Tuesday, November 1, 2016

New Post

It's been forever, I know. No one will see this. But, I still have bought stuff, and I'd like to point anyone who happens to read this in the direction of some real good stuff. So, while these aren't "reviews" per se, consider them endorsements:

SX Liquid . There are other configurations, but the link is the one I got. Quality maple neck, and a basswood body. Very well put together guitars. If you have been looking for a surf type guitar, and play loud, these are your go-to. Yes, over against many Fenders, even.

Douglas Gravity NT  Again, many configurations, and the type pictured, that I got, is currently out of stock, but It's a fantastic alternative to a Fender Thinline. Heck, the right Reverend Billy Gibbons has one! Really, I got it because it's halfway between the kind of Thinline Mick Jones plays, and a Reverend semi hollow- it sounds and plays incredible, at least as good as any other guitar I own, at about one third the price!

Hotone Tape Eko I love the late seventies/early 80's Boss tape simulators- stuff like the legendary RS 20.  This isn't quite that, but I can testify the build quality is amazing, and the sound covers the three biggest uses for an RS 20- that slightly modulated delay, backwards delay, and a short, clean delay. It's at least as good as most of the other simulations currently available for those sounds, and the footprint is as tiny as you can imagine. You could probably comfortably tape it to your instrument!

Hotone Trem  I tried out a lot of Tremolo units. All I wanted was a good, choppy, hard Tremolo. This one does that, the best. There are better Tremolo units for nice, rounded fender style tremolo, and goofy tap tempo types- but if all you want is a square wave, hard Tremolo, there's none better.

Mooer Hustle Drive . I'm sure it was intended as a Fulltone OCD clone. It's not. The tonal range is much bigger. This is my "go to" for distortion. It can go from jangly overdrive to thick, meaty distortion. It's not so great for Fuzz tones, and modern Metal scooped distortion- but for any other distortion, you want this.

Mooer Reecho  Quite simply, the gold standard for analog delay. You'll see it on tons of pro pedalboards. For analog delay sound, this is it.

Sears Structure clothes  I am a middle aged Gen X dude. This line of clothes fits, looks clean, and is well built. That's about as good as it gets for me.

annd, the big One:

Toyota Yaris  I got a 2012 from Car Max ( and if you have access to Car Max, I recommend them highly) but it's hard to go wrong with these- they're well built, efficient vehicles. It's a comfortable ride.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Punk and Rock and Cash and thoughts

So a thought occurred whilst watching Kylesa the other night ( for Photos, go here). I totally dig the sounds, but I have some reservations about how they're made. Custom guitars, Amps, and loads of effect pedals- enough to create a barrier.
Let's take Philip Cope's set up for most of the songs- A Legator eight string guitar (custom, but the closest would be the 1200 dollar model) going through 17 effect pedals ( ranging in price from 100 to 300 each. average it out to 180, per and you have 3060 dollars in pedals) into a Hovercraft custom amp- 1400 for the head, 800 for the cabinet. That's a total of somewhere around  Six thousand to six and a half thousand  dollars- and we haven't even gotten into his other guitars, theramin, keyboard, or other gadgets. I'm not trying to call him out, mind you. Those are pretty "average" prices for "pro gear". But, that's pretty daunting for a 16 year old kid. There were a couple of teenage boys at the front, clearly impressed, and judging from their air guitaring, itching to play, themselves. So, is music to be just a hobby for the idle rich? I think about Phillip himself. He started out playing sludge punk as a skater teen, himself. He clearly doesn't come from money. I know that most of his gear comes to him from the manufacturers, as a kind of product placement. These days, it's kind of the paycheck for being a professional musician- you get a few records out, you get an endorsement deal. I know it's a survival tactic for the bands- they certainly aren't making bank from club dates and CD sales.
But, that still brings me back to punk rock. How so much creativity came from the fact that the punks had no cash, but a fervent belief that they could do it, too. Take people like Pete Shelley, playing a broken guitar into the cheapest loud amp he could find. Custom? In a way, in that nobody else had that rig, but that was because nobody else wanted it. Take Andy Gill of the Gang of Four who created a whole new style of playing guitar based around the fact that he wanted to be Nile Rogers, but couldn't afford a tube amp with reverb, so he used a lousy, dry solid state amp. It's not the only way to get creative, but it is a certain way.
It's not even unique to Punk- Eddie Van Halen pieced his guitar together from scrap pieces at the Kramer factory, and despite false rumors of attenuators, just used a marshall head, and a MXR flange and phasor. Even with today's prices, that's about a thousand dollar rig.
So, I think about the gauntlet this lays down for a kid. Guitars aren't popular, any more. So, you have to employ tricks to make a guitar sound less like a guitar. That can get pricey. But, I think the solution is in abandoning the boutique, and going with the Chinese and Korean made "knock offs". So, that's why this essay ended up on this blog- I think that the tight budget will, as it always has, lead us to new, and more creative art.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

