Thursday, March 31, 2011

1970s Aria 1532T Guitar

Good day!

I have written about a lot of guitars that were made during the “lawsuit era”. These were 1970s Japanese copies of famous Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker guitars. The guitar we are looking at today was made before any of the lawsuits were settled, but somehow does not copy anything terribly well.

This guitar was made by Aria, and the sticker on the back of the headstock identifies it as model 1532T, and I am going to say it is closest to a Fender Jaguar in style. But there are only similarities to the Fender as the shape of the headstock and body, and the layout of the electronics are all quite a bit different.

I found this guitar at a pawn shop in San Pedro about 10 years ago, and I think I paid about $200 for it at the time. It was probably made between 1968 and 1972, and was in original condition with no modifications that I could find.

The body is made of alder with a modernistic offset shape. The white finish yellowed nicely over the years. The vintage tremolo is kind of awful, but it never bothered me much because I do not use the whammy bar on my guitars anyway.

The bolt-on neck was very nice and did not show much wear for a 30+ year old guitar. It was straight and the trussrod still worked fine. Look at those tuners! Their base is cast as one piece, which is pretty strange in the electric guitar world. The 21 original frets were in good shape, and the rosewood fretboard showed no wear. By the way, the 1532T is a 24 ¾-inch scale guitar.

The electronics are a lot simpler than the Jaguar. The Aria just has two single coil pickups (big ones, aren’t they?), a three-way selector switch and volume and tone controls.

Don’t get me wrong -- just because this is a bizarre take on the original does not mean it is not a great guitar. It sounds good and is really lightweight and fun to play. You get a lot of guitar for the money with these older Japanese electrics.

While researching this I found that Aria has re-issued this guitar as model Retro-1532, with a list price of about $300. I have not had a chance to try them out, but they look right and come with a 1 year warranty. I am pretty sure they are no longer made in Japan, but the quality of Chinese and Jorean guitars can be surprisingly good.

I f you’ve had a chance to play one of the re-issues, why don’t you drop me a line and let me know what you think.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Top Ten Worst Songs on My iPod

Buenos dias, amigos!

Continuing on in the spirit of the self-indulgent ego trip that I call Rex and the Bass, I have complied my list of the top 10 worst songs on my iPod (which has about 5000 songs on it right now). The only rules for my selections are that each “artist” is limited to only one song on the list. Here we go:

10. Shania Twain: “That Don’t Impress Me Much”: Her success must be because she is smoking hot, not because of songs like this.

9. The Beatles ”Revolution 9”: Eight minutes of Yoko Ono-inspired crap. Maybe the band got a bonus for coming up with 4 album sides of material.

8. Enya “Only Time”: Repetitive and slightly nauseating, but a staple of weddings and wedding receptions everywhere. I cringe whenever I see her name come up as I am scrolling through my tracks.

7. Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer”: Oh, this song is about sex? How clever! What a shame that this innuendo-fest was Peter Gabriel’s only number 1 hit in the US. He will never get another chance at one.

6. Korn “Dead Bodies Everywhere”: Thank god I do not have to explain why I have some of the music in my library. This is pure junior high school level crap. I hope adults do not buy these albums.

5. LL Cool J “Big Ole Butt“: A paean for all ganstas that like steppin’ out on their ladies. Not the best single of 1989.

4. Kelly Clarkson “Breakaway”: I do think she is very talented, but this overplayed radio hit is too damned la la la for me.

3. Blind Melon “No Rain”: No offense to the departed, but Shannon Hoon had the second most irritating voice in the history of recorded music.

2. Blink-182 “All the Small Things“: Tom DeLonge beats out Hoon for the most irritating voice contest. I wish I could put every Blink-182 and Angels & Airwaves song on this list.

1. Johnny Cash “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer”: I know Johnny Cash is a legend, but this song is the longest 8 minutes and 27 seconds you will ever endure.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Tool is not my favorite band

Aloha everybody!

In another brazen stroke of ego, I am going to use Al Gore’s tremendous internet to share a bit about Tool. Though they have cranked out some awesome music, there are a plenty of things hold me back from loving this band.

