Friday, October 29, 2010

Mt. Desolation Album Review


w00t! A new super group! An alternative-country Super Group! Made up from guy from The Killers! And the guys from Keane!


That is how my mind works, I suppose, and I am dubious of super-groups in general. But when I heard the genre and the band’s line-up, I had to go for it and download a copy of Mt. Desolation’s eponymous debut album that was released last week.

First off, the band was started as a side project by Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin from Keane, who are the front men and get writing credit. Other members include The Killer's Ronnie Vannucci on drums, as well as folks from Noah & The Whale, The Long Winters, The Staves, and Mumford & Sons.

After seeing this written out, this project seems like a horrible idea. But Mt. Desolation turns out to be a pretty good album, probably because they did not try to produce a countrified Keane record. It is not high art or ground-breaking new sounds, but it is an entertaining pseudo-country album.

The songs are well-written, and the album was produced well. There is a great mix of instruments on Mt. Desolation, including some nice banjo work. And Jessica Staveley-Taylor’s backing vocals sound great with Rice-Oxley and Quin.

Some of my favorite tracks from the album are:

”Departure” is a quick, upbeat tune with some piano, but more of a honky tonk sound than what you are used to hearing from these guys. A nice bit of warbling, and a solid chorus too. For a little more of the saloon sound, check out “Platform 7”.

”State of Our Affairs” is more indie than country, but it is a great song, and a haunting piece of work.

”The ‘Midnight Ghost’” comes off kind of like an old spiritual tune, with the bonus of some nice slide guitar parts.

After listening to the whole album a few time, one of my only complaint is that the lyrics are a bit cliché-ridden. Then again, it is kind of country music, so that can be expected.

I am not brave enough to tell you to go out and buy the whole record, but check out the Mt. Desolation previews on iTunes. You might find a song or two that you like.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peavey Custom Shop J-84 John Taylor Liberator Bass

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a pretty rare bass. It is a Peavey J-84 Liberator bass, made by the Peavey Custom shop, and endorsed by John Taylor of Duran Duran.

This bass was designed and built to John’s specifications, with custom black hardware and Juicy Couture graphics. It is a 34” scale bass with 21 frets on its bolt-on neck. It has an ebony fretboard. The electronics are Peavey custom shop active electronic humbuckers. First-class stuff all the way.

John Taylor and Juicy Couture (which his wife owns, IIRC) also came up with a great case and accessory package to go with this bass. The custom case has a bass hanger and an integrated amplifier/tuner unit. There is also a custom strap, and a canvas goodie bag with a custom cord and a pick.

And, of course, there is a certificate of authenticity signed by John Taylor, stating that this is number 29 of only 100 that will ever be built. So, with Duran Duran’s worldwide popularity, these were instantly collectible, which also made it an unwise business decision to actually play the thing.

The only bad thing about these basses was that you could only buy them through Neiman Marcus. For a company that charges a premium for what is supposedly the best service around, they really dropped the ball on this one. The sales representatives knew nothing about these if you called up to ask them questions. Then the nightmare of constantly changing delivery dates began. Eventually it did show up, though.

I paid $1400 for it back in 2006, and flipped it about a year later for a premium. You know how I am…


Friday, October 22, 2010

Fender Champion 600 Amplifier

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a super-fun Fender Champion 600 guitar amplifier. This is a re-issue of the original amplifiers that were built between 1949 and 1953.

This is a pretty faithful reproduction of the original, although Fender said they have added a higher-gain pre-amp circuit to get more overdrive. I have never seen (let alone played) an original, so I will have to go along with them on this one.

The Champion 600 is a neat amplifier, and very light weight. It weighs in at around 15 pounds, and measures about 12 inches wide by 11 inches high by 8 inches deep. The 50s groove is going ON with the two-tone Tolex.

The electronics are 1950s simple too. This is an all-tube amp, with a 12AX7 pre-amp tube and a 6V6 output tube. The output is pretty low, putting out 5 watts at 4 ohms through the built-in 6-inch speaker. You can hook up a larger external speaker, should you wish.

The controls are dead simple: 2 inputs (high and low gain), and a volume control. That is it -- you will have to do all of your EQ with the guitar or your pedal board.

