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Summary: Versatile and great-sounding, the Eon One is a perfect sound reinforcement solution for a solo artist or up to a small combo.

Pros: As you’d expect from JBL, the Eon One has a fantastic and balanced sound. The array disperses the signal pretty wide and will fill a space quite nicely. The 10″ subwoofer rounds out the bottom end without being boomy or thumpy (though you can definitely get there with EQ). There’s also no extra bag to hold the risers and array. They all fit in a compartment at the rear of the unit.

Cons: This is a nit, but it seems as if there’s a difference in power using an instrument cable versus an XLR. When I plugged my guitar straight into the input, I had to crank the volume to balance it with my vocal. Suspecting that power-handling was different, I ran my guitar into a passive DI and lo and behold, there was a definite power jump. But like I said, this is a nit. Besides, from past experience with different PA systems, it’s always a good idea to go into a DI with my instrument outs.

Tone Bone Score: 5 
Based on the sound quality alone, I give this 5. But I could also give it a 5 for its smart design. JBL really did have the solo musician in mind when they built the Eon One.

Street Price: $999 

I have to admit that it took me a while to get used to the sound projection of this unit. My old SA220, while it dispersed sound pretty good, was definitely much more directional. With the Eon One, sound dispersal is wide and it doesn’t seem like it’s loud enough. But that’s the point of a speaker array like the Eon One. It’s actually a lot louder than you think. The sound is dispersed so well that it fills the space.

For example, while I was setting up for my gig this morning – a teen retreat for my church – I connected my phone to the Bluetooth on the Eon One and played some music. At first, I didn’t think it was very loud and I cranked it. But then one of the retreat leaders arrived and we started having a conversation. It was difficult for us to hear each other which forced me to turn it down. But even at a lower volume, the awesome thing was that the room was totally filled. No matter where I was in the room, the volume was level. Damn! I love that thing!

Fit and Finish

At 40 lbs., it’s no lightweight. But the way the unit is designed, it’s actually incredibly easy to lug. I lugged it up two flights of stairs and it was like carrying a large suitcase.

It’s also durable. I tipped it over with my handcart by accident onto the blacktop in the parking lot of the retreat center. I was so nervous that I might have damaged something, but I plugged it in and it worked like a charm! Though I’m bummed because I hadn’t even used it yet and I scratched it. Crap! The body is made of high-velocity plastic, so it’s pretty tough.

How It Sounds

As I mentioned above, the sound dispersal of the Eon One is incredible. It’s actually a little unsettling because you just don’t need to be that loud to fill a space. I was so used to operating with a much louder volume with other PAs that I just didn’t think I was loud enough with the Eon One. But it’s deceptively loud because of the dispersal. You just don’t realize it until you’re in the middle of the space and you can’t hear the person next to you. 🙂 That’s a good thing!

But as far as sound quality is concerned, it’s like playing through a HiFi stereo. The sound is crisp and clean. There’s no signal noise whatsoever.

As the retreat participants were arriving at the venue yesterday, I was playing music through the Bluetooth connection. It was like listening to my surround sound system! The music sounded so good and I have to say that that subwoofer makes all the difference in the world, rounding out the bottom end and providing a richness I hadn’t experience in my old SA220.

My close friend Catherine who was a retreat leader walked up to me when she arrived and remarked, “The sound system is amazing! Did the center upgrade their system?” I laughed and said, “It’s like a HiFi, right?” She agreed. Then I pointed in the direction of the Eon One and told her all that was coming from that slim, little unit. We both cracked up at how great it sounded, and then she said, “I can’t wait until you start playing. You’re gonna sound awesome!”

I was so pleased with how I sounded yesterday. With the subwoofer on the Eon One, there was a warmth in my sound that I had never experienced with my SA200. And don’t get me wrong, the SA220 is actually a great PA, but the Eon One is on a totally different level as far as sound quality is concerned. I’m probably going to donate the SA220 to my church so they can use it for events.

Every year, I host a large party at my house where I barbecue a whole pig. It has been a family tradition since I was a little boy that I’m carrying on to this day. My son, who is learning the tradition from me, remarked that the Eon One would be great as the sound system for our pig roast when he heard it. And because its footprint isn’t nearly as much as the SA220, I could position it in the corner of my patio to keep it out of the way.

Ease of Use

I thought my SA220 was easy to set up and use. Though there are more pieces than the SA220, none of the pieces of the Eon One are bulky, and the risers and array just slide into place like Legos. And the fact that they’re right there in the back of the unit makes it so much more easy to set up.

I read some complaints from people that it’s difficult to take the unit apart as the pieces are snugly put together. People have used silicon jelly to help with that. I guess they just want to pull the risers out straight. But it’s really not that big a deal. You just use a gentle rocking motion while pulling out and the risers come out easily. For me, I’d rather not apply a lubricant on the equipment as that will collect dust.

As far as the controls are concerned. You have Bass, Treble, Volume, and Reverb Level knobs. Very straight-forward. I was concerned that there wasn’t a Midrange knob, but it’s easy to dial in a balanced tone with just the Bass and Treble.