In case you have unplugged yourself from the music scene since 1990 (and it seems like a lot of people have), Tool is a Los Angeles-based progressive rock band. They have released 4 albums and an EP, earning three Grammy awards along the way.

Tool’s rabid fan base (more on that later), assert that Tool’s music is genius, the lyrics are brilliant poetry and nobody has better performance skills.

Well, on some level I agree with parts of this. Over the years, Tool has honed their craft. They have some truly great songs, and their production is slicker than snot on a doorknob. I think they are all first-rate musicians, and that Danny Carey is a brilliant drummer that really holds everything together.

1993’s Undertow was the breakthrough album for the band, and was very good as a whole. All of the songs had plenty of anger yet were still listenable. I really think this album was their high-water mark, and we have seen a steady increase in self-indulgent offerings from Tool.

Their 1996 album, Aenima, won the band their first Grammy award. And it certainly is a slick album, with some sort of deep concept throughout. By the way, I think the concept of the album is that the recording industry and their fan base are mindless sheep (chew on that for awhile, fainbois). But this album is also where Tool started working in a lot of non-musical crap into their content. And, of the actual songs they recorded for this album, there are only a few stand outs.

And, their latest two albums, Lateralus and 10,000 Days, complete their spiral into the Hubris Hut. I think there are only about 3 good songs in the bunch. I attended a few of the shows for the Lateralus album tour, and their performance gave me the same cheated feeling that I get from these later albums. They played very little of their older material, but they found time for Maynard to stand like a statue for 15 minutes while a pre-recorded synthesizer track and light show played. Come on…

But Tool fans continue to eat this up and ask for more. Why is this? The short answer is that Tool fans are insane.

Because Tool’s music is more progressive than anything else played on the radio, their fans have deluded themselves into believing that the music is deep and intelligent. This could not be farther from the truth. Writing songs about religion, violence, sex and abuse does not put them in a terribly exclusive club.

But, because the fans have “discovered” this deep and intelligent band, they feel that they should be exclusive members of a club that should only include deep and intelligent persons such as themselves. This is personified by the Tool Army, their official fan club ( which charges members fees from $40 to $99 to join. This is the ultimate indication of zealous these fans are, not to mention how the band really feels about their fans.

Of course, true fans think that they are the only ones who “get it”, and that the vast majority of other Tool fans do not “get it” and are therefore unworthy to be fans, and should not be included in the club. Of course, the sad truth is that anybody can understand Tool’s music if they step back and realize that a lot of what the band does is for their own entertainment, at the expense of people who buy their records and who pony up for concert tickets.

Anyway, step back a little and think about why you really like this band before sending me hateful e-mails. And, look at the bright side: if you are a Tool fan you are probably not a Rush fan!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rex and the Bass, Literally

Just for you, Howard…


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Visual Sound 1 Spot Combo Pack


I barely run any powered effects on my pedalboard, but I used to. That was when my Visual Sound 1 Spot Combo Pack came in handy.

If you run a large pedalboard with lots of effect pedals, you are looking at a major investment in power. Either you are maintaining a stock of 9-volt batteries (which suck the soul out of our Mother Earth), or you are buying AC adapters at 15 bucks a pop and have to lug around a power strip. Not to mention adding an arterial system of extra power cables going every which way.

I avoided both of these scenarios and bought the 1 Spot Combo Pack, which looks frickin’ amazing on paper.

The kit includes the power adapter (with a slim profile), an 8-pedal cable, two battery clip converters (for pedals that do not have power inputs, like vintage pedals), two 1/8-inch converters (again for vintage pedals) and an L6 converter for Line 6 modeling pedals. Who buys those Line 6 pedals, anyway?

The 1 Spot can power up to 8 effects with only 1 inverter/transformer, assuming your total draw is no more than 1700mA. Supposedly you can buy additional multi-plug cables to “power a virtually unlimited number of pedals!” Well, as long as you do not exceed 1700mA.

Supposedly this system will power Boss PSA, Morley, Danelectro, Dunlop, Ibanez, and Zoom pedals. I only used mine for Boss pedals and a Tech 21 VT (which is not even on this list). I never had a pedal this thing would not power.

