At my church gig yesterday, I chose a set that guaranteed that I’d get to play LOTS of guitar. Normally, I have to split my time between piano and guitar, especially when we don’t have a drummer or bass. Thus, for the past few weeks, since either our drummer or bassist has been out of town, I’ve only been bringing an acoustic guitar, and playing it for only a couple of tunes.
However, yesterday was different. Not only did we have a bassist, we had a guest drummer, which meant that I could stay on guitar most of the time since we also had another rhythm guitar.
I debated with myself on what amp/guitar combo I’d bring. Normally it would be my DV Mark Little 40 which is VERY versatile, but after looking at the set list, I figured I needed a bright, vintage Marshall sound. So I took my trusty Aracom VRX22 off the shelf, packed up my rig in my car, and set off to church.
Once I had everything set up, I strummed a power chord and was greeted with a sound that only a Les Paul Standard and a Marshall amp (or Marshall-style in my case), can make. There’s a high-Mid emphasis with a gorgeous, open overdrive. It’s a sound I’ve come to love over the years, and it immediately tells me it’s “rock and roll.”
My particular VRX22 has been modded a bit by Jeff Aragaki with a channel switch, and he also slightly upped the voltage to my vintage circa-1959 6V6’s, plus adjusted the drive channel to have a bit more output. So when I crank the amp, it sounds A LOT bigger than its 22 Watts would lead to you to believe. 🙂
But thinking back on the set, no other amp would’ve done – even my DV Mark Little 40. The music demanded a Marshall-esque sound. While my DV Mark can get close, there’s a certain inexplicable quality that I was after that would be difficult to capture with another amp.
That said, when I’m doing a mixed-bag set, I go for versatility, and the DV Mark is perfectly suited for that. But for a specific sound, I’ll go to the source: Either a Fender or a Marshall. Sometimes nothing else will do…
I make no secret about the fact that I play Aracom Amps. I’ve played TONS of different amps, and though many tickle my fancy, I’d consider buying a very select few; actually there are only two other amps that I want besides another Aracom, and that is an original Fender ProSonic and a DV Mark Little 40.
At this point in time, I have three Aracom amps: The PLX18-BB w/Trem, VRX18, and the VRX22. The PLX18 is Jeff Aragaki’s rendition of the venerable 18 Watt Marshall Plexi “Blues Breaker.” The VRX18 is a souped up version of the PLX18, with more modern circuitry, and it sports an extra gain stage so that its second channel is more aggressive. The VRX22 is the 6V6 version of the VRX18, though its second channel is even more aggressive than the VRX18. I use all three amps in both studio and stage, and I love ’em all. Each has a different character. But my VRX22 is hands-down my rock machine.
A couple of months ago, I tripped over a guitar cable that I had plugged into the VRX22, broke the darn tip off in the jack! Yikes! I tried taking it out myself, but Jeff used a fully-enclosed jack, and I didn’t have the right tools to dig it out, so I knew that I had to take it to Jeff. Turns out that he had to replace the entire jack altogether. Oh well, clumsy me…
While he had the amp, I asked him if he could adjust the second channel a bit. The last time I had him work on it, I asked to get a bit more gain out of the drive channel. Plus at the time, I had gotten a pair of nice 1959 RCA 6V6’s and had Jeff install them and he biased them a bit hot. The problem with my requests was that the distortion of the second channel was a little harsh, plus with that extra gain, I couldn’t get a clean tone out of the channel unless I turned the volume way down. So this time, I asked him to take the gain down a few notches. He also lowered the bias of the power tubes.
When he was done, he called me up, and told me what he did, and in his very understated manner, told me that the amp was sounding pretty good. When Jeff says something like that, I know he’s worked some magic on my equipment. This time was no exception.
I got the amp back this past Saturday, and finally got to play it for the first time in a couple of months last night. I was in the process of re-recording guitar parts on a song I wrote a few years ago, and was actually using the VRX18. But I wasn’t getting a tone that I wanted, as I needed more “oomph.” The VRX18 is pretty bright, and it has some great distortion, but I needed a “bigger” sound.
So I plugged in the VRX22, and was absolutely shocked at how it sounded. The aggressiveness was still there in the second channel, but it was much more tame and smooth. But overall, the tone was incredibly FAT! OMG!!! Jeff did something that completely transformed the amp, and I practically had a religious experience. It sounded so much bigger than it had previously; almost scooped, but not in a high-gain metal way. Could it be that the power tubes were working optimally? Who knows? All I do know is that the VRX22 was totally inspiring me!
