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Wow! Is all I can say… This is simply a killer amp!

In my announcement that I made today about getting this lil’ bad boy, I promised some sound clips. So once got done with my gig this evening, I headed right to my studio to play around with the amp. For this first test, I didn’t want do the standard, here’s-how-it-sounds -clean or -dirty. What I wanted to test was the amp’s dynamics and expressiveness. So I did two tests that demonstrate a couple of different aspects of the Little 40.

One thing that I will mention before I get into the tests is that for a single-channel amp, the Little 40 has TONS of tonal options. Every knob has an affect on the tone, especially the very usable EQ’s. Plus if you hook up a mono foot switch, you can get a 10dB gain boost, so if you set up the amp properly, that boost can act like a second channel.

Dynamics

With this first clip, what I wanted to test was how the amp reacted to pick attack. So I set the amp to the edge of breakup. Master was set wide open, with the gain at about 10am. I set the EQ’s on the brighter side with the Treble cranked, Mid about 2pm and Bass at 11am. I also had the Continuous Power Control open all the way for maximum headroom. The clip is in three parts: First, I start on the “clean” side of the overdrive point. Then I dig in a little harder to get it past that point, then I engage the boost, which gets the amp into some serious crunch, and loads of sonic content (besides being dirty, with boost engaged, the amp grows some serious balls – even set to bright. I’m playing my R8 Les Paul with both pickups engaged and the volumes are both set to 5.

Continuous Power Control

A lot of the magic of this amp comes from the Continuous Power Control. This knob provides an output power sweep from 1 Watt all the way up to 40 Watts, allowing you to adjust the clean headroom of amp. This is an absolutely killer feature!

With this next clip, the amp is set clean, with the Master all the way up, the Gain at about 9am. EQ and Presence are all set at noon. I’m playing my R8 with both volume knobs at five. Again, the clip is in three parts. The first part is clean, bluesy riff. In the second part, I turn the CPC to noon (~20 Watts), and play the same riff. Finally, I engage the boost to demonstrate how over-the-top you can get with this amp. 🙂

Admittedly, I have a lot of dialing-in to do. The tonal possibilities with this amp are immense. Looks like I’ll be spending lots of time getting to know it. 🙂

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One of the guitarists in my church band recently got a Carr Mercury, which is a great little amp. In addition to sporting vintage styling, it has some great power scaling from 8 Watts down to 1/10 Watt, a three-position boost to vary the drive to the single EL34 power tube, and a very nice and liquid reverb. All in all, it sounds pretty killer. Add my bandmate’s Barron Wesley custom guitar, and it’s a great tone combo!

But as he plays next to my rig, which consists of a Les Paul going into an Aracom PLX18BB Trem (“PLX”) which is a clone of the very simple Marshall 18 Watt Plexi, I felt the Carr’s tone paled in comparison to the tone my rig produces. Mind  you, the Carr sounds  killer. But in comparison to the PLX, its attack is much faster, and there’s noticeably less sag from rectifier than the PLX, so my perception is that there’s not much sustain with the amp..

Granted, I realize this is purely subjective, but there is something very special about the PLX. Perhaps it’s due to that classic “Bluebreaker” tone – hence the BB designation of the amp – that Clapton made so popular while with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. The Les Paul/Plexi combination is absolutely magical. Perhaps it’s also due in part to the absolute simplicity of the 18 Watt Plexi’s circuitry. Or perhaps it’s due to how the amp sags that gives it this almost reverb-like tone. Whatever it is, it’s a tone with which I completely identify.

I realize that I probably mention the PLX in this blog more than any amp that I have or have tested. But it has become my “go-to” amp. As the title of this article says, some rig combinations just never get old.

In front of the PLX, I have just a few pedals because I like to keep things simple. Here’s the complete chain:

Les Paul R8 -> Timmy Overdrive -> TC Electronic Corona Chorus -> Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (handwired) -> DigiTech RV-7 Reverb -> Aracom PLX18 BB Trem -> Aracom PRX150 Attenuator -> Fane Medusa 150 12″ speaker.

I typically only use the  delay and reverb when playing clean, which is actually quite a bit.  But when I’m  playing driven, either with the Timmy or with the amp cranked, I just let the amp speak for itself. 🙂

I mentioned the sag of the PLX. It’s not so saggy that you get a lot of crosstones. But Jeff Aragaki (amp builder) did find a sweet spot in setting up the rectifier that balanced the classic responsiveness of the original Plexi with enough sag in the rectifier to make the amp absolutely expressive.

I made some modifications of my own in the way of tubes. I have gorgeous 1959 RCA grey glass pre-amp tubes in it to drive the pre-amp. I actually kept the original JJ EL84 power tubes in the amp because they compress quite nicely when driven without over-compressing into mush. Then to add fatness, I dropped in the gorgeous, super-sensitive (103 dB) Fane Medusa 150 12″ speaker. Combine that with a large 1 X 12 combo cabinet, and you’ve got a nice resonating chamber for the speaker which adds further depth to the tone.

