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Wow… That’s usually first – and only – thing I can say when having a visceral reaction to an experience. And a visceral experience was exactly what happened when I finally got my guitar set up for last night’s gig. After I played the first song, I had to pause for several seconds soaking in the tones that the combination of my Simon & Patrick PRO guitar and the Duncan MagMic produced. I already had a good idea of the dynamics of the pickup and how well it worked with my guitar, having had a few days before my gig to record with it. But until I actually gigged with it, I really didn’t know how it would perform in a live situation; especially in a room with a 25-30-foot vaulted ceiling.

It was not without its challenges. The sound system at the restaurant I work with is total shit. The board is going on the fritz and I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to play last night! But the gig gods were smiling upon me and just when I was about to pack it in and go home, I tweaked something on the board and it started working. Whew!

When I got my nerves settled with a few deep breaths and a long drink of water, I started my first song: “You’ve Got a Friend.” I felt that it would be a good song to start with because with any JT song (I know, it was written by Carole King), the fingerpicking patterns are sophisticated as JT plays a bass line in addition to a hybrid claw-hammer technique. I’m not nearly as adept at it as he is, but I tend to do the same. So with that song, I knew that I’d get the full presentation what the guitar/pickup combination had on offer.

Having moved to a dreadnought from an OM, I was concerned that the bass would be a bit boomy. It was not. It was certainly deep as I expected from a big-body guitar, but not at all over-powering. Another thing I was concerned about was not losing the shimmery highs my guitar naturally produces. But here’s where the MagMic really performs. The condenser mic is tuned to focus on mid-highs to highs. In fact, I had to roll off the condenser level a bit to subdue the highs. The sweet spot that I discovered leading up to the gig was setting the condenser level about 90%. This setting translated incredibly well to a live situation.

Another thing that had me wondering about the MagMic was the lack of an EQ. I’ve had the luxury of an onboard EQ in all my acoustic-electric guitars up to this point. But I found that with the higher-end, third-party pickups that none of them have that feature, as they’re designed to pick up the natural tone of your guitar; which kind of says you better have a good-sounding guitar in the first place before you install one of these babies… But as I mentioned above about the condenser mic’s focus on the high-mids and highs, adjusting its level is much like adjusting a treble knob. But it’s no problem in any case, as instead of setting EQ on my guitar, I can just set it on the amp.

With respect to the guitar itself, besides the larger size, I’ve had to contend with the absence of a cutaway, which makes playing notes above the 12th fret a little challenging. But it’s not undoable. I just make adjustments and play on a different part of the neck. The neck width is also much wider than my Yamaha, but this is also not a bad thing as it forces me to put my left hand and arm in the proper playing position. I certainly can’t be lazy with my posture with this guitar. 🙂

The other thing about the guitar is that it is naturally loud. It was built to project volume from the soundboard. So I definitely had to find the right balance between volume level and attack. Plus, the MagMic picks up pretty much everything with the guitar. In contrast, my Yamaha APX900 and its electronics are very mid-range focused. But with my S&P PRO, the audio content is so much more complex and robust. Combined with the MagMic’s sensitivity, it forced me to be very aware of how I was playing to the point where I felt some of the songs I played were a bit mechanical, or I was concentrating so much on the guitar that I’d mess up some words. 🙂 I’m confident that once I get everything dialed in I’ll be able to relax a lot more.

I do have to say that I love playing a dreadnought. My very first “real” acoustic guitar was an old Yamaha FG-335 dreadnought. When I moved to smaller body guitars, I missed the full sound. And now that I back to a big body guitar, I’m loving it! But the S&P PRO takes the sound to a completely new level. To think that it sat in a shed for 15 years prior to me getting it – and to sound this good still – is incredible to me.

I did a minor setup on the guitar when I got it to straighten out a slight bow in the neck. But after last night’s gig, I’m probably going to have the action lowered a couple of millimeters. It’s not that it’s super high, but it’s higher than I like and playing a 4-hour gig, it takes a toll on the fingers. I suppose I could go with lighter gauge strings (I’m playing 12-54), but I’m not sure I want to sacrifice the resonance I get with the thicker strings just to make it easier to play. Oh well, there’s always a tradeoff somewhere. 🙂

Okay… so very first gig complete, and it was a total success! I absolutely LOVE the MagMic.

