Posts Tagged ‘katie may’

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

I’m in a waking dream right now; caught in the solace after a night spent in the presence of pure beauty; her siren-song resonating into the deepest recesses of my soul. Closing my eyes, I see the visage of her elegant curves. I can feel the smoothness of her golden-brown skin. I can hear the dulcet tones she sings from my ministrations as I gently caress her smooth body and run my fingers up and down her neck. She is Katie May, and she is my lover.

Dirty mind… Katie May is my custom guitar made by Perry Riggs, good friend and luthier of Slash L Guitars. I have had her for a few years now, and every time I play this guitar, I’m transported to Never Land, and start waxing poetically; such is the effect she has on me. It’s visceral, sensual. I’m completely transported to another world when I hear the sounds she produces. When I play this guitar it’s the musical equivalent of making love. While there’s not an exchange of body fluids, there is certainly an exchange of energy; a connection that is too difficult to describe and would only be diminished by mere words. It’s like I’m having an affair!

To be honest, I’ve kept her at home and played her mostly in my studio because she’s so precious to me that I don’t want to even leave the possibility of her getting dinged or – God forbid – stolen at a gig. But last night, I decided to take her with me to band rehearsal. Don’t know why, but I felt she was calling to me. Felt this little voice in my head saying, “You need to play me… I want to sing…” So I packed her up in a gig bag, and went to rehearsal.

From the very first notes I played, I knew it was going to be a magical night for me. Clean or dirty, Katie May’s voice rang sweet and clear; never too deep, never too shrill. Just pure musical tones that just set my heart on fire. I had only played out with her with my old church band. But as both primary guitarist but also pianist, she didn’t get much play time. But with my new band, where I’m the lead guitarist, any guitar will get a workout, and Katie May proved her worthiness as a workhorse. So I’ve made the decision that for my new band, she will be Guitar Numero Uno.

Here’s a quick clip that – at least to me – demonstrates her incredible voice. In this song, she was plugged directly into my trusty Aracom VRX18 Plexi.

Last night, I played her though a Fender DRRI Limited Edition. Talk about a divine pairing! But truth be told, the real test for her will be this coming Saturday when the band plays a benefit concert. I’m SO looking forward to showing her off!

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Matches Made In Heaven

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

Katie May and the Aracom VRX18

I was talking to Jeff Aragaki yesterday evening about his absolutely magical Aracom VRX18 Plexi clone and how Katie May sounded so perfect with that amp. I used that combination in my latest song, “The Lothario” and was completely amazed at how well they fit together.

I told Jeff that I hadn’t played the VRX18 in awhile, and hadn’t gigged with it for a long time since my DV Mark Little 40 does the job for playing out. But for studio work, the VRX18 and her more aggressive sister, the VRX22 (I had Jeff voice her a bit more aggressive), have been studio stand-bys for me for a long time. In any case, I was looking for a particular sound with that song, and thought that the VRX18, with her creamy-smooth overdrive and gorgeous sag would do the trick perfectly. I wasn’t wrong.

Katie May took to her like white on rice. Here I was thinking that Katie May was best played clean, and had shared that with Perry Riggs, Katie May’s builder. But what issued from the amp stopped me dead in my tracks. It was clear that I just hadn’t matched her up with an amp that would allow her to fully express herself. The Lollar Imperials with their lower output drive the VRX18 perfectly, producing a buttery/creamy-smooth overdrive tone. I was up till the wee hours of the morning yesterday just playing around after I had already finished mixing down the song. And come to think of it, Katie May has never disappointed me when played with my DV Mark Little 40, but she sounds absolutely incredible with a vintage Marshall-style amp.

