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Posts Tagged ‘guitar’

I’ve admittedly had my eye on a Fender Jaguar for years. I played one a few years ago at a local shop and fell in love with its tone. It kind of sounds like a Strat, or is it a Tele… It certainly has a variety of tones that it can produce, all coming from its various switches. And that’s sort of the rub for me. There are six switches on the guitar, and each affects a different thing.

What got me first interested in this guitar was that I first noticed it back in the 90’s when the Tom Hanks-directed movie “That Thing You Do” featured one, played by the lead guitarist, Lenny, played by Steve Zahn. He probably wasn’t playing the guitar, but it sure looked pretty cool just the same.

It’s actually VERY cool, but it’s one of those guitars that would take a lot of time for me to dial in. I was able to get some great tones almost immediately, if memory serves, but I do remember that I spent more time trying to figure out what switch combinations worked for me than actually playing the guitar, so that was a bit counter-productive.

But still, there’s a certain appeal about the guitar. For one, it looks very cool. I dig the body shape, with its rounded lines. The neck is only 24″ long, so it’s an easy player. The C-shape neck is very comfortable. And on top of that, it weighs less than 9 lbs.; not super-light, but not as heavy as a Les Paul. The American Vintage Series like the one in the picture can be had for around $1600. Not really too cheap, but not bad. And you can get one on sale for a few hundred bucks less because these guitars just don’t move that quickly. For instance, the one I checked out was on sale for something like $1200, but I got my Gibson Nighthawk instead – and I no longer have it, either. 🙂 I’m pretty sure I’d hold on to this one if I got.

In the vintage market, original ’62’s (the first year they came out) can be had for about $6000 on eBay. Again, probably out of my reach right now, but certainly not a bad price for a vintage guitar – and certainly not a bad price for a first production year guitar.

Maybe one day… I do have a few guitars on my “to get” list that are ahead of it, like a Les Paul Supreme, but this is definitely a “getter.”

Here’s a pretty good video demo of a vintage Jaguar:

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Maybe it’s the recording… but just watching/listening to this demo video has me GAS-ing for this pedal!!!

Yowza!!! I loved that first sequence with the Strat!

Some quick info: This is an all-analog drive pedal, folks, and I’m digging what it does! And at $139, it’s a bargain!!!

From the web site:

Pigtronix FAT Drive is an all analog tube sound overdrive. The FAT Drive’s multiple cascaded gain stages enable you to nail sounds ranging from bluesy overdrive to rich saturation, all while retaining musical dynamics and the original character of your instrument.

FAT Drive takes a futuristic analog approach to create complex crunch tones using CMOS clipping and a variable low pass filter for tone shaping. Bringing the tone control all the way clockwise takes this filter completely out of the circuit for total transparency and robust low end. Rolling the tone control back smooths out the highs, leaving ample mid-range bloom and bottom end punch.

A Hi / Lo toggle switch brings additional versatility to the FAT Drive’s wide-ranging palette of overdrive tones, altering the gain structure for enhanced crunch and soaring leads. The FAT Drive features true bypass switching and runs fine on standard 9-volt power but ships with an 18-volt adapter for superior headroom, clarity and overall output.

For more information, check out the product page!

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How to Pick a Speaker

Unless you’re a dealer or a distributor of speakers, there are only a couple of ways to pick out a speaker:

  1. Go down to a dealer or distributor of speakers and listen to a bunch, then go and buy the one you like -or-
  2. Buy some speakers, listen to them, and pick the one you like. Oh wait! There’s a third way of choosing a speaker!
  3. Go on the forums, ask people what speaker they’d recommend, buy all the recommendations, listen to them, then pick the one you like.

I know, I know… It all sounds flip. But think about it. How the hell do you choose a speaker? The plain fact of the matter is that you have to listen to it to determine if it works for you. Descriptions, conversations, and recommendations are helpful indeed, but in the end, it’s the sound that the speaker produces that vibrates your eardrums that will be the ultimate deciding factor.

