Friday, October 28, 2011

Tascam TC-1S Tuner Review


I hate having to buy and replace batteries, so I was intrigued when I heard about the Tascam TC-1S tuner. You see, this is a solar-powered tuner, so you would never have to worry about it crapping out on you during a gig or having to go to Radio Shack to find a bizarre-sized replacement battery at the last minute.

At first I thought “What a dumb idea, it is always dark at gigs, so how is it going to get power?” Well, it turns out that the TC-1S is solar rechargeable, and can also be recharged from with its micro USB port. When fully charged, it will work for about 6 hours of continual use, and has a standby charge life of seven years. There must be some Lithium Ion in there somewhere.

The TC-1S is attractive and compact. It has a silicone cover that comes in six different colors, and includes a clip so you can clip it to something. Actually, I have not figured out what I would want to clip it to, but maybe something will come up. It measures about 3 ¾” by ¾“ by 1 ½”, and weighs just a couple of ounces.

There is a ¼-inch input jack as well as a microphone, but there is no output jack. The controls are simple, with a power, mode and calibration switches. The mode switch provides four options: a bar tuning, fine tuning, strobe animation and needle animation. The calibration switch allows tuning to a different pitch (a piano that is slightly off, for example).

The tuner is accurate to one cent, and the fine tuning mode is in one cent intervals. It responds very quickly, and works well on my guitars and basses. I have used it a fair bit and have never had the charge crap out on me, so the solar charging works well.

But…the LCD display sucks. It is hard to read unless you are looking directly at it, and there is no backlight so forget about using it in the dark. I guess it would be ok for around the house, but I really cannot recommend it with all of the better choices that are out there. You can buy a Snark Tuner that is easy to read and works in the dark for about 15 bucks, and you will get a lot more features, including a metronome.

The Tascam TC-1S solar tuner has a list price of $39.99, and a street price of $20 to $25. Buyer beware...


Thursday, October 27, 2011

EMG-ZW Guitar Pickups Review


I’ve had a few Les Paul guitars with the EMG Zakk Wylde pickups and they were monstrous instruments. The good news is that you do not have to spend 3 or 4 thousand bucks for a Gibson Zakk Wylde Custom Shop Les Paul to get them.

For those of you who do not know of Zakk Wylde, he is a guitar god who got his major break as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist. He later played with Pride and Glory and is now the frontman and lead guitarist for Black Label Society. He has been a longtime user of active EMG pickups, and they sell a set in his preferred configuration, which includes an EMG-85 at the bridge and an EMG-81 at the neck.

The EMG-85 has a bit more output than the neck pickup, and uses two Alnico magnet coils. This pickup has a heavy low end that is not mushy while maintaining a loud high end that does not sound brittle or shrill. This makes it the ultimate rhythm pickup that loves distortion and overdrive but can still sound good when played clean.

The EMG-81 is a high-output ceramic magnet pickup, and is perfect for playing lead and soloing. It still has a fat tone up top, and has great sustain with no added noise to the signal. Together with the EMG-85 you have the perfect combination for most any rock or metal gig.

When you buy the kit from EMG, it includes everything you will need to rewire a Les Paul. This include the pickups, pots, cable, screws, springs, battery connector and jack. And best of all, no soldering is required, as the cables all have Quik-connect terminals.

After I sold my Zakk Wylde Custom Shop Les Paul, I installed a set of these pickups into an old Aria Les Paul to see if I could get the same tone. The installation was easy, and the end results were impressive. I ended up with a guitar that sounded exactly the same for 1/5 of what I got for the Gibson.

You can pick up the EMG-ZW pickup set from online retailers for around $199. They are a great value, and it is worth spending the extra money for a quality product that you do not have to pay a pro to install.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fender Japan Competition Mustang Bass Review


I have only had a few short scale basses over the past 25 years, but each one has been a hoot. This week I picked up a secondhand one from Ishibashi in Nagoya, Japan: a Fender Japan Mustang Bass.

This is model MB98-70 SD CO/OCR, which is a fairly faithful Japanese copy of the 1970 Fender Mustang Bass. These have been available in the US as a limited edition, but not with the competition stripes.

