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Posts Tagged ‘reason amps’

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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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 SM40 Head

Reason SM40 Head

Reason Amps SM40 HeadSummary: Deep, lush cleans, with bright, ballsy and aggressive overdrive. The SM40 is a classic rocker’s wet dream come true.Pros: Touch-sensitive and expressive. The voltage sag in the 5U4 is just enough to create almost a reverb quality as the signal fades. Truly lovely sound!

Cons: None.

Price: $2195

Specs:

• Output: 40 watts RMS @ 10% THD
• (4) EL84 output tubes, in Class A Cathode Biased configuration
• (2) 12ax7 preamp tubes
• 5U4 Rectifier tube
• 3 way Stack switch – Normal, Stack, Bright
• Normal channel – Volume, Tone
• Bright channel – Volume, Tone
• StackMode™ – Bright & Normal channel controls are active, Stack Volume & Hi-Cut
• Oversized extra capacity power supply
• Harmonics Switch – works in the final output stage to change the harmonic structure of the
overdrive.
• Power Switch
• Standby Switch
• Half-power switch
• Independent output jacks for 4,8, 16-Ohm operation
• Footswitch access to all three channels/modes

Tone Bone Rating: 5 – This is a blues and classic rock machine!!!

This review is a long time in coming as I evaluated the SM40 over a month ago, but as they say, better late than never. As many may know, I’ve had a love affair with the SM25 that the Reason guys sent me to review, and that amp will be in my rig (see my review here). In my view, very few amps can match it in versatility. It is an extremely expressive amp that is capable of producing lush, ringing cleans, to searing overdrive. And according to both Anthony Bonadio and Obeid Kahn, the founders of Reason Amps, the SM25 Combo was built specifically with versatility in mind. It is very pedal-friendly, and StackModeTM is the greatest thing since sliced bread!

But sometimes, you just don’t want or need that kind of versatility because with versatility comes compromises. For instance, the SM25’s Normal or clean channel breaks up a little earlier than you’d expect though I actually rarely if ever play at the volume so it’s a none-issue for me. Since I play a variety of styles, versatility is a key factor in my decision on an amp. But that versatility is lost on those who just don’t need it. And mind you, that’s not a bad thing. It’s merely a matter of choice, which is why you have a number of amp options to choose from with Reason Amps. Premier Guitar already covered the SM50, which gives a fair picture of the SM50’s capabilities – though I do have to take issue with Premier Guitar giving it the “Loud As Hell” award. It’s not just a noise-maker. It’s just that you’d swear the SM50 is 100 Watts as opposed to 50 Watts. It’s an extremely powerful and expressive amp with classic EL-34 goodness.

The SM40, on the other hand is a very interesting take based upon EL-84 output tubes. Where the SM25 and SM50 are based on EL-34’s in Class AB fixed-bias configuration, the SM-40 is built around two EL-84’s operating in Class A Cathode Bias configuration. Like the other Reason Amps, the SM40 has two independent channels with the trademark StackModeTM “channel,” that combines the fully amplified signals from both Normal and Bright Channels in a series with an extra gain stage, while retaining both the volume and EQ control that each channel contributes to the combination.

The Story Behind the SM40

I called the Reason guys up to shoot the breeze a bit yesterday, but to also pick their brains about the SM40, Obeid Kahn (Reason’s amp designer) and I had a great conversation about the story behind the SM40. For all intents, and purposes, the SM40 was Reason’s first production amp. Obeid had gone through several prototypes before he finally produced the SM40 which included StackMode. Previous versions had completely independent channels with separate inputs, then evolved into switching between the two, then finally evolved into connecting the two channels in a series. So the SM40 could be considered the eldest sibling in the Reason amp line and the first successful incarnation of StackMode.

