Friday, January 28, 2011

Superhero Approved: 1969 Dan Armstrong Ampeg Bass


Today we are looking at the bass that Wonder Woman would play if she played bass. Well, and if she was real. It is a 1969 Dan Armstrong Ampeg 4-string bass.

These innovative basses were originally built from 1969 to 1971, and are truly the cat’s meow. Daddy-O. Ampeg built these basses (and guitars) in conjunction with Dan Armstrong, who owned a guitar repair shop in New York City. The design he came up with is definitely out there.

The most noticeable innovation is that the bodies for these basses are made of Plexiglas. Supposedly this material gives these instruments unbelievable sustain. But, sustain that lasts for days is not exactly the first thing I am looking for in an instrument. Playability and tone come before sustain for me.

These are short scale (30-inch) basses, but the maple necks are otherwise conventional with 24 frets and rosewood fretboards. The cutaways allow plenty of access to the upper frets for the more wanky amongst us.

Another cool feature of these basses is the interchangeable pickup. These were designed by Bill Lawrence, who happened to share shop space with Armstrong. I have not heard of anybody actually using this feature and swapping pickups around, but it was possible.

The hardware is an odd mixture. Patent Pending Grover tuning machines were used, and at the other end is a bizarre chrome bridge with a wood nut. The pick guard is a hokey looking wood-grained thing, but it is almost co corny that it is good. Plus it matches the stuff they covered the headstock with.

This particular bass is one I owned a few years back. It was unmodified, and had no repairs other than the addition of reinforcement at the output jack on the pickguard (where all of these break), as well as a new output jack.

There were a few scuffs, but they looked like they could be polished out with a plastic cleaner like you would use on motorcycle or race car windscreens.

The frets were in prime shape as it was strung with flatwounds when I bought it. Not bad for a 40 year old bass.

It played very well and sounded great. I had my guy set it up with roundwounds and it had a surprisingly full tone for such a short-scale bass.

If you are dying to get one of these basses, check on eBay, as there is usually one or two of the originals for sale there Ampeg also re-issued these in 2006, so that could be an option for you too.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Great Find: Custom Made Amplifier and Speaker Covers

Hey everybody!

I want to clue you all in to some great people who are making custom speaker and amplifier covers. I purchased covers from them for my QSC K8 and KSUB PA speakers and am very happy with what I received.

Covers are essential if you ever play out or do DJ gigs. I was very frustrated to have things sliding around in the back of my truck, and scratching/dinging my expensive cabinets. But, I was looking at the $80 bags that QSC sells for the K8 and thought they were a horrible value.

I dug around on eBay and found that a seller (Connietom1123) was selling a pair of padded K8 covers for $45.99 plus $14 for shipping to my ZIP code. Huh. $60 sounds a lot better than $160, so I ordered up a pair for the K8s and splurged on a pair of their other covers for my subs.

They showed up within a week via USPS, and when I put them on my speakers I was thrilled. Let me tell you a little about them.

These covers are handmade in Pennsylvania, using new padded moving blankets. They are a slip over design that is patterned after your speaker or amplifier, so there are no zippers to fool with. Cutouts in the covers allow the factory carry handles to be used with no problems.

They are easy to install, but in case you cannot figure out how to install them, instructions are included.

Mine are holding up well, and I would not hesitate to buy from them again if I buy more equipment, or if I wear these covers out. But I do not think they will wear out any time soon, they still look great.

Looking though their sales page, I see that they have covers for oodles of applications besides QSC, including: Mackie, Acoustic Audio, Adamson, Alesis, B-52, Bag End, Behringer, Bose, Carvin, Cerwin-Vega, Danley Sound Labs, Crate, EAW, Egnater, EV, Fender, Genz-Benz, Harbinger, I DJ Now Grundorf, JBL, Kustom, Mark Bass, MCM, Nady, Peavey, Podium Pro, RCF, Roland, Tapco, Technical Pro, Turbosound, Vandersteen, Wharfedale, Yamaha, and Yorkville .

Check them out on eBay (again, seller ID Connietom1123), and you will be impressed with what you find.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

1980s Vintage Japanese Yamaha Lord Player Guitar 500LP

Hi there!