I kind of got lost just noodling around, but I finally got down to the business of re-recording the guitar parts. At first, I was using my Les Paul ’58 Reissue, but that was just too fat. So I went with my Strat. After evaluating my takes, while I dug the Strat rhythm part, I wasn’t fully buying into the lead tone. So I went back to my R8. Then I realized that I had originally recorded the R8 on a predefined Logic track that had a lot of compression and rolled off the high EQ. So I created a raw track with no compression and EQ (though I did add a bit of compression – like 2.7 to 1 during mixdown). That made all the difference in the world as the those high-freq artifacts that I love were back. I still had to record the R8 doing rhythm part using the bridge pickup, but it definitely had the “oomph” for which I was looking.
So, here’s the song:
I replaced the right channel rhythm and the lead part with the R8. The left rhythm part is my Strat in the neck pickup plugged straight into the VRX22. Note that I didn’t use any effects save a touch of compression and some reverb in the channel strip. So the guitar sounds you hear are just the guitar plugged into the amp; no EQ. The natural fatness is amazing! 🙂 Also, the amp was plugged into my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, and recorded at loud conversation levels, so there’s no speaker breakup adding to the tone. It’s all the amp.
While Jeff Aragaki and Aracom are best known for the PRX150 attenuator line, more people are discovering just how gifted Jeff is with amps. The man’s a genius, and yet so very humble. I really am very lucky to have Jeff as a friend.
The Aracom VRX22 has been my primary amp for quite some time now – almost 2 years – and I’m still discovering the beauty of this wonder 22 Watt amp. It’s no small wonder that it has been my “Go-To” amp since I’ve gotten it. It sounds so killer both clean and dirty, and tonight, I realized just how great it is with pedals!
Since I’ve had the VRX22, I haven’t been using my overdrive pedals as much. I know, I used to be a real nut about overdrive pedals, and I have several. But this afternoon, I reconfigured my board, and placed my favorite drive pedals on it with the intention of using them. This included my Doodad Guitars Overdrive/Booster, Tone Freak Abunai 2, and my KASHA overdrive.
For my gig, I set the amp up in the clean channel, with the volume at a level where I’d have to dig in a bit with my Les Paul to get some grind. This would leave me with lots of headroom to work with, and not break into overdrive so early that all I get is more overdrive, and not volume.
Then I tweaked the overdrive pedals so I’d get different characters of overdrive, depending upon what I was after. I set the Doodad up for Tube Screamer like overdrive, at just over unity gain, but with the drive knocked up a bit so I’d get lots of sustain. I set the Kasha on “Classic” at just above unity gain for a more biting, trebly tone. Then I set up the Abunai 2 for a more thick, compressed overdrive.
The one thing I love about overdrive pedals is that as opposed to providing all the distortion as with a distortion pedal, they are meant to interact with the amp so what you get is a combination of distortion characteristics from both the pedal and the amp. This combination doesn’t always work so well. I’ve played many amps and some just want to overdrive by themselves. Using an overdrive pedal with those amps just muddies the tone. It’s not pretty.
Not so with the VRX22. I’ve thrown all sorts of pedals at it, and it handles them all without a hitch. It’s especially good with overdrive pedals, and in my gig, I just kept smiling because it sounded so damn great with them! And with second channel on the VRX22 that has another gain stage that acts as a built-in overdrive, I had yet another overdrive voicing to use, and I used all four either individually, or in many cases, I’d stack two or more together. And that’s a key thing with the VRX22. It can deal very well with stacked overdrives, retaining its touch sensitivity and note separation. Other amps I’ve used when stacking just can’t deal with the stacked overdrives very well.
In any case, this kick-ass amp is something you should consider. At $895, it’s simply tough to beat for a true hand-wired, boutique amp. And for those of you who already have Jeff’s PRX150-Pro or -DAG attenuator, you already know the build quality that goes into Aracom gear. It’s simply killer!
I walked into my garage/studio this morning and looked over to my gear – there’s a lot (though probably not as much as I’ve seen from other gear sluts’ pictures). Peering over my collection, the thought struck me: What if I could only have one of each type of gear… What would I choose? What would be the basis for my decision?