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!

Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic

Summary: The SA-6 MagMic combines a magnetic pickup with a condenser mic to capture full tone of your acoustic guitar, but does it at a lower price point than similar pickups. But don’t let the more than $100 price difference fool you. This acoustic pickup captures the full spectrum of your sound, down to the little harmonics. And being able to dial in the amount of condenser mic signal is a boon to adjusting the pickup for whatever sound system and venue you may play. There’s no midrange, lifeless tone with this pickup. But most importantly, once you dial in the amount of condenser mic that you like, what you’re left with is a very natural sound. It’s truly amazing!

Pros: Super, super, easy to install and use right away. Very easy to dial in a great balance between magnetic pickup and condenser mic to get the sonic presentation you want. The pickup is also super-quiet, no buzz or hum at all, which is what you’d expect out of a good acoustic pickup.

Cons: None. To be fair though, dialing in the condenser mic picks up a lot of high frequency, but rolling it off a tad fixes that nicely.

Price: $179.00 – $189.00 Street

Features:

  • Magnetic Pickup:
    • DC Resistance: 3.8K Ohms
    • Resonant Frequency: 16KHz
    • Gauss Strength: 780 max (adjustable)
  • Microphone Capsule:
    • Pattern: Omni-directional
    • Sensitivity: -35dB (it’s sensitive)
    • Frequency Range: -20 to 20 KHz
    • Signal to Noise Ratio:  >62dB
    • Current Consumption: -0.5mA (you’ll get 450 hours out of a single 9V battery)
  • Onboard Electronics
    • 2 Channels, summed at ouput
    • Supply Voltage: 9V
    • Current Consumption: 1.1mA (preamp + capsule)
    • Battery Life: 450+ hours
  • Noise:
    • Pickup channel: -102dBV with 5K ohm source resistance
    • Mic channel: -96dBV with mic capsule attached

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ Once I got it installed, which took about 5 minutes, I was off to the races! I have to admit that I had my doubts about this pickup. But I’m glad I got it. It’s a keeper!

I’ve been searching for a pickup for my Simon and Patrick PRO guitar for months. I’ve evaluated and played several guitars equipped with different pickups and pickup configurations. But every review I read and every video I viewed of the Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic further convinced me that this was the pickup I should go with. Funny thing was that I broke my own rule with gear and purchased it without doing an in-person test. I had to trust my instincts on this purchase and I can confidently say that my instincts were spot on with this acoustic pickup.

Fit and Finish

The MagMic is well-made. Built with what appears to be high-velocity plastic, I have no doubt at all that it will survive the test of time; especially after I have it mounted permanently in my guitar. But I’d expect no less from Seymour Duncan. I’ve got Duncan pups installed in half of my guitars, and they’re built to last. Once installed, the controls are easily accessible and reside on either side of the pickup. The volume knob is closest, sitting on the 6th string side of the pickup, while the condenser mic level sits on the 1st string side.

Luckily the battery lasts 450+ hours because the housing sits on the neck block, and the only way to change out the battery is to loosen all the strings and remove the pickup. Mind you, this is an expected inconvenience, not a complaint, per se. It’s the price you have to pay to be minimally invasive.

How It Sounds

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and this “pudding” is freakin’ incredible! As soon as I plugged my guitar into my DAW, I knew I had something special. Playing a dreadnought, I wanted whatever electronics I installed on it to pick up the deep lows and shimmery highs of my guitar, and this pickup does hands-down. To prove it, I recorded some sound samples. The first three were recorded completely dry. No EQ, no compression. I play the same riff three times in each clip, varying the amount of condenser mic in each. The first part isolates the magnetic pickup with no condenser, the second part has the condenser opened up wide. The third part has the condenser mic set to about 50%. Here they are:

Strum

Percussive Strum

Fingerstyle

Note that with the MagMic, the magnetic pickup is always on. From what I can hear, this picks up the low- and mid-range frequencies and provides a fairly warm, almost mechanical sound. The condenser mic picks up the higher midrange and high frequencies and harmonics. It’s sensitive and provides a bit too much high-frequency content for my tasts, which is why I dial back the amount of condenser mic to about 90%. In this final clip, I again recorded the guitar with no EQ, but I added compression, some stereo spread, and reverb like I would if I was recording the guitar for a song. The sound is natural and haunting.

