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Posts Tagged ‘reason amps’

bambinoDid my weekly church gig this evening and took the Reason Bambino along. Didn’t bring a pedalboard; just a 1 X 12 cabinet and a couple of cables. I wanted to test out the amp in its pristine state, with no added accoutrements. I also wanted to test the balanced line out to see how it worked with the building’s PA.

I have to tell you, Obeid Kahn being a noted Strat guy, even though the Bambino sounds killer with a guitar with ‘buckers, this amp seems to just love a Strat. It really makes it come alive. Whether I played fingerstyle or funky, the Bambino really made my Strat sing. Well… nothing helps to inspire me to play better than great tone. Like I mentioned in my review, the tone of the 6AQ5 sits right between an EL-84 and a 6V6, and that tone seemed to bring out the best of my Strat. The cleans were classic Strat, and the drive, oh yeah, the overdrive was open and bright, and just floated in the air. I may have been in worship, but I was also in tone heaven!!!

As for the balanced line out, oh man! The tone coming through my church’s PA was great! We have a pretty nice PA system, and the tone, whether clean or dirty, didn’t sound any different than what was coming through my cab. That was a concern for me because I’ve played through amps with line outs that just didn’t sound like the amp. The Bambino’s line out is very transparent, and that’s especially important with this amp because it’ll give you plenty of volume to monitor your tone on stage, but the line out going into your PA will ensure that it’ll get out faithfully to the audience. Make no mistake. This amp may only have 8 Watts, but it has plenty of volume to be used as a stage amp. I suppose it’s another way to approach performance. Especially in a church setting where lower stage volume is critical, having the ability to keep your stage volume down but knowing that it’ll get out to your audience is just so awesome. The Bambino rocks in this department!

***Quick Update*** I just spoke with Anthony this morning and he nor Obeid didn’t anticipate the DI to be plugged directly into a PA, so he was pleasantly surprised to hear my application of it. Note that I went direct out and into my cab at the same time! This amp has versatility written all over it!

And if ever the 8 watts isn’t enough, the Bambino can be used as a reference amp to define your tone, and with the line out, you can re-amp into another amp or a power amp to boost your output power. I’ve tried this, and it works great. I can’t wait until I get to try this at a real gig!

So what’s the verdict? The Bambino rocks – plain and simple.

To get a Bambino…

I don’t think Anthony and Obeid anticipated the popularity of the Bambino, and the positive response has been enormous. If you’re interested in getting this $699 tone monster, contact the guys directly either through e-mail at info@reasonamps.com. They also hang out at the Gear Page (http://www.thegearpage.net/board). Search for “bambino” or find the users “Reason” or “OKahn” and send a private message. There will probably be a bit of a wait time to get the amp as it has create quite a buzz and they’re already getting orders. The amp is just out of prototype and review for goodness’ sake! It’s amazing!

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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!
Reason Amps Bambino
Reason Amps “Bambino”
Summary: Don’t let its diminutive size fool you. This 14lb amp packs tone for days! Capable of sweet cleans to massive overdrive, the Bambino is sure to keep you rockin’!

Pros: Even at 8 Watts, this amp will give you stage volume for small venue gigs. 2 Watt mode gives you the same tone as the 8 Watts, but will keep your family and neighbors happy.

Cons: None.

Features:

  • Preamp Tubes: Three 12AX7’s
  • Power Tubes : Two 6AQ5’s in a push-pull configuration.
  • Output Power: 8 Watts, switchable to 2 Watts
  • Channels: Normal (Push-pull Fat Boost), Bright (Push-pull Treble Boost), StackModeTM
  • Built-in Speaker Load Box Simulated Line Output with Level Control
  • Separate Headphone Output

Price: $699.99

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. The Reason guys did it again! This amp simply rocks the house! Yeah, I know, I’ve only had the amp for a day, but I’ve been playing with it since this morning, and I just had to write about it! It’s spectacular!

