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Posts Tagged ‘aracom amps’

I recently wrote a song – not even sure I shared it here – called “Love Is More Than What It Seems.” It’s kind of a fast-moving, “happy” rocking tune. I originally recorded it with my Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18. Gorgeous little amp that’s totally versatile. I love it. I used the silent recording option with it, and for the initial recording, it worked great. But as I got into mastering it, I was less and less satisfied with the electric guitar sounds. They just didn’t sound “right.”

So I switched to my beloved DV Mark Little 40, and that got me closer. But I was still not really digging the electric guitar tones. Then I realized that what I love the H&K and Little 40 amps for is their live performance versatility. But for recording, they just don’t quite cut it for me. For the biggest strength happens to be their weakness in a recording environment.

So… being a vintage Marshall fan, I pulled out my Aracom VRX18, based upon the classic Marshall Plexi 18. I’ve got NOS Pre- and Power-amp tubes in it, and this amp just oozes classic rock tone. Combined with my ’58 Historic Les Paul, and outputting through an Aracom Custom 1 X 12 equipped with a Jensen Jet Falcon, it was the exact tone I was looking for! Methinks I should’ve just used it to start out with, but hey! Live and learn right?

Here’s the song:

The interesting thing about that amp is that it doesn’t have the sustain, nor even touch-sensitivity of my other amps. But that works to its advantage because it makes me work a lot harder on the fretboard, and that makes my playing much more expressive as I have to work every note. But best of all though, the “bloom” I expect from any of my Les Pauls is right there; it just decays a little quicker than my other amps. But who cares? It works…

By the way, I also used the wonderful Aracom DRX attenuator to record the electric guitars at just a little louder than bedroom level. I was a long-time user of the PRX150, but with the dual-level attenuation, at least for live performances, I can get a nice volume boost at the press of a footswitch button.

Equipment:

Guitars: Yamaha APX900 (acoustic, direct-in); 1958 Les Paul Reissue

Amp: Aracom VRX18

Cabinet: Aracom Custom 1 X 12 Jensen Jet Falcon

Bass: Fender Jazz Bass (direct-in)

Note: Guitars were not EQ’d, though to bring them out in the mix a bit more, I used a stereo spreader.

Everything was recorded in Logic Express 9.

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For several years, many people, including myself have been asking Jeff Aragaki, owner of Aracom Amps when he was going to build a 100 Watt amp. After all, Jeff specializes in vintage Marshall-style amps, so it made sense to have a 100 watt amp in his lineup. Having experienced Jeff’s development process first-hand, I knew that it would probably take awhile for him to come out with one mainly because he never settles for simply duplicating a particular circuit design. He finds places where he can make improvements or comes up with things that just don’t occur to us mere mortals.

Well, Jeff finally built a 100 Watt amp. It’s called the PLX100 Custom. But don’t be fooled by the name. Though “PLX” implies “Plexi,” this amp is way more than that. A two-channel amp, Channel 1 sports a Plexi-style circuit, while Channel 2 goes into the high gain territory of the JCM-800. Here are some initial features Jeff has provided:

  • Channel 1: JMP “Plexi” channel, switch selectable between Bright/Dark + Boost Mode
  • Channel 2: High Gain JCM channel, with multi-position rotary Tone Control + Boost Mode
  • Global Controls: Presence, Bass, Mid, Treble
  • Master Volume Control with bypass switch
  • “Fat” Switch – Boosts the lower mid-range frequencies, which provides a real fat tone
  • “Bite” Switch – Slight boost to the mid and high frequencies
  • Configured for EL34, 6L6GC or KT66 power tubes

True to Jeff Aragaki’s style, the features above form a foundation, as he has anticipated that people would want some custom features like an active effects loop, footswitching, or NOS mustard caps; hence the “custom” in the name. But get this: The base price is only $2900. That’s incredible to me because other vintage Marshall builders that pretty much just do circuit duplication charge almost as much for their 100 Watt heads. What you’re getting with PLX100 is two amps in one for just a bit more. For instance a Germino Monterey 100 JCM45/100 head costs $2750. For my money, I’d go for versatility every time, and the PLX100 is a no-brainer choice.

For more information, check out the Aracom PLX100 product page. I’ve basically provided the same information here, but Jeff will be updating that page very soon.

I tried out a prototype of this amp awhile back, and I knew Jeff was onto something. The tones I got from a Les Paul were simply astounding. The cleans are deep and lush as you’d expect with a high-powered amp, and the drive tones are just incredible. Thank goodness Jeff makes attenuators because this amp simply screams when pushed! Anyway, here’s a demo YouTube (audio only) of the amp:

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As many know who’ve frequented this blog over the past couple of years, they know my love for the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. It has allowed me to record in my garage till the wee hours of the morning, and not get complaints from my wife or the neighbors about being too loud, as I can get down to conversation levels; but more importantly, I can get down to those levels and still retain my tone and especially my dynamics.

With other attenuators, as you increase attenuation, it’s like putting a blanket over your tone. Not so with the PRX150-Pro. I’ve been using it now both in the studio and at gigs for the last couple of years, and it never ceases to amaze me.

For instance, I shared a song the other day called, “Come Together.” I’ve since changed the name to “God’s Love Will Set Us Free” but what I failed to mention was that the electric guitar parts were recorded, close-miked with the volume level being normal conversation level! Though I was using just a 6 Watt amp, even that cranked up is simply too loud to be playing completely cranked at midnight – at least in my neighborhood.

Here’s the final cut of the demo. The electric guitars haven’t been tweaked except for adding just a touch more highs in the EQ (the original tone was fine, but I wanted the guitars to cut through the mix a bit better because there was lots of overdrive):

What great quality at normal conversation levels!

I know, there are those out there that poo-poo the whole attenuator thing, and that’s fine. But for me, I couldn’t live without it – especially in my studio. It’s saving my ears. 🙂

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I recently purchased the gorgeous Strat to the left. It’s the first Strat I’ve played in a long time that I actually like playing. But this past Sunday, I took it to my church gig and played it with one of my Plexi variants – my favorite amp, an Aracom VRX22. I did not like the sound at all! Yikes!

Like all Plexi’s I’ve played, the VRX22 is voiced bright. And for me, it’s a perfect complement to my Les Pauls and deeper voiced guitars like my new Gretsch Electromatic. Not so with a Strat, which is very bright. And even though I cut the highs out, it just didn’t sound right.

So later on that evening, I went into my studio and plugged my Strat into my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. What a difference! My Hot Rod has a big bottom end, and that is the perfect complement for a bright guitar like my Strat.

It just goes to show the importance of finding the right combination of gear to get your sound. In my case this past Sunday, it took playing through another amp altogether. No amount of EQ or combination of pedals was going to get it “right” for me.

Lesson learned.

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Awhile back, I mentioned that one of the next pedals I was going to get besides my Timmy was an envelope filter. I was really digging the Electro-Harmonix pedals, but then got contacted by Jeff at Source Audio who was saying that they were working on a new guitar envelope filter, following the bass envelope filter they recently released.

If you’re not familiar with Source Audio, they build the SoundBlox line of pedals. What makes these pedals different is that they can be manipulated on the fly with a motion sensor ring called the HotHand Motion Controller ring. I’ve always been intrigued by these pedals, but haven’t had the chance to try any out. Until now. I hopefully will be getting a couple of their pedals for review soon, and I have to tell you, I’m excited!

The envelope filter has a TON of cool sounds, so you can get all sorts of vowel tones out of it. With the motion controller ring, you can even get variable wah sounds! THIS IS COOL STUFF!

In any case, here’s the demo video they just released of the new guitar envelope filter:

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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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