How It Sounds

The SM40 is targeted at blues and classic rock players, and it definitely shows that in the way it’s voiced. Moreover, there’s something really special about the clean tone of an EL-84-based amp. It’s naturally chimey and glassy, and guitars that have that natural quality bring that tone out even more. On the Normal channel, the kind of voicing is beautiful; chimey with lots of mid-range, but not overdone. And there’s TONS of clean headroom in this channel, which makes it ideal for use with pedals. Put a booster in front of this channel, and you get that AC-30-like breakup, which is subtle and smooth. Very nice.

The Bright channel, on the other hand, is actually not that much brighter than the Normal channel. In fact, the tonal differences between Normal and Bright are so subtle that you’d think there’s no difference at all. But that’s by design. Unlike the SM25 which was built around versatility, the SM40 is a much more focused machine, which is why you only get volume and tone on any channel or mode, as opposed to the SM25 which includes a 3-band EQ on the Normal channel. The idea behind that makes sense: Players who buy this amp will mostly play a certain style of music and don’t want to be bothered tweaking knobs to dial in their sound. Not that the amp can’t be used in a variety of genres, but players who play this won’t want to stray from the general tone the SM40 produces.

Similarities between the channels aside, the real kicker for me is the StackMode “channel,” which combines Normal and Bright channels in a series, while retaining both volume and tone shaping in both channels. This really opens up a whole new pallette of tones you can produce. It’s super-expressive, and because you’re essentially working with three gain stages in a series, this mode makes the amp incredibly responsive to volume knob and attack. Dime the volume on your guitar, and you can get tons of overdrive. Back it down and pick lighter, and the tone cleans right up. In my tests of both Reason amps, StackMode was pretty much all I used, unless I was playing something where I needed a pure, glassy clean tone for which the Normal channel excels.

An interesting switch labeled Odd/Even resides on the control panel. This is a harmonics switch that works with the phase splitter in the final gain stage. The idea behind it is that at super-high gain, you start getting a “notch” type of distortion. Flipping the switch smooths that out. I actually didn’t notice that much of a difference with the switch in either Odd or Even positions, but maybe that was because I was only 3 feet from the amp, and it was cranked! 🙂 For the most part though, the switch won’t have too much of an effect until you get into really thick overdrive.

Playing It

The SM40 was tested with a Strat copy and a Saint Guitars Benchmark with humbuckers. With the Strat copy, you’re immediately taken to the roots of blues. The chimey vibe really comes out with single coils, and I found myself closing my eyes to take in the sweetness. With the Benchmark, the SM40 grew big balls of steel. Not that you’d do metal with this amp, but humbuckers make the SM40 want to growl. It’s really nice.

Overall Impressions

The SM40 is a sweet amp, and like its sibling, the SM50, it’s really made for the stage. It’s expressive and ballsy, and is meant to be played hard. As both Anthony and Obeid have both told me, this amp is made for active musicians. And while I wouldn’t want to keep people from buying it because it sounds so good, by the same token, I wouldn’t recommend it for bedroom use. You wouldn’t be able to take advantage of its full range of tones.

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New Year's ResolutionI normally don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Haven’t done it in years. I’ve always felt there was something innately dishonest about making resolutions like “I’m going to be a better person,” or “I’m going to do something nice for someone everyday.” Not that those aren’t noble pursuits, but in a lot of cases, they demand an enormous amount of self-discipline, self-sacrifice and changes in normal behavior that most of us can’t persevere. We’re good for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks, but something will happen and it all goes to pot.

