Monday, May 9, 2016

More about solid-state

There's always been a tube vs solid state debate among guitarists concerning amps. I've used both (see my blog about the Fender Mustang and Tone King).

A good solid-state amp is usually less expensive and lighter than a comparable tube amp. My tube Vox AC30CC1 weighed 65lbs and my Fender Mustang II was about 22lbs. I eventually traded the Vox for a much lighter Deluxe Reverb (which led to the Mustang). More recently, I bought a Quilter 101 mini-head, a light solid-state amp that fits into my gear bag or even on to a pedal board. Quilter claims it's amps are "everything you love about tube tone without the tradeoffs or hassles."

Saturday night I took my Quilter on it's first gig and paired it up with my pedal board (Digitech delay, Digitech reverb, Boss Harmonizer, Joyo Ultimate Drive and a tuner). The amp combined with the Ultimate Drive rocked!

With just a little gain on the pedal and the amp on the "surf" setting, I was getting Roy Buchanan like tones from my Telecaster.

So far, I'm sold!

More info:
Quilter 101 mini-head

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Playing through a $3000 amplifier

I've always wanted to play through an expensive boutique amp to see what they are all about. I finally got my chance the other night.

My Band, The Hip Swayers shared the stage recently with another local band, Cosmic Slim and His Intergalactic Plowboys (love the name!). We shared equipment given the size of the stage, and I was fortunate enough to be able to play through a Tone King Metropolitan. Amazing amp.

Based on 60's and 50's era Fender amps, the Metropolitan had a presence that none of my amps have (including my '72 Vibrolux). I was in tonal nirvana. 

One channel could be set-up as a typical blackfaced Fender, and the second channel could be set-up with the kind of overdriven sound you might get out of a 50's era tweed Fender or with the midrange bite control, a smaller Marshall combo. 

From beautiful "chimey" cleans, to slight break-up to full blown, cranked up distortion, this amp had it all. But at $2999 ($2200 to $2500 used), it will most likely remain as the "experience I once had with a great amp." 

More info:
Tone King Metropolitan

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Telecaster

I used to be a Gibson guy. Fender guitars with single coils didn't work for me. Somehow I was able to conquer this affliction without intervention, medication or even support groups (ok, I do visit every so often, but that's it, I swear!).

Last week was Danny Gatton's birthday, and him being a Tele guy, I was thinking about this. I spent quite a bit of time driving to band rehearsals listening to him, always being struck by his seemingly super human abilities. I decided I had to have a Tele, so the shopping began.

Ok, I don't pretend to play even close to Danny's level (few do), however his playing and the playing of Roy Buchanan, The Hellecasters, James Burton, Albert Lee and Jim Campilongo inspired me to buy my first Telecaster. I've never looked back.

The guys I really like are the players who coax all the twangy goodness out of this first successfully mass-produced solid body electric guitar. The behind the nut bends, volume swells, tone control wah-wah effects, and the aggressively twangy sound of the bridge pickup makes a Tele, a Tele. 

Of course the list of favorite Tele players I've come to know is now a long one, all the a-list country players like Don Rich, Redd Volkaert, Brad Paisley, Brent Mason, and Vince Gill have influence my playing as well (I could go on with more names but I'll stop here!).

For me, the original 1950 design was good enough. Simple, straight forward, easy to repair, it became one of the most popular guitars of all time. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The perfect amp?

I've owned quite a few amps over the years. Some of them I wish I still had, like my '66 Fender Bassman. Some were traded in for something different, the Bassman yielded to a MusicMan, which in turn yielded to an easily forgettable Peavey Deuce. Horrible amp.

After using tube amps for the last few years,  I've gone through a succession of modeling amps from the Vox ADVT series to a Fender Super Champ XD and to a Mustang II. The Mustang II has been my go to amp for the last nine months.

It's hardly the perfect amp, but it's weight makes it easy to transport, and there are lots of good tones, settings and effects to choose from. At 40 watts it can keep up with a drummer in most situations.

