Archive for the Gear Category

Gear Reviews: MI Audio Crunchbox

Posted in Gear with tags , , , on August 3, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

This is it.  The ultimate distortion pedal.

I’ll back things up a little bit.  See – I bought a Mesa Boogie Lone Star (1 x 12 combo) about 3 years ago and despite falling head over heels for the amplifier in almost every way imaginable, I found that the dirty channel was a little too lightweight.  At the time, my limited pedal set included a Tube Screamer (TS9) but that’s still a pretty subtle overdrive pedal.  What I was looking for was some outright ballsy distortion.

My first attempt at finding a high-gain pedal was a huge fail.  I bought an Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff pedal after playing it in a busy guitar store downtown.  When I got it home, I couldn’t help but notice that my wonderful amp sounded like a box of rocks when the pedal was engaged.  I advise everyone to stay away from this pedal unless you’re into that sort of sound.  If you are, shoot me an email – I still have the pedal.  It’s increasingly difficult to sell these things because EHX made a ton of them and you can find them all over eBay for a fraction of what I paid at retail!  Buyers market, fellas!

So after that disaster, my desire for a really good distortion pedal still was not quenched.  I visited a local guitar store (30th Street Guitars – hands down, my favorite store in New York) and Bogarted their amp room for 45 minutes while I test-drove several different distortion/overdrive pedals.  I tried the RAT and a Keeley Fuzz pedal and then I stumbled upon the MI Audio Crunch Box.  I was instantaneously floored.  It’s designed to give you the crunch of a Marshall (“British Overdrive” is how they describe it), but Marshall’s always sounded way too much like playing through a tin can – you can actually reign in your treble in this pedal.

Another thing I like about the pedal is that at low gain settings, you can still get that subtle overdrive tone.  It’s nice to have the versatility to go from very low subtle gain to borderline fuzz in one pedal.  Needless to say, I bought the pedal and it’s been the keystone in my rig ever since.

Depending on the pickups, my comfort zone for the knobs looks like this:

Volume: Right around 10 o’clock seems to be the setting where I don’t hear a volume drop or boost when the pedal is engaged.

Tone: I keep this right around 2 o’clock for my telecasters – and my strat is a little muddier, so i’ll crank this up to about 4 o’clock when I’m using that axe.

Gain: For humbuckers, you don’t have to go much past 9 o’clock for full-on distortion.  For single coils, you can wind up to about 12 o’clock.  Anywhere past that is almost too much.

To give you an idea of what this pedal can do (and because I’m too lazy to record my own video), Here’s a video from Pro Guitar Shop.  They do great demos.

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Gear Reviews: Seymour Duncan SFX-10 Deja Vu

Posted in Gear with tags , , , , , , on June 10, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

Back in my formative youth, I used to hate delay pedals.  My first delay was a Boss DD-3 – which was a digital delay – and I didn’t understand why I didn’t immediately sound like the Edge when I stomped on the pedal.  Of course, this was during college when my gear set-up included a 10-watt Fender Bronco (solid state) amplifier.  At that point, I still didn’t know how flat and lifeless my tone sounded through cheap gear… and an 8 inch speaker.

Even after I bought a nice tube amplifier – I still didn’t like the Boss.  Having to fidget with the delay time knob to sync it up with the tempo of a song (only to have it fall out of sync moments later) was frustrating and not very efficient, so I sold the pedal.

When I found out about tap-tempo features on delay pedals – and the not-so-subtle differences between digital and analog delays, I became more interested in the effect again.  I wanted to find an analog delay with a tap-tempo feature – and not go broke in the process.  It’s harder than you’d think – since most tap delay models (like the T-Rex Replica or the Empress Superdelay and Diamond Memory Lane 2) run in the $400-$600 range.  While those pedals might be worth the investment – I can’t justify spending that much money on an effect I use primarily in my bedroom.

After further investigation, I somehow came across the Seymour Duncan Deja Vu.  The interesting thing about this pedal is that you can dial in proportions of analog and digital delay (analog running through a bucket-brigade chip like those used in MXR Carbon Copy delays, and digital just replicating your dry signal) as well as use tap-tempo to quickly change delay time on the fly.  At a bargain $230 from my favorite guitar store, Pianos N’ Stuff, this pedal is a steal.

Upon receiving the unit in the mail, I placed it in my effects loop (where delay pedals should always go if you have one on your amp – unless you’re into some weird stuff).  Being familiar with the features on my previous Boss DD-3, the controls on this pedal were relatively easy to pick up:

  • Mix – This is a proportional knob to configure how much dry signal and delay comes through your speaker.
  • D/A blend – Controls the blend of Digital and Analog delay coloring your signal.
  • Feedback – Turning this know to the right gives you increasingly more repetitions.
  • Modulation – Actually kind of phase shifts each analog repeat (only colors the part of your signal that is routed through the bucket brigade chip, so you won’t hear any changes if you are in full-on digital delay mode).
  • Ratio/Delay Time – When using the tap tempo (Ratio mode), this controls the beat you hear the delay on (quarter note, dotted quarter, half note, whole note).  If you’re not using tap tempo, this just changes your delay time.

