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Archive for the ‘Red Bear Trading’ Category

Dunlop Ultex Sharp 2.0 mm

Summary: It’s sharp alright; nice and pointy, and it feels great in your hand!

Pros: Like any sharp pick, this pick is accurate. It’s super lightweight, and made of a material takes a lot of pressure to even slightly bend. The pointy end makes pick harmonics a breeze!

Cons: It’s a small nit, but I wish the butt-end were just a bit wider.

Features (from the web site):

Based off of a coveted vintage tortoiseshell pick in our collection, the Ultex Sharp delivers a pick with a rigid body tapering into a thinner and sculpted tip for intense control and speed. The seamless contoured edge surrounds the pick for more playing surfaces and tones. Engineered of Ultexโ€”the Ultex Sharp is virtually indestructible and delivers a crisp tone and quick release attack. Available in .73, .90, 1.0, 1.14, 1.40, and 2.0mm gauges.Price: 50 cents street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – Real nice-sounding and nice-playing pick. If you want to step up to a thicker, more rigid pick, but don’t want to shell out for high-end picks, this is a winner!

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of pick snob. Ever since I started playing with V-Picks and Red Bear picks, I’ve mildly eschewed mainstream picks in favor of the insanely awesome picks those two companies produce. But I have to tell you that I was taken by complete surprise by the Dunlop Ultex Sharp pick! I wasn’t really looking to explore new picks, but a buddy of mine was looking for some Ultex picks at a local store, and offered to buy me a couple. Hell! They were only 50 cents apiece! I carried them around for a couple of days before I actually got to try them; not because I was dubious of them, I just couldn’t find time until this evening to sit down with an axe. Life happens, you know?

Anyway, I slung “Blondie” my trusty Squier Classic Vibe Tele, dug an Ultex out of my pocket, and started to play. Admittedly, I had a bit of trouble playing with the pick at first. Even though it’s slightly thicker than the thinnest pick I play – a Red Bear Tuff-Tone – it’s decidedly narrower in shape; something to which I’m no longer accustomed. But being the hard-headed type, and because I wanted to give the pick a fair shake, as it were, I kept at it, playing scales and riffs to get used to it.

I have to say that I’m really impressed by this pick! First of all, the material feels great in your hand, and like any real good pick, you forget about it. I love the rigidity of the material as well. Contrary to what you might think, a rigid pick actually makes you relax your hand. I know, it’s counterinuitive, but any player that plays a rigid pick will attest to this.

I spent quite a bit of time playing with this pick, and it’s a fast pick, though what I really missed was how my high-end picks really glide over the strings, like they’re lubricated. The Ultex material is pretty smooth, but there is a difference. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s bad in the slightest; it just has a different feel on the strings.

Most importantly though, the Ultex Sharp produces a nice, bright tone. That’s what I really dig about this pick! Part of it is due to it being rigid, but the other part is because of the pointy end. It really makes the strings snap in a very nice way!

Will the Ultex supplant my V-Picks and Red Bear picks? Probably not, but I will be using it for sure. It’s not even a small wonder why these picks are so popular among guitarists. They’re great playing and sounding picks at an insanely cheap price. I’m sold! Buy a few, and you’ll see for yourself!

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I was noodling around the other day, and came up with a riff. The riff turned into a jam track, then the jam track turned into a full song. I’m still working on the song, but thought I’d post it for folks to give it a listen. Here it is:

Here’s what I used:

  • Rhythm Part: Clean Strat in Neck/Middle position. My Aracom VRX22 in the Clean channel, with the Master cranked and volume at halfway. Used a Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone pick to get that percussive sound out of the chords.
  • Part 1 Solo: Strat in Neck Position into my MicroVibe and the same amp settings. Also, used the Tuff-Tone pick to get a more percussive attack to the notes.
  • Part 2 Solo: Strat in Bridge Position into MicroVibe. Amp was set on Channel 2 with the Master dimed and volume at 6 for some nice, but not over-the-top breakup. I love that 6V6 breakup! Here I used my V-Picks Psycho to smoothen out the attack and give the bright bridge pickup a bit of extra oomph.
  • Part 3 Solo: Strat in Neck position, nixed the Vibe, into the clean channel with Master and Volume fully dimed. Used the Psycho here as well, but used a percussive attack.