Upon writing the above, I think a huge reason why I love the tone of this amp so much as compared to the Carr probably has a lot to do with the size of the cabinet, which can also easily house 2 10″ speakers.  That extra room for the sound to bounce around creates a lot of complexity.

 

In any case, that particular combination of gear never gets old to me. Even though I have lott of other guitars and amps, when I gig, I go to that setup. Now if only Jeff will build me my FlexPlex 50… 🙂

 

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This morning, I was taking stock of gear that I hadn’t played in a awhile, and saw my little ’58 Fender Champ sitting on my workbench. I hadn’t played it for several months. So I hooked it up, and started playing. Now mind you, I’ve had some serious work done on it. I had to have the leaky caps replaced, and I had the amp set up with an A/B switch so I could bypass the stock, internal speaker and use a different speaker cabinet if I wanted. Plus, my good buddy, Jeff Aragaki lent me a custom tweed cabinet that he built that houses a Weber 10″ Alnico speaker.

After getting it all hooked up (I ran the amp into a 1 X 12 with a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker), one thing struck me right away after playing my Strat through it. To me, this is THE classic Tweed sound. But it is also the perfect platform to record completely raw signal, then tweak, which has been done in lots of studios over the years, as a Champ was used to record all sorts of rock and roll.

Take, for instance the following recording:

This was recorded straight into my computer with no EQ, no nothin’ attached. It’s a clean, dry signal that simply captures the tone of my Strat. But apply some reverb and delay effects, some compression, EQ, and that plain signal becomes something else entirely. Here’s the same track, but this time, I’ve textured it with reverb, delay, compression and EQ.

Had the compression make-up gain a little high, so there’s a tiny bit of clipping, but what I was able to get was a super-rich and full sound.

Even dirtied up, the Champ is simply a great platform. Here’s a raw clip of the Champ completely cranked up:

Again, this is simply a fantastic platform from which to shape the guitar sound. So, in this next clip (which again is the same track, but tweaked) I added some compression, reverb, a tiny bit of stereo delay and beefed up the lows with some Fat EQ:

It’s no surprise to me why so many studios have these Champs in their amp lineups.

As for gigging this bad boy, I always run it through speakers that have a good bottom-end response. What results is a nice, scooped tone – VERY American tone-wise.

Anyway, if you can find one of these, get it. Or you can get the ’57 Champ re-issue, which lots of players love. Me, I got mine for $700 (that’s the actual picture of the amp above), and spent roughly $200 on getting the caps replaced and putting in some NOS tubes. Still comes out under the price of the ’57 reissue.

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I mentioned the DV Mark Little 40 at the end of my previous post yesterday, which was a review on the DV Mark Galileo 15. That Galileo is a great little amp, but the DV Mark Little 40 is what I’m really taking a serious look at right now. If you want more information and specs on this great little amp, then read the product page on it. But what I’m going to discuss here goes beyond just the plain old facts and talk about why I think this amp deserves such a serious look.

What about the title? Well, it’s something that I brought over from my web engineering background, and that is that the best web sites aren’t the ones that are the prettiest or the most technically robust. They’re the ones that are so obvious to use, you don’t have to think about it. With the Little 40, DV Mark has lived up to “Don’t Make Me Think” in a variety of ways.

First off, while DV Mark offers the amp in L34 and L6 models (for EL34 and 6L6), the amp can take either, and will even do 6V6’s (though I think it may have to be JJ 6V6’s that’ll take a higher plate voltage – but I’d have to confirm that). But here’s the kicker: With the Little 40, you’ll never have to bias tubes again! The Little 40 sports smart circuitry that will auto-bias AND match your power tubes (so long as they’re within 20% of each other). How convenient is that? I don’t have the equipment to bias tubes myself – frankly I’m scared to death of working on electrical stuff – so every time I get new power tubes, I have to have someone bias them for me. With the Little 40, I just need to get reasonably matched tubes, and the amp will bias them to their optimal settings. Damn!

In addition to automagically biasing the tubes, there’s a switch on the rear panel that lets you set Low or High bias settings, which means you have even more tonal capabilities at the flick of a switch. This is a really huge thing in my opinion because again, instead of having to do this by hand, you need only toggle a switch to find the right bias setting for what you’re playing.

Also, the Little 40 is absolutely versatile, with its patent-pending Continuous Power Control that allows you to vary the output power of the tubes – not just for volume, but to break up the power tubes early. Full out to 40 Watts, you’ll get maximum clean headroom. But you can dial down the power to 1 Watt, and get breakup a lot earlier. Plus, you can switch between pentode and triode tube operation to get different tones on top of bringing the power down. Then on top of all that, you have a 0/6dB pad to compensate for passive and active pickups.

