Monday, May 20, 2013
It seems like I write about a new electronic tuner every month, and it is no surprise as there are metric ton of these things out there nowadays, and you know what? They are all pretty good! It took a long time, but my trusty Boss tuner pedal was finally supplanted by the mighty Peterson Stomp Classic. Today we are looking at the latest challenger that was plugged into my board: the TC Electronic Polytune. This thing brings a lot to the table…
I have used plenty of TC Electronic equipment over the years, and it has been universally good stuff. They have been around since 1976, and I really like the tone of their amplifiers and effect pedals. Their products are solid and reliable, and are a definitely a good value. The Polytune is no exception.
The tuner is compact, measuring 3 by 5 by 1¾ inches, and it weighs in at a solid 10 ounces -- it is certainly a compact package. It seems sturdy, and I think it will survive drop test nicely. It runs on a 9-volt battery (that requires a screwdriver to access) or an AC adapter that is not included. It draws around 50mA. If you run it on the AC adapter there is a 9-volt out so you can use it to power other pedals. Do people use stuff like this? I don’t…
The Polytune has a ¼-inch input and output jack on either side and NO built-in microphone. Boo! On the back are the power jacks, and a small USB port that is apparently something they use at the factory. So it is not some kind of cool output or portal for installing new presets. Interesting.
The only control is the bypass stomp switch, and this unit is equipped with true bypass, which is a godsend. I would not consider a tuner pedal without this feature. The display has oodles of tiny mutli-colored LEDs with the standard configuration of red for out of tune and green for in tune. It is super easy to see in all light conditions because TC Electronic included an ambient light sensor so it can adjust to how much light is available. This is nice as it is not too blinding on dark stages, and you can still see it in daylight. Of course, the glare direct sunlight is still kind of a pain.
The specs of this unit look ok on paper, with accuracy of about 0.5 cent, and A 440Hz is adjustable from 335Hz to 4550Hz. As far as I can tell, the Polytune delivers on these promises.
So far, none of this stuff is terribly unusual, but TC Electronic has provided a neat twist. The Polytune has a logic called “MonoPoly” that allows the tuner to discern if you played one string or all of them. If you played one string it will go into the usual chromatic mode, but if you play all of the strings it will go into polyphonic mode and you check the intonation of all of your strings at the same time. Really – it will display all six and tell you which ones are in tune, flat, or sharp.
Initially this might seem like a gimmick, but it is truly awesome and a huge time saver, particularly if you are on stage getting ready for the next song in your acoustic coffee house set.
Does this polyphonic feature work on all guitars and basses? I do not know, but it works on all of mine. Electric guitars (Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul, Explorer), active basses (Sadowsky, Marcus Miller, Stingray), passive basses (Precision and Jazz), and my acoustics with pickups (Takemine and Martin). All of them worked fine, though I must add in the disclaimer that I use normal tunings. If you use alternate or drop tunings (from E-flat down to B) the Polytune is supposed to work, but I cannot personally vouch for it. The same goes for 5-string basses – I just do not have one lying around right now.
By the way, the polyphonic mode seems to work better when using a pick on both guitars and basses. See what you think…
So, the polyphonic modes is a great tool for quickly checking to see where the guitar is, tuning wise, but I still prefer to fine tune each string individually in the regular chromatic mode. Since it automatically switches modes based on what the user is doing, this is not a big deal.
There are two different display options, too. There is a conventional needle style, or a streaming mode which kind of replicates a strobotuner effect. I have tried both and each works fine, and both will hold notes for a good length of time. I have no preference for one display mode over the other, strangely enough.
By the way, when you select different modes or reference tones, this unit will memorize you settings after it powers off, so you do not have to set it up again every time you use it.
In actual day-today usage, the tuner works just fine, and It did not add noise to my signal chain when put in my effects loop. The Polytone will run for about 6 to 8 hours of continuous use on a good quality battery, which is in line with other tuner pedals I have tested.
The Polytune is very good, and if I needed a new tuner pedal in its price range, it would be one of my first choices, if only it had an internal microphone. But this is a moot point as I like the operation and features of my Peterson strobotuner better, so it is not going anywhere in the near future.