After ruminating on this subject over breakfast and coffee, I decided that I’d choose the gear that gives me the most versatility with respect to tone and usability given the various types of music I play. So based upon that here are my choices:
Squier Classic Vibe Tele 50’s
Aracom VRX22 with 1 X 12 Cab
BOSS TU-2 Tuner
Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator
Those four things will get me through any gig or recording session. Not to say that they’re my favorite pieces of gear, but that combination will give me the most versatility with respect to versatility and usability.
What? No Goldie? Man, I love that guitar, don’t get me wrong. But that guitar is so heavy, I don’t gig with it unless I’m at a place where I have to sit down. The Tele, on the other hand, is super-light, and with its pine body, it’s very resonant, so I can get thick, almost humbucker-type sounds to nice trebly tones. Goldie offers that up and more, but she loses on usability in a variety of venues due to her weight.
The Aracom VRX22 happens to be my favorite amp in any case, but it’s my favorite because of its versatility. Once I had Jeff do the footswitch mod so I could switch between channels, and remove the clean channel from the master volume, there’s nary a tone – except for super heavy, high gain – that I can’t produce with that amp.
With respect to my TU-2 tuner, yeah, I know, there are much better ones out there, but it’s what I’ve got. But despite that, I’d rather be in tune than to have a cool effect, so that pedal would stay.
Finally, the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator will always be a part of any rig I put together because it allows me to set limits to my max volume in any venue. Since I play mostly small to medium venues, this box is essential for dialing in just the right amount of volume for the house. And even if I have to play at super low volumes where the Fletcher-Munson effect comes into play, I can rest assured that when my amp is miked, I’ll get my true tone.
I was actually surprised by my own choice of guitar primarily because Goldie is such a tone machine. But for as much as I move around when performing, lugging a heavy guitar is definitely not my cup of tea; especially if it makes me throw out my back, which I did a couple of weeks back. But it also says loads about that Squier Tele. I’ve got some great guitars, but that little $329 wonder creates such awesome tones and it plays so great, that it’s a clear winner. I might’ve gotten lucky with my particular guitar because I’ve read some user reviews that their tone is inconsistent. I’ll play a few more to see how that holds up.
I was noodling around the other day, and came up with a riff. The riff turned into a jam track, then the jam track turned into a full song. I’m still working on the song, but thought I’d post it for folks to give it a listen. Here it is:
Here’s what I used:
Rhythm Part: Clean Strat in Neck/Middle position. My Aracom VRX22 in the Clean channel, with the Master cranked and volume at halfway. Used a Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone pick to get that percussive sound out of the chords.
Part 1 Solo: Strat in Neck Position into my MicroVibe and the same amp settings. Also, used the Tuff-Tone pick to get a more percussive attack to the notes.
Part 2 Solo: Strat in Bridge Position into MicroVibe. Amp was set on Channel 2 with the Master dimed and volume at 6 for some nice, but not over-the-top breakup. I love that 6V6 breakup! Here I used my V-Picks Psycho to smoothen out the attack and give the bright bridge pickup a bit of extra oomph.
Part 3 Solo: Strat in Neck position, nixed the Vibe, into the clean channel with Master and Volume fully dimed. Used the Psycho here as well, but used a percussive attack.
In order to get those kind of high power settings from the amp, I used a soon-to-be-released Aracom attenuator that’s like NOTHING I’ve played through before! This thing is completely transparent because it maintains reactance between the amp and speaker; something that a lot of attenuators have a problem with (please don’t get me started on the UA, which I think is the biggest bunch of hype I’ve ever run across as far as attenuators go).
Another word about the VRX22. When the Master is fully open, and the power tubes are getting lots of juice, this amp just oozes all sorts of tone. And as the rectifier circuit kicks in, this amp feels as if it has built in reverb! As you can tell, I love this amp! Check it out at: http://www.aracom-amps.com.
I know that you might think I’m a bit nutso for using different picks; obviously in a live situation I’d probably only use one. But the in the studio where I can do pretty much anything I want, using different picks to affect my tone is totally cool. Check out Tuff-Tone picks at http://www.redbeartrading.com and the Psycho pick at http://www.v-picks.com. I swear by these two brands, and while I don’t work for either of these companies, like the Aracom Amps, they’ll always be part of my “rig.”
