Sunday, August 23, 2015

1993 Fender Japan JB62G-70 Jazz Bass Review

Aloha!

Boy, the folks at Fender Japan sure came up with a lot of cool stuff over the years, and I was very sad to hear they shut down operations earlier this year. One of their gems is this really cool 1993 JB62G-70 Jazz Bass I picked up on a recent trip overseas.

As always, a little deciphering needs to be done on the model name. JB means that this is a Jazz Bass, 62 means that it is a copy of a 1962 model (sort of), G stands for gold hardware, and 70 is the price in Yen (70,000 Yean when it was new). This is a rare model that was only made in 1993, and it was available in three colors: see-through green, see-through red and see-through blue. This one is the latter, which the factory called Clear Charcoal Marine (CCM in the catalog).

As this was a one year only model, specs can be a bit iffy. The catalog says that the body is made of American Basswood, but it looks like light northern ash or Sen wood to me. But everything else seems pretty straightforward to me. This bass looks awesome with its pretty clear poly finish and the 3-ply pickguard.

The neck is slim with a pretty rosewood fretboard. The 20 original frets are vintage sized, and there are nice full-sized tuners, not the wrong-looking small base tuners that are found on the cheaper models. The logos all look right (except for the contour body one, which is not in the right place) and they even put the extra strap button on the back of the headstock. But still, nobody is going to mistake this thing for a 1962 Fender Jazz Bass.

The hardware is all gold, even the pickguard screws. As always, gold stuff does not hold up well, so it is mostly faded, but it is still pretty fly. There are the usual Jazz Bass volume/volume/tone knobs connected to the single coil pickups. No big surprises here.

The overall condition of this instrument is very good, with just normal play wear. The original frets are in good shape and are still level, – the craftsmanship is first rate. The pickups are surprisingly beefy, with more output than most of their Japanese counterparts. What more could you want?

I set it up with roundwounds, and it has a nice medium action, a fast neck, it looks good, and it sounds exactly like a Jazz Bass should. It is not terribly heavy, either, coming in at 9 ½ pounds. With the strong dollar, you cannot beat the prices of these instruments either, especially if you pick one up overseas. There is nothing on the used market in the US that can even compare at this price point. If you are looking for a solid Jazz Bass, you need to check one of these out if you can find one!

Mahalo!

Friday, August 21, 2015

1980 Yamaha Studio Lord Electric Guitar Review

Greetings!

Today we are looking at a nice Les Paul lawsuit guitar, a 1980 Yamaha Studio Lord straight out of Japan from one of my recent trips there.

In case you have not run into these before, the lawsuit guitars were built by Japanese companies in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They used classic guitar and bass designs from Fender, Gibson, Hofner, Martin and Rickenbacker, and made killer knock-offs. The 70s and 80s were not exactly the best years for quality for any of these companies, and consumers really ate up the good quality copies. Well, Fender and the gang caught on eventually and threatened to sue the pants off of the Japanese companies. Some of these very playable guitars are now collectible.

A fine specimen of these is this 1980 Yamaha Studio Lord model SL-500S. In traditional Japanese marketing-ese, the 500 in the model name relates to the instrument’s original list price, in this case it was 50,000 yen. This was around $250 back then, if I did the math right. I have never seen another one in the US. I picked this one for a few hundred bucks at a secondhand store in Nagoya.

This Studio Lord is finished in a classy cherryburst, which is a very close match to how Gibson did it at the time. The body is mahogany, with a mystery top that could be ash or agathis, maybe. It is not unduly heavy for a Les Paul, coming in at a little under 9 ½ pounds.

It has a set neck with a rosewood fretboard. The neck is nicely rounded, is between the 50s and 60s style Les Pauls as far as feel. It is straight with plenty of life left in the frets. It has a medium action and it plays like a dream. There are a few small marks on the back of the neck, but nothing that bothers me when I play it, because I am a rock star.

Everything appears to be original on this guitar. The wiring is tidy and the pickups and knobs appear to be OEM. The tailpiece shows some pitting and the tuning pegs have a few signs of oxidization but those things are not a big deal. As this is a 35-year-old guitar, there are some small blemishes and the typical soft markings on the rear of the guitar. But overall it is in very respectable condition.

It plays very well with a fresh set of Ernie Ball 0.010s on it. The uncovered pickups are sweet at normal levels, and are super crunchy with an overdriven amp. All electronics work as they should with plenty of output, and it is wired like the usual Les Paul. The action and feel are awesome and it is fun to play!

If you are considering a new Gibson Les Paul, think twice. Their necks and frets are a crapshoot in a losing game. Find a lawsuit guitar from Aria, Yamaha, Tokai, or Greco, and you will spend a lot less coin and get a better playing guitar.

