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Archive for the ‘SM25’ Category

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. πŸ™‚

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, πŸ™‚ 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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Blues Jack 112 - Studio

Blues Jack 112 - Studio

Recognize the cabinet? It looks an aweful lot like a Reason Amps cabinet, doesn’t it? That’s because the one of the founders of Reason Amp, Anthony Bonadio, also owns a cabinet making company called Stage Craft Gear, a not very widely known cabinet maker – at least among consumers. They’ve actually made their start as an OEM cabinet supplier for a lot of amp companies through their parent company, Rhyme Musical Enclosures LLC. But as an OEM, they don’t get their logo on the cabs, and believe me, there are some heavy hitters who use their stuff.

In any case, they’re launching a brand new site at http://www.stagecraftgear.com – very soon – like today or the next! I’ve seen the look of the new site, and it totally kicks the shit out of the old one! Their designers did a great job!

Get a Free Cabinet!!!

I don’t have all the details around this, but Anthony did tell me about a cabinet giveaway that they’re having. You’ll have to go to the site and sign up. I only saw some sub-pages when I went to the site that have the new look, and the home page hadn’t been updated yet – I imagine the giveaway ad will be there.

Okay, let’s get down to business…

Yeah, it’s great that Stage Craft Gear has a new site, and even better that they’re giving one away (I hope I’m the lucky winner πŸ™‚ ), but that’s just airy-fairy stuff, in my opinion. What’s really important about Stage Craft Gear is the fact that they make the cabs for Reason Amps. It’s amazing how you read a lot about amps, but IMO, there’s just not enough attention paid to the cabinet. It’s the resonance chamber for the speaker, for chrissake! And it can make or break an amps’s sound!

My personal experience with the SM25 112 Combo is that it’s sound is “open.” It’s not a tight-sounding amp at all, which is a really good thing when you’re on stage, and a lot of that has to do with the cabinet. It’s tall, and not very deep, but it projects a gorgeous, bright tone that really complements the big sound that comes out of the standard Eminence Governor that’s installed in the cab. The Governor works AWESOME in that cabinet. On the other hand, I used a Governor in a deeper, heftier cabinet (made by another manufacturer), and it sounded like shit! Way too tight, and high-mid to high-freq tones were really subdued.

The point to this is that my experience with a single Stage Craft cabinet leads me to believe that these guys make very special cabinets. It’s no surprise that several boutique amp manufacturers use them. They kick ass!

Ensuing Cab Review

I’m going to be reviewing a cabinet from Stage Craft really soon. Check back here. If my previous experience is any indicator, this cab promises to be very special. Stay tuned!

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Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion Pedal

Fulltone OCD Drive Pedal

What do you do when you have two kick-ass overdrive/distortion pedals and don’t know which one to choose because both pedals bring so much to the table? The obvious answer is to use both. But my problem in choosing is exacerbated by limited pedal real estate, so I have to make a choice.

Actually, the choice wasn’t too hard to make once I started playing with the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire. While I love the OCD, the Holy Fire wins hands-down for its versatility and total transparency. While the OCD is somewhat transparent, it can get kind of muddy and a little choppy at high drive settings, whereas the Holy Fire’s distortion section reacts a lot like a power tube at high gain settings producing a compressed effect that just rocks the house!

I still love the sound that the OCD produces. It really brings out harmonics and overtones, and set in a “sweet spot” produces a nice sparkly distortion that really sounds great. But as of late I’ve been gravitating towards retaining the natural sound of my guitar and amp, so the added artifacts that the OCD adds aren’t really what I want right now.

On the other hand, the overdrive on the Holy Fire is totally unique, and nothing like I’ve ever witnessed in all my tests of overdrive pedals (and believe me, I’ve tested a lot). The overdrive has what Creation Audio Labs calls a “wave shaping” circuit that evenly distorts the entire bandwidth of the incoming signal as opposed to creating a mid-range hump, or scooping the EQ. It really is completely even. You don’t lose any lows or highs, which is common in overdrive pedals. And the circuit reacts to both volume and pick attack, providing more wave shaping as you hit the front-end of the pedal harder. Simply put, you retain all the natural tone of your guitar! It’s insane! And it’s so special, Creation Audio Labs is trying to patent it!