Having the gift of gab is not a very good thing when you want to talk about something and can’t. I mentioned in previous posts that I knew about this amp when it was in the planning stages months ago, but Anthony Bonadio asked me not to mention it until it was ready. So imagine wanting to blab about this new amp, and not being able to! Oh well… At least I know I can keep a secret! 🙂

A little history…

When I first talked to Anthony about the amp (it didn’t even have a name yet), he mentioned that it was going to be a 1-Watt bedroom/practice amp for under $700. But Obeid Kahn (Reason’s genius amp designer) being who he is, thought the better of it and decided to create a voltage-switchable amp that could be used in and out of the bedroom. I’m glad he decided to go that route, because even with my very short experience with the Bambino, it has versatility written all over it. Don’t let the 8 Watts fool you at all. 8 Watts is plenty for stage volume in small venues and churches. Keep in mind 1 Watt at 3 meters through a 1 X 12 is as loud as a jackhammer!

When Anthony mentioned they were ready to launch the Bambino, I got real excited, and was even more excited to be able to get a test unit to evaluate. As I mentioned in my previous post about the Bambino, I just got it yesterday, but haven’t been able to keep myself from playing it today. I’ve probably logged about 8 hours on the amp between late last night and today.

Fit and Finish

What can I say? Reason Amps are freakin’ gorgeous. There are no voids in the tolex and the cabinet is quite sturdy. The control panel is easy to manipulate and very easy to figure out. Hell! There are only seven knobs! The test unit I got sported navy blue levant tolex, just like my Aracom amps! Lined up together, it looked like a color-coordinated set! HA! The beige front panel really creates a nice contrast to the blue tolex. The Bambino just looks great. But, of course, it’s following the pedigree of its bigger siblings.

How It Sounds

As I mentioned in my first impressions article, tonally, the Bambino, with its 6AQ5 power tubes, sits right between the EL-84 and the 6V6. Its cleans aren’t as glassy as the EL-84, and not as fat as 6V6. It truly does reside in the middle. Overdrive is more like a 6V6, with an open and airy quality that retains note clarity, even at high-gain settings. I’ve heard mention that the Bambino sounds like a couple of different amps, but from my perspective, the 6AQ5 has a voice all its own.

The Normal channel is the clean channel, and it’s actually tough to get breakup on this channel until you get the volume past 2pm. I love playing a Strat through this channel. You get that classic Strat tone, but expressed completely differently by virtue of the power tubes.

The Bright channel is actually not that much brighter than the Normal channel, though it does have that treble booster to get more top-end sparkle, and instead of a single tone knob, you have treble and bass knobs, so you can tweak the voicing a bit more. In this respect, the Bambino’s channels are set up very similarly to Reason’s SM40, where the two channels are fairly similar in tone.

StackMode, which combines the two channels in series and adds an extra gain stage is just simply to die for! The StackMode volume acts as PPIMV, so you can absolutely crank the first two channels and not blow out your ears. But when you have the ability to really open up the amp in StackMode, very very cool things happen with respect to overtones and high-order harmonics. The amp really comes alive when you’re running a lot of juice through the tubes!

Here are some clips I recorded of the Bambino (all were recorded in 8-Watt mode):

Clean fingerstyle in neck position of my Strat:

Clean, blues progression, with Strat in neck/middle position with just a minute amount of breakup:

All out, wide open with channels 1 and 2 dimed and StackMode volume at 3pm. I’m playing my Prestige Heritage Elite with ‘buckers in the bridge position:

OMFG! I love that last clip. The harmonics are incredible, and as you can tell from the clip, even though the overdrive is absolutely snarling and the gain is way over-the-top, the clarity of the notes is just amazing! Obeid had mentioned that good things start to happen when I could play the amp all out, and based upon my experience, he was right on the money. This amp just sings when you can let it breathe!

Sorry, I don’t have anything in between clean and in your face overdrive – I’ll record some more later.

Re-amp Anyone?

I also tested the balanced line out with the Bambino, running it into my Aracom VRX18, then into a 1 X 12 cabinet. Talk about a great, bright tone. The VRX18 “inherited” the grind from the Bambino, then added its own voice! The result was incredible. In fact the VRX18 helped to smooth out the highs from the Bambino. I’ll see if I can record some clips with that. But in any case, it really demonstrated the possibilities of how you can use this amp!