Best Bang for the Buck

Are there better-sounding systems? Absolutely. The Bose L1 Model 2 is scary good. And the HK Audio SoundCaddy beats the shit out of the Bose in my opinion. But both cost $2500 and $2800 respectively, which put them out of my price range. And while the Eon One may not be at the level of those two systems, it’s close. Damn close. And frankly, the only person who can tell the difference is me. My audience doesn’t care as long as I present them with a pleasing sound. And that’s why we have EQ. 🙂

So at a fraction of the cost of the high-end models, I’m getting great sound that can be used for the venues I play. It’s hard to argue the value proposition of the Eon One.

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Summary: The flagship amp of the Katana series, the Artist provides the ultimate in versatility to an already versatile line of amps. But with its larger cabinet and WazaCraft speaker tuned specifically for the amp, it has a richness in sound that surpasses the rest of the line.

Pros: As with the Katana 50, I have lots of praise to heap on this amp. The sounds it produces in addition to the feel and dynamics are incredible as with the other amps in the line, but the Line Out is really the secret weapon of this amp. And having the cabinet resonance and Line Out Air Feel – which simulates microphone distance – on the front panel makes it super-easy to dial in your direct signal to a board or a DAW.

Cons: My only nit with this is that I wish it had at 25 Watt setting. The difference between the 50 Watt and 0.5 Watt is so drastic, it makes me wish for a “tweener” power level.

Tone Bone Score: 5 
No two ways about it: This is a great amp.

Street Price: $599.99 

I’ve already written so much about this amp since I got it, but I’ll reiterate: This ain’t yo daddy’s solid-state amp. Ever since I got the Katana 50, I couldn’t believe that a solid-state amp could have touch and dynamics similar to a tube amp, let alone get as big a sound. And as I said in my review of the 50, I really tried to make it suck, but couldn’t. I did the same with the Artist.

Granted, when I first got it, the speaker was absolutely fresh. But now that I’ve been playing the amp daily for the last couple of weeks, the speaker is breaking in and the sound is becoming silky-smooth. I’ve done four gigs with the Artist and the sound just gets better every time I play it.

On top of that, I’ve been using recording with it daily. The Line Out is incredible. The sound I get out of it is so natural and so very close to a miked cabinet that I haven’t bothered to set up any of my tube amps. Of course, that could change depending on the song I’m recording because you just can’t duplicate something like a Plexi.

But make no bones about it, though it is said that the speaker was tuned to approximate an old Greenback through a vintage Marshall, this has more to do with feel and dynamics and less about sound. As I’ve said before, though the Katana is technically a modeling amp, using BOSS’ TubeLogic technology, it wasn’t voiced to sound like a Marshall or a Fender. It has a sound all its own.

Fit and Finish

Though only 45 lbs., this amp is built like a tank. The cabinet is MDF and though there have been comments circulating that it would’ve been better for it to be made of solid pine or birch, the semi-closed back makes it incredibly resonant and able to capture the low frequencies very well.

I absolutely love that the controls are on a front panel! It makes it so convenient to tweak during a gig, which I had to do last weekend at church. We have a really finicky PA system (what can I say, it’s old), and for some reason, my guitar was sounding horrible through the Line Out. But all I had to do was turn the Line Out Air Feel to “Blend” and all was right. I had the same setup as the previous week and it sounded killer. Everything on the board was also set up the same. That the Air Feel control was on the front panel made it super convenient; not to mention that I didn’t have to go into the software to make that change…

As far as controls are concerned, if you have any of the other amps in the line, you’ll immediately be familiar with this control layout. The big difference is the exposure of the cabinet resonance and line out air feel knobs. On the back, there are jacks for a GA-FC (which I highly recommend getting), extension speakers (16 ohms), headphone/record out, MIDI in, expression pedal, an effects loop jacks. In other words, pretty much everything that you need.

As far as the GA-FC foot controller is concerned, that’s a must-have as it allows you to quickly switch channels but also turn effects on and off on the fly (which I find extremely useful). In addition, you can hook up an expression pedal directly to the GA-FC so you don’t need to run two long cables from the amp to use the foot controller and an expression pedal. The GA-FC also has an extra jack for a volume pedal.

How It Sounds

One striking difference between the Artist and the 50 is the Acoustic setting on the amp. My old 50 sounded okay with an Acoustic guitar, but the Artist has a rich, deep tone that rivals my old SWR California Blonde which I have always felt was the pinnacle of acoustic guitar amplification. The semi-closed back really helps in capturing and projecting the rich lows of an acoustic guitar. In fact, the lows are so good, that I have to roll them off a little on the EQ.

To date, I still haven’t miked the amp. For recording, the Line Out produces such a nice, natural sound that I haven’t seen a need to mic it. This is evidenced by the dynamics in the wave-form it produces. It is VERY dynamic, much like the output I’d get from miking the amp.

I’ve already posted these clips, but here’s a playlist I created:

The first three clips are of my acoustic guitar through the Line Out. The EQ was all neutral. With the last two songs, I wanted to see how the Line Out performed within the context of a song. Someone in a forum kind of bagged on me posting a song and should have only posted raw clips. But I argued that while raw sound clips are useful to a point, you really see how something performs when it’s done with a song. And in that regard, the Katana Artist’s Line Out is AWESOME!