Tonight, I was looking for a song I had recorded a couple of years ago to see if I could add an overdriven guitar to it, as a professional reviewer had given me feedback that it would be nice to make it have a bit of an edge. But in my search, I came across something I put together for practice (I’m not too good at playing without some sort of backing track to give me a reference) a few weeks ago, and immediately started tooling around with it. After about a half-hour of messing around, I decided to lay down a track to demonstrate just how good Katie May sounds with the VRX18. Give it a listen:

As you can see in the picture above, Katie May was plugged directly into the VRX18. No effects were used. In the recording though, I added some reverb and a little delay to add some ambiance to the guitar; just as with “The Lothario,” I didn’t EQ the guitar at all. Also note that I did the guitar part in a single take, and went from clean to dirty by simply turning up the volume knob on the guitar. Katie May went from this hollow body clean tone to a rock machine with a simple twist of a knob.  Of course, that’s also a testament to how responsive the VRX18 is. On the amp, I had the Master pegged, and the volume at about 2pm. That gives me plenty of overdrive with the guitar’s volume all the way up, but will also clean up real nice by turning the volume down.

I just gave the track another listen-to and thought back to when I was up on something like the 20th fret to hit that high-high note. One thing that I love about playing Katie May is that the butt of the neck doesn’t get in my way. I don’t have very long fingers, so playing way up on the fretboard has always been an issue playing other guitars. But not with Katie May. I can get to those notes now – and she has 24 frets – all playable! But note one VERY important thing: On other guitars where I’ve been able to reach the really high frets, though most have been playable, they haven’t had the sustain that Katie May has. I believe this has to do with the neck-through construction. Since there’s no break in the neck, the sound waves are allowed to reverberate continuously throughout the neck and create much more sustain than bolt-on, or even set necks. Even my Les Paul, which is a sustain machine doesn’t sustain nearly as much way up high as Katie May does.

In any case, this marriage gives me the same kind of feeling I get when I play my Les Paul R8 through my Aracoms and DV Mark Little 40. “Amber” loves to scream through those amps, though I have to admit, I love her best with the Little 40. They pair so well together that I forget about twiddling knobs to dial in the right tone. I set it my amp in the sweet spot and play. Those kinds of things are to me at least, matches made in heaven.

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I have several friends and acquaintances who, after their breakups or divorces, went on a bit of a tear on electronic dating sites and seemed to go through women – quickly. I used to tease them that they were fast becoming lotharios. But they always had a reason for not committing. So I wrote this song from their point of view. It’s called “The Lothario.”

Here’s the final mixed version. For the guitars, I added just a little high-end boost to make them stand out a bit more, but I kept their levels pretty much the same.

In any case, here’s the gear I used:

Guitar: Slash L Guitars “Katie May”
Damnation! That guitar played just slightly dirty through my little 18-Watt Plexi clone sounded absolutely incredible! Didn’t have to EQ it at all. Katie May was set to the middle position (both pickups), but in single coil mode so I could get a bit of that Strat Position 4 jangly sound with the dirt.

I was originally going to add a clean guitar track on the left side of the mix, but started noodling with my amp much more overdriven, and decided that I wanted to give the song a bit more of an edge than what it had. So I added it in plus some really simple, but thematic lead breaks over the main riff.

Amp: Aracom VRX18
This is a VERY special amp to me, and while I don’t gig with it much, this amp with its tube rectifier has a very distinctive tone and dynamics. Standard VRX’s (18 and 22) come with a solid state rectifier – that’s not bad. My 22-watter has one. It just has more attack, and I wanted the feel of bit more sag as I was playing a bit behind the beat.

But being a Plexi-style amp, cranked up, this amp has a big sound, and on the “lead” track, I had to make sure I was doing a lot of palm muting to tame the overdrive a bit. But it turned out awesome!

Bass: Ibanez G-10
Cheapo, but it totally serves my purposes.

Here are the lyrics:

The Lothario

I was just a regular guy
…at least I thought I was
going day to day through life
All I wanted was to pass the time
…just doing my thing
You live your life and I’ll live mine
Then I saw her and she turned me all around
Don’t know which way is up or down!