BBE 427

So, I've got stuff I've had forever, and some of that stuff is too old, too cool, and too precious to me to use very often. A great example is my MXR vintage Script Logo Distortion +. For most folks, it's worth about 200 bucks. For me- all the memories, all the time spent with it, makes it absolutely priceless. I'd rather sell my guitar than this pedal. So the irony is, that means I can't use it very often for fear of it deteriorating more than it already has. I've been on a quest to have something that sounds like it, but I don't need to fear hurting or losing. I've tried the boutique route and the cheap route, and found nothing. It's just a random, once inn a lifetime sound. So I got this pedal not really trying to replace it, but trying to find another thing that would become as unique. In that venture, it's a success. This doesn't sound like any other distortion pedal, and I dig the sound.
BBE is the  electronics half of G&L guitars- makers of Leo Fender's more pure guitar designs-and Paul Gagon runs and helps design this stuff. So, if you don't know- Leo was the guy who invented the Telecaster, and the Stratocaster, amoungst other tthings, so, yeah I hold him in high regard. Paul was a legend in sound engineering for people like me. The sound of sunset strip Glam Metal? Yeah, more so than the musicians, he invented that. Then, he was the guy who came up with all that great pointy guitar stuff for Charvel/Jackson. If you want a gain-heavy but still musically ear pleasing distorted guitar sound, this guy should be your man.
So, seeing as the MXR was a favorite for Randy Rhoads, who is my hands-down favorite for that kind of sound, it makes sense to go back to the Paul Gagon well. The 427 is his "Muscle Car" take on the EHX Big Muff Pi. Now the Pi is much more the sound of the 70's, but, important to my purposes, a chief competitor to MXR's Distortion +. Given that Gagon is an 80's guy, I knew this wasn't going to sound like a Pi, really- I figured it would be voiced like a super thick, compressed fuzz pedal, and it kind of is, but really, it's not. Yes, the sweepable EQ compresses the signal in a strange way, and yes, it's a more fuzzy kind of distortion than, say, a Boss Heavy Metal pedal, and because of those two factors, it does remind me a bit of the MXR, but the harmonics come out less than the MXR, and where the MXR is more muddy and beefy, this just sounds stolid, and thick. So, yes, it'll fit the bill, but it's not a sound I think everyone can use. Put it about halfway between the EHX Tortion and the Wampler Plexidrive.
The QC on this thing is off the charts, however. The hammond style enclosure has a blue metal flake paintjob that seems tough enough that it could take a bullet, and a gut check shows a vero board hand wired so well, with poly caps and metal film resistors- it's built like an Army radio- I could easily see putting this in combat- literally. There is no stage abuse I can foresee that would harm this in any real way. OK- the knobs are plastic, so, if they literally took a bullet, they might crack, but the pedal would still function. I am certain. It comes with its own wall wort, so even if the battery choice is shaky, you'll make the gig.
So, yeah, happy with this one....