Another of their claims is that you can use the 1 Spot “anywhere in the world without a voltage converter because it automatically converts voltage worldwide.” I have not tried the 1 Spot anywhere besides the good old USA. But, despite their assertions, I would rather trust a 9-volt battery than a wall outlet in a Moroccan pole dancing establishment.

Visual Sound’s last claim is that there is “No need to worry about AC hum coming through an adapter - the 1 SPOT is one of the quietest power sources you can buy.” I emit hi-ho hearty bullshit cough on this one. The one I got added of hum on every pedal I ever plugged into it. Every single one. My Boss adapters add no noise. Go figure.

That’s about all I have for you on this product. It did work on my pedals and I ended up with some extra noise. I never used 8 pedals, so I always had a bunch of extra plugs that had to be routed somewhere and tied off. If you look online, you will see plenty of reviews by musicians who say that their 1 Spot failed completely, and most reviewers complain of noise.

If you want to try out the Visual Sound 1 Spot Combo Pack, they are not expensive. The list price is $39.95, or you can find them online for $33.10. Or you can buy my barely used one for a little cheaper. Shoot me an e-mail if you are interested.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Ernie Ball MusicMan SLO Special Stingray Bass

Como estas?

Today I have dragged out some photos of a 2009 MusicMan Stingray SLO Special bass. You may ask: “What’s so special about it?” In a nutshell, it is the neck.

The Stingray Bass has been made since 1976, with numerous improvements and refinements over the years, particularly after Ernie Ball bought MusicMan in the early 1980s. But, one thing that never changed was the neck profile.

And this was a problem for some bassists who did not care for the Stingray’s beefy P-bass neck profile. MusicMan does make the Sterling bass, which has the narrower Jazz Bass profile neck with a 1.5-inch nut. But the Sterling is a smaller bass that does not sound like a Stingray, so what to do?

How about taking a Sterling neck and putting it on the Stingray body? Wouldn’t that be special?

Well, that is exactly what they did. The named it “SLO Special” as homage to San Luis Obispo, California where MusicMan guitars and basses are built. They were introduced in 2009 with little fanfare and no advertising support, so chances are good that not many bassists even know these exist, which is a shame.

Other than the neck, everything else on the bass is pure Stingray. It has all of the high-quality appointments you would expect from MusicMan, including Schaller tuners, the solidly attached bridge, a 6-bolt neck joint, quiet electronics and tons of craftsmanship.

The SLO Special pictured here was made in 2009, and is all original. It is finished in glossy black poly (with a tort guard!) and there are no finish flaws that I could find. The neck pocket fit is very tight and the fretwork is perfect.

This one has a single humbucking pickup and the 2-band equalizer, which is my preferred configuration for the Stingray.

An unexpected surprise with this bass was that it came in at around 8 ½ pounds, which is very light for a Stingray.

I had it set up with Ernie Ball Hybrid Slinkies (.045 to .105), and it was a really smooth player but I eventually traded it off so I could get one of the new Stingray Classic models. I actually prefer the beefier neck of the regular Stingrays…

If you want to buy one of these new, you had better start saving up. New Stingrays have a list price of $2300 and a street price of $1645. Or if you are not super picky about condition, you can buy them used on eBay all day long for $900.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

1967 Fender Custom Shop Relic Telecaster


I am usually not a big fan of “Custom Shop” instruments. They seem a manufacturer’s scheme to bump the price of an instrument up exponentially while providing only an incremental improvement in quality. This 1967 Fender Custom Shop Relic Telecaster seems to fall squarely into that category, with a list price of $3800 and a street price of $3195.

That is a metric ton of money for a very simple guitar.

Well, I didn’t pay that much as it came to me in a trade deal for the equivalent of $1200, which puts this guitar back into the game for me. And, this one is a real peach.

This Custom Shop Telecaster has a great unplugged resonance, so you can feel strings vibrating freely through the neck and the body while you play. This resonating interaction between player and guitar really adds to the playing experience, not to mention the how it contributes to the plugged in sound. It sounds like a great Tele should: twang, snap, growl, shimmer, all there.

There is plenty of sustain when bending strings, and lots of ring to the strings when they are strummed open.

