Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Big Thank You!

Happy New Year!

Well, this post brings an end to my first year of blogging, and I really appreciate the support from people that stop by to check it out.

I thought this would be a good time to talk about why I am spending my spare time cluttering up the internet. This is certainly not a money-making venture, at least not for me.

I tell myself that I started Rex and the Bass so that I could practice my writing skills, using subjects that interest me (music and musical equipment). Perhaps the real reason why I blog is to fuel my massive ego. Take your pick.

I randomly pick subjects, based on how I feel each day. But, sometimes readers make suggestions about things they would like to read about, and if they fall into those two areas, I try to oblige them. If the suggestions are outside the scope of the musical world I write them down, and will get around to them when I start a blog about something else.

I am often asked if I really own all of the instruments and equipment that I feature on the blog. And the answer is “no”. In almost every case I have owned the equipment at some point, and have moved on to something else. But, either way, I have tried it all out, and usually only cover the stuff that I really like.

I can go ahead and answer another common question: “Yes, I do own and listen to all of the albums that I review”. If anybody would like to send me their album to review, please send me an e-mail, and we can talk it over.

Just in case you were wondering, here are the top posts for the year (by page views):

1. Philip Kubicki Factor Basses

2. Fender Jazz Bass Special Re-issue

3. Simon and Patrick Songsmith Acoustic Guitar

4. MusicMan Month: The Ernie Ball Forum

5. Fender Japan Keith Richard Micawber Telecaster

Thank you for checking in today and for the time you spend looking through my blog. I look forward to writing about new things next year, and hope to keep you all entertained.



Sunday, December 26, 2010

2003 Gibson ES-135 Guitar


We are looking at another of life’s disappointments today: a 2003 Gibson ES-135 semi-hollowbody guitar.

It is a bit rare, and this is the only one I have seen in this configuration and color. It is a typical Gibson ES-135, with a few noticeable differences. 1. There are no F holes. 2. It has a non-trapeze bridge and tailpiece (as used on Les Paul models). 3. There is a mahogany block inside the guitar, not chromite (balsa) as you will find on the standard ES-135 models. I have to take this last point on faith, as I cannot see it. Well, there are no F holes, you know…

It is attractive, and has nice bits on it. It is finished in non-metallic glossy red, and the body is double-bound. The hardware and electronics are first-class, with Grover tuners and 57 classic pickups. The pickups sound very good, without a lot of unwanted hum.

The ES-135 is a cheaper model, so it has simple dot fret markers and a rosewood fretboard (instead of ebony.

This guitar is all original, and has not been modified, with the exception of a repaired surface crack at the top volume knob.

It is pretty light, coming in at exactly 8 pounds, and it arrived with a really nice Gibson hard case.

This all sounds very good on paper, so you must be wondering what is so disappointing to me about this guitar. It plays horribly. My tech worked on it quite a bit and got it a little better, but the fretboard and fretwork were abysmal. The fretboard is not even close to true, and the frets are not capable of being leveled with the condition of the fretboard. It was not worth the money and effort it would take to make it right, so I ended up selling it.

Sadly, this is not unusual for modern Gibson products, even their Custom Shop models. It seems like the factory is cranking out guitars as quickly as possible with little regard to quality. It is sad to see an American music icon going so far off track.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is to not buy any latter-day Gibson products without having a chance to try them out first.


Friday, December 24, 2010

1963 Fender Jazz Bass

Feliz na blah blah!

Today we are looking at the holy grail of electric basses: a 1963 Fender Jazz Bass. As with all pre-CBS buyout basses, it is a collector’s dream, but it is also a fabulous playing and sounding bass.

I bought this in the late 80’s from Albert Molinaro at his Hollywood store for what seemed like a lot of money (at the time), but it was totally worth every penny. During that time, I never had to change or repair anything, other than replacing the strings and adjusting the truss rod periodically.

As far as I could tell, it is all original. The finish is worn, and I could never get a straight answer from anybody (even vintage dealers) about whether it had been refinished. The finish is completely worn off the back of the neck. The tortoise shell guard has shrunk a little, but has no cracks and still look nice.