Wasn’t looking for a good time
it must’ve come from outer space
all I know is that she launches
my heart into the sky
But I know I shouldn’t get too high
too much risk of falling
so I’ll enjoy the warmth I’m feeling inside
Enjoy her till it’s time to say goodbye

Please don’t judge me too unkind
…I know how it must look
But they shouldn’t be surprised
I never mean to make them cry
…the truth just hurts
But I have to draw the line
I don’t need no one to
spend their life with me
But I don’t mind the company

I wish she wanted just a good time
and be satisfied with that
but I know that what she wants is more
than what I had in mind
So we can have ourselves some good wine
and compelling conversation
and we’ll enjoy this warmth we’re feeling inside
Enjoy it till it’s time to say goodbye.

Spent so many years in losing myself
Not about to apologize
Though I haven’t put my heart on a shelf
I’ve just had to take the time to realize…

I just want to have a good time
don’t want no one depending on me
as if I have to fill up their lives.
So if you want to have a good time
Kick off your shoes and just go with it
enjoy this warmth we’re feeling inside
Enjoy it till it’s time to say goodbye.

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I was in a rush yesterday to get to my weekly church gig, so I grabbed Katie May, my VHT Special 6 combo, and my small gig pedal board that had my Timmy on it, loaded up my car, and jetted off to pre-service rehearsal. The set that I picked out for yesterday had a couple of rocking pieces and I figured that when I needed dirt, I could get it from my Timmy.

Rehearsal was going great until we got to one of the songs where I needed some dirt. When I switched on the Timmy, it was about the ugliest overdrive sound that I’ve ever heard! I tried to mess around with the EQ on the amp and the pedal and Katie May, but to no avail. Then I remembered that the Special 6 doesn’t do well with overdrive pedals. It works best with a booster and making its own overdrive; and it didn’t help that Katie May already has a naturally bright and thin voicing, and the Timmy doesn’t do anything to tame that. Unfortunately, to get the Special 6 to break up, the volume would’ve been too high for church because the Special 6 has so much clean headroom, and I didn’t have my attenuator.

So I ended up just playing clean and adapted my playing to the clean tone, which actually didn’t sound too bad. But man o man, did I learn a couple of lessons:

  1. Be prepared; that is, make sure you know that the gear combination you’ve chosen is going to work BEFORE you go to the gig. Shit! I know this and normally do it, but got too pressed for time. In the future, since I now know that that combination doesn’t work, I won’t use it.
  2. As much as you might like to play a certain guitar, don’t try to force the issue by just wanting to play that one. I’m pretty attached to Katie May, but what I should’ve done was grab Amber or Ox (my Les Pauls). I know that either of them work great with that combination, and the Timmy seems to like them a lot.

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km1Before I drive into the office each day, I usually start out early and do some work. But sometimes, there are exceptions; especially when I get a musical idea running around in my head. Then I drop everything and track it so I can come back to it later. Yesterday morning was like that. I was happily pounding out code for a project I’m working on then suddenly I heard this tune on an electric piano.

I went to my man-cave and quickly laid down the track. But since I was pressed for time, I just got down the piano part. So this morning I resolved to get a guitar part down. To be honest, I just wanted to jam over the piano part. I never intended my idea to be a full song. Part of it was testing myself to deal with a change from a maj-7 to a minor-dim, and the phrasing I might use.

Of course, there are many ways to skin a cat, but I thought about it for a little bit, and practiced some ways I might deal with it. In the end, I decided on keeping it simple.

Here’s the track:

It’s really nothing special as far as the music is concerned, and to be completely honest and transparent, this track is just one of several takes I took while playing around. What was incredible for me in this experience was “Katie May.” This guitar has never ceased to amaze me since I got her. She’s such a dream to play in both tone and feel that she lets me slip into an altered state where my creativity can take over. That’s the mark of a truly great instrument.

Katie May has so much natural sustain and a real purity in her tone. There’s a depth to her voice that’s indescribable. Her voicing is perfectly balanced; I haven’t ever had to EQ this guitar when I play her both in the studio and playing out. I just keep all EQ flat, and let her sing! The only thing I do is add some modulation effects to enhance what’s already there.

Perry Riggs and Slash L Guitars may not be widely known, but take it from me, if you’re in the market for a hand-built guitar, this is a builder you should consider.