Of all the parts of the signal chain, I’ve found that in comparison with other parts of my signal chain, I’ve probably spent the most research time on speakers; much of it anguishing over having purchased a speaker I thought might work, only to find that it sucked! Let’s face it: A speaker is the endpoint of your signal chain, and produces the sound from everything in the chain before it. If it doesn’t sound good to you, it doesn’t matter how good everything else is in front of it.

There’s no “pat” advice I can give. You just have to listen to a lot of speakers, or take a chance on buying one and hope you get lucky. I’ve been lucky so far with my Fane Medusa 150 and with an evaluation Jensen Jet Electric Lightning that I got from Jensen that I decided to buy because it sounded so good. But there are lots of speakers that I’ve tried that I’ve never written about because they just didn’t work with my rig.

There is sort of a fourth way, and that is to listen to the recommendations from someone who knows your tone. My friend and amp builder Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps is that guy for me. Since he personally built and customized to my specs most of the amps I play, he knows what I like, so when he has recommends speakers, I listen. It was that way with the Jensen Jet Falcon 12″ speakers I have in three of my cabinets. He got one to try out from a distributor, and called me up, asking if I’d test it since he didn’t time. We met a few days later for me to get the speaker from him, and once I installed it in my cab, I loved it so much, I kept it, then bought two more since then to go into other cabinets. Mind you, this replaced a Celestion Blue – which is a GREAT speaker – that costs three times as much!

Oops… got a bit side-tracked. So while it ultimately takes listening to speakers to see if they will work, there are some preparatory things you can do to at least narrow your search:

  1. Go to the manufacturer’s site and look at the frequency response charts. For instance, check out this chart for the Jensen Jet Falcon 12″:
    This told me to expect a bit of a scooped tone as the lows and mids had peaks. Or check out this one for the Celestion Gold:

    This shows a more moderate low- and midrange response, with slight emphasis on higher freqs.
  2. Once you see a pattern that you’d like to explore, start listening to clips, taking note of the gear used.
  3. Finally, see how you can try one out or hear one in person.

As I mentioned, there is no “pat” way of deciding on what speaker to buy. But with a bit of research, you can narrow the field down significantly.

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Sebago Sound PrototypeSummary: I don’t know what an original Steel String Singer sounds like, but if Sebago’s take on that amp is any indication, we have a winner here! This is an incredibly versatile amp that can fit any genre of music. This is my next amp.Pros: Versatility is the key with this amp. The notch High and Low notch filters let you dial in your tone to fit the genre or help fine tune the amp to your guitar.

Cons: None. But not a 5.0? I’ll explain below…

  • 100-150 Watts (150 with 6550’s) from 4 power tubes
  • Reverb “loop” with send and receive knobs (send is signal gain into tank, receive is similar to mix)
  • Single input with switchable FET circuit
  • Gain control
  • Three-band EQ
  • Bright, Mid, Rock/Jazz mini toggles
  • Master control
  • Presence control
  • Individual High and Low notch filter knobs.
  • Power and Standby switches

Price: TBD, but will probably be somewhere between $2500 and $3000

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ The only reason I took off a quarter point is because the reverb receive circuit was a bit noisy. I was able to dial back the hum by upping the send gain and dialing down the receive signal, but this is a prototype, so it’s understandable that there would be some tiny issues, and believe me, this is tiny.

 

My First Impressions article pretty much said everything that I had to say about this amp. My opinion hasn’t changed. This is an absolutely SUPERB amp that has me GAS-ing VERY BADLY. And after playing with this amp for the last few days, I’m in a dream state from the hypnotic tone that this amp produces – with all my guitars.

One thing I will add is that Bill Dunham emphasized that the amp is a great pedal platform. I still agree with that assessment, but frankly, this amp produces almost all the tones that I need, so I haven’t hooked my pedal board once this past week. The reverb is fantastic, and when I’ve taken the amp into overdrive, I just haven’t seen the need to use a pedal. The only exception to that is with the last clip I recorded where I ran my Strat through my Timmy overdrive before going into the amp, which was not quite at the breakup level; just slightly below.

