Thursday, December 29, 2011

Another Big Thank You!

Happy New Year!

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

I started Rex and the Bass to practice my writing skills and preach about my interests, and have met my goals for the blog for 2011. It has become much more popular this year, showing steady growth every month, and in January it will pass the 100,000 page view milestone. I never thought it would take off this well.

Just in case you were wondering, here are the top posts of all time (by page views):

1. Fender Jazz Bass Special Re-issue

2. Memory Lane: Pulp Fiction Soundtrack

3. Philip Kubicki Factor Basses

4. Crystal Castles (2010) Album review

5. Simon and Patrick Songsmith Acoustic Guitar

I am not even close to running out of things to write about, but if you have any suggestions, please send them along. Also, if you would like for me to review your album or products, drop me a line and we can figure something out.

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



Monday, December 26, 2011

DMX512 Lighting System Protocol


I have mentioned the DMX512 light control protocol a few times on Rex and the Bass, and thought a brief explanation might be in order.

If you have ever been to a concert and seen the huge arrays of stage lights and effects, you may have noticed that they are usually independently controlled. But there are not separate controls and wiring going to each one, as they are on a multiplex network. This means that there is only one communication line that goes from component to component, and they can all be controlled from a single panel.

This makes for a more simple set-up, and reduces the number of costly cables that have to be purchased.

The DMX512 digital communication standard was introduced in 1986 to provide a single protocol for stage lighting, thus allowing compatibility of equipment from different manufacturers. It was designed to control light dimmers, but has also proven to be a godsend for effects, such as lasers, spot lights, moving lights and fog machines. I have even seen people using these networks for their Christmas lighting displays.

If you purchase DMX-compatible components, you can assign discrete addresses for each one, and use a single controller to operate them. There will be DMX IN and DMX OUT ports on each device.

DMX512 is able to control 512 dimmable channels and up to 32 devices with just one cable. The cable can be up to 1200 to 1500 meters long, which is pretty far if you think about it.

These communication cables are standardized, sort of. DMX512 systems are supposed to use 5-pin XLR connectors. These have the following pins: Signal Common, Data 1-, Data 1+, Data 2-, and Data 2+. The Data 2 circuits are optional; so many times regular 3-pin XLR microphone cables are substituted. Some manufacturers have dropped the 5-pin requirement altogether and just use 3-pin XLR connectors. So much for standardization, huh?

Some people discourage the use of microphone cables, as they are not the best choice for data transmission, but for the short runs I do I’ve not had any problems. And always be careful not to accidentally plug a lighting 3-pin XLR into your audio mixing board, as 48 volts of phantom power through the data circuits can wreck your lights.

There is a lot more to the DMX512 story of course, and it can get really confusing if you are running a lot of effects over long distances. But if you are running small shows, or are looking for lights and effects to enhance your band or DJ service, it is easy enough to get started.

If you have just a few lights, a cheap light controller running DMX controls will provide a lot more versatility and more professional transitions and fades. Just make sure that as you collect new effects and lights that they are DMX512 compatible, as some manufacturers still use proprietary communication protocols. You will be able to find them easily, as major music retailers carry a lot of this gear.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Max and the Bass

Feliz Navidad, amigos!

I hope you all have a very merry and safe Christmas. This is a momentous day, as my son Max got his first bass for Christmas, and we will start on lessons after the holiday break.

Wish us well…


Friday, December 23, 2011

Orpheus Valley Rosa Morena Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a gorgeous Orpheus Valley Guitars Rosa Morena model classical nylon-string acoustic guitar. I have found it to be a terrific value for the price.

I had never heard of Orpheus Valley Guitars until recently. They are produced by the Kremona Lutherie in Bulgaria, which has been in the business of building stringed instruments since 1924. I believe their main focus had been on the violin family of instruments.

I was looking for a new nylon-string guitar, and played this one the recommendation of a friend. The sound and the build quality impressed me, and it was not a bad looker either. Win, win, win.