Gear used:

Katie May plugged directly into my 1958 Fender Champ (that’s where the noise comes from)

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km1My new guitar, “Katie May,” custom made by Perry Riggs of Slash L Guitars just gave me a VERY pleasant surprise yesterday. While I was researching the root cause of a grounding issue I had over the weekend, I contacted Perry Riggs about the wiring scheme of the guitar and how Katie May was grounded. He sent me a very detailed email, plus a hi-res picture of the control cavity, and also explained that Katie May’s humbuckers were coil-tapped!!!

I know what you’re thinking: How did I NOT know that the ‘buckers weren’t coil-tapped. The reason is that even though Katie May is a custom-built guitar, I didn’t specify anything in the build. However, as I shared with Perry, when I reviewed her, I very well could have specified the guitar because to me at least, it was perfect – almost as if I had specified everything, even the neck dimensions! Talk about a kismet moment!

In any case, I’ve been playing her for the last month or so completely ignorant of the coil taps. And upon finding out about it, of course, I immediately set out to try her out.

Now Perry had said to me in an earlier conversation that the Lollar Imperials didn’t sound too good coil-tapped, so I assumed he didn’t do it. Well, he must’ve worked some magic with the voicing because the single-coil mode tone is fantastic! Here’s a clip I recorded this morning before work. It’s a fingerstyle ditty with the guitar set to the neck pickup:

This was recorded directly plugged into my 1958 Fender Champ with a custom-made tweed cabinet with a 10″ speaker. Sorry for the little hum and crackling in the background, but the amp is showing its age. 🙂

I actually have a funky clip that I recorded with the guitar in middle pickup as well, but I forgot to upload it from my recording workstation. In any case, in single-coil mode, the maple of the through-neck really shows its contribution to the tone, which has a distinct top-end sparkle. When picked, the sound is “snappy,” which is perfect for clean, funky, comping.

So here’s yet another tonal dimension that Katie May offers. I just love surprises!

You gotta check out Slash L Guitars. Perry is just a stellar guy, and people who’ve worked with him just rave about his skills as a luthier. He’s not really well-known, and quite frankly, he’s not in it for the money. He just wants to build great guitars, and as a proud owner of one of them, I can attest to their greatness. Katie May is such a great guitar, I haven’t even touched my Les Pauls since I got her. I know, blasphemy! But at least for right now, she’s got everything I need! 🙂

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Slash L Guitars
Summary: Yet another custom beauty from Perry Riggs, owner, and luthier of Slash L Guitars. This amazing through-neck guitar is not only aesthetically gorgeous, it’s capable of some incredible tones!

Pros: Lightweight (Perry lists at 8 lbs, but it feels even lighter). There’s a lot to be said about the through neck design. Tone comes from the neck and this laminated mahogany and maple neck creates both a jangly and lush tone, with sustain that’s on par with a Les Paul. I’m in heaven!

Cons: None. Absolutely none.Price: Call


  • Body: Quilted Soft Maple over Ribbon Sapele Mahogany
  • Neck: Grain-matched Flamed Hard Maple and Mahogany / Wide, Shallow “C” profile
  • Fretboard: Bound Honduran Rosewood / 24 frets – very nice
  • Nut: 1 11/16″ Bleached Bone Nut
  • Gotoh 510 hardware (my favorite – a wraparound bridge, and super-accurate tuners)
  • Lollar Imperial Pickups
  • Master Volume, Master Tone
  • 3-way pickup selector

Tone Bone Rating: Wow! Starting off the year with two 5.0 reviews! What can I say? I got pretty lucky! 🙂 Perry Riggs is a guy who loves building guitars, and the workmanship and tone of his excellent instruments never cease to amaze me!

What comes out of Texas? Great barbecue beef (especially brisket), a fantastic music scene in Austin, and Slash L Guitars out of Richmond. Perry Riggs discovered my blog a couple of years ago and asked if I’d like to review one of his guitars. He was a luthier whom I had never heard of, and after having a nice phone conversation, I agreed to review “Lana.” If I was impressed by Lana, I am even more impressed with Katie May. It’s clear that in the couple of years since I reviewed Lana, Perry has honed his craft even more. Katie May is an incredibly expressive and sophisticated-sounding guitar, and I’ll just say it now: If I had the money on hand, I’d keep this guitar, and make it my numero uno! That’s how good this guitar is!