I am glad to be getting back to writing about guitars again. Today we are looking at a nice Les Paul lawsuit guitar.

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 sued the crap out of the Japanese. Some of these very playable guitars are now collectible.

A fine specimen of these is this early 1980s Yamaha Lord Player model 500LP. In traditional Japanese manufacturing-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 on a business trip overseas.

This Lord Player is finished in a classy tobacco burst, with a little burnt orange thrown in. The body is mahogany, with an agathis back, maybe. It is not unduly heavy for a Les Paul, coming in at a bee’s dick over 10 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. Note that this guitar has 1959 Les Paul style headstock. My understanding is that most of these have more of an SG style headstock. Go figure.

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 25 to 30 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 set of Ernie Ball 0.010s on it. The pickups are sweet at normal levels, and are super crunchy with an overdriven amp. The action and feel is awesome. The neck is not chubby and not thin…in between. All electronics work as they should.

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

I am glad you could stop by today!


Friday, January 21, 2011

Selling Your Guitar Part 5: Packing it Correctly for Shipping


Today I am wrapping up my series on selling your guitar on the internet by giving a few tips on properly packing it up so it does not get damaged on the way to its new home. Or, if it does get damaged, giving you peace of mind that your claim may be paid.

Over the years I have gotten plenty of broken guitars from people on the internet. They were fine when they were shipped, but somehow got mangled en route. They include: 2 MusicMan basses, 3 Les Pauls, a Gibson ES 335, and 2 acoustic guitars. NONE of these were packed properly, and they would probably still be around today if the person that packed them up had a clue about how to ship a guitar. By the way, two of the Les Pauls and the ES 335 were sent by Musician’s Friend. Go figure.

Before I get into this subject, I would like to say that if this seems like too much trouble or if it is too difficult, you could juct drop off your guitar at the UPS Store or Mail Boxes Etc. But, they will charge you a fortune, and it will probably be about $150 to $200 to pack and ship the guitar domestically. So, maybe you should give it a try first.

First off, you will need to get the guitar ready for shipping. Should you loosen the strings? Will it hurt the truss rod if you loosen them? Will it hurt the truss rod if you do not loosen them? Take this as a clue: ALL guitar manufacturers ship their guitars to their dealers fully tuned. With one BIG exception. If it is a Gibson guitar, loosen the strings to release tension from the headstock so it does not snap if the box is dropped somewhere along the way. This is a recommendation from Gibson’s own repair shop, and the broken ES and Les Pauls I received all had broken headstocks and were shipped to me with fully tightened strings.

Be a nice guy and clean your schmutzy fingerprints off the guitar, and put a cloth between the strings and fretboard. This is especially nice on basses with roundwound strings so they do not dig into the fingerboard.

If you are shipping in a hard case put the guitar in it and shake it a little. If you can feel (or hear) movement of the guitar inside the case, this is bad. If the guitar is loose, it can act like a slide hammer as the case is moved in transit, and damage itself. Pack some towels or cloths around it inside the case to take up any slack. I do not recommend using bubble wrap inside the case, as sometimes it sticks to the guitar’s finish.

While you are in the case, see what else is in there. If you are shipping a whammy bar or accessories, wrap them to keep them from damaging the guitar in transit. I had a seller one time who thought he was being helpful by including a nice heavy slide in the case, but it came out of the accessory pocket and beat the bejesus out of the guitar. He was nice enough to let me return it to the guitar to him, but what a horribly expensive mistake to make.

Next up is finding a box. You can dig around behind your local Guitar Center and hope to get lucky. Make sure the box is not too huge, or it will take a ton of packing material to fill it up, and UPS will charge you a fortune to ship it. I only use new boxes that I get from I get model S-4922 which cost $7.88 each with a minimum order of 5. Why do I use only nice boxes? Because they fit right and protect the guitar well. Also, if there is ever a damage claim, UPS looks very closely at the box and notes whether it has been re-used.

Now you will need to come up with packing material to go between the case and the box. You need at least an inch or two between the case on all sides. DO NOT USE PACKING PEANUTS. No matter how tightly you pack in the peanuts, they will always settle, and the case will be able to move around in the box. Remember the slide hammer thing? Use wadded up paper or bubble wrap. I only use bubble wrap that I purchase (also from uline). I get 1000 feet for $76 (Uline S-3930P, 4 rolls @ 250 ft each). Compare this to the price you pay for bubble wrap at Office Depot, which is $13.39 for 25 feet. Ouch!