This one has an alder body, sprayed with a lightly metallic candy apple red with cream-colored stripes under the clear coat. It is visually stunning and the finish has no imperfections that I can find.

The 30-inch scale maple neck has a rosewood fretboard and 19 medium-sized nickel frets. The frets are level and are well-finished, and there is no wear, despite this being a used bass. The neck feels tiny with a shallow C- shape profile and a 1 ½-inch nut.

The tuners are a not period correct for a 1970s Fender bass, as they are the smaller ones that come on many of the newer Japanese Fenders. It does use the traditional 4-saddle bridge and through-the-body stringing that the original Mustangs had.

The electronics are a slight upgrade from the original, as this one came from the factory with a Seymour Duncan split single-coil pickup. Remember the “SD” from the model designation? The controls are simple, with a volume and a tone pot.

This Japanese Mustang is a giggle factory to play. The neck is a little small for me, but I got used to it in no time. The tone is (not surprisingly) a little short on low and low-mid tones, but it performs as well as I expected with the minuscule pickups and short scale.

The craftsmanship is first-rate, and this would be a tremendous bass for smaller players or for young folks just getting into the bass guitar. Check one out if you get a chance.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Ernie Ball MusicMan Copperhead Bronze Limited Edition

Good day!

Today I thought we’d take a look at one of my favorite guitar colors of all time: the Copperhead Bronze that was offered by Ernie Ball on their MusicMan instruments. These were made exclusively for Guitar Center in 2004, and are gorgeous in person (photos cannot do them justice).

As far as I can tell, this color only came on MusicMan basses (Stingray 4, Stingray 5 and Sterling), as I have never seen one of their electric guitars in this color.

The poly finish is a rusty gold color with a hint of metallic in it, but it is not really a sparkle. I have not seen any of these instruments that have a matching headstock.

They all originally had multi-hued anodized aluminum pickguards, which are a polarizing feature of these basses. People either love them or hate them, and by now the haters have changed them out for something more conventional.

Other than the color and pickguard, there are no other differences from the standard Musicman models. When new, Copperhead Bronze was a poor seller for Guitar Center, and was sandwiched between the better selling Radiance Red and Buttercream limited editions.

If you do have the opportunity to pick one up, go for it; this color combination with the metallic flaor and the unique pickguard is to die for.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sterling AX20 Guitar Review

Como estas?

Today we are looking at the ugliest guitar I have ever owned, a Sterling by MusicMan AX20 electric guitar.

Before we go any further with the review, let us address its appearance first. It still has the original Rockstar energy drink graphics, which are breathtaking (and not in a good way). I might eventually strip the top down, but for now it is what it is. I picked this guitar up in new condition from a 7-Eleven owner for $100; he told me that he won it for selling a metric ton of energy drinks.

The basswood body shares the MusicMan Axis profile and shape and should be as well balances as its MusicMan cousin, but it is not. It has a bit of neck dive actually, which is not usually something I complain about, but it seems worse on this one.

The neck is good. The nut is 1.65-inches wide and it has an asymmetrical carve so that it plays fast but is still strong. The five bolts really hold this thing solid. It is true, and the truss rod works freely. Aside from some fret sprout, the 22 medium jumbo frets and the fingerboard are in great condition.

The hardware is adequate. The locking tuners are capital C Cheap, and I would prefer non-locking tuners of a higher quality if given the choice. It has a hardtail string through the body bridge, which is nicer than the tuners.

This AX20 has its two original humbuckers, and I have not been able to figure out who made them. They look and sound like Dimarzios, which is a good thing, but they probably are imitations at this price point.

This one even came with the original padded gig bag and shipping box. No energy drinks were included, though.

So how does it play? If you can get past the neck dive and the logos it is pretty much ok, and would be a good guitar for a travelling or for a beginner. It is playable and can make crunchy tones, plus it is not terribly heavy.

I see these Rockstar guitars online often and they are a great value. You can buy one from eBay or Craigslist for $100 to $200 and save big! Keep in mind that hardtail AX20 guitars have been discontinued and SBMM is only making these with tremolos now, and MSRP on these was $749, with a street price of $499.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sadowsky NYC Vintage P Bass Review

Buenos dias, amigos!