Overall Impressions

The Tone Bone score of 5 says it all. This is a great amp, period, and I will soon be adding it to my growing collection of low-power amps. Yeah, it’s a low-power amp that may not work for medium to large venues, but for small venues and for recording, this amp is spectacular. And at a street price of $699, it’s definitely a great value proposition to boot!

Okay, I want one… How do I get a Bambino? It’s not even listed on their site yet!

Contact the guys directly either through e-mail at info@reasonamps.com. They also hang out at the Gear Page (http://www.thegearpage.net/board). Search for “bambino” or find the users “Reason” or “OKahn” and send a private message. There will probably be a bit of a wait time to get the amp as it has create quite a buzz and they’re already getting orders. The amp is just out of prototype and review for goodness’ sake! It’s amazing!

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Reason Amps BambinoWhat three word phrase begins with an “O” and ends with an exclamation mark (!)? You guessed it, OH MY GOD! That was my reaction when I first turned on the Reason Bambino I got for review today. For the unfamiliar, the Bambino is Reason’s brand-new entry into the sub-10 Watt amp market, and if this little monster doesn’t make a big splash, I’ll be very disappointed!

I won’t go in-depth into the features since I covered those in my recent pre-release announcement, but the Bambino is simply a miniaturized version of the Reason family of amps, sporting three modes: Normal, Bright, and Stack. Stack Mode ROCKS folks, as it runs the Normal and Bright channels in series, adds an extra gain stage, while retaining full EQ control over the individual channels. Can you say, “High Gain?” 🙂 The volume knob on Channel 1 is a push-pull fat booster, while the volume knob on Channel 2 is a treble booster to add top-end sparkle. And of course, the Bambino is powered by two 6AQ5 power tubes. But enough of the features…

I opened up the shipping box and pulled out the amp to find a Navy Blue Levant tolex-covered amp. I just smiled as that is the exact color of my Aracom Amps! Talk about matching a set (though I don’t get to keep this eval model)! I’ve been so excited to get this amp as I’ve known about it for months, and couldn’t say a word about it. So despite the fact that I just finished a 4-hour solo gig tonight, how could I not open it up and try it out!

So I checked the tubes to see if they got unseated during shipping (they were fine), hooked it up, plugged in my Strat, and being that it was 10:30pm, switched the amp to 1 Watt mode (it’s switchable between 7 Watts and 1 Watt). I put the amp in Stack Mode, cranked the two channel volumes, turned the amp on, and got the Stack Mode volume to a reasonable level; that is, loud enough to move a bit of air but soft enough so as not to wake the neighbors (my studio is in my garage).

I struck an A chord on the fifth fret, and almost jumped out of my shoes! I could not believe what I was hearing! As expected, like all Reason amps, the Bambino is brightly voiced. But the 6AQ5 has a sound all its own. The overdrive tone is sizzling, with a nice, open character, incredible touch-sensitivity and dynamics, but it’s amazingly smooth at the same time. I liken that type of overdrive to the way 6V6’s break up, but the Bambino with its 6AQ5’s has a tone that is wholly unique! I LOVE IT!!! I did a few legato runs, and tested out the sustain and feedback. All I can say is that I was totally blown away! And I got this tone running the amp at bedroom levels in ONE FREAKIN’ WATT MODE!!!

Now, before you go thinking that 1 Watt doesn’t seem like a lot. In amp vernacular, it’s not much at all. But from an audio perspective, a 1 Watt amp running through a 1 X 12 speaker is as loud as a jack-hammer! That’s where the Stack Mode Volume comes into play as it is a PPIMV (Post Phase Inverter Master Volume), which effectively controls the amount of signal going into the power amp. At the volume I was running at, I was probably down to 1/2 or maybe even a 1/4 Watt, and that was at about loud conversation level.