The first thing you might say is “You call it a classical guitar, but it looks suspiciously like a flamenco guitar to me.” Well, yeah. But Orpheus Valley Guitars built it and they call it a classical guitar, so I am going with their name.

It is a handsome guitar that is built in Bulgaria, but its components are sourced from the United Nations of Lutherie supplies.

The Rosa Morena has a solid European spruce top, and Indian rosewood back and sides. The rosette is a pretty inlay and is all wood, just like the simple body binding. This is all sprayed with a super-thin layer of poly.

The neck is made of Honduran cedar with an Indian rosewood fretboard and headstock veneer. There are 19 frets with a 650mm scale. It is a chunky 52mm wide at the nut, which is about 2 inches, and standard for classical guitars. The neck is set with a dovetail joint (no bolts in there).

The Gebr. Van Gent gold-plated lyre tuners are sourced from the Netherlands, and are nice quality machines that hold well. It has well cut genuine bone nut and saddle, and an Indian rosewood bridge.

All of this is put together well. The finish is even, and the fretwork is well done. I think the end where the sides meet could be a little dressier, but it is a clean joint, at least.

It plays well and has a sweeter sound and more volume than the La Patrie classical guitar it is replacing. It has a balanced tone, and is a pleasure to play. I give it an A+ rating.

The Orpheus Valley Rosa Morena is a good value with a list price of $599 and a street price of $499. This includes a 3-year warranty, that may or may not be the easiest thing to use, as the Kremona headquarters is in Europe. Check with your dealer for details.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

MusicMan 2006 Limited Edition Guitars and Basses


Today we are looking at a peach of a limited edition bass: a 2006 Ernie Ball MusicMan Bongo. This limited edition was not limited to basses, it also included many guitars in the MusicMan lineup.

These instruments were finished in glossy black poly, and came with gold-plated hardware – even the pole pieces on the pickups were gold-plated. Ordinarily I shy away from gold hardware, but it is irresistible on a black instrument. They also came with 5-layer black pickguards, which are a classy touch.

Each 2006 limited edition model also had “Limited Edition 2006” silkscreened in gold by the neck plate. They shipped in a pimp-daddy custom black faux-skin G&G hard shell case with a limited edition badge inside.

Other than these differences these instruments were configured the same as their conventional MusicMan counterparts.

I picked this one as new old stock in 2008 from a dude that owed me (and a lot of other people) money. It was a beautiful instrument, and very well made. The finish was perfect and the neck was very good.

Of course, I am not a 5-string player, so it did not stick around long, but I did get most of my cash back.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Kindle Fire Review


I was disappointed when the iPad 2 came out and it was no smaller than the previous version. I had heard rumors that it would be downsized, which would have been great for me as I had owned an iPad and thought it was too big. I am not an Apple-hater, or anything of the sort; I have an iPhone and think it is the best thing since canned beer.

So I was stoked when they announced the Kindle Fire, a tablet from Amazon. The size was just what I was looking for, about 8 inches by 5 inches. It was going to be Wi-Fi only, but would use the Android operating system so it already had a huge base of applications to work with. It sounded like a winner (at a reasonable price too) so I pre-ordered one.

It showed up a few days earlier than expected, and the packaging was very simple and did not seem wasteful. It is small (as expected), but a little bigger, thicker and heavier than my wife’s conventional Kindle. The heft gives an initial impression of quality, and feels nice with a non-slip rubberized back. These come with Gorilla Glass over the screen, which I have had good luck with in the past, as it is clear and resistant to scratching.

There is not much else going on with the exterior, just an ON/OFF switch, an 1/8-inch headphone jack and a micro USB port. All charging and data transfer is done through this port. A micro USB cable and AC adapter are included.

It has 8GB of internal storage which would be enough for approximately 800 songs, 8 movies, or 6,000 books. It would be, but there is really only 6.5GB of storage available as the operating system takes some room. This is not very much space, but Amazon tries to make up for it by including 5GB of cloud storage for free. I am too old-fashioned and have not embraced the cloud yet.

