Posts Tagged ‘goldie’

Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

I’m falling in love again with my Aracom VRX18. This was the amp that first got me introduced to Aracom and my good friend Jeff Aragaki. My amp is actually a tweaked version of the stock VRX18 as it sports an EZ81 tube rectifier, plus a tweaked circuit that adds a bit more sag and sustain. The result is just a gorgeous overdriven tone that really brings out the best of the EL84 power tubes.

One thing about EL84 amps is that if they’re done right, they have a distinctive overdrive tone that creates a subtle top-end fizz when they’re overdriven. I’ve played others that drive the power tubes too much, and they sound very harsh and incredibly compressed. Jeff did this amp right, and while the power tubes do indeed compress a bit, the overdrive tone retains its open character, while adding that nice top-end fizziness that EL84 amp lovers have come to appreciate.

The clip below is an excerpt from a slow blues song I wrote. It features my beloved Goldie plugged straight into the Aracom VRX18, and it also features the insane Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator! Believe it or not, the amp was recorded at just above loud conversation levels! We’re talking less than 1/10 of a Watt, and the amp still retains its tone and dynamics! Anyway, here’s the clip:

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I finally got some time to record a couple of clips of the absolutely wonderful KASHA Overdrive tonight, and I am just so blown away by how it sounds! This little box is like having 4 differently voiced amps in a little box! I’m not going to spend too much time praising it because I’ve already done that a couple of time here, so let’s get into the clips, shall we?

The first clip is slow, slow blues clip in Am. The chord progression is actually adapted from one of Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues With Brains” video lessons. If you’re looking to get more into the blues, I highly recommend this set of lessons. It’s the best $40 bucks you’ll ever spend! In any case, I used the chord progression to test out the KASHA Overdrive, and to practice some of the concepts I learned tonight.

Anyway, there are two parts to the clip. The rhythm part was recorded with the KASHA Overdrive in Smooth with the gain set at 12 o’clock. This acts just like a clean boost, and at 12 o’clock it’s at unity gain. The first part features the Classic “channel,” and the second part features the Hot channel. Give it a listen:

The second clip has no backing track, and features the Melt channel with a simple chord riff. Excuse the sloppy playing, but instead, focus on the articulation of the notes. I had the Gain pushed up to about 3pm, which is almost all the way up. But even at a really high gain setting, you can still hear the individual notes. THIS IS AMAZING! And man, the touch sensitivity in this channel is to die for!

By the way, both clips were played through the clean channel of my Aracom VRX22, and recorded at conversation levels using the incredible Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. To me, this is the absolute king of attenuators. Oh! Almost forgot that I used my beloved Goldie to record the clips.

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SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

…but it will also make you a better player!

Pictured to the left is the very first Saint Guitar that I ever played. Even though she wasn’t mine, I nicknamed her “Baby Blue” and the name kind of stuck; she’s technically called the Faded Blue Jean Benchmark. But to me, she’ll always be Baby Blue because I spec’d her out, and it will always be a special guitar to me. But that’s not the point of this article. The point is that Baby Blue is a great guitar, and when I first got it to test, I will finally admit that it scared the livin’ shit out of me!

Why? The answer is simple: Great guitars make you play well; no, not from the standpoint that by just playing them you immediately start playing better. It’s actually the converse: More likely than not, when you pick up a great guitar, you may find yourself flailing!

I’ve seen several good players pick up a great guitar such as this and flail away. Most, like me, don’t want to burst their bubble of pride, and simply say that it’s because the guitar is just not easy to play. But in my case, and I’m willing to bet in other players’ cases, what happens is that a great guitar takes your bad habits, emphasizes them, then throws them back in your face.

But let me qualify that a bit: What a great guitar does is pretty much emphasize everything you do. The good things you do feel and sound better, but the bad things you do well… they’ll scare the shit out of you. ๐Ÿ™‚ That was my experience with the Saint Guitars Baby Blue and recently – but not as bad, thank God – a PRS McCarty that I had the chance to play.

I remember the first time I picked up the Baby Blue. She felt so nice to hold. The D-shape neck was a bit foreign to me, but not unpleasant, and the weight and shape were just perfect. I plugged her in, did a few chords and some standard licks, then turned on a jam track to start playing. Again, I started out with some pretty standard stuff that I normally do like bending and vibrato to listen for the inherent sustain (which Saint Guitars are known for). But when I started to do some faster runs – OUCH!!! It was like getting my ass completely kicked.