In order to get those kind of high power settings from the amp, I used a soon-to-be-released Aracom attenuator that’s like NOTHING I’ve played through before! This thing is completely transparent because it maintains reactance between the amp and speaker; something that a lot of attenuators have a problem with (please don’t get me started on the UA, which I think is the biggest bunch of hype I’ve ever run across as far as attenuators go).

Another word about the VRX22. When the Master is fully open, and the power tubes are getting lots of juice, this amp just oozes all sorts of tone. And as the rectifier circuit kicks in, this amp feels as if it has built in reverb! As you can tell, I love this amp! Check it out at: http://www.aracom-amps.com.

I know that you might think I’m a bit nutso for using different picks; obviously in a live situation I’d probably only use one. But the in the studio where I can do pretty much anything I want, using different picks to affect my tone is totally cool. Check out Tuff-Tone picks at http://www.redbeartrading.com and the Psycho pick at http://www.v-picks.com. I swear by these two brands, and while I don’t work for either of these companies, like the Aracom Amps, they’ll always be part of my “rig.”

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Just got home from my weekly gig at the restaurant where I was really able to put the Tuff-Tone Tri-Tip through its paces. I’ve never played with a Tri-Tip shaped pick, let alone gigged with a Tuff-Tone, so it promised to be interesting – especially if I didn’t like the pick – because like a dummy, I forgot to bring a spare! Fortunately, I didn’t need a spare. The Tuff-Tone worked out great!

Admittedly, I was a little nervous, not because of the Tuff-Tone material itself but because it’s a lot thinner than what I’m used to playing. If you’ve been following my blog, you’d know I’ve been using a V-Picks Snake and also a super-thick prototype Red Bear Tortis as of late. The Snake is 4.1 mm thick and the Red Bear is 4 mm. I believe the Tuff-Tones are only 1.75 mm thick. I really didn’t know if I could make a clean adjustment. All my nervousness was washed away within a few bars of the first song I played. The pick felt so natural in my fingers, I just played without thinking. Whew! That was a relief!

So how did it perform? Practically flawlessly. The Tuff-Tones feel a lot more rigid and dense than their Tortis counterparts, but the material seems to weigh much lighter. That perception could be due to having played with thick, weighty picks. But to be perfectly honest, I really loved playing with this Tuff-Tone. As I mentioned above, it felt very natural in my fingers, and all the accuracy that I’ve come to expect from rigid picks was there from the get go.

Dave mentioned that in blind tests there was no difference between the tones of the Tuff-Tones and Tortis picks produce. But I noticed a definite difference. The Tuff-Tone produces a much brighter, jangly tone than the Tortis picks. Tortis picks, on the other hand, produce a smoother, more evenly balanced tone. Neither is better than the other; they’re just different. For me, when I want a brighter tone, I’ll use a Tuff-Tone. But when I want a fatter tone, I’ll use a Tortis.

I played all sorts of tunes tonight, ranging from full-on strum songs to songs that combined strummed chords and single note runs. I could be as expressive as I wanted with this pick, and that’s really the test. Lighten up your grip and let the pick glide, and the tone it produces is marvelously bright and ringy. Dig in and be greeted with a nice snappy tone. Want to do some quick alternate picking runs? No sweat!

This is a great pick, people, and a pick I highly recommend trying out and adding to your arsenal! I know that kind of goes against the common thought of using one pick for everything, but I’ve come to realize that using different picks will produce different kinds of tones, and different “moods.” It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’m now a multi-pick player.

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Red Bear Style "C"

Red Bear Style "C"

Imagine a pick shaped like the one to the left, but at 4 mm thick! That’s the Super Thick Gypsy Jazz Pick!

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with Dave Skowron, maker of Red Bear Trading picks, and said, “You know Dave, I just dig this Gypsy Jazz thick pick that I just bought. But as you know, for electrics, I play with a V-Picks Snake because I love the 4.1 mm thickness.” As background, I had just purchased a standard GJ thickness to replace the Heavy that I gave to a friend so she could try it out. I continued, “Do you have anything that is even close to that thickness? I would love to have that kind of thickness for playing acoustic.”

Dave replied, “Yeah, I have a sheet of the Tortis material that is pretty close to that thickness at about 4 mm. I did something even thicker for a guy once.”

“No, no any thicker, Dave, and I think it would be too much. But if you have a 4 mm thick pick, I’m all over it!”

“Okay, I’ll make up a prototype and send it to you to evaluate.”