To me, not having to EQ my guitar is important as I want my guitars recorded with as much of their natural sound as possible.

Overall Impression

I’m really at a loss for words with this pickup. I don’t think I can utter any further superlatives that could sufficiently describe the feeling I get from it.

It has been months since I purchased some new gear, and as I wait for it to arrive, I’m squirming in anticipation! 🙂 I love that feeling! It reminds me of the early days of this site when I was buying all sorts of stuff. It was like I won the lottery! I had a garage full of gear. Now… not so much, and the frequency of my purchases has slowed to a crawl. Also, for me now, finally purchasing the item was the result of months of research. Unlike those early days where I’d read a review or two or peruse some forums. I took some time with this purchase. So I have to qualify that the “anticipation” is different from when I was going on buying sprees to discover new tones. It’s still an incredible feeling because I’m looking forward to using it as it solves a real problem for me.

So how is the anticipation different? As I mentioned above, this purchase was the result of months of research before I finally pulled the trigger. So the anticipation I’m feeling is one in which I’m looking forward to validating that research. This is different from previous purchases where I was seeing if some gear would actually fit the way I play or help me define my sound. This one is more akin to a scientist coming up with a theory, performing tests to prove the theory, then waiting for the tests to complete; reasonably confident that the tests will bear out their original ideas. Contrast this to what it was like for me before and that was more like a kid who just discovered a new candy, trying it out for the first time.

Both situations deal somewhat with the unknown. But the former is a proof, the latter is pure discovery. Both are valid, but I’ll go with the former every time now. Is it maturity? Partially. It’s actually more economics, to be honest. It should’ve been that way in the first place when I was going on my buying sprees. But hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and frankly, I don’t regret a bit of it. With a limited budget to spend on gear, I’m VERY careful about what I buy. I’m doubly careful now because I don’t like to return gear. It’s not that I won’t do it, but it’s a hassle. So I take a lot of time now to make sure I’ve covered all the bases.

You must be wondering what I’m getting… 🙂 I’m getting a Seymour Duncan SA6 Mag Mic, which is a combination magnetic pickup and condenser mic for my acoustic guitar. I thought long and hard and did a lot of research on choosing a pickup after I received my beautiful Simon and Patrick acoustic from a friend who was passing it on from her uncle who died 15 years ago.

I evaluated several pickups from LR Baggs, K&K, Seymour Duncan, iSolo, and IK Multimedia. A prevailing factor – after looking at the iSolo and IK Multimedia solutions was that I didn’t want a permanent solution right away, something that I really couldn’t do with the LR Baggs and K&K.

The iSolo, which is a wireless pickup is incredible. The recordings I heard were magnificent. But the problem with that is that even though they claim a battery life of 5 hours, actual usage was more in the two-hour range. Not good. The IK Multimedia solution was also good, but it looked kind of cheap. I do a lot of gigs per year, and I need my gear to be pretty durable.

The LR Baggs and K&K pickups were also incredible. I think a prohibitive factor for me was the cost. The K&K actually was not expensive by itself, but as a simple transducer setup, I would need to purchase an external preamp. That said, a friend of mine has this setup and plugs directly into his amp. He has to crank the sound, and it sounds fine, but a preamp would be better – especially a tube pre to warm up the signal.

What I dug about the Mag Mic was that it hit all the marks for me with respect to price and performance, and I could choose to make it a permanent installation. I will probably do that in the long run in any case, but for now, I have an “out.” But on top of that, I love the fact that I get the best of both worlds: a magnetic pickup and a condenser mic that I can combine. EQ is not an issue, as I do that at either the board or my amp. I think a major factor for me was that I didn’t want to wait to use it. 🙂 I know a little impatient on my part. But as I said, economics is a factor. I have to wait another month to have the money to get it installed, and I want to gig and record with it right away. I’ll just have to make sure I take good care of it in the interim.

 

Image from gearrank.com

I’ve got amps. Ten of them, in fact. Truth be told, I only play three with any regularity – though I’d play the fourth had I not burned out the transformer – but I still want another amp; specifically, I’m eyeing the new Fender Hot Rod V4 with its updated overdrive and tighter reverb. Frankly, I never really had too much of a problem with the original reverb, but when Fender mentioned that they made it a bit tighter, it made sense to me because I rarely set it past 2 or 3 because my sound would get “mushy.”

