Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tokai ES-100 Guitar


I have written before about the Tokai Love Rock Guitars, which are not terribly uncommon. But this Tokai ES-100 is a rare one. I had seen them in old catalogs, but this is the only one I have ever seen in person, and I had been looking for one for awhile before my guy in Japan pulled it out of his butt.

This is a gem, but before I get to the guitar, I had better explain the name. This is obviously a Japanese knock-off of the Gibson ES-335, so why not call it an ES-335? It is certainly not because they were afraid of being sued, as everything else about the guitar was copied.

The model name of Tokai guitars is based on their price. And this ES-100 sold for 100,000 yen (about $1000 nowadays), and the LS-50 Love Rocks sold for 50,000 yen. Easy! I am not sure if they are still using this nomenclature, but that is how it was back in the 1980s and 1990s.

The guitar we have here is from 2001 (I think), and is finished in 2-tone tobacco burst. It is in excellent condition. It is not terribly heavy, weighing in at 8 pounds, 1 ounce according to my scale.

This one is all original, and has not been modified. It has a plain top and the body is bound on the front and rear. The hardware and electronics are first-class, with Kluson-style tuners (supposedly made by Schaller) and PAF Vintage humbuckers. The controls are the same as a Gibson: 2 volume, 2 tone and a 3-way switch. 3-way! It has a non-trapeze bridge and tailpiece as used on Les Paul models.

The bound rosewood neck would make the Gibson guys despair. Even 10 years later the neck is better, and the frets are more level than on any ES-335 I have seen in years. The craftsmanship is superb.

It plays and sounds fantastic. It would be good for Jazz, or fantastic for rock. It has a ton of sustain, and the electronics sound very good with no unusual noise. This is a keeper.

The value of this is a little fuzzy since they are rarely up for sale. I bought this one for less than half of what I would have paid for a comparable used ES-335. For reference, a new Gibson ES-355 has a list price of $3889, and a street price $2750. That is just too much for what you get.

Happy motoring!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Genz Benz Shuttle 12T Bass Cabinet

Good day!

This will finish up my “miniseries” describing my current bass amplification set-up. This is the a small cabinet (and the one that I use most often), a Genz Benz Shuttle Series 12T cabinet.

This cabinet is similar to the one that you would get if you purchased a Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0-12T combination amp, sans head unit and saddle. It was originally designed to be an extension cabinet for this combo.

Well, I already had the amp, so I picked up this cabinet by itself, and have never regretted it. This is the cabinet that I use for practice, so it never leaves the house. This is a shame, because this thing is easy to transport. It is only 18-inches tall and wide, and weighs in at a measly 27 pounds. Portable!

it Like its big brother, this is a well-built unit. It is covered with nifty nubbly vinyl. It has a 12-inch neodymium driver, and a 1-inch tweeter. There are huge ports in the back, and it can move a lot of air.

A nifty feature is the tilt-up stand on the bottom. You can use this to get the front edge off the floor and direct your sound a little better. It is spring loaded too! Sproing!

The Shuttle 12T cabinet has both ¼-inch and Speakon connectors, and not surprisingly it mates up perfectly with my Shuttle 6.0.

As for performance, this is a very loud cabinet for its size. It can handle 300 watts at 8 ohms and if you combine this cabinet with the Shuttle Combo, it will allow you to use its full 600 watt output.

This cabinet cannot move enough air to knock down my house, but it is plenty loud for practice and small venues. The sound is clear, with a respectable bass tone that is not muddy. It is also nice that the tweeter is adjustable, so you can dial out any extra clankiness. BTW, the tweeter cut is set at 4k.

This would be a great addition to a Shuttle 6.0 combo, or just a handy cabinet to have around for practice and small gigs. The only downside is that it is a bit expensive. The current list price on the Genz Benz STL-12T is $729, with a street price of $529.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Genz Benz 410T Uber Bass Cabinet


Earlier this month I wrote about the Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 amplifier, and heaped great gobs of sticky praise upon it. Well, I am equally impressed by the cabinets I use this amplifier with, one of them being the Genz Benz 410T Uber Bass cabinet.

Genz Benz calls this a “lightweight touring cabinet”, so 72 pounds must be “light” in their universe.

Then again, 72 pounds for 1000 watts of power handling at 4 ohms, is not too bad. And this is a pretty portable cabinet. It has nice molded lift handles, including one on the back so you can take advantage of the built-in casters and skid rail.

Also, it has a durable nubbly vinyl covering that I have not been able to mess up over the past few years. Maybe their claims are not too outlandish. It is durable, portable, and relatively light for the amount of sound it can put out.