All I can say after playing with “the prototype” for a couple of days is I hope that pick goes out of prototype because it is an incredible pick! You know how I love the feel and sound of Tortis, especially on acoustic guitar. In fact, I love the sound of Tortis with acoustic guitar that I won’t play any other type of pick on my acoustic. On electric, I dig my V-Picks Snake for its speed, tone, and thickness. Put all that together in one pick, and what you’ve got is a “Super Pick!”

The thicker you go with picks, the deeper and richer the sound. It’s not that you lose the highs; you don’t. It’s just that the thicker picks also bring out the lows, so what you get in a nice, even tonal presentation. That’s why I dig thick picks! On top of that, there is something magical with the way a Tortis pick interacts with an acoustic guitar’s strings. With me at least, playing a Tortis pick on acoustic evokes a certain visceral feeling that makes me want to close my eyes and just soak up all the tonal goodness. Not only that, Tortis, being made of a natural material, just feels natural. It’s the perfect complement for playing acoustic guitar!

So what about this super-thick Gyspy Jazz gauge? OMG!!! I am in guitar-playing heaven with this pick! It has the thickness of my beloved V-Picks snake, but all the feel and tone that I’ve come to love with my Tortis picks! To just call it “awesome” would be a complete understatement.

I first played the “Super Thick” last Friday at a gig that was primarily acoustic guitar. It started with playing some dinner entertainment music before a re-enactment of Christ’s passion. I was playing my Ovation Celebrity directly into a Genz-Benz 100 Watt upright. When I struck the first chord of the opening song. I actually had to pause and let the chord just ring and hang in the air. It was quiet enough in the room where I was playing that I could hear my guitar, as the amp was there for simple sound reinforcement. I thought my original GJ as awesome at 2.3 mm. What this pick did to the natural tone of my guitar was otherwordly!

I spent most of the day yesterday playing guitar, much to the chagrin of my wife! It feels so incredible!

In any case, if you’re interested in getting one of these, contact Dave Skowron at Red Bear Trading. I’m sure he’ll make one for you. Mind you, this thickness of pick won’t be cheap, but it’ll be well worth the investment!

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup! If I could go higher, I would with this rating. But this pick gets my highest rating!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Classic H

Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Classic H

Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Picks

Summary:Made from an entirely new pick material, Tuff-Tone picks provide the same, high-quality sound you expect from Red Bear picks, but are much more durable than standard Tortis picks.

Pros: Get ’em wet, put ’em in your pocket with all your keys and change, put ’em in the washer and dryer. They won’t break or warp.

Cons: None.

Price: $10 direct from Red Bear Trading

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 – The totally unique sound and feel of a Tuff-Tone pick makes it a winner in my book.

I love it when I get gear in the mail, and I especially love it when it’s a padded envelope from Red Bear Trading. I came home early from work yesterday afternoon to get ready to go to a gig in the early evening, and much to my extreme surprise and pleasure, a padded envelope from Red Bear Trading what waiting for me on the kitchen table. I immediately opened the envelope, poured out the contents into my hand and out dropped three pick packages: Two Tuff-Tone picks (a Tri-Tip and B-Style – both heavy gauge), and a super-super thick C Style Tortis measuring 4mm. I’ll be covering the Tortis in another review, so I’ll just mention it here.

I’ve been anticipating receiving these Tuff-Tone picks ever since I spoke to Dave Skowron – maker of Red Bear Picks – about them a few weeks ago, after I saw the announcement on his site. Rather than have me paraphrase the announcement, here’s an excerpt:

After a few years of research and development we have finally come up with a material which is an alternative to our standard pick material. The requirements we sought for this new line of picks were simple – deliver the same great tone and have the same comfortable feel as or regular picks while possessing unbeatable strength and warp-resistance. We feel that we have found that material. After months of beta-testing by some of the industry’s top players, we are ready to roll out the new line. The tone and feel have been confirmed in our tests. These picks are as good sounding as our standard line. They last and last, and are basically worry-free. In blind tests they were indiscernible from our standard line.

I have to disagree with Dave on the last line of the paragraph. To me at least, they aren’t indiscernible from the standard line. They’re similar in tonal response, in that they produce sound very quickly, but they are resoundingly not the same. I’ll get into more detail about this in just a bit. Where they are indiscernible is in their build quality. One of the things that has always impressed me about Red Bear picks is Dave’s attention to detail with respect to the build quality of his picks. To date, I have never received a single pick from Red Bear with any flaws. The bevels have always been perfect. Dave takes quality seriously, and all the picks I’ve had and evaluated have been flawless…

What about the sound?