The frets show a little wear but have not been replaced, and it even survived the 70’s without having a brass nut installed. Amazing! The end of the fingerboard at the body has eroded a bit, maybe from finger oil? I have not seen anything quite like it before.

The hardware is also all original, and it even came with the pickup and bridge covers. A couple of the reverse tuners are a little bent, but I never had any trouble with them. The spiral saddle is extra cool, IMO.

The electronics are all original, with 30A-6340 dated potentiometers, and all original cloth wiring and solder joints, except for one ground wire that appears to have been changed.

It plays beautifully. It is pretty light (8 pounds, 8 ounces), and the neck is perfectly broken in. The action is low, and there is no buzzing at all. The fretboard stayed pretty flat after all of those years.

It also sounds incredible. The pickups might be getting a tad microphonic, but it has such a warm tone that it helps you understand why people are willing to pay so much for these basses.

And, that is why it is not around anymore. I was made an offer I could not refuse. And, honestly, for the money it is not exponentially better than other good quality jazz basses out there, so I could justify letting it go. Maybe if I was a professional player, it would be different.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for it, and think about it whenever I am playing my 62 re-issue.


p.s. Happy 17th anniversary to my Lisa!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Long Beach Ballet Presents the Nutcracker

Call me a Sally, if you wish, but I think ballet is beautiful. The family and I went to the Terrace Theatre see the Long Beach production of the Nutcracker yesterday afternoon, and it was time well spent.

Surely you are all familiar with the Nutcracker, perhaps the most famous work of Tchaikovsky, It is the story of a girl who falls into a Christmas snooze and dreams of the wonders of the Russian empire. And rats. And lots of guys in stretchy pants.

Of course the score is magnificent. It is timeless and recognizable to most everyone. Unlike many local productions, this show uses a live orchestra. They were very good, although the acoustics in the theatre made the sound a little dull.

The choreography was most always appropriate to the score, and it amazes me to no end that people can actually remember the correct order to do all of those complicated dance steps.

The scenery and changes were cleverly done, and there were some gratuitous special effects, including explosions and people flying around. Even a live horse. Everybody and their brother wants a live horse in THEIR show.

And the costumes were fantastic, including the aforementioned stretchy pants.

The best part was the cast, which was huge. I was glad to see that they were able to work in a lot of kids, which gave the show more personality. As this was a local production there was a bit of an imbalance of talent, with some great principal dancers and some ho-hum others.

But overall, it was a great show, and they did it in good time, too. They started a half hour late, but once they got going, they kept things moving, and the show lasted a little over two hours. This is not bad, as I think it was pretty much unabridged. Correct me if I am wrong…

I would recommend getting the family out to see this production. There is one more matinee show in Long Beach on December 19, and two shows in Pasadena on December 22 and 23. Tickets are available from the Antichrist (Ticketmaster).


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Memory Lane: Pulp Fiction Soundtrack

Good day!

It is popular to hate Quentin Tarantino. I have friends that say that his films are pretentious and over-reliant on violence and pop culture references. I respectfully disagree, and feel that Pulp Fiction was the best film of 1994 and was robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump.

What made Pulp Fiction come together for me was the soundtrack, and if you purchase it on CD you will get nothing but gems. In my opinion, this eclectic mix is the best collection of songs ever put together for a movie.

Excluding the ridiculous dialogue bits that they included, some highlights include:

”Miserlou” as performed by creepy old Dick Dale and his Del-tones. This is still a great song, though.

”Jungle Boogie” performed by Kool &the Gang. My god, when you DJ a party, everybody loves this one.

”Lets Stay Together” performed by Al Green. By far, one of the sexiest songs ever recorded.

”Lonesome Town” performed by Ricky Nelson. Can’t you just picture Ricky sobbing and doing lines of blow with Rams cheerleaders in between takes?

”Son of a Preacher Man” performed by Dusty Springfield. Sultry? Hell yeah.

”You Never Can Tell” performed by Chuck Berry. Very good, but I still like Emmylou Harris’ version better.

”Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” performed by Urge Overkill. Creepy? Hell yeah.