Use plenty of tape around the ends (at least 2.0 MIL tape), and NEVER USE DUCT OR MASKING TAPE. Measure and weigh the package as it is very important that the package be under 60 inches long and less that 108 inches length + girth, or you will get serious over size charges. You will also need these measurements for when you purchase the shipping label. It is easiest to purchase and print the label from home, so all you have to do is drop it off at the shipping location. Both UPS and the Post Office will let you do this.

When you affix the label to the box, use clear packing tape to hold it down. Do not put it in one of those clear sticky envelopes. They frequently get torn off during the automated parts of the shipping process. Also, it is a great idea to write the shipping and return addresses on the box, in case the label goes missing during shipping.

That is all I have, and I hope this series helps you out sometime. Come back soon for my usual blend of equipment and album reviews!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Selling Your Guitar Part 4: Picking a Shipper

Hi there!

In our ongoing series about selling your guitar online, we have covered most of the process, up to the part where you pack it up and ship it out. Today we look at figuring out who is going to deliver your baby to its new owner.

1. UPS is my first choice for shipping. Generally, I pay under $50 to ship guitars or basses anywhere in the 48 states with UPS. I like that they have seamless integration with PayPal addresses, and that I can drop off a package at any UPS store. Their on-line tracking is second to none, and if there is a problem with a package, they are very good about follow-up.

One downside to UPS is that if the package is valued at over $1000 you have to drop it off at a Customer Counter for sign-off. Also, sometimes their drivers will leave a package unattended at the delivery address even if adult signature is required. And lastly, if you are a buyer that has a damage claim with UPS, your best interests may not be met. If an instrument is damaged, UPS will return it to the seller, and make any payments to the seller. If they are a crummy seller (i.e. that Talkbass guy in Tucson) they have the money and the product. You could get screwed pretty easily, and not in a good way.

2. Ordinarily, I do not choose the US Postal Service (USPS). I mean, come on. Look at your mailman. Do you want them chucking a $2000 Les Paul onto your front porch? But, for international shipping they have been my best choice. As I previously said, I have used them to ship guitars and basses to Canada, Germany, England, Switzerland, France, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Brazil, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. I have never had an instrument lost or damaged.

I am always careful to verify maximum package size and maximum insured amounts before agreeing to ship outside of the US with the Postal Service. There are some surprises. For example, you can ship a full-sized bass (in a case) to New Zealand, but you have to take a guitar apart to get it down the maximum size for shipping to Austrailia. Go figure. Also, the maximum allowable insured amount is limited to no more than $650 US in some cases. Anyway, international shipping is usually no more than $150 via USPS Priority Mail, and delivery time is usually less than 2 weeks. Check it out.

3. Federal Express (Fed Ex) Ground is my last choice, with no competitors for suckling at the hind teat of shipping goodness. The only plus for their service is that you can drop off at any FedEx/Kinkos location 24 hours a day. That is it. Big frickin’ “yay” if you are the shipper.

If you are on the receiving end, heaven forbid if you are not home when Fed Ex tries to deliver. They will stop by for a few days, refuse to acknowledge requests to leave the item, and then require you to come to their warehouse to pick up your guitar. Their warehouses are usually located in cracktown, and you will walk at least ½ mile through their complex while trying to find out where customer pick up is. Once you find it, you have to deal with complete mongoloids, who are apparently the ones who are not qualified to drive trucks. As a bonus, their damage/loss claims process is abysmal as they require extensive documentation that probably does not exist in normal human business exchanges. Forget Fed Ex Ground if you know what is good for you.

Next time we will look at how to pack up your instrument so it does not show up ruined on the other end. This reduces claims and results in much happier customers.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Selling Your Guitar, Part 3: selling on eBay

Hola vamanos!

Today we continue the series on how to sell your guitars, and we move on the big mama of internet sales: eBay. As I said earlier in the series, they will take a big cut out of your proceeds, but they are the biggest game in town, and you should have good chances of selling your guitar there.