In a word, awesome! But as I mentioned above, Tuff-Tones aren’t tonally indiscernible from the standard Tortis picks. Frankly, to me at least, they have a sound all their own. The material is much harder than Tortis, and to me sound just a bit brigher tonally. Or maybe I shouldn’t say brighter. The tone they produce is much more “chimey.” They produce the same rich tone you’d expect from standard Tortis, but I believe they bring out the high frequency tones much more than Tortis picks. If I were to make a comparison, tonally they sit right in the middle between a standard Tortis Heavy and a V-Picks heavy; the V-Picks heavy being the bright side.

But even then, these picks are tonally distinct, and no recording is going to capture the sound properly. I actually tried this morning, and it just didn’t work, probably due to my microphones, which double as stage mics, so the EQ tends to stay in the midrange. I could hear the differences in my amp, but just couldn’t capture the sound – sorry. You’ll have to buy a couple to see what I’m talking about. ๐Ÿ™‚ Which you should – these picks rock!

How they feel…

Make no bones about it; not only are they tonally distinct they have a totally unique feel. Unlike Tortis or V-Picks picks, these aren’t glossy at all. They have a flat finish, and a rougher, almost tackier feel. But they feel so good! When I first held one of the Tuff-Tones I got, I was a little doubtful about them because of how they felt. I was wondering if they’d be slower. I’ve been so used to playing gloss-finish picks, that these were like sandpaper by comparison (mind you, that’s just flowery language – they actually have a smooth finish). But all my concerns were laid to rest when I started to play. Like Tortis and V-Picks picks, they just glide across the strings. I really love how they feel!

Even at the heavy gauge, which is 1.7mm, these have got to be the most rigid picks I’ve ever played. I love that about these picks. They really don’t give, so they give you immediate tactile feedback while you’re playing.

Overall Impressions

Talk about being torn! I love these picks. I kind of lean towards brighter tone, and these totally give it to me. But I also love the super-rich tones of my Tortis picks, and the chimey tones that my V-Picks Snake gives me. I’m chuckling right now because I would have never thought I’d look at a pick as a tone-shaping device. Most people just use a single pick – I was the same until I discovered the virtues of using high-end picks. But the thing with high-end picks is that they each bring something different to the table with respect to tone and feel, helping you dial in just the right kind of tone for the song you’re playing. I now look at picks much like a painter looks at brushes. I now have yet another brush to add to my collection of tone “brushes.”

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Red Bear Trading Style B Heavy Pick

Red Bear B Style Gypsy Jazz Gauge Pick

Summary: At 3mm, this is the thickest gauge that Red Bear offers (though you can get thicker ones by special order).

Pros: All the tactile goodness of a Tortis pick, but with real beef. At this gauge the speed bevel is very pronounced, and that is a good thing!

Cons: Cons? What cons? None.

Price: $30

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 – This is my favorite Red Bear pick yet!

I love both Red Bear and V-Picks picks so much, that I give them away – and I gave my last Red Bear pick away last Tuesday to my friend and fellow musician Christy Martin of “Four Shillings Short,” a very long-lived Celtic band. It was great to see her reaction to how good my B Heavy felt to her! But that left me with no Red Bear!

As work has a tendency to make forget things, I was on my way to my weekly gig today when I realized that I didn’t have a pick! Luckily, my gig was a few minutes away from Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, so I resolved to go to the shop and pick up a new Red Bear. Once I entered the store, I went right to the pick case, and asked the sales guy to pull out the Red Bear tray. I was all set to get my normal B Heavy, when I noticed a Red Bear pick that I hadn’t seen before, a B-GJ! The sales guy said that the GJ stood for “Gypsy Jazz.” Well, of course I had to take it out of its pouch, and feel it. Mistake! The damn thing was beefy – nice and beefy, just how I like my picks.

I asked to try it out, and picked up a Martin dreadnought. From the very first strum, I knew this was the pick for me. But I also compared it to my beloved B Heavy, and there was just no comparison! I really loved the B Heavy, but since I’ve been playing with the V-Picks Snake on electric, I’ve developed a real penchant for super-thick picks, and at 3mm, this B-GJ felt just too good to pass up. So I returned to the case, pulled out my bank card, bought the pick, and went to my gig.