 

In any case, on thinking about evaluating the new Hot Rod, I asked myself the very question that I used to entitle this article: What do I really need from an amp, and what do look for with an amp that deems it “buyable?”

For me, the tone of an amp is not really an issue. After 48 years of playing guitar (shit – am I really that old?), my tone is my tone. With different amps, effects, guitars, etc., sure, I’m going to get different textures, but how I ultimately sound will sound like me. So I’m no longer chasing after gear that will help define my sound.

Given that, especially with amps, there are specific things I look for when evaluating one for purchase – or for plain review, for that matter. I’d thought I’d share these factors because they might be useful for anyone who is evaluating an amp. Granted, these are subjective evaluation points – I freely admit that – but as I’ve evaluated literally hundreds of amps over the years, I’ve found them to be useful and these features inform my decision to either buy or give an amp high ratings.

And note: I realize we all view the world through the lens of our own experience, so what I find valuable may not be at all what you look for, but I’ll share my thoughts just the same.

These aren’t in any particular order, but here goes:

Cleans

Of particular interest to me is an amp’s clean tone. I was actually going to talk about clean headroom, but I realized that I have different amps set up for varying degrees of headroom. For my classic rock and church gigs, I use amps that are biased hot to break up relatively early. For my classic rock band, I always play a little dirty and for playing in church, I need the early breakup so I can get amp distortion at a lower volume since I have to play a lot lower in volume in that venue.

But one thing all my amps (at least the ones I gig with) have in common is this: The clean tone is thick; that is, the full EQ range, from low to high, is represented in the sound.

EQ Adjustability

Though I prefer a much thicker, richer clean tone, sometimes I want to roll off or boost the highs or cut out some of the lows. So an amp’s EQ responsiveness is important to me. With some amps, the EQ adjustments are so subtle as to be useless. But other than using EQ as an effect, it is important to me that I’m able to adjust an amp’s EQ so that the guitar I use it with sings properly. For instance, if use a Strat in front of one my Aracom amps, which are Plexi-style amps, they’re voiced high. So I always roll off the highs a bit with a Strat. On the other hand, with a Les Paul, I crank up the highs to compensate for the deep voicing of my Les Paul.

Dynamic Response

This is probably the most subjective area and probably means different things to different people. But to me, the dynamic response has to do with how the amp responds with varying levels of input gain; either from my guitar’s volume knob or with an overdrive or booster pedal and attack on the strings. When I set up an amp for performance, I always set it on the clean side of the edge of breakup, with my guitar’s volume knob(s) set at dead-center. This way, if I roll on the gain, the amp will break up. If I crank my gain, I should get some nice, smooth overdrive from my pre-amps. If I roll it all back or pick lighter, I expect the amp to settle down. But bear in mind, this is all relative. For me, I don’t like to play with oodles of distortion, but what I do want to be able to do is control my amp from my guitar. Of course, there are circumstances where I may have to make adjustments at the amp, but those should be few and far between.

Sustain/Decay

Again, this is a subjective thing, but another thing I look for is how long an amp will “hold” a note before it tapers off. Some amps just die a quick death with this particular test. Pluck a note with no vibrato and see how long the note lasts. What I look for in this particular test is the nature of the tapering off. If it’s relatively long and smooth, that will appeal to me. But if I pluck a note and it stays at a certain level then suddenly drops off, that’s problematic for me. I’m not a fast player, so what I tend to do is try to squeeze as much sound out the notes I play. It helps if the sound doesn’t trail off quickly.

NOTE with this test – and to be fair – I crank the volume on the guitar to make sure as much signal gets to the amp as possible. It’s also best to do this test at a moderate volume as high volumes tend to blow your ears out. 🙂 At a lower volume, you’ll see just how fast the decay is.