And, as I said, this one can take 1000 watts at 4 ohms (there is an 8 ohm option as well). This power is routed through four 10-inch neodymium speakers, as well as to an adjustable 100-watt tweeter (4k cut).

The 410T Uber Bass cabinet has both ¼-inch and Speakon connectors, so it mates up perfectly with my Shuttle 6.0.

Anyway, this cabinet sounds incredible. It has a shelf port in the front, and the lows are very deep, not muddy. And adjustable tweeter level means that the highs do not need to be shrill. Plus it allows me to get the full power capability out of my Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0. This is a winning combination of amplifier and cabinet.

Sadly, the price of the Uber Bass 410T has gone up a bit, with a list price of $1449, and a street price of $1159. Save your pennies.

Monday, September 20, 2010

iPad vs. iPod Touch

Well, I love new gadgets, and in the hype leading up to the release of Apple’s iPad, I was giddy like a schoolgirl with the dreams of getting one.

You see, I saw the iPad as a giant iPod Touch. And I love almost everything about the iPod touch. It can play music, games, movies, and do all kinds of gnarly apps. Plus it is a nice web browser, good enough that I spend very little time using a real computer around the house (God bless wi-fi!). The bad part: once I hit 40 my close-up eyesight has gone to the dogs. So, it is a bit too small.

However, the swelling started to go down after the iPad was released, and seeing that it did not have a USB port or even an SD card slot. Wait -- it can’t run Flash? For $600+, I expected a bit more.

And here is the best part: no camera on the iPad. Hey, the new iPod Touch has 2 cameras on it. How is it even possible that Apple did not put them on the iPad? Is this another example of Apple testing out a prototype on the public?

But the final death knell for me was when I tried one out. It is just too big, having the same footprint as my trusty netbook. I want something a little more portable.

In mitigation, there are plenty of really bitchen apps for the iPad, especially for music-related things. The Korg drum machine is amazing! And the display is sharp, so it is great for watching video.

But, this is just not good enough for me, so I am sticking with the iPod touch. That is, until they can come out with something priced and sized somewhere between it and the iPad. Rumor has it that next year we will see a lower-priced iPad with a 7-inch screen. If it is cheaper, I may be in.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cave Passive Pedals Furry Tongue

Hey everybody! I have a Furry Tongue! Well, I have one in my pedal board, anyway. This is the latest bass effect pedal that I have received from Cave Passive Pedals.

Cave Passive Pedals is a boutique guitar and bass effect pedal builder located in Australia. I heard about them from my friend Mark Deayton, and I have been very impressed with their products, as well as with Heath and Georgina Cave, who are super-involved with every facet of production, distribution and customer service.

I have previously written reviews of the Cave Passive Pedals Grunt and Grunt Mk. II pedals, and I loved them both. They have simple controls, and add a manageable distortion/boost to my sound.

As with all of their pedals, the first thing to note is that the Furry Tongue does not require a power supply, so there are no batteries, and no need to plug in an AC adaptor. All the power that is needed is provided by the output signal from the guitar or bass. Not only is this convenient for setting up your pedal board, it is nice for the environment to not have more 9-volt batteries going into our landfills.

The Furry Tongue is similar in appearance to the Grunts. It is a compact-sized pedal that measures about 2.75 inches wide, by 4.5 inches long and 1.75 inches tall. This is handy if space on your pedal board is at a premium. The chassis is powder-coated shiny white, with a nice overlay for the logo and control labels. There are no feet on the case, so it is easy to add the Velcro needed to attach it to your pedal board.

This pedal is equipped with true bypass, and I did not notice any difference in sound by putting it before or after my Grunt pedals. Just for grins, I put it in the signal chain before and after my VT Bass pedal, and again it sounded the same. It did not hinder the operation of the VT Bass, either.

The controls are simple: an ON/OFF footswitch and a 4-position tone switch. That’s it. Even I can figure out how to use it.

So, the four different tones settings are all very different. Turning the knob is almost like the variable tone switches on the Kubicki or Aria Super Basses. Here is a brief summary of how I hear the tones, from left to right:

#1 Makes it sound furry, almost like a mid/bass boost, with a loss of some top end

#2 A hollow/thin tone, with a little bit of a drop in volume.

#3 More aggressive and overdriven with a re-introduction of the high tomes. It seems to have a bit more output positions 1 and 2

#4 This position sounds the most processed of the four (to me). It is a cool hollow tone, and the one I would be most likely to use.

For this test, I used a very good passive Fender 57 re-issue Precision Bass strung with D’Addario Chromes. As usual for this bass, I had the volume and tone pots dimed. For amplification I used my Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 through a Genz Benz Uber Bass 410 cabinet. I kept my usual amp settings with a lot of gain (12 o’clock +) into the tube pre-amp and not much boost to the low frequencies.