Plug the amp into your computer and you can tweak the sounds through the Fender Fuse software. Not surprisingly, the Fender Blackface tones sound amazingly good (at least to my ear). It's not quite like using my Vibrolux or '65 DRRI, but it's close, and well worth the money spent ($99 used at the local Guitar Center).

There are a few blindfold tests of the Mustang series on YouTube where you can hear one side-by-side with the real tube amp the Mustang is modeling. The results can be surprising.

Here's a good one:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rabbit hole

Patty Lacy and Ray Hirsch.

You've been there, you know you have. 

What starts out as a quick look at a friend's band's video on YouTube turns into a 2 hour journey back into time; getting nostalgic, watching videos of the music you grew up listening to. 

I'm no different. 

Not too long ago I put together a video of vintage movie and TV dance clips to go with a tune I had recorded. One clip in particular kept haunting me. Who were these people jitterbugging and what movie did this clip belong to?  

The dancing was fabulous and the clip funny in a corny 1940's kind of way. One couple was clearly really good, they knew how to dance and I wanted to know who they were.  Thus began my Saturday afternoon journey down the YouTube rabbit hole.

After searching using lindy hop, jitterbug, 1940's dancing, etc., I eventually found them and the movie. 

"Mad Youth" was released in 1940 and featured 1938 National Jitterbug Champions Patti Lacey and Ray Hirsch (the two dancers I wanted to "discover"). It was re-released later with the title "Girls of the Underworld." 

The story includes jitterbugging (duh), strip poker and girls imprisoned in a prostitution/white slavery ring. Pretty lurid stuff. 

The amazing part is that Ray Hirsch is still with us and still dancing, and Patty Lacey is still living in Los Angeles.

The video I made using footage from "Mad Youth" can be seen here:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cheap pedals

I've been using Danelectro pedals for 3 or 4 years now. They're inexpensive and sound really good for the money. My favorite is the Cool Cat Transparent Overdrive (version 1) and the even less expensive Tuna Melt tremolo.

All the Cool Cat pedals are in metal cases and are fairly rugged. The smaller pedals, like the Tuna Melt, are in plastic cases with very small plastic knobs that can break off easily if you're not careful.

The Transparent Overdrive isn't as transparent as I'd like it to be, it does color your sound slightly, but it doesn't give you that midrange boost that most overdrive pedals have. It also works well as a clean boost, with little or no distortion added.

The Tuna Melt pedal (and yes, it's named after a sandwich as are all the pedals in this series), has a nice swampy tremolo with depth and speed knobs plus a small switch to give a hard or soft sound.

I paid less than $25 for the Transparent Overdrive and $11 for the Tuna Melt, used. Not bad.

Here's my YouTube review of the Transparent Overdrive.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Flea market finds

This past weekend my son and I went to a local flea market (he's 9). This flea market has existed on Earth for about as long as there have been people, or so it seems. The buildings are well worn, the tables are barely standing, and the same could be said for all those who were selling or buying there.

There were a couple of farms selling produce: corn, summer squash, carrots and tomatoes were in abundance. But I was there for the junk.

On this particular Sunday, there was plenty of junk. Table after table had cheap alarm clocks from the 80's, headless Barbie dolls, used hot wheels, reproductions of antique signs and army jackets once owned by an uncle who served in West Germany in the 1960's. Remember when there was a West Germany?

This was not lost on my son, who was noticing how "vintage" everything looked.

After walking around for only a few minutes and viewing the "treasures," he announced to me that he had had enough.

"I want to go home," he whined, "these haunted souls are destroying my spirit.  No one gets out of here with their dignity intact!" he exclaimed. My wife later suggested that many had probably arrived at the flea market that way.

We did leave eventually, but not after buying some corn for the evening's dinner. 

You might ask, what does this have to do with guitars? I was hoping to find a guitarist's treasure, an old tube amp or maybe a guitar that the owner didn't think was valuable. Instead I found seven ears of corn and a son who has a gift of expression.