But, people make plenty of little mistakes when they list their instruments, and these little mistakes can lead to leaving big money on the table when the auction ends. Here are some hints, based on what I have seen over the years:

1. Make sure your instrument is in the correct CATEGORY. When buyers sort search resorts by brand model and dexterity, you could be left out if you put down the wrong information, or if you left the fields blank.

2. Most buyers initiate there searches with keywords, so make your auction TITLE as descriptive as possible and use all of the characters that they allow. Include the brand and model, and add in USA if it was made there and if you think it will help sales. Oh, and make sure you spell everything correctly. Try searching for a “percision bass”, and I bet you will find a few.

3. We covered the item DESCRIPTION in day one of the series. Head back there and take a look. It increases my pages views, you know…

4. PHOTOS. See Item 3.

5. When figuring out PRICING, start out by checking what similar instruments have sold for recently. If you have a real set of stones on you, start it out with $1 and no reserve. I double-dog dare you. Or, if you are hoping for a quicker sale, set a BUY-IT-NOW price. Your starting price has to be at least 10% lower than the buy-it-now price.

6. Or, if you are not sure how much you are going to get for it, you could set a RESERVE price. I use reserve price auctions to get people interested in my items and get them bidding early. This is especially useful if items cost more than a few hundred dollars, where a higher starting price might discourage bidding. Also, if the item hits reserve early, it usually avoids the dozen guys that bid in the last five seconds, all hoping to be the highest, which is not always the best for the seller. This helps to preserve my interest, by making sure I get my price for the item and usually quite a bit more. If I reveal the reserve to even one person, that person has the advantage over all of the other bidders, and negates the whole purpose of having a reserve auction. I cannot understand sellers that will actually list the reserve price in the auction, as they might as well just list a starting price, especially as there is an extra fee to list an item with a reserve. Surely a reserve will tick a few people off (and usually this is the smarter people who do not have a sheep mentality), and of course they are free to shop elsewhere. If it is an item that they want they will bid if they really want it. Reserve prices are not unusual, or limited to eBay. All auction houses use reserve pricing, and the majority of big ticket items that they sell have a reserve. Whoo! Gnarly ranting paragraph! Sorry.

7. Pay close attention to your AUCTION END TIME. I almost always run 7-day auctions, and aim to have them end around 7:00PM on a Wednesday or Thursday night. eBay will let you pick your end time for an extra 10 cents and it is worth it. Most people wait until the last minute to bid. You are selling a guitar, right? Musicians are not going to be home on Friday or Saturday nights to bid. Ditto for holidays. I stupidly had an auction end on New Year’s Day one time, and nobody bid. Dang it.

8. You need to figure out your SHIPPING COSTS, and this is one area where eBay gets the most complaints. Admittedly, some sellers do gouge their customers, but then again, many people do not realize how much it costs to ship a bass. Generally, I make shipping free, and just bump up the price of the instrument to compensate. They can’t complain if it is free, right?

9. And lastly, give some thought to offering INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING. You know what? The dollar sucks pretty hard right now, making our products a pretty good deal in the rest of the world. I’ve had no problems shipping to Germany, England, France, Romania, Sweden, Finland, Brazil, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Just be careful to verify maximum package size and maximum insured amounts before agreeing to ship.

Next time we will be talking about how to choose your shipper. Check in often!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Selling Your Guitar, Part 2: selling outside of eBay


Last time we went through writing up a description and taking photos of your guitar, and now we move on to the fun part of actually trying to sell it.

When I mention selling guitars, people automatically assume that I mean through eBay. But, before selling your guitar on eBay, give an honest effort at trying to sell it somewhere else first. eBay takes a huge cut in fees, and then double-dips and charges you more fees when you accept PayPal. Hit up your friends first, and maybe the electronic bulletin board at your work.

If you have no luck there, try to make a local deal with somebody through Craigslist. I’ve had a few successes with Craigslist, but unfortunately the flakiest people on the planet respond to their advertisements. If you do make a deal with a stranger that contacts you through Craigslist, be very careful when you meet them. Do not give them your address, and meet them in a public place that YOU are familiar with. There are a lot of crooks and crazy people out there.