Granted, at 100 Watts, I couldn’t take the amp into breakup without an attenuator. But luckily, my trusty Aracom PRX150-Pro comes to the rescue yet again in that department. A quick note on the distortion. I wasn’t really liking the fully cranked up tone of the amp with my Strat. It’s an entirely different matter with my Les Paul. The lead tone – which you’ll hear shortly – is just incredible. With the FET activated, and both Gain and Master cranked up (Gain at 9, Master at 10), the sustain, harmonics and overtones create this absolutely gorgeous lead tone. Now by itself, this amp won’t do metal. It’s not made for that, and I don’t think it was ever intended to do that. But crank it up and throw a distortion pedal in front of it, and I believe you could easily do metal.

Fit and Finish

I really won’t comment on this much because the final face plate is being produced so Bill modified a Double Trouble face plate. That’s also why I didn’t take pictures. It’s not finished, and I don’t want people to get the wrong idea that the amp will be in the condition in which it was tested. It looks great, but I’d rather get pictures of the finished product.

How It Sounds

Bill kept on saying when he dropped off the amp that it’s real strong point was clean. After playing with it, I heartily disagree. 🙂 Clean, dirty, it don’t matter. I dug the sound. In any case, I’ve recorded three clips to give you a general idea of the amp’s tonal possibilities. Mind you, I don’t have a mild breakup clip with a Strat. Once I get the real thing, I’ll share lots more clips. For now, you check out the ones I’ve recorded thus far. Note that these tracks are raw tracks. I used no EQ nor compression because I wanted to ensure that I’d capture all the dynamics of the amp.

Clean, Gretsch Electromatic (thin body)

Clean, Les Paul

Rock, Crunchy Rhythm (left), Solo (right)

Clip from an SRV tribute song I wrote called “In The Vibe”

All the clips were recorded using an Avatar  1 X 12 closed back cabinet with the fantastic Fane Medusa 150 speaker. I used a single mic – a Sennheiser e609 – positioned about 18″ from the cabinet pointed directly at the center of the cone. Part of why you might hear a little static is the ambient room noise from my garage. Barely detectable, but it’s there.

With the rock clip, one thing I had to get used to was the note separation in touch sensitivity of the amp when I’ve got it cranked; actually, even in heavy overdrive. I didn’t really have to change the way I play, I just had to make sure that if I was chording, then I needed to be smooth with my strums, otherwise you’d hear every dang string being plucked. 🙂 It was a pretty easy adjustment.

With the SRV tribute song, as with the other clips, I didn’t EQ the guitars at all, though with the lead, I did add some reverb and a touch of delay to give the tone some air. I also ran the guitar through my Timmy overdrive in front of the amp. Other than that, what you hear is what the amp and the Strat are producing naturally though the final recording has a touch of compression. With the first part of the clip, I’m playing through the neck pickup, then switch to the bridge pickup and turn the volume of the guitar up a couple of notches.

In any case, to me, the clips I’ve provided tell a good story of what this amp is capable of. As I mentioned, in a clips, what I’ve laid down is the raw amp sound, completely unprocessed except for the SRV tribute. The tones are absolutely gorgeous!

Overall Impression

I suppose you can pretty much guess what my impression is of this amp. Once Bill gets this into production, it’ll be my next amp. Better start saving my pennies. 🙂

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Just this email from Fender this morning. Usually I take my time with manufacturer ad emails, and this particular one was no exception. So I waited until a few minutes ago to read the email, and my mind stopped dead in its tracks. For on my screen in front of me was a Strat that has finally blown me away. Don’t get me wrong, I love my American Deluxe Strat. For single-coil work and especially the Kinman pickups it has, I get some freakin’ awesome tones.

But I was always thinking that I would love a Strat that had two humbuckers as opposed to the HSS; in fact, my wish was to have an HSH. My thought was that I would love a Strat that always had the fat tones of a humbucker, while still retaining that Strat vibe, and lo and behold, here was a picture of a brand-new American Standard Hand Stained Ash Stratocaster® HSH!!!