Mahalo!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pyle PDMIC78 Microphone Review: The 10 Dollar Wonder

Aloha!

I got a box full of stuff to try out a while back and was slightly taken aback by one of the items inside – a dead-on knock-off of the Shure 57 microphone. This dynamic microphone is made by Pyle: the PDMIC78. Get it? They reversed the last two numbers so you do not think they are trying to pass it off as a real SM57…

You may remember Pyle as the company that made those mediocre yet big, thumpy, and cheap car speakers back in the 1980s. Well, it turns out that nowadays they crank out mediocre yet amazingly low priced pro audio equipment that is generally good enough to get the job done.

Well, it sure looks like an SM57, as it has the same barrel shape and copies its distinctive head and grill. But when you pluck it out of the box, the first impression is that it is quite a bit lighter than its doppelganger. It is not plastic, but is some sort of lighter alloy than Shure uses. Another difference is that there is no transformer in this microphone, so that cuts down on the weight too.

Pyle gives some specs on their website, but god only knows if they are accurate: “Frequency Response: 50HZ to 15kHz” and “-54db (+/-) 3db(0db=1v/pa @ 1khz).” If any of you get around to doing in-depth testing on one of these, let me know. I can tell you that this thing is wired out of phase with Shure mics, so you will want to rewire this thing if you are running the real things on the stage at the same time. And while you are rewiring stuff, you might as well put some normal gauge wire in there, as they really cheaped out on the guts of these things.

Does it sound like an SM57? Not really, but it is actually not bad either. It has a little lower output (no transformer, remember?), and the sound is a bit more boomy on the low end and ringy on the top end. They scooped the crap out of these things as the midrange is a bit lacking. There is definitely a proximity effect with these , but it lessens predictably with distance. They are definitely usable.

These are amazingly cheap microphones, yet they get the job done and they do have a place in my kind of snobby world. See, Shure mics cost about $100 each, and many times it is not worth the risk of putting them out there for the unwashed masses to grab.

You’ve seen it before. The drunk lady tries the Roger Daltrey microphone swing during karaoke, or the best man fumbles the mic while making announcements, or the mic stand gets kicked over as young bands are hustling while loading or unloading during a festival or party. And do you need high fidelity for any of these gigs? Most likely not.

The list price on the Pyle PDMIC78 is a ho-hum $37.99, but these things sell all day long for 10 bucks on Amazon, which is pretty much an unbeatable deal. For this you get the microphone and a terrible quality 15-foot XLR to ¼-inch cable that you will end up throwing away after trying to use it once. No stand clip or carry bag is included. I recommend picking a couple of these microphones up for situations where you are not going to want to put your good stuff on the line. Let me know what you think!

Mahalo!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Annika Chambers & The Houston All-Stars – Making My Mark

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the April 24, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Annika Chambers & The Houston All-Stars – Making My Mark | Album Review

Montrose Records

www.annikachambers.com

www.montroserecords.net

12 tracks / 54:56

Houston native Annika Chambers did not take the usual journey to arrive at her music career. After singing in church as a youth, her interest in the blues truly blossomed after performing in a talent show in Kosovo during her enlistment in the army. Despite the allure of exotic locales such as Iraq, she mustered out after eight years and returned to her home in Texas where she worked with two producers, Montrose Records’ Richard Cagle (a Houston voodoo blues god) and Grammy Award winner Larry Fulcher, to make her dreams a reality.

Making My Mark is Annika Chambers & The Houston All-Stars’ debut album from Houston’s Montrose Records. “All-Stars” may seem like hyperbole, but this is not just a clever name, as she is backed up on this project by some of the best in the business. Besides Fulcher on bass, other Grammy winners and nominees include Samantha Banks and Tony Braunagel on drums, Skip Nalia and David Delagarza on keys, and Darrell Leonard on trumpet. Besides the folks, there are more talented locals that helped out, such as Barry Seelen and Randy Wall on keyboards, Brad Absher, David Carter and Corey Stoot on guitar, Anthony Terry on sax, and Nicoya Polar and Sheree Howard on backing vocals.

This album was engineered by Cagle and mixed by six-time Grammy winner Joe McGrath. Seven of the twelve tracks on Making My Mark are originals, and the first track, “Move” is one of these, with writing credit going to Chambers, Larry Fulcher and Dominique Fulcher (his daughter). This slow and funky soul song kicks off Annika’s debut album with a light version of her biography that is accompanied by fat bass, a healthy dose of smoking guitars from Stoot and three different sets of keyboards. The overall sound is huge and is an appropriate foundation for Chambers’ strong vocals.