I guess the idea is that you can store your media on Amazon’s cloud, and then access them on your Fire, (or any other device) whenever you please. It is easy enough to transfer files to the Kindle, as long as you have Wi-Fi access, or a computer to plug into. By the way, if you buy songs or videos from Amazon, they are stored for free.

Anyway, I plugged it in and it fired right up (heh). It guided me through a quick set-up and it was a breeze to connect to my home’s wireless network. As I said, it uses the Android operating system, so it looked very familiar as I used to have a droid phone.

I was a little wowed by the screen, as it has great resolution. It looks just as nice as the one on my wife’s iPad. The funny thing is that is not optimal for reading books. The E-ink display on my wife’s Kindle is easier on the eyes, although it is nice to be able to use the Fire without having a light on.

With the small screen, magazines are not very fun to read unless you are looking at a Fire-optimized app. However, I found that newspapers come out ok and comic books are fun to look at. You can tap on the individual comic frames and they zoom out to fill the screen.

The web browser works fine, and actually is light-years faster than the one on my old droid phone. I guess the Wi-Fi connection makes a difference. I am not used to the way the favorites work, as I am too used to my iPhone now.

Videos play well too. I accessed them through Hulu and YouTube with no problems, and also streamed a number of shows and movies from Amazon Prime. They loaded quickly (within a few seconds), and were easy to control. The lack of external volume control switches is a pain the butt, though.

Music is the one thing I cannot get behind with the Kindle Fire. I am too stuck in the Apple way of life and I have embraced the iTunes lifestyle. I do like the idea that any music that is downloaded from Amazon is Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free, which means you can put them on whatever device you want to. You got your hook into me a few years too late, Amazon.

I have heard that Amazon loses money on the Fire by selling it so cheap. And that they hope to make up the difference with folks using it as the ultimate shopping device. It is SUPER easy to buy stuff from Amazon with this thing with one-click shopping, so they might be onto something here.

Amazon also includes a free month of Amazon Prime membership. This provides fee 2-day shipping on many items, as well as thousands of T.V. shows and movies that you can stream for free. I was impressed, and if I was more into movies and television I would be sorely tempted to plunk down $79 a year for it.

Some common complaints I have seen online are that the Fire does not have a camera, its storage capacity is too small, and that the power switch is in the wrong place because it will turn the unit off if you rest it on something.

The power switch location has not been a big deal, because I am smart enough to turn it upside down so the Kindle doesn’t rest on the switch. I do not miss the camera feature, as I have one in my phone. By the way, have you ever seen somebody use the iPad to take pictures? That is a yuck-fest. But, the lack of storage is a tough one, so I have to tell myself that for the price it is still a good deal.

And I think the Kindle Fire is worth the money. It does everything I expected it to, and there have been no problems with it. You can buy the Kindle Fire all day long on for $199 with free shipping. This is a lot cheaper than the entry-level iPad, which comes in at $499.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chauvet Obey 3 LED DMX Controller

As I dipped my toe into the pool of stage lighting and DMX-512 multiplex controls, I was looking for a cheap light controller to experiment with. I picked up a Chauvet Obey 3 for slim money, and it has been nothing but ice cream and rainbows ever since.

I use a couple of Chauvet 4-Bar LED light systems, which are great, but the controls are very basic. They have built-in color and chase patterns, but they have to be scrolled through, which is a pain if you want to go straight from one color to another or if you want to do a fade.

This is where having a light controller comes in handy. You can select specific colors, and the speeds at which they fade. DMX-512 is a lighting protocol that allows a mind-boggling amount of customization, and I will cover it in another post, as it is not too important with this controller.

The Obey 3 is a 3-channel controller (red, green, and blue) so it is compatible with many of the RGB LED fixtures out there. It has a little something for everybody, with automated, sound-activated or manual RGB mixing.