Cabinet Construction

To me, the construction of a cabinet – its build quality as well as the materials – plays an important role in how it sounds. Granted, this is a minor factor relative to the other things I look at, but given the choice of two equally good-sounding amps, I will go with the amp that I feel has the better cabinet. Also, this really doesn’t apply to independent heads – I couldn’t care less what they’re housed in. First, I will look at the thickness of the walls. I prefer cabinet walls that are no more than 3/4″ thick; better if they’re 1/2″. Why? Thinner walls resonate better, which is also why I prefer solid pine or birch cabinets because you can get that thin with the wood without making too big a sacrifice with structural integrity. But irrespective of thickness, I still prefer solid wood over MDF. But let me say that while this is a consideration, I typically use it as “icing on the cake” rather than it being an absolute determining factor. If an amp sounds killer and hits all the marks on the other factors, I’ll get the amp or give it a high rating.

What About Tubes?

I don’t care. A great-sound and responsive amp is a great-sounding and responsive amp. Period. I know, tube amps have been all the rage for years. I went to tube amps exclusively for quite a long time. I can’t deny it: Twiddling with tubes and bias settings and all that hand-wired, point-to-point shit is cool. BUT I’ve always loved amps like the Roland JC-120, a foundation in both the blues and rock world (don’t forget that Satch recorded “Surfin’ with the Alien” with a JC-120). But now, there are some FANTASTIC amps made of solid-state components that simple rock the house. The Roland JC-40, Quilter amps, and hybrids like the DV Mark amps. These all sound incredible! I have a DV Mark Little 40. This is my go-to gigging amp with my classic rock band because of its versatility. I can shape the sound with this to make it sound like a Marshall or a Fender. It’s not the SAME sound, but close enough.

Usability Features

These are more “icing on the cake” things, but they can be important; especially if I’m evaluating an amp for a specific usage. But in general, I look for obvious usability items. These include easy-to-read labels. easily accessible auxiliary inputs/switches, usable knobs. For instance, when I’m playing acoustic guitar, I invariably use my SWR California Blonde. Great amp. I usually run the direct out from the amp into a board for sound reinforcement so I can keep my stage volume down. But the jack is positioned in such a way that I have to use a key or a knife to unlock the XLR when I’m done. All they had to do with turn the jack upside down and this wouldn’t be a problem. Something like this is not a deal-breaker, but a collection of these things can be so annoying as to make me feel as if the amp is unusable to the point that I wouldn’t buy it.

I know that these factors aren’t necessarily standard, but they’ve served me well over the years. I think the reason I went this route is that it’s easy to fall into the marketing crap and look at charts and graphs. They can certainly inform you of an amp’s capabilities, but in the end, you have to use an amp, and for me, the things I look at just can’t be measured by numbers. They have to be felt or heard.

Louder Than Words

As they say, “Information is power,” and I’ve spent much of my career consuming various books to inform myself on a variety of topics be they technical or management or leadership. I have hundreds, may be thousands of books either in paper or electronic form that I’ve read over the years.

But it’s not really a lust for power that I’m after. But I’m constantly seeking to improve. As a result, I share what I learn with others, and actively mentor young engineers and teens. I think it’s important to share what we learn throughout our lives. It just improves life for everyone around us.

One of the subjects about which I’m passionate is leadership. Leadership isn’t just leading people and telling them what to do. True leadership comes from the inside; from what you value, from what you’ve experienced. And one critical aspect of true leadership is authenticity. That’s where the book I’ve shared, “Louder Than Words,” comes into play.

I’m still in the middle reading this book; truth be told, I’m only through the first few chapters. But as I was reading it today on the first leg of my return trip home from India, a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago surfaced in my mind.

It wasn’t that the conversation was long and drawn out, but the nature of the conversation stuck with me since then. Basically, the conversation revolved around songs that I should play in my restaurant gigs. My friend is a big Michael Buble fan, and also a young country fan. In our conversation, he was kind of pestering me about doing Michael Buble tunes and some country tunes.

At the time, I tried to brush him off a little, saying that while the artists he was mentioning were certainly successful, I just didn’t like them enough to cover their songs. But my friend just wouldn’t relent. Being a salesman, and a good one at that, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

I finally just put my foot down and asked him to please stop with the suggestions. I explained to him that as I didn’t really get into Michael Buble or country, even though I could cover any of the songs he suggested, I just wouldn’t feel authentic. I have to like a piece of music well enough where I could truly “own” the song, and perform it coming from my heart. I don’t do superficial or shallow.

