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EWS Little Brute Drive

Summary: Proving the old adage that “big things come in small packages,” the EWS Little Brute Drive is an absolute distortion machine, capable of mild crunch to face melting distortion. Don’t let the “drive” in the name fool you. This ain’t an overdrive – but who cares? πŸ™‚

Pros: Though it has output level and treble controls inside the enclosure, the pedal is set to unity gain, so no need to mess with output volume. You just set the gain knob where you want it, then turn it on. It’ll instantly turn your guitar a fire-breathing dragon!

Cons: None. Absolutely none.

Features

  • Single gain knob. All the way left gives you about the max overdrive of a soft OD pedal like the Timmy. All the way right is evil – very evil – distortion. πŸ™‚
  • True bypass
  • Runs on either a 9V battery or 9V power supply (I use a 1-spot).

Price: ~$129 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I could barely pull myself away from playing this evening to write this review! I was having way too much fun with this pedal!

I have to admit that I haven’t been too much into distortion pedals in the past, but since I got a Strat, none of my overdrive pedals could give me the kind of creamy crunch that I love for playing rock songs. It’s not a problem with my Les Paul, and though my new Strat does have some higher-output pickups, it’s still not the kind of gain that a Les Paul produces. So I figured that I’d try a distortion pedal. Enter the Little Brute Drive.

After watching some very good videos and listening to some sound clips of the pedal, I knew it would do the job. I wasn’t mistaken. This freakin’ pedal has more gain than anything in my arsenal. I was amazed that at even with the gain all the way down, it was more than the gain that my beloved Timmy produces! But the even cooler thing is that even at the highest gain setting, note separation is incredible! I was concerned about that because my past experience with distortion pedals is that they get really muddy and compressed at high gain settings; not the LBD. The distortion is tight, but it never gets muddy, and the EQ response is pretty flat to boot.

Fit and Finish

Though it is diminutive in size, it’s built like a tank, and it is definitely gig-worthy. It has a nice red powder coating – almost like a warning that this thing breathes fire!

How It Sounds

Make no mistake: This is NOT a low-gain pedal. It is meant for crunch and face-melting. So ifΒ  you’re looking for something milder, best stick with an overdrive pedal. But if you’re looking for lots of gain and sustain AND clarity, this is a pedal that will do the job in spades.

I recorded a couple of quick clips to demonstrate the pedal. I had the gain knob set to noon on both clips. I used a Barron Wesley Alpha with humbuckers – though I played both clips in split coil to at simulate a single-coil guitar, and I used my Fender Hot Rod purely clean. With the first clip, I do a comparison riff. The first part is the guitar with no effect, then I switch on the LBD. The second clip is just me noodling.

Yowza! I really had to have a much lighter touch on the fretboard playing this pedal, and since the guitar I was playing is so resonant, I had to mute the strings I wasn’t playing because the pedal picks up EVERYTHING! It’s incredible! And to think that I was able to get that kind of gain with the gain knob set at noon!

Overall Impressions

I love it. ‘Nuff said. The sustain, the drive, and most importantly the note separation and clarity make this pedal a winner.

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SWR California Blonde I

Summary: This amp is a classic and loved the world over for its great sound.

Pros: Great acoustic sound, but it’s versatile enough to use as a clean amp for solid-body guitars.

Cons: This is a nit: It’s heavy at 50lbs.

Features:

  • 120 Watts
  • Speakers: 200 Watt 12″ and a 25 Watt high-freq tweeter
  • Instrument Input Jack
  • Stereo Input Jack
  • Tuner Out Jack
  • Balanced Mic Input Jack
  • Gain Controls with LED Overload Indicator and Pull Phase
  • Aural Enhancer Control (Channel 1)
  • Two independent channels
  • Two independent effects loops with independent effects blend knobs for each channel
  • On-board reverb – it’s nice and subtle

Price: ~$300 – $600 Street (if you can find one)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’ve used this amp in a variety of settings, and with a variety of guitars, and it has NEVER let me down. The sound is rich and full, no matter what guitar you put in front of it, but it doesn’t take away from the natural tone of the guitar.

My first exposure to the California Blonde was through a church bandmate who would use it for our services. My initial impressions of the amp were NOT good, mainly because this guy just doesn’t take care of his gear. The knobs were scratchy and the jacks were loose and would occasionally crackle. But one thing was for sure: When he had it working, it had a great tone. I was always impressed by the sound of that amp, and REALLY impressed by its ability to project – it is a LOUD amp.

SWR now has a second edition of this amp, and the original is no longer available, but I got mine through my friend Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps who acquired one from an estate sale. He had a bunch of gear to sell, and one of the items was this classic California Blonde.

I wasn’t planning on getting an amp at the sale. I just wanted one of the many guitars he had, and ended up getting my gorgeous Strat. But just for shits and giggles, I checked out the amps. The ‘blonde immediately caught my eye (blondes have a way of doing that to me πŸ™‚ ), so I asked Jeff if we could hook it up. Luckily I had my acoustic in the back of my SUV so I could give the amp a proper test. So we hooked it up, powered it on, I strummed a chord, turned to Jeff and said, “I’ll get this too…” I did play through it for about 15 more minutes to really go through its controls, but from having to adjust my buddy’s ‘blonde in the past, I was pretty familiar with the amp.

