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Archive for the ‘PRX150-Pro’ Category

This is a hotly debated topic, and there are great arguments for or against using one. I’m of the former group and have used attenuators to great success over the years. To demonstrate how useful an attenuator can be, I put together a quick video. Here you go:

I wanted to be as non-technical about the usage of an attenuator because there are so many attenuator designs on the market. So I kept this video at a fairly high level. I’ll get into more detail in the next video when I discuss the Aracom PRX150-Pro.

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I walked into my garage/studio this morning and looked over to my gear – there’s a lot (though probably not as much as I’ve seen from other gear sluts’ pictures). Peering over my collection, the thought struck me: What if I could only have one of each type of gear… What would I choose? What would be the basis for my decision?

After ruminating on this subject over breakfast and coffee, I decided that I’d choose the gear that gives me the most versatility with respect to tone and usability given the various types of music I play. So based upon that here are my choices:

  • Squier Classic Vibe Tele 50’s
  • Aracom VRX22 with 1 X 12 Cab
  • BOSS TU-2 Tuner
  • Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator

Those four things will get me through any gig or recording session. Not to say that they’re my favorite pieces of gear, but that combination will give me the most versatility with respect to versatility and usability.

What? No Goldie? Man, I love that guitar, don’t get me wrong. But that guitar is so heavy, I don’t gig with it unless I’m at a place where I have to sit down. The Tele, on the other hand, is super-light, and with its pine body, it’s very resonant, so I can get thick, almost humbucker-type sounds to nice trebly tones. Goldie offers that up and more, but she loses on usability in a variety of venues due to her weight.

The Aracom VRX22 happens to be my favorite amp in any case, but it’s my favorite because of its versatility. Once I had Jeff do the footswitch mod so I could switch between channels, and remove the clean channel from the master volume, there’s nary a tone – except for super heavy, high gain – that I can’t produce with that amp.

With respect to my TU-2 tuner, yeah, I know, there are much better ones out there, but it’s what I’ve got. But despite that, I’d rather be in tune than to have a cool effect, so that pedal would stay.

Finally, the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator will always be a part of any rig I put together because it allows me to set limits to my max volume in any venue. Since I play mostly small to medium venues, this box is essential for dialing in just the right amount of volume for the house. And even if I have to play at super low volumes where the Fletcher-Munson effect comes into play, I can rest assured that when my amp is miked, I’ll get my true tone.

I was actually surprised by my own choice of guitar primarily because Goldie is such a tone machine. But for as much as I move around when performing, lugging a heavy guitar is definitely not my cup of tea; especially if it makes me throw out my back, which I did a couple of weeks back. But it also says loads about that Squier Tele. I’ve got some great guitars, but that little $329 wonder creates such awesome tones and it plays so great, that it’s a clear winner. I might’ve gotten lucky with my particular guitar because I’ve read some user reviews that their tone is inconsistent. I’ll play a few more to see how that holds up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, both amp and speaker get:

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Click on the picture for a larger view. Aracom Amps PLX BB 18

Summary: Reminiscent of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the PLX18 BB is a tribute to the classic Marshall Plexi’s of yesteryear.

Pros: Looking for classic EL84 classic rock/blues tone? Look no further. This amp has tons of mojo that’s just waiting to be tapped, with two independent channels and a subtle, tube-driven tremolo that’s to die for!

Cons: Tiny nit, but the stock speaker – Eminence Red Coat Red Fang – is voiced way to brightly for this amp. For cleans, it’s great, but creates a bit of fizz when you’ve got it cranked.

Features:

General (from the Aracom site)

– On/Off Switch
– Standby Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– Custom Heavy Duty
Aluminum Chassis
– Impedance Switch:
4, 8, 16 ohm
– (2) Speaker Jacks
– Custom Handcrafted
Turret Board
– Handwired
– Gold Plexi Front and
Back Panels

Tremolo Channel

– Single Knob Tone Control
– Single Volume Control
– Tremolo Intensity Control
– Tremolo Speed Control
– High/Low Input Jacks
– Tremolo/Reverb Remote
– On/Off Footswitch Jack
– Reverb: Available with
optional Tube Driven
Reverb in the Combo 1×12
and 2×12 configurations.