Ease of Use

Like the rest of the Katana line, this amp is easy to set up. Even the Tone Studio software is pretty straight-forward to use. Some people might argue that there are lots of things to tweak and that, by virtue, makes it much more complicated. But I want to make absolutely clear that I believe the amp’s natural sound is great by its own merit. A lot of the tweaks and patches I’ve seen people make try to make the amp sound like another amp. But for me, I love the way the amp sounds on its own. So for me, it’s simply a matter of dialing in the gain settings and EQ. Since I make limited use of the onboard effects, I don’t do much tweaking, so set up – at least for me – is super-easy.

How It Plays

As I mentioned in my original Katana 50 review, this is what endeared me to the Katana in the first place. It was the first amp that gave me tube-like response and dynamics. But more than that, it didn’t feel as if the response and dynamics were simulated or artificial. In fact, it felt completely organic and natural, just as I would have expected with a tube amp. The Katana Artist inherits this but with the larger cabinet and much much better speaker, that responsiveness is coupled to great sound.

Is the Katana Price-Competitive?

One of the arguments people have made about the Artist is that its price starts getting into the territory of some low wattage amps. But the one thing you have to keep in mind is that while this is true, a tube amp at that price will not have anywhere near the features that come with the Katana by default. Plus, let’s face it, amps at that price are going to be fairly low wattage. They will not have the big sound that you can get out of the Katana. Furthermore, tube amps at this price point will most likely be heads. You have to spend more to get a cabinet.

So is the Katana price-competitive? To me at least, the value it brings for the price makes it a totally viable option.

Should You Upgrade?

This really is elephant in the room with respect to the Artist, so as opposed to giving you a pat answer, I’m going to take a bit of time with this…

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have considered the Artist had I not given my Katana 50 to my youngest son. I was using the amp mainly for gigging, and I was perfectly happy with it. I certainly didn’t need a 100 Watt amp, especially considering the venues that I normally play. The Katana 50 was plenty loud; besides, when I needed sound reinforcement, it was simply a matter of miking the amp.

But one shortcoming I saw with the 50 was that I didn’t like to use it for recording. I was not at all a fan of the headphone/record out. From that perspective, I was just fine recording one of my tube amps and using an IR and using the 50 as a pure gigging amp. But all that changed with the Artist. The Line Out output quality is killer, and as I spend a bulk of my playing in my home studio, the Artist is quickly becoming my go-to for my basic guitar part foundation, if not more. So for me at least, upgrading made a ton of sense.

But for those of you who are a bit conflicted about upgrading, it really depends on how useful it would be for you. For me, I’ve discovered a TON of versatility in it due to the Line Out. But then again, I’m actively gigging and recording, so it is invaluable in those respects.

But to be honest, take away the Line Out, and the only glaring thing that is better with the Artist is the sound quality which is much richer than both the 50 and the 100. It’s obvious at all volume levels. That bigger cabinet definitely makes a difference. And for some, while the obvious difference in sound quality could be a deciding factor, for me – and I know it sounds crazy given how much I love this amp – it wouldn’t have been enough for me to upgrade. And to be completely honest, it wasn’t until I started using the Line Out in recordings that I truly discovered its real value for me.

So am I or am I not recommending the amp? Well… yes and no. I’m basing my assessment of the amp on its versatility in both stage and studio use. And as far as versatility is concerned, I can give a resounding yes. But I have to be transparent and say that if you’re just going to play the amp in your bedroom, or just want a straight-forward gigging amp, stick with what you have for now. It’s great, but it’s not enough of an upgrade.

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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!

Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18 Head

Summary: This amp is truly a tone chameleon, capable of delivering vintage to modern tones in one 18 Watt package. I daresay that it is pretty much the most versatile amp I’ve ever owned; not only from a tone standpoint, but also from a power standpoint. 18 Watts too loud in your space? Bring it down to 5W or 1W or even 0W! The on-board RedBox DI is absolutely killer, and provides for truly silent recording, which is a huge for late-night recording when the kids are asleep (or roommates, etc.).  Super-responsive EQ makes for tons of tone shaping possibilities.

Pros:Where do I begin? This amp has it all for me; especially in the recording department.

Cons: This is a very minor nit, but even with a Strat, the lead channel can really compress at high gain settings.

Price: $599 Street ($50 for the optional footswitch)

Features:

  • Channels: Clean, Lead + Lead Boost
  • Power Soak: 5W, 1W, Silent
  • Preamp: 2 X 12AX7
  • Power Amp: 2 X EL84
  • Effects Loop (Serial)
  • Speaker Output: 8 & 16 Ohm (will automatically detect – no switch)
  • Tube Safety Control (TSC) – keeps power tubes biased properly for optimal performance.
  • Padded, protective cover included
  • Optional channel switching footswitch.

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ I have to admit, I really lucked out with this amp. I bought it used from a good buddy who had only gigged with it once, and to be honest, didn’t know too much about it. But after I researched it, what originally attracted me to the amp was the on-board RedBox DI. But after playing with it for several hours since I picked it up, I simply love all the tones I can get from this amp – and I’ve only played one guitar through it! It’s a winner!

I’m such a gear slut. When I got this amp, my buddy, who’s also a fellow gear slut chuckled and said, “As if you need another amp…” I also laughed, and almost got buyer’s remorse. BUT what I didn’t have was an amp that had an on-board DI. But the RedBox is a special DI in that it has speaker simulation, which means you’re going to get the reactance of an amp connected to a speaker. It’s one thing to DI into a DAW, but it sounds like an amp plugged directly into a speaker. Add speaker simulation and there’s something special that happens when you add reactance into the mix. You get the dynamics you expect when plugged into a cabinet.

