guitars before I finally got my Les Paul, so intimidated by the whole Gibson brand. I even got a couple of Les Paul knockoffs and even an ES-335 before I finally got my true-blue 1958 Gibson Les Paul Historic Re-Issue.

And when I finally plugged it in and started playing, the skies opened, a bright light pierced the heavens, and a loud voice proclaimed….

I’ve been trying to tell you all this time… It’s just a guitar…

Well, not just a guitar. For me, the Les Paul represented and still represents the archetype of electric guitar sound. It’s the sound I’ve always heard in my head. Nowadays, if I consider something to be an archetype, I just get it – or at least save up until I can get it. But frankly, it took me getting over my intimidation of the Les Paul to get to that point.

Which brings me to the question I posed in the title…

At least for me, one of the intimidating factors was that everyone whom I considered to be my guitar heroes growing up either currently or at some point in their careers, played a Les Paul. This included artists such as Peter Frampton, Davey Johnstone, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, and Pete Townshend. And being that I hadn’t adopted the electric guitar until later in life, my internal comparison to those guitar greats gave me quite a bit of pause.

Another reason was that the admission price to a Les Paul Standard was pretty steep; and like many, because of that, I spent a lot of time getting other, more affordable guitars. I know… If I had been patient, I could have foregone two or three of those other guitars and gotten my LP. That inability to just be able to buy a Les Paul outright also got me into the camp of “Hey! The LTD Les Paul, Epiphone Les Paul (and others) are just as good as a Gibson Les Paul.”

“Good” is subjective, and while I played some very good (in my opinion) non-Gibson Les Pauls, the plain fact of the matter is there is some inexplicable “mojo” about a real Gibson Les Paul. Maybe it’s me falling for the marketing; who knows? But from my perspective, there’s just nothing like a real Les Paul that gives it a bit of an exclusivity factor. It was admittedly a bit intimidating.

Finally, at the time I was really contemplating getting a Les Paul, there was this craze in the collector’s market for ’59 Les Pauls, with some

But once I got my Les Paul and played it for several hours, I called my good buddy and amp builder Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps who is a Les Paul aficionado and collector, and said, “Damn! Why did I wait so long to get a Les Paul?!! All that time being intimidated by this guitar and now, finally playing it, this is the sound I’ve been wanting! Shit!”

Jeff just laughed. He knew then as I know now that despite all the hype that the Les Paul is still just a guitar.

So… if you want a Les Paul, and it has a sound that you like, just get it. Don’t be intimidated; don’t think that you have to be at a certain level to play it. In the end, it’s a guitar.

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Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s there was a little memory chip design firm called Micron located in downtown Los Altos, CA. At the time, I don’t think they had a foundry of their own – they just created memory designs and sold them to manufacturers. Not a bad business model; kind of like Levi-Strauss during the gold rush of 1849.

But what was notable about them was that I remember reading an annual financial report from Micron that reported earnings in the hundreds of millions. Well, guess where the bulk of that came from? That right, litigation.

What was really irritating about them at the time was that Micron was suing people left and right, and it made them look like the focus of their business was litigation. Oh, they had some smart people coming up with memory chip designs. But as soon as they were patented, BOOM! Sue everyone on the planet for patent infringement. The trade rags would have frequent stories of “Micron sues X over patent infringement…” Talk about frequent eye-rolling!

By now, many of you have probably heard of the Gibson vs. Armadillo lawsuit. In the lawsuit, Gibson is claiming trademark infringement over the Explorer, Flying V, ES body shapes, and the Hummingbird and Moderne trademarks. I won’t go into a deep-dive, but if you want to familiarize yourself with the main points, here’s an excellent article.

The response to this lawsuit on the forums is that it is ruining the brand. And lots of people are starting threads asking things like, “What should Gibson do to rebuild its brand in light of the lawsuit?” My reaction: All the chatter and bloviating is just a waste of time. Wah-wah-wah. I can’t believe all the “analysis” I saw on the boards.

But in spite of that, it does make me raise my eyebrows questioning the logic behind pursuing the lawsuit which, by the way, was initiated by the previous CEO last year, then renewed by the new one. This can only mean that it was driven by the board of directors. Hmmm….

In any case, think about this: A couple of months ago, Gibson spent a lot of effort re-aligning its product lines and making it very clear what each product line represented; a move that was applauded across the industry – and me included – as something that was much-needed to reduce buyer confusion.

Gibson came out with lines such as the “Avant Garde” (now “Moderne”) to represent alternative materials in their acoustic guitar lineup. I have a J-45 Avant Garde, and what appealed to me was the construction with alternative materials. They also placed the various Les Pauls into specific swim lanes; something that really helped and something I had wished for for a long time.

So when I heard about the lawsuit, it made me wonder:

Gibson, you just spent so much time and effort re-aligning your product lines and gaining a lot of good will capital. I realize you have your reasons, but considering the struggles you’ve had in recent years, why would you subject yourself to negativity so early in the game of rebuilding the brand?

At best, this is laughable. At worst, it’s damaging, at least image-wise.

Look, I have been and I am still a Gibson fan and I’ll be a Gibson fan for the rest of my life. But I seem to do a lot of head-shaking about their business antics. Time for the board to get its head out of its collective ass.

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I’m like many of my guitar compatriots and hang out on gear forums. I’m not nearly as active as I used to be, but I still enjoy reading and occasionally responding to forum posts.

One thing that I’ve seen a lot in the forums of goes something like this:

Please help me choose a guitar. I have a $500 budget.

Now look, I’m not one to ever put anyone down. That’s for cretins who have nothing better to do. But I will say this: Replying to requests like this is a time sink. Why? Simply because if you answer with your own suggestion, someone else will invariably debate you.

Then another person will swoop in with, “If you spend a couple of hundred dollars more, you could get this.”

By the time all the discussion simmers down, the original poster’s head will probably have fallen off from all the twisting!

Okay, I have to admit that I made the mistake of making a similar request a long time ago. I have since learned my lesson. And if you’re tempted to do the same, all I can say is: Don’t do it! 🙂

A better solution is to get your ass down to a local guitar shop like Guitar Center and play a shitload of guitars in your price range. Don’t worry, they’ll have many. You should be able to make the decision on your own!

The problem with making a request like this on the forums is that no one knows what style you play. No one knows a whit about your experience, and no one knows what your ideal sound is no matter how much you try to qualify what you’re after.

Also, beware of those who offer advice on gear selections. For all you know, they could just be some wanker who’s giving you advice based on advice they’re passing on from someone else. I’ve seen a lot of that shit, especially when people hype gear like the Klon pedal or Dumble amp clones.

So really, you don’t need help buying a guitar. No one is more knowledgeable about what you need than you. Just take the time to familiarize yourself and you’ll be golden! And as a reader said, get what inspires you!

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