Looking at the front of the unit, in the lower left corner there are three switches: Preset, Chases and Macro. Selecting Preset allows you to choose from the nine switches above, which include the popular colors. Chase will give you the automated programs, including sound-activated with adjustable sensitivity. And Macro scrolls though various colors, which is kind of a useless feature when you consider how many other ways there are to select colors with this unit. If you combine Macro with Chases, it will automatically scroll through different colors.

Over on the right side there are the switches for sound activation (and a pot for its sensitivity adjustment), RGB control, blackout and strobe.

All this leaves us with are the three faders. Depending on the modes they can control the individual color channels, strobe timing (2Hz to 33Hz), master dimming and fade times.

These features come in a 2 pound box that measures 5.5” by 8.3” by 2.1”. It has rack ears that would allow it to be mounted in the same sized spot as a DJ mixer. It includes a 12V power adapter, which plugs into the side near the power switch and the DMX output.

It all works pretty neatly, too. Set up your lights, and run a DMX cable (or even a microphone cable) from the controller to the lights, and start experimenting. There is minimal instructions that come with the unit, but it is simple enough to figure it out on your own.

Like everything in life it is not perfect. I hate the locations of the power switch and DMX output. If I actually had this unit mounted in a rack they would be impossible to reach. Also, when it is in chase or sound-activated mode, there can be a lengthy blackout between changes if a slower fade speed is selected.

Plus, as I use it more, I wish it had more features like being able to stagger the colors on my par cans, but for the money this thing is awesome.

And the money part of this equation is really sweet. The Chauvet Obey 3 is dirt-cheap, making it perfect for the hobbyist or beginner. It has a list price of $74.99 and a street price of $49.99, and it comes with at least a one-year warranty (their policies are befuddling). If you are experimenting with LED lighting, this would be a great place to start.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Genz Benz Shuttle 3.0-8T Bass Amplifier Review


This Genz Benz Shuttle 3.0-8T has to be the cutest and highest power miniature bass combo amplifier I have ever played. I have no idea why I thought I needed it, but it was a tremendous deal that I could not pass up.

I have had great luck with Genz Benz amplification over the years, and my Shuttle 6.0-12T combo has been my workhorse for years (which is a lifetime in my world).

As I said it is small and cute, measuring about 12” wide by 14” tall by 11” deep. It is also super light, coming in at only 13.5 pounds (including the amplifier and cabinet). I find this truly amazing.

The amplifier can be easily detached from the cabinet, and it is really tiny. It has an approximate footprint of 8“ by 9”, and a total weight of 2 ¾ pounds. This cigar-box sized amp can put out 175 watts at 8 ohms, or 300 watts at 4 ohms.

The 3.0 uses a class-D solid state power amp to get this much output without a weight penalty. It loses the tube pre-amp that is found on the 6.0, but it is still able to put out a warm tone. I do not find it to be as crunchy and overdriven when I dial a lot of volume into the pre-amp circuit, but to get it smaller and cheaper they had to give up something.

The amplifier has plenty of useful features. On the back are an effects loop, a dedicated tuner out, a single Speakon output, a ¼-inch speaker out, an AUX input, an XLR output and a headphone jack. The power switch is on the back too, which is a horrible place to put it.

On the front are volume for the pre-amp, the 4-band EQ with parametric mids, a mute switch (I use this all the time), three signal-shaping switches and a master volume control. And, once again, the world’s brightest LEDs.

The cabinet is an STL-8T that has been adapted with an amplifier bracket on top and a built-in ¼” speaker cable. This cab is loaded with an 8-inch Neo speaker and a 1-inch tweeter with a 5K crossover. It measures about 12” on each side, and it is ported in the back for better bass response. It can handle 175 watts at 8 ohms, and has a frequency response of 58 to 20K Hz.

Unlike the 10 and 12-inch cabinets, this one does not have the nifty spring-loaded tilt-up stand on the bottom. Bummer.

Together, the head and cabinet are loud and sound pretty good (for its size). Obviously a single 8-inch speaker is not going to knock you down, but it is great for practicing, and would be appropriate for a coffee house or casual house party.