In lieu of lofty resolutions, I’ve instead set concrete goals that in order to achieve, require changes in behavior and changes in thinking. I’ll share some of these goals here:

  • I will continue on my five-year plan of getting on the road and touring. I’m just starting my third year in the plan, and it’s going pretty well. I’ve release an album, and am working on my second one; a few of the songs of which I’ve entered into an international songwriters competition. I don’t expect to win, but the feedback that I get will be invaluable. Furthermore, going on the road will require that I get in shape, so I have been eating better and getting exercise in anticipation of going back on stage. I love to eat, so this has been a tough thing for me, but I’ve lost 25 lbs so far, so I’m well on my way.
  • I will study more music theory; especially scalar modes. I already started doing this a few months ago, but really want to master it in the coming year. First, because I want my improvisation to be better, and with an understanding of the intervalic nature of music, I’ll be able to move around the fretboard much easier. I don’t want to necessarily learn patterns that I chain together, I want to get to the point where I can jam in any key, and be confident that the next note I hit works well harmonically and musically with what I’m improvising. Also, mastering scales and modes will make me a better teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very firm intellectual understanding of music theory, and can actually cold read charts, but in actual execution, I feel I’m lacking, so my aim is to meld the two.
  • I will have a custom amplifier built for me. I’m currently working with Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps to build me an amp around his RoxBox 18 Watt design. I’m “going off the reservation” with this one because I want a different speaker than what he offers, a bigger cabinet and a reverb tank, plus a built-in resistive attenuator for low volume applications. If you haven’t checked out the RoxBox, I suggest you do. It’s a great 18 Watt design that’s also a great value stock.
  • I will purchase a Reason amp. Not sure which will come first: Having Jeff finally construct my amp, or purchasing a Reason. I love the SM25 I have right now, but since I’m a StackMode freak, I’m also leaning towards the SM40 head. We’ll see.
  • I will have Adam Hernandez at Saint Gutiars build me a guitar. I’m so grateful to be able to test Adam’s guitars. We’ve already talked about what I might like in a guitar, but I really want one of my own.
  • As far as GuitarGear.org is concerned, I will rebuild the site to make it a lot easier to find things. I’ve already started doing this, but I really need to rethink the design of the site. I will probably go to a three-column layout so I can get more things “above the line” that is, the part of a page that you first see when a web page loads. Right now, the site is a bit narrow, so lots of things fall below the line that I’d like people to see; especially the companies I personally endorse.

Okay, that’s it for me. Anyone willing to share?

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Celestion GreenbackMy good friend Phil of Phil ‘N The Blanks has been bugging me to write about speakers for the last couple of weeks. I’d talk about this speaker or that in some amp or cab, and he’d say, “There’s your next article, dude. You gotta write about speakers.” Admittedly, I’ve been a bit reticent about the subject because of all guitar parts, what makes a speaker sound good is purely a subjective thing; that is, someone’s assessment of a speaker’s tonal quality is entirely personal.

Oh yeah, you can argue the case of alnico vs. ceramic. You can argue vintage vs. modern voicing. You can argue about the materials used in a particular speaker. But in the end, none of that matters unless it sounds good to… well… you.

Phil has been trying to get me to write about certain speakers, but that’s something I just won’t do because again, it’s personal preference. For instance, Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps came over to my house today and we talked at length about his RoxBox 18 Watt Combo. I love the amp, but really wasn’t moved by the Eminence Red Coat Red Fang, which uses an alnico driver. On the other hand, I love the RoxBox head plugged into the Reason SM25 speaker cabinet that sports a Red Coat “The Governor,” which uses a ceramic driver. To me, it has a deeper sound. I kind of lean towards the “woman tone,” and “The Governor” is voiced a lot like a Celestion Greenback, which is known for its rich tones. Combined with my Strat I can get that tone. It just wasn’t happening for me with the Red Fang, though for really heavy rock stuff, the Red Fang really shines when it’s pumped up, as it compresses very nicely at high gain output. But that’s not the style I play, so it was hard for me to truly appreciate its virtues.

That said, Jeff mentioned another guitarist who just loves that setup. He’s more of a pure rock player, and loves the warmth and brightness that the Red Fang produces. See what I mean? To talk about this speaker or that is akin to starting a holy war. And you can’t tell anyone a particular speaker is bad or good because that’s just an opinion.