A bad decision- MoVall Choral Mermaid

I buy a lot of crap on Ebay. Because of this purchase, I'm starting to curb that. Here's what happened:
I found this MoVall chorus pedal on Ebay, being sold as "new" by some dude named Kai, going by the handle "Bucks Saver" at a pretty good price. So I snapped it up. It took nearly a month to reach me from  China, and I tried it out. First pass- it didn't exactly work. So I debated, and tried to contact, with no response from either Kai or MoVall. So, figuring ( correctly) that the warranty meant nothing, anyway, I had a look see. The problem was obvious- the main potentiometer was broken. Quick fix- and popped in a new one. It worked for exactly 1 hour, before it went completely dead. So, I opened things up again- there were two pcbs in there ( circuit boards, if you don't know) the one that I had attached the new potentiometer on was fine, but the other was cracked, disrupting the circuit. The pedal was shoddy junk. Sorry, there's really no two ways about it. See, I did consider all the possibilities- for example- let's say that Kai was a worker at MoVall who snuck out the pedals that didn't pass QC, and sold them on the sly on Ebay. OK, that explains the bad pot, but the cracked board? Nope, that should only happen if you're using bad materials in the first place. Let's say that the mere act of opening the enclosure did it. Again, that wouldn't crack the pcb on any of my other pedals. No, the only way this happens is if the board was bad. So, armed with this, I put everything back exactly the way it was when I bought it, and tried contacting the seller. He told me to check the battery. Please follow the link. See a place for a battery? Nope. So I told him that ( so much for the theory that he worked for the builder) and he said- check inside. This would, as I already knew, void the warranty. So, as a back up I contacted MoVall. In the meantime, Kai finally gets back to me, and says "Mail it to me, standard"- I check, and that would cost me more than the pedal would cost direct from MoVall. So I close out the return process at Ebay- who gives me no way to leave feedback, now. Then, I hear from MoVall- a week after I emailed them. They say that they can't respond they're on holiday. That was a month ago. No follow up at all.
So, here's what I've learned:
1. MoVall makes some crap products.
2. Don't buy from China on Ebay, if there's a chance you'll want to return the item.
3. Don't expect the small, independent company to have any better customer service than the big guys ( I actually already knew that)
4. Don't trust Ebay ( more on that in a future post)
Live and learn. Oh, and the MoVall came recommended from not one but two highly regarded Youtube reviewers. I'm not saying they're liars, or anything, just that even the best can be dead wrong-especially when they also sell the stuff they review. I've talked to both, and they're nice enough guys, but that's no assurance of being correct. One of 'em, and I'm purposefully not naming them because I want you to be critical of all reviewers , I know from multiple, multiple examples really doesn't know what he is talking about with questions of electronics quality. So, not to toot my own horn, or try to self-advertise but I'd trust my opinion, even if it's just a gut reaction, over this guy any day of the week when it comes to QC. He definitely has me in terms of getting a good sound on a guitar- his aesthetics are far, far more universal than my own- so it's still useful to me to watch his reviews, but I have to back them up, elsewhere, every time. There's a lesson for anyone reading.


So, I abandoned Blogger- and to a lesser degree blogging in general- a few months back. However, I knew I'd want to post more, so I left everything in place. I have a few things to talk about, and, if I still feel like it I will be putting up a few more things. Just know that there are no rules- I post what I want, when I want, in the way I want. But, I do have a lot of newer things. Some of it I like, some I loathe. I'll talk about it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Boss OS-2