Today we are looking at another fish that got away, my Sadowsky Vintage P Bass. I sold this a year or two ago and have been kicking myself ever since. At least I know it went to a good home.

This bass was assembled by the minions of Roger Sadowsky’s New York City workshop where it was completed on March 31, 2003. It has the classic P bass look with a little modern flair. The non-chambered alder body has the traditional Precision Bass shape, and it is finished in the ever popular ’59 Burst.

It has a true Precision Bass neck (1.75 inches at the nut, and a 9” radius). The neck appears to have the vintage tint applied to it, as well as light tan fret markers that hearken back to the clay dot inlays of the pre-CBS Fender basses. This one has the upgraded Brazilian rosewood fretboard, which appears to be well on its way to being legislated out of existence.

The hardware is befitting of a Sadowsky, with lightweight Hipshot tuners, a high-mass bridge and a 5-layer pickguard.

Rounding out the specifications, the electronics include the split-coil Sadowsky pickups and a Sadowsky pre-amplifier with Vintage Tone Control.

Looking the bass over, the craftsmanship is perfect. The finish has no flaws, the neck pocket is tight, and the fret work is impeccable. The control cavity is neatly routed and the wiring is gorgeous. A lot of pride and skill went into building this bass, and they even managed to get this down to 8 pounds, 6 ounces, despite the non-chambered body.

Things get real when you play this bass. I find that the non-chambered Sadowsky basses have a bit more punch, and this one is no exception. It has a killer tone that I have not been able to replicate on any bass, even on other Sadowskys with PJ pickups. It has mids galore and really cuts through the mix.

But if you want one of these, you are probably going to have to special order it. I see maybe 1 Sadowsky P bass for every 100 of their PJ or Jazz basses. These basses sell for over $3500 new, and you will have to wait at least 6 months to get one of you order today. If you have money to spare when buying your next high-end bass, this would be a great option.

I do have my regrets about letting this Sadowsky Vintage P go, but I had to consider the sad truth that I do not really need a bass this expensive. My Fenders will have to tide me over until I hit the lottery.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Memory Lane: KMET 94.7 FM of Los Angeles, California


When I visit my high school memories I almost always think of the greatest rock radio station in the history of Los Angeles, KMET 94.7. At the time, it was the hardest rocking station in town, and was the place to get your Van Halen or Iron Maiden fix before heading off to school.

KMET originally came on the air in 1968 as a Metromedia station with a conventional format of top-40 pop, but soon changed formats. When the staff at the successful KPPC in Pasadena went on strike, Metromedia adopted their progressive/underground format and hired some of their on-air personalities for KMET.

The station carried on with this format (and middling success) until 1974, when Shadoe Stevens was hired away from KNAC to be the new program director. He was only there for a year, but he introduced a high energy format of rock, concert broadcasts, radio theatre (skits) and themed shows for the on-air personalities. After he left in 1975, his assistant Sam Belami took over for another 10 years and did a tremendous job of innovating the station’s programming, as well as providing a professional feel to the broadcasts; she is a legend of Los Angeles radio history.

Under their stewardship, KMET reached number 1 in the Los Angeles market in 1975, and became one of the most successful radio stations in the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Some of their enduring (endearing?) radio personalities include Dr. Demento, Jim Ladd, and my personal favorite: Paraquat Kelly. But, unfortunately, there were personnel charges as time went on, and by the mid-1980s, KMET was a shell of its former self.

The station lost its way, and went from a prog-rock format to more of an AOR (album-oriented rock) format. The suits got involved, so the playlists got small, the listeners were distanced from the programming, and it became just another rock radio station. Unfortunately, Los Angeles already had KLOS for rock and KNAC for metal, so there was no place for the declawed KMET.

Eventually, enough was enough, and the owners took the station off the air to replace it with KTWV (The Wave), which plays an endless medley of Kenny G and Celine Dion hits.