The TC Electronic Polytune pedal is priced competitively with the rest of the chromatic tuner market, carrying an MSRP of $149, and a street price of $99. This includes the tuner, a 9V battery and some 3M Velcro so you can attach it to your pedal board (a nice touch).
By the way, TC Electronic also has a Polytune app for the iPhone. I will have to give it a try and report back to you…
Friday, May 17, 2013
Today we are looking at a guitar that never stood a chance in my collection, a 2012 Martin D-28 acoustic. This is no fault of the guitar, but is it an innocent bystander of my fickle nature. It is still a beautiful dreadnought that anyone in their right mind would be glad to possess.
The D-28 is a classic in the Martin line, and it was put into production shortly after the D- series was introduced in 1931. This guitar hit the market at exactly the right time, and its full range and sweet tone were just what the performers of the day were looking for. As time went on, this became the signature model in the company’s line-up and it became the guitar of choice of for musicians from all genres, including legends such as George Jones, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley.
There were a few cosmetic changes to this model over the years, and some structural and functional changes including a slimmer neck and better internal bracing. The 2012 Martin D-28 we are looking at today represents the zenith of this guitar’s development, and it is a solid piece of work.
On initial inspection the D028 does not look super fancy, but it is still a very handsome instrument. The solid sitka spruce top has a nice grain, and fortunately it is not as blindingly white as some new Martin guitars I have seen. The sides and back are made from pretty solid East Indian rosewood. The body has multi-layer black and white binding, which looks very nice. It carries over to the purfling on the back. The black pickguard and the rosette are not my favorite look, but it they are well accomplished.
The neck is a fine piece of workmanship. It is made of satin-finished hand-shaped mahogany with an ebony fretboard (the bridge base is ebony too). The neck is not bound, and 14 of its 20 frets are clear of the body, which is a change that Martin made in 1934. The neck has an easy and shallow profile, with a 16-inch radius and a 1 11/16-inch wide nut. The nut and compensated bridge are both made of bone.
Grover tuners are installed at the factory, and they hold well but I am not sure that they really fit into the look and character of the instrument. There is no electronics on this one, but supposedly there is one available. The $95 K&K Pure Mini is a nice choice for these, if you want to plug in.
And the craftsmanship is first-rate. I came out of the box perfectly set up, and the nut and fretwork is unparalleled. It plays very smoothly, and it feels very comfortable even without any break-in period. It can be a very loud guitar, and the more you lean into it, the more you realize how well balanced it is from string to string. I go back and forth on whether I like the sound of mahogany or rosewood better, but the tone of this one is great, so rosewood it is…
These guitars are fantastic, but not terribly cheap. A brand new Martin D-28 has a list price of $2799 and a street price of $2399, which includes a nice molded hard case and a limited lifetime warranty for the original purchaser. Think of it as an investment in your future, as these guitars will last a lifetime if kept in a loving environment.
By the way, a while back I went on the Martin factory tour and got to see first-hand the care that goes into building these guitars, and it made me proud to own one. If you are ever in Eastern Pennsylvania, I highly recommend that you stop by their factory for a tour.
Unfortunately for this D-28, the week after I picked this one up I stumbled across a D-18 Golden Era, and the its Adirondack top distracted me so much that I had to off this one in a big hurry. So, this guitar moved on to a fellow in San Diego, and he loves it to death.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
I have tried plenty of mixing boards in the past, but only use Yamaha boards these days as they reliable, easy to use and relatively cheap. I have a few different ones, depending on what job I am doing, and the MG82CX is the smallest of the bunch. It is a really neat piece of equipment, too!
This mixer is useful in situations where I need just a few microphone inputs and/or want to run my iPad through the PA. It also works wonders for karaoke parties. All of the basics are there, such as EQ functions, an effects loop and a headphone out, as well as a neat array of DSP effects. Besides the regular stereo outs there is also a pair of monitor outs. By the way, all of these outputs are ¼-inch, not XLR.