I gigged with the Holy Fire for the first time this evening at my weekly Church gig. Make no mistake, this may be a church service, but we regularly hit above 100db in our sets, so there is plenty of room to let our amps breath, and take advantage of the higher gain settings on our equipment. Tonight, I made sure to pick music that would allow me to use the Holy Fire throughout my set. Talk about being inspired! I used it with my Strat and a Reason SM25 amp. What a combo! I set the gain to just above unity with the clean channel (about 10am), the overdrive at about 2pm, and distortion at about 3pm (so the distortion section would compress – it does this at around 2pm). The breakup was so smooth and delicious, I wanted to keep it on all the time! Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that with some songs, but where I had the entire band playing all out, the Holy Fire just made my heart sing!

The Holy Fire also plays well with other pedals. My mainstay overdrive pedal is my trusty green machine, an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer. That’s one pedal that will NEVER leave my board! But here’s the cool thing: Running the Tube Screamer in front of the Holy First was like nothing I’ve heard before. I did this with my OCD as well, essentially getting a combined tonal effect that the TS and OCD produce. But the Holy Fire maintained the tone the Tube Screamer produces! On the other hand, it smoothed out and thickened the distortion. The result was the expected mid-range hump from the Tube Screamer, but with super-creamy distortion, plus the TS tone, that was like candy to my ears. No extra coloration that I came to expect by running my TS into the OCD. It was like playing a fatter Tube Screamer!

Believe me, despite playing in a worship service, the way I was feeling with both those pedals running together made it seem I like I was flying with the angels! I’m not exaggerating! There is absolutely nothing compared to the feeling you get when you’re playing with wonderful tone. It inspires and emboldens you, and you take your playing to places you didn’t think possible.

That was the feeling I got when I first started playing with the OCD, and frankly, I didn’t think it could get much better. But the Holy Fire has changed everything.

On top of that, I was using another Creation Audio Labs pedal, the Mk.4.23 clean boost, yet another amazing product from those electronics wizards. I used the booster to give me just a slight gain boost for when I was doing solos, or was in the refrain section of a song when I needed just a bit more volume. It too is a totally transparent boost, adding ZERO artifacts to your signal, so all the time I spent dialing in my settings wouldn’t be lost when the Mk.4.23 was engaged.

I swear, I must sound like a twitterpated, googly-eyed schoolgirl! πŸ™‚ But it’s been a long time that I’ve felt truly inspired, like everything was totally right with my world of tone. I’ve finally (at least for now), found total balance in my tone. The circle is complete…

At least until I get a bad case of GAS!!!

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Celestion GreenbackMy good friend Phil of Phil ‘N The Blanks has been bugging me to write about speakers for the last couple of weeks. I’d talk about this speaker or that in some amp or cab, and he’d say, “There’s your next article, dude. You gotta write about speakers.” Admittedly, I’ve been a bit reticent about the subject because of all guitar parts, what makes a speaker sound good is purely a subjective thing; that is, someone’s assessment of a speaker’s tonal quality is entirely personal.

Oh yeah, you can argue the case of alnico vs. ceramic. You can argue vintage vs. modern voicing. You can argue about the materials used in a particular speaker. But in the end, none of that matters unless it sounds good to… well… you.

Phil has been trying to get me to write about certain speakers, but that’s something I just won’t do because again, it’s personal preference. For instance, Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps came over to my house today and we talked at length about his RoxBox 18 Watt Combo. I love the amp, but really wasn’t moved by the Eminence Red Coat Red Fang, which uses an alnico driver. On the other hand, I love the RoxBox head plugged into the Reason SM25 speaker cabinet that sports a Red Coat “The Governor,” which uses a ceramic driver. To me, it has a deeper sound. I kind of lean towards the “woman tone,” and “The Governor” is voiced a lot like a Celestion Greenback, which is known for its rich tones. Combined with my Strat I can get that tone. It just wasn’t happening for me with the Red Fang, though for really heavy rock stuff, the Red Fang really shines when it’s pumped up, as it compresses very nicely at high gain output. But that’s not the style I play, so it was hard for me to truly appreciate its virtues.