Talk about getting some serious GAS! Not only does it have the HSH pickup configuration, it has an alder body, a maple neck, and a rosewood fretboard: Exactly how I like my Strats! Fender lists it at $1569 MSRP, but I’ve seen some stores online advertising it pre-order for $1149.

You can read details on the Fender product page.

Damn! Just when I was over my latest GAS attack with my DV Mark Little 30 L34, here comes more gear that’s seriously – and I mean seriously – giving me GAS.

I’ll take the Wine Red one, please!

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Aracom Amps VRX18 Tweed ComboSummary: No… Surprisingly enough, I didn’t buy this one, as I already have the VRX18 head. But my good friend and bandmate just bought this, and I tested it out for him so he could listen while he was making his decision. Anyway, this is classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi tone, but with Jeff Aragaki’s tweaks and modifications. It’s such a sweet-sounding amp, clean or dirty.

Pros: Handmade, and hand-wired on turret board. The VRX18 brings out the best of what I love about EL84-powered amps, and combined with the custom Weber speaker that’s in the cabinet to balance out the natural highs of the amp, this amp is capable of producing some of the most gorgeous clean tones I’ve heard, plus some incredible vintage overdrive.

Cons: None.

Features

– Channel 1: Volume and Tone Controls
– Channel 2: Volume and Tone Controls
– Master Volume Control (PPIMV)
– On/Off Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– (2) EL84 Power Tubes
– (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
– Cathode Biased Power Tubes
– S.S. Rectifier with “sag” circuit
– Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
– ARACOM Power Transformer: hand-wound and interleaved
– ARACOM Output Transformer: hand-wound, interleaved on a paper bobbin
– 4, 8, 16 ohm Speaker Jacks
– Detachable Power Cord (IEC320-C13 Socket)
– External Fuse Holder
– Custom Turret Board (G-10/FR4 Flame Resistant)
– Handwired and Handcrafted in the USA.

Price: $1095 for Combo (see Pricing Schedule for complete options)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Yeah, I’m biased towards Aracom Amps as I am a faithful customer, but this amp is yet another example and an affirmation of why I love Aracom amps so much!

As most know who read this blog with any regularity, I’m a faithful Aracom Amps customer. I play three of them: VRX22 (6V6), VRX18 (EL84), and the PLX18 (EL84); plus I have the venerable PRX150-Pro Attenuator. Can’t believe I’ve been playing Aracom equipment for almost four years now, but I can’t think of any other amp to play, except for, perhaps, the DV Mark Little 40, which I still intend to get eventually.

In any case, my bandmates have known my passion for Aracom equipment, but have purchased other amps in lieu of the fact that I’ve been raving about Aracom for years, and in lieu of them commenting on how great the Aracom tone is. It always puzzled me, but hey! To each, their own.

A few of weeks ago, my right-hand and cohort in the band Dave started looking into getting a new amp, and to my pleasant surprise started taking a look at the Aracom site and listening to the clips. He was actually considering buying a Carr Viceroy, but held back until he took some time to evaluate amps. Now he’s glad he did.

In any case, he contacted Jeff and set up a meeting to go out to Jeff’s shop, and asked if I wanted to tag along. Never one to turn down an invitation to hang out with Jeff if I can help it, I accepted and a couple of days later, we made the short trek out to Jeff’s shop.

The wonderful thing about working with a builder like Jeff is that because he’s a small operation, he can be fairly agile in the combinations of equipment that he offers. So on that day, we took a couple of hours to play through different cabinet/speaker combinations to find a combo that “fit.” After playing through the tweed cabinet with a custom Weber 1 X 12, it was clear that that combination was the best for the style that Dave plays, which is mostly clean.

Jeff told Dave that he should take the amp with him and play around with it before he made the decision, so we loaded the amp in Dave’s car. On the way home, I mentioned to Dave that he will probably not want to return the amp and left it that while we talked about other stuff.

A few hours after I had returned home, Dave called me. He wasn’t returning the amp. 🙂 I knew that would happen. That amp was magical. Earlier, I shared with Dave on the way home that he’d know if he found the right amp if he lost track of time. He did. Now he is the proud owner of the best amp he’s ever played.