I did try a couple of active basses as well, and the Furry Tongue results with them were good, but not quite as dramatic as with a passive bass. Your mileage will vary, depending on your bass, signal chain and eq settings, of course.

Combining the Furry Tongue with the Cave Grunt pedals has given me a lot of new tonal options, and I am very pleased with how this has worked itself into my pedal board.

So, on to the administrivia…

The Furry Tongue comes in a sharp-looking eco-friendly waxed MDF box along with a microfiber cleaning cloth and some basic instructions. That is a lot of adjectives for a box, eh?

All Cave pedals come with a lifetime warranty, which I am sure you will never need. If something ever went wrong, though I am sure they would be happy to help if something went bad.

The Furry Tongue is priced at $129 AUD, or a mere $120 USD (as of today).

Cave Passive Pedals will soon be distributed in the United States through G Spot Music (http://www.g-spot-music.com) or you can contact the Caves directly (http://www.cavepassivepedals.com.au) and they can accept PayPal or bank wire transfers. Shoot them an e-mail for details of shipping costs.

I cannot forget my usual disclaimer: I am an endorsing artist for Cave Passive Pedals, but I paid for my first one, and was totally blown away. I would never represent a product that I do not 100% believe in.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Black Label Society: Order of the Black Album Review

Black Label Society has been around since 1998, when it was founded by Zakk Wylde, a true guitar hero and former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne.

BLS is a guilty pleasure for me, in sort of a junior high school sort of way. They are one of the hardest-rocking bands around today, buuuuttttt their music all kind of sounds the same. Plus their fans have an almost Raider-like devotion to the band, which is slightly disturbing.

Anyway, I saw awhile back that they were planning on releasing a new album this summer. And I thought to myself, “Meh, all of their music kind of sounds the same.” Their last few albums were pretty weak-sounding, so I was not terribly enthused. Disregarding all of my better judgment, I decided to try out their 8th album, Order of the Black, when it was released in August.

You know what? It kind of sounds the same as their last few albums. But there was one surprise: this is a REALLY good album. Order of the Black has an energetic vibe that has been lacking, and this could be the best album they have ever released.

Black Label Society has a slightly new line-up for this album, including: Zakk Wylde (vocals, lead guitar and piano), Nick Catanese (guitar), John De Servio (bass and backing vocals) and Will Hunt (drums).

As I said, Order of the Black has a lot of energy, perhaps because of their new drummer, Will Hunt (from Evanescence), and the return of bassist John De Servio. The grooves are really heavy, and their sound has gone back to a more countrified (country-fried!) rock, as found on their earlier albums (think Sonic Brew).

This album is also produced very well, which also adds to the overall hard grinding tone of the album. The drums and guitars are mixed well with the vocals. But, it does seem like the bass is almost inaudible throughout the album.

There is a little bit of everything on this album. The hard-driving songs are my favorites, such as “Darkest Days” and “Riders of the Damned”. There is a little speed metal (“Parade of the Dead”), and even a little finger-picking on “Chupacabra”.

If I could leave out anything on the album, it would probably have to be the ballads “Time Waits for No One” and “Darkest Days”. These are formulaic crap that sound exactly like every other ballad BLS has done in the past. Just let it go, guys.

If the increased energy of their latest is any indicator, seeing them perform live should be a treat. Black Label Society will be starting the Berzerkus tour at the end of September, and will be performing steadily through the end of the year. Check them out if you get the chance.

As far as buying the album, if you want the whole thing, the hot ticket would be to head down to Target to see if they still have the limited edition album with a 50-minute bonus DVD.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 Amplifier


We are looking at something really rare today: a piece of equipment that has been in my collection for more than two years. Anything more than 6 months is amazing, actually.

This would be the Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 bass amplifier.

During this time Genz Benz has introduces the Shuttle 12.0 and 9.0 models, and although I have been tempted to get the latest and greatest, I have stuck with the 6.0. I do not need any more amplification than this.

The 6.0 is truly a marvel of modern technology. It is small and lightweight, with a footprint of 10” by 10” and a total weight of 3 ¾ pounds. And despite its small size it can crank out 375 watts at 8 ohms, or 600 watts at 4 ohms.

Of course, it uses a class-D solid state power amp to get this much output without a weight penalty, but still uses a 12AX7 tube pre-amp to get a nice warm tone. Plus you can dial in a ton of gain on the pre-amp stage and get your tone all crunchy. So, it is plenty loud and it sounds good.

But, it also has a ton of features, most of which really work for me.