Normal Channel

– Single Knob Tone Control
– Single Volume Control
– High/Low Input Jacks

Price: ~$1750 Direct

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – If it weren’t for the speaker, this would get 5 Tone Bones, but I remedied that very easily by running it through either a Jensen P12N or a Red Coat “The Governor.” I dig that Governor speaker! It really brings out the best in that amp by taming the highs and adding a nice and smooth bottom end.

When you live less than half an hour from a boutique amp maker, you get to try out lots of GREAT gear. It’s so convenient to drop by Jeff’s shop or have Jeff over. He’s someone I love spending time with because we both share a passion for vintage and vintage style gear (Jeff is a passionate Les Paul collector), and we spend lots of time just talking about different kinds of gear, and especially his approach to amp building. As of late, Jeff Aragaki and Aracom Amps have gained a lot of attention in the guitar world for his incredible PRX150-Pro attenuator. And while I love what that attenuator does (it really has made my home recording late at night so much more convenient), it was his amps I fell in love with, and to date, I have three of them, having added the PLX BB 18 to my growing collection of low-wattage amps.

In Jeff’s words, the PLX BB 18 “ …is our tribute to the Marshall 18 watt Tremolo amp that was originally introduced in 1967. The term “Bluesbreaker” originated from the Marshall JTM 45 Tremolo Combo amp that Eric Clapton made famous when he was with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. While the JTM 45 Tremolo is the original “Bluesbreaker”, many people also refer to the early 50 watt and 18 watt Marshall amps with Tremolo as Bluesbreaker amps.

This amp is the elder statesman in the Aracom lineup, and while lots of attention has been paid to his latest VRX line, it was the PLX that gave Jeff his start. Unfortunately, because there are lots of classic Marshall Plexi 18 remakes on the market, the PLX BB 18 is probably his least known amp. That’s too bad because the tweaks Jeff made to the classic Marshall circuit has produced a very distinctive amp that has a mojo that’s almost visceral in its appeal.

Based upon a pair of EL84 power tubes, and an EZ81 rectifier, the PLX produces a very three-dimensional tone that’s at once in your face, but also fills the space you’re playing; and mind you, this is at fairly low levels – maybe loud conversation levels – due to squelching the output volume with the PRX150-Pro. Strike a chord or bend a note, and you can feel the tone! It’s that way with my VRX amps as well. There’s something that Jeff has discovered in building his amps that make them ooze a certain mojo.

Like all Aracom amps, the PLX18 BB is packed full of character. It’s amazing how it responds to volume knob changes and pick attack. But one thing that really strikes me about this amp is how smooth the distortion is when I crank the amp. When pushed hard, it has tons of gain and oodles of dynamics, but they’re very well-mannered. Notes are well-defined, and especially played with humbuckers, bloom nicely when you attack a string. F-in A!

How It Sounds

I got the amp this past Saturday, and I’ve been playing with it since. I spent Saturday evening and most of Sunday just getting used to it, and experimenting with different speakers. As I said, the stock speaker is a little bright (admittedly, I’m experimenting with it), but it’s also brand new, so that probably accounts for the abundance of highs. With time, that speaker will mellow out. But as I wanted to use the amp right away, I ran it through my custom 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N and also my Fender Hot Rod’s cab that has the Governor in it. Amazingly enough, this amp LOVES the Governor. The P12N sounds awesome (and I’m a huge fan of Alinico speakers), but the Governor seems to bring out the best qualities of this amp. Anyway, here are some clips I recorded:

  • This clip features the stock Red Fang. I’m playing my Prestige Heritage Elite (an LP copy) for the lead with the Treble pickup engaged. This is a clip from a song I’m working on called “Strutter.” I normally don’t EQ my guitar parts, but I did bleed off some of the real high-frequencies to cut down on the natural fizz.
  • This next song is called “Plexi Lullaby” because it reminded me of a lullaby. The base rhythm track was recorded on the tremolo channel with my Heritage, then I created a second rhythm track with my Strat. The Lead is also played with my Strat. You’ll notice that you really have to listen for the trem. The tube-driven trem is killer. It’s very subtle and oh so smooth! Almost forgot! The base rhythm track was played through the stock speaker, while the Strat parts were recorded through a P12N, and no EQ was applied to any of the parts.
  • Finally, here’s a simple track I recorded just with my Strat for both parts, running the PLX18 BB through the Governor. This in the drive or “normal” channel of the amp with it cranked up to about 3pm, which is almost full out. To achieve the cleans, I just used a light touch, and played it finger style. I picked the Lead so I could get some occasional grind sneaking in:

I really love the tone on the last clip. The cleans it produces just make me close my eyes and play; which is pretty much what I did when recording the lead part. Just hearing how the chords just rang was so inspiring! The amp the entire time was just on the edge of breakup – it’s so expressive! I just added a touch of room reverb in the mix, but the guitars were all recorded completely raw. I didn’t do any adjustments.

Overall Impressions

I know, I say this quite a bit about Aracom amps, but I LOVE THIS AMP! As you can hear from the clips, it has an abundance of character. Jeff has recommended a few times that I try some NOS tubes with it, as all the pre-amp and power tubes are all JJ’s. But I’ve resisted because it just sounds great with the stock tubes. As I told him, “I know, I’ve got some NOS tubes on hand, but there’s no reason to put them in there. It sounds great with the JJ’s.” I may eventually do that, but for now, I won’t replace the tubes until they start getting dull.

The PLX18 BB yet another one hit out of the ballpark by the humble genius, Jeff Aragaki!

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PRX-front-543Ever since I started this blog, I’ve talked about attenuators, and how they’ve enabled me to get tones out of my amp at reasonable volume levels that I could only previously get at super-high volumes. But before I get into the discussion part of this article, take a listen to this clip (it’s the same clip I recorded with my previous article on the Mullard ECC83):

Here are some details about the recording:

  • I plugged directly into my Aracom VRX22, which then fed into my Aracom PRX150-Pro, then out to a custom 1 X 12 with a Jensen P12N
  • The amp was in the drive channel with master at 6, volume (gain) at 6, and tone at 6 (the tone on this amp adds a little gain as well as an edge)
  • The PRX150-Pro was set at maximum attenuation
  • Volume-wise, this was talking conversation level!!!
  • No EQ was applied to the guitar – what you’re hearing is the raw tone.

With respect to “maximum attenuation,” I was in variable mode with the variable sweep pot all the way to its left extent. I shared my amp and PRX settings with Jeff Aragaki this morning, and he estimated that the output power was approximately 0.04 Watt!

Many people are apt to talk about how the speaker needs to move air, and that an attenuator doesn’t allow that to happen. But that clip simply demonstrates that with the right combination of equipment – and in my case, also a great set of tubes – you don’t necessarily need that speaker cone breakup to get great tone for recording purposes. Yes, SPL’s do play a big role in your overall tone, but to be able to achieve the kind of tone I was able to get at that very low volume level is nothing short of amazing!

So what about an attenuator being life-changing?

Maybe that’s a bit strong of a phrase, but ever since I’ve been using attenuators, and especially since I’ve gotten my Aracom PRX150-Pro, I’ve been able to explore tonal territory that I could previously only achieve using pedals – and only simulating at that! Take overdrive pedals for instance. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m crazy about them. I probably will still be nuts about overdrive pedals, but there’s one thing an overdrive pedal can’t do that an attenuator allows me to do, and that’s to get the thick, natural overdrive tone of my amp. Don’t get me wrong, I still use them, but I use them now more for tonal accents to my drive tone rather than giving me my drive tone. That’s very profound; especially for an overdrive pedal freak like me!

Here’s a good example that I just recorded. This clip is part of a new song idea I’ve been playing around with. Setup is pretty much the same as above, but for the rhythm, I’m running Strat into my Kasha overdrive pedal to get a jangly, crisp tone. The lead is Goldie plugged straight into my VRX22. I did mix and do a simple master on the recording, but the guitars were all recorded raw, with no EQ. In my DAW, I added some reverb to both parts and a touch of delay to the lead, but that’s it.