Fit and Finish

This amp is built like a tank. I’m sure H&K had the gigging musician in mind when they built the amp because it’s very solid. The only nit I’d have with respect to it’s physical appearance is that the level dots on the knobs can be a bit difficult to see from certain angles because of the chrome finish. It’s a small nit, and when I gig with the amp, I’ll probably either paint dark lines or stick some thin pieces of colored tape to the top of the knobs so I know where I’m setting things.

Also, when switched on, that blue LED glow is pretty cool. To be honest, I don’t really care about how the thing looks and focus much more on the sounds it can produce. But hey! If it sounds good and looks great in the process, I’m not going to complain.

How It Sounds

To start off, whether plugged into a cab or outputting directly from the DI into an audio interface, this amp is dead quiet when idle, except at high gain settings where the power amp will hum just a tiny bit. But that humming also has a lot to do with my Strat’s single coils. Haven’t tried it with any of my Les Pauls just yet, and I’m anticipating that they’d be quieter. But any amp fully cranked is going to make some noise.

Now to be completely honest, none of the clips I’m supplying here are with the amp hooked up to a cabinet and me miking the cab. My focus was on using the DI to capture my guitar sounds to see if I could get a usable recording that I could then tweak in production. Circling back a little with the DI, one thing that having a speaker simulation is that you get the subtle overtones and dynamics in the signal that you wouldn’t get with a direct signal. It’s typically a little dead when using a regular DI with no speaker simulation, thus no reactance. Truth be told, it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t sound nearly as good as the amp plugged into a cabinet. But it’s close. Real close, and though it doesn’t sound as good as a speaker moving air, it doesn’t suck tone. Dynamics are all retained. My thought behind getting this amp was to get a usable signal that I could then process in Logic and add the texturing there. So without further ado, let’s take a look (BTW, for these clips, I used my Strat plugged directly into the amp, with an XLR going direct to my MBox 2):

Raw signal, clean

My first test was to record a simple clean clip raw to see how it sounded. This clip has absolutely no plug-ins employed in neither the guitar tracks nor the output track.

When I finished the “rhythm” track for this, I immediately smiled. Not only did I have a usable signal, it sounded like my amp was plugged into a cabinet because the dynamics that I was expecting were all there, but with the added plus of no ambient room noise.

Clean, slightly processed

Since I had a usable signal, I wanted to fatten it up a bit and add some reverb to give the sound more space. Here’s the same clip as above, but slight processed (Note: I didn’t do any EQ on the either track).

After doing just those simple tweaks, I knew I had a winner with respect to a recording amp.

Dirty

I wasn’t going to originally include this clip because if there’s one nit I had with the amp while recording this last night, was that at real cranked up settings, the signal compresses – a lot. I guess I’m used to using vintage-style amps that never get that far. But with this amp, I have to be careful about cranking the amp too high. It’s a little hard to hear in the clip itself, but while playing, I noticed a reduction in note separation. But granted, I had the Master wide open, and the gain knob at 3pm. I’ve learned to set the Gain to around 10am, and I still get plenty of sustain, but much less compression.

Sustain test

Finally, I wanted to experience that noted H & K tube sag, and see how well the amp would sustain my guitar signal. In a nutshell, it sustains incredibly well.

The most impressive thing about this clip was at the end where the amp is picking up the overtones of the guitar. OMG! I couldn’t believe that when I was playing last night!

Final Impression

I don’t know what it is, but I’m running across a lot of game-changers for me. While I love my vintage-style amps, and will continue to gig with them, I have a feeling that I’ll be getting a of mileage from the TubeMeister 18. As a bonus, check out this video review from Guitar World. Paul’s a killer player, and he really brings out the gorgeous tones the TubeMeister 18 can produce. There are actually two videos, and the second video where he starts playing the lead channel, had me swooning over the gorgeous overdrive this amp can produce.

 

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SONY DSC
Aracom PLX100

Summary: Based upon the PLX amp “platform” that Jeff Aragaki has created for creating customer-specific amps, this 100-watt beast is actually 3 classic Marshall amps in 1: Plexi 100 SuperLead (JMP), Plexi PA, and JCM800 (high gain).

Features

  • Three channels (Plexi SuperLead, Plexi PA, JCM800)
  • “Bite” Switch (mild mid boost)
  • Master Volume Control with Bypass Switch
  • Presence, Treble, Middle, B ass Tone Controls
  • Solid State/Tube Rectifier Simulation Switch
  • Channel Disable Switch
  • Bias Test Points with user accessible bias pot
  • Handwired turret board construction
  • “M” style large box head cabinet

Price: ~$2900

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Talk about high-gain versatility. This is no gimmick. Each different channel has voicing that you’d expect out of that particular model. The SuperLead is classic, bright Plexi, while the JCM800 has a darker, much more aggressive tone, and the SuperPA is all about clean headroom. While the amp in an of itself is special; the PLX platform is what make all this possible. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it to the grave: Jeff Aragaki is genius!

About three years ago, Jeff Aragaki and I were talking about a new amp design. I told him that I would love to have a high-gain amp either in a 50 or 100 Watt version, but gave me the flexibility to voice it in various ways to fit the particular sound I wanted. We affectionately called this a “FlexPlex” because for me in particular, I wanted that Plexi sound, but wanted to be able to tweak it. Jeff actually built it, and I saw the prototype for it a couple of weeks ago.