So here’s my advice if you want to switch to a different speaker: Go to a place where you can try speakers out and pick the one YOU like. Use reviews and sound bites as guides only. They’ll generally get you into the ballpark of the tone you want to achieve. And don’t be surprised if you get a speaker for cheap. Remember, as far as gear is concerned, something that costs more a lot of times just costs more – it may not sound any better to you. A good comparison to make is with the speakers I mentioned above. The Red Fang costs about $129, while The Governor costs $89. But I like the sound The Governor produces. If the prices were switched, I’d still go with The Governor.

So don’t be fooled by any marketing mumbo-jumbo. Go out and test for yourself! 🙂

There Phil, I wrote an article about speakers…

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Reason Amps SM25 25 Watt Combo Amp

Reason Amps SM25 25 Watt Combo Amp

Reason SM25 25 Watt Combo Amp

Summary: Incredibly expressive and versatile amp that can deliver a wide range of tones from glassy, sparkly cleans, to lewd, rude, and crude distortion, all in a single cabinet!

Pros: Killer tones in all channels. Amp is voiced bright by design, which makes it great to use in the studio. StackModeTM is the best thing since sliced bread, and is THE secret sauce that makes Reason Amps stand out from the rest.

Cons: No effects loop, which would be handy for placing reverb and other modulation effects after the amplified signal. Just a nit.

Price: $2395

Specs:
• Output: 25 watts RMS @ 5% THD
• 1 X 12 Eminence Red Coat Driver
• (2) 6V6 output tubes, in Class AB Fixed Biased configuration
• (4) 12ax7 preamp tubes
• GZ34 Rectifier tube
• 3 way Stack switch – Normal, Stack, Bright
• Normal channel – Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass
• Bright channel – Volume, Tone
• StackMode™ – Bright & Normal channel controls are active, Stack Volume & Hi-Cut
• Oversized extra capacity power supply
• Power Switch
• Standby Switch
• Independent output jacks for 4,8, 16-Ohm operation
• Footswitch access to all three channels/modes

When I discovered the Reason Amplifier company a few weeks ago, I was so intrigued by what they had to offer that I immediately contacted them. I had the fortune of getting in touch with Anthony Bonadio, one of the founders of Reason to talk to him about his exciting new company and his new line of amps. That conversation led to him sending me an SM25 25 Watt combo to review; and since I’ve had it, I haven’t gotten much sleep from playing with it late into the night. Now you might say that I’m just excited about playing a new amp. Yes, that certainly has a lot to do with it. But what Reason has come up with in their amplifiers is so incredibly brilliant and unique that I’ve been spending all my free time trying to discover the subtle intricacies of this tone machine. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started!

“Dahr-ling, you look mahvelous!”

The Reason founders, Anthony Bonadio and Obeid Kahn, are both vintage gear freak-o-maniacs, and the retro styling of the entire Reason amp line is a testament to that passion. The SM25 sports a black tolex cabinet with light brown trim around the grille cloth, and a thick leather handle with what appears to be brass accoutrements. Between the control surface and grill cloth is a prominent tolex-covered cross board sporting the Reason logo which, by the way, is very cool, very retro as well. The control board looks like burnished brass with black, bold lettering for labels. And to add to that retro vibe, chicken head knobs are used for all the controls. This amp, and all Reason amps for that matter, just ooze vintage mojo. Just looking at the amp, I can’t help but grin that grin you get when you see something so far-out COOL!

It’a hard to discern the actual size of the amp from just a picture. So make no mistake about its size: This is not a diminutive 25 Watt amp. In fact, it’s about as big as a Fender Twin, though not as deep. The shipping weight said 32 pounds, but from feel and comparison to my Fender Hot Rod, it weighs almost as much. But that’s not a bad thing. A beefy cabinet creates a lot of resonance if done correctly, and believe me, it’s done correctly with this amp.