All I can say is that tonally, this had to be the best gig I’ve had in years! At this particular gig, I play solo with just me singing and accompanying myself with acoustic guitar and piano. I think I only touched the piano four times tonight! I was loving playing with this pick!

First off, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles about thick picks, you actually hold them lighter, which relaxes your hand muscles; thus you play faster. But from tone standpoint, I was in total heaven!

As expected, light strumming with the B-GJ produces wonderful, chimey and ringy tones. But the big difference I found between my old B-Heavy and B-GJ was when I dug into the bottom strings with the pick while simultaneously partially palm muting on the saddle of my guitar. What that usually produces is a subdued low-freq boomy kind of sound. With the GJ, it produced that tone, but it was much more pronounced. It was freakin’ awesome.

Moreover, I could ellicit all sorts of different tones by changing the angle of the pick. I could do that pretty well with the B-Heavy, but the tone was so much more full and rich with the B-GJ! I was really at my creative best tonight. A customer, who said he was also a guitarist, walked up to me at the end of his meal, and remarked how good my guitar sounded, and that it sounded nothing like an Ovation. I told him it was the pick, and let him hold it. “You could do all that with this pick? Damn! I gotta me one of these.”

Folks, this is just a dynamite pick, and it’s worth every penny of the $30 you pay for it retail (though it’s $5 cheaper if you buy direct from Red Bear Trading). For what this pick does for my acoustic tone, I just can’t think of using any other kind of pick for playing my Ovation!

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Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Classic H

Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Classic H

I occasionally browse Red Bear Trading’s web site to see if Dave Skowron has come up with anything new, and much to my surprise, he has! Red Bear has come up with a new pick line called the Tuff-Tone line that apparently sound just as good as his originals. But the big difference is that these picks are made of a material that is much more durable than the Tortis material of the original Red Bear picks! Apparently, they also sound just as good as the originals. Could this be a death knell for Tortis? I doubt it. Dave’s Tortis picks are the absolute bomb, and the natural feel of the Tortis when you’re playing is absolutely to die for!

In any case, here’s an excerpt from the Tuff-Tone web page:

Are they tough enough? You bet. These picks aren’t going to warp or break on you anytime soon. They will pick up some discoloration from your guitar strings. When this happens, simply wash them with soap and water. Go ahead and run them through the washer and dryer! No problem! Keep them in your pocket full of change – see if we care! These picks are really tough!

Not only are the tougher, they cost half the price of a regular Red Bear pick at $10.00! This is something I’m going to have to check out – and soon! For more information, check out the Tuff-Tone information page at Red Bear Trading!

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Every once in awhile, I contribute blog entries to JemSite, the largest Ibanez gear site with over 750,000 members. It’s an old board. With this installment, I talk about the virtues of using a high-end pick. Check out the article!

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I recently started a friendship with Vinni Smith at V-Picks – what a cool dude! Not only does he make great picks, but that man can make an axe sing! Anyway, I was e-mailing him this evening about how his “The Snake” pickup has changed my life, and it got me to thinking about specific pieces of gear that have had a drastic effect on how I approach the guitar. I’ll share them here in kind of a loose chronology:

1. The Kyser Capo

Yeah, lots of people call ’em “cheaters,” but screw ’em. I couldn’t play lots of songs without one. But the Kyser capo in particular really changed my approach, especially after I saw James Taylor playing with one. For years, I used a standard nylon strap type of capo that just basically stayed in place. But then I saw JT playing with a Kyser. I always wondered how he did his mid-song key changes. I used to think he just changed his hand position and played barre chords. But I’ll be damned if he didn’t just slide the capo up, then just played open chords in another key. That was it! I was sold.

2. Ovation Celebrity Deluxe

After my beloved “Betsy” (a Yamaha FG-335 acoustic) broke in a terrible fall, I immediately went in search of a new guitar. I played all sorts in this used gear store and came across this gorgeous sunset burst Ovation. I wasn’t much of an Ovation fan – thought they were really tinny sounding. But when I played this one, it had a much deeper sound than the Ovations I’d played up to that point, and it was a shallow body, no less. When I plugged it into an amp, it sounded even better! That guitar got me into amplified sound. So of course, in addition to buying the guitar, I also got a small Roland 25 Watt practice amp. What a life changer that was.

3. Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

This was my very first tube amp, and an amp that I still use because of how good it sounds… er… I’ve had some modifications done to it, but nevertheless, being my first tube amp, it exposed me to a whole new world of tonal possibilities. Up to that point, I’d played only solid state amps from a Roland JC-12o to a Line 6 Flextone III to a Roland Cube 60 (which I still have – it’s an awesome amp). The Hot Rod showed me the wonders and beauty of tube amp distortion which is nothing like what you get with solid state amps.

4. Ibanez Tube Screamer

There are overdrive boxes, and there are overdrive boxes. But the Tube Screamer is THE classic overdrive box, and the oldest pedal on my board. I’ve of course fallen in love with other OD’s like the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire, but the Tube Screamer had a real huge effect on how I looked at tone and established what pleases me the most with respect to breakup. It’s a great pedal (though I’m really psyched about testing the Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2).

5. Blizzard Pearl Fender 60th Diamond Anniversary Stratocaster

I love that classic, vintage sound, and this guitar delivered it from the moment I played it. Yeah, it’s made in Mexico, it cost me less than $400 new, but I chose it over Strats five times its price. Why? Because it kicked the shit out of the other guitars. It was THE guitar that convinced me that it’s not the price you pay but the tone you produce that matters. Since I’ve gotten her, I play “Pearl” every day. She’s the first guitar I go to when working on a new song. What a wonderful instrument.

6. Saint Guitar Company “Baby Blue” Benchmark

This isn’t my guitar, and I no longer have it in my studio, but this was the very first guitar that was made to my personal specifications. There is nothing like playing a guitar that’s made to order. The experience is surreal, and started me down this path of playing a custom guitar. Adam’s going to be building me one in the next few months – I’m keeping that one. ๐Ÿ™‚

7. Reason Amps SM25 Combo

Even though I love my Hot Rod, the SM25 marks a time when I’ve gotten super-serious about my tone. I’d played a bunch of amps, but this amp showed me that sometimes you do have to pay to get stellar tone – and it’s worth every penny. Lots of manufacturers have created amps that run their channels in series, but I haven’t come across one amp yet that does it as well as Obeid Kahn and Anthony Bonadio. They’ve come up with an amp, cab, and speaker combo that’s like nothing I’ve played before – and I’ve played some awesome amps.

8. Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Clean Boost

I used to think clean boosts were just to help punch a solo through the mix. I didn’t know that they could be used to slam the pre-amps of a tube amp to produce super-overdrive in an amp that no distortion or overdrive pedal can give you. But this one’s very special in that it adds no tonal artifacts of its own – it’s uncanny. What it does is boost the natural sound of your guitar, and when slamming the front-end of amp, gives you the true overdriven tone of your amp. This is a piece of gear that I cannot do without any longer, and it now has a permanent place on my board.

9. Red Bear Picks

I never thought I’d buy a handmade pick, nor pay $20 for one no less. But Red Bear Trading TortisTM picks truly changed my life. I now use Red Bears exclusively for playing acoustic guitar. They sound great with electric as well – I’ll get to that below when I talk about V-Picks – but no pick I’ve ever played has made my Ovation sound so good. These picks look and feel like natural tortoise shell, but they’re made from a polymer of milk protein. No matter, they’re awesome picks!

10. Aracom Amps RoxBox 22 Watt (soon to be released)

This diminutive amp oozes 6V6 goodness. It’s still kind of in the prototype phase so I can’t really write too much about it, but I think my friend Jeff Aragaki has hit a real sweet spot with this amp. Get this: It’s hand-wired, though it uses a solid state rectifier, and it costs less than $1000! The profound thing about this is you can indeed get boutique caliber gear at a great price. But for me personally, this amp is the very first boutique amp I’m buying. Oh, I’ll eventually get the Reason SM25 to run in parallel with this one, ๐Ÿ™‚ but this amp is special because it’s the first boutique amp I will ever have owned.