That said, Jeff mentioned another guitarist who just loves that setup. He’s more of a pure rock player, and loves the warmth and brightness that the Red Fang produces. See what I mean? To talk about this speaker or that is akin to starting a holy war. And you can’t tell anyone a particular speaker is bad or good because that’s just an opinion.

So here’s my advice if you want to switch to a different speaker: Go to a place where you can try speakers out and pick the one YOU like. Use reviews and sound bites as guides only. They’ll generally get you into the ballpark of the tone you want to achieve. And don’t be surprised if you get a speaker for cheap. Remember, as far as gear is concerned, something that costs more a lot of times just costs more – it may not sound any better to you. A good comparison to make is with the speakers I mentioned above. The Red Fang costs about $129, while The Governor costs $89. But I like the sound The Governor produces. If the prices were switched, I’d still go with The Governor.

So don’t be fooled by any marketing mumbo-jumbo. Go out and test for yourself! πŸ™‚

There Phil, I wrote an article about speakers…

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Saint Guitars Messenger Baritone

Saint Guitars Messenger Bariton

Saint Guitars Messenger Bariton

Just wanted to share some initial sound bites that I created with a couple of new pieces of gear. The first is a Saint Guitars Messenger Baritone. Before now, I had never played a baritone, and really didn’t know what to expect. But after playing around with it for a few days, I have to say that I just love how this thing sounds. Baritones have been getting more and more popular as of late due to their very low, natural tone, and several metal players have started using them because of this. But I truly believe that a good test of a guitar or an amp is how it sounds clean. Played clean, you can’t hide mistakes. So here’s a clip that I created this morning to demonstrate the beautiful, clear tone the Messenger Baritone creates.

The guitar was played through the Normal channel of a Reason SM25 amp. As you can hear, the tone is deep, but surprisingly chimey due to the bright-sounding walnut body and neck, Adam Hernandez’ tone wood of choice. It took awhile to get used to playing the wider frets, but once I got a handle on it, I just started loving how this guitar plays and sounds!

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps RoxBox 18 Watt Head


You know me, in addition to just digging on overdrive pedals, I love low-power amps! When Jeff at Aracom initially contacted me, I had never even heard of Aracom amps! And I pride myself on knowing about these things! Yikes! So when I perused his site, I was immediately taken by the RoxBox. And after just a day of using it, I have to say that I LOVE THIS LITTLE AMP!!! First, because it’s a low-wattage amp, which makes it very versatile, and secondly because it comes equipped with EL-84 power tubes! There’s a brightness in the EL-84 tubes that just makes my soul reverberate, and I just dig the sounds that this amp can produce. But just as with the Messenger above, the big test for me is how the amp sounds clean. And baby, it sounds great clean! The sound bite I have here uses the same clip above, but layers on a lead part using just my Strat played through Channel 1 of the RoxBox. Channel 1 has TONS of clean headroom, and even ‘buckers have a hard time making this channel grind. This will definitely score well with the pedal freaks like myself. Anyway give it a listen:

This little amp is nothing short of impressive, and priced at $895 for the head, it’s also an incredible value!!! Kudos to Jeff at Aracom for creating an attainable hand-wired amp! Looks like I’m going to be shelling out bucks for both the Reason SM25 AND the Aracom RoxBox.

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Reason Amps SM25 25 Watt Combo Amp

Reason Amps SM25 25 Watt Combo Amp

Reason SM25 25 Watt Combo Amp

Summary: Incredibly expressive and versatile amp that can deliver a wide range of tones from glassy, sparkly cleans, to lewd, rude, and crude distortion, all in a single cabinet!

Pros: Killer tones in all channels. Amp is voiced bright by design, which makes it great to use in the studio. StackModeTM is the best thing since sliced bread, and is THE secret sauce that makes Reason Amps stand out from the rest.

Cons: No effects loop, which would be handy for placing reverb and other modulation effects after the amplified signal. Just a nit.