But in the process of building the FlexPlex, you might say he “stumbled” upon a completely new way to build his amps; and that was basing his builds upon a platform. This wasn’t trivial, and no, I’m not just bandying about some buzzword. The platform that Jeff discovered has allowed him to create all sorts of different amps; starting with a common construct. I’m not sure about all the details, but the proof is in the pudding. Here Jeff’s words that describe this particular amp:

“The ARACOM PLX100 amplifier is a platform that allows us to build customer specific amplifiers with the features and specifications they desire.   For this custom build, our customer wanted a 100 watt amplifier with the vintage Marshall Super PA look.   The Super PA head cabinet has a “wide mouth” front panel opening, allowing access to four separate P.A. channels.    The model designation for this custom ARACOM amplifier is” Super H.T”.,  H.T. representing the initials of our customer.  However, instead of having 4 identical channels like a standard Super PA amplifier, the Super H.T. has 3 different channels, allowing for a highly versatile amplifier. 

“The JMP channel offers clean and overdriven tones as expected with a Plexi SuperLead amplifier.  It has two separate Bright switches that allow the channel to go from a Plexi Normal (Dark) channel tone to Plexi Bright channel tone, or something in between.   The Super PA channel provides slightly less gain than the JMP channel, with a fuller bass response.   The JCM channel is the high gain channel, designated for overdriven/distorted tones.   The JCM’s Bright switch allows for the standard JCM800 bright tone or a slightly darker tone.   The Master Volume control with a true bypass switch, allows for cranked up tone at lower volume levels.   The rear panel Bias Test points, allows for quick and easy tube biasing.”

Fit and Finish

It sure looks like a Marshall… 🙂 But in all seriousness, it’s an Aracom Amp, and that means quality. Jeff doesn’t skimp on components, and he takes a lot of pride in making sure everything that leaves his shop looks absolutely professional, and the PLX100 is no exception. The tolex is perfect, and all the knobs are snug and turn smoothly. And since this amp was going overseas, you can bet that Jeff made sure that everything was sturdy to eliminate or severely reduce the risk of breakage.

Ease of Use

I normally don’t have this section in my reviews, but I thought it necessary in this case. While I absolutely love the amp, with all the switches and the push-pull knobs, I have to admit that I’d have to take a lot of time getting familiar with it. I don’t call that really a negative mark on the amp. For goodness’ sake! How else do you pack in all those features? But despite that, the knob and switch layout is pretty clear. It would take me awhile to find the sweet spot in each channel for all the guitars I’d play through it. But that’s the beauty of discovery and experimentation, wouldn’t you say?

How It Sounds

This amp sounds amazing! Jeff explained each channel as I would have, so I’ll just reiterate and say that his descriptions of each channel reflect my own experience with it. When I was in his shop testing the amp, we must’ve played around with it for at least an hour as he twiddled knobs and flipped switches to demonstrate the amazing number of voices that could come from this amp. The permutations of settings make this amp able to tackle practically any style of music. Oh! We did all the testing through a huge 4 X 12 at gig volumes, so it was LOUD! 🙂 I played a Les Paul, a Gene Baker prototype (it was a hybrid that is VERY cool), and a Strat through the amp, and each guitar sounded killer through it. My favorite channel by far was the SuperLead channel, which had lots of gain on tap, but wasn’t at all over the top. Next was the JCM channel – especially its dark mode which produced thumping overdrive. I wasn’t too wild about the SuperPA with a Les Paul, but with single coils, that channel was absolutely SWEET! It would be a perfect channel to use with overdrive pedals because of its clean headroom.

Overall Impression

What strikes me the most about the PLX100 is that you literally have three amps in one. If you had all three, you’d probably be close to $10,000. That this amp is only $2900 is pretty amazing to me. But that’s Jeff. He doesn’t make a huge profit on the gear he builds – that’s a personal choice. He just wants to build great amps. This is like my friend Perry Riggs of Slash L Guitars. He makes absolutely awesome guitars but sells them at a price-point that’s rather incredible. Both of these gentlemen are true artisans of their trade, and I’m glad there are folks like this.

With respect to the PLX100, I sure wish I played in venues where I really open up an amp like this and really do it justice. For my particular uses, this is way too much amp. But if I ever get the chance to regularly play large venues, you can bet that I’ll be calling Jeff Aragaki to build me an amp on the PLX100 platform. Or… maybe he has a 50 Watt version. 🙂

For more information, visit the Aracom PLX100 product page!

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Keeley Luna Overdrive

Summary: Two-and-a-half years in the making and combining what Robert Keeley feels are the best in overdrive pedals, tube amps, and tone stacks. The Luna overdrive is the result. This pedal covers a wide range of overdrive possibilities, from light grit to fuzz-like, square-wave distortion.

Pros: The Baxandall tone stack is KILLER and totally sells me on the pedal. On top of that though, the pedal reacts to attack and guitar volume adjustments just like a tube amp, so you’ll be right at home.

Cons: It’s pricey for one, and the tight interplay between the EQ, Drive and Master controls makes it difficult to dial in just the right amount of overdrive. But these aren’t big enough cons to give it a lower score.

