Monday, January 30, 2012

Meinl FCA5-L Foot Cabasa Review

Good day!

When I first saw the Meinl foot cabasa, I thought it was a super idea. The cabasa is an Afro-Latin instrument with loops of steel ball chain around a cylinder; it is popular in Latin music, especially in Bossa Nova tunes. The German company Meinl came up with the great idea to mate the cabasa with a drum pedal to allow musicians to multi-task.

I figured this foot cabasa would be a natural for a guitarist that was looking for a little percussion, or a conga or timbale player that wanted to add a another layer of percussion to a live show. Not surprisingly, reality is a little different than I figured it would be.

The Meinl foot cabasa uses one of their turbo (I hate that adjective) cabasas with a stainless steel cylinder over a wooden block that has 5 sound ports on each side for extra volume. This is attached to one of their stout powder-coated foot pedal frames that would be similar to what you would find on a high-hat or bass drum set-up.

You can set up this instrument so that it will provide a single or double-stroke for each depression of the pedal (i.e. will rotate only when stepping down, or when stepping and releasing). A drum key is included for working on/adjusting the pedal.

This all sound great on paper, but when I tried it out I realized pretty quickly that it would not work out for me.

For starters, any idea you have of starting an acoustic one-man band you might be put off by the operation noise of the pedal. If you are playing an amplified set you might get away with it, but for an acoustic coffee house set the clanky pedal movement is just too loud.

Another issue would be the lack of volume control when using the foot cabasa. As you are not muting it with your hand you can only have one volume level, which is loud. Turbo loud, as the Meinl folks may say.

Of course, there is my personal problem, which is my complete lack of coordination, which prevented me from doing anything that would be consider even the least bit musical with this pedal.

Your mileage may vary, and this might be just the product you are looking for, but just be sure that you try before you buy, so you do not get stuck with something you will not be able to use. If you decide to pick up a Meinl FCA5-L foot cabasa, they have a list price of $276, and a more reasonable street price of $159.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kala KA SMHT Tenor Ukulele Review

I have tried a lot of different tenor ukuleles looking for one that plays and sounds like my Kala SMHS soprano ukulele, and have not had very good luck. Then it dawned on me that I should try the SMHT, which is the same ukulele in the tenor size. It seems pretty obvious now that I think about it.
The model name SMHT gives a few hint of what this ukulele is like. The SM means that this uke is made of solid mahogany, not a laminate. The T stands for the tenor size, and I have no idea what the other S is for.
It is a classy-looking ukulele, with a clear satin finish, and subdued tortoise body binding. This binding goes around the top and the back, and is joined with another piece across the end seam of the body. I love that look.
The neck appears to be mahogany as well, with a rosewood fretboard. The fretwork on this one is good, but I have seen some rough ends on a few Kala instruments now, so make sure you try before you buy.
The sealed-back die cast tuners are nice quality and hold well; they are a step above the more basic pegs on my SMHS, which can be a bit finicky. The inlaid bridge is made of rosewood with a synthetic saddle.
This SMHT is a well-made instrument and is constructed of solid materials, which is a great start. And I love the fact that it looks like a classic uke, with no odd cutaways or bizarre features. But it also has a mellow and balanced tone. It is pleasant to play, and is a perfect travelling companion.
Despite the quality of the Kala SMHT, it is dirt cheap for what you get (because it is imported). The MSRP on these is $330, with a street price of about $230. You will not find a better solid wood ukulele for the money.

Monday, January 23, 2012

1990 Fender Jazz Bass Plus Review


A few days ago we took a look at a Fender Precision Plus Bass, and today I am writing about a gnarly 5-string Fender Jazz Plus (that also happens to be coming up for sale). To provide a little history, from 1989 to 1993 Fender sold upgraded American Precision and Jazz basses, with “Plus” added to their marketing names. Most of these were four string Jazz basses, with a few Jazz 5-strings and Precision basses thrown into the mix.

The body on this one is finished in the very rare Silverburst poly, which is exactly the opposite of a Gibson Silverburst ; this one starts with the silver on the outside. It has a pseudo- traditional Jazz Bass profile and shape and is nicely balanced. It appears to be made out of alder, but then again I am not a carpenter or tree surgeon, so I cannot say for sure. These models did not come with a pickguard or the traditional chrome control cavity cover, and I think it looks awesome.

