Posts Tagged ‘amplification’

If you look on my rig page, you’ll see that for my solo gigs, I use the very wonderful Fishman SoloAmp. This is a great, integrated PA that I’ve been using to great success for the past year or so. Very easy to set up, and it has a nice on-board mixer with decent reverb effects (which I never use, since I always use my vocalizer’s reverb). But the other day, I demoed the HK Audio Elements system while I was browsing “The Music Tree” in Morgan Hill, CA. This is an audio system that is similar to the Bose L1, but unlike the Bose L1, the Elements system allows you to expand by adding more “elements” as your audience size grows. Super-cool!!!

Sound-wise, I plugged an acoustic guitar directly into the system, and was absolutely blown away by the sound! While I love my Fishman, and it has served me well, compared to something like the Elements system, a subwoofer really makes a difference, despite the fact that the SoloAmp’s speakers have good bass response.

But honestly, this entry isn’t about the Elements system. 🙂 While trying to get more information online about the Elements system, I ran across another, just-released, integrated PA system from HK Audio called the Sound Caddy One, that is based upon the same audio technology as the Elements system. But with the Sound Caddy One, there are NO parts to put together! The line array is housed within the PA’s body (which also serves as the housing for the subwoofers), and to set up the system, you release the line array, that pops up out of the housing, secure it, plug in, turn on and you’re ready to go! Damn!

Check out this demo video from Musikmesse 2011:

Here are the Sound Caddy’s technical features:

Max SPL calculated 125 dB
Max SPL peak 125 dB
Max SPL 120 dB @10% THD
Output power system 600W Class D
Frequency response +/- 3 dB 49 Hz – 18 kHz
Frequency response -10 dB 42 Hz – 18 kHz
Connections integrated 4-channel-mixer
LF Speaker 3x 6″
Mid/High Speaker 6x 3,5″
Directivity 70° x 15°
Crossover frequency 150 Hz, 12 dB/oct.
Enclosure 15 mm (5/8“), 13-ply (plywood)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 27 x 102 x 34 cm 10-5/8“ x 40-5/32 x 13-25/64
Weight 29 kg / 63,9lbs

Delivering a max 125dB at 600 Watts, this unit can move some air. Some people have said it isn’t powerful enough for their uses, but for a solo musician, this is more than enough power! Also, I have to question the negative feedback because systems like this are all about sound dispersal, getting an even volume anywhere within the sound dispersal cone which, for this system, is 70 degrees. When I first started using a line array system, it took me awhile to get used to the volume seemingly not being as loud. But it’s deceptive with a line array because the sound actually reaches fairly extreme angles, and what you’re trying to do is get your sound dispersed, and not necessarily through volume.

I dig that unlike the Elements system which is pure sound reinforcement, this has an integrated 4-channel mixer, which is an absolute MUST for me. But the only thing that I’d be wary of is the stability of the system. The base seems rather narrow, and I’m wondering how it would fair in windy conditions. In any case, here’s another demo video that demonstrates the sound. The singer aside, even through the camcorder’s microphone, it’s clear that the Sound Caddy One provides some very clear, clean sound.

As for cost, the video above mentioned a price of “2000.” If that’s in German deutsche marks, then the price would be around $1450 USD. That’s not bad, even as an MSRP, which would make the street price even lower. I’ll have to find out more information.

In any case, for more information on HK Audio products, go to: http://www.hkaudio.com.

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In my previous article, I cited the Marshall Shoppers Guide as the definitive resource to help you make a decision in purchasing a Marshall amp, both vintage and modern. In that article, I mentioned that my very good friend, Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps was especially helpful in guiding me towards the type of Marshall amp sound that appealed to me. Jeff specializes in building vintage Marshall-style amps, and in order for him to be able to build those types of amps, he had to acquire quite a bit of knowledge about the vintage Marshalls. On top of that, he’s also a collector, and has an original JTM 45. Niiiiice!

Jeff’s such a great guy in sharing information, and he has written an EXCELLENT article that covers the vintage Marshall amps from 1962 to 1973. It is entitled: “History of Early Marshall Amplifiers.” In the article, he talks about the various Marshall amps and their configurations. It’s lots of information that is really geared towards the collector.

So now there’s another definitive resource on vintage Marshall amps!!!

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Before I got my Les Paul R8, I spent over two years searching; not just for the right deal, but sifting through all the different models. That meant reading lots of articles, joining several forums, and participating in lots of discussions. I’m glad I took the time, but looking back, it would’ve been great to have a single, definitive source for information on the different Les Paul models. It probably would’ve cut my search time by a significant factor!