Saturday, October 15, 2011

Eddie Vedder Ukulele Songs Album Review


Outside of their Ten album I am not super sprung on Pearl Jam, but frontman Eddie Vedder has one of the greatest (and most distinctive) voices in rock. When I heard that he came out with a solo ukulele album earlier this summer, I had to check it out. I am on the ukulele bandwagon, after all.

Ukulele Songs is Vedder’s second solo album, and rumor has it that he never really intended for this album to be released. He picked up a ukulele in Hawaii back in the 1990s, and wrote a bunch of the songs for this album on it over the past ten years. It was recorded in Seattle and Oahu, and one of my favorites, Adam Kasper, co-produced the album.

Mr. Vedder decided to stick with the ukulele so there was only one type of sound on the album (as he says, it is like painting with one color). Well, there is also a contribution from Cellist Chris Worswick on "Longing to Belong", but it is still in support of the ukulele.

There is plenty of ukulele, but the star is Eddie’s voice, and the lyrics that he wrote. Maybe the originals are autobiographical, as the sadder songs might document the end of his first marriage, while the happier ones honor his latest. Maybe it is just my imagination, but it seems personal.

Besides the 12 originals, he threw in a handful of cover tunes, and my favorite is “Tonight You Belong to Me”, which he did with Chan Marshall (Cat Power). Remember that song from The Jerk? He also re-did the classics “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and “More Than You Know”. It is a shame he did not include The Who’s “Blue, Red and Grey”. Heh.

Admittedly, it does not sound like the greatest album concept of all time, but it really works, and I have not gotten tired of it yet. It is well worth the 10 bucks I paid for it to iTunes, and I suggest you give Ukulele Songs a listen.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Fender 1970 Re-Issue Precision Bass Re-issue Review


Look at this gorgeous thing: a Crafted in Japan Fender 1970 Reissue Precision Bass! This one was made in 2006 and has a clear finish over its ash body, and a maple fretboard. They have been building these for quite awhile overseas, but only recently started importing these basses for the US market.

I have not always been a fan of natural finish basses, but this one really nails the 70s P-Bass vibe and it calls to me. The logo looks right and the rest of the features are spot on. With a tortoise-shell pickguard it would be perfect.

It is a well-made bass, with a very playable neck that feels just a tad thinner than the usual Precision bass profile. The finish is even and the frets are very nicely done. The hardware appears to have been supplied by Gotoh, but the tuners and bridge are exact Fender replicas, and I see no problems with them.

The model number for this bass is PB70-93US, meaning that it originally sold for 93,000 Yen (about $1000), and that it was built with US-made Fender pickups. The US-made pickups are a bonus for me, as on occasion I have felt that the electronics were not up to snuff on the Japanese Fenders (my only quibble with their instruments).

This 1970 re-issue Precision Bass plays very well, and hads a great tone, with very quiet electronics. As a bonus it weighs about 8 ¾ pounds. This is a coupl of pound lighter than any 1970s-vintage Precision Bass I have played before.

Now that they are selling these Japanese P Basses in the states, you might want to check into one; they are well worth the money.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ampeg B-15T Bass Amplifier Review


I have been a bass player and gear hound for years, so it is surprising that it took so long for an Ampeg amplifier to come into my life. It is a B-15T, which is not exactly regarded as the nicest planet in the Ampeg solar system.

The B-15T is a combo amplifier that was introduced in the early 1990s, and was only produced for a few years. This is the solid-state equivalent of the legendary Portaflex, and shares the same fliptop design.

These amplifiers put out 100 watts @ 4 ohms. The front panel has a pair of inputs (one of them is -15db), a ground lift, effect loop jacks and the power switch. The controls include gain, a 4-band EQ with puzzling push-pull pots, as well as master volume and balanced line out level controls.

On the back of the head is a mute switch, a ¼-inch headphone jack, a single speaker output, an auxiliary effects loop and a balanced line output.

The compact cabinet measures about 24-inches tall (with casters) by 21-inches wide by 14-inches deep, and the whole thing (with the amp) weighs in around 75 pounds. It has removable casters on the bottom, so it is easy to move around as well as a rod that threads into the cabinet so it can be tilted back. The B-15Ts were originally equipped with a 15-inch speaker: either a 100-watt Ampeg or an optional 200-watt EV EVM 15L; the speaker enclosure uses a twin triangular port design.