Tarantino has a knack for working these songs into the movie so that you never fail to associate them with their accompanying images. Just as I cannot hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” without picturing the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs, I cannot hear “Flowers on the Wall” without seeing Bruce Willis driving that ridiculous Civic. “Sorry, baby, but I had to crash that Honda”.

If I could change anything about the Pulp Fiction soundtrack CD, I would have left out the movie dialogue clips. I hate it when they pop up on my iPod when it is shuffle mode.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fretless Basses


My memory appears to be only good for about a year or so. That is about how long it takes for me to forget that I do not like to play fretless basses.

You see, I like the idea of them. They have clean-looking fretboards and there is the implication that one must have a lot of skill to play one properly. And, of course, they do sound incredible in the right hands. Find some Jaco or Tony Franklin, and you will hear what I mean.

But, it never works out that way for me. I have never been willing to put in the time to get very good at playing the fretless bass. My intonation is usually not great, and I rarely get the mwah that Tony or Jaco produced so effortlessly. And, to tell you the truth, even when I do get the mwah, I do not find it as satisfying as playing a decent fretted note.

It is not the fault of the instrument, of course. I've had some fine basses, but things never work out

So, I sell the fretless, and go back to tinkering on fretted basses and plain-old guitars. And I am happy again. Until 6 months or a year go by and I hear The Firm on the radio or my iPod.

And then the cycle starts again.

Anybody have a fretless bass you are looking to sell?


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Apple A1121 iPod Hi-fi


Today we are looking at a product that did not do well for Apple – the iPod Hi-fi. These were introduced in February of 2006 and were discontinued in September of 2007. They were priced at $349, no matter where you went. Typical Apple price-fixing, if you ask me.

But I digress. These are slick-looking products that do what a lot of other things out there do: provide a docking station and speakers to play your iPod through.

But this one does a very good job of it. It has two 80mm midrange drivers and a 130mm dual voice-coil woofer. They are in a ported, tuned, and double-walled enclosure, with separate cabinets for each driver. These speakers sound great, and you can gaze lovingly at them if you set aside the easily-removable grill.

The inputs and outputs are simple. There is a slot on the top to set your iPod in, as well as an 1/8-inch input jack on the back. As far as outputs go: there aren’t any. Hah!

The controls are extra-simple. There are touch-sensitive volume and track controls on top of the unit. Also, the Hi-fi comes with a remote that allows you to control the same things.

The chassis is uber-durable. It has the usual Apple quality dripping from every gently-radiused shiny surface. It measures about a 1 & ½ feet long by ½ fot by ½ foot. It has a supple rubber footing along the bottom that prevents it from marring your Chippendale table, or Ikea PS cabinet.

The iPod Hi-fi draws its precious electricity through a whopping 9 ½-foot AC cable, or through 6 ecologically-evil D cell batteries. With the batteries, it weighs in at an astounding 16.7 pounds. That is a lot of quality!

Well, internet pundits thought otherwise. Criticisms included:

It was too expensive.

It did not have an AM/FM radio tuner.

The iPod stuck out the top and was too vulnerable.

The remote did not support all of the normal iPod functions.

Most ridiculously, I have seen reviewers complain that there is no headphone output on the Hi-fi. There is already one on the iPod, you mouth-breathing egg timers. Get a clue.

But, despite the criticisms, it turns out that this is still a popular item. In good condition, these sell for at least $200 on eBay, and new in the box models go for over $500. Try to get that kind of resale value on other old electronics.

Why is this? I think it is because the Hi-fi is simple to use, provides plenty of volume with good quality sound, and it looks neat.

I still use mine regularly, and am super-happy that I picked one up when they were being closed out at Mac Mall. If you see one for a deal at a garage sale, you might consider snagging it.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Crystal Castles (2010) Album Review


I will start out by saying I am not the biggest fan of electronic music. This makes it very weird that I think that one of the best albums released in 2010 was Crystal Castles.

Crystals Castles is a Canadian duo that has been working together since 2004. Ethan Kath is the producer and Alice Glass writes the lyrics and provides the vocals. Supposedly they met whilst performing court-ordered community service. If true, this is a heart-warming story.