The neck is pretty good. It has a very narrow nut (1.75”) and tight string spacing. This one took a top and crown of the frets and lighter-tension strings to get a low action with no buzzing. It was worth the trouble, because it plays very nicely now.

The spec hardware is classic Japanese stuff, which means that it is very good -- 5 Gotoh GB-7 compact sealed tuners and a Gotoh high-mass bridge. The crummy plastic Grabber strap button that the factory used for a string tree is long gone, having been replaced by a solid-mass tree that gives nice string tension over the nut.

This Jazz Plus has its original electronics, which consist of silver Fender Lace Sensor pickups and a Kubicki 9 volt active pre-amp. There are stacked master volume and pan knobs, stacked treble and bass boost/cut knobs, and a 4-way selector that works as follows: passive/active/active with boost and standby (off). They are not noisy and sound great. The knobs are the same as the ones that the Fender Custom Shop used on the Kubicki Factor basses they built around the same era.

Overall, this one is in fair condition, with quite a few dings and wear spots, and some heavier about midway down the back of the neck (not in the money).

But looks aside it is a great player, and not too heavy (around 9 pounds). After it had a pro set-up, it plays easily and is as smooth as silk. With its narrow neck it would be a good transition instrument for a 4-string player that want to get into a 5-string.

Check one out if you get a chance, or better yet, buy this one from me!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Etta James: 1/25/1938 to 1/20/2012

We lost a musical treasure on Friday, as Etta James passed away in a Riverside, California hospital. Her family was by her side.

Etta was a singer that could do it all, from jazz to gospel to rock and rhythm and blues. Though she had her troubles, she often shined, earning 6 Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. Her peers respected her, and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Etta was born 74 years ago as Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, California. She did not have a nice childhood or a good home situation, but she started receiving voice lessons at the age of 5 and became a popular singer in her church.

After starting a girl’s doo-wop group, The Creolettes, she got noticed by Johnny Otis and signed to Modern Records. In 1955 she had her first hit, “Dance with Me, Henry”, which hit number 1 on the Hot Rhythm and Blues chart. This got The Peaches (The Creolettes new name) a gig opening up for Little Richard’s national tour.

Of course Etta did not stay with The Peaches forever, and as a solo artist she signed with Chess Records in 1960. Her solo debut album, At Last!, was released that year and included music from several genres, including, jazz, blues, doo-wop and R&B. The early to mid 1960s were really her zenith, with classic songs such as “At Last”, "I Just Want to Make Love to You", "A Sunday Kind of Love", "The Fool That I Am" and "Don't Cry Baby".

In the years that followed, she went through gospel and R&B phases, which produced gems such as "Tell Mama", "I'd Rather Go Blind". and a remake Otis Redding's "Security". After these hits Etta continued to record and play out, and experimented with rock and funk until 1978 when dropped out of recording for about 10 years due to substance abuse troubles.

In 1989, Ms. James released her comeback album Seven Year Itch, after signing with Island Records. The same year she also released a second album, Stickin' to My Guns. These albums renewed interest in Etta’s work, and the next 20 years were full of well-received albums and plenty of awards.

Etta’s last television performance was in April 2009 on Dancing with the Stars, where she performed “At Last", and she continued to tour until 2010, when declining health prevented her from continuing on.

Her husband Artis Mills and her sons Donto and Sametto were with her until she passed. We will all miss you, Etta.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Hundred Thousand Thanks!

Rex and the Bass hit 100,000 page views today. Many thanks to all who have been so supportive of this blog.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

1992 Fender Precision Plus Bass Review

Como estas?

From 1989 to 1993 Fender sold high-end modernized versions of their venerable Precision and Jazz basses, and added the “Plus” moniker onto their names. I see scads of the Jazz Bass Plus models, but very few Precision Bass Plus instruments. Today we are looking at a very good 1992 Precision Bass Plus.