However, when I stacked it on my Genz Benz Shuttle 12-inch extension cabinet, it came alive as I was then able to get the full benefit of the 300 watts. It performed well with both cabinets, and I got a very fat tone out of it with my passive P basses and active PJ basses.

I would not hesitate to recommend picking one of these up, if you can get it cheaply enough.

The Genz Benz Shuttle 3.0-8T has a list price of $929 and a street price of $699, but I have seen dealers selling new amplifiers as demos on eBay for $450. That is one heck of a deal!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bon Iver Album Review


Writing this review of Bon Iver’s second eponymous album has been a struggle for me. This album has received a lot of positive press and it has been hailed by many as one of the best albums of 2011. Last month they were nominated for foue Grammy awards, including: Best New Artist, Best Alternative Music Album, Song of the Year and Record of the Year. That set my expectations really high.

I am not really seeing it.

Bon Iver released their debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, in 2007. It was a casual indie/folk/rock album that was bare bones “man and a guitar”, and Justin Vernon was the star of the show. The album did well (300,000 copies, or so), and Justin has become a mysterious hero for other indie guys to look up to.

The group is based in Wisconsin (not my idea of a good winter, by the way), and also includes Michael Noyce, Sean Carey, and Matthew McCaughan. The band’s name is a rough translation of a French phrase that means “good winter”, or something like that.

Their second album was released in June of this year, and consists of ten songs that each represent a place, and I have never been to any of them. Bon Iver has a lot deeper and more luxurious sound to it, as there is a wide variety of horns, reeds, and percussion thrown into the mix, so in this sense I approve.

But despite the good pieces that are all over this album, it just drags. Maybe I am not its target audience, because after many listenings I never really got what it was they were trying to accomplish. It seems like 10 different college projects from students that all had the same teacher.

Well, I did kind of like “Calgary”. Maybe you should buy that track from iTunes for $1.29 instead of the whole album. You can buy a couple of coffees at Starbucks for that $8.70 you have left over.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

1978 Fender Precision Bass

Como estas?

As a rule, I am not been a big fan of 1970s Fender instruments, as they are usually heavy and uninspired. But there exceptions to every rule, and I am temporarily in love with this 1978 Precision Bass.

This one is finished in its original breathtaking Antigua (phlegmburst), which is a two-tone green fade. This finish was used from the 1960s until 1982 (or so), and appeared later on some Japanese-made reissues.

The neck is a stunning chunk of maple, and I have never seen figuring this nice on a 1970s Fender headstock. The frets are a little worn, but they are original, as are the nut and Fender-marked tuners.

The rest of the bass is unaltered, with the exception of the strap pins and that glaringly-obvious DiMarzio pickup.

The original owner had the pickup replaced back in 1978, with the idea of getting a little more output. Fortunately he did not have the gumption to install a brass nut and a Badass bridge, thus completing the trifecta of 1970s bass modification. The original pots and cap are still in place, as is the factory ground plate.

The tone is actually quite good and I have no plans to find a replacement original pickup. I have recently put on a set of the new style D’Addario tapewounds, and removed the original pickguard to put it away for safekeeping . These pickguards are impossible to come by, and the paint falls off if you look at them funny.

With a fresh set-up it plays very well, and it is not a back-breaker, coming in at just a tad over 9 pounds. In my world this is about as closed to a “keeper” as I am going to come by. We’ll see how it works out.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Microphone Patterns and Characteristics


I write a few microphone reviews for this blog, but have never explained the microphone polar pattern terms I use, so I had better remedy this.

Of course, all microphones are sensitive to sound, but they have different designs that allow them to detect sound from different directions. This is called directionality, which can be sorted into two popular types:

- Omnidirectional, which detect sound equally from all directions.

- Unidirectional, which detect sound mostly from one direction.