Price: $2395

Specs:
β€’ Output: 25 watts RMS @ 5% THD
β€’ 1 X 12 Eminence Red Coat Driver
β€’ (2) 6V6 output tubes, in Class AB Fixed Biased configuration
β€’ (4) 12ax7 preamp tubes
β€’ GZ34 Rectifier tube
β€’ 3 way Stack switch – Normal, Stack, Bright
β€’ Normal channel – Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass
β€’ Bright channel – Volume, Tone
β€’ StackModeβ„’ – Bright & Normal channel controls are active, Stack Volume & Hi-Cut
β€’ Oversized extra capacity power supply
β€’ Power Switch
β€’ Standby Switch
β€’ Independent output jacks for 4,8, 16-Ohm operation
β€’ Footswitch access to all three channels/modes

When I discovered the Reason Amplifier company a few weeks ago, I was so intrigued by what they had to offer that I immediately contacted them. I had the fortune of getting in touch with Anthony Bonadio, one of the founders of Reason to talk to him about his exciting new company and his new line of amps. That conversation led to him sending me an SM25 25 Watt combo to review; and since I’ve had it, I haven’t gotten much sleep from playing with it late into the night. Now you might say that I’m just excited about playing a new amp. Yes, that certainly has a lot to do with it. But what Reason has come up with in their amplifiers is so incredibly brilliant and unique that I’ve been spending all my free time trying to discover the subtle intricacies of this tone machine. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started!

“Dahr-ling, you look mahvelous!”

The Reason founders, Anthony Bonadio and Obeid Kahn, are both vintage gear freak-o-maniacs, and the retro styling of the entire Reason amp line is a testament to that passion. The SM25 sports a black tolex cabinet with light brown trim around the grille cloth, and a thick leather handle with what appears to be brass accoutrements. Between the control surface and grill cloth is a prominent tolex-covered cross board sporting the Reason logo which, by the way, is very cool, very retro as well. The control board looks like burnished brass with black, bold lettering for labels. And to add to that retro vibe, chicken head knobs are used for all the controls. This amp, and all Reason amps for that matter, just ooze vintage mojo. Just looking at the amp, I can’t help but grin that grin you get when you see something so far-out COOL!

It’a hard to discern the actual size of the amp from just a picture. So make no mistake about its size: This is not a diminutive 25 Watt amp. In fact, it’s about as big as a Fender Twin, though not as deep. The shipping weight said 32 pounds, but from feel and comparison to my Fender Hot Rod, it weighs almost as much. But that’s not a bad thing. A beefy cabinet creates a lot of resonance if done correctly, and believe me, it’s done correctly with this amp.

How It Sounds

All Reason amps, including the SM25 are voiced bright. You don’t get beefy lows out of this, and that’s by design. Now before you dismiss that, on stage and in the studio, that bright voicing will ensure your guitar cuts through the mix. I recently played it at one of my regular gigs, and where my amp oftentimes gets lost in the mix, forcing me to pump up my volume, I had no problem cutting through, and mind you, I barely had to push my volume. The bright voicing let my guitar tone sit in the mids and highs. My sound guy even commented on how well he could hear my guitar without me pushing the volume like I usually do during a solo break; though admittedly, like any lead guitarist, I usually don’t mind being louder than everyone else. πŸ™‚

In the studio, using the amp for recording is like being in heaven. The bright voicing combined with the rich tones the amp produces is simply candy for the ears. From a practical perspective, brightly voiced amps also record much better. For home recording I’ve had to stop using my big amp because it’s just too boomy, no matter how I set the EQ. I’ve had to use smaller, brighter amps because they cut through a mix much better. But since I’ve had the SM25, I’ve recorded two songs with it, and like I said, I’m in heaven. I now have a bright voice to cut through the mix, but rich tones as well. It’s the best of both worlds!