On the back are an effects loop, a dedicated tuner out (yay!), Speakon outputs, a footswitch jack, an XLR output and a headphone jack.

On the front are gain and volume for the pre-amp, the 4-band parametric EQ, a mute switch (also yay!), three signal-shaping switches and a master volume control. And do not forget the world’s brightest LEDs

My only gripe is that the power switch is located on the back of the unit. That’s all!

As I said, I have had this amplifier for two years, and during this time I have had no problems at all with it. And Genz does stand behind their products, with a 3-year parts and labor warranty (1 year for tubes). Just make sure hyou send in your warranty card…

I have paired it with the Genz Benz Shuttle 12-inch extension cabinet, as well as with the Genz Benz 4-ohm Uber Bass 4x10 cabinet to get the full benefit of the 600-watts. It performed well with both cabinets, and can get pretty much any tone that I am looking for. BTW, I will be providing reviews of both of these cabinets in the near future.

You can find the Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 online at a street price of $699, discounted from the list price of $879.

Thanks for checking in!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fender Jag-Stang

Hi there!

Kurt Cobain and Nirvana made a huge impact on the music scene and pretty much killed heavy metal with the introduction of grunge. I have a lot of respect for Cobain’s genius, and am pleased to be showing one of his contributions to the guitar world today.

The Fender Jag-Stang was designed by Fender to meet Kurt Cobain’s needs. It is a 24-inch scale hybrid of the famous Fender Mustang and Jaguar guitars, with the Mustang’s Dynamic Vibrato bridge.

Legend has it that the necks on these are an exact replica of the one from Kurt’s favorite Mustang. Believe it or don’t…

The electronics consist of a “vintage-style” single coil at the neck, and a “Special design” humbucker at the bridge. Each pickup has its own 3-position slide on/off phase switch, in addition to the master volume and tone knobs. Some are critical of the quality of these parts, but they sound fine to me. This is grunge, remember?

The original run of these guitars was made between 1995 and 2001 with basswood bodies, and the second run was made from 2003 to 2005 with ash bodies. The only two colors available were Fiesta Red and Sonic Blue.

All of the guitars were built at Fender’s Japanese Custom Shop. I still see new ones over there, so perhaps they are still in production, but are just not exported to the U.S.

The one pictured here was built in 1996. It is a nice-playing guitar, with good craftsmanship. It sounds good, and the controls are useful for getting a lot of different tones from it.

The only gripe I have about the Jag-Stang is that it is so small that it feels like a toy when it is being played. It would be a great rhythm guitar, but not so hot for lead work.


p.s. Please take a moment to remember the events of September 11, 2001. Do not let sorrow or hatred dwell in your heart, and hope and pray that we can all learn from this tragedy. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ishibashi Guitar Shops

Hi there!

Those that know me are aware of my love for Japanese guitars and basses. So, it is no surprise that when I am overseas, it is easy for me to kill an afternoon in one of the Ishibashi guitar shops.

As far as I know, Ishibashi is the largest chain of music stores in Japan, sort of like their Guitar Center. They have 14 stores throughout the country, and I have been to their Tokyo and Nagoya locations. These are no stand-alone stores, either. Usually they take up one floor of a department store, such as Parco in Tokyo, or Skyle in Nagoya.

These are full-service music stores, so they carry pianos and band/orchestral instruments, as well as providing lessons and repairs. But the main focus of these stores is sales of guitars and basses.

They have an amazing stock of American products, including a mind-boggling array of vintage axes at stupefying prices. But, of course that would be like a Japanese guy coming to the US to shop for a Toyota.

The real gold here for us gai-jin is the Japanese-built guitars: walls full of them. Gibson Orvilles, Musicman EX, ESP, Edwards, second-hand Arias and Tokais, and of course, Fender Japan.

Ishibashi is a big enough dealer that Fender of Japan will do special runs of guitars just for them. Guitars with weird and unnatural combinations of features and colors that Fender USA would not imagine building in a million years. Which really adds to the coolness factor.

I have saved the best part for last. Unlike every other Japanese guitar shop I have been to, Ishibashi is happy to ship internationally. They have a nice staff that can read and respond in English (sort of), so that if you see something drool-worthy on their web site, you can actually get it.

Check out their stores at: http://www.ishibashi.co.jp/eng/


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Martin D-18VE Acoustic Guitar


There is nothing like the look and sound of an old Martin dreadnought. Martin realized that there are a lot of people looking for just such an animal so they introduced the V series guitars. To get an idea of what they are like, we will look over a D-18VE today.