As if searching for a Les Paul was bad enough, I was also at the same time looking for an amp. Having cut my teeth on the Fender sound, once I started writing and playing more heavy stuff, I started gravitating towards the Marshall camp. Now luckily for me, I met Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps who not only builds vintage-style Marshall-esque amps, he owns several Marshall amps from, including a 60’s JTM 45 that is an absolute tone monster! What a machine! Anyway, he has been my source for Marshall amp information; without him to guide me to the type of sound I was after, I probably would’ve had to resort to my method for finding a Les Paul (Jeff was also instrumental in that camp as he is a Les Paul collector). In the end, the tone I dig from Marshall amps comes from the JTM and Plexi camp. By the way, he’s coming out with a new 50 Watt amp called the “FlexPlex” that includes circuitry for both JTM and Plexi amps, and even has some Dumble-esque features. That’s my next amp!

Circling back to searching for a Marshall amp, I recently came across two articles that include pretty much everything you need to know about the different flavors of Marshall amps, collectively called the “Marshall Shopper’s Guide.” The articles are very detailed, and more importantly, they’re unbiased. Here they are:

Part I: Marshall’s Plexi Era

Part II: Vintage “metal panel” through JCM 2000 Series

To say I was thoroughly impressed by these articles is an understatement. The author, David Szabados, really did a great job with them, and my hat’s definitely off to him for providing such rich information. So if you’re looking for a Marshall Amp, at least in my opinion, there is no better source for getting information on Marshall amps.

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For a long time I was – and pretty much still to this day – an overdrive pedal lover. I have several, and am waiting for my new Paul Cochrane Timmy to be completed and delivered in the next few weeks. I’ve been wanting one of these for awhile now, and finally bit the bullet and got on the waiting list. So excited! But using an attenuator  – specifically the Aracom PRX150-Pro – changed the way I use overdrive pedals.

In the “old days” before I used an attenuator, I used an overdrive pedal to get grind through a clean amp. Early on, I was using my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe that was all about loud, clean headroom, and I couldn’t get the volume above 2 or 3 before it would be just too damn loud; not to mention, the tubes weren’t working that much at all at that level. Yeah, I could crank the volume then set the Master to about 1/2 to get some dirt, but the pre-amp only distortion of that amp never really appealed to me. So I used overdrive pedals to get that soft-clipping on the front-end, and especially looked to pedals that provided a bit of color.

But once I got an attenuator, the entire game changed. I was able to crank my amps to get both the preamp and power amp sections saturated. For a long while, I actually stopped using overdrive pedals altogether because I was getting all the drive I wanted. I still sometimes just go to my gigs with only a tuner pedal and just plug directly into whatever amp I’m using, though I’m now starting to introduce overdrives to add gain stages to my chain.

But that brings me to the crux of this post… I used overdrives because I couldn’t get sufficient grind at reasonable volumes. But once I got a real transparent attenuator like the PRX150-Pro (I had an AirBrake and tested several), I could finally hear what my amps sounded like fully cranked. But here are some things I discovered once I was able to crank up my amps that I’d like to share:

  • I have 8 amps, and with the exception of two, once I cranked them up, I did not like their fully cranked up tone.
  • A common thing that I found among all the amps where I didn’t like their cranked up tone was a certain harshness or in some cases “fizz” that was not at all pleasing to me.
  • As opposed to getting rid of the amps, I swapped tubes and speakers until I was able to balance out their tone. For instance, with my Aracom PLX BB 18 combo, which is a replica of a Marshall 18 Watt Blues Breaker, the cranked tone was horrendously fizzy to me. So I replaced two preamp tubes with NOS Mullard and GE tubes, and to tame the natural brightness of the amp, replaced the stock Eminence Red Fang with a Fane Medusa 150 which really emphasizes the low-end. It’s now gorgeous, and I use that amp regularly!

The point to all the items that I shared was that once I was able to crank up my amps, most of them just didn’t sound all that good. Lots of folks who are new to attenuators complain about different artifacts being introduced by the attenuator, but based upon my experience, I think a lot of those “artifacts” have a lot to do with them never having cranked their amps all the way up. To me, it’s definitely a case of “you may not like what you hear…”

So if you ever do get a hold of an attenuator, and you crank your amp up, if you don’t like the tone, don’t immediately assume that it’s the attenuator. Especially with the latest generation of attenuators that are much more transparent than the traditional ones, the likelihood that they’re introducing artifacts is pretty low. Look to your amp first, and see what you can do to adjust it to deal with its cranked tone. Personally, I’d start with tubes first; especially replacing new production tubes with NOS pre-amps. I know, they’re getting more and more scarce, but I’ve gotten the best results in smoothing out my tone with NOS pre-amp tubes.