Finally, at $799, which is only $200 more than the Galileo, getting this amp is absolute no-brainer! And mind  you, these amps are all hand assembled in Italy. How DV Mark is able to sell them so inexpensively is beyond me, but we players can definitely reap the benefits. This is my next amp!

Here’s a nice demo video of the DV Mark Little 40:

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At last night’s weekly gig at the restaurant I play at, I brought my trusty Roland Cube 60. I was in a rush, and just wanted a lightweight amp that I could easily set up.

To be honest, I hadn’t played that amp for a long time, preferring to use my tube amp combos or my SWR California Blonde. But those amps are also HEAVY. The Blonde weight over 50 pounds! My Cube 60, on the other hand, weighs just 30 pounds, and is roughly half the size of any of my other combos.

But weight aside, the Roland Cube 60 is simply a great-sounding amp. Solid-state or not, it doesn’t matter. If it sounds good, then who cares about its circuitry? I was reminded of that last night. I put the amp in Acoustic/JC Clean mode and was rewarded with a gorgeous clean tone that rivaled the cleans of any of my tube amps. Admittedly, the onboard time mod effects aren’t very good (at least to my ears), so I just used my own.

And that brings me to the point of this entry and my previous entry centering on the title: Let sound guide your decisions in buying gear; not the circuitry. With respect to the Cube 60, its Acoustic/JC Clean is modeled after the venerable JC 120 amp; an amp that has proven itself over the years as a viable tone platform. Players like Joe Satriani and Albert King used this amp. I believe Satch used a JC 120 to record Surfin’ with the Alien. And it’s no small wonder these guitar greats used it: The JC cleans are spectacular. They’re not as basso as Fender cleans, being a bit more mid-rangy, but they’re gorgeous just the same.

One thing that struck me last night as well was the wide sound dispersal from that little amp. I was concerned that the diminutive cabinet would be a bit too directional, but all that worry was laid to rest when I did my sound check. The Cube 60 filled the space incredibly well, and was clear from even extreme angles. Needless to say, I’ll be using the Cube 60 for most of my solo gigs going forward.

So definitely a lesson learned once again, that it’s the sound that matters…

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Source Audio Soundblox Guitar Envelope Filter

Summary: Nice, moderate vowel-tone envelope filter box for guitar. You can get downright funky with this pedal. While it may not get as “vowelly” as competitive products, it certainly has a lot of tone on tap.

Pros: Great features and tone, and the pedal’s super quite when active. The controls are super-easy to manipulate.

Cons: While I love the sound of this pedal, its physical footprint is just plain big, making it impractical to put on my pedal board. Also, the plastic enclosure makes me a little “iffy” about its gig-worthiness.

Features

  • 21 Filter Sounds including 2 Pole Low Pass, 4 Pole Low Pass, Single Peak, Triple Peak, Peak and Notch and Phasers.
  • Positive and Negative filter sweep with variable range and sensitivity.
  • Dual range speed control allows equal adjustment of Attack and Decay speeds, or alternatively, a fixed, fast attack and adjustable Decay.
  • Modern Design — a thoughtfully designed box that features rugged construction and sleek looks.
  • State-of-the-art DSP — our proprietary 56-bit Digital Signal Processor, the SA601 and crystal clear 24-bit converters.
  • Motion Control — all Soundblox™ pedals are “Hot Hand® Ready” and can be used with any Hot Hand motion sensor to extend the capabilities of the unit.
  • Active Analog Bypass — bypass is fully routed around the DSP and active input ensures zero signal degradation.
  • Dimensions: 7 in/17.8cm (length not including 1/O jacks) x 4 in/10.2 cm (width) x 2 in/5cm (height, including knobs).

Price: ~$120 Street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ On tone alone, I’d give this a 5, but its size and plastic enclosure give it a lower mark.

A few months ago, I was thinking that the next tonal territory I wanted to tackle was using an envelope filter. I love that “auto-wah,” vowel tone. I’ve tried out a few over the months, but I got a chance to spend a good deal of time with the Source Audio unit in my studio, and I have to say that tonally, it’s a real winner for me.

Out of the different envelope filters I’ve tried, this one has just about the most features I’ve seen to date, with 21 filter sounds, which means you can get A LOT of different tones out this box. But despite the amount of tweakability, it’s super-easy to dial in tones, and to be completely honest, though I’ve had this unit for a couple of months to play with (thank you Source Audio – and no, this is just demo unit, though I’ll probably buy it), I have yet to touch the manual. Source Audio even sent me a wired “Hot Hand” controller that allows you to manipulate the signal with a ring that’s wired to the pedal. But I haven’t used it yet – the Hot Hand-less configuration has just worked for me.

