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Posts Tagged ‘amplifiers’

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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SWR California Blonde I

Summary: This amp is a classic and loved the world over for its great sound.

Pros: Great acoustic sound, but it’s versatile enough to use as a clean amp for solid-body guitars.

Cons: This is a nit: It’s heavy at 50lbs.

Features:

  • 120 Watts
  • Speakers: 200 Watt 12″ and a 25 Watt high-freq tweeter
  • Instrument Input Jack
  • Stereo Input Jack
  • Tuner Out Jack
  • Balanced Mic Input Jack
  • Gain Controls with LED Overload Indicator and Pull Phase
  • Aural Enhancer Control (Channel 1)
  • Two independent channels
  • Two independent effects loops with independent effects blend knobs for each channel
  • On-board reverb – it’s nice and subtle

Price: ~$300 – $600 Street (if you can find one)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’ve used this amp in a variety of settings, and with a variety of guitars, and it has NEVER let me down. The sound is rich and full, no matter what guitar you put in front of it, but it doesn’t take away from the natural tone of the guitar.

My first exposure to the California Blonde was through a church bandmate who would use it for our services. My initial impressions of the amp were NOT good, mainly because this guy just doesn’t take care of his gear. The knobs were scratchy and the jacks were loose and would occasionally crackle. But one thing was for sure: When he had it working, it had a great tone. I was always impressed by the sound of that amp, and REALLY impressed by its ability to project – it is a LOUD amp.

SWR now has a second edition of this amp, and the original is no longer available, but I got mine through my friend Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps who acquired one from an estate sale. He had a bunch of gear to sell, and one of the items was this classic California Blonde.

I wasn’t planning on getting an amp at the sale. I just wanted one of the many guitars he had, and ended up getting my gorgeous Strat. But just for shits and giggles, I checked out the amps. The ‘blonde immediately caught my eye (blondes have a way of doing that to me 🙂 ), so I asked Jeff if we could hook it up. Luckily I had my acoustic in the back of my SUV so I could give the amp a proper test. So we hooked it up, powered it on, I strummed a chord, turned to Jeff and said, “I’ll get this too…” I did play through it for about 15 more minutes to really go through its controls, but from having to adjust my buddy’s ‘blonde in the past, I was pretty familiar with the amp.

Since I purchased it, I’ve used it with my acoustics, as a clean amp for my Strat (and using a distortion pedal with it – it rocks), and just last night, I used it for its intended purpose: as my guitar amp for my outdoor gig, using my Gretsch Electromatic. As I mentioned above, no matter what I’ve thrown in front of it, this amp has delivered the goods.

Fit and Finish

Despite the amp being several years old, it has withstood the test of time. That’s a testament to how solidly built this amp is. Even my buddy’s amp – despite being mishandled – was still rock solid. My amp was and is in absolutely pristine condition. This thing is built like a tank. The enclosure, though made with a combination of plywood and particle board is THICK. Chrome-plated corner protectors adorn all the corners (this amp was made for gigging). No stray joints here folks, the build quality is fantastic.

The tilted control panel is an absolutely nice and convenient touch, allowing for quick access to the knobs. This is much better than the Genz-Benz Shenandoah 150 upright that I’ve played that has a flush control panel. Makes it hard to adjust. The metal speaker grille on the ‘blonde demonstrates again that this amp was meant to be gigged.

The only nit that I have with the amp is that at 50 lbs, it’s really heavy. But that’s understandable and forgivable considering the thick wood of the cabinet and the magnet of the 200 Watt speaker, which must be pretty big (I haven’t taken off the back panel). I’ll trade weight for ruggedness any day; besides, that’s what hand carts are for! 🙂

How It Sounds

The California Blonde has a rich, deep tone, but as I mentioned above, it doesn’t take away from the natural tone of the guitar. And though I mentioned that the amp is loud, the cabinet really disperses sound at a wide angle, creating a three-dimensional effect that makes the sound seem to float in the air.

I used it outdoors at my gig yesterday, and it was fantastic! I ran chorus, delay and reverb through the loop, and I have to say that the effects blend knob is a god-send, allowing me to mix as much or as little of my board signal into the dry signal. Because of how the amp disperses sound, I used very little reverb, and many times just had it off. For ambient tones, I used my MXR Carbon Copy delay set to a mild slap-back. That seemed to work best with the amp.

The tweeter’s effect is subtle, but a very nice addition indeed, as it provides just a touch of shimmer to the tone. I tried the amp with the tweeter switched off, and just turned it back on because I wanted the shimmer. With a Strat, the tweeter is a necessity in my opinion.

Last night, I started out running my guitar signal only through the amp, but then later added some signal into my Fishman SA220 PA so I could get even better sound dispersal. The line out is great on this amp, and reproduces the signal very true to the original. In fact, when I’ve used this amp at church, we run it right into the board, and the sound is very nicely balanced.

Overall Impression

This amp is a workhorse. I really couldn’t be happier with this amp. It totally delivers the goods for me!

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65 Amps Soho
Summary: Super-versatile amp with LOTS of balls. Goes from AC30-like tones to cranked vintage Plexi. While definitely British-style in tone, it has a tone all its own.Pros: One of the very few amps I’ve ever played that REALLY responds to guitar volume knob changes. The Soho, while very versatile is also VERY efficient. The 20-Watt model I heard and tested had the feel of a 50 Watt amp! Very nice.Cons: None.

  • Features:Output: 20 Watts (SoHo) or 35 Watts (SoHo HP)
  • Tubes: Power amp 2xEL84 (SoHo) or 4xEL84 (SoHo HP), Preamp EF86-12AX7
  • Rectifier Tube: EZ81
  • Speakers (combo): Celestion Alnico Blue + G12H30
  • Panel controls: Volume, Treble, Bass, Booster, Bump™, Bump Tone™, Bump Level™, Master Voltage™
  • Extras: Footswitch input jack, dual speaker outs, switch for 8Ω & 16Ω impedance

Price: ~$2400 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Yowza! I LOVE this amp! It is so versatile and expressive and responsive to input gain. As much as I love my Aracom amps, I think this is an amp that I have to have.