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I was answering a comment on one of my videos this morning on YouTube, when I came across a great series on understanding tube amps posted by Old Tone Zone (http://www.oldtonezone.com). It’s a 7-part series, and goes through various features of tube amps. Here’s the first video in the series. If you want to view it with the playlist, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yc-78AKIo5A&feature=BF&list=PL2D0A1CC3FC96F1CA&index=1.

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My good buddy Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps (http://www.aracom-amps.com) is in a bit of a quandry. His attenuators have been incredibly successful and very well-received by both amateur and pro guitarists. He actually built the attenuator in the hopes that it would raise awareness of his wonderful amps, of which I own three with a fourth on the way. Unfortunately, it sort of backfired because his attenuators are so great that they’ve completely overshadowed his amps. That’s too bad, because they’re great amps, and they’re all I gig and record with.

So to try to raise more awareness of his products, Jeff compiled a few videos that feature moi, Clint Morrison – who’s a pro player out of Austin, TX – and Doug Doppler. Check ’em out. Clint’s and my videos feature both the PRX-150 Pro or DAG, and Aracom amps.

Yours Truly:

Clint Morrison:

Doug Doppler:

For more information on Aracom Amps products, go to the Aracom website!

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Yeah, I mention it a lot, but I thought I talk about it once again, because it truly has had a HUGE impact on how I approach amps. To me, there’s simply no attenuator on the market that can touch the quality of its sound; well, it doesn’t produce sound of course, but it lets all your tone come through, but more importantly, no matter where you set it, you will always have your dynamics. In any case, I recorded a couple of videos this afternoon, talking about this wonderful device by Aracom Amplifiers.

Part I: Discussion

Part II: Demo

BTW, recorded these clips with an Alesis VideoTrack. Nice little unit. Not sure how long I’ll actually use it because I actually do want a better picture. But for now, it’s great to have an all-in-one solution to get some video out!

For more information on this great attenuator, go to the Aracom PRX150 product page!

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I did a “What is it about…” regarding the tone of a 100-Watt amplifier recently, and while I’m now hooked on higher-wattage amps, and will probably sell off a few of my low wattage amps, I’ve got some other lower-wattage amps – namely, my Aracom amps – that I will never part with because of their insanely fantastic tone and dynamics. While not nearly as beefy-sounding or -feeling as a 100 Watt amp, they just ooze great tone, and when cranked to the hilt, just sustain for days!

For instance, this morning I played a church service at my kids’ school and had two of my fellow church band members to play a power trio. Since we didn’t have a lot of room (the 5th grade class shares our normal band space), I just brought my Aracom PLX18 BB Trem combo with me so I wouldn’t have to hook up a cab. This amp is based upon the popular Marshall 18-Watt Plexi circuit, which is absolutely simple, as all vintage Plexi circuits were. It has a single gain stage that feeds into an EQ (and on the PLX, it’s a single tone knob to bleed off highs), then straight into the power amp. I believe it’s this simplicity that gives the amp and its Marshall ancestors such pure tone.

With their single gain stage, obviously amps of this ilk will not do over-the-top overdrive, and have to be cranked (as in dimed) to deliver any overdrive. But when they do deliver it, it’s smooth as silk and incredibly dynamic and articulate. This has always been my experience with Plexi-style amps, be they 100 Watts or 18 Watts. For my own PLX, as I said, it may not have the beefy tone that a 100 Watt version may offer, but that smooth overdrive and dynamicism is all present.

Anyway, I set up my rig this morning and I warmed up the amp. Then I plugged in my Gibson 2009 Limited Run Nighthawk, and started playing some warm-up scales. I hadn’t played my PLX for awhile, and running through my warm-up, I was reminded about how damn good that amp sounds! As Jeff Aragaki (Aracom’s owner) puts it, “It doesn’t matter what wattage the amp is. You just know a great amp when you play and hear it. And Marshall got that circuit right.” At least to me, Jeff couldn’t be more right. The PLX is pretty much an exact copy of the classic 18 Watt Plexi circuit (with some slight mods that Jeff has made), and that amp was made to be hit hard. When you do that, you’re rewarded with a tone that, at least to me, is other-worldly! If you’re looking a great Plexi-style amp, this is an amp you have to check out!