It is a simple machine, and there is no much more to describe, other than the tone. This amp sounds great! It does not hiss or hum excessively, and it puts out enough volume for home practice or recording. It overdrives fairly quickly, which is great if you want some old-style blues or rock and roll at reasonable volume levels.

Looking this one over, I would have to say the craftsmanship is pretty good. The Tolex is even, and the electronics are tidy. And, yes, these are built in China, so they do not have any “Fullerton” magic, but that does make them more affordable.

Of course, it does not hurt that the Champion 600 is very affordable. The list price on these is $199.99 with a street price of $149.99. And, it looks like you can find used ones for about $100 on Craigslist.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

American Poet: Luther Campbell


What ever happened to Luther Campbell? I pondered this the other day after one of his songs popped up on my iPod when I had it in shuffle mode, so I had to look into this further.

Do you remember him? You probably know him best as the filthy-mouthed misogynistic leader of the Miami Bass rap group 2 Live Crew. He was a genius that could weave profanity into the most shocking lyrics in the history of mankind.

In the early 1980s, Luther started out as a concert promoter and record label owner of Luke Records (shortened from Luke Skyywalker Records, after he got sued by George Lucas). He brought 2 Live Crew to Miami in 1985 to give them a record deal, and then ended up joining them as their frontman.

He began to put out solo albums of his own, and eventually split from 2 Live Crew in the early 1990s to start The New 2 Live Crew. Clever name, no? Luke records eventually went bankrupt in the mid 1990s. Since then, the original 2 Live Crew has been re-united and has continued to record and perform without Mr. Campbell. He also has periodically put out his own solo albums, the latest being released in 2006.

Luke even had his own reality TV show, Luke’s Parental Advisory that ran for 8 episodes on VH1 back in 2008.

Mr. Campbell is also a patron of the sports, in particular the University of Miami Hurricanes football team. The Miami Herald reported that he offered "bounties" to Miami players for scoring touchdowns, intercepting passes, sacking quarterbacks, and injuring opposing players. To further support of the team, he threatened to go public with various violations by the University of Miami's football program, unless Ryan Collins (an African-American player) became the starting quarterback for the season. What a great guy! He is currently the host of a Saturday sports talk show on Miami's 790 The Ticket.

Most recently Luther Campbell has been involved in the adult film industry. He has championed the cause of trying to clean up the "sometimes amateurish new courtship of Hip-Hop and Adult Entertainment". Thank goodness someone is out there doing good works.

To tie a bow on this blog post, I must say that Mr. Campbell’s life is going on just about as I expected. No surprises here.


MusicMan Luke Guitar

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a very nice Ernie Ball MusicMan Luke guitar, finished in glossy black. Deadly serious color, it is. This is, of course, the signature guitar of Steve Lukather.

Steve Lukather is more than just the guy from Toto (which should be enough for anybody). He is THE go-to guy in the music industry, and has been involved, in some capacity, in the creation of over 1000 albums.

Anyway, this is the guitar that the MusicMan company builds to his specifications. Key to its sound is the venerable HSS pickup configuration, with active EMG pickups and electronics. That would be an 85 at the bridge and SLV single coils for the center and neck positions.

The alder body has a very pleasant shape, and this is really a sharp-looking guitar. The neck joint is sculpted to allow access to the upper frets.

The MusicMan floating tremolo works well and stays in tune. The Schaller locking tuners are a nice (and high-quality) touch which make string changes a breeze.

The neck is true and the truss rod works fine. There is a bit of birdseye to the neck. You do not see that very much anymore

This Luke weighs in at 7 pounds, 14 ounces, which is not too heavy.

This guitar is all original, and has not been modified or repaired. I am the original owner, having bought it earlier this year from Guitar Center (where it sat around forever, apparently).

This guitar is in excellent overall condition with only minor play wear, and no major dents or dings that I can find. There is almost no wear to the low-profile wide frets. It plays like a dream and sounds killer, especially in the bridge humbucker position.

These are built to the highest standards in San Luis Obispo California, and are not terribly cheap. A new Luke has an MSRP of $2250 and a street price of $1575. Why don’t you head out today and pick one up?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 House Party


I have not posted to the blog for the past week, as it has been pretty busy around here with work and preparations for the annual house party. Fortunately, on Sunday the house party came off without a hitch.