The quarter-sawn maple neck is as comfy as you can find, and it has a really nice balance between chunky and thin. It has the classic radius with a 1960s C-shape. The neck’s vintage tint finish is worn just so, so it is very nice feeling and feels great to play. There are the typical relic wear marks on the fret board at the typical places, but there is no fret wear at all.

I also not a big fan of relc’d guitars, but this Telecaster is "tastefully" done in my opinion. It does not look like it has been absolutely trashed through the years, but instead well played and cared for with realistic lacquer checking in the nitro and a few strategically placed dings and gouges.

Nothing sounds like a classic vintage Fender other than, well, a classic Vintage Fender, and these custom shop time machine guitars. And, it is ready to rock as it sits today. Much unlike a vintage 60's Tele is likely to be.

Oh yeah, and it is very light. It weighs in at 7.09 lb., which makes it one of the lightest ones I've come across. Of course it also came with a super nice case and accessory kit, as well as that desirable Custom Shop Certificate of Authenticity.

Does anybody need a Fender Custom Shop Relic? No. But I have to admit that this guitar just feels and sounds right, and could be worth it if you are willing to pay a super premium to get exactly the *right* guitar for you.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

La Bella Jamerson Flats

How’s it going?

I have heard about “Jamerson Flats” for years, and finally decided to try a set of these strings on one of my basses. I did not know much about them before trying them out and I am pretty surprised by the results.

You may not know much about them either, so here is the low down. James Jamerson was a legendary Motown bassist who played (mostly uncredited) on every Motown hit you have ever heard. He put a set of La Bella flats on his 1962 Precision bass, and NEVER CHANGED THEM AGAIN. Ha! By the way, Jamerson never endorsed these (he died in 1983) and his widow is now suing La Bella.

Anyway, these “Original 1954” stainless steel flatwound strings are still available today from La Bella as part number 0760M. They are beefy-assed strings, coming in at .110 for the E to .052 for the G. And, they are made in the U.S.A.

I decided to try them out on my 1982 JV Precision Bass which had pretty dead roundwounds on it. I have an almost identical 1983 JV P bass with D’Addario Chromes (or Ernie Ball flats, I can’t remember), so I thought it would be a nice comparison.

The slightly larger La Bellas just needed a little filing of the nut, and the truss rod was in good shape, so I was not too married about damaging anything. Plus, I think (with absolutely no data to support my assertion) that all-maple necks are a bit sturdier than necks with rosewood fretboards.

Right off, I noticed a difference just plucking open strings with the bass unplugged. They sounded deep and resonated strongly. Playing a bit (still unplugged) there was no buzz at all, even though the action was set really low. The feel of the strings is a bit different to me, just because they are so big. But different is not bad and they are very comfortable.

Plugged in, they are a bit brighter than I expected, but surely they will darken up as time goes on and provide the thumpy tone of the 1960s that I was looking for, I think they are a winner.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to try these out. 1. You will not be able to use these on basses that string through the body. 2. Make sure that you neck is in good condition before installing them, as these strings will put your truss rod to the test.

The La Bella Jamerson Flats may seem a little spendy at first glance (about $54 online), but they are cheaper than TI flats, and they could be the last strings you ever buy. You should give them a try!


Monday, March 14, 2011

Martin Steel String Backpacker Acoustic: the Moped of Guitars


Today we are looking at a guitar that I thought was exactly what I was looking for, but it just did not work out. It is a Martin Steel String Backpacker.

As I travel a lot, I was hoping to get an acoustic that was small, but would still give me the feel of a larger guitar. The Backpacker guitars have a 24-inch scale and a 1 11/16-inch nut, so the feel is about the same as a full-sized guitar. But, they pack very small, and weigh almost nothing. So far they look pretty good on paper.

Backpacker guitars are made in Mexico, which is not surprising given their very low price. But, the workmanship on the one I had was very nice. Everything was glued very neatly and lined up well. The fretwork was good and the finish was even. It was certainly good enough in the craftsmanship department.

These guitars get a spruce top with “solid tonewoods” for the neck, sides and back. Whatever that means. It looks like mahogany to me, so why not just say “mahogany”.

The neck on my Backpacker was good, with a nice feel and a good action from the factory. It stayed in tune well and was good for keeping my left hand in shape.