Fit and Finish

I love the classic tweed finish of this amp. Jeff personally built the enclosure and covered it with tweed. It’s really beautiful to look at. He also used 1/2-inch ply to construct the cabinet, which is something I look for in cabinets. With 1/2-inch ply, I believe the wood provides a lot more resonance as opposed to cabs built with thicker boards. Compared side-by-side with my Avatar 1 X 12, which uses thicker wood, the Aracom cab sounds so much more deep and lush (I’m not knocking my Avatar – that cab is perfect for more aggressive tones).

How It Sounds

Unfortunately, I don’t have any clips to demonstrate, but Dave’s VRX18 sounds absolutely KILLER! I’ve played three of Dave’s guitars through the amp, which include a custom Carvin acoustic/electric, a custom Rick Turner Renaissance, and a Gibson ES-335. All three guitars sound absolutely gorgeous through the amp which, with the custom Weber and dynamite cabinet produce a very lush and deep clean tone, while retaining great note separation and definition. Note separation and definition are especially important with an amp that produces such deep cleans because it could become extremely muddy. Not so with the Aracom VRX18 combo.

It’s important to note also that in addition to such great cleans, the amp really projects the sound well, with a very three-dimensional quality about it that makes it sound as if it has a reverb tank. Jeff attributes a lot of this quality to the sag simulation circuit that he built into the amp. It provides just a touch of sustain to add depth to the sound.

Playing right next to Dave is another guitarist (another Dave) who has a Carr Mercury. Maybe the “higher end” Carr models sound better, but the Mercury’s tone pales in comparison to the VRX18. Where the VRX18 sounds three-dimensional, the Carr sounds brittle and hollow. I don’t like the tone of that amp at all, and constantly have to help the other Dave dial in his EQ to make it sound even halfway decent. Also, the reverb on that amp is horrible, and I always have him turning it WAY down. Amazing that that amp costs more than twice as much as the VRX18. Anyway, I don’t want to make this a Carr amp smack-down. Suffice it to say that the Aracom VRX18 simply outperforms the Carr hands-down.

Overall Impression

Jeff Aragaki makes killer amps. He’s not building near the amount of amps at this point in time as he has in the past because his attenuator business is so good. But when he does get amp orders, he takes extra-special care that it’s right; and that’s exactly what he did with this particular amp. In fact, this particular model of the VRX18 is much more simple than his other models in that it doesn’t have the 1/2 power switch, nor does it have a tube rectifier. But it sounds incredible as it is. And as I mentioned above, this amp is yet another example of why I will remain a faithful Aracom customer!

For more information, go to the Aracom Amps web site!

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One of the guitarists in my church band recently got a Carr Mercury, which is a great little amp. In addition to sporting vintage styling, it has some great power scaling from 8 Watts down to 1/10 Watt, a three-position boost to vary the drive to the single EL34 power tube, and a very nice and liquid reverb. All in all, it sounds pretty killer. Add my bandmate’s Barron Wesley custom guitar, and it’s a great tone combo!

But as he plays next to my rig, which consists of a Les Paul going into an Aracom PLX18BB Trem (“PLX”) which is a clone of the very simple Marshall 18 Watt Plexi, I felt the Carr’s tone paled in comparison to the tone my rig produces. Mind  you, the Carr sounds  killer. But in comparison to the PLX, its attack is much faster, and there’s noticeably less sag from rectifier than the PLX, so my perception is that there’s not much sustain with the amp..

Granted, I realize this is purely subjective, but there is something very special about the PLX. Perhaps it’s due to that classic “Bluebreaker” tone – hence the BB designation of the amp – that Clapton made so popular while with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. The Les Paul/Plexi combination is absolutely magical. Perhaps it’s also due in part to the absolute simplicity of the 18 Watt Plexi’s circuitry. Or perhaps it’s due to how the amp sags that gives it this almost reverb-like tone. Whatever it is, it’s a tone with which I completely identify.

I realize that I probably mention the PLX in this blog more than any amp that I have or have tested. But it has become my “go-to” amp. As the title of this article says, some rig combinations just never get old.