Like all Yamaha mixers, they play a little trickery with their specs. They call this an 8-channel unit, but is you look at it 6 of the channels are the 3 stereo inputs that are only controlled in pairs. Sounds like 5 channels to me, but since I have owned other Yamaha mixers, I knew this before I bought it.
I have used it for a few parties and small gigs and have been happy with the sound. If you do not go overboard with the effects they can be a nice addition, and the compression controls for channel 1 and channel 2 work reasonably well. With only 2 buses there are not a lot of options for monitor output, but if you need that much flexibility you are probably going to buy a bigger mixer anyway. Sliding faders and mutes switches would have been nice, but at this price point I am happy enough with the knobs that they provided.
By the way, this is one of the few mixers out there that can be mounted to a microphone stand (if you purchase the optional adapter kit). The MG82CX is made of plastic, so you have to be gentle with it, and if you need something to use on the road everyday you might want to consider a sturdier product. But, if you do not need a powered mixer or a bazillion input channels, this would be a great mixer for the money.
The Yamaha MG82CX has a list price of $209 and a street price of $159.99. This is a bit more than the slightly larger MG102C that I also use, but having the effects makes it worth price differential, especially for karaoke. If you are doing small shows, it is definitely the pick of the litter.
Monday, May 13, 2013
I remember when I started playing bass that everybody and their brother was using speaker cabinets with 15 or 18-inch speakers in them. Guys that used cabinets with 10 or 12-inch speakers usually teamed them up with larger speakers because there was not enough air moving to satisfy them. In 1988 (or so) I endured a deafening audition/practice at an airplane hanger near Santa Anita that shredded the speakers in my two old-technology 4x10 cabinets.
Everything has changed over the past 25 years, and now there are plenty of 4x10-inch cabinets out there that have a full range of sound and sickeningly huge power capabilities. Today we are looking at the Orange OBC410 bass cabinet that I tried out recently with the Orange Terror 500 bass head -- it is a nice piece of work, for sure.
This is an imposing cabinet, measuring 24 by 24 by 18 inches and weighing in at a spine-compressing 95 pounds. It earns this weight honestly through liberal use of 13 ply high-density 18mm birch plywood. This English-made (really?) product comes in two colors: orange or black. But why would anyone in their right mind buy one of these and not get an orange one? There are nice skids to help protect the tolex, but no wheels. Ouch.
This cabinet is loaded with four 10-inch heavy-duty Eminence speakers coupled with a crossover and a n Eminence APT80 horn. It is rated at 600 watts at 8 ohms. There are two parallel ¼-inch/Speakon connectors on the back panel, along with a 3-positon horn control switch (Hi, Lo and Off).
I hooked the OBC410 up to the Terror 500, and let fly with a few different active and passive basses. My initial impression was that it had a very tight and punchy sound and that was well-balanced with the horn control in the Off position. This cabinet certainly took everything that the 500-watt Terror could dish out, and it got to incredible volume levels with consistently good bass and no farting out.
I tried the horn control switch in the Hi and Lo positions, and was not happy with the higher registers in either one of these modes. For a thousand bucks, I think they could have included a variable control like the other manufacturers use. As it sits, I think the horn is not terribly useful.
What can I say? It is pretty nice and it sounds good, but the Orange OBC410 has a list price of $1379 and a street price of $999. This is very spendy for what it is and I am not impressed with the horn control. There are plenty of good 4x10 cabinets out there for less cash, and the only reason I would ever buy one of these is if I really wanted an Orange head and needed a matching cabinet to complete the set. This is not going to happen…
Saturday, May 11, 2013
I am a fan of the Orange Tiny Terror guitar amplifier, so it was only a matter of time until I made time to review their equivalent bass head, the Terror Bass 500. Though it is not a full tube head, this hybrid unit is still a pretty neat piece of work.
In case you have been living under a rock, the Orange Music Electronic Company is a British amplifier manufacturer that has been around since 1968, and they have maintained a loyal following. In recent years they have shown a resurgence in popularity, as they have introduced some compelling new products.