After playing around with the pedal for about 8 months now, I feel confident that I can give this pedal a vote of approval.  It’s surprisingly nice to be able to switch from analog sounding delay to purely digital delay depending on my mood.  I’ve heard that a lot of gear heads prefer to have a purely digital model and a purely analog model in their set-up – but it’s just not that important to me.  I’m just not at that level yet.

Of course the best thing about the pedal is being able to dial in tempo changes on the fly.  If I was a touring guitarist, I don’t know how I’d survive playing a gig without that feature – probably with a lot of sharpie or white-out marks on the pedal to remind me of tempos for different songs.  A couple clicks of your foot makes all that organization seem futile!

All of the features in the world wouldn’t mean a thing if this pedal sounded like pure trash though.  Fortunately, what you get with the Seymour Duncan is a very versatile and feature-packed pedal that offers very clean, sparkly sounding delay.  From what I can tell, there are no volume drops when the pedal is engaged, my dry signal comes through clearly and the delays sound excellent.  Adding a touch of reverb to the mix really makes my guitar tones take on some nice depth.

If you’re a guitarist that’s looking for an effective delay pedal to add to your rig – I’d give this one a fair glance-over before you consider buying a cheaper, more arduous delay like the Carbon Copy or a more expensive boutique delay like the Empress or the Diamond.  Lord knows it looks more attractive than those unsightly, green Line 6 things.  This might be the happy medium you need to satisfy your pedalboard!

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Gear reviews: Catalinbread Heliotrope

Posted in Gear, Guitar riffs, Recommendations with tags , , on February 26, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

Everyone has their vice.  Some people buy crack cocaine, others spend all their money playing online poker.  My mother enjoys exploiting deals on coupons at grocery stores and hoarding cans of tuna fish and corn in her upstairs closet (true story).  I have a bad habit of impulsively acquiring gear for my guitar setup.

One of the toys I bought last year was Catalinbread Heliotrope – which they market as a “harmonic pixelator” or a bit crusher/ring modulator effect.  Garageband actually has a bit crusher effect that I’ve used a few times while recording and it made me want to find a pedal that would allow me to utilize the effect in a live setting.  I settled on the Heliotrope because it was relatively cheap ($160) and although it’s not a true bit crusher (which takes the original signal and lowers the sample rate, effectively making the sample intervals larger – which alters the original signal by making it sound like one constant, flat tone instead of a complex analog signal),  the demo videos sounded pretty rad.

In my first trials, I placed the pedal in my chain somewhere before the amp and not in the effects loop.  Maybe one of the first things I noticed was that I could constantly hear a high-pitched squeal coming from the pedal.  I emailed the company to see if I had purchased a defective unit and they informed me that this was the carrier frequency, and part of the design of the pedal.  Who wants a pedal that emits an ear splitting noise whenever it’s engaged?

I felt a little disappointed.

I went back to the drawing board though and I placed the Heliotrope in my effects loop, after the pre-amp but before the speaker (I’m using a Mesa Boogie Lone Star 1×12 combo).  Much to my surprise, this seemed to mask the carrier frequency, allowing me to fully enjoy the sound of my guitar and the pedal.

There are four knobs on the Heliotrope and they get a little tricky to maneuver.  I’ll describe them like this:

Volume – Easy enough.  You should be able to figure that one out.  I’ll say this – without the 18volt power adaptor, when the pedal is engaged, it’ll dramatically decrease your signal volume.  I have a standard 9V adaptor and it doesn’t really cut the mustard.

Gain – Again, this is pretty self explanatory – it kinda controls the amount of dirt you’re cranking into your signal.

Sample Rate – Okay, this is where you need to pay attention…  This knob actually controls your carrier frequency.  If it doesn’t sync up with the key you’re playing in, everything will sound completely dissonant.  It’s almost beneficial to play a note and then adjust the knob to get a clear idea of where you want to be (sounds confusing – but it’s almost like tuning a guitar by ear.)

Resolution – Catalinbread describes this knob as similar to focusing a camera lens – and I really like that analogy.  Once your Sample Rate is set, this knob allows you to deconstruct the signal as much as you want.  Using the Sample Rate and Resolution knobs in conjunction is essential to getting a great sound out of this pedal.

I recorded a little demo using the Catalinbread Heliotrope.  This pedal requires a lot of attentions in order to achieve the desired effect, but I really like it… It’s not going anywhere.  For the first 18 seconds, I’m just playing through my amplifier and then I engage the pedal and things get pretty 8-bit.  I’m a fan.