Since I purchased it, I’ve used it with my acoustics, as a clean amp for my Strat (and using a distortion pedal with it – it rocks), and just last night, I used it for its intended purpose: as my guitar amp for my outdoor gig, using my Gretsch Electromatic. As I mentioned above, no matter what I’ve thrown in front of it, this amp has delivered the goods.

Fit and Finish

Despite the amp being several years old, it has withstood the test of time. That’s a testament to how solidly built this amp is. Even my buddy’s amp – despite being mishandled – was still rock solid. My amp was and is in absolutely pristine condition. This thing is built like a tank. The enclosure, though made with a combination of plywood and particle board is THICK. Chrome-plated corner protectors adorn all the corners (this amp was made for gigging). No stray joints here folks, the build quality is fantastic.

The tilted control panel is an absolutely nice and convenient touch, allowing for quick access to the knobs. This is much better than the Genz-Benz Shenandoah 150 upright that I’ve played that has a flush control panel. Makes it hard to adjust. The metal speaker grille on the ‘blonde demonstrates again that this amp was meant to be gigged.

The only nit that I have with the amp is that at 50 lbs, it’s really heavy. But that’s understandable and forgivable considering the thick wood of the cabinet and the magnet of the 200 Watt speaker, which must be pretty big (I haven’t taken off the back panel). I’ll trade weight for ruggedness any day; besides, that’s what hand carts are for! πŸ™‚

How It Sounds

The California Blonde has a rich, deep tone, but as I mentioned above, it doesn’t take away from the natural tone of the guitar. And though I mentioned that the amp is loud, the cabinet really disperses sound at a wide angle, creating a three-dimensional effect that makes the sound seem to float in the air.

I used it outdoors at my gig yesterday, and it was fantastic! I ran chorus, delay and reverb through the loop, and I have to say that the effects blend knob is a god-send, allowing me to mix as much or as little of my board signal into the dry signal. Because of how the amp disperses sound, I used very little reverb, and many times just had it off. For ambient tones, I used my MXR Carbon Copy delay set to a mild slap-back. That seemed to work best with the amp.

The tweeter’s effect is subtle, but a very nice addition indeed, as it provides just a touch of shimmer to the tone. I tried the amp with the tweeter switched off, and just turned it back on because I wanted the shimmer. With a Strat, the tweeter is a necessity in my opinion.

Last night, I started out running my guitar signal only through the amp, but then later added some signal into my Fishman SA220 PA so I could get even better sound dispersal. The line out is great on this amp, and reproduces the signal very true to the original. In fact, when I’ve used this amp at church, we run it right into the board, and the sound is very nicely balanced.

Overall Impression

This amp is a workhorse. I really couldn’t be happier with this amp. It totally delivers the goods for me!

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Paul Cochrane Timmy Overdrive

Summary: Others boast transparency, but the Paul Cochrane Timmy overdrive is one of the very few transparent overdrives I’ve ever used, and to me it is the best OD I’ve ever owned!

Pros: Super-simple to dial in a great tone for the guitar you’re using. Bass and Treble cut knobs make all the difference in the world with respect to dialing in your tone!

Cons: None.

Features:

  • Separate Bass (pre-distortion) and Treble (post-distortion) cut dials
  • Gain knob to control amount of clipping
  • Volume/Boost to control output gain
  • Three-way clipping switch to choose between two types of symmetrical clipping (up, middle) and asymmetrical clipping (down)

Price: $129 direct (twice as much on ebay if you don’t want to wait 6 months)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’ve only played with this for a little over an hour this evening, and already I’m in love with this OD pedal! You know me, I love OD pedals, but this one was well worth the wait. I can confidently say that this will NEVER leave my board.

Like many, I had heard of the Tim and Timmy pedals from Paul Cochrane, but I had never played one. I had only heard accounts online, then heard one in action at a concert. After speaking with the guitarist (Dylan Brock of Luce), and hearing him rave about the pedal, I finally got around to ordering one from Paul Cochrane back in October 2010. I finally got the pedal today, and it is hands-down the best damn overdrive pedal I’ve ever played in my life – and I’ve played a lot of them.

I now have only two overdrive pedals on my board: My trusty Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2, and now, my Timmy pedal. They will never leave my board. The Abunai 2 is much more of a distortion pedal than an overdrive and I love the color and compression it adds to my signal. The Timmy, on the other hand, is truly transparent. It takes your tone and give you more of it. And while other pedals will give you a midrange hump or scoop your tone, the Timmy lets you dial in (actually cut out) the amount of bass or treble you want in your signal.

Volume and Gain are pretty standard, so no need to go into those features. What makes this pedal special are the EQ knobs. Both are cut knobs. Fully counter-clockwise, they let in all the bass or treble. As you turn the knobs clockwise, they cut out. It’s a little backwards, but it makes sense once you start messing with the pedals. Paul says he made these like that because of the taper of the pots and doing it in reverse avoided dead spots.

The bass knob functions pre-distortion or before the clipping circuit. Other pedals dial out bass at a fixed level to avoid the bass being too muddy. The Timmy allows you to dial in as much or as little bass as you want. The treble knob functions post-distortion. Again, other pedals have treble set at a fixed point after the circuit to avoid fuzziness. The Timmy lets you dial in as much or as little as you want. The net result is a finer level of EQ control than I’ve ever experienced with an OD pedal, and those two knobs make that pedal very special for me.