There are plenty of vintage-style things on the D-18VE, such as its rosette, headstock shape, pick guard, hardware, fretboard markers and neck profile. This carries over to its construction, with scalloped braces (light strings, please) and top bracing that is more forward than the regular D-18V.

The basic construction is solid. It has a solid sitka spruce top, and solid mahogany sides and back. Note that the vintage series gets a nicely aged finish. The fretboard and bridge are made of ebony.

The neck is fabulous. The small frets are comfortable to the touch, and are very well finished on the edges, unlike a lot of new guitars I see on the market. The neck has a comfortable V shape to it, and the width at the nut is about 1 & 11/16 inches.

There is an “E” in the name, so the D-18VE has the factory electronics, which consists of the Fishman/Martin Ellipse Matrix Blend pickup system.

The electronics combine Martin's piezo bridge pickup with a condenser microphone attached to a tiny gooseneck inside the body. Inside the sound hole are sliders for volume and pickup blend. There is also a phase switch and a mic trim control. Blending the condenser mic with the piezo gives a very natural sound, and an accurate reproduction of what the guitar is actually doing.

And, what is the guitar doing? Being awesome! This really is a great-sounding guitar, with a very clean tone (less overtones) and tons of bass. This guitar would be fantastic for recording.

In the end, this is the story of the one that got away. I got a fantastic deal on this guitar, and flipped it shortly after getting it to make a few bucks. I was not playing much acoustic at the time, so it was no big loss. Of course, acoustic guitar is pretty much all that I am playing right now, so I recently completed a successful search for a new dreadnought. Details to come…

p.s. Happy birthday, mom. We miss you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Aria Telecaster Bass

After a month of covering high-quality guitars and basses, it is time for something a little different.

This is an early (pre-1975) Aria telecaster-style bass. It was made in Japan, and I found it over there at a secondhand store.

I brought it home without the benefit of plugging it in, and when I got home I was in for a bit of a surprise: it is a lame-sounding bass.

It has the thinnest sound of any bass I have ever played. I figured maybe the problem was the tape-wound strings that came on it. Nope, it only sounded a little better with new roundwound strings on it. I think it pretty much comes down to the pickup, which is a cheap 1970s vintage single coil pickup.

That is a shame, because the rest of the bass is pretty nice. The action and neck are good, and the original frets were well done. And the condition is good for what I paid for it. The white finish has turned that yellowed almond-like color that is so easy to fall in love with, and it looks well-cared for. Plus, having the original bridge cover and hard case were definitely not to be expected.

But it sounds like crap. I have had very few problems with vintage Japanese instruments, but this is one I had to give up on. The guy I sold it to was going to track down a new pickup or have this one re-wound.

I wish him luck.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

MonkeyJunk: Tiger in Your Tank Album Review

MonkeyJunk is a new band, but they are winning blues music awards like mad men. New is a relative term, of course, and these are not 3 high school kids that got lucky with a Disney Channel show. Canadians Steve Marriner, Tony D and Matt Sobb have been playing the blues for years, and they have it nailed.

Steve Marriner is the singer, harmonica dude and baritone guitar player. His vocals sound much older than his true age, but where he really shines is with his harp playing. He has the Chicago harmonica sound nailed.

Guitarist Tony D is a long-time Canadian blues fixture, and brings a lot of road experience to this group. And, he is so incredibly cool that he no longer needs a proper last name. I have heard rumors that “D” stands for “Diteodoro”, BTW.

And lastly, there is drummer Matt Sobb. He is a great drummer, who has played with almost every artist and band in Canada. Except Rush.

You may have noticed that there is not a bass player listed. There isn’t one. I have seen videos of their live performances, and listened to their album and they do not need one. They are a really tight band, and with their chemistry (and a baritone guitar) they are able to get away with it.

MonkeyJunk’s first album, Tiger in your Tank, was released in the spring of 2009, and is a solid debut. There are 11 tracks, both covers and originals, and they are all very well done.

I hear a lot of different influences from their music, but this does not mean that it sounds complicated or unpleasant. It is a true blues album with a good edge, and nothing too fancy.

MonkeyJunk’s original tunes really work for me. My favorite track on the album is “Push Comes to Shove” which has a respectable guitar as well as a giant frickin’ organ part. I love the giant organ! Great guitar work also shows up on “Blues for Anna”, and “Small time Evil” is a keeper.

Their cover songs are well done too, despite the big shoes they had to fill when they decided to re-do them. My favorites are Leon Russell’s “Boogie Man” and Magic Sam’s “Give me Time”.

So, head on over to iTunes and drop 10 bucks on a copy of MonkeyJunk’s Tiger in Your Tank. You will enjoy it for much longer than the two cups of Starbucks that you could have gotten with your sawbuck.