Crystal Castles started out with a few vinyl EPs, and then cranked out two eponymous albums. Confusing as anything, and probably not the greatest marketing idea in history.

I hated their 2008 release, which represented everything I dislike about electronic music. It sounded like an 80s video game soundtrack that was never going to end. Which makes the 2010 album that much sweeter.

While still edgy, their latest album is a lot more melodic, and may even be danceable. It certainly seems like a lot more creativity and work went into it.

For example, the album starts out with “Fainting Spells” which starts out with a great hook and gloriously tortured vocals, but then makes a smooth transformation into a more tuneful finish. This is the sort of depth I did not see on their 2008 album.

Other notable tracks are:

“Intimate” – the measure of how far Crystal Castles has come. This is one of the best electronic tracks I have ever heard.

”Doe Deer” – has a fabulous riff and noise. It also shows that the band can make listenable music and still have a very sharp edge.

“Celestica” – almost a pop tune. Fortunately, Alice Glass’ voice keeps it from being too radio-friendly.

”Baptism” – every club DJ will have this in his mix. You should too.

Of course, not every track is etched is solid gold. I could have lived without “Pap Smear” and “Year of Silence”. But overall, this is a really solid album.

So, I heartily recommend that you drop 10 bucks for Crystal Castles (2010) on iTunes. You deserve an early Christmas present.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Orange Tiny Terror Guitar Amplifier and PPC112 Cabinet

Good day, I hope you are all doing well!

Today we are looking at an Orange Tiny Terror guitar amplifier and matching speaker cabinet.

The Orange Music Electronic Company is a British amplifier manufacturer that has been around since 1968, and have maintained a steady following throughout the years.

Well, let’s start with the Tiny Terror head. It is not just a clever name; this thing is tiny for an all-tube head. It is not much bigger than a lunch pail, and ekes out a switchable 15 or 7 watts of class A power, using two 12AX7 preamp tubes, and two EL84 power tubes.

One of the things I like the most is that the controls are simple: gain, tone and volume. The Tiny Terror is not a knob farm. On the back there are 1/40-inch 8 ohm and 16 ohm speaker outputs.

Build quality (from China, not England) is very good, and the finish was laid nicely over the steel chassis. This amplifier comes with a padded carry bag, which is really a nice feature. I cannot count the number of times things have gotten scuffed up as they bang around in the back of my car.

I mated this amplifier up with the Orange PPC 112 cabinet, which is fantastic. My god, just look at how orange it is! The cab is built of 18mm plywood, and will hold together like a brick house. It is loaded with a 12-inch Celestion Vintage 30 speaker that can handle 60 watts at 16 ohms. The whole thing is not terribly heavy, coming in at around 36 pounds.

This combination of amp and cabinet is the king of crunchy overdrive, and with a Strat, the 60’s British sound is bronzed. The speaker performed well at all volume levels with no rattles.

And, unfortunately, that is about all it does for me. The thing that I do not like about this amp is that I will never get a decent clean tone out of it. With no gain it just sounds tinny, which is kind of a big deal in my book.

Anyway, should you go out looking for these, the MSRP of the Tiny Terror is $729, with a street price of $575, and the MSRP of the PPC112 cabinet is $459 with a street of of $369.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Martin D-15 Acoustic Guitar

Buenos dias!

Today we are looking at a 2006 Martin D-15 acoustic guitar. This model is on the lower end of the Martin spectrum, but is still a pretty nice US-made guitar.

It is made with nice wood. It has a mahogany neck, Sitka spruce top, and East Indian rosewood sides and back. The bridge is made of East Indian rosewood too.

The neck is pretty sweet. It has a pretty smooth oval profile, and has a matte finish. 14 of the 20 frets are clear of the body, and they are well-finished and pretty level.

How does it play? The neck is very good and the guitar came well set-up right out of the box. I cranked in a little lower action with the truss rod and it was good to go.

The sounds is good, but not great. Maybe a little thin, and not terribly even in tone from string to string, but pretty good. With a dreadnought I think of more volume than this one puts out. Maybe in a few years it will improve.

As far as extras, the Martin D-15 comes with a super-nice hardshell case. For a list price of $1499.00 (street price of $999.00), I guess it is the least you can expect.