This body of this bass is sprayed in its original red poly over alder wood. You may notice that this bass was built during the tragic era when they extended the cutaways to allow greater fretboard access. Unfortunately this resulted in an unseemly upper horn that results in the nickname “boner bass”.

The body is loaded with P and J Fender Lace Sensors pickups (my favorite configuration). These are routed through volume and tone pots. The tone pot operates the TBX tone circuit which cuts treble or bass depending on which way it is turned. There is also a 3-way pickup selector and a series/parallel switch (originally a button, which broke at some point). These pickups provide all of the classic Fender bass tones without any added noise, and the switching and TBX control provide even more options.

The 34-inch scale neck is maple with 22 frets sunk into its rosewood fretboard. Though it has a chunky precision width at the neck it has a thin profile, measuring only around 0.80" thick at the 5th fret. The 9.5-inch radius retains a pseudo-vintage feel while the flatter board allows a bit more flexibility for left hand fingerwork.

The hardware is a step above its contemporaries, with a high-mass Schaller bridge with fine tuners and large head Fender machine heads. The 3-ply pickguard is a classy touch.

This one weighs in at a little over 9 pounds, and is a real peach to play. It has a very comfy neck and the tone is incredible. It has a solid low end and sweet high mids which really helps it cut through in the mix.

If you get a chance to buy one of these, do not let that gnarly upper horn put you off – they are fantastic instruments.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Shure 55SH Series II Microphone Review


Today we are looking at the direct descendent of the founding father of modern stage microphones: the Shure 55SH Series II Unidyne vocal microphone. I think everybody that does live sound work should have of these in their mic case.

The original Shure 55 was introduced in 1939, and was downsized to its current appearance in 1951. The model 55H was revolutionary for its time as it used a cardioid polar pickup pattern that made it less susceptible to feedback when used around loudspeakers. Other microphones of the era had omnidirectional patterns that would pick up all kinds of stage noise. This made the 55H popular for stage applications, and they became the iconic microphones that you would see entertainers such as Elvis using n the 1950s.

I remember that a Shure 55H was this was the only microphone that they had at my grade school, and the janitor set it up on a stand with a cast iron base for assemblies and programs. These microphones only look good on simple stands like that. But I digress…

The Shure 55SH Series II maintains the cool features of the original microphone. This includes the pretty and polished yet still rugged die-cast body. There is the also the self-tensioning swivel mount with a built-in ON/OFF switch. The mount accepts a standard XLR microphone cable, and there is also a threaded microphone stand socket as well. You will need to remove the star washer on most microphone stands as it will interfere with fitting a microphone cable into the mount.

The 55SH retains the classic looks and charm of the original, but its guts are thoroughly modern. It is a low-impedance (150 ohm) balanced output dynamic microphone that is compatible with microphone inputs that are rated from 75 to 300 ohms. The cartridge is shock-mounted, making it less susceptible to stand-transmitted noises. Its frequency response is rated from 50 to 15,000 Hz.

This is foremost a vocal microphone that was designed for broadcasting and live performance, so Shure incorporated a presence peak on the original microphones, and this feature carries over to the current production models. This means that it is a bright microphone that is very clear and not terribly compressed. Despite its inherent brightness the 55SH is still a warm-sounding microphone. In fact, I find it to be a bit warmer than my trusty Shure SM57.

The Shure 55SH Series II is a great microphone for live shows, particularly if you are looking for a classy and easy to use microphone for an emcee to use. As long as the ON/OFF switch doesn’t confuse him…


Thursday, January 12, 2012

ESP PPJ-160 Bass Review


Today we are looking at a stunning bass, a one of a kind ESP PPJ-160 bass that was made for Loudness bassist Masayoshi Yamashita in 1986. The PPJ-160 is Yamashita’s signature model bass, which is configured unlike any other bass, thanks to its bizarre electronics package.

The pickups are two precision bass pickups in the sweet spot and a single jazz bass pickup at the neck. Maybe you see how they came up with the PPJ model name now (the 160 denotes the price in Yen – 160,000). The precision pickups are canted so that the one at the neck is for the D and G strings, and the one closer to the neck covers the E and A strings.

The controls are 3 volume pots (one for each pickup) and a master tone control. This is a passive electronics set-up, by the way.