Even though I was alone in my studio, I was embarrassed and humbled. But being as hard-headed as I am, I wouldn’t let that deter me. I knew I had to swallow my pride and take some time to get used to playing the guitar – properly. The problem stemmed from my being used to playing a Strat for so long. With its narrow neck radius, wrapping your entire hand – even as small as mine – around the neck and still maintaining speed and control is easy. But with the Saint, while the neck radius is bigger, it’s the D-shape that doesn’t really facilitate wrapping. Oh I could do it, but it seriously hampered my ability to move, and seriously hampered my ability to correctly articulate the strings.

So I had to go back to fundamentals and learn to place the pad of my thumb right on the neck – like you’re supposed to do… It took me about a week of hours-long practice every day to adjust to playing with a correct left hand position. But the great thing about it is that I now play in a good position without thinking about it. I do have my lapses, but once I catch myself, it’s all good.


Once I got Goldie (shown at right), the initial experience wasn’t nearly as acute as with Baby Blue since I’ve spent A LOT of time working on my technique, but I wasn’t exempted from an ass-kickin – even though it may have beenย  just a little. I ordered Goldie with medium-jumbo frets because I wanted deeper frets to aid in producing more pronounced vibrato when I was sustaining notes, and also making it easy to do those little microtonal bends.

I thought I had developed a much lighter touch through all the practicing that I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, but with the jumbo frets, I REALLY had to lighten my touch. This is a great thing because playing with relaxed hands ultimately makes you faster. But nevertheless, it’s still a little unsettling. The positive thing is that I’m spending every bit of spare time I have learning her every subtle nuance; and I have to tell you, this guitar is capable of producing A LOT of different tones from Strat-like chime to full-on, thick, rich, and chocolate overdrive tones.

Sometimes a good ass-kickin’ is a good thing…

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goldie41I spoke about Tone with a capital “T” the other day and how your Tone is the combination of your gear plus what’s in your heart. One thing that I didn’t discuss is that when your heart and your gear are in alignment, the visceral effect it has on you borders on a religious experience. Put simply, you become truly inspired. I got Goldie back from Saint Guitars a few days ago to correct some wiring and action issues, and plugging her into my amp, I was immediately floored by her tone. I already was in the first place, but with everything working right, the effect it had on my spirit was tremendous!

So I decided to completely re-write and re-track a song that I had recorded earlier as a demo of the Reason Bambino – turn it into a real composition. But I also wanted to demonstrate the wonderful voice she has. Here’s the song. It’s called “Sunset By the Bay” because it reminded me of sipping a mojito on the beach at sunset:

The opening of the song and the first “verse” demonstrate Goldie’s neck pickup in single-coil configuration. Man, it’s chimey like a Strat! The second part of the song stays in the neck pickup but with both coils working, and adding a bit of crunch in the second channel of my Aracom VRX22. I recently had a mod done to the amp to add channel switching, and remove the Master Volume control from the first channel so it acts more like a Class A amp in channel 1. Continuing on, in the bridge of the song, I switch both pickups and remain in channel 2, then I finally finish up back on the neck pickup.

I can’t believe the sounds that come from this guitar, and my VRX22 just sounds so sweet with it!

By the way, as far as the recording of the melody goes, I recorded Goldie completely dry, just plugged right into my amp. I then added some reverb and a tiny bit of delay to give the melody an airy feel. The rhythm part was recorded using my Strat directly plugged into my Reason Bambino and played entirely in the Bambino’s Normal Channel. I love the natural presence of the Bambino – it was if it was made for a Strat!

I also recorded the entire song at bedroom level using my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. I just love the purity of my tone at any volume level!

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It is so hard to believe, but I finally have “Goldie.” I met Adam Hernandez this evening to pick up the guitar, and she is absolutely gorgeous in both looks and sound! I’m still kind of pinching myself because I can’t believe I finally have her. There is absolutely NOTHING like having a guitar that is custom made to your specifications.

Below are just a few pictures that I wanted to share for now. I will take more pictures of her in the morning. I need to play her a bit more before going to bed. ๐Ÿ™‚

To see the full pictorial, check out my page dedicated to Goldie!

Sound Clip

I quickly recorded a sound clip of how Goldie sounds clean. In the “rhythm” part, I have both humbuckers going. It has a sweet, chimey, and big tone. The first part of the solo features the bridge pickup in single-coil mode. The second part to the end features the bridge pick in full humbucker configuration. The tones I’m able to produce with this guitar are just amazing!