Annika is not afraid to get down and dirty, as proven by the lyrics from “Barnyard Blues and “Lick ‘er,” which have more euphemisms and double entendres than you can shake a stick at. “Barnyard Blues” is a fun shuffle with a walking bass line and tight horns from Leonard and Terry. “Lick ‘er” takes the usual blues drinking song a little further than usual as Chambers lets her man know that what she has does not come from a bottle. Braunagle hammers the funk beat down on the skins while Seelen and Delagarza set the mood on the Hammond and clavinet.

Annika goes off the well-traveled blues and funk path with “That Feel Good,” which was also written by Dominque Fulcher. It starts out as a more conventional funky soul song with Annika digging down deep, but it is flavored with hip-hop as Fulcher adds a light rap vocal that is punctuated by Terry’s sax and a distorted guitar solo from Stoot. It might seem strange when reading this description, but the proof is in the pudding and this track clicks when all of these pieces come together.

Variety is the spice of life, and the covers that were chosen for this album reflect this philosophy. These are a well-rounded group that includes Bobby Charles’ “Jealous Kind,” Average White Band's “Put It Where You Want It,” Steve Cropper’s “Love’s Sweet Sensation”, Faye Adams’ “It Hurts Me to My Heart” and B.B. King’s “Let’s Get Down to Business.” Of these, “It Hurts Me to My Heart” is the standout piece, and Annika puts a ton of soul into Adams’ 1954 single. She shows an admirable vocal range as well genuine emotion as Carter tinkles the ivories and Carter tears off yet another ultra-clean guitar solo in this New Orleans-flavored song. The end result is a respectfully modern update to a classic tune.

Making My Mark is a strong debut for Annika Chambers & The Houston All-Stars, and her supporting cast has not only proven that not only that they are musicians, but that they are also able to nurture and bring out the best of new talent such as Annika. She has indeed made her mark, and with her talent and positive attitude, the world is hers for the taking!

Mahalo!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: Hosa GXX-144 and GXX-145 XLR Adaptors

Hello!

I am not a fan of adding any more connections to live sound set-up than there needs to be, but sometimes you need a little extra help to make all of your cables line up which is where these Hosa adaptors come in handy.

I have been a long-time user of Hosa cables and snakes, and the Buena Park, California company has always delivered quality goods for me and I appreciate their products’ durability and the company’s excellent customer service.

The adaptors we are looking at today are marketed under the insensitive moniker of “gender changers” but I am willing to let that slide for now. These are what you are going to need if you need to connect two male or female connector ends together. The GXX-144 has two male ends and the GXX-145 has two female ends. By the way, the gender designations do not apply to the shape of the connector ends, rather the terminals within them.

I have used these at least a few dozen times, and there have been no problems with erratic connections or unusual noises added to my signal chain. Of course, I feel bad every time I use them as it means that I did not properly plan ahead and I did not have the proper cables for the job in my road boxes.

The Hosa GXX-144 and GXX-145 adaptors are pretty cheap (about 7 bucks each on Amazon), and for sure you should be carrying one of each around in your kit if you are doing any live sound work. You never know what you might run into on stage!

Mahalo!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pyle PDC22 Dual Direct Box Review

Howdy!

Over the past few years I have done plenty of reviews on direct boxes, with prices ranging from 20 bucks to hundreds of dollars, but the bottom line is that if you plan on plugging your bass or guitar directly into a PA system you are going to need some sort of direct box. Today we are looking at one that just came into Rex and the Bass, and it is one of the better values out there, the Pyle PDC22. This one is a bit different, as it is a dual box that allows two instruments (or one stereo instrument) to be plugged in at the same time.

You may remember Pyle as the company that made those mediocre yet big and thumpy car speakers back in the 1980s. Well, it turns out that nowadays they crank out mediocre yet amazingly low priced pro audio equipment that is generally good enough to get the job done.

The PDC22 is a really handy thing to have around. As this is a passive unit, it is best used on instruments with an onboard preamp (active electronics), and if you have a passive bass, you may want to consider an active direct box

This unit is a bit bigger than your regular DI box, but it is not too huge, measuring approximately 5.5” x 4.75” x 1.5”. It weighs in around a pound and it has a real solid feel to it with a rugged steel chassis. These are made in China, if that makes a difference to you.

This is not a terribly complicated piece of equipment, with two 1/4-inch high impedance input and throughput jacks, two balanced XLR outs, ground lift switches, and 0/-20/-40 dB attenuation switches. That is all, folks!

This DI box is easy to hook up, just plug into the ¼-inch inputs, hook up XLR cables to the outs and run them to the mixing board. If you want you can use the ¼-inch outs to send the signal to your onstage amps/monitors too. If the signals are too hot, the attenuator switches can cut the signals down to more normal levels.