If you fail to sell it locally, it might be time to toss your guitar onto the steaming pile of crap that many people call the “internet”. Keep in mind that there are many alternative to eBay on the internet too. For basses, you cannot go wrong with Talkbass, and I am astounded at the number of basses that sell through that site. You might also consider going to an internet forum that specializes in your specific guitar, as many of them have a classified ads. Examples of this would be TDPRI (Telecasters), Ernie Ball (MusicMan), Steinbergerworld, Tokai Registry, etc. In any of these cases, you can post a link to the photos you put on your Photobucket site.

In all of these cases, PayPal is your friend. They do provide buyer and seller protections. Just make sure that you carefully pack, ship and insure the guitar. We will cover this later on in the series.

If you decide the go the eBay route, do not feel like you have failed. There is a reason they are such a huge site, as it is easier to buy and sell items there than anywhere else on the internet. We will catch up with selling on eBay next time.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Selling Your Guitar, Part 1: descriptions and photos

Buenos Dias!

Today I am kicking off a series about selling your guitar on the internet, from listing it to getting it shipped out. I have bought and sold hundreds of guitars and basses on the internet over the past 13 years, so I think I have it figured out by now.

The first thing to do is: figure out what you have. This sounds pretty basic, but there is more than just knowing that you have a Fender Stratocaster. Where was it made, and when? What kind of wood is it made of? Is there any history of repairs or modifications? Are the frets in good shape, and does the truss rod work? These are all questions that your buyers may have, and if you do not know the answers do not make something up. This is where a lot of misunderstandings occur.

If you get a chance, weigh it on a decent scale. Buyers get cranky if you get the weight wrong, because some of them are really persnickety about even ½ pound of extra weight. And, most importantly, play the thing and make sure that it plays well and sounds ok. Get it fixed if something is wrong. You cannot assume that everything is ok just because it was fine when you put it in the case years ago. The battery may have leaked or the neck could have warped, or the top cracked all by itself.

Write up a description that includes all of the stuff I was just writing about. Try to use real sentences with verbs and put capital letters in the correct places.

Now for the pictures. Do not use your cel phone unless it has a really good camera in it. Borrow a decent camera if you need to, but put out some extra effort here. Good pictures do a great job of selling your guitar, and can save you headaches in the future if you can accurately show the condition of the guitar up front.

Before your photo shoot, clean up the guitar. Get the fingerprints off the paint and the smutz off the fretboard. Wipe down the tuners and bridge. Show some pride in your instrument, and show your customers that this was a beloved instrument, and not a tool that you neglected.

Pick a spot where you can use natural light, which will help you avoid flash reflections in your photos. Pay attention to your background. Nobody wants to see your trashed house or garage, or junk-strewn backyard. If you living conditions are so horrible that you have no place nice to take the picture, take your photo shoot down to your local park.

Shoot photos of the front and back, the pickups, the bridge and tuners, the condition of the frets, the neck joints, around the strap pins, the front of the headstock, the back of the neck and any notable damage or repair work. If there is worming or rash on the back, try to capture that too.

After you down load the photos onto your computer, crop them so they look nice, and so the guitar is the focus of the picture, not stuff in the background.

You will want to have copies of the pictures on the internet so they are easier to view, and the best way I have found to do this is with Photobucket. Starting a Photobucket account is easy (and free) and will also come in handy for posting pictures to internet forums and whatnot.

Ok, that is enough for today. We will pick up with actually trying to sell the guitar next time. Stay tuned!


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Art and Lutherie Ami Cedar Parlour Acoustic Guitar

Good day!

Today we are looking at a super-keen Art & Lutherie Ami Cedar parlour-sized acoustic guitar. Art & Lutherie guitars are a solid value. They are an offshoot of the Godin family of guitars and are made in Princeville Quebec. They claim that 95% of their wood comes from Canada, too. The 5% must be all of that Indian rosewood.

I am impressed by the sound and the build quality of this guitar, and even more by the price, which is much less than a comparable Martin or Taylor guitar. Their concept was to make an instrument that is similar to the parlour guitars of the early 20th century. But its small size does not mean it is a toy. It has a full-size neck and plays like a real guitar.