How It Sounds

All Reason amps, including the SM25 are voiced bright. You don’t get beefy lows out of this, and that’s by design. Now before you dismiss that, on stage and in the studio, that bright voicing will ensure your guitar cuts through the mix. I recently played it at one of my regular gigs, and where my amp oftentimes gets lost in the mix, forcing me to pump up my volume, I had no problem cutting through, and mind you, I barely had to push my volume. The bright voicing let my guitar tone sit in the mids and highs. My sound guy even commented on how well he could hear my guitar without me pushing the volume like I usually do during a solo break; though admittedly, like any lead guitarist, I usually don’t mind being louder than everyone else. 🙂

In the studio, using the amp for recording is like being in heaven. The bright voicing combined with the rich tones the amp produces is simply candy for the ears. From a practical perspective, brightly voiced amps also record much better. For home recording I’ve had to stop using my big amp because it’s just too boomy, no matter how I set the EQ. I’ve had to use smaller, brighter amps because they cut through a mix much better. But since I’ve had the SM25, I’ve recorded two songs with it, and like I said, I’m in heaven. I now have a bright voice to cut through the mix, but rich tones as well. It’s the best of both worlds!

The SM25 is also incredibly touch-sensitive and responsive to the subtlest manipulations I made on my guitar. In fact, when I first started playing with it, I was a bit embarrassed by how I sounded. For my all my tests, I played along to some jam tracks I’ve produced for practicing different styles, and recorded what I played through the amp. When I played back what I had recorded, I was appalled at how crappy I sounded! All my mistakes came through! I couldn’t hide whatever bad habits or bad technique I had behind effects, like I normally would. In short, this amp has forced me to play better because it’s so unforgiving when you make a mistake. But hey! It’s never a bad thing to be shown your weaknesses. That’s how you grow and improve!

Multiple channels, lots of tone shaping possibilities…

The SM25 comes with two channels: Normal and Bright. But it also sports a third “channel” called StackModeTM that’s essentially the Normal and Bright channels run in a series with an extra gain stage, while retaining volume and tonal control over the Normal and Bright channels. To me, StackMode is Reason’s secret sauce, but I’ll get into that in a bit. I’ll first describe the independent channels.

The Normal channel sports a volume knob and a three-band EQ. The volume knob is also a push-pull knob, and pulling it out adds some extra high-freq boost to bring out the super high frequencies. The effect is that once you set up your EQ, pulling out the knob adds some extra high-freq shimmer and sparkle. It’s subtle, but absolutely delicious. Comparatively speaking, the Normal channel sounds like your classic, jangly American clean tone, but with the high-freq boost, you get a bit of the sharpness of the British clean – nice.

The Bright channel is well, bright. It too has a push-pull volume knob for extra high-freq boost, and it has a single tone knob to back off some of the brightness. The Bright channel is also the more “ballsy” of the two, and really kicks in some pretty high gain. It’s quite lovely, in my opinion, and it’s perfect for doing the traditional solo break that will cut right through a mix with ease.

Channels? We don’t need no stickin’ channels!

But for me, the real attraction of this amp, and actually any amp from Reason for that matter, is StackModeTM. In all my years of playing, I’ve never come across anything quite like it. On the surface, you might think this is just another channel on a multichannel amp. It is in a way, because of its independent gain stage. But that’s about as close a comparison that you can make to other multichannel amps. Unlike other multichannel amps where all the channels are independent, StackModeTM input doesn’t come directly from the guitar. The guitar’s signal is routed through the Normal and Bright channels first, then fed into the StackMode channel. And the volume and EQ settings on the Normal and Bright channels are still active!

Because volume and EQ are retained in the Normal and Bright channels in StackModeTM, the tone shaping possiblities are incredible. What you adjust in Normal or Bright affects the final output. You can crank up the volumes on the first two channels and achieve uber gain, with thick, rich distortion. Or you can dial it back a bit and take a more balanced approach. The point is that you can do a lot of tone shaping to your needs while in StackModeTM. And here’s the kicker: The amp still retains its touch and guitar volume sensitivity in StackModeTM.