But the gain that I was getting in Stack Mode was plenty for my needs, and as a home studio recording amp, being able to get that kind of tone without needing an attenuator, is incredible! I do have to say, that if I really want to take advantage of the third gain stage, I’d have to run the amp through an attenuator. Even at 1 Watt, with Stack volume cranked, it’s very loud, and that’s a testament to Obeid Kahn’s genius with power management.

As far as cleans are concerned, from what I can perceive with my Strat, the tone sits between an EL-84 and a 6V6 clean tone. It’s not as glassy as an EL-84 clean, and not as rich as a 6V6 clean. But what I like is that the clean tone has a real nice three-dimensional quality about it. There’s nothing flat about the cleans this amp produces. Adding just a touch of reverb accentuates this quality. It’s pure ear candy. While I love high-gain, to me, the real test of the amp is how it sounds clean. From that perspective, the Bambino totally delivers!

It’s almost midnight, I’m incredibly exhausted, but I have to play a little more before I turn in. So, in summary, my first impression of this amp is that it KICKS F-IN ASS! I haven’t even begun to explore all its features like its balanced line out (can’t wait to re-amp this with my Aracom VRX22 or do direct recording). All I know is that this is one special amp, and one that I am definitely adding to my collection! It’s a no-brainer at $699 for a hand-wired, US-made amp. Like the Aracoms amps that I love so dearly, I’ll take this amp over any name brand boutique amp out there!

Check out my review of the Reason Amps Bambino

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I like to keep track of where my visitors come from, and I was surprised to see a YouTube URL that was a referrer to GuitarGear.org. Curious, I clicked on the link, and lo and behold was a video demo of the brand-new Reason Amps Bambino! Check it out!

The guy on the guitar is none other than Obeid Kahn, the designer of the amp, and absolutely SICK guitarist in his own right. That dude can make a Strat do just about anything! What chops!

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

I will be geting a Bambino in for a review in the next few days, so hang tight! Damn! Based on that video, I can’t wait to play it!

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Fender-'57-Champ-Reissue

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Fender over the years. When I’ve loved Fender, I’ve really loved them, and when I’ve hated them, I’ve really hated them. Right now, I’m really hating them. I’m just aghast at the prices they’re charging for their new gear! This Champ ’57 Reissue from the Fender Custom Shop lists at $1295 with a street price of $999! This for a 5 Watt amp with a diminutive 8″ speaker.

Make no mistake: The parts for this cost less than $400! This pricing is absolutely outrageous. Yeah, I’m familiar with its history, blah, blah, blah. And even though I’m no electronics dude, and couldn’t possibly construct an amp myself, I know a few manufacturers who build hand-wired amps with more power and GREAT sound for even less!

Take for instance, the Aracom VRX22. This is a hand-wired, 22 Watt amp that simply kicks freakin’ ass, and the head sells for $895! Then, there’s the upcoming release of the Reason Bambino. This is an 8 Watt amp that will sport that distinctive Reason sound. This head costs $699! It’s my next amp.

I’m sorry folks, this is the same issue that I had with the Fender Roadworn series of guitars. I’m not really in to reliced guitars, but there’s no way I could justify paying $999 for a freakin’ MIM guitar, especially when I paid less than $400 a couple of years back for my MIM Strat.

MAYBE Fender’s production costs are much higher than the smaller run manufacturers (not likely), which is how they justify the price-point for this amp. But this amp is nothing special from my point of view, and as I mentioned above, the parts for this cost less than $400. Lots of people have built 5F1-based amps. Look at the Valve Train Amps Concord. This is a 6 Watt point-to-point, hand-wired combo with a 10″ speaker. It sells for less than $500.

Go ahead, you can argue all you want about the classic sound and history of the Fender ’57 Champ reissue. But to me, Fender’s just again trying to trade on nostalgia. If that’s what floats your boat, more power to you – and mind you – I’m not questioning the quality or the tone of this classic. It has done much to contribute to the sounds of rock and roll. I just want to make it very clear that there are clear alternatives out there that may not have the name but undoubtedly have great tone, and watt-for-watt, and dollar-for-dollar have A LOT more value.