Features:

  • Hand-made in the USA
  • Op-amp clipping and JFET gain stages
  • Baxandall tone stack
  • Drive and Master controls
  • Classic and Modded overdrive modes

Price: ~$219 Street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ This is a great pedal. I’d give it a 5 on tone alone, but I knocked off just a bit for making it difficult to get a decent tone out of my amp. I suppose that’s part of the fun in playing around and discovering what a pedal can do, but I have to be fair. It got a little frustrating as the Drive knob is pretty sensitive.

After my beloved Timmy pedal, I thought I was done with overdrive pedals! 🙂 I should know better because I’ve been a slut for overdrive pedals, and I guess there’s really no cure for that. Playing around with the Keeley Luna Overdrive has been a joy, though I will admit I did briefly get frustrated while trying to dial in the pedal. It simply took a bit of time to get used to the active Baxandall EQ. Unlike other EQ’s, it’s not a cut type of EQ, where the EQ knobs turned all the way up give you flat response. With a Baxandall EQ, the 12 o’clock position is flat response. Turn up an EQ knob and you get a boost, turn it down, and you get a cut. But the midrange is left alone. That means that if you turn both knobs fully counter-clockwise, you get a midrange hump; fully clockwise, and you get a scooped tone.

This is a totally different animal from other EQ’s, and it takes awhile getting used to. However, despite the learning curve, this type of EQ provides a much better way of dialing in your tone to fit your guitar, amp, and cabinet. For instance, for my test, I played the pedal in front of my DV Mark Little 40, which goes out to a 1 X 12 cabinet that has a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker, which has a pretty big bottom end. Putting the pedal in flat response made my tone sound really muffled because of the lows (I had my amp’s EQ completely flat). But after playing around, I found that placing the bass at 11 o’clock and the treble at 1 o’clock brightened up the tone just the right amount, then it was all about getting the Master and Drive knobs set.

About the Drive knob… it’s super-sensitive, and you’ll start getting breakup as soon as you start turning the knob clockwise from its minimum position, which is about 7-8 o’clock. I found that the sweet spot for me was the Drive just past 9 o’clock and the Master set between 2 and 3 o’clock. With my amp set at just the edge of breakup, the boost from the Master got the tubes overdriving, and the combination of distortion from both the pedal and the amp was quite pleasing to my ears.

How It Sounds

In my First Impressions article that I wrote earlier today, I said that the pedal adds some color. I’m going to retract that now because depending upon where you set the EQ’s, you can have a transparent tone, or add as much color as you want. I like to err on the side of transparency with most overdrives, and when it came down to it, this pedal was no different. I originally had a nice treble boost, but when I did some test recordings, found that I didn’t like how I had set the EQ’s because of the color. Here are a couple of test clips. Note that both of these were done in the Classic mode, and I was using my Gibson Les Paul ’58 Historic Reissue.

In the first clip, I do a quick clean rhythm riff with an almost imperceptible grit, then do the same riff with the pedal to add some dirt.

With the next clip, I decided to do a dark rhythm track then play a lead alongside it. In both rhythm and lead, the pedal was set the same way, and I vary the amount of overdrive simply by adding more guitar volume or hitting my strings harder. This clip was made purely to demonstrate the pedal’s dynamic response. I also added just a touch of reverb to grease the sound a bit,.

I absolutely love the tone of the lead track. I started out with my LP in the middle position, with the neck pickup at 5 and the bridge pickup at 6. Then when I started driving it harder, I switched to the bridge pickup entirely and dimed it. From there I just closed my eyes. The sonic content that the pedal produces is amazing. There are lots of little harmonics and overtones in the signal, and the note separation is awesome. The note separation takes a little getting used to as well. But this is a good thing because this pedal does not produce mush – even at high gain settings.

In this third clip, I just do a few seconds of a Journey riff. here the tone is scooped with both the EQ knobs at about 2 pm, the Master cranked wide open and the Drive at about 10 o’oclock. Unfortunately, my mic didn’t pick up all the little harmonics and overtones, but the point to this one was that even pushing my amp hard, and with much more gain, the note separation is still maintained.

I know, I only have a couple of clips, but admittedly, I’m still playing around with the pedal. I want to try it front of one my Plexi-style amps to see how it performs.

I did take it through its paces with the Modded mode, and that mode with my amp just past the edge of breakup created some real aggressive overdrive; not over the top, but I have to play around more with this mode and cranking up the gain to experience the upper limits of the pedal.

Overall Impression

As I said above, this is a great pedal. It’s a little steep in price at $219; Keeley pedals have never come cheap. But that said, I’d totally add this to my board to stack with my Timmy (hmm… going to have to try that out). It has been a long time since I’ve been jazzed about an overdrive, and I’m really jazzed about this one.

Interestingly enough, besides a few video reviews out there (that do nothing but blues licks), and one that I saw done by Musicians Friend staff member, there’s not much in the way of reviews, which is surprising. Some of the feedback I saw on a couple of forums said it didn’t work well with people’s amps. I think that has more to do with not playing around with the pedal enough. That Baxandall EQ takes some getting used to, but once you “get it,” this pedal rocks!

For more information, visit Keeley Luna Overdrive product page!

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Sebago Sound PrototypeSummary: I don’t know what an original Steel String Singer sounds like, but if Sebago’s take on that amp is any indication, we have a winner here! This is an incredibly versatile amp that can fit any genre of music. This is my next amp.Pros: Versatility is the key with this amp. The notch High and Low notch filters let you dial in your tone to fit the genre or help fine tune the amp to your guitar.