That’s not to say I don’t do any country. I cover a couple of Zac Brown Band and even George Strait songs, and even a couple of Keith Urban tunes. But the songs my buddy were suggesting weren’t resonating with me. And I’ll just say it: Michael Buble is just way too cheesy. I get that he has millions of fans, and he’s crying all the way to the bank with his success. But he’s like Nickleback to me. 🙂

I realize that I took a while with the backstory to what I really want to talk about, but it really does relate. For me, I didn’t learn musical instruments just to sit in my bedroom and collect gear. I learned instruments to play music and share it with others. I’ve been performing in one form or another for over 45 years.

When I was younger; especially in my teens and early 20’s, I will admit that I was a bit of a copycat. I want to play or sing the music exactly how the original artist did it. But as I got older and started to get a lot of gigs, I realized that I was selling myself short by not being authentic; by not taking that change on myself to express a piece of music in my own way.

And that’s basically the crux of this post. Are you being authentic? Are you even interested in being authentic. Personally, I have not judgement on people either way, but authenticity – or lack thereof – is easily detectable.

For instance, during my week and a half long stay in Pune, India recently, my associate and I frequented a great open-air restaurant next to our hotel; mostly because it was convenient and had great grilled meats, but also because they had live music on some nights. On one of those nights, they had a blues band playing.

It was a simple trio with a 20-something guitarist doubling as the lead singer. The kid had a great voice and he really could play the blues. The first song they did, he did a 10-minute solo that seemed to be a distillation of Gary Moore, SRV, and some BB and Albert King thrown into the mix. The solo was absolutely spectacular. Enough complexity and sophistication to pique the guitarist in me, but simple and melodic such that I wanted to hear more. That solo just felt like the kid had a story to tell.

But as the band got deeper into the set, the kid just seemed to pull the same patterns he used in the first song and apply them – albeit in different keys – to the solos of the subsequent songs. My mate and I finally left after they’d done about seven numbers. He even said, “It’s getting a bit monotonous.” I replied, “Yeah… after the first song, I pretty much saw all his tricks.” We had a bit of a chuckle but we talked about it on the way back to the hotel. I said what was disappointing for me was that while the kid obviously had talent and skill, in the end, he just came off as inauthentic. It was clear he studied the blues greats that he was obviously emulating, but he didn’t turn what he learned into something that was authentically his.

BB King was the master of the single note solo. This kid could do that in spades. But he overused it. He did it in every song. Most people who aren’t musicians might not catch that, but as my associate mentioned that it was getting a bit monotonous, he might not have been able to place a finger on exactly what it was that was monotonous, but it definitely wore on him.

Am I advocating not learning patterns? Absolutely not. But as a one my teachers once told me, “You learn patterns and scales so that you know your way around the fret board. But in order to truly improvise, you use those patterns and scales as simply part of your musical vocabulary.” Every song has a message. So every song requires a different part of the vocabulary.

Just like we use the word “the” in our daily speech. There is a “the,” or common words,  in music as well. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s the overall phrasing, not the individual words that matter. If all you’re doing is throwing together the same words and phrases, what you’ll be saying will ultimately be gibberish.

And this is where authenticity comes into play. When you perform authentically, you say things in your own way. I’ve been teaching my sons who play guitar and ukelele respectively. Both have asked me about improv or even just “owning” a song. I gave them each a simple exercise. Take four notes or chords (with the chords, they should fit harmonically together like G D A Bm. Start playing them evenly a few times. Then think of how you’d communicate those same four notes or chords according to a particular emotion like anger or fear or happiness. What you’ll find is that you’ll change the attack or shorten or lengthen a note or chord to fit the emotion. That is the basis of any form of communication.

But just by doing that simple exercise, how you play those notes or chords are authentically yours because you’re translating what you’re feeling inside. Kind of cool, huh?

But all that said, I’m not trying to be an arrogant ass who is an authority on music. But I am sensitive to authenticity. It doesn’t take a master to detect it…

NAMM 2018: Meh…

Back in the early days of this blog, I used to look forward to news from NAMM, anxiously waiting with bated breath for quips and news articles from manufacturers and magazines. NAMM was always such an exciting time. But now? Not so much. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in gear. If anything, I’m even more interested in gear than ever (though I realize due to time, I just haven’t been able to write as much about it as of late).But I  think what has happened with my attitude towards NAMM is due to a few things.