But, I could not stand this guitar, and here are my top 3 reason why:

1. Ergonomically, it is a miserable guitar. I HAD to have it strapped on while playing, even while sitting down. Also, there was no support for my right hand, resulting in a bit of pain to my wrist. No thanks. This really was the deal killer for me. I could have put up with my next two complaints had I been comfortable playing it.

2. It has a very tinny and thin tone. Well, I am a big crybaby, aren’t I? With a body that small, what can you really expect?

3. It just looks goofy. With that funky body shape, it is not nearly as cool-looking as a ukulele. It is the moped of guitars.

These have an optional electronics package so you can plug it in, although I have some trouble figuring out exactly when you would want to amplify the sound that comes out of one of these guitars. I certainly would not want to pay an extra $150 for the privilege.

Backpacker guitars come with a Martin padded bag, and a Martin strap. Martin provides a 1-year limited warranty for all of the Backpacker series guitars.

Should you decide to try one of these out, you will not be risking too much bread. The list price on the Martin Steel String Backpacker is $309.00, and they sell online (new) for about $169.00. If you want to try the used market I have seen them around the $100 range. Don’t say I did not warn you, though.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Epiphone Elitist Les Paul Guitar

Good morning!

Before you start sniffing at today’s subject guitar, I have to say that the Elitist models are not your run-of-the-mill Epiphone guitars that are put together by little kids in China. These were assembled in Japan using American pickups and hardware from Gibson. They are a tremendous value, and are very well made.

This one is a 2000 model year Epiphone Elitist Les Paul Studio. It is finished in glossy black with chrome hardware. If you do not look at the headstock logo (or the dot inlays) you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and a Gibson Les Paul Studio.

The non-bound body is made of mahogany, and does not seem to be chambered. I am not super-keen on the black pickguard, but it is what it is.

The electronics are very good. It is wired with a 3-way switch and dual volume and tone pots like every other Les Paul, and it is equipped with Gibson pickups: a 498T in the bridge position and a 490R at the neck.

The neck is nice and thick with a 50s feel. The rosewood fretboard and dot inlays are not high end like ebony and MOP, but you have to save money somewhere on a budget guitar. The tuners are chrome Grovers. Nice!

The overall condition is good. The paint is nice and glossy, with some swirling and a few small dings. The most notables are one on the front, and another on the back of the neck. Neither is bigger than a pencil eraser. There is very little wear to the frets, and no signs of a hard life or abuse.

It is a really good guitar, and probably is better quality than 90% of the guitars coming out of Gibson’s US factories today. It plays like butter and sounds killer. My guy set it up with Ernie Ball Slinky .010s. He also replaced the plastic output jack cover with a chrome one, as the original one had cracked. This is the only modification to the guitar.

This one came to me with the original Elitist case, which is a hard-to-find item. It was a big plus for me.

The Epiphone Elitist models are also available in Les Paul Standard, SG and ES models. It you are looking for a budget Gibson, keep an eye out for fan Elitist.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Memory Lane: Gallien-Krueger 800RB Amplifier


Last month we looked at my first bass amplifier, the Peavey TNT 150. The Peavey satisfied my wants for awhile, but eventually had to have something prettier and louder. Inspired by what I saw on late night TV, I decided on the Gallien-Krueger 800RB.

Gallien-Krueger was started by a couple of HP engineers back in the early 1970s and has become one of the most popular bass amplifier manufacturers in the world. They were pioneers in lightweight high-power solid state amplification.

The 800RB was introduced in the 1982, and delivers on both the lightweight and high-power fronts.

This amplifier weighs in around 23 pounds, and measures approximately 17.5" wide by 5.25" high by 9.5" deep. So yes, you can mount this amplifier in a standard size rack if you replace remove the little rubber feet and replace the amplifier end caps with rack ears.

The power output is impressive, with two amplifier outputs: 300 watts at 4 ohms for the low side and 100 watts at 8 ohms for the high side. Compared to GK’s newer designs (not to mention Genz Benz or Markbass) this might not seem super-bitchin’ , but 25 years ago it sure was.