As I said, the Terror Bass 500 is a hybrid amplifier, meaning that it has a tube pre-amplifier stage and a solid-state power amplifier. The preamplifier is based on a pair of 12AX7 tubes and the power stage is a class D amplifier that is rated at 500 watts at either 4 or 8 ohms.
This head unit fits in with the whole “Tiny” theme. It measures a scant 12 x 7 x 6 inches, and it comes in around 11 pounds. That class D technology really is quite miraculous, insn’t it? It carries over the visual theme too, with a white-finished steel chassis and nice looking silkscreened graphics.
Like its bothers in the Orange line-up the Terror 500 is not terribly complicated to use, so setting it up the first time should only take a few minutes. On the back are two Speakon speaker outputs with a 4 ohm / 8 ohm switch, and a socket for the IEC power cord. Why doesn’t everything use an IEC power cord? That’s it for the back.
On the side (yes, the side) there is a balanced XLR out, a ground lift switch and the effects loop ¼-inch jacks. And on the front there is the power switch (yay!) a single instrument input, and active/passive switch, and knobs for volume, gain, treble, mid and bass.
That is it – this is really quite simple. It is a single channel amp, so there is no switching, and there are no effects built in. Plug it into you speaker cabinet, set the impedance and start experimenting with the knobs. Unlike some other new amps, the flat setting appears to be all of the EQ knobs at 12 o’clock.
And right out of the box, this thing sounds killer. I plugged it into an 4x10” Orange OBC410C 8 ohm cabinet and the tone is satisfyingly warm and round, and is definitely tube-driven. Dialing in gain results in plenty of dirt (in a good way), and the distortion is glorious. It cannot do a perfectly clean and sterile tone, but someone that is buying the Terror 500 is probably not looking for the GK sound.
Volume-wise, the Terror 500 is about on par with the Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 that I currently use and the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 that I have tested before. It is pretty loud, but it is no SVT. If you are looking for the same tone but with ridiculous power, Orange has the same-size hybrid Terror 1000, which might be enough to get the job done for you.
I think that the Orange Terror 500 is a nice amplifier, and it certainly sounds good. But...it is a tad spendy for what it is, with a list price of $1139 and a street price of $899 (which includes a nice padded travel case). In this price range they have to compete with the Tone Hammer ($699) and the Shuttle 6.2 ($755), and if you are not totally hung-up on having the Orange tone these other amps will certainly get the job done for less cash. I suggest trying and comparing before buying…
Thursday, May 9, 2013
I have a very nice Takemine acoustic guitar with a fantastic electronics package that really has me spoiled. But there are occasions when I would want to plug in my other nice acoustic, a Martin D-18 Golden Era, so I started looking around for a pickup I could install that would not change the appearance or structure of the instrument. I finally decided on the K&K Sound Pure Mini pickup. It was a good choice!
K&K Sound is originally from Germany, and they started building equipment back in 1984. They relocated to Coos Bay, Oregon in 1995, and they have created quite a reputation for selling first rate acoustic instrument transducers.
The K&K Pure Mini used to be called the Pure Western Mini. I guess they didn’t want to make people think this pickup is only good for country music. K&K recommends it for all types of steel string acoustic guitars.
The Pure Mini is a 3-head bridge plate transducer and it attaches easily with super glue gel to the underside of the top. It is also easy to remove without damaging the guitar if you are careful, but there is a chance you will break the pickup. I had mine professionally installed as it required that the end pin hole be enlarged to ½ inch. This does not bother me as there are oversized end pins available if I ever decide to go back to the stock configuration.
So, how does it sound? It has more output than any passive acoustic pickup I have ever used. This fullness of sound is evenly balanced from string to string and the tone is very woody and natural. It is quite a peach, and I do not find the lack of controls to be the least bit of a bother. I have mostly used it with my Fender Acoustasonic DSP 30 combo amplifier though I have also used it with my mixing board (with a DI box, of course). It works great in both of these situations.
If you are looking for a basic acoustic guitar pickup system the K&K Sound Pure Mini cannot be beat. It has a list price of $130 and a street price of $90. If you are unsure of how to install it, I recommend that you get your local luthier to help you out. Give one a try!