Cons: None. But not a 5.0? I’ll explain below…

  • 100-150 Watts (150 with 6550’s) from 4 power tubes
  • Reverb “loop” with send and receive knobs (send is signal gain into tank, receive is similar to mix)
  • Single input with switchable FET circuit
  • Gain control
  • Three-band EQ
  • Bright, Mid, Rock/Jazz mini toggles
  • Master control
  • Presence control
  • Individual High and Low notch filter knobs.
  • Power and Standby switches

Price: TBD, but will probably be somewhere between $2500 and $3000

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ The only reason I took off a quarter point is because the reverb receive circuit was a bit noisy. I was able to dial back the hum by upping the send gain and dialing down the receive signal, but this is a prototype, so it’s understandable that there would be some tiny issues, and believe me, this is tiny.

 

My First Impressions article pretty much said everything that I had to say about this amp. My opinion hasn’t changed. This is an absolutely SUPERB amp that has me GAS-ing VERY BADLY. And after playing with this amp for the last few days, I’m in a dream state from the hypnotic tone that this amp produces – with all my guitars.

One thing I will add is that Bill Dunham emphasized that the amp is a great pedal platform. I still agree with that assessment, but frankly, this amp produces almost all the tones that I need, so I haven’t hooked my pedal board once this past week. The reverb is fantastic, and when I’ve taken the amp into overdrive, I just haven’t seen the need to use a pedal. The only exception to that is with the last clip I recorded where I ran my Strat through my Timmy overdrive before going into the amp, which was not quite at the breakup level; just slightly below.

Granted, at 100 Watts, I couldn’t take the amp into breakup without an attenuator. But luckily, my trusty Aracom PRX150-Pro comes to the rescue yet again in that department. A quick note on the distortion. I wasn’t really liking the fully cranked up tone of the amp with my Strat. It’s an entirely different matter with my Les Paul. The lead tone – which you’ll hear shortly – is just incredible. With the FET activated, and both Gain and Master cranked up (Gain at 9, Master at 10), the sustain, harmonics and overtones create this absolutely gorgeous lead tone. Now by itself, this amp won’t do metal. It’s not made for that, and I don’t think it was ever intended to do that. But crank it up and throw a distortion pedal in front of it, and I believe you could easily do metal.

Fit and Finish

I really won’t comment on this much because the final face plate is being produced so Bill modified a Double Trouble face plate. That’s also why I didn’t take pictures. It’s not finished, and I don’t want people to get the wrong idea that the amp will be in the condition in which it was tested. It looks great, but I’d rather get pictures of the finished product.

How It Sounds

Bill kept on saying when he dropped off the amp that it’s real strong point was clean. After playing with it, I heartily disagree. 🙂 Clean, dirty, it don’t matter. I dug the sound. In any case, I’ve recorded three clips to give you a general idea of the amp’s tonal possibilities. Mind you, I don’t have a mild breakup clip with a Strat. Once I get the real thing, I’ll share lots more clips. For now, you check out the ones I’ve recorded thus far. Note that these tracks are raw tracks. I used no EQ nor compression because I wanted to ensure that I’d capture all the dynamics of the amp.

Clean, Gretsch Electromatic (thin body)

Clean, Les Paul

Rock, Crunchy Rhythm (left), Solo (right)

Clip from an SRV tribute song I wrote called “In The Vibe”

All the clips were recorded using an Avatar  1 X 12 closed back cabinet with the fantastic Fane Medusa 150 speaker. I used a single mic – a Sennheiser e609 – positioned about 18″ from the cabinet pointed directly at the center of the cone. Part of why you might hear a little static is the ambient room noise from my garage. Barely detectable, but it’s there.

With the rock clip, one thing I had to get used to was the note separation in touch sensitivity of the amp when I’ve got it cranked; actually, even in heavy overdrive. I didn’t really have to change the way I play, I just had to make sure that if I was chording, then I needed to be smooth with my strums, otherwise you’d hear every dang string being plucked. 🙂 It was a pretty easy adjustment.

With the SRV tribute song, as with the other clips, I didn’t EQ the guitars at all, though with the lead, I did add some reverb and a touch of delay to give the tone some air. I also ran the guitar through my Timmy overdrive in front of the amp. Other than that, what you hear is what the amp and the Strat are producing naturally though the final recording has a touch of compression. With the first part of the clip, I’m playing through the neck pickup, then switch to the bridge pickup and turn the volume of the guitar up a couple of notches.

In any case, to me, the clips I’ve provided tell a good story of what this amp is capable of. As I mentioned, in a clips, what I’ve laid down is the raw amp sound, completely unprocessed except for the SRV tribute. The tones are absolutely gorgeous!

Overall Impression

I suppose you can pretty much guess what my impression is of this amp. Once Bill gets this into production, it’ll be my next amp. Better start saving my pennies. 🙂

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Sorry, no pictures nor sound clips – yet – but I wanted to get out a first impressions post on this wonderful amp.