Speaking of pedals, since I’ve started using a high-end attenuator (there are others such as Alex’s and the Faustine Phantom), I’ve actually started using pedals in general much less. I’ve really relying on the natural tone and sustain of my amp. For instance, I’ve found that I’ve only been using reverb in the studio. When I play out, I just don’t bother. In fact, for the last few weeks, I’ve only been taking two pedals to gigs with me: My BOSS TU-2 Tuner and my VRX22’s channel switcher. Same goes with my Reason Bambino.

Life-changing? Probably not, but definitely approach-changing. I may personally endorse the PRX150-Pro, but there are others out there. If you really want to hear what your amp has to offer when it’s fully cranked with the power tubes glowing, then you owe it to yourself to get a good attenuator!

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Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

This morning, the guy who’s painting my house came into my garage/studio to ask me a question, and being a guitar player himself said, “Dude… you have a great setup.” So the conversation turned to my favorite topic, and of course, that involves talking about guitar gear. 🙂 During the course of our discussion he talked about how he loves Vox amps, and so I demonstrated my Aracom VRX18, which is actually based upon a classic Marshall 18 Plexi, but it had EL84’s. I wanted to give him a reference tone. He just smiled and said, “That’s yummy.”

He had to get back to work, but after not playing that amp for awhile (probably a couple of months), I forgot how much I love its tone. My VRX18 is quite special in that it’s a custom VRX18 that has a tube rectifier, which is an option when you get one of the VRX series amps. Jeff has it tweaked quite nicely, and the amp has tons of sustain, and gorgeous sag without getting mushy and compressed when driven. That’s probably a reason why I haven’t really used EL84 amps that much. My experience has been that they compress a lot when they’re driven hard.

But not this one… Jeff also adjusted the extra gain channel so it wouldn’t compress the power tubes too much. You get lots of dirt, but you maintain the clarity of your notes. This is a great little amp! In any case, I recorded a clip where I have the Master at 3 o’clock, and the Volume at 2 o’clock. That produces some serious grind, but as you’ll hear in the clip, there’s very little compression.

The drive tone the VRX18 produces is absolutely magnificent! When I recorded the clip, I couldn’t believe all the overtones and subtle harmonics that the amp was producing! Jeff really got the tone nailed with this amp!

In addition to the amp, I played through Goldie, running her straight into the amp, then through the insanely transparent PRX150-Pro attenuator set at variable attenuation mode at about 3 o’clock, then into a custom Aracom 1 X 12. Output volume was just yelling level. 🙂

Here’s a list of the Aracom VRX18’s features as a review:

– Channel 1: Volume and Tone Controls
– Channel 2: Volume and Tone Controls
– Master Volume Control (PPIMV)
– On/Off Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– Hi/Low B+ voltage switch (18/9 watts)
– (2) EL84 Power Tubes
– (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
– Cathode Biased Power Tubes
– S.S. Rectifier with “sag” circuit
* EZ81 Tube Rectifier – Optional
– Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
– Custom “Black” Plexi Front and Back Panels
– 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.

This little tone beast is such a value as well! At $895 for the head, it’s an absolute steal, and a real hidden gem in the boutique market, as is the VRX22, which is based on 6V6’s.

For more information, go to the Aracom VRX18 page!

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Aracom Amps PRX150-Pro AttenuatorAs many know, I’m a big fan of attenuators. In the past I’ve owned a couple and have tried out several. And with the addition of the Aracom PRX150-Pro to my rig, I’ve finally got a device that is helping me realize all the tonal goodness my amps have to offer. But this entry isn’t about the Aracom attenuator. There are a few attenuators that have entered the market in the recent past including the Faustine Phantom and others that are having the same effect on axe slingers and how they approach their tone.

So what’s the big deal? Most folks know how an attenuator operates. It sits between your amp and your speaker(s), and squelches the output signal from your amp which results in a lower output volume, so you can drive your amp to high gain levels and not shatter your eardrums. That’s the basic premise behind attenuators in general. But up until recently, attenuation came at a price, and that is the loss of tone and dynamics, or completely changed tone at higher attenuation levels; to put it simply, loss of tonal quality. I’m willing to bet that this very thing has kept lots of people from using an attenuator.