The 800RB is a clean-looking amp, with a crinkly-finished metal case. This is common today, but was unusual in the 1970s when amplifiers were made of plywood and fabric. There is a handle mounted to one end of the case in case you decide not to go with a rack case.

I popped mine open when I had it (curiosity, I guess) to see what was in there. The wiring was tidy and nicely routed, and there was a huge transformer. And no cooling fan. Gallien-Krueger went with a great big heat sink on the back of the case instead. If you really crank the amp you could grill hot dogs on the cooling fins.

The front is uncluttered, with a neat line of controls. There is one ¼” input jack (a 10db cut switch is included) and a master volume knob. Tone controls include 3 filter switches (low cut, mid cut and high boost), and a 4-band equalizer. There is also an adjustable footswitch-controllable boost circuit, and lastly there are the crossover and level controls for the two amplifier circuits.

The back of the 800RB is very simple with a direct out, and effects loop and ¼” speaker outs – 1 for the high circuit and two for the low circuit.

I used this amplifier for years and never had any trouble with it. The rest of my rig was a Hartke 115XL and either a 201XL or 410 XL, and I always had more volume available if I needed it. The tone was even, although it never was the warmest bass sound I ever heard.

I eventually downsized my rig and went to a SWR Super Redhead combo. The 800RB and Hartke cabinets were sold off in the aftermath.

When writing this, I did a little looking around on the internet and was shocked to find that GK is still selling this exact same amplifier. That means that you can buy the dream amplifier of your youth, and still get a 2-year warranty.

The list price for the Gallien-Krueger 800RB is $1142, with a street price of $790. If I remember correctly, this is just a little more than what I paid for this amplifier over 20 years ago.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1988 Spector NS-2A Bass

Hi there!

Today we are going to look at a sweet 1988 Spector NS-2A bass. But before I start yammering on about this bass, I had better explain the relationship between Spector and Kramer Guitars.

Stuart Spector is a luthier that started his own company in 1974, and he introduced his most famous bass, the NS, in 1977. “NS” stands for Ned Steinberger, who helped design the bass. Yes, that is the same Ned Steinberger that started Steinberger guitars.

NS basses sold well, leading Kramer Guitars to buy the company in 1985. Kramer continued production of the NS, and introduced an imported line of basses that include the NS-2A we are talking about today. All of these basses were sold under the Spector name until Kramer went bankrupt in 1991.

So, this bass is a 1988 NS-2A, which is one of approximately 7000 that were built between 1987 and 1990. This is a neck through bass with the same body shape as the NS, with a carved top and a concave back. It is finished in a gorgeous semi-transparent cherry burst fade. The finish is in very good condition, with only some light dings. See the photos for details.

The neck has a rosewood fretboard with pearl dot inlays, and 23 years later it shows very little fret wear. Somebody changed the nut somewhere along the line, so there is a little roughness between the nut and the original finish. The headstock has the SSD logo, and the original truss rod cover. It is a little dinged up around the cover. The neck is very playable and has a nice medium/low action. BTW, this is a 34-inch scale bass.

This NS-2A has its original black hardware, and the finish has held up a lot better than it did on the late 1980s Fenders. The bridge looks to be the same design as they use today, and the Schaller tuners are a nice find on an import bass. The low E tuner has been replaced with a matching Gotoh de-tuner. It came to me like this, and I have no idea where the original ended up. Also, the end pin has been relocated about ½ inch, so I figure its hole must have gotten stripped at some point.

The Spector-branded pickups are in my favorite configuration: P-J. There are four control knobs, including treble, bass, volume and tone. I think. They are hooked up to a 9-volt pre-amplifier that sounds fabulous. BTW, an odd feature of these basses is that the serial number is stamped onto the pre-amplifier cavity cover.

Lastly, this bass will not kill your shoulder and back. It weighs in at a bit over 8 1/2 pounds, which is not too bad.

So, I think this NS-2A is a winner. It plays well, sounds awesome, and lives up to what I expect from a Spector bass for boatloads less than I would pay for similar quality instruments.

By the way, this bass is for sale so shoot me a message if you are interested in owning it. It is very reasonably priced and comes with a very nice padded Spector gig bag.

Tags: Kramer, Spector, Steinberger, NS-2A, Bass, Guitar