In front of the PLX, I have just a few pedals because I like to keep things simple. Here’s the complete chain:

Les Paul R8 -> Timmy Overdrive -> TC Electronic Corona Chorus -> Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (handwired) -> DigiTech RV-7 Reverb -> Aracom PLX18 BB Trem -> Aracom PRX150 Attenuator -> Fane Medusa 150 12″ speaker.

I typically only use the  delay and reverb when playing clean, which is actually quite a bit.  But when I’m  playing driven, either with the Timmy or with the amp cranked, I just let the amp speak for itself. 🙂

I mentioned the sag of the PLX. It’s not so saggy that you get a lot of crosstones. But Jeff Aragaki (amp builder) did find a sweet spot in setting up the rectifier that balanced the classic responsiveness of the original Plexi with enough sag in the rectifier to make the amp absolutely expressive.

I made some modifications of my own in the way of tubes. I have gorgeous 1959 RCA grey glass pre-amp tubes in it to drive the pre-amp. I actually kept the original JJ EL84 power tubes in the amp because they compress quite nicely when driven without over-compressing into mush. Then to add fatness, I dropped in the gorgeous, super-sensitive (103 dB) Fane Medusa 150 12″ speaker. Combine that with a large 1 X 12 combo cabinet, and you’ve got a nice resonating chamber for the speaker which adds further depth to the tone.

Upon writing the above, I think a huge reason why I love the tone of this amp so much as compared to the Carr probably has a lot to do with the size of the cabinet, which can also easily house 2 10″ speakers.  That extra room for the sound to bounce around creates a lot of complexity.

 

In any case, that particular combination of gear never gets old to me. Even though I have lott of other guitars and amps, when I gig, I go to that setup. Now if only Jeff will build me my FlexPlex 50… 🙂

 

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As an actively gigging musician, I’m always looking for the most efficient and safe ways to transport my gear. But I do have to admit that I value efficiency a bit more than safety. My thought behind this is that treating my gear with care is a given, so I want to make as few trips from my car to get my gear set up for a gig.

So I have always kept an eye on transport containers or even systems that can keep me as efficient as possible. For instance, a big reason that I got my Fishman SoloAmp was because the speaker array, stand, and cable could all be transported together in the provided transport case; the whole thing weighing only 25 lbs., and case has wheels! I would not have gotten it if it sounded bad, but not having to take multiple trips to the car was really key.

I also have a few different bags that I use depending upon the gig I’m playing. For my solo gigs, I use a heavy-duty laptop bag that has tons of space to hold my harmonizer unit, microphones, cables, and even music books. Again, only a single trip.

Enter MONO. These folks make bags and cases specifically tailored to DJs and guitarists. They have some nice, padded guitar and bass gig bags, and even make guitar straps. But I really dig their gear bags, such as The Producer, which has lots of room to carry all sorts of gig accessories. This will probably be my next accessory bag as it was purpose-built with the DJ or gigging musician in mind.

Check out this video review of The Producer:

Lots of space and pockets. Love it!

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This morning, I was taking stock of gear that I hadn’t played in a awhile, and saw my little ’58 Fender Champ sitting on my workbench. I hadn’t played it for several months. So I hooked it up, and started playing. Now mind you, I’ve had some serious work done on it. I had to have the leaky caps replaced, and I had the amp set up with an A/B switch so I could bypass the stock, internal speaker and use a different speaker cabinet if I wanted. Plus, my good buddy, Jeff Aragaki lent me a custom tweed cabinet that he built that houses a Weber 10″ Alnico speaker.

After getting it all hooked up (I ran the amp into a 1 X 12 with a Jensen Jet Falcon speaker), one thing struck me right away after playing my Strat through it. To me, this is THE classic Tweed sound. But it is also the perfect platform to record completely raw signal, then tweak, which has been done in lots of studios over the years, as a Champ was used to record all sorts of rock and roll.

Take, for instance the following recording:

This was recorded straight into my computer with no EQ, no nothin’ attached. It’s a clean, dry signal that simply captures the tone of my Strat. But apply some reverb and delay effects, some compression, EQ, and that plain signal becomes something else entirely. Here’s the same track, but this time, I’ve textured it with reverb, delay, compression and EQ.