The body is more traditional, with a contoured precision bass profile. It has a high-mass ESP-marked Gotoh bridge that has been dipped in chrome. The output jack is located in the lower bout which is not my favorite spot, but there is not a lot of room left on the front amongst all of those knobs.

The neck feels like it came from a precision bass, with a comfy C shape and a 1 5/8-inch nut. The truss rod adjusts at the heel, and it works well. It has Gotoh vintage-style chrome tuners with adjustable tension, which is a nice touch.

The whole thing weighs in at 8 pounds, 15 ounces according to my scale which is fairly light, especially when you consider all of those pickups.

This bass was built by the Japanese ESP Custom Shop for Yamashita, and there are a few things that make this different than the garden variety PPJ-160. First is that it has a Telecaster headstock instead of the Fender bass shape found on the production models. The second thing is the plum metallic finish, which is sprayed on the body and the neck, all the way up to the edges of the fretboard. Every one of these basses I have seen before has been black or white. It really is quite striking and is a true one-of-a-kind instrument.

The overall craftsmanship excellent, and the neck is top-notch. It has a metric ton of output and can produce a huge variety of tones, but my favorite setting is both P pickups dimed and just enough J volume to add some edge. I do not use a pick, but this bass would be perfect for aggressively picked metal.

The condition is almost mint, with just a little tarnishing of the tuners. It looks like it has never been played before.

I am not sure what I will ever use this bass for, but it was a tremendous value and even came with a matching Anvil flight case. How could I go wrong?


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Blues Blast Magazine


If you are a fan of the blues, there is a safe place on the often-treacherous internet to find new music and to check out what is happening in the blues world. And that place would be Blues Blast magazine.

Blues Blast is based out of Illinois (where else could it be from, really…) and is in its sixth year of production for its weekly magazine. The subscription to this magazine is free, by the way…

This magazine provides CD reviews and artist interviews, many of which are for artists that you may not be familiar with. There really is no better way to expand your horizons than to check out new music.

There are also listings for upcoming shows and festivals, and links to comprehensive lists of shows in your state. Looking over the California list I found two shows within 10 miles of my house this week, and one of them is at a club that I did not even know had live music. It is an eye-opener.

You can also find their current and back issues at

But Blues Blast is not just serving the listening community; it also helps blues artists. They accept CD submissions for review and will include your band’s shows on the blues shows list for free. This is a painless way to get your band promoted to tens of thousands of readers each week. The magazine also honors exceptional musicians by sponsoring the annual Blues Blast Music Awards.

And the best part of all of this is that it is all FREE to you! So head on over to to sign up for a free weekly subscription and find a blues show near you.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Simon and Patrick Woodland Spruce 12-string Guitar Review


Today we are looking at my latest 12-string, a Simon & Patrick Woodland Spruce 12 string acoustic guitar.

Simon & Patrick guitars are one of my favorite brands, and the best acoustic value out there. They are part of the Godin family of guitars and are made in LaPatrie, Quebec. Canada has more luthiers than can fit on the head of a pin. I am pleased with the sound, quality and price of this guitar and it gives comparable entry-level Martin and Taylor guitars a run for their money.

It is a traditional-looking guitar, with a pressure-tested solid spruce top. It has compound curves in it above the sound hole to give it more volume, and to make it more structurally sound. I have heard that this reduces the amount of fingerboard pressure on the top. It is flatter on the bridge end, to allow the necessary vibrations to take place.

The back and sides are laminated with a pretty red wild cherry layer on the outside. It has a simple binding around the top and back, and it has been sprayed with a very thin finish that does not muzzle its tone.

The Woodland’s neck is made of flamed Silver Leaf Maple, which is a wood I had to do a little research about. This species is native to northeastern Quebec, and has the same density as mahogany, but it is less porous so it can have a smoother finish. These necks are sanded and buffed by hand, and are indeed really smooth.

The nut is 1.9-inches wide and there are 21 well-finished medium frets. There is a dual-action trussrod in the neck, but I have not needed to touch it as this guitar had a great set-up right out of the box.