I know, I know… I’ve been singing the praises of this amp and cab for the last couple of months since I got them. But folks, what Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps has put together in the VRX22 is simply magic. I just can’t say enough about how much I love this amp. It doesn’t matter what guitar I plug into it, the VRX22 delivers the goods.
A New Option for the VRX22
I have the standard production model, the first in the series. In its stock mode, I wouldn’t change a thing. But I know there are some vintage gear and tube amp buffs out there that would frown upon the fact that the VRX series in stock configuration has a solid state rectifier. For me, it makes not a bit of difference; I just love the tone.
But for those that require a tube rectifier, Jeff also offers an option of a GZ34 or 5AR4 tube rectifier in place of the solid state rectifier. An A/B test didn’t reveal a tonal difference, but for the purists out there (and by no means do I mean this derisively), this is certainly an option, and a reason why you should consider this amp in your amp evaluations. And here’s another consideration: All Aracom Amps are hand-wired, and cost FAR LESS than equivalent amps. For instance, the VRX line in stock configuration costs $895! That’s unheard of in the boutique market!
Have a Cab, Will Travel
But on top of all that, the 1 X 12 mini-cab that Jeff custom built for me is simply magical as well. Jeff went against the common wisdom of not using a cube shape and porting and such, and built a simple cube shape with a width that exactly matches the width of the amp (about 19″ wide). Amazingly, this cabinet is incredibly resonant. The reason for this is that instead of using 3/4″ board, Jeff opted with 1/2″ board. This resonates a lot more with the speaker, and provides a bass response that adds depth to the output. Granted, I also have an absolutely kick-ass Jensen P12N Alnico speaker, but that cabinet even sounds good with just about any speaker you put in it. Like I said, amazing.
To further demonstrate the versatility of the VRX22 and the Aracom 1 X 12 mini-cab, I recorded a short blues clip using three different guitars, all running straight into the VRX22 with no effects. There are to overlapping rhythm parts panned left and right, and a solo in the middle. For the left pan, I used my gorgeous Prestige Heritage Elite (“Sugar”) plugged into the VRX22. For the right pan, I used my Strat (“Pearl”) plugged into my Fender Champ 600 and ran the speaker out into the 1 X 12 (I didn’t think the Champ could sound this good wow!). For the lead, I used “Sharkie,” my PRS SE II Soapbar with P-90’s in the bridge position straight into the VRX22.
Sorry for the slight mistake in the solo; or as my buddy Phil calls it, a “clam.” But overall, I was just amazed how good Sharkie sounded on that clip. I added a touch of reverb to that track, but made no modifications to the guitar signal at all. It was the guitar plugged straight into the amp.
As I’ve said in the past, I’m not affiliated at all with Aracom. I’m just a faithful customer, and just can’t sing the praises enough for the job Jeff has done!
Ever been in one of those situations where you have to face up to something you’d said or done, but avoid it all costs because it gives you this feeling of impending doom? I was recently in a situation like this, and it wasn’t at all comfortable going through the emotional and psychic turmoil leading up to the conversation the ultimately resulted in – nothing. No slap on the wrist, no punishment. Just a good conversation where everyone involved learned from the experience.
Anyway, last night I was noodling on my guitar; my eyes were closed, letting my emotions drive my playing. Then I remembered that situation, and came up with the rhythm track for the song. It’s all instrumental – it’s not something I would ever want to put to words, but I did want to convey the emotions. Give it a listen let me know what you think:
For the rhythm parts, the Strat/Hot Rod is panned to the left of the mix, and the Heritage/VRX22 (clean channel) is panned to the right. The lead part sits dead center.
I’m particularly pleased with the Hot Rod’s tone. The clean tone with that awesome spring reverb is to die for (though I had the reverb down pretty low on it to give the Strat more presence). I’m also diggin’ the Prestige Heritage Elite; especially after I set it up. In particular, I adjusted the pickup heights to smooth out the treble pickup, and to get less boom from the rhythm pickup. It’s now very balanced; and played through the VRX22, it sounds just awesome. I played the lead part through the drive channel of the amp, and set the volume so that it was just on the edge of breakup, so if I dug in a bit, I’d get just a touch of overdrive. I wanted to create an effect of subdued aggression, and the VRX22 is so dynamic, I can achieve that easily.