Had the compression make-up gain a little high, so there’s a tiny bit of clipping, but what I was able to get was a super-rich and full sound.

Even dirtied up, the Champ is simply a great platform. Here’s a raw clip of the Champ completely cranked up:

Again, this is simply a fantastic platform from which to shape the guitar sound. So, in this next clip (which again is the same track, but tweaked) I added some compression, reverb, a tiny bit of stereo delay and beefed up the lows with some Fat EQ:

It’s no surprise to me why so many studios have these Champs in their amp lineups.

As for gigging this bad boy, I always run it through speakers that have a good bottom-end response. What results is a nice, scooped tone – VERY American tone-wise.

Anyway, if you can find one of these, get it. Or you can get the ’57 Champ re-issue, which lots of players love. Me, I got mine for $700 (that’s the actual picture of the amp above), and spent roughly $200 on getting the caps replaced and putting in some NOS tubes. Still comes out under the price of the ’57 reissue.

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…We know it’s good for us, but we don’t enjoy the taste.

That’s a corollary on a saying my cousin shared on Facebook: Truth is a bully we all pretend to like. It got me thinking about some feedback I gave to a young singer/songwriter this weekend on her playing, which was not very good. I first didn’t say it directly and simply said, “That’s a great song you’ve written. If you have a chart, I could accompany you, so you could focus on your singing and not have to think about the accompaniment.”

“I play just fine,” she said.

I replied, “Well… truth be told, some customers last week did mention that while they liked the song, they felt the piano playing was a bit choppy.” (That’s actually the truth; as a few asked me why I didn’t accompany her).

“To you, maybe,” she shortly replied, “I’m not here to be the brilliant musician.”

I said, “Look, you’re reading me completely wrong. I want to make you and your song look absolutely the best, and frankly, your playing is choppy, and you’d have a much better appeal if you had backup that’ll make you shine.”

She wasn’t having any of it. There was a bit more in the exchange that I’d rather not dive into, but I was really taken aback by the arrogance and total lack of humility. I do know one thing, having been performing for over 40 years, she’s in for some serious smack-down. I’ve encountered many performers like that over the years that operate off their own hubris. They get their bubble popped and it’s like their world comes crashing down around them.

Hell! I even operated like that years ago, thinking my own music was something special; only to get feedback from a pro that lyrically, it was cliche, and a lot of my musical phrasing was something that had been done hundreds of time over – in other words, it wasn’t very original. Yikes! I was crushed.

But as Sylvester Stallone said in the movie, Rocky Balboa, “It ain’t about how hard you hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…” And that’s kind of the crux of this entry, dear readers.

We all tout wanting to be honest and receive honesty in return. But honesty is like taking cold medicine. Rarely do we enjoy the taste. But in the end, we actually do feel better. After having experienced that crushing review of my music, I just happened to watch Rocky Balboa and that saying shook me to the core, and I realized that a little humility goes a long, long way. It’s good to believe in ourselves and our abilities, but don’t let that belief turn into hubris. Besides, with humility, we give ourselves room to grow and get better.

After I got that feedback, it actually took me awhile to do some soul-searching – a couple of years, in fact. But I jumped on the horse again, so to say, and started writing again. This time ’round, I went at it with no particular goal in mind; just let the music and lyrics flow. Don’t have expectations of where I think my music should be. It it goes nowhere, that’s okay. But most importantly, really listen to the feedback. So as opposed to parading my music in front of friends and family first, none of my newest songs go out without a professional review from producers in the music industry who critique the songs on their structure, lyrics, and melody. As a result, I think I’ve become a much better writer.

It’s not that I’m following a formula that they prescribe. The reviewer I use the most stresses originality, and absolutely nails me on being cliche. But they are keen on flow and making sure my lyrics make sense. All in all, it has been a great growing experience.

Who knows where my music will go? I’ll be heading into the studio in the next couple of months to start recording and then I’ll get my album out. We’ll see where it goes from there…

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