Note that I have the Champ 600 and it is one of my all-time favorite amps. But it has limited usability outside of my home studio. And that’s another thing that bugs me about the ’57 re-issue. It’s a hefty price to pay for an amp that would see limited if any use outside of my studio.

Like I said, if this floats your boat, and the price of this classic reissue, more power to you. For me, I demand a lot more value for the money I pay.

Recent Update

I’m still not sold on this amp, even though I have indeed played it, and it has some real vintage mojo. The sounds it produces are fantastic, but I still can’t justify buying it for the price Fender wants for it. Besides, I’ve seen some late-50’s originals that sell for the same price on EBay! I would buy one of those before I’d buy the re-issue.

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What’s handmade, black and gold, and has the potential to catapult you into tonal heaven without breaking the bank and more importantly busting your eardrums? Simple: The soon-to-be-released Reason Amps Bambino! This article is the first news glimpse of this brand-new 7 Watt amp from the Reason guys that has all the tonal goodness you expect from a Reason amp but at volume level that won’t make your ears bleed, and almost as importantly, is easily within the financial reach of most cash-strapped gear sluts.

Reason Amps Bambino
When I first reviewed the Reason SM25 and the Reason SM40, I knew that what I was hearing was something special. These amps weren’t clone designs, and didn’t sound like anything that I had played before. Yes, they were based on classic 6V6 and EL84 power tubes, but the thing with those amps was that the power handling was magic, and either of these amps sounded way louder than you would expect with low to medium wattage amplifiers. Make no bones about it, what Obeid Kahn has figured out in the power transformer section of his amps is totally proprietary and SICK! Even as well as I’ve gotten to know Anthony and Obeid, that’s a subject they hold close to their chests.

So imagine my excitement when they shared with me several months ago that they were coming out with a brand-new low wattage amp. I wasn’t allowed to say anything about it at the time because Obeid was still working out the design, and hadn’t decided on the power tube he was going to use. All they would tell me was that it would be a sub-$700 amp that would have all the tonal goodness you’d expect from a Reason amplifier. Yeah, really definitive… ☺

But as luck would have it, I happened to give the Reason guys a call to see how they were doing, and much to my extreme pleasure, Anthony mentioned that they were almost ready to release the new amp, and that they were calling it the Bambino. After Anthony described the amp’s features, I started salivating. I LOVE LOW-WATTAGE AMPS! And this amp’s features totally kick the shit out of a lot of the low-wattage amps on the market, boutique and production alike. So let’s go over the features, shall we?

Reason Bambino Specs

Preamp Tubes: Three 12AX7’s

Power Tubes : Two 6AQ5’s in a push-pull configuration.

Output Power: 7 Watts, switchable to 1 Watt

Channels:
Normal – British cleans to Vox-like top-end. Includes a “thick” setting via pull-switch to get thick “Beano-like” grind.

Bright – Very American, SoCal type of bright and scooped tone, with smooth overdrive when pushed. Bass knob scoops the mids when you dime it, and the pull switch will add extra shimmer to the top end.

StackModeTM – As with all amps in the Reason Amps family, the Bambino also sports StackMode, which runs Channel 1 into Channel 2 plus an extra gain stage in a series. Want to get over-the-top grind? StackMode is it!

Sounds basic enough, but wait! There’s more!

Built-in Speaker Load Box Simulated Line Output with Level Control – The line output is not just another line output.  It starts with a fully inductive speaker impedance simulator, which then goes onto a complex frequency shaping network that simulates the sound of a classic 2×12 speaker cabinet.  The fully balanced TRS ¼” connection allows for connection to any recording devices or slave amplifiers. Can you say “re-amp” anyone? ☺ You can also use this output to perform true silent recording. Of course, nothing beats a speaker moving air, but when you need a straight guitar sound to record, now you have it.

Separate Headphone Output – Want to practice and not wake up the significant other? No problem, mahn!

If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you know how much I love Reason Amps! They don’t pay me anything for telling their story – all you have to do is play a Reason Amp and you’ll be hooked! And at the price-point that the Bambino is coming in at, there is NO reason (excuse the pun) that you shouldn’t seriously consider this amp when it’s ready for shipping!