The SM25 is also incredibly touch-sensitive and responsive to the subtlest manipulations I made on my guitar. In fact, when I first started playing with it, I was a bit embarrassed by how I sounded. For my all my tests, I played along to some jam tracks I’ve produced for practicing different styles, and recorded what I played through the amp. When I played back what I had recorded, I was appalled at how crappy I sounded! All my mistakes came through! I couldn’t hide whatever bad habits or bad technique I had behind effects, like I normally would. In short, this amp has forced me to play better because it’s so unforgiving when you make a mistake. But hey! It’s never a bad thing to be shown your weaknesses. That’s how you grow and improve!

Multiple channels, lots of tone shaping possibilities…

The SM25 comes with two channels: Normal and Bright. But it also sports a third “channel” called StackModeTM that’s essentially the Normal and Bright channels run in a series with an extra gain stage, while retaining volume and tonal control over the Normal and Bright channels. To me, StackMode is Reason’s secret sauce, but I’ll get into that in a bit. I’ll first describe the independent channels.

The Normal channel sports a volume knob and a three-band EQ. The volume knob is also a push-pull knob, and pulling it out adds some extra high-freq boost to bring out the super high frequencies. The effect is that once you set up your EQ, pulling out the knob adds some extra high-freq shimmer and sparkle. It’s subtle, but absolutely delicious. Comparatively speaking, the Normal channel sounds like your classic, jangly American clean tone, but with the high-freq boost, you get a bit of the sharpness of the British clean – nice.

The Bright channel is well, bright. It too has a push-pull volume knob for extra high-freq boost, and it has a single tone knob to back off some of the brightness. The Bright channel is also the more “ballsy” of the two, and really kicks in some pretty high gain. It’s quite lovely, in my opinion, and it’s perfect for doing the traditional solo break that will cut right through a mix with ease.

Channels? We don’t need no stickin’ channels!

But for me, the real attraction of this amp, and actually any amp from Reason for that matter, is StackModeTM. In all my years of playing, I’ve never come across anything quite like it. On the surface, you might think this is just another channel on a multichannel amp. It is in a way, because of its independent gain stage. But that’s about as close a comparison that you can make to other multichannel amps. Unlike other multichannel amps where all the channels are independent, StackModeTM input doesn’t come directly from the guitar. The guitar’s signal is routed through the Normal and Bright channels first, then fed into the StackMode channel. And the volume and EQ settings on the Normal and Bright channels are still active!

Because volume and EQ are retained in the Normal and Bright channels in StackModeTM, the tone shaping possiblities are incredible. What you adjust in Normal or Bright affects the final output. You can crank up the volumes on the first two channels and achieve uber gain, with thick, rich distortion. Or you can dial it back a bit and take a more balanced approach. The point is that you can do a lot of tone shaping to your needs while in StackModeTM. And here’s the kicker: The amp still retains its touch and guitar volume sensitivity in StackModeTM.

What does this mean? Well, I soon discovered that StackModeTM was the only channel I’d probably ever use, unless I had to go super clean, whereas I’d just switch to the Normal channel. The amp in StackModeTM is so responsive to picking attack and volume knob levels that I found I just didn’t need to do any channel switching at all once I dialed in my settings for the Normal and Bright channels. It’s that good!

One other thing, the volume knob on the StackModeTM channel is a very good Master volume. When I’m playing late at night, I can turn the volume down on the StackModeTM channel, and still retain the characteristics of the settings I made in the first two channels. It’s just softer. How cool is that? So that’s why entitled this section, “Channels? We don’t need no stinkin’ channels.” Once you have your settings dialed into StackModeTM, you’ll never want to get out of it! So for me, the SM25 is effectively a single channel amp with adjustable stages.

My Tests

In any case, for my tests, I used four different guitars: A Strat, a PRS SE Soapbar II with P-90’s, an Epiphone Korina Explorer and a Saint Guitars Benchmark, both with humbuckers. I’ll talk about how each guitar sounds separately below.