The Pyle PDC22 DI works well, and I do not notice any degradation in tone, although I do hear a slight drop in level. I have even used this unit a few times when I did not really need to so that I could use the ground lift to get rid of some extra signal noise. There is not much to it, but it does everything it is supposed to without any drama. I wish I could say that about more products from Pyle.

Best of all, the Pyle PDC22 dual direct box is dirt cheap. It has a list price of $46.99 and as Amazon price of $19.23, and this includes Pyle’s 1-year warranty. For this price I recommend picking one up and tossing it into your road case, because it really could be handy to have one around.

Mahalo!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Barry Big B Brenner – Keep It Clean

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the April 17, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Barry Big B Brenner – Keep It Clean

Self Release

www.bigbbrenner.com

10 tracks / 35:16

In the last half of the 20th century there was a fundamental change to blues music as electric guitar, electric bass and keyboards breathed new life into this age-old genre. But, there is a still a primal allure to the purity of pre-electric blues, and this is where Barry Big B Brenner excels.

Barry Brenner grew up on the south side of Chicago where he taught himself to play the guitar and sing. Although he became more than proficient with the electric guitar, he decided that his career would be centered on a more acoustic sound. After being in bands and playing along such notable musicians as Albert King and Eric Burdon during his 30 years on the stage, he is now on his own playing a seemingly endless series of solo acoustic club gigs near his new hometown in the Verdugo Hills area of Southern California.

His third self-released CD is Keep it Clean, a collection of ten original and traditional blues and folk tunes. If there is anything you do not like about this release it is all on Barry, as he pretty much did all of the work on this disc. He took care of all of the vocals and instruments (including acoustic six-string, twelve-string and National guitars), as well as all of the production and arrangement. That being said, chances are good that you are not going to blaming Brenner for anything, as this album is a neat piece of work.

The album starts off with “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” a song that begs more research. The exact history of this song is unclear before it was first published in the 1920s, but it is rumored to have connections with the Underground Railroad. Legend has it that the gourd that is referred to is The Big Dipper constellation that slaves used to help to navigate their way to the north. It is a somber folk tune sung in Brenner’s distinctive whiskey voice and accompanied by a few layers of strummed and fingerpicked guitars.

This recording project uses overdubs that allow Barry use vocal harmonies and have more than one guitar on each track, but there is none of the usual big-label polish here. There is a vibrant feel that carries over from his live show (I have attended one of his gigs), and there is a great variation in volume and presence within each song that that adds drama and interest to tunes that have inherently simple words, as well as his amazing instrumentals.

The three instrumentals each have a unique feel, letting the listener know that Brenner is not a one-trick pony on the guitar. “Reap what You Sow” is a slow blues song with heavy National guitar, “Cochinonas” has a jaunty Latin feel and “St. Elmore’s Fire” is a folk blues. They are all very good, but the last one on the list is the standout of the instrumentals, as it has the most interesting melody and harmonies, as well as exceptional slide guitar work.

Some of the tracks are more folk-oriented, but their lyrics carry the spirit of the blues down deep in their soul. These include “The Back of His Hand,” a song that implores the listener to appreciate what they have and to remember that fortunes can change in a heartbeat -- this is not the Dwight Yoakam song, in case you wondering. The other is “Stack O’Lee,” which was a #1 hit for Lloyd Price in 1959, though the best version is the one that Mississippi John Hurt cut in 1928. The lyrics are an the intriguing story of Billy Lyons’ murder on Christmas day of 1895 by notorious St. Louis pimp “Stag” Lee Shelton. Brenner brings both of these songs to life with his pleasant voice and harmonies, showing that his guitar is not the only thing he has mastered over the last three decades of his career.

The strongest track on Keep it Clean is Blind Boy Fuller’s 1938 song “Pistol Snapper Blues,” and you may be familiar with the version that was recorded by the Irish blues guitar legend, Rory Gallagher. Barry kept a traditional country blues sound for this song, and when listening to it there is no way to tell that it was not recorded during the 1930s: it is that timeless.

The album ends on a happy note with the title track, which was a hit for Charley Jordan in the 1930s, and more recently covered by Lyle Lovett while Barry was in the process of recording Keep it Clean (bad timing, I guess). Big B’s version benefits from sweet upbeat fingerpicking and the fun lyrics that make it seem more like a good-time summer tune than the southern blues that it actually is.

Keep it Clean is a solid album, and Barry Big B Brenner did a good job of keeping this project on track and arranging a collection of well-matched roots and blues songs that can stand by themselves or work together as a whole. If you like this CD, you should check out his live act, as he has plenty of shows around So Cal, including regular gigs at South Pasadena’s Firefly Bistro for the weekly Burgers, Beer and Blues show and their Sunday Blues Brunch.

Mahalo!