11. V-Picks “The Snake”

As I mentioned above, I’ve befriended Vinni Smith, and I just dig the dude! He knows so much about guitar, and we’ve shared a lot of the same experiences, and love the same kind of music (his favorite guitar solo is the lead break in the middel of Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do – my favorite as well). When we first met, Vinni sent me a large sample of his picks, which I compared head-to-head with my Red Bear picks. Of course, I love my Red Bear Classic B-style Heavy, but when I played the comparable V-Picks Standard on my electric guitars, I just couldn’t believe this sound and action I was getting! So I decided to use my Red Bears for acoustic – as I said, nothing sounds better than a Red Bear on acoustic. But for electric, it was going to be V-Picks all the way. Then during a conversation we were having a couple of weeks ago, Vinni told me he’d send me his Snake picks. These are a whopping 4.1 mm thick, with a different bevel than his others. Since I’ve gotten them, I’m never going to use anything on electric guitar than the Snake! I use the rounded for a smoother, fatter tone, and use the pointy for bright attack tones – especially when I’m doing stuff on the bridge pickup! These two picks have totally changed my approach to playing electric. Thick picks in general did that, but these are the thickest I’ve played, and they absolutely ROCK THE HOUSE!

12. May 30, 2010 – I know, a bit late on the uptake here with this one, but life-changing nonetheless, and that is my Aracom Power Rox PRX150-Pro attenuator. This is the first attenuator that I’ve used that truly stays transparent down to bedroom levels. It is the only attenuator that accurately gives me my cranked up tone at low volume levels, and it is absolutely wonderful! I know there are others out there, but knowing that they’re modeled after existing attenuator designs that I know don’t sound very good at low volume levels, it was a no-brainer for me to choose this one. As Doug Doppler said to me in a recent visit to his home, “This thing has saved my ears!” Even Joe Satriani uses one of these units and loves it! That’s how good it is!

Okay, that’s it for me… Anyone care to share what gear has changed their lives?

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

V-Picks Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed Picks

V-Picks Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed Picks

V-Picks Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed Picks

Summary: Super-fast, super-responsive plectrums that will take your guitar playing to another level!

Pros: Whether you play with pointy or rounded corners, these picks will give you more technical accuracy, and sweeter tone than you can imagine!

Cons: None.

Price: $4.00 ea

Specs:

  • Hand-ground and hand-buffed
  • Various thicknesses available

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 – Like Red Bear picks, once you play with picks like these, you’ll never go back to your old picks.

Okay, I’m sold. V-Picks are absolutely awesome! Yeah, I’m a Red Bear lover, but I love these equally, but for kind of different reasons and applications. For acoustic, my Red Bears absolutely rule. I couldn’t wait to get home to do yet another comparison test, and for flatpicking and strumming on an acoustic, my Red Bears (Style B Medium and Heavy), completely did it for me. They produce rich and warm tones, and chime like I’ve never heard from my guitar. They really are a strummer’s dream come true. But for all-around electric playing, V-Picks, especially the medium sized pointed and rounded picks, just make my heart sing! Not that the Red Bears sound bad on electric- they don’t. But there’s something about the brighter tones the V-Picks produce compared to the natural, warm tone of the Red Bears, that sound much more pleasing to me on electric guitar. Of course, this all boils down to personal preference as I mentioned in my previous article from earlier today.

So what’s the big deal? It’s all in the sound, baby! And to demonstrate, I created a sound sample. In the sample, I play a scale in E major starting on the 3rd string on the 9th fret. The first clip is with the Dunlop Tortex Medium (Orange), to provide a reference point. The second clip is played with the V-Picks Medium Rounded, and the third clip is played with V-Picks Medium Pointed.

If you listen carefully, the difference in how the clips sound is subtle, but important. With the Tortex, there is actually a very slight delay between when a string is struck and when sound is produced. It kind of screwed me up when I moved to the medium rounded, but the thing to notice there is that the tone is thicker and much more well-rounded. In the third clip, I moved to the pointed pick. I got the same bright tone that the Tortex produced, but the tone is much smoother and more refined and defined.

Another huge difference in playing the three scales was that with the Tortex, I didn’t feel like I had much control. Even though I stayed on tempo (I had a metronome set at 120bps that I was playing to), I no longer felt confident with that pick. On the other hand, with the V-Picks picks, I felt like I was in total control, and in fact, felt like I could go A LOT faster!

I could write more, but why? The sound bite says it all! And no, I didn’t purposely play bad with the Tortex. In fact, if anything, I tried to be as accurate as possible with the Tortex so I could give a fair representation. I was even a bit sloppy with the second clip, using the medium rounded, but the tone was so much smoother than the Tortex, despite my technical mistakes.

My days of buying bags of cheap-ass picks are over, folks! With my V-Picks and Red Bears, I’m now in tonal heaven! I can’t say enough about these picks, folks! You gotta go out and try them!

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