This guitar has exceeded ALL my expectations, and her sound is so unique. With the coil-tapped humbuckers, I can get a gorgeous, chimey, Strat-like tone to incredibly beefy breakup! The neck is absolutely perfect. It is a perfect “C” at the nut, then tapers out to a flatter “C” at the joint. In fact, with Goldie, Adam discovered a new way to taper the neck that he will be using in future builds!

Goldie was an experiment with wood combinations. What I wanted to achieve with her was a bright toned guitar that had the ability to grow some big, hairy balls, yet at high gain, would retain its clarity. With its solid walnut back, maple top, rock maple neck, and ebony fretboard, Adam achieved exactly the tone I was after. And with Adam’s proprietary and unique neck joint, this guitar sustains for days! I’m absolutely in love with this guitar!!!

For more information about Saint Guitars, visit the Saint Guitar Company web site!

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Well, Goldie is in her final stages, the clear coat is cured, and Adam is ready to install the pickups. This is amazing! Here are the latest pics:

I just love the open pore finish of the walnut back!!!

Click here to see the whole pictorial story

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Goldie’s ready for her clear coat! OMG! I just can’t believe it! We are so close now! Had a bit of a setback because Adam, in addition to being a luthier is also a professional forest firefighter. What a guy! Anyway, enjoy the pics!

To see all the progress pictures, see my “Goldie” dedication page.

For more information about Saint Guitar Company, see their site! FYI, Adam’s come up with a Vintage series. I believe this is going to be a semi-hollowbody, with real classic styling.

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Sorry, no pics today folks… But I did speak with Adam this afternoon, and he said the guitar is ready to go into color coating. I kind of jumped the gun last time I wrote an entry on this… I thought it was going in for finishing! Actually it was going in for its base coat. When Adam got it back, he had to block sand it down. It took awhile because he had a family emergency that he had to take care of the last couple of weeks. But the guitar’s close to being done now – real close. The color coating will go on, cure for a bit, then the first coat of gloss will be applied to the top, block sanded down, then the final thin coat of gloss will be applied. Hopefully I’ll have the guitar in a couple of weeks! I’m so jazzed!!!

In case you’ve missed the previous pics, either click on the “Goldie” tab above, or just click here.

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Talk about being blown away! I talked to Adam Hernandez of Saint Guitars the other day just to shoot the breeze and let him know I posted an announcement about his new web site. He in turn thanked me, then absolutely blew me away saying that Goldie was ready for finishing and would be done before the weekend! OMG!!! He sent me some progress pictures from just before finishing. BTW, the finish is vintage Les Paul gold…. Again, OMG!!!

In any case, here are pictures of my guitar right before it went into finishing. I just can’t wait to play her!

I know I probably sound like a broken record and maybe a walking billboard for Saint Gutiars, but these are special guitars. Anyone who has played one of these will attest to that. And to have one of my own is just incredible. Adam and Jon just rock the house with their guitars!

They are also coming up with a new “Vintage” model. I don’t know all the details, but it looks like a semi-hollowbody with a trapeze-style bridge. Very retro!

I just have to say this…

I know there are a lot of people out there who have lots of gear, and who trade their axes after a certain amount of time. That’s totally cool. I’ve spoken to some folks who are concerned about the resale value of these guitars. Because this is such a small company, there aren’t a lot of Saints out there, so there’s no price precedence. But in reply to that all I have to say is that from my perspective, Goldie isn’t a guitar that I’d ever consider trading away or selling. Why would I when she was made to my exact specifications?

For sure, Goldie won’t be the last guitar I ever buy. I’m way too much of a gear freak, slut, maniac, what-have-you, to settle with my collection; it’s a living breathing thing. But Goldie will always be special because she’s the very first custom guitar I’ve ever had, but also she’s the very first Saint Guitar I’ve owned.

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Just got these pics in. Goldie is really starting to take shape now. Adam took a couple of weeks for the glue to cure between the mohagany and maple top and the ebony fretboard and maple neck, which explains the temporary hiatus of pictures on the build progress. I am SO amazed about how it’s looking!

I really love the first shot where you can see how the body was cut from the mahogany and maple billets. I’m so stoked about this!

For more information on Saint Guitars, check out the web site!

Note that I am not affiliated with Saint Guitar Compay, but I have gotten to know both Adam and Jon (who runs their ops), and they’re a great couple of guys who are totally passionate about what they do. Be sure to drop them a line!

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