Fender Strat

Obeid Kahn is known in the industry as a “Strat man,” and this amp really sounds great with a Strat. I’ve got the vintage re-issue Tex Mex pickups in mine, and slathering on reverb, you can get some awesome Dick Dale-like tones. But it doesn’t necessarily sound like a Fender amp. In fact, the clean tone is like a cross between a Fender and a Marshall. It’s creamy smooth, but bright and sparkly at the same time. The big cabinet adds to the resonance, and the ever so slight voltage sag that you get from the rectifier adds to the sustain and resonance. This is boon when you’re playing with a Strat because they do not sustain well at all. I could get country twang to hard-driving distortion with uber sustain with my Strat.

PRS SE Soapbar II

P-90’s are hot pickups by nature, and it doesn’t take much to push any amp into overdrive, and when it does this, it’s a preamp overdrive lover’s wet dream! With the SM25, the 12AX7’s just sing with sweet, smooth overdrive goodness. There’s nothing harsh about the sound this produces in the SM25, but one thing I did notice with the tone was that unlike other amps I’ve played with my SE Soapbar II, even though the amp is bright, the sound the amp produces with it is big and bold, without being boomy. It’s crystal clear, and doesn’t wash out the higher notes in a barre chord, which often happens with more boomy amps. All in all, I just dug that halfway between single coils and humbucker sound my P-90’s produced with the SM25.

Epiphone Korina Explorer

This is a real rock guitar, with a warm ballsy tone. Plugged into the SM25, I was amazed at how the amp responded to this guitar, and I was able to spew out some thick distortion and singing sustain with the volume knobs on the amp dimed to the hilt. I’m not a metal player, and technically, with the bright voicing of the Reason amps one wouldn’t think they’d be suitable for metal, but the lewd, rude, and crude drive I could produce with the Explorer plugged into the SM25 was scary! But in a good way. And when I scooped the EQ, yikes!

Saint Guitars Benchmark

Of all the guitars I used for testing the SM25, the amp seemed to love the Benchmark the most. This guitar was spec’d with Blues and Classic Rock in mind, and through the SM25, I’ve never heard it sing like this. I could go from deep, dreamy clean to rabid dog distortion, and the whole time, the SM25 maintained a tonal clarity and character; never muddying or washing out. It was other-worldly, to say the least.

Made for the Road and the Studio

Anthony Bonadio cautioned me during a previous conversation that he didn’t want to alienate people from buying the amps when he said, “Our amps are really intended for the gigging and session musician.” In other words, Reason amps aren’t really meant for the bedroom musician. These amps want to move air, and that’s no exception with the SM25. In fact, when cranked, it’s a hell of a lot louder than my 40 Watt Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, and that’s a loud amp! It just wants to project its voice. Premier Guitar even gave its bigger brother, the SM50, its “Loud as Hell” award. But in my opinion, the real test of an amp is how good it sounds throughout its entire range of volume. That’s a mark of versatility, and in spite of what Anthony claims is the focus of Reason’s line of amps, you actually can play these amps at bedroom levels and still produce kick-ass tone!

A lot of amps don’t sound good unless they’re cranked, but at lower volumes they just peter out and lose their character. But at least with my experience with the SM25, it sounds great at ANY volume. Considering that all Reason amps are built around the exact same circuitry, I can safely say that this probably applies to the entire line. So don’t be fooled by the “loud as hell” moniker. These amps are incredibly versatile amps that are comfortable be played in lots of different venues under a variety of conditions.

My Overall Take

I think you can guess that I just love the SM25. For a musician like me who plays small to medium venues, and whose studio is located in a carpeted garage, this amp is a dream come true. It’s expressive with all my guitars, and it’s so versatile that I can use it wherever I play.

As I shared with Anthony recently, StackModeTM is it for me. It’s the secret sauce that sets Reason amplifiers apart from the competition! For more information, go to the Reason Amps web site. And if your local dealer has some in stock, I encourage you to go there and play around with one. You will not be disappointed; in fact, you’ll be blown away!

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I love getting those intense spurts of creativity when I’m using awesome equipment. I just happened to have a couple of review pieces on hand: A Saint Guitars Benchmark and a Reason SM25 combo amp. This song started out as a simple riff this morning, and grew from there. It’s called Lookin’ for the Good Life. Let me know that you think.

The song showcases the incredible tones the Benchmark and SM25 make together. Just love it!

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