The Ami is a spartan-looking guitar, with a black finish over the solid cedar top, and red wild cherry back and sides. The fretboard and bridge are made of Indian rosewood. The finish is sort of a semi-matte, and the body has a simple binding around the top. The super cheap-looking stick-on rosette is my biggest gripe with the appearance.

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 a smooth satin finish, which does not get sticky over time. The nut is 1.72-inches wide, so it is a little narrow if you do a lot of finger picking, but this is a normal scale (24.84-inch) guitar so the frets are a normal distance apart. There are 19 medium frets and there is an adjustable trussrod. This guitar had a great set-up right out of the box, and the frets ends are finished well, with nice edges.

So, overall it is a nicely-made guitar, with solid materials. But, it sounds nice and plays well too! It has a fairly balanced tone and surprising volume when picked hard. It is pleasant to play, and is a great travel guitar.

And if you take it on a trip, it is nice and light, weighing in at around 3 pounds, 11 ounces according to my scale. They come with a good quality padded gig bag, which is a nice bonus in my book.

Oh. I almost forgot. If you hate the black color or the cedar top, there are other options available with the Art & Lutherie Ami guitars. You can get Ami cedar tops in blue (shudder), natural, and burst. Or you can choose a spruce top in burgundy. There is also a nylon string model available.

MSRP on this guitar is a mere $329, with a street price of about $299. You can negotiate a bit lower than the street price so check around before you buy. You will not find a better small-sized acoustic guitar for the money.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Fender Jazz Bass Special

Some folks have requested that I write about the original run of Fender Jazz Bass Specials, and I am happy to oblige. One of these was my first decent bass, and they have remained one of my favorite basses of all time. I have owned bunches of them, making me a pseudo-expert.

If you are not familiar with these, Jazz Bass Specials were made famous by Duff McKagan of Guns N Roses, and later of Velvet Revolver. These basses were made by Fender in Japan in the early years that were known for the best MIJ guitars, and were of better quality than the ones produced in the US. They were originally produced from 1985 to 1987 (or so).

The ”special” part of the Jazz Bass Special is that it has a Precision Bass body shape with a Jazz Bass profile neck and a P/J pickup configuration.

The bodies are probably basswood, as they are light. They have a control cavity routed in the back so there is no pickguard (this also makes it easier to add active electronics). I have had them finished in black, red, Sonic Blue, and of course, the yellowed pearl white of Mr. McKagan’s basses.

The necks all have a glossy black headstock, and a rosewood fretboard. They were available fretted or fretless. The backs maple necks were either clear coated, or painted glossy black. The glossy black ones are much more desireable.

The pickup s are passive with volume/volume/TBX (tone) controls with a 3-way pickup selector. Many times Jazz Bass Specials have been modified with active electronics, such as EMG or the Seymour Duncan pickups (the ones with the little toggle switches) that were so popular back then.

They came with black hardware, which had some issues with the finish. The neck plates and bridges oxidized badly and developed an ugly, chalky appearance over time. This led to a lot of bridge replacements, which is a shame: there are really nice brass saddles underneath that black finish.

Often times, the knobs were replaced, too. They came with F-logo plastic knobs that had a nubbly rubber grip around the edge. Good luck finding replacements if they are missing, because Fender does not sell them, and I never see them for sale on eBay. I am thinking about re-issuing them myself.

Anyway, these are great basses. They sound good, play very well, and generally come in under 9 pounds. Plus they are pretty cheap. These are still a great deal, with unmolested examples in good condition selling for about $500.

I would pick up one of these original Jazz Bass Specials Japanese before considering one of the low-quality newer re-issues.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Fender Vibro Champ XD Guitar Amplifier


We are looking at the guitar amplifier that I am currently using – the Fender Vibro Champ XD. I got it a while back when I was ampless, and wanted to pick up something cheap to practice with. Well, it has stuck around longer than I thought it would because it is a pretty good amplifier.

From the name, you have probably figured out that this is another version of the legendary Fender Champ and Vibro Champ amplifiers. It carries over the same basic concepts of the original, as it is a small and lightweight, low-powered all tube amplifier. Amplifiers like this became popular because they could get a crunchy overdriven tone at lower volume levels, making them great for practicing around the house without chapping off the neighbors.