The one we have here shows a bit of road wear, but still works fine. It has the original EV EVM 15-L speaker, and still has all of the factory hardware, including the casters and the prop rod. I picked it up from a guy on Craigslist along with some other gear, including a Gallien-Krueger 400RB.

After playing it for awhile I’ve decided that the B-15T is just an ok package. It provides plenty of volume for smaller gigs or practice, but the tone is thin and muddy. It definitely does not have the traditional thunderous Ampeg tone. The EQ controls with the push-pull pots are pretty wonky.

But if you set aside the head, this speaker and cabinet design kick it. I’ve put my Genz Benz and GK amplifiers through this speaker and it sounds incredible. The cabinet does rattle a bit, so I need to go through it to tighten up the fasteners and install some weather-strip around where the fliptop lid fits on the cabinet.

I would not pay a whole lot for an Ampeg B-15T, but it is an acceptable starter or practice amp (as long as it has the optional EV speaker).


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SKB SKB-1200 Microphone Case Review


Today we are looking at yet another product that I do not know how I lived without: the SKB SKB-1200 microphone case. This is a very good product at a reasonable price.

For the longest time I stored my microphones in the little vinyl bags they came with and tossed them into a road case with the rest of my cables whenever I needed to take them somewhere. I finally decided that I had tempted fate long enough and started looking for a dedicated microphone case.

The SKB-1200 looked good in the pictures, and I decided to give it a try. It has a foam insert with individual spaces for 12 microphones, as well as two roomy compartments for cables, microphone clips, or whatnot.

It measures about 18-inches by 14-inches by 14-inches, and weighs in around 10 pounds empty. This is pretty heavy, as they made it to last from military specification polyethylene. This material is molded into ridges to stiffen the case and to protect the two lockable latches, so they are less likely to get torn off in transit.

It is an ATA-approved case, meeting 300 class Category I requirements, which is the highest rating they give. It is so tough that SKB gives it their unconditional lifetime warranty, meaning that if it is broken they will repair or replace it.

This case has done well for me, with just a bit of wear to the foam over the past few years. The latches and spring-loaded carry handle still work well, and there are no cracks in the case. Needless to say, I have not had any microphones broken in transit.

The MSRP for the SKB-1200 is $216.99 with a street price of $159.99. If this product keeps you from breaking a single beta microphone you will be saving money, so if you do any live sound work you need to pick one up pronto.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Inventory Update: Fourth Quarter of 2011

Hi there!

As no surprise to anyone, my inventory is a lot different than it was 3 months ago. Here is a snapshot of what is around today:

1. 1982 Fender JV Precision Bass. A natural relic with Jamerson flats.

2. 1983 ESP P-J Bass. The earliest ESP bass (serial number 0008) I’ve ever seen and a great player.

3. 1983 Tokai Love Rock LS-50. I breathed some new life into this one with Burstbuckers and decent pots. It is a transformed rock monster.

4. 2005 Fender Custom Shop Nocaster. This is really cool, but will not be sticking around long. Drop me a line if you are interested.

5. 2008 Fender Custom Shop 59 Re-issue Precision Bass. I need to write this one up. It is a peach!

6. Kala Tenor Ukulele. On loan to a friend right now.

7. Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele. A great travelling companion.

8. Cordoba 25TKCE Ukulele. You have not lived until you have played an electric ukulele.

9. Simon & Patrick Songsmith dreadnought. This solid acoustic is still hanging in there; I think I may have had this longer than any guitar in my collection.

10. Martin D-18V. Must keep this one. Must keep this one. Must keep this one.

11. Sterling by MusicMan AX20. Bedazzled with the Rockstar Energy Drink logo, I bought this cheap off of a 7-Eleven owner. Really.

12. Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 with 2 12-inch Shuttle cabinets. I am not tempted by Genz’s newer offerings, probably because I have never tried them. Ignorance is bliss.

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

13. Fender Blues Junior III amplifier. An upgrade from my old Vibro Champ XD.

Just wait until the December 1st update. Who knows what I will have by then?