First, I’ve found my sound. I know that whatever gear I play, I will sound like me. Talk about finding the tone unicorn. Because of that, I’m not as compelled to buy gear on a whim. Back when I started this blog, I was completely new to tube amps, and GuitarGear.org was my online diary of the gear that I was buying and trying. But as I started to find my sound, the list of things that I’d look at to help shape my tone narrowed significantly. It’s now at the point where I’m treating effects purely as that: effects. I don’t use them to achieve my tone, but to provide different textures as I need them.

Second – and perhaps this may be erroneous on my part – I kind of feel that there are only so many ways to skin a cat, as it were, and so much gear that comes out simply seems to be a variation or incremental improvement over previous versions. That’s not to say that there isn’t some great gear that’s hitting the market. But my attitude – bad or good – doesn’t help compel me to dig as deep.

Thirdly, my gear focus as of late has been on improving my stage and recording gear. Last year, I actually started having GAS attacks on some awesome guitars and effects I ran across. But life happens as they say, and I had to replace some road-worn stage gear, and I needed to upgrade my DAW for home recording. My next major purchase is going to be a Heil Sound PR35 mic for stage and recording. After doing a gig with the PR35, I just could not believe how good that mic sounded! The cool thing is that while it won’t break the bank, it’s definitely not cheap.

Finally, I’ve just been too freakin’ busy with my career these last couple of years to evaluate gear. In addition to my day job as a technology architect, I still gig over 100 days per year, so my schedule makes it fairly prohibitive to research gear. I know, that’s probably not much of an excuse. But truth be told, I’m having the most fun I’ve had in my 30-year career as a software engineer that I’ve ever had, and I have to be honest, I’ve been pouring a lot of my energy into my career.

So circling back to NAMM… I have seen some pretty cool things, but the things that have piqued my interest have been in the recording and pro audio areas; areas that are outside the scope of guitars. But despite that, I’m still a bit “meh” about the whole affair.

2231200000_amp_frt_001_nrI haven’t had much time to devote to GuitarGear.org in the last couple of years, so when I do post something, it has to be meaningful to me. And surprise, surprise… I got an email in my inbox this morning that kind of intrigued me. It was an announcement from Fender that they were releasing version IV of their popular Hot Rod Series of amps.

Normally, I’d be like “whoop-dee-doo,” but after reading what they’ve done with the amps, I got really intrigued. I’ve had a Hot Rod Deluxe for years; it was my very first tube amp. So I’ve kept tabs on the various changes the lineup has gone through. I haven’t been all that impressed with the previous releases, but the new features in the new version – at least in the Hot Rod Deluxe and Deville – are pretty significant; significant enough for me to plug it. So here’s what Fender has listed on their site for major features:

  • 40 watts; Normal, Drive, and More Drive channels
  • Celestion 12″ A-Type speaker
  • Modified preamp circuitry for increased overdriven note definition
  • Spring reverb modified for improved smoothness
  • Lightweight pine cabinet
  • Includes 2-button footswitch and cover

To me, the two features that stick out are the pine cabinet and the preamp circuitry for better overdrive. In particular, the overdrive on the Hot Rod has been pretty weak in previous versions. In fact, I would rarely use the drive channel on my own amp, and just use the amp as a pedal platform. But if they’ve improved the overdrive channel, that’s intriguing enough for me to check out.

I almost bought a Series III amp from my buddy a few years ago. It was much lighter in weight than my Series II, but the overdrive of the amp was simply, well, uninspiring, and way too open and choppy for my tastes. I even tried running the amp through a different speaker, and it still didn’t improve the sound. But if they’ve tightened it up with more note definition, this really gets me excited.

What about the change to a pine cabinet? Damn! Not only would that significantly lighten the weight of the amp, it would make it much more resonant. I absolutely love pine cabinets. They just resonate so, so beautifully! Combine that with the silky smooth Fender cleans or even with some tight overdrive, damn! Yet again! Interestingly enough, with the Pro Junior IV and the Blues Junior IV, Fender has replaced the birch/plywood cabinet with MDF. Maybe it made more sense sonically to them; hard to know what a manufacturer is thinking.

I can’t wait until that amp is available in stores so I can test it. But in the meantime, if you’re curious, you can check out the product page on the Fender site.