My biggest beef with this guitar is its general appearance. The whole thing has a matte finish, which really doesn’t fly with me for a geezle.

For a good budget alternative, I would say look at the Godin line of guitars, or save up and buy a D-28.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Markbass CMD 121P Bass Amplifier

Hey there!

Today we are looking at the other Markbass amplifier that I have owned: a CMD 121P combo amplifier from Italy, the home of quality electronics. Heh.

This is a powerful and lightweight amplifier. It weighs in at 29.3 pounds, and measures about 15 inches wide by 17 inches high by 14 inches deep. The head puts out 500W at 4 ohms, and the 1 12-inch speaker and piezo tweeter are rated at 400W. You can add an extension cab to get max volume.

The cabinet is super-sturdy, and is built of glued and screwed poplar plywood. I cannot stand the fuzzy black carpet covering on these amps. It never holds up well, and eventually pills up and looks like poo. I prefer a vinyl covering. This amp would definitely benefit from a built-in stand that would angle it up some (like the Genz Benz Shuttle has).

The amplifier is the same as the Little Mark II head unit. It is a solid-state unit that can put out 500W at 4 ohms or 300W at 8 ohms. On the front is a ¼-inch jack that will take either passive or active inputs, as well as a balanced XLR input. On the back is a Neutrik output jack, a balanced XLR out, a ground lift, an unbalanced tuner out and an effects loop.

There are gain and master volume controls, in case you want to dirty up the tone. There is a 4-band equalizer and a two filter knobs: the VLE (Vintage Loudspeaker Emulator) and VPF (Variable Pre-shape Filter). These filters really change the tone, and I managed to get some pretty killer tones out of this amplifier.

The list price on these is $1,459.99 and Guitar Center/Musician’s Friend (the sole importer) will not sell them cheaper than $899.99. What is the point of having a list price, if there is only one seller in the country? Whatever.

I realize that this all sounds very good on paper, but my reality was a bit more disappointing.

I had plenty of troubles with this amplifier. It would shut down when it got hot, and it eventually shut down and never turned back on again. Markbass had the amplifier for more than 6 months before they sent it back. I sold it right away and vowed to never buy their products again.

For a great alternative to this Markbass amplifier, I would recommend the Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 combo. I have been using one for awhile and it is a fantastic amp.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

1981 Greco Super Power Guitar


You may have noticed a trend of me writing about different Japanese Les Paul copies and today is no exception. Today we are looking at a super clean 1981 Greco Super Power Custom guitar. This is one of the models that got Gibson into an uproar because the Japanese were able to make a better Les Paul for less money. Win-win! So Gibson sued them. Fail-fail!

This guitar was made in Japan by Fujigen-Gakki. This factory is renowned for producing most of the high quality lawsuit guitars, as well as the MIJ Tokai models, Orville, Ibanez, Greco, and Yamaha guitars for the Japan market. These are all really high-quality guitars.

As I said, this guitar is clean. There is some normal playwear, but this is in excellent condition for a 25 year old guitar. It is a solid 8 out of 10, by my conservative estimate.

It has a 1-piece non-chambered mahogany body with a 1/2" thick 3-piece maple top. The binding is in terrific shape. There was a pickguard at one point and but the holes have since been filled. I would probably put a pickguard on it, as that is how I like my Les Pauls.

The bound neck is set (not bolted), and is 1-piece mahogany. It is straight, and plays fast. It has kind of a medium profile, and feels like a 70s Les Paul neck to me. The original jumbo frets are in great shape, with probably 90% remaining. The headstock inlays are genuine mother-of-pearl, and look really classy.

I believe that the pickups and all of the electronics are stock. The controls are smooth and operate quietly.

The hardware is original, and shows some wear to the finish. The Greco-marked tuners are a nice touch.

It weighs in around 8.5 pounds, so it is not super heavy and will not kill your back like some LPs.

As always, the magic question is: how does it play? It is solid, and you can see why one manufacturer was so upset that these guitars were being produced. It looks right, sounds right, and plays better than anything the Gibson factory is cranking out today,

If you are looking at a new Les Paul, save your money and pick up something like this instead.