I really shouldn’t go to music stores. But then again, if I didn’t, I’d lose an important source for gear. Last week, I happened to go to my favorite gear store (Gelb Music in Redwood City, CA), and was just hanging out looking at gear. i was also in there to see if they had gotten their latest shipment of Gretsch guitars, as I want to get the Electromatic 5122DC. Unfortunately, it hadn’t come in yet. But Jordan (who’s the guitar dude at Gelb) said that Dan, the designer from 65 Amps was coming in to do a demo from 5-7pm. It was just after 3pm.

Just so happened that Dan had just walked in the door, and Jordan introduced me to him while he was setting up their back room with the 65 Amps they carried. Dan and I got to chatting about gear and gigging, and then I started asking him questions about the Soho, which is an amp that has continually gotten my attention because Andy at ProGuitarShop.com uses one for most of his gear demos. So a cool thing happened: I got a private demo of the Soho from Dan the designer himself.

Now as we were talking, my impression of Dan was that he was a very nice, straight-shooting guy. But I’ve also seen and tested lots of different amps, so I guess I’ve become a bit jaded about boutique amps. But as you’ll soon find out as you read through this article, my jadedness became completely irrelevant in this case…

Dan took me through all the features, and I was completely dumbstruck by the expressiveness and versatility of the Soho while he played. The response to input gain using the guitar volume knob was incredible! I confirmed this when I played through it myself. You can go from clean to dirty with just the knob, then get really nice driving, but not overly compressed hard gain. The tone was incredible!

Now the Soho might look like a two-channel amp from its control layout, but it doesn’t have two channels; rather, it has two modes: Normal and Bump, which gives you a “bump” in tone and gain which is controllable like a separate channel – but it’s not a separate channel. Believe me, it’s very cool!

The “Bump” feature makes the tone of the Soho thick and rich and incredibly expansive. I commented to Dan that when he had it cranked, the amp sounded as thick and loud as a 50 Watt Plexi. He just grinned, as he knew exactly what I was talking about. As I mentioned in the Summary section above, this little amp has BALLS!

Equally impressive is 65 Amps’ trademark “Master Voltage” which is a bit different from a master volume in that like a regular MV it varies the B+ voltage it also keeps the filament voltage up, so you can still break up at lower volumes. Not sure the tech behind this, and who knows, it might be hype. But hyped terminology or not, it works; and it works incredibly well! It acts like an attenuator, giving you all the grind you need at lower volumes, without the extra circuitry.

I didn’t get as much time to play with it as I would like, and I tend to be rather self-conscious in stores when I’m evaluating gear, so I didn’t try too much. But I took it through various things I might do in a gig, and all I have to say is that the Soho is a true player’s amp. It has everything you need to cover gorgeous cleans to hard-driving rock. It’s definitely not a metal machine, but for producing most rock sounds, you can’t do much better. It’s not a small wonder why a great player like Andy over at ProGuitarShop.com uses this amp for his demos.

Here’s another thing: The amp is absolutely unforgiving. You can’t be tentative with your playing when you play through this amp because every mistake will be picked up. I love that about this amp! That’s why I call it a player’s amp because you really have to play. When I first started playing around with it, Dan said, “Give yourself some time Brendan. It takes a little while to get used to…” Man, was he right! I twiddled knobs, found a setting I liked, then just closed my eyes and started to play (closing my eyes helps me lose my self-consciousness – beside if I suck, I know it’s not the gear). 🙂 Luckily, I didn’t flail too badly, and in the process, I fell in love with that amp. It simply rocks! I need to get this amp. Damn! There goes the GAS again!

BTW, here’s a video demo of the amp by Dan:

For more information, visit 65 Amps Soho page!

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I have a LOTS of pedals, but sometimes I forgo the use of them in order to just keep things simple. For instance, while I was in my studio this evening working on a new song, I got a little sidetracked and started jamming to a little chord progression that I quickly came up with to warm my fingers up. So much for the songwriting tonight as I ended up looping the chord progression and playing over it – for about two hours. I finally decided to record a clip.

In the clip you’re about to hear, I’m using Amber, my trusty Les Paul R8, plugged into my Aracom Amps PLX-18 BB Trem, which is a 18 Watt Marshall Plexi clone. I’ve been gigging with this amp a lot as of late, as its tone is just to die for! In any case, I recorded the rhythm part with the guitar plugged straight into the amp. Then for the lead, I cheated a little and added a boost pedal to slam the front-end of the amp with gain so I could make sure the power tubes compressed a bit. The amp was in the drive channel cranked all the way up. Also, the rhythm part was done with the guitar in the middle position, while the lead was on the bridge pickup.

I did master the clip a little bit, and added some EQ texturing on the master track, but I left the guitars alone EQ-wise, and only added a touch of reverb to each track. At least to me, the end result is just pure, cranked Les Paul/Vintage Marshall tone. No distortion or overdrive pedals, just getting my distortion from gain. The is just letting my fingers do the talking. 🙂

I remember when I was weaning myself off of drive pedals, it was really hard because all the drive pedals I have add a bit of sustain. But with no pedals, you just have the natural sustain of your guitar and the sustain that comes from overdriving the amp. But once I got used to it, and learned to wiggle my strings effectively, I found I preferred playing like this most of the time. But that said, I will always have drive pedals on my board as they produce distortion sounds that my amps can’t produce by themselves, and they do come in handy for lead breaks when I’m performing live.

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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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