Posts Tagged ‘att’

…or reliability is more important than all the whiz-bang features you throw into a gadget.

I was driving up the San Francisco Bay Peninsula this morning, along Highway 101. As usual, I was talking to my good buddy Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps. It’s a great time to chat since I’m on the road. Invariably we talk about gear. This morning, the conversation revolved around Jeff’s favorite topic: Les Pauls. He’s a Les Paul nut, and has several original and re-issue LP’s and LP Jr.’s. And as I love guitars, period, this is a subject about which we never tire conversing.

One would think that down a major thoroughfare such as 101, cell coverage would be good. But NOOOOOOOOO!!! I’ve got AT&T Cellular whose motto should be “More Dropped Calls In More Places.” This morning, we set a record: FOUR dropped calls between Palo Alto and San Mateo: That’s 10 miles – generously! Usually, it’s one or two, but it shouldn’t be ANY. F%&king AT&T!!! They respond to all the complaints about dropped calls by spending millions on how widespread their service is. It’s widespread, but it’s spread thin, and cannot take the volume. So instead of fixing the damn problem, they counter with a marketing campaign. And BTW, I use a Blackberry, not an iPhone. For some iPhone users it’s even worse!

Okay, flame off… what the hell does this have to do with guitar gear?

As I stated above, in my view, reliability is much more important than how good something may sound. I’ve gotten rid of (read: literally thrown away) more gear due to reliability issues than because of bad tone. Actually, I’ve never thrown any gear away because of bad tone because I only buy it if I like it. But it’s in the electronics recycle bin if it repeatedly breaks down. Once or twice, I can live with, as long as I can fix it. But beyond that, I have no patience for it, no matter how good it may sound.

Don’t buy into it? Imagine playing a gig. You’re in the middle of a song, and it’s time for the lead break. You click on your overdrive or booster, pick your first note and your amp issues – NOTHING! Tell me you won’t first: panic, then second: get pissed! That’s exactly what happened to me with my favorite drive pedal that I use with my Tele, the GeekMacDaddy Geek Driver. Turns out that the switch was loose and a wire worked itself loose. That was an easy fix, and I’m a happy camper. Since the pedal’s a boo-teek pedal, I could call Jeff, send him the pedal and he’d fix it. But for mainstream gear where you don’t have a personal relationship with the manufacturer, there’s not much else to do other than to recycle the electronics; especially if the gear’s past its warranty period.

This is one of the reasons I read a lot of reviews before buying something; even cheap gear. If I detect that there are reliability issues, I won’t buy it. There will always be “lemon” stories; that’s to be expected. But if there is a prevalence of them, caveat emptor!

Now circling back to AT&T. I think what pisses me off the most about them is not the dropped calls, though that’s certainly annoying. What makes me furious is that instead of fixing the problem, they do a “look at how good we are” marketing campaign. And the worse thing is that they have people by the short hairs – especially iPhone users. While I don’t have an iPhone, I pay for two of them on my cellular plan. I can tell you this: As soon as the iPhone is available on another carrier, we’re leaving AT&T!!!

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I’ve often extolled the virtues of a cranked amp here at GuitarGear.org and elsewhere. My belief is that when you’ve got both your pre-amp and power tubes working, you get the real character out of your amp. There’s something that happens to your tone once you get juice into your power tubes that adds a certain dynamicism and complexity that you just can’t get with just your pre-amp tubes. Unfortunately, most mere mortals, like myself, don’t normally play venues that that will allow us to crank our amps to the point where the power tubes of our amp come into play.

Take, for instance, my good buddy Phil. He’s the lead singer of a bar band called Phil ‘N The Blanks. Up until recently he was playing through a Marshall DSL100 JCM2000 100 Watt head into a Marshall 1936 2 X 12 cab. Talk about too much amp for his gigs! I ran sound for him at a gig a couple of months ago, and could only turn his volume and gain controls to about 3 each before he stepped on the band entirely; not to mention peeling faces off! Since he’d owned the DSL100, he’d never played above 5 because it was way too loud.

Recently, I lent him my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator so he could squelched down the volume but crank up his amp. He couldn’t believe his ears! He was finally able to get the gain up in his amp where his power tubes would break up. It was like a completely different amp once he heard the cranked up tone. I had been telling him for months that there’s really nothing quite like a cranked up amp, and for the first time since he owned the amp he was able to hear for himself what I had been talking about. Before that, he was on tonal training wheels! 🙂

Ultimately, he decided against going with an attenuator, but he did a very smart thing: He purchased a low-wattage amp, the Marshall Haze MHZ15 15 Watt amp. It hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m excited for him because he’ll be able to crank that amp at a reasonable volume level, as the lower wattage amp will break up a lot earlier, and he’ll be able to reap the benefits of the response of his cranked amp!

1 Watt is LOUD!

But here’s the funny thing: 15 Watts can still be freakin’ loud when cranked! The following chart shows SPL at 1 meter vs. Wattage (I got this from the Aracom site where Jeff discusses understanding attenuation).



SPL (db)




Passenger car at 10 (60-80dB)





Vacuum cleaner



Major Road Noise (80-90dB)



Noisy factory







Jack hammer at 1m







Accelerating motorcycle at 5m





Hearing Damage (short term exposure)



Rock concert







Jet at 100 meters (110-140 dB)



Threshold of pain

What’s amazing from the table is how loud 1 Watt is at 1 meter! It’s as loud as a jack hammer! And 0.0312 Watt is as loud a vacuum cleaner! Jeff got this information from a well-known study done in 1933 by Harvey Fletcher and W A Munson about human hearing response. For those people who say, “P-shah” to low wattage amps, just reference this chart.

Granted, there is a certain mojo about a 100 Watt amp cranked up – even a 50 Watt amp. But most people other than those playing large venues can crank their amps to experience that mojo. But in spite of that, there’s been a movement in the industry these past few years towards lower wattage amps. I think a big part of the reason for this is the improvement in PA gear over the years. Want to get your sound out there? Mic your amp. After all, all you need is stage volume so you can hear yourself. Let the sound guys project your sound out.

My buddy Vinni Smith of V-Picks does exactly that. As amazing as he is with a guitar, he gigs with a Roland Cube 30! He just gets his stage volume, then has his amp miked to get his guitar out to the audience. This dude gigs alot, and he’s living proof that you don’t need a lot of power to get perform. As long as you can get your tone, you’re golden!

Circling back to the title of this article, there really isn’t anything like the sound and feeling of a cranked amp. Especially with tube amps, when the power tubes have juice, they add all sorts of things to your tone such as compression, a different kind of breakup and even more touch sensitivity. You can get that in a couple of ways:

  1. Get an attenuator. There are several on the market, including the increasingly popular Faustine Phantom, but my bet is on the Aracom PRX150-Pro, as it takes a completely different approach to attenuation than all others. I’ve never played an attenuator as transparent is this.
  2. Get a lower wattage amp. I’m not even going to list what amps to buy as there are tons of fantastic amps – both boutique and mainstream – on the market. Just make sure you give them a listen.

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