I thought I was done with Overdrive pedals…

I actually thought I was done with Overdrive pedals for the most part, and instead started relying on my clean boost and occasionally would fire up my Abunai 2 to add some color and compression to my tone. But that all changed when I got my latest Strat. Even though the Kinman pickups and the X-Bridge pickups have more gain than stock Strat pickups, even cranked, they don’t have enough gain to get my vintage Plexi-style amps into their sweet spot – even with the amp cranked. For instance, I had to use my clean boost and/or my Abunai 2 this past weekend to push my amp into its sweet spot.

The clean boost works great in giving me the gain I need, but it doesn’t give me much sustain. The Abunai 2 gives me sustain, but it colors my tone and adds compression (I like that only for certain situations). Enter the Timmy. With the Timmy, I can get the gain boost I need to push my amp into its sweet spot, and with its clipping circuit, I can get a bit of sustain – but without the compression, which is HUGE for me. Mind you, this is all for a Strat. It’s a completely different story with my Les Pauls, as they have plenty of gain on tap, and have LOTS more natural sustain than a Strat. With a Strat, you always need some help. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just it is what it is.

With the Timmy, I think I’m now all set for OD pedals for awhile. Notice I didn’t say I was done… πŸ™‚

I know, I normally do some description of how it looks and how it’s built, but suffice it to say that the pedal’s built solidly, and the purple finish is cool. ‘Nuff said. It’s how it sounds that is important.

How it sounds…

As Paul explained to me six months ago, the Tim and Timmy were designed to be transparent overdrives; that is, they take your tone and give you more of it. Though the signal path does include a clipping circuit, unlike other OD pedals, the Tim/Timmy circuit doesn’t add any color. In any case, here are a couple of clips.

In both clips, I have my Aracom VRX22 set up in its drive channel with the master and and volume knobs set to about 1pm each. With a Les Paul, cranked up in its bridge pickup, this will give me a sweet overdrive tone with lots of harmonics. With a Strat, these gain positions set it at the edge of breakup, and I have to really dig in to get distortion out of the amp.

The first clip is just a raw recording switching between just the Strat cranked up in its bridge position, then playing the same thing with the Timmy engaged. I did add a bit of extra volume to the Timmy so I could make sure that the amp got pushed into its sweet spot. Give it a listen:

The next clip is a re-recording of the song that I used for my Strat review. This time, I play the first part with the raw Strat, then in the second part add the Timmy to finish the song:

Overall Impression

In my mind, there’s nothing not to like about the Timmy. When Dylan Brock said to me, “Man, I just love my Timmy pedal,” I really couldn’t understand what he was talking about at the time. I now understand, and I mentioned above, the Timmy will never leave my board.

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Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster
Summary: Finally a Strat that I love to play. This one has been upgraded with Kinman pickups and an L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X X-Bridge pickup.Features:

  • Alder Body with 3-Tone Sunburst Finish (my favorite Strat Color)
  • 1-piece Maple Neck
  • 22 Frets
  • Rosewood Fretboard with Abalone Dot Inlays
  • Nut appears to be synthetic tortoise shell – very cool!
  • Locking Tuners
  • L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X Drop-In Tremolo/Bridge Replacement
  • Kinman Noiseless Pickups
  • 8.5 lbs

Value: ~$1500-$2000

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Wow! What a tone machine! The Ctrl-X pickup has tons of gain on tap, and will give you plenty of crunch when you need it! The Kinman Noiseless pickups really smooth out the tone, and flatten the significant midrange that tends to be in stock Fender pickups.

I love estate sales because you can find some real gems. A friend of mine happened to get a bunch of stuff at an estate sale recently, and picked up this fine specimen of a Strat. What drew me to it initially was the 3-tone burst, which I love. Of course I had to try it out, so we hooked it up to a cheapo amp, and I couldn’t believe my ears! I was expecting that typical bright Strat sound, but what issued – even from that cheapo amp – was a much smoother tone. The tone definitely spoke “Stratocaster,” but it was in another dimension. Of course, I had to take it home with me to bring into my studio and to gig with this weekend… πŸ™‚

For me, I had all but lost hope with Strats. I just couldn’t find one that really appealed to me. But with the changes in this particular Strat, I’ve regained my faith. This is an absolutely killer guitar!

Fit and Finish

The previous owner tragically passed away a few years ago, and the dude was a total gear nut! As a result, he just didn’t play his gear all that much, and so the guitars that were in his collection were in absolutely pristine shape. This particular Strat has the most signs of usage, but there is absolutely no major scratches, and just a tiny ding on the neck. Other than that, the guitar is perfect. The rosewood fretboard is in particularly great shape, and still retains a gorgeous sheen. The abalone dot inlays are a great touch. Here are some pictures:

Playability

Unlike a lot of Strats that have really narrow nut width, this Strat’s 9.5″ nut radius is perfect. The neck is a gentle C and even with my short fingers, I have no problem reaching the lower strings high up on the fretboard. The shape of the neck is simply terrific, and provides a nice balance between solid-feel and speed. I could play this guitar for hours and never get tired. It’s really a player’s guitar.

How It Sounds

As I mentioned above, it sounds like a Strat, but it has a much smoother tone. This is due to the Kinman Noiseless Pickups that replaced the original “noiseless” ones on the stock Strat (don’t have the stock ones, but don’t want ’em). This Strat also has tones of sustain, which really surprised me. It’s not on the order of a Les Paul, but it sustains a lot more than other Strats I’ve played in the past. The Kinman pickups also add a lot of depth and complexity to the tone, picking up subtle harmonics that give the tonal presentation a real 3-D effect – it’s almost reverb-like. How cool is that?