Not Your Daddy’s Oldsmobile

It would be so easy to dismiss this amp as yet another boutique amp. But you’d be wrong. One of the reasons I dig Reason amps so much is because they have a sound all their own. It’s also the reason I dig Aracom Amps so much. Manufacturers like these don’t settle for making copies of classic designs. They’re true innovators, taking the classic designs, improving on them, and adding their own special touches. The net result is that you get amps that have tones that are uniquely theirs.

And on top of that, Obeid Kahn is one of the leading amp designers around, the meticulous care and innovative spirit he has put into his designs is evident in the amps he has produced over the years, and with Reason Amps, that skill and innovation are at their paramount. These amps are special!

Stay tuned for more! I hope to get a test amp when they have one available! But for now, check out the Reason Amps site for any updates.

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I recently started a friendship with Vinni Smith at V-Picks – what a cool dude! Not only does he make great picks, but that man can make an axe sing! Anyway, I was e-mailing him this evening about how his “The Snake” pickup has changed my life, and it got me to thinking about specific pieces of gear that have had a drastic effect on how I approach the guitar. I’ll share them here in kind of a loose chronology:

1. The Kyser Capo

Yeah, lots of people call ’em “cheaters,” but screw ’em. I couldn’t play lots of songs without one. But the Kyser capo in particular really changed my approach, especially after I saw James Taylor playing with one. For years, I used a standard nylon strap type of capo that just basically stayed in place. But then I saw JT playing with a Kyser. I always wondered how he did his mid-song key changes. I used to think he just changed his hand position and played barre chords. But I’ll be damned if he didn’t just slide the capo up, then just played open chords in another key. That was it! I was sold.

2. Ovation Celebrity Deluxe

After my beloved “Betsy” (a Yamaha FG-335 acoustic) broke in a terrible fall, I immediately went in search of a new guitar. I played all sorts in this used gear store and came across this gorgeous sunset burst Ovation. I wasn’t much of an Ovation fan – thought they were really tinny sounding. But when I played this one, it had a much deeper sound than the Ovations I’d played up to that point, and it was a shallow body, no less. When I plugged it into an amp, it sounded even better! That guitar got me into amplified sound. So of course, in addition to buying the guitar, I also got a small Roland 25 Watt practice amp. What a life changer that was.

3. Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

This was my very first tube amp, and an amp that I still use because of how good it sounds… er… I’ve had some modifications done to it, but nevertheless, being my first tube amp, it exposed me to a whole new world of tonal possibilities. Up to that point, I’d played only solid state amps from a Roland JC-12o to a Line 6 Flextone III to a Roland Cube 60 (which I still have – it’s an awesome amp). The Hot Rod showed me the wonders and beauty of tube amp distortion which is nothing like what you get with solid state amps.

4. Ibanez Tube Screamer

There are overdrive boxes, and there are overdrive boxes. But the Tube Screamer is THE classic overdrive box, and the oldest pedal on my board. I’ve of course fallen in love with other OD’s like the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire, but the Tube Screamer had a real huge effect on how I looked at tone and established what pleases me the most with respect to breakup. It’s a great pedal (though I’m really psyched about testing the Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2).

5. Blizzard Pearl Fender 60th Diamond Anniversary Stratocaster

I love that classic, vintage sound, and this guitar delivered it from the moment I played it. Yeah, it’s made in Mexico, it cost me less than $400 new, but I chose it over Strats five times its price. Why? Because it kicked the shit out of the other guitars. It was THE guitar that convinced me that it’s not the price you pay but the tone you produce that matters. Since I’ve gotten her, I play “Pearl” every day. She’s the first guitar I go to when working on a new song. What a wonderful instrument.