We’ve had an annual end-of-summer house party for a few years now (although lately it has been bi-annual), as an opportunity to get our friends together and have a good time. We do not have many parties during the year, so these are usually a pretty big deal.

A handy by-product of the party is that house projects that have been suspiciously delayed miraculously become priorities when we realize there are a bunch of people coming over.

And this is a great bunch of people. They are folks I work with, as well as parents of children from my kid’s school and my neighbors. Hell, throw in a few old high school friends for good measure, even.

This year we were more prepared than ever, but of course the morning of the party was the typical progression of last-minute crises. Not the least of which was a light rain that started on Sunday morning. Not a good sign when 100 people have RSVP’s and there is not a lot of indoor space. The rain did stop, and held off until after the event was over.

Brats, burgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers were on the menu, and there was plenty of beer and adult beverages on hand. Our guests brought all kinds of cool side dishes, as well as other miscellaneous drink products.

A lot of folks brought their kids, and some ran amok in the front yard, while others did crafts inside. Amazingly, I did not see a lot of crying (for which I am eternally grateful).

The high point for me was the band that played. My friend Eric is in Stimulus Package, and they agreed to come out and show us a good time. I figured they would play for an hour, but they ended up doing two sets and playing for almost three hours. There is no substitute for live music, for sure. I barely even scratched the surface of the DJ mix I had put together for the party. BTW, also high on the amazement list was that there were no complaints from the neighbors and the police did not show up.

If I left anybody off the invite list, I apologize. It is hard to keep everything straight when planning something like this. And lastly, big thank to my wife, who did a great job of keeping all of this together, and making the event a success.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tech 21 VT Bass Pedal Review


I have yet to own an Ampeg SVT amplifier, although they have been widely used in the industry forever. They are the definition of bass tube amp sound, and I have seen them on stages everywhere. But, they are ungodly heavy, and cost quite a bit of coin.

Enter the Tech 21 VT Bass pedal. This thing aims to provide all of the rich tube-ish goodness, in a small and affordable package. And it does this pretty well.

Tech 21 has been around since 1989, and gained fame with the original SansAmp. They have since branched out into effects and amplifiers as well. This pedal is part of their Character Series, which emulate different amplifier sounds. I do not know about all of their products, but the VT Bass pedal I got was labelled that it was made in the US.

The VT Bass is a medium-sized pedal that measures about 3.5 inches wide, by 4.5 inches long and 2 inches tall. It does not take up too much space on my pedal board. I peeled the little rubber feet off the case so I could add velcro to the bottom. It takes a 9-volt battery, or you can plug in a standard power source.

I had better get it out of the way, and start with my 2 biggest dislikes of the pedal. 1. It looks hokey: a picture of grill cloth and tolex is not going to make this thing sound any more like an Ampeg. 2. This thing is made of sort sort of really light metal, and it just feels cheap.

For this test, I used a very good passive Fender 57 re-issue Precision Bass strung with D’Addario Chromes (volume and tone pots dimed). I also used a 2-band active Musicman Stingray 4H (all controls set at 1/2).

For amplification I used my Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 through a Genz Benz Uber Bass 410 cabinet. I changed my usual amp settings ti include less gain (9 o’clock, or so) into the tube pre-amp and not much boost to the low frequencies.

I plugged the pedal both directly into the input jack, as well as through the amplifier's effects loop.

The VT Bass has 1/4-inch input and output jacks. I was a little surprised to find that there is no XLR output. Not that I ever use one, but they seem to be on most of their other SanasAmp products.

The controls are not too weird: an ON/OFF footswitch, LEVEL, LOW, MID, HIGH, DRIVE and CHARACTER. Ahhh, CHARACTER.

And CHARACTER is where the magic happens on this pedal. This thing lives up to the hype. As you turn the CHARACTER knob up, the sound progresses from classic SVT to heavy tube to nasty/crunchy distorted sounds. This pedal is a rocking dream.

I never found the need to dial in much DRIVE. I mostly left this knob adjusted between 3 and 6 o'clock.