Ok, this is not a new purchase, but it is an important one. I bought it back in the mid 1990's, very deliberately, and haven't regretted it. This pedal is still very much available, and very easily obtained. So I'm talking about it to draw your attention to some thoughts, and only some of them are directly about guitar.
See, when I bought this pedal, it was partially a reaction- in 1995, when I bought it, there were several trends going on, so I'm talking about those trends, to give you context-
First, and much more popularly, there was the "Metal head" trend- guitar players were influenced by grunge in their clothing choices, but Metallica, and Pantera in their gear choices- Solid State amps, driven by a"rectified" gain stage ( not that you asked, but "rectified" gain is a kind of "supersaturation" for volume, and as such should be considered as an "alternative" to traditional gain- like fuzz and distortion pedals). But, second, there was a more subtle trend, started by people like Eric Johnson, and Bill Finnegan.- The whole notion of transparency - the idea was to keep the signal "transparent"- that effects should be shunned, in a way- although Finnegan made his name on an effect pedal- the famous "Klon Centaur" which supposedly kept all the characteristics of your playing- pick attack, finger vibrato, bends, etc, etc- intact, whilst providing an overdriven supersaturation of that signal. Can you see what both have in common? Whether the metal attack, or the Klon approach, the idea in either event was clarity, and some idealized version of "tone". I saw it then, and I still see it as the 'emperor's new clothes". To me, the whole point of any gear beyond an acoustic guitar is to give you what you don't have- to change the sound you would naturally make. I don't have the kind of megalomania I think it would take to believe that the sounds my hands make upon striking pieces of metal with some sort of resonator would be greater than the physics of it. I need tricks to get around the physics of it.
So, in 1995, I already had my MXR Distortion +, and a Stratocaster, feeding a Sovtek MiG 50 head, and a Fender 3x12 bass cabinet- that gave me a pretty massive very grunge-y sound. I bought the Boss OS-2 to give me a sound I was shooting for, post- grunge- one that involved more clarity but that was no less artificial- I was shooting for the sound that would come around in 1999-2001, with the garage rock stuff- sounds that everybody from The Strokes to The Hives would exploit- a dirty, trebley, biting sound, heavily indebted to the Velvet Underground, Flat Duo Jets, and Roky Erikson. I'm I'm talking about this old pedal now is to point out how purchases you make can become part of trends, even when they are reaction to trends- I'm saying that you cannot purchase rebellion, only make a choice. I thought, in 1995, I was rebelling against all trends, but instead I was simply investing, as were  thousands of others, in what would be the next trend.
But, lest you think I am puffing myself up, here- choosing the OS-2 reveals an insecurity, as well. See, had I really wanted to pursue my vision, I would've bought a new Amp, possibly a new guitar. (Unrelated, but pertinent: I did buy a new guitar in 1996, and got rid of that Strat, and  by switching to the Epiphone, that I still have, upped my playing game, tremendously. I fried out the Amp, and got rid of the cab) See, I just bought the pedal because it was less than 100 bucks, and that's about what my level of commitment was. I "knew" that my "playing in a band" days were numbered. Now, I was probably right, given that I couldn't find a group of guys I wanted to be in a band, and never have, twenty years later, and given that my days jobs have all paid me hundreds of times more than bands ever did, and I'm far more emotionally stable not being in a band- but still- that "knowing"- that's an insecurity revealed by the purchase. I think that kind of thinking keeps Boss in business- they make lots of mid-priced pedals that approximate what much more expensive gear does, in devices that will never break. It's the same sort of thinking that keeps bar bands going- you can't see Springsteen in Youngstown Ohio on a Saturday night? Ok, but you can see The Robbie Jay band, and they will deliver a rootsy rock sound, reliably, for less money. It's for fans, but not fanatics, you know?
So, does that count as point against the Boss OS-2, or a point against me". Here's my thought, and it's why I made this post- regardless of why I made the purchase, and what delusions/insecurities/ mistaken beliefs went into it- I still have it, 20 years later. Some days I get sick of it, and other days I discover new sounds from it, but I still have it, and it's still the same little object, right? Sometimes, it takes a while for something to manifest in a purchase- and the truth in this little box is that it provides a variety of distorted sounds for the guitar- some are fizzy, and brittle, and some are scratchy and wooly- but that's all it is. It's not good or bad, it's not trendy nor nostalgic. It simply is what it is. Everything else is my psychology. That's what you can take away, here. It doesn't matter if we're talking guitar pedals, or lipstick. The objects are just what they are, and the rest is just us.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

They're just Jeans, Buddy

I realize I'm no fashion plate, hipster, or dandy. However, I generally look acceptable, and get compliments from time to time. So, I don't think a little fashion advice is completely unwarranted. Specifically, young men pay way the hell too much money for jeans. Now, my primary advice is "They're just jeans, buddy"- meaning that if you take too much stock in what brand, dye or cut they are, you're investing more energy in them than they will produce in positive ways for you.
That having said- I do think that Selvedge, dark dye premium jeans look masculine and spiffy. Usually, they look best in a classic photograph of some heroic young man from the late 1950's through the mid 1960's. I think it's spectacularly ridiculous for me to try to look like one of those heroes. But, the lesson is there- go for a classic cut and fit, and treat them like trousers more than pants, and you'll look like you're wearing nice jeans.
There are quite a few "classic" jean makers out there. I've tried several, and, really, the best are the older brands- Levi, Lee, Wrangler, or the particular brand I'm getting around to- Sears' Roebuck jeans. They'll price right below Levi, but above most Wranglers, and about the same as Lee. However, if you get them in the slim cut, dark dye, and a bit too long, they look pretty much identical to the 200 dollar selvedge denim at the hipster store. As a matter of fact, people have asked me about mine, thinking they were imported Japanese denim. Nope- fourteen dollar denim on sale at Sears.
That's the sweet spot, you see? They're just jeans. Mass market, bought from the OG big Box store.
...And yet, that's what these guys in the 200 dollar hipster jeans are trying to evoke, right? Something that your grandfather would've bought from the Sears catalog? Worth considering, right?