It is a 5-watt (at 4 ohms) Class A amplifier with a 12AX7 pre-amp tube and a 6V6 Power tube. The cabinet is a handy size, measuring about 14x18x9 inches, and coming in around 25 pounds. It packs a single mediocre 8-inch 4-ohm Fender speaker.

Inputs and outputs are sparse. There is one input on the front, and on the back there is one speaker out and a ¼-inch line out jack.

The basic controls are easy to figure out: Gain, Volume, Treble and Bass. After that we get to where the Vibro Champ XD diverges from the originals: through the addition of the Voice and F/X controls.

The Voice control is a 16-position knob that uses digital technology to simulate different tones, some of which are supposed to mimic other Fender and Marshall amplifiers. More on this later.

The F/X control knob provides some basic guitar effects, including Tremolo, Vibratone, Delay, Chorus and Reverb. A few of these can be combined together, i.e. Reverb + Delay or Chorus + Delay + Reverb. There is a separate knob to control the F/X level. This is also accomplished via magic computer circuits.

And it all comes together well in this package. It puts out good volume for its size (but you would lose a volume battle with a drummer pretty quickly), and it sounds pretty good. The response and tone of the speaker is a weak link on the Vibro Champ XD. The marketing materials call it a Fender Special Design speaker, and “Special” must be a euphemism for “cheap” in Fender language. It would not be difficult to put something more special in it.

I do not mess with the Voice control very much. I mostly run it in Voice position 1, which is supposed to sound like a Fender Champ, which it does very well. I have used position 16 with acoustic guitars, and it gives them a natural and warm tone. The rest of the positions do an ok job of mimicking various blackface, tweed, Marshall and Vox amps, but I am not really interested in twiddling the knobs and changing all of my guitar settings to try to get somebody else’s tone. I know what I am looking for.

The F/X does not get much of a workout with me either. I either like a clean tone or an overdriven tone, and I can get as much of this as I want with the Gain knob. BTW, the Vibro Champ XD amp has a better clean tone than the Orange Tiny Terror I tried out last year.

I have not had any problems with mine, and do not anticipate any. Having the tubes plugged in to the printed circuit board makes me a little nervous, but If something were to go wrong, the amplifier came with a 5-year factory warranty, which is sweet.

The Vibro Champ XD is made sweeter by its low price. The list price is $279.99 with a street price of $199.99. I did a quick check of eBay and found that they sell for about $125 to $150 in used condition.

I think you will not find a better all-tube guitar amplifier for the price.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Inventory Update: 1st Quarter of 2011

Happy New Year!

I figured I would kick off the new year with a new feature: What does Rex have in stock right now? My friends know this is a moving target, but I figure I can draw a line in the sand at this moment in time and let you all in on my secret stash of goodness. I will try to update this once a quarter, so that everybody knows what is going on.

1. Art and Lutherie Ami parlour guitar. You will see me writing about this one soon. It is pure fun.

2. EBMM Stingray Classic 4 string. This is living in Chicago right now, but will probably find its way home to me.

3. 1983 Fender JV Precision Bass. The holy grail of Japanese P basses, and is the instrument that has lived in my stable the longest. Strung with flats, for the Motown thump.

4. 1994 Fender 62 RI Jazz Bass. Strung with rounds, this bass is sharp, and has had plenty of road wear and mojo applied.

5. 1997 Fender 52 RI Telecaster. I cannot believe that I have a Telecaster that is heavier than my Les Paul, but Fender figured out a way to make it happen for me. Bravo!

6. 1999 Fender 62 RI Stratocaster. Does this complete my collection of the major models from Fender?

7. Simon & Patrick Songsmith dreadnaught. The instrument I use the most, and a super-popular subject for readers of this blog. Go figure.

8. 1983 Tokai Love Rock. I love to use my Love Rock for rock.

9. Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 with 2 12-inch Shuttle cabinets. No drama to report with this set-up. I am still in love with it.

10. Cave Passive Pedals. These are the only products on my pedalboard besides my trusty Boss tuner.

11. Fender Vibro Champ XD. A super-cheap guitar amp that is working out pretty well. I will be putting together a report on this one, too. Soon. Real soon.

Check back on April 1st. I am sure my selection will look completely different. There are already a few changes in the works.