The hardware is certainly good enough. The sealed tuners hold well and the bean-counters at Godin let the designers spring for a very nice Tusq (synthetic bone) compensated nut and bridge saddle that are made by Graphtech.

From all of this you can gather that this is well-made guitar. But the proof is in the pudding, and it is a sweet player, too. It has a bright tone that is balanced nicely with a good low end, and of course it produces volume when played hard. I have found that it has a more traditional 12-string tone than the cedar-topped version of this guitar that I had before, which was a little too dark.

I wrote earlier that the Simon & Patrick Woodland Spruce 12-string is reasonably priced, and that the truth. They have a list price of $679.99, and a street price of $549.99. I have seen them a bit cheaper than MAP online, so make sure you shop around.

Check one out if you get the chance!


Monday, January 2, 2012

Ernie Ball 2806 Group III Flat Wound Bass String Review


I had never considered using flatwound bass strings on a fretted bass until a few years ago, but a number of my friends raved about them so I had to give them a go. Unfortunately I started with Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Bass strings that cost a fortune and had the tension of old rubber bands.

I was disappointed with the feel of the TI strings, and passed them on to a buddy of mine. Through some friends I was clued in to tin-plated Ernie Ball Group III Flats, which are a lot more comfortable for me. With string gauges of .045-.065-.080 and 0.100 they have tension that is similar to the Hybrid Slinky roundwounds or D’Addario XL nickels I usually use.

I have tried them on active Sadowskys and Musicmans, as well as passive Fenders and Arias. All of these were fretted basses, and I was impressed with the results. Like all flats, they are brighter when new, but have maintained a great midrange growl even as they have aged. And though they have a solid thump, they have not gotten muddy or dull.

Plus they are a good value, particularly when you factor in how long they last. The Ernie Ball Group III flats have a list price of $60, and a street price of $29.99. Plus you will not need to do a complete set-up when you switch over to these flats either, as they have a tension that will probably be similar to whatever you are using now.

This being said, I embrace diversity and Group IIIs are not the only flats that I use. D’Addario Chromes are virtually identical to the Ernie Ball strings, so I use them if they are around, and I have a P Bass set-up with the imposing LaBella Jamerson flats too. They are all great strings, and you will not go wrong with any of them. Just remember that flats are not just for fretless basses any more.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Inventory Update: First Quarter of 2012

Hi there, and Happy New Year!

Looking through my stuff, there are a few changes to my collection, and a few more changes to come. Here is what is around today:

1. 1978 Fender Precision Bass. Incredible condition and Antigua. Mmmm.

2. 1982 Fender JV Precision Bass. The earliest Japanese Fender bass I have ever seen. Loaded with Jamerson flats, and everything a P Bass should be..

3. 1983 ESP P-J Bass. Serial number 0008, and formerly owned by Masayoshi Yamashita of the Japanese metal band Loudness. You have to have a PJ bass around.

4. 1983 Tokai Love Rock LS-50. The best sounding and playing Les Paul I have ever owned, and that is saying a lot.

5. 1986 ESP PPJ-160. The flat-out coolest bass I own. I will be writing about this one later on this month.

6. 2008 Fender Custom Shop 59 Re-issue Precision Bass. This one is one the chopping block. Drop me a line if you are interested. It is a peach!

7. 2009 Fender Mustang Bass. Candy Apple Red, competition stripes, and fresh out of Japan. Sweet!

8. Kala Tenor Ukulele. Also on its way out, as I have a sweeter one coming in.

9. Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele. A great travelling companion, and a fond souvenir of Hawaii.

10. Cordoba 25TKCE Ukulele. On loan to a friend, but I will be selling this one too.

11. Simon & Patrick Songsmith dreadnought. This solid acoustic is still hanging in there; it is still a super-popular post for this blog.

12. Simon & Patrick Woodland 12-string acoustic. I will need to write this one up this month too.

13. Martin D-18V. I should play this more often, so I do not forget how much I like it.

14. Orpheus Valley Guitars Rosa Morena. A sweet Bulgarian Spanish guitar.

15. Sterling by MusicMan AX20. Perhaps the ugliest guitar I own, and also up for sale.

16. Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 with two