And I left the LOW, MID and HIGH equalizer knobs mostly around 6 o'clock. The pedal is pretty easy to set up the way you like it. I mostly left it alone once I got the tone I wanted.

The VT Bass does not add any hiss or offensive noise to my signal chain, and the switch does not pop when the effect is turned ON or OFF. I do not know if it has "true bypass", but I suspect it does not.

Here are some final details:

The VT Bass comes in a nice metal tin along with the paperwork and instructions. I will probably give the box to my kid to put his stuff in. How much crap do I need?

Tech 21 pedals come with a 1-year limited warranty. I wold like to see a bit more of a warranty. It cannot cost them very much to build these things, and better warranty would provide more peace of mind.

The list price of the Tech 21 VT Bass is $199, with a street price of $149. It certainly is cheaper and lighter than an Ampeg SVT.

Monday, October 11, 2010

1981 Aria Pro II CSB-450 Bass

Good morning!

I have played a metric ton of Aria Pro II basses over the years, and this has to be one of the easiest ones to play.

It is an Aria Pro II CSB-450 bass with the original red finish. The CSB in the model name stands for “Cardinal Series Bass”, whatever that means. It is made of alder, with a carved top and it has a set maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. These are considered a medium scale bass (820mm, or 32 inches).

The serial number is 108175, which dates this to 1981.

It is all-original and unmolested. The frets are in great shape. It retains the original electronics, with an MB-III pickup and volume and tone controls. It even has the original knobs.

Condition is pretty good, with some scratches and dings (and the obligatory cigarette burn on the headstock), but nothing bad. This is obviously a well-loved instrument

I set it up with new Ernie Ball Hybrid Slinkies (.045 to .105), and it sounds great. The passive electronics are very quiet. It is a wonderful bass, and, as I said earlier, it is really fun to play.

Perhaps the best thing about these basses is that they are dirt cheap. You can find these on Craigslist or at pawn shops for under $200. This is a great value for a quality Japanese-made instrument.


Friday, October 8, 2010

The Dead Weather: Sea of Cowards Album Review

Hi there!

How are we supposed to find great new music if it is never played on the radio? I only heard about The Dead Weather’s new album, Sea of Cowards, by accident. This is really good stuff.

The Dead Weather has some real talent going for it: Jack White, Alison Mosshart (the Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs). There are a lot of shared responsibilities for percussion, drums, guitars and keyboards within the band, so I am not even going to try to sort it out.

By the way, how does Jack White keep going? He is three active bands, and in between recording and touring, I am surprised he can get it all done. This also makes it amazing that The Dead Weather was able to put out Sea of Cowards less than a year after their debut album Horehound.

The Dead Weather is a side-project for everybody involved, and you know what side-projects usually are: crap that cannot be put out by your regular band. Not that this is crap, or even unlistenable (is that a word?), but it is arty and experimental. Experimental blues rock, that’s it!

Well, maybe there is a good reason I have not heard this album on the radio. It is a little weird, and does not really have any songs that I can picture as being a radio-friendly hit. It is not a White Stripes album, for sure.

But don’t get me wrong, I like Sea of Cowards, but it took awhile to get used to it. I set it up as background music while I was writing a few weeks ago, and after a few listens, I started to appreciate it a lot more. It gets darker, sexier and more sordid the more I listen to it.

The dark and sexy vibe definitely comes from Alison Mosshart, who provides most of the vocals. Jack White also gets his fair share of vocal credit, although sometimes I am unsure who to attribute the various guttural growls and snarls to. They have a great chemistry, which adds to the overall sexual tension that I hear in the album.

The rest of their bandmates do a great job, with the overall vibe being rough and sleazy. The guitar lines are ragged and the rhythm of the bass and drums are throbbing. There are no real guitar hooks, which combined with the roughness of the music probably keeps Sea of Cowards off the radio. But I do not see this as self-indulgent, but as more of an adventure and a sign that the band is not trying to stay within the conventional rock box.

Anyway, I am running out of space here for today. Run out to your local record store and buy The Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards. Just kidding, there are no record stores any more. Go download it and give it a few listens. It will be worth it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Memory Lane: Dr. Demento

Do you remember the good old days of junior high school? Just kidding, it was a miserable time. But one beautiful distraction from the torment of my hormones and my peers was Dr. Demento.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, on Sunday nights you could find me listening to the good doctor on 94.7 KMET in Los Angeles. This was a 4-hour live show. It is amazing that they used to program stuff like that, isn’t it?