What does this mean? Well, I soon discovered that StackModeTM was the only channel I’d probably ever use, unless I had to go super clean, whereas I’d just switch to the Normal channel. The amp in StackModeTM is so responsive to picking attack and volume knob levels that I found I just didn’t need to do any channel switching at all once I dialed in my settings for the Normal and Bright channels. It’s that good!

One other thing, the volume knob on the StackModeTM channel is a very good Master volume. When I’m playing late at night, I can turn the volume down on the StackModeTM channel, and still retain the characteristics of the settings I made in the first two channels. It’s just softer. How cool is that? So that’s why entitled this section, “Channels? We don’t need no stinkin’ channels.” Once you have your settings dialed into StackModeTM, you’ll never want to get out of it! So for me, the SM25 is effectively a single channel amp with adjustable stages.

My Tests

In any case, for my tests, I used four different guitars: A Strat, a PRS SE Soapbar II with P-90’s, an Epiphone Korina Explorer and a Saint Guitars Benchmark, both with humbuckers. I’ll talk about how each guitar sounds separately below.

Fender Strat

Obeid Kahn is known in the industry as a “Strat man,” and this amp really sounds great with a Strat. I’ve got the vintage re-issue Tex Mex pickups in mine, and slathering on reverb, you can get some awesome Dick Dale-like tones. But it doesn’t necessarily sound like a Fender amp. In fact, the clean tone is like a cross between a Fender and a Marshall. It’s creamy smooth, but bright and sparkly at the same time. The big cabinet adds to the resonance, and the ever so slight voltage sag that you get from the rectifier adds to the sustain and resonance. This is boon when you’re playing with a Strat because they do not sustain well at all. I could get country twang to hard-driving distortion with uber sustain with my Strat.

PRS SE Soapbar II

P-90’s are hot pickups by nature, and it doesn’t take much to push any amp into overdrive, and when it does this, it’s a preamp overdrive lover’s wet dream! With the SM25, the 12AX7’s just sing with sweet, smooth overdrive goodness. There’s nothing harsh about the sound this produces in the SM25, but one thing I did notice with the tone was that unlike other amps I’ve played with my SE Soapbar II, even though the amp is bright, the sound the amp produces with it is big and bold, without being boomy. It’s crystal clear, and doesn’t wash out the higher notes in a barre chord, which often happens with more boomy amps. All in all, I just dug that halfway between single coils and humbucker sound my P-90’s produced with the SM25.

Epiphone Korina Explorer

This is a real rock guitar, with a warm ballsy tone. Plugged into the SM25, I was amazed at how the amp responded to this guitar, and I was able to spew out some thick distortion and singing sustain with the volume knobs on the amp dimed to the hilt. I’m not a metal player, and technically, with the bright voicing of the Reason amps one wouldn’t think they’d be suitable for metal, but the lewd, rude, and crude drive I could produce with the Explorer plugged into the SM25 was scary! But in a good way. And when I scooped the EQ, yikes!

Saint Guitars Benchmark

Of all the guitars I used for testing the SM25, the amp seemed to love the Benchmark the most. This guitar was spec’d with Blues and Classic Rock in mind, and through the SM25, I’ve never heard it sing like this. I could go from deep, dreamy clean to rabid dog distortion, and the whole time, the SM25 maintained a tonal clarity and character; never muddying or washing out. It was other-worldly, to say the least.

Made for the Road and the Studio

Anthony Bonadio cautioned me during a previous conversation that he didn’t want to alienate people from buying the amps when he said, “Our amps are really intended for the gigging and session musician.” In other words, Reason amps aren’t really meant for the bedroom musician. These amps want to move air, and that’s no exception with the SM25. In fact, when cranked, it’s a hell of a lot louder than my 40 Watt Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, and that’s a loud amp! It just wants to project its voice. Premier Guitar even gave its bigger brother, the SM50, its “Loud as Hell” award. But in my opinion, the real test of an amp is how good it sounds throughout its entire range of volume. That’s a mark of versatility, and in spite of what Anthony claims is the focus of Reason’s line of amps, you actually can play these amps at bedroom levels and still produce kick-ass tone!