Here’s a little treat. Gene Baker of B3 Guitars recorded a great clip that demonstrates the PLX18’s wonderful crunch tone. Check it out:

Over the years, I’ve tried and tested a lot of different amps, and several that cop Marshall designs. No doubt, there are some great amps out there, but Jeff at Aracom really “gets it” with respect to vintage Marshall-esque amps. The cool thing is that instead of making an exact replica of the circuits as many amp builders do, Jeff sees where he feels the designs may be weak, makes corrections or improvements, or creates new amps altogether from the base. For instance, my VRX22 started out as a Plexi 18, but Jeff wanted to add more gain with the second channel, so he added another gain stage that acts as a tube overdrive that’s always on, went from EL84’s to 6V6’s, and what he came up with is an absolutely superb amp that has vintage-style Marshall dynamics, but a sound all its own.

For more information, please visit the Aracom Amps site!

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You know me, I’m a low-wattage amp kind of guy. I find them really versatile and use them in a variety of venues and especially in the studio. But lately, I’ve been playing with a Sebago Sound 100 Watt Double Trouble – it’s a D-style amp – and I can say with confidence that I know what the big amp guys are talking about now. I have to use an attenuator with the amp, but even at lower volumes, there’s a certain thickness to the signal that a low wattage amp just can’t produce naturally.

Now, through the wonders of technology, I’ve been able to EQ low-wattage amps on recordings in such a way to make them sound a lot bigger than they are, but when an amp produces that fatness naturally, all I can say is “Wow!”

Tonight, I brought the amp to my church gig, and just couldn’t believe what I was hearing! The amp sounds great, yes (and I’ll have a full review of it soon), but the sheer power of 100 Watts – even attenuated –  was something I hadn’t experienced before. It’s hard to describe what it was like, but there is definitely a certain dynamicism in the tone and – excuse the pun – a power that my low wattage amps just don’t produce.

Does this mean I’ll get rid of my low wattage amps? Absolutely not because they’re just great tools. But I’ll probably be gigging with something more powerful more often than not from now on… 🙂


As kind of a follow-on to the original article, Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps and I spoke this morning, and the real difference-maker between the big amp and small amp – at least to me – is really evident when you have the power tubes in play. In my studio (read: garage), the amp at low gain sounded like any other amp – even my small amps – through a 1 X 12. But when I hooked up the Sebago to my attenuator, and opened up the master volume, all sorts of great things happened in terms of getting a much more complex tone; even clean. So yeah, the power tubes have A LOT to do with the thick tone of a high gain amp.

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Since I’ve gotten it, I’ve been absolutely digging the VHT Special 6. It’s such a versatile little amp, with bright cleans and capable of creating some gorgeous, sustaining overdrive. And while I do certainly appreciate its clean tone, this amp totally shines when it’s cranked to hilt.

To demonstrate, here’s a clip I recorded this evening with the VHT Special 6:

Now here’s the thing about recording with a low-wattage amp. I’ve found that almost invariably, it’s difficult to get a big sound out of the stock speaker, no matter where I place the microphone. People recommend recording from an angle lined up along the outside of the speaker cone. I’ve never had much success with that, considering I’m not using any high-end mics. So my solution is to use larger speakers to get that bigger sound.

For this clip, I used two different 1 X 12 speaker cabinets: The rhythm track was recorded using a Fane Medusa 150 speaker to get a bigger bottom end. The lead was recorded with a Jensen Jet Falcon – that’s my favorite speaker at the moment. And of course, because even 6 Watts cranked is very loud, I ran the amp through my Aracom PRX150-Pro and recorded each track at about loud conversation level. It’s just loud enough to move the speaker cone a bit, but not so loud that I’d wake up the neighbors. 🙂

For both parts, I used my Les Paul R8. For the rhythm, I recorded in the middle selector switch biased towards the bridge, and for the lead, I recorded with the bridge pickup only. To make the guitar tone sound even bigger, I added just a tiny bit of compression to each track and added a touch of small room reverb to add some dimension. I didn’t EQ the guitar parts at all. That’s the natural sound of the amp through the speakers I used. The compression keeps the sound focused. At least to my ears, the guitar parts sound like they’re coming from a much bigger amp.

As far as the amp setting were concerned, I was plugged into the hi input with the amp set to high-power mode. Tone and volume were at 3pm, and I engaged the Boost. Even at these cranked settings, the amp will clean up very nicely! That’s how responsive this amp is!

Admittedly, if I were to rewind and go back to when I bought the amp, I’d probably go with the head. The stock speaker is great for practicing, but for gigging and recording, it just sounds much better with at least a 1 X 12. But hey! A handwired amp for $199? Geez! I can live with its shortcomings as what it brings to the table tonally is fabulous!

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