6. Saint Guitar Company “Baby Blue” Benchmark

This isn’t my guitar, and I no longer have it in my studio, but this was the very first guitar that was made to my personal specifications. There is nothing like playing a guitar that’s made to order. The experience is surreal, and started me down this path of playing a custom guitar. Adam’s going to be building me one in the next few months – I’m keeping that one. 🙂

7. Reason Amps SM25 Combo

Even though I love my Hot Rod, the SM25 marks a time when I’ve gotten super-serious about my tone. I’d played a bunch of amps, but this amp showed me that sometimes you do have to pay to get stellar tone – and it’s worth every penny. Lots of manufacturers have created amps that run their channels in series, but I haven’t come across one amp yet that does it as well as Obeid Kahn and Anthony Bonadio. They’ve come up with an amp, cab, and speaker combo that’s like nothing I’ve played before – and I’ve played some awesome amps.

8. Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Clean Boost

I used to think clean boosts were just to help punch a solo through the mix. I didn’t know that they could be used to slam the pre-amps of a tube amp to produce super-overdrive in an amp that no distortion or overdrive pedal can give you. But this one’s very special in that it adds no tonal artifacts of its own – it’s uncanny. What it does is boost the natural sound of your guitar, and when slamming the front-end of amp, gives you the true overdriven tone of your amp. This is a piece of gear that I cannot do without any longer, and it now has a permanent place on my board.

9. Red Bear Picks

I never thought I’d buy a handmade pick, nor pay $20 for one no less. But Red Bear Trading TortisTM picks truly changed my life. I now use Red Bears exclusively for playing acoustic guitar. They sound great with electric as well – I’ll get to that below when I talk about V-Picks – but no pick I’ve ever played has made my Ovation sound so good. These picks look and feel like natural tortoise shell, but they’re made from a polymer of milk protein. No matter, they’re awesome picks!

10. Aracom Amps RoxBox 22 Watt (soon to be released)

This diminutive amp oozes 6V6 goodness. It’s still kind of in the prototype phase so I can’t really write too much about it, but I think my friend Jeff Aragaki has hit a real sweet spot with this amp. Get this: It’s hand-wired, though it uses a solid state rectifier, and it costs less than $1000! The profound thing about this is you can indeed get boutique caliber gear at a great price. But for me personally, this amp is the very first boutique amp I’m buying. Oh, I’ll eventually get the Reason SM25 to run in parallel with this one, 🙂 but this amp is special because it’s the first boutique amp I will ever have owned.

11. V-Picks “The Snake”

As I mentioned above, I’ve befriended Vinni Smith, and I just dig the dude! He knows so much about guitar, and we’ve shared a lot of the same experiences, and love the same kind of music (his favorite guitar solo is the lead break in the middel of Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do – my favorite as well). When we first met, Vinni sent me a large sample of his picks, which I compared head-to-head with my Red Bear picks. Of course, I love my Red Bear Classic B-style Heavy, but when I played the comparable V-Picks Standard on my electric guitars, I just couldn’t believe this sound and action I was getting! So I decided to use my Red Bears for acoustic – as I said, nothing sounds better than a Red Bear on acoustic. But for electric, it was going to be V-Picks all the way. Then during a conversation we were having a couple of weeks ago, Vinni told me he’d send me his Snake picks. These are a whopping 4.1 mm thick, with a different bevel than his others. Since I’ve gotten them, I’m never going to use anything on electric guitar than the Snake! I use the rounded for a smoother, fatter tone, and use the pointy for bright attack tones – especially when I’m doing stuff on the bridge pickup! These two picks have totally changed my approach to playing electric. Thick picks in general did that, but these are the thickest I’ve played, and they absolutely ROCK THE HOUSE!

12. May 30, 2010 – I know, a bit late on the uptake here with this one, but life-changing nonetheless, and that is my Aracom Power Rox PRX150-Pro attenuator. This is the first attenuator that I’ve used that truly stays transparent down to bedroom levels. It is the only attenuator that accurately gives me my cranked up tone at low volume levels, and it is absolutely wonderful! I know there are others out there, but knowing that they’re modeled after existing attenuator designs that I know don’t sound very good at low volume levels, it was a no-brainer for me to choose this one. As Doug Doppler said to me in a recent visit to his home, “This thing has saved my ears!” Even Joe Satriani uses one of these units and loves it! That’s how good it is!

Okay, that’s it for me… Anyone care to share what gear has changed their lives?

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