Fit and Finish

When you purchase a custom guitar, you’re not purchasing something that you’ll resell. After all, a custom guitar is a pretty personal thing. Perry usually builds on commission, but then he occasionally builds some for inventory, like Lana and Katie May. I have to say that Katie May feels as if she was made just for me. 🙂 The neck is absolutely perfect, and dynamics and feel are EXACTLY how I like them.

The finish and workmanship that went into this guitar make it look like a piece of furniture! Everything about this guitar just screams organic. There’s a certain understated quality to this guitar that’s hard to describe, but it just looks “natural,” as if everything that should be on the guitar is on the guitar. There’s nothing extra, and there’s nothing missing. Check out some pictures:

The pictures don’t do the guitar justice. I wish I had more time to do a photo shoot of the guitar, but unfortunately, the demands of work precluded me from doing so. The quilted maple top is absolutely insane. I love how Perry used a simple stain then glossed it over with lacquer. I know, I’m really a burst kind of guy, but I’d use this on stage any day!

How It Sounds

The Lollar Imperials are absolutely incredible. They’re the perfect set for this guitar. Even though they’re just standard wound, they have a gain range that super-wide, and when dimed, they produce an absolutely velvety-smooth overdrive tone. When I gigged with the guitar over the weekend, when it came to leads,  I just closed my eyes and soaked up the wonderful tone of this guitar! Here are some clips (all recorded with an Aracom VRX18 in the drive channel cranked. The Lollars clean up fantastically!):

  • Middle-clean / Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi)

With this clip, I wanted to capture that simultaneous lushness and jangle that the guitar can produce. It’s best when in the middle position. When I gigged this weekend, I used the neck pickup with delay and spring reverb for a haunting, fingerstyle tone.

  • Neck-dirty

With that clip, I wanted to demonstrate the punch of the neck pickup, from which the guitar gets is super-lush, deep tones.

  • Bridge-dirty

This clip was all about “fun.” I used that song to demonstrate the “spank” of the neck pickup. It can create some searing lead tones, but with the volume backed off, will provide lots of snap.

  • Bridge clean and dirty

Remember I mentioned the spank of the bridge pickup? That’s most evident when playing a funky, clean riff. Combine that with an incredibly smooth and refined lead tone, and you’ve got a guitar that can create all sorts of tones!

By the way, my total rig for these demo clips was the guitar plugged directly into the Aracom VRX18 into an Aracom PRX150-Pro then out to my custom Aracom 1 X 12 cabinet with a Jensen Jet Falcon 12″ speaker. Amazingly enough, all clips were recorded at normal conversation levels. The PRX150 never ceases to amaze me! In any case, I miked the cabinet with a Sennheiser e609 instrument mic fed into a Presonus TUBEPre and into my audio interface. Everything was recorded using Logic on my Mac with no EQ or effects added, so what you hear is the raw guitar sound. I didn’t want to muddy the waters by running it through any effects.


Normally, it takes me awhile to get used to a guitar; especially a custom guitar. But Katie May was playable right out of the box. For me, the neck is absolutely perfect. It’s super-fast and the medium-jumbo frets just do not get in the way. They’re deep enough to provide some room for vibrato, but they’re low enough where they allow you to move around very easily. In fact, when I record the lead for the last clip, I actually had to take several takes because I kept on going too fast! That’s saying a lot for me because I’m not really a fast player.

Overall Impression

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way, Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. 🙂

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. 🙂

The rating says it all. Great looks? Check. Great sound? Check. Great playability? Check. This is a guitar that I would add to my collection any day, and I’m going to be jealous of the person who ends up with her. Kudos to Perry Riggs for creating such a masterpiece of a guitar! And by the way Perry, if you’re reading this, I now hate you for torturing me with this guitar. I’m a horse, and Katie May is the carrot that’s dangled in front of me. 🙂

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