Mustang surf rock

Posted in Gear, Guitar riffs with tags , , , on November 19, 2009 by stevenreedkelly

It’s a little late in the year for summer jams, but I just felt like posting this track.

In 2007, I bought a Fender ’65 Reissue Mustang.  I always liked Fender’s non-traditional models like Jaguars, Jazzmasters and Mustangs.  What I’d really like to add to the collection someday is an old Duosonic II (Basically a Mustang with a hardtail bridge), but I bought this thing instead.

At first, I didn’t love the Mustang like I thought I would.  It’s a thin guitar that doesn’t have much sustain.  It’s much better for chording than soloing, and the pickups don’t pack much of a punch.  For an aspiring blues player, this was a mismatch.  The Mustang and I parted ways in summer of 2008 when I traded it in for my second American Standard Telecaster (my stepmom always said – if you find something you like, get it in several colors… but I think she was talking about clothes).

In retrospect, I really miss the Mustang.  I did a lot of recording with it and I used it on a lot of my favorite jams.  It had a really great, although thin, tone and I’ll definitely look into getting another one of these for cheap someday.

Anyways, during the Mustang’s tenure in my rig, I decided that I needed to record something reminiscent of the old surf bands of the 60s.  I never really finished this song, but I’m happy with the way it turned out so far…

Latest gear I’m obsessed with…

Posted in Gear with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2009 by stevenreedkelly

 

fenderheadandcabnew02

A Fender Bandmaster Reverb - Similar to the one I got to jam on.

I have serious gear envy sometimes.  Here are a few amplifiers I’ve been crushing on lately…

Last week I went to practice with a new band.  The guitar player and drummer have a practice space out in Long Island, which is great because it’s not one of those pay-per-hour places that plague the boroughs surrounding New York (which are always booked when I try to reserve some time).  I had the pleasure of using an old Fender Bandmaster Reverb from the 70s – from the “silverface” era.  These amps are generally dismissed by guitar players because they were made during the time when Fender was bought by CBS and their products’ quality suffered.  CBS opted for different circuits and solid state rectifiers instead of tube rectifiers (although the amps were still tube-driven), which make the amps sound much different than the vaunted “blackface” era amplifiers Fender had previously been producing.

 

I gotta say, contrary to popular opinion, I thought the Bandmaster sounded amazing.  All I really need though is a good clean channel with some reverb – something most Fender amps do reasonably well, no matter the era.  It’s also been a while since I’ve been able to crank an amp up – and at only 40 watts, this one started breaking up nicely at high volumes (which meshed really well with the Tube Screamer I had running into it).  I don’t have a lot of experience with a lot of the different “blackface” Fenders, but I think the Fender Bandmaster Reverb is a super under-rated amplifier.  The good news about that is that you can still get a head for relatively cheap on ebay or at used gear stores.  I don’t know that I’ll ever need an amp this big in my life (at this point) but that’s something I’d seriously consider. 

markvcomboMy friend Jaydee and I went to Rudy’s Music after work on Friday to see a Mesa Boogie workshop (we heard they’d be raffling off an amplifier – a rumor that turned out to be false).  I was excited about the workshop because I own a Mesa Lone Star, which has been an incredible amplifier.  I couldn’t wait to tell someone from the company how much I treasured something that they made.  We got to Rudy’s a little late, but still caught about an hour of the Mesa sales rep’s presentation.  He went over a couple of their newer models, primarily the Mark V and the Electrodyne.  The Electrodyne model doesn’t do much to excite me, but the Mark V is like a guitar workstation more than a simple amplifier – I love this amplifier.  There are 23 knobs on the front of this amplifier (plus a 5 band EQ and over 10 switches).  To put that in perspective, a standard amp has between 6 – 10 knobs.  Each of the three channels has its own treble, bass and mid control.  You can tweak the amps power between 10, 45 and 90 watts.  Everything on this amplifier seems fully customizable.  At $2100, it’s a steal since you pay way more for a boutique amplifier with less features.  The best thing about the amp is that it doesn’t sound like a Mesa Triple Rectifier.  You really can get any sound you want out of it.  I like that Mesa is playing less to the nu-metal audience lately, their products are becoming so much more versatile.  Kudos to Mesa Boogie.  We also got some sweet free t-shirts from the workshop.

 

blankenship_amp

Blankenship Fatboy amplifier - horrible name, beautiful amp.

One more amplifier that I had the opportunity to see, but not play at Rudy’s.  This is the Blankenship Fatboy.  I’ll probably go back to the store to mess with it this week, as this one really looks like something I see myself needing in my lifetime.  See, I have this fantasy that someday I’ll have a room in my house where I can display my gear.  It’ll have dark cherry cabinets for the guitars, club green carpeting, a leather chair and a beautiful tweed amplifier.  In this fantasy, I’m also much better at playing guitar.  And I’m 60+ years old.

A guy can dream, can’t he?