There are only a couple of things that really irked me about the pedal. The first, and this goes for all Soundblox pedals in general is its large footprint. For me to use it at gigs with my pedal board, I’ve had to remove my wah pedal. It’s 7″ long, for goodness’ sake! Plus the plastic enclosure makes me a little nervous. I gig a lot, and I’m not sure just how well this would hold up getting banged around in my car.

But despite those little annoyances, I still dig the pedal – A LOT. For one, it’s insanely priced at around $120 street. Plus, it’s dead quiet on or off due to the analog true bypass switch, which is a great feature for a lower-price-point pedal.

How It Sounds

Of course, its sound is what sold me. But it’s even more than that because the pedal also reacts to input gain. So in addition to getting the 21 different voicings, by adjusting your input volume and pick attack, you can affect the tone of the pedal. I’ve literally spent hours playing around with this pedal, and every time I play it, I discover something new. Love it!

The following clips were all played with my Fender American Deluxe Strat into my trusty Roland Cube 60, set to a clean “Blackface” setting. I didn’t want to color the tone with any kind of drive or distortion. Note that I don’t remember any of the settings that I used on the pedal. In fact, when I recorded these, I just set the pedal to what I though would sound good, then hit “record.” 🙂

First off, is a little ditty that I put together with a clean rhythm track, and doing a lead over it.

Second is another lead track, but I added in some reverb and delay to give the tone some space.

Next, it’s just my guitar and the pedal. The first part of the clip demonstrates the pedal’s response to pick attack. Then I just play a random lead and some fast funk chords.

Finally, I set the pedal to extremes. I was after the most raunchy tone that the pedal can  produce without going over the top (which it can), and this is the result:

Overall Impression

This is a fantastic pedal! Even with the misgivings I have with its size and construction, there’s no denying that the tone it produces really moves me.

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EWS Little Brute Drive

Summary: Proving the old adage that “big things come in small packages,” the EWS Little Brute Drive is an absolute distortion machine, capable of mild crunch to face melting distortion. Don’t let the “drive” in the name fool you. This ain’t an overdrive – but who cares? 🙂

Pros: Though it has output level and treble controls inside the enclosure, the pedal is set to unity gain, so no need to mess with output volume. You just set the gain knob where you want it, then turn it on. It’ll instantly turn your guitar a fire-breathing dragon!

Cons: None. Absolutely none.

Features

  • Single gain knob. All the way left gives you about the max overdrive of a soft OD pedal like the Timmy. All the way right is evil – very evil – distortion. 🙂
  • True bypass
  • Runs on either a 9V battery or 9V power supply (I use a 1-spot).

Price: ~$129 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I could barely pull myself away from playing this evening to write this review! I was having way too much fun with this pedal!

I have to admit that I haven’t been too much into distortion pedals in the past, but since I got a Strat, none of my overdrive pedals could give me the kind of creamy crunch that I love for playing rock songs. It’s not a problem with my Les Paul, and though my new Strat does have some higher-output pickups, it’s still not the kind of gain that a Les Paul produces. So I figured that I’d try a distortion pedal. Enter the Little Brute Drive.

After watching some very good videos and listening to some sound clips of the pedal, I knew it would do the job. I wasn’t mistaken. This freakin’ pedal has more gain than anything in my arsenal. I was amazed that at even with the gain all the way down, it was more than the gain that my beloved Timmy produces! But the even cooler thing is that even at the highest gain setting, note separation is incredible! I was concerned about that because my past experience with distortion pedals is that they get really muddy and compressed at high gain settings; not the LBD. The distortion is tight, but it never gets muddy, and the EQ response is pretty flat to boot.

Fit and Finish

Though it is diminutive in size, it’s built like a tank, and it is definitely gig-worthy. It has a nice red powder coating – almost like a warning that this thing breathes fire!

How It Sounds

Make no mistake: This is NOT a low-gain pedal. It is meant for crunch and face-melting. So if  you’re looking for something milder, best stick with an overdrive pedal. But if you’re looking for lots of gain and sustain AND clarity, this is a pedal that will do the job in spades.

I recorded a couple of quick clips to demonstrate the pedal. I had the gain knob set to noon on both clips. I used a Barron Wesley Alpha with humbuckers – though I played both clips in split coil to at simulate a single-coil guitar, and I used my Fender Hot Rod purely clean. With the first clip, I do a comparison riff. The first part is the guitar with no effect, then I switch on the LBD. The second clip is just me noodling.

Yowza! I really had to have a much lighter touch on the fretboard playing this pedal, and since the guitar I was playing is so resonant, I had to mute the strings I wasn’t playing because the pedal picks up EVERYTHING! It’s incredible! And to think that I was able to get that kind of gain with the gain knob set at noon!

Overall Impressions

I love it. ‘Nuff said. The sustain, the drive, and most importantly the note separation and clarity make this pedal a winner.

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