A lot of amps don’t sound good unless they’re cranked, but at lower volumes they just peter out and lose their character. But at least with my experience with the SM25, it sounds great at ANY volume. Considering that all Reason amps are built around the exact same circuitry, I can safely say that this probably applies to the entire line. So don’t be fooled by the “loud as hell” moniker. These amps are incredibly versatile amps that are comfortable be played in lots of different venues under a variety of conditions.

My Overall Take

I think you can guess that I just love the SM25. For a musician like me who plays small to medium venues, and whose studio is located in a carpeted garage, this amp is a dream come true. It’s expressive with all my guitars, and it’s so versatile that I can use it wherever I play.

As I shared with Anthony recently, StackModeTM is it for me. It’s the secret sauce that sets Reason amplifiers apart from the competition! For more information, go to the Reason Amps web site. And if your local dealer has some in stock, I encourage you to go there and play around with one. You will not be disappointed; in fact, you’ll be blown away!

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I love getting those intense spurts of creativity when I’m using awesome equipment. I just happened to have a couple of review pieces on hand: A Saint Guitars Benchmark and a Reason SM25 combo amp. This song started out as a simple riff this morning, and grew from there. It’s called Lookin’ for the Good Life. Let me know that you think.

The song showcases the incredible tones the Benchmark and SM25 make together. Just love it!

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Reason Amplifiers

This is a continuation and expansion of the original new gear article I wrote previously

Riddle me this…

So what do you get when you cross a veteran cabinet maker with an electrical engineering guru? Right. A new amp manufacturer. But the two guys I’m talking about, Anthony Bonadio and Obeid Kahn, didn’t just want to create another boutique amp outfit; they had to have a “reason” to create yet another amp manufacturing company; and after putting their heads together they did come up with a “reason.” It’s called Reason amps!

I recently had the privilege to speak with Anthony Bonadio at length about his new company, and I’m incredibly impressed with the vision behind Reason amps. As Anthony put it, their new amp had to be different: Not just a re-expression of existing designs, but something truly different; otherwise there wouldn’t be a reason to build one (get it?). And at first blush, it certainly appears that they’ve realized their desire to be different. But in order to be different, you have to know what you can do against the existing paradigms, and both Anthony’s and Obeid’s pedigrees as amp cab manufacturer and electrical engineer respectively have given them a certain industry perspective that have allowed them to produce an amp that does indeed push beyond the current paradigms.

So what’s so different about Reason amps? You might look at the amp and say, “This is just another flavor of a vintage-voiced two channel amp.” And if all you used were the Normal and Bright channels independently, you’d be mostly correct. In fact, both Obeid and Anthony are vintage gear freaks, and wanted to produce a vintage-voiced amp – but take it elsewhere… And it’s the third mode of operation that makes this amp really stand out. It’s something Obeid coined “StackMode.” Make no mistake, StackMode isn’t just adding a gain stage to an amp. It’s actually running the two amp channels in series.

“So what,” you might say, “That sounds like a bunch of marketing mumbo-jumbo. There are lots of multi-channel amps on the market.” Not like this. In almost all multi-channel amps, the signal handling for each channel is performed independently. Channel switching is pretty much an internal A/B box. Some amps will have independent EQ on each channel, though most have a “Master” EQ that controls the EQ for all the channels.

StackMode is different – and more importantly, it hasn’t been done before (at least not that I know of).

With StackMode engaged, the fully amplified signal from the first channel flows into the next channel in a series, so what you do to the input gain, EQ and output from the first channel directly affects the signal of the second stage; hence the term, “StackMode.” So in reality, this is not just a different take on an existing pattern. It’s taking an existing pattern and creating a completely new application out of it.