Personally, I’ve never heard or seen a real Dumble Steel String Singer other than Doug Doppler’s video of one of Henry Kaiser’s SSS, so I can’t really make a comparison between Sebago’s amp and the original. But if I were to sum up what I’ve heard from Bill’s newest amp in my short time playing with it, and if you don’t want to read any further, all I can say is that this amp sounds like nothing I’ve ever played before; presenting a complex and rich tonal palette that truly gives it the ability to be used in ANY type of genre. And make no mistake, it doesn’t lean towards a particular camp, as in Fender or Marshall. This amp has a sound all its own, and it has completely blown me away!

I don’t say that lightly, by any means. I’ve tended to be a bit jaded with Dumble-style amps probably due to all the hype that’s associated with them. And though it could be argued that Sebago is doing yet another knock-off of Dumble amps, I believe Bill Dunham’s approach is not to create pure clones, but rather to create great amps that he believes capture the spirit of a Dumble amp; and not be an exact reproduction. At least to me, being a copy-cat is absolutely boring, and Sebago amps are far from boring.

Before I get into discussing the amp further, let me go through its features:

  • 100-150 Watts (150 with 6550’s) from 4 power tubes
  • Reverb “loop” with send and receive knobs
  • Single input with switchable FET circuit
  • Gain control
  • Three-band EQ
  • Bright, Mid, Rock/Jazz mini toggles
  • Master control
  • Presence control
  • Individual High and Low notch filter knobs.
  • Power and Standby switches

When Bill first contacted me the other day about the new amp, I asked him if it would have the FET input. He replied no, but when he delivered the amp, he had constructed the FET circuit. I’m glad he did because it tweaks the tone in a very nice way. Unlike an original Dumble, the FET circuit on the Sebago amp is relegated to another input. Bill instead makes it an activated feature via switch (either push-pull or footswitch). According to Bill, the FET provides some extra gain at front-end that produces an asymmetrical clipping that’s not quite distortion though you know something’s happened. To me, it “feels” like a compressor as when it’s switched on, the tone feels much richer and fatter. If I were to own this amp, which I probably will in the future, I’d probably have the FET on all the time.

The distinctive thing about Dumble amps is all the EQ tweaking you can do. The Overdrive Special has the three mini toggles plus the three-band EQ knobs. But the Steel String Singer adds two incredibly useful High and Low notch filter knobs. I believe these two filter knobs are responsible for making the magic of this amp, and these are the knobs that I played with the most, once I set up the EQ. Having the filter knobs really helped me dial in all sorts of tones from spanky, sparkling cleans to big bottom-end crunch – with a Strat, no less! The Low notch acts like a cut, where the High acts like a midrange voicing knob that you find on various amps. The combination of these two allow you to adjust the amp’s basic tone to fit your guitar and cabinet. For instance, I’m playing the amp through my Avatar 2 X 12 with a Celestion Gold and a Jensen Jet Falcon. Even with the Falcon, which has a lot of bottom-end content, the cabinet tends to be bright. But a few clicks of the Low notch filter helped bring out the lows. Just incredible.

As far as the reverb goes, I dig that it’s in a loop, and that you can control how much signal goes into the tank, and control how much gets added back. It allows for really fine control of the reverb, and I spent quite a bit of the time playing with it to see what it could produce. In the end, I set the Send to about 10-11 am, and just twiddled with the Receive to control how much I reverb I wanted to add back into my signal. Very cool.

So how does it sound? With cleans on a Strat, it is other-worldly. There’s so much harmonic content in the signal that depending upon how you set the notch filters and reverb, you can get almost a chorus-like effect which is absolutely dreamy. But you can also get spanky country cleans again, by adjusting the notch filters. Those really give the amp its personality. As far as dirt tones go, as Bill put it, most of the harmonic content is in the preamp section, so you can crank the preamp and keep the master down. Me, I like cranking the power tubes to get them working. But either clean or dirty, there’s a real depth; almost a 3D quality to the tone that’s total ear candy!

With both the Gain and Master cranked, I have to admit that the amp doesn’t sound all that good. The overdrive sound becomes really muddy, and even more so with the reverb on, and no amount of EQ would clean it up. But backing off the Master to about 2:30 to 3pm, gave me a nice, ballsy growl. Can’t wait to try that out with my Les Paul.

Bill did say that at least to him, the amp is a great pedal platform, and that putting a Tube Screamer in front of the amp can get you that SRV tone. Based upon my eval thus far, with the FET and a Tube Screamer, that may just be true. There’s TONS of clean headroom with this amp, so using it with pedals will be ideal.

I found that the sweet spot of the amp is setting it at the edge of breakup with the FET on. In addition to the aforementioned compressor-like quality the FET introduces, the clipping gives the signal a bit of “hair.” I wouldn’t necessarily call it breakup, but you know there’s some distortion. It’s a great tone that I hope to be able to capture once I make some recordings of the amp.

Gawd! I know I’m loving a piece of gear when I write a lot about it. This amp has so much character, and I have yet to really do an exploration of it in both the studio and at a gig, which I will be doing this weekend. I am SO looking forward to playing with it more!

By the way, the name of the amp obviously will not be “Steel String Singer.” Bill has told me what he intends the name to be, but I won’t share it until the product’s actually out the door. It will have a Southwest-flavored name in celebration of that SRV tone. But make no bones about it, this amp can do way more than the blues.

And thank goodness I have my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. I could not do the dirty tests without breaking windows. 🙂

For more information, and to keep up to date with the release, go to Sebago Sound’s product page.

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