We are going to look at these two types of directionality, as well as look at the polar patterns for popular microphone types. Polar patterns help visualize how the microphone picks up sound, and are usually included in manufacturer’s sales and support materials.

As omnidirectional microphones detect sound from all directions, they are good for general field recording where the inclusion of ambient sound is desirable. They are also handy if the target sound is moving and the microphone cannot be moved. Omnidirectional microphones are usually not the right choice for live sound, as background noise can become overwhelming. One notable exception is the Green Bullet harmonica microphone, which is killer in live situations.

Unidirectional microphones are the most popular type for live sound and handheld applications, as they reduce background noise and feedback. There are two popular unidirectional microphone types: cardioid and hypercardioid.

Cardioid microphones pick up sound mostly from the front, with some sound picked up from the sides and very little from the rear. It does not pick up solely from the front, as that would leave very little latitude for movement, and eliminating all ambient sound makes for a sterile tone. The Shure SM-57 and SM-58 are cardioids microphones. By the way, it is called a cardioid pattern because it is kind of heart-shaped, believe it or not.

Hypercardioid microphones (also known as shotgun microphones) have a smaller pattern, so that they are even more directional than the cardioid type. I think the pattern looks like an alien’s head. These microphones are good if you need to isolate more background sound, but they can sound unnatural. Also, if the microphone is not directed at the sound source, or if the sound source moves, there can be drastic drops in volume. I call this the “Huell Howser” syndrome. If you have ever seen him use a hand-held microphone, you will understand what I am getting at here.

Anyway, If you do not have a specific reason to get an omnidirectional or hypercardioid microphone for a live application I would avoid them, as there are more downsides than upsides to choosing them. If you are heading out to buy a microphone for general use in for your band or DJ application, a cardioid microphone will probably be your best choice.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special Review

Hi there!

Man, there is a huge difference between the entry-level instruments of today and the no-name pieces of junk that were around when I started playing. I recently picked up a Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar bass as a gift for somebody, and it is a very nice instrument for the price, and does all of the basic stuff that a bass guitar should do.

I know that some of you may sniff at Squier products as they are entry level Fender models, but they have a track record of providing very good instruments for the money.

This one was made by the fine folks in Indonesia, and is finishing a tasteful 3-tone sunburst. The poly finish is even and there is no orange peel (or fish eyes).

The offset-waist body of this one appears to be made of 5 pieces of basswood. You will also get basswood on the crimson basses, and agathis on the black ones. They installed a 3-ply pickguard, which is classy for a guitar in this price range.

It is loaded with a split single-coil Precision Bass pickup at the bridge and a single-coil pickup Jazz Bass pickup at the bridge. There is an active bass boost circuit, so there is a battery box routed into the back. The knobs control: neck pickup volume, bridge pickup volume, boost circuit, and master tone.

The 34-inch scale maple neck has a rosewood fretboard with 20 medium-jumbo frets set into it. It has a 9.5-inch fingerboard radius and a 1.5-inch nut and a true C shape. The matte poly finish on the neck feels smooth and fast.

The components of this bass work well together. With the PJ pickups and the active bass circuit, I was able to get a variety of thumpy and growly tones that cover all genres for me. I tried the single-humbucker model as well, and was unable to get a natural tone out of it. Stick with the PJ model (I have always been a fan of PJ basses, by the way).

The neck is fast and I was able to dial in a low action, and the body is well-balanced with no neck dive. This bass weighs in at a little less than 9 pounds, which is easy on the back.

There are a few shortcomings, however, which I attribute to the low price point. The tuners and bridge are cheap, and the saddles move around a lot when I am playing. My other gripe is that this bass was delivered to me with very sharp fret edges. It was a recent production bass, so I cannot blame it on fret sprout on an old inventory instrument. It took a lot of filing to make it pleasant to play.

But, you get what you pay for, and this bass was a stone cold bargain. You will find that the most attractive feature of the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special is its price, with a list price $329.99 of and a street price of $174.99.

If you are looking for an entry-level bass or a second bass to take your anger out on, this is the one.