In light of this, I asked myself, why hasn’t this been done before? It seems so simple in concept. But in reality, it’s not easy at all because of the power management issues that arise from essentially re-amping a previously amplified signal that has already gone through a gain stage. With the Reason amps, it’s all about the engineering behind managing the voltage and current, and that’s where Obeid Kahn’s engineering genius has come into play.

So to re-answer the original question that I started the article with: What do you get when you cross a veteran cabinet maker with an electrical engineering guru? You get a new amp that completely breaks the mold of existing amp designs. To say I’m excited about this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what I’m feeling.

The Amps

Reason amps come in two tonal flavors depending upon the power tubes you choose, either EL34- or EL84-based. From the EL34 side Reason offers the SM50 head, SM25 head, SM25 combo for 50 and 25 Watt ouput respectively. On the EL84 side, there are the SM40 head and SM20 combo, with 40 and 20 Watts of output respectively. And of course, they 4X12, 2X12, and 1X12 speaker cabs for the heads as well. No matter what amp you choose, all come with StackMode, so all you have to decide upon is your tonal and power requirements!

Amazingly enough, prices are “Reason-able” considering the engineering that has gone into the amps and compared to other boutique amp manufacturers. Here’s a quick list:

EL34

SM50 Head – $2295
SM25 Head – $2195
SM25 Combo – $2395

EL84

SM40 Head – $2195
SM20 Combo – $2295

Cabs

412 Cab – $995
212 Cab – $595
112 Cab – $395

So why are the prices for the different amps so close together? Simply because the circuitry is the same for each amp. The only significant difference between the amps is in the power handling for each amp, and according to Anthony, that doesn’t impact the production cost in any significant way.

Hybrid Construction

A lot of purists scoff at the idea that any PCB board is used in the construction of a vintage-style amp. But Reason actually uses a combination of turret boards and PCB boards to handle specific tasks for optimal performance. For instance, all signal handling (read: the tone producing stuff) is done with point-to-point wiring on turret boards, while all the switching is done on PCB boards to ensure fast response and reliability. All boards employed are high-grade, 1/8” thick, so even the PCB boards have ample traces to ensure great current flow. So the idea is to use the best and most appropriate components for a particular job. That’s just plain intelligent engineering.

Made by players for players

A lot of companies claim this, but with Obeid’s and Anthony’s collective experience as performing musicians, they really had the gigging and session guitarist in mind when building their amps. For instance, the amps are voiced bright by design, as brighter amps will be able to cut through a mix a lot easier. They also record a lot better. Case in point, even though I love my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, I have to admit that it doesn’t record very well because of its naturally expansive output that makes it sound a bit muddy in a mix. It works great on stage, especially in the low volume venues I play. But in the studio, I tend to use smaller amps that have a real mid- to high-freq voicing because the guitars just sound so much better through them. But with a brightly voiced amp like a Reason, I wouldn’t have to rely so much on tiny, less “ballsy” amps.

One thing I do have to mention is that the volume knob on all Reason amps is a push-pull knob. When you pull it out, you get a high-freq EQ boost, to get more high-end freqs that’ll add extra sparkle and shimmer to your output. This is great for recording!

All that said, Anthony did stress that he didn’t want to alienate any players who didn’t happen to be gigging or session musicians; it’s just that those kinds of guitarists would definitely find an immediate advantage of using a Reason amp because of how it’s voiced.

My Take Overall

Yeah, yeah, I’m excited about yet another thing – if you read this blog with any regularity, when am I not? But really, it’s not too often that new gear totally blows me away. To me, the concept behind StackMode is a staggering achievement. As an engineer myself (though in software), I have a genuine appreciation for new and innovative solutions to different problems, and StackMode is something that really tickles the geek in me. Granted, I’ve only heard sound bites, but I’m soon going to be demoing the SM25 in the near future, and I just know I won’t be disappointed!

Check out the whole story at the Reason Amps web site. It’s awesome.

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