On top of that, the original owner replaced the tremolo with an L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X system. This adds yet another pickup to the bridge that has all sorts of gain; very humbucker-like, but retaining the single-coil characteristics – there’s just more of it. The Ctrl-X system is cool in that you can switch between going fully magnetic to blend with Ctrl-X or fully Ctrl-X. The full-on Ctrl-X is great for soloing!

To demonstrate the gain differences, here’s clip I recorded this morning (actually, the two clips were included in my previous article that I wrote this morning). But here’s the first:

Finally, here’s the quick song that I recorded this morning that has the rhythm part in fully magnetic mode in the 4th switch position (neck/middle). The lead is played in the first position with the Ctrl-X system:

Both clips were recorded using my Aracom PLX18 BB Trem, a fantastic 18-Watt Plexi clone. I was originally going to record with my Fender Hot Rod because the guitar sounded great through it. But my problem with Strat tone came from switching to vintage Marshall-style amps like my PLX that have lots of midrange. Strats just didn’t sound right to me with these amps. But this one blew me away!

Overall Impression

It’s difficult being a gear freak and having so many avenues to evaluate great gear. I have to have this guitar. Period. It’s completely changed my view of Strats!

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65 Amps Soho
Summary: Super-versatile amp with LOTS of balls. Goes from AC30-like tones to cranked vintage Plexi. While definitely British-style in tone, it has a tone all its own.Pros: One of the very few amps I’ve ever played that REALLY responds to guitar volume knob changes. The Soho, while very versatile is also VERY efficient. The 20-Watt model I heard and tested had the feel of a 50 Watt amp! Very nice.Cons: None.

  • Features:Output: 20 Watts (SoHo) or 35 Watts (SoHo HP)
  • Tubes: Power amp 2xEL84 (SoHo) or 4xEL84 (SoHo HP), Preamp EF86-12AX7
  • Rectifier Tube: EZ81
  • Speakers (combo): Celestion Alnico Blue + G12H30
  • Panel controls: Volume, Treble, Bass, Booster, Bumpβ„’, Bump Toneβ„’, Bump Levelβ„’, Master Voltageβ„’
  • Extras: Footswitch input jack, dual speaker outs, switch for 8Ω & 16Ω impedance

Price: ~$2400 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Yowza! I LOVE this amp! It is so versatile and expressive and responsive to input gain. As much as I love my Aracom amps, I think this is an amp that I have to have.

I really shouldn’t go to music stores. But then again, if I didn’t, I’d lose an important source for gear. Last week, I happened to go to my favorite gear store (Gelb Music in Redwood City, CA), and was just hanging out looking at gear. i was also in there to see if they had gotten their latest shipment of Gretsch guitars, as I want to get the Electromatic 5122DC. Unfortunately, it hadn’t come in yet. But Jordan (who’s the guitar dude at Gelb) said that Dan, the designer from 65 Amps was coming in to do a demo from 5-7pm. It was just after 3pm.

Just so happened that Dan had just walked in the door, and Jordan introduced me to him while he was setting up their back room with the 65 Amps they carried. Dan and I got to chatting about gear and gigging, and then I started asking him questions about the Soho, which is an amp that has continually gotten my attention because Andy at ProGuitarShop.com uses one for most of his gear demos. So a cool thing happened: I got a private demo of the Soho from Dan the designer himself.

Now as we were talking, my impression of Dan was that he was a very nice, straight-shooting guy. But I’ve also seen and tested lots of different amps, so I guess I’ve become a bit jaded about boutique amps. But as you’ll soon find out as you read through this article, my jadedness became completely irrelevant in this case…

Dan took me through all the features, and I was completely dumbstruck by the expressiveness and versatility of the Soho while he played. The response to input gain using the guitar volume knob was incredible! I confirmed this when I played through it myself. You can go from clean to dirty with just the knob, then get really nice driving, but not overly compressed hard gain. The tone was incredible!

Now the Soho might look like a two-channel amp from its control layout, but it doesn’t have two channels; rather, it has two modes: Normal and Bump, which gives you a “bump” in tone and gain which is controllable like a separate channel – but it’s not a separate channel. Believe me, it’s very cool!

The “Bump” feature makes the tone of the Soho thick and rich and incredibly expansive. I commented to Dan that when he had it cranked, the amp sounded as thick and loud as a 50 Watt Plexi. He just grinned, as he knew exactly what I was talking about. As I mentioned in the Summary section above, this little amp has BALLS!

Equally impressive is 65 Amps’ trademark “Master Voltage” which is a bit different from a master volume in that like a regular MV it varies the B+ voltage it also keeps the filament voltage up, so you can still break up at lower volumes. Not sure the tech behind this, and who knows, it might be hype. But hyped terminology or not, it works; and it works incredibly well! It acts like an attenuator, giving you all the grind you need at lower volumes, without the extra circuitry.

I didn’t get as much time to play with it as I would like, and I tend to be rather self-conscious in stores when I’m evaluating gear, so I didn’t try too much. But I took it through various things I might do in a gig, and all I have to say is that the Soho is a true player’s amp. It has everything you need to cover gorgeous cleans to hard-driving rock. It’s definitely not a metal machine, but for producing most rock sounds, you can’t do much better. It’s not a small wonder why a great player like Andy over at ProGuitarShop.com uses this amp for his demos.

Here’s another thing: The amp is absolutely unforgiving. You can’t be tentative with your playing when you play through this amp because every mistake will be picked up. I love that about this amp! That’s why I call it a player’s amp because you really have to play. When I first started playing around with it, Dan said, “Give yourself some time Brendan. It takes a little while to get used to…” Man, was he right! I twiddled knobs, found a setting I liked, then just closed my eyes and started to play (closing my eyes helps me lose my self-consciousness – beside if I suck, I know it’s not the gear). πŸ™‚ Luckily, I didn’t flail too badly, and in the process, I fell in love with that amp. It simply rocks! I need to get this amp. Damn! There goes the GAS again!

BTW, here’s a video demo of the amp by Dan:

For more information, visit 65 Amps Soho page!

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TC Electronic Corona Chorus

Summary: Part of TC Electronic’s new Compact line, this is just about the most tweakable chorus I’ve ever played. Standard chorus most offers a wide range of chorus tone from subtle, ringing tones to thick leslie-like warble. But with TonePrint and TriChorus, you’ve got even more chorus sounds at your fingertips.

Pros: For the chorus lover, the Corona is a tone tweaker’s wet dream! There’s so much you can dial in with this pedal, and guess what? It all sounds great! Great TC sound in a standard-size enclosure? No problem, mahn!

Cons: None. Granted, I haven’t played with it much, but I just can’t think of anything NOT to like at this point.

Features:

  • TonePrint – instant access to custom pedal-tweaks made by your idols!
  • 3 chorus types – expansive tonal options from glassy shimmer to mind-boggling swirls of sound
  • Speed, Depth, Color and Level controls – sculpt your chorus sounds from subtle to extreme
  • Stereo in & out – for added flexibility to your set-up
  • True Bypass – zero loss of tone
  • Analog-Dry-Through – maximum tonal integrity and clarity
  • ToneLock – protects your presets under all circumstances
  • Easy battery access – makes changing batteries fun! (well, almost)
  • Small footprint – save precious pedalboard space
  • High quality components – only the best will do when it comes to tone
  • Road-ready design – ready to follow you wherever your playing takes you

Price: $129 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~TC Electronic is finally coming down from the stratosphere. In the past, price was a big barrier to entry, but with the Compact line of pedals, that’s no longer the case. You get great TC tone at an absolutely affordable price.

Selling Like Hotcakes

I called up my buddy Jordan over at Gelb Music in Redwood City today to see if he had any of the TC Electronic Compact Line in stock. He said he had one chorus and one delay left. He had three of each two days ago, and people are calling, so he has a bunch on order. I’ve been reading the buzz about these pedals for the past couple of days, and it seems that dealers sell them as soon as they get them; and for good reason: At least for the Corona, the pedals sound INCREDIBLE! As soon as Jordan told me he had a Corona (which is what I was originally interested in), I told him I’d be down in a few minutes and he said he’d pull the pedal. He knows me too well; if I like and bond with some gear, I’ll walk out the store with it.

Well, such was the case with the Corona. As soon as I got to the shop, Jordan handed the pedal to me. I took it and got set up to test it. I tested it through a 100 Watt Sebago Double Trouble with a Gretsch Electromatic at the shop and immediately fell in love. This is a keeper, and will be going on my board – today! Let’s get to the review, shall we?

Fit and Finish

Can you say, “built like a tank?” πŸ™‚ The enclosure is absolutely solid. The knobs feel totally sturdy, and the bypass switch (yes, it’s true bypass) feels solid. In other words, if the Corona is any indication of the rest of the line, these pedals will be gig-worthy.

How It Sounds

Sorry, no clips yet as I have yet to bring it home. πŸ™‚ But all I can say is that the chorus is simply silky-smooth. The “Analog-Dry-Through” (ADT) technique that they’re using really works. Basically, with ADT, the dry signal stays untouched in the pedal, and the effect is simply blended in. I really like this technique, as it ensures that your signal retains its integrity. So there’s no signal loss, and no gain boost like you get with other pedals that modify the dry signal directly. It also gives you a lot finer control over how much effectΒ  you want.

I tested all three modes: Chorus, TonePrint, and TriChorus. Here’s a synopsis of each:

Chorus Mode ~ If the Corona only had this mode, I still would’ve bought it. Based upon TC’s classic SCF circuit, this is a smooth, sexy chorus. There’s nothing bell-like with this mode, but it just adds some very beautiful character to your sound and it doesn’t sound at all processed. Based upon my initial test, this will most probably be the mode I use the most.

TonePrint Mode ~ This mode, of course, offers the ultimate in tweakability. Out of the box, the default TonePrint is an asymmetrical TriChorus that has some really cool swirls. But if you don’t like that, just hook the pedal up to your computer via the included USB cable and print a chorus sound you like. You can download TonePrints from the TC Electronic site, where they’ve had some major artists provide TonePrints. Want a Bumblefoot chorus sound? How ’bout one from Orianthi? Pretty cool stuff!

TriChorus ~ For me, used subtly in mono, this mode out of the box will give you very cool leslie-like tones. Apparently, it’s best used in stereo. While I liked it, it was the least of my favorites, but I can actually see where I can use it in one of my songs. It’ll work perfectly for that.

Overall Impression

As I entitled my previous article on the Corona chorus, I really thought I was done getting chorus pedals. But this is a must-have for me as I wanted to have another chorus pedal that could do sounds that me Boss CE-2 can’t do. The CE-2 is a really in-your-face type of chorus, while the Corona can be dialed back for a much more subtle chorus tone. I’ll be using this pedal – A LOT!!!

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No, not the sexual kind – though we do like that – but the spring reverb kind. πŸ™‚ Specifically, I’m talking about the Tone Candy Spring Fever. I reviewed the Spring Fever back in May, and gave it a 4.5 Tone Bones. But now that I’ve got it and after spending a few hours with it last night, I’m now giving it 5.0 Tone Bones! Here’s why:

  1. As I said in my original review, the Spring Fever is just about the best spring reverb pedal I’ve ever played. It sounds incredibly realistic, and unlike many of the digital varieties I’ve played, while it’s jangly with some top-end, it also doesn’t lose bottom end, so your tone stays nice and rich. That’s a little disconcerting to some folks because they’re used to a brighter tone, but for me, the retention of the bottom end is really what sold me on its tone, plus with the Spring Fever, you can go from subtle spring ‘verb, to rich, spacious, swirling surf tones, so there’s lots of variety on tap.
  2. What I didn’t get to test out in my original audition of the Spring Fever was its Volume knob which also acts as a clean boost if you turn the Reverb and Mix knobs all the way down. I’m not sure how much boost the pedal adds, but there’s enough boost on tap to slam the front end of your amp with loads of gain.

I particularly like the Volume knob because it solves a real problem for me when I play my acoustic gigs at venues where I have to plug directly into a PA board. My acoustics’ pickups don’t have much gain, and I usually have to crank up the volume faders on the board, which can be problematic as it makes it difficult to balance out the guitars’ volume with my vocals. I’ve solved this in the past by lugging my Presonus TUBEPre preamp with me, but that’s a bit of a pain to lug (read: extra gear, not because it’s heavy), and requires a separate 12V power supply. The Volume knob on the Spring Fever eliminates the need for me to bring a preamp with me. Nice.

If I have one complaint of the pedal, it has to be its finicky nature with power supplies, and will add some noise to the signal. Mike Marino explains this on the Spring Fever product page, and recommends some power supplies to use, such as the 1-Spot. I used the 1-Spot in my clips, and when the Spring Fever was activated, there was a slight, but noticeable hiss. This has to do with the power supply, and not the pedal. This also happens when I use my MXR Carbon Copy with the 1-Spot. When I hook it up to a regulated power supply like a Dunlop DC Brick, the pedal is as quiet as can be. So despite Mike’s recommendation about the 1-Spot, don’t use it. Get a regulated power supply like the DC Brick. Luckily, I have an extra DC Brick, so that will be powering my mini board.

How It Sounds

As I said, the Spring Fever is about the best spring reverb pedal I’ve ever played! Capable of producing a wide range of reverb, this pedal will be a permanent fixture on my board! I’ve still got to play around with it some more, but I recorded a few clips to give you an idea of what it can do. The clips below were all recorded using my 1958 Fender Champ output to a Jensen Jet Falcon 1 X 12. I start out each clip with a dry signal, then play it again with some “grease.” What that pedal adds with respect to spaciousness is amazing! All the clean clips were recorded at unity volume, while the dirty clips were played with the amp turned up to about 2pm, and the boost at 1pm with Mix and Reverb completely off. I wanted to demonstrate the clean boost and its effect on an overdriven amp.

Les Paul, Middle Pickup, Fingerstyle. Reverb: 11am, Mix:10 am

Left Channel: Les Paul Middle Pickup, Reverb and Mix same settings as above
Right Channel: Les Paul Neck Pickup, Reverb: Dimed, Mix: 8pm

I love the right channel track on this clip. Turned up all the way, you get this cavernous room sound, but with the Mix set real low, it becomes a much more subtle effect, providing almost a delay-like ambience without the echos.

Squier CV Tele Middle Pickup. Reverb: 10am, Mix 10am
MXR Carbon Copy with long delay time, Mix at about 10am

Les Paul Middle Pickup (biased toward bridge), Volume: 2pm, Mix/Reverb Off

Squier CV Tele Bridge Pickup (biased toward bridge), Volume: 2pm, Mix/Reverb Off

Overall Impression

Yeah, it’s pricey at $275, though you can find it at a lower price if you look. But I haven’t heard as a good a spring reverb pedal like this – ever. And the fact that it has a booster in it just rocks! For me, and especially for my acoustic gigs, this is a game changer!

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Yeah, yeah, just about every guitar blog has one of these posts, which is why I haven’t done one of these in the almost four years that GuitarGear.org has been around. The main reason was that I didn’t just want to post a “hot babe” list. I wanted to post women guitarists who are – to me – beautiful and talented and successful, and they have to be able to really play the guitar; in other words, they’re also great musicians, and not just eye candy. In addition, to make my list, to me, they have to ooze their femininity without resorting to raunchiness. Finally, and very importantly, I have to like the music they play.

1. Nancy Wilson

Topping the list is Nancy Wilson. I’ve had the hots for her since the 70’s! The she’s played the role of “sidewoman,” for Heart, she’s never been one to just look pretty on stage. She’s a great rhythm and acoustic guitarist!

2. Ana Vidovic

Ana Vidovic comes in a close second to Nancy and only comes in second because I’ve been in love with Nancy longer. πŸ™‚ I first heard her play on a recording before I ever saw her, and loved her playing. Then to finally see what she looked like – OMG!!! By far, she is the most beautiful woman on my list, and her playing equals her beauty.

3. Sheryl Crow

Say what you want about Sheryl Crow, she is one of my favorite songwriters. I love her musical ideas and voice, and those just add to her attractiveness.

4. Gabriela Quintero

The female half of Rodrigo y Gabriela, this dynamic duo started out as metal players then converted to classical guitars and play a sizzling flamenco style, with Gabriela providing the complex flamenco rhythms to back Rodgrio’s solos. I first saw them a few years ago on a late-night show, and couldn’t believe the energy they had! It was marvelous! Then to see this gorgeous, sexy Latina ripping it up on her classical guitar. I was in love!

5. Tal Wilkenfeld

Okay, okay. I know, she’s a bass player, but she did start out as a guitarist, and she’s so damn talented and so naturally beautiful that I would be remiss in not including her in my list. As Jeff Beck’s bassist, she’s absolutely amazing. I could only hope to play solos on guitar as well as she does on bass. Her musical sense and phrasing is purely amazing.

I first heard of her through Ignacio “Ig” Gonzales when he had his popular blog, “igblog.” He was in love with Tal, and he spread his “Tal Fever” to all of us who followed his blog. If you’re not familiar with her, search for her on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean.

Well, that’s my Top 5 List. Though my musical passion is rock and roll, I do listen to a lot of different music, and these chicks cover that territory for me.

One that I didn’t put on the list is Nora Jones, whom I’ve had a crush on for a long time, and though she actually does play guitar, and I love her music, guitar’s not her primary instrument, so she didn’t make the list, but she definitely would be in my top three were I to expand the instrumentation.

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I keep track of search terms people use to find my blog, and the search term “ana vidovic” is #2 on the list!

For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why this was because if I do a search on Google or Bing, the link to the article that wrote about her doesn’t show up for several pages. But then I clicked on the search engines’ “Images” link, and for some reason, the image I used in the article is near the top! Ha!

While weird, I don’t mind because it means that people are finding my blog, which is a good thing. It’s also rather amusing that it seems as if people (read: guys) are more interested in looking at her than listening to her. πŸ™‚ Granted, she’s stunningly beautiful…

And as to her beauty, to me, she’s the perfect woman: Gorgeous, she’s a great guitar player, and obviously intelligent to be able to play classical guitar as well as she does – which takes a lot of study. You go girl!

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VHT Special 6 Combo
Summary: This is a hand-wired, solidly built tone machine that packs great features for an unbelievable price. The value proposition alone is enough to turn heads, but add superb tone to the equation and you have a winner!

Cons: None.

Features (as tested):

  • 6 Watts
  • One 6V6 Output Tube
  • One 12AX7 Preamp Tube
  • Volume and Tone Controls
  • Footswitchable Boost Mode
  • High/Low Power Switch (Pentode/Triode)
  • 10” VHT High-Sensitivity Speaker
  • 4, 8, and 16 Ohm Speaker Jacks
  • Mod-Friendly Eyelet-Type Board
  • Hand-wired In China

Price: $199 Street / $179 Street for Head

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Clean or dirty, this amp delivers the goods! The tone sweep is absolutely excellent giving you gorgeous, warm jazz cleans, to classic rock bite! Add the Hi/Lo power switch, and Push-Pull volume knob boost (also includes a footswitch), and you’ve got an amp that can live in a variety of musical genres.

About a week ago, I extolled virtues of the Marshall Class 5, and raved about how great it sounds. It’s a fantastic little amp, and I haven’t changed my opinion of it. But along came the VHT Special 6 and the game has completely changed. VHT raised the bar with Chinese-manufactured, low-cost, low-wattage amps by offering a hand-wired, super-well-built amp with fantastic features that can easily change the amp’s character for under $200 for a 1 X 10 combo.

I think the arrangements many gear manufacturers have made with overseas assemblers is great. Egnater is another example of a manufacturer doing it with great success. Design the gear here in the US, then partner with an overseas manufacturer to take advantage of their cheaper parts and labor, ensure that they meet a high standard of quality, then give the savings back to the customer. The top-of-the-line stuff can be saved for domestic production, but the stuff you want to get out to the masses can certainly be made elsewhere, and in much higher volumes and production rates. It’s a good model that many manufacturers have been following for years. I realize that I’m going to piss off some of the ultra-patriotic that will only buy stuff made in the USA; I myself prefer to buy US-made stuff, but it’s tough to argue with getting great tone for a great price, and that is EXACTLY what the VHT Special 6 and lots of other gear assembled overseas provide.

But enough toeing the political line. Let’s get into discussing the Special 6, shall we?

Fit and Finish and Features

The first thing I noticed when I first looked at the amp is how solid it looked. Picking it up revealed an amp that is no lightweight. I don’t know the exact weight, but the Special 6 is not lacking in heft. The cabinet is made of birch ply, and from what I could tell, fairly large transformers were used with the amp and those are heavy. Note that I’ve actually heard some conflicting information about the cabinet wood. Some say MDF, others say Baltic birch ply. Actually, it just doesn’t matter. The cabinet’s solid, and it works well as a resonance chamber for the speaker.

As far as cosmetics are concerned, the amp is covered in tolex with white piping around the front grille. The rear panel sports a partially open back that, like the Marshall Class 5, has a thin metal screen covering the opening. That’s a nice touch.

The control panel is super simple. You’ve got two chickenhead knobs for tone and volume, on/off switch, a three-way Hi/Lo Power / Standby switch (I dig that), and two input jacks for Lo and Hi input. The volume knob is a push-pull knob that when out, adds boost (sorry, not sure about the amount of boost). You can surmise just by these features that you can do a lot of tone shaping with this little beast. πŸ™‚ The back panel has jacks for 4, 8, and 16 ohm speaker outs, plus a jack for switching between normal and boost.

Sound and Dynamics

Even with a 10″ speaker, the amp is capable of producing a variety of tones, from lush, Fender cleans, to ringing, AC15-like overdrive to gorgeous, smooth Plexi overdrive. I’m not kidding about this! Depending upon the pickup you’re using and where you set the tone knob, and other amp settings such as hi/lo input, pentode/triode mode, you can cover a wide range of tones! This is what is so SICK about this amp! It’s so damn versatile!

I played around with it in my studio this afternoon, getting ready to record some clips (which I’ll have in an upcoming article), and just for kicks, I unplugged the stock speaker and ran the amp out to my 2 X 12. Granted, there is a HUGE difference between a 2 X 12 and a little 10″ speaker, but in my experience, many low wattage amps still sound a little on the thin side even when going into a bigger cab; not so with the Special 6. It sounded big and ballsy; much more “big-amp-ish” than it’s diminutive power. That really came as a surprise, much like my surprise when I plugged the Reason Bambino into a big cab. It’s clear that just like the Reason guys, VHT didn’t want to just build a low-wattage amp. They wanted to build a great amp, period.

I also gigged with the amp in my weekly church gig yesterday afternoon, and it worked absolutely stellar! I kept the amp in high power mode, plugged into the high power input, set the tone and volume at 3pm each, then pulled the boost knob to activate the normal/boost footswitch. I didn’t use any effects at all as I just wanted the raw amp tones. I even tuned with my Peterson StroboClip so my signal from my guitar to the amp was completely direct. Note that even with a 10″ speaker, I still had to use an attenuator, and my trusty Aracom PRX150-Pro worked stellar with the amp.

During the gig, I mostly used the volume knob on my guitar to vary gain, whether in normal or boost mode. The amp responded so well to volume knob and pick attack. Even if I didn’t reduce the volume, and picked very lightly, I could clean up the sound. So sweet!

The only time I made any adjustments to the amp was when we did a song that I needed absolutely clean tones. I simply reduced the volume to around 11 am, then bypassed the attenuator. And the cleans were simply fantastic!

Made to Mod

Despite the fact that VHT says this amp is highly modifiable, I doubt that most people will do no more than swap tubes. I’ve seen some forum posts where people have made a couple of changes, but I’d say the majority of folks just won’t see a need to do that. But curious, for shits and giggles, I swapped out the stock 6V6 with a couple of different 50’s-era 6V6’s (GE and RCA). They each sounded beautiful as I expected, but quite frankly, they were just too smooth. The Chinese tube seems to be “hotter” and produces lots of harmonics; something my NOS tubes didn’t do. In my opinion, the Special 6 is meant to be a mini-rock machine. It won’t do really heavy stuff, but for 70’s and 80’s classic rock, it sits right in the sweet spot.

Overall Impression

I am thoroughly impressed with the VHT Special 6. Hand-wired, immensely versatile, plus fantastic tone for under $200? That’s tough to beat! And unlike other small, low-wattage amps that have only a volume and tone knob, the combination of inputs, low/hi power modes and boost make this an amp that can be used in a variety of ways. Big thumbs up, and 5 Tone Bones!

I’ll have clips in an upcoming article. Stay tuned!

Update: January 2, 2013

It has been awhile since I wrote the original article, and amazingly enough, I’m still using the Special 6. I did finally swap out tubes to 50’s era NOS for both pre-amp and power tubes, and I also swapped out the stock speaker and put in a Jensen Jet Electric Lightning. I use this amp frequently at my church gig where I don’t need a lot of volume since mic the amp and use the PA, and it is perfectly suited for that venue.

Even after all this time, I do have to say that I’m still thoroughly impressed with the tone of this little amp. When it’s cranked, and especially with the Electric Lightning speaker, the amp sounds SO much bigger than what its diminutive 6 watts would suggest. A lot of that has to do with how the speaker projects, but when cranked, that amp absolutely sings with tones of sustain and really sweet overtones. I love playing this amp with a Les Paul. The clean tones are gorgeous as well, and when I don’t hook it up to an attenuator, I just use pedals to get my distortion. From that perspective, the amp takes to pedals real well.

Finally, even with a simple, single EQ knob, the EQ works fantastically well with the amp. It’s kind of bright out of the box, so I normally just set the tone control to about 10 am. On some amps I’ve played, that muddies the tone a bit; but not with the Special 6. It simply makes the lower range stand out a bit more.

I’ve even been using the amp in the studio, over my DV Mark Little 4o and Aracom VRX’s (except where I need a heavier sound). It’s perfect for the studio.

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