But with the new breed of attenuators hitting the market, loss of tonal quality is much less of an issue, if it’s an issue at all. Now you can bring your output volume WAY down, and be assured that the tonal quality you’ve worked so hard to achieve is still there.

So how will this change the way we approach our tone? I would venture to guess that many guitarists have really never known what their amp sounds like fully cranked up – at least for extended periods of time. Sure, if you’re a pro and regularly play huge venues, you know what it sounds like. But for us mere mortals who rarely play in more than a dance club, we’ve never been able to fully experience the cranked up tone of our amps, and that’s where a great attenuator comes into play.

When I hooked up my PRX150-Pro, the first thing I did was to set it on load mode and turn the variable to full attenuation, then dimed the master and volume on my amp to see what it would sound like. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of new tones that were suddenly available to me: rich harmonics, tons of sustain, and incredible touch sensitivity. It was as if a whole new world was opened up to me.

With my old attenuator, I rarely went to real high levels of attenuation because it made my tone sound weak and lifeless.  Plus, I didn’t want to burn out my tubes – which I learned the hard way when I cranked my amp while hooked up to the attenuator. But with the Aracom attenuator, I knew I could crank it as high as I wanted to and still be safe. What this means is that I now have access to a wider landscape of tones and dynamics that I can also safely reach. And that’s another feature of the new breed of attenuators: They appear to be much safer to use than the older designs out there.

Here’s an interesting question I got from a buddy of mine: Will I get rid of my overdrive pedals as a result now being able to get the fully cranked tone of my amp? Not on your life! 🙂 I love how they add color to my tone. But I will tell you this: Now that I can crank up my amp to high gain levels without the concomitant high volume levels, I’m actually not using my overdrive pedals as much. Oh, I still use them because they add certain characteristics that aren’t possible with my natural overdrive tone; just not as much as I used to because when I want just straight amp overdrive, I just crank my amp. But when I want to use them, I run them through the clean channel of my amp that has lots of clean headroom, so I can take advantage of the tone that they offer.

So is it a significant change to how we approach our tone? Possibly. I know of some folks who’ve completely stopped using overdrive pedals altogether as a result of using an attenuator, and use a clean boost or even just their volume knob on their guitar to get the lead volume they want. Me? I like to have a few different “brushes” that I can use to create different textures, but in either case, getting that cranked up tone naturally without shattering eardrums is pretty huge.

I think the folks who will gain the most from these great new attenuators are the home studio musicians. Imagine being able to record a screaming guitar solo, and not have the wife or neighbors yelling at you to turn down your volume! I regularly do my recording into the wee hours of the morning, so having an attenuator has been a godsend. But up until I got my PRX150-Pro, I had to wait to record solos until it was day when I could turn up my amp to a gain level that didn’t get me yelled at, as my other attenuators just didn’t give me the tone I needed at high attenuation levels. Even if I used an overdrive pedal, it doesn’t sound good unless it’s working with your amp and pushing your pre-amp tubes, and that takes juice! With a great, transparent, or non-tone-sucking attenuator, you can push your amp hard, and keep your volume under control!

I know of a lot musicians who poo-poo the use of an attenuator. But an attenuator can do wonders for gigging. Want to make the sound guys happy? Here’s another way to look at it: With an attenuator, you can focus on your tone, and not projecting out to the audience. Get enough volume to hear yourself on stage, then let the sound guys do their thing. PA technology has come a long way since the early days of rock and roll, where amps had to be played loud to get the sound out to the audience. Also, if you think about it, speakers are highly directional. If you want to disperse your sound, use the PA.

There’s been an interesting thread that I’ve been lurking on The Gear Page entitled, “Sound guys think I’m too loud.” Someone suggested early on that the original poster could use an attenuator or a smaller amp to reduce their volume. The suggestion of using an attenuator went largely ignored, but as I followed this thread and read all the various insights, using an attenuator is the perfect solution for this.

I’ve heard a lot of the complaints about attenuators in the past, and I’ve also had my issues with them. But with the new breed of attenuators, tone suck is no longer an issue. And that tonal quality will be sure to change how guitarists approach their performances.

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