This was high-brow entertainment, with such memorable songs as “Dead Puppies”, “Fish Heads”, “Pico and Sepulveda”, and anything that Weird Al ever recorded. My friends and I would recite the funnier lyrics to each other on Monday mornings.

Sadly, once I got my driver’s license and started to notice girls, Dr. Demento faded away for me. But whatever happened to him? I had to check it out.

Well, it turns out he was more than just a local phenomenon. I did not know it at the time, but his show was syndicated on Westwood One, and had about 100 affiliate stations. He continued the show until June of this year (syndicated by himself), which is quite a run.

For the record, in real life he is a regular 69 year-old guy whose name is Barret Hansen. He was originally from the midwest, and ended up in Los Angeles in the 1960s, where he had come to get his master’s degree from UCLA.

If you miss his show, he also still does a video podcast every week for The Real UHF, which you can find at, or you can go to his website ( to listen to his older material.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Simon and Patrick Vintage Burst 12-string Acoustic Guitar

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a very nice Simon & Patrick Vintage Burst 12 string acoustic guitar.

Simon & Patrick guitars are an incredible value. They are an offshoot of the Godin family of guitars and are made in LaPatrie Quebec. My understanding is that they are subsidized by the government, like a make-work program for luthiers. Canada seems to have as many luthiers as the 909 has meth labs.

Anyway, I am impressed by the sound and the build quality of this guitar, and even more by the price, which is less than half of a comparable Martin or Taylor guitar.

It is a pleasant-looking guitar, with a solid cedar top, and red wild cherry back and sides. The neck is made of maple with an Indian rosewood fretboard. The finish is a glossy burst, and the body has a simple binding around the top and back.

The sealed tuners are nice quality and hold well. It has first-rate Tusq (synthetic bone) compensated nut and bridge saddles that are made by Graphtech.

The neck is made of a single piece of maple, with added sections for the headstock and heel. It has the same satin finish as the body. There is a dual-action trussrod in the neck. The nut is 1.9-inches wide. There are 21 medium frets. This one had a great set-up right out of the box, and the frets ends are finished well, with nice edges.

As I said, the top is solid cedar, which has some compound curves in it above the soundhole to make it a bit louder, and to make it more structurally sound. Supposedly, it reduces the amount of fingerboard pressure on the top. It is flat on the bridge end, to allow the necessary vibrations to take place.

So, overall it is a nicely-made guitar, with solid materials. But, it sounds good and plays well too! It has a sweet, balanced tone. It is has of impressive volume when picked hard, and has a nice low-end tone. It is pleasant to play, and would be great to gig with.

It is nice and light, weighing in at around 5 pounds, 7 ounces according to my scale.

MSRP on these is a mere $725, with a street price of about $589. You will not find a better guitar for the money!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

ESP Amaze AM-175 Jazz Bass

Hi there!

The bass we are looking at today was one of the best instrument values I have ever gotten, when comparing quality and features to what I actually paid.

This is an ESP Amaze AM-175 bass. These were built in Japan by ESP in the mid 1990s, and were not intended to be exported.

Looking at the bass, it is obviously a derivative of the Fender Jazz Bass, but it has many changes from the ones that Leo started selling 50 years ago.

The jazz-shaped ash body has been modernized, with sharper contours, and some material removed to make access to the upper frets easier. Who uses those frets, anyway? It is finished in a cool transparent pink/orange.

The 21-fret neck has an ebony fretboard, and plays killer. The frets are well-done, and this is a very comfortable bass to play (if you like jazz-width necks).

The hardware is first-rate, with a Schaller bridge and tuners. They are gold-finished, which is never my first choice, but do appear to be original to the bass.

It is equipped with ESP pickups and 9-volt active electronics. They are quiet and very powerful. This bass can sound very smooth or aggressive.

So, it is a well-built, feature-packed bass that plays well and sounds good. And, as I said earlier, it is one of the best values I ever found. I picked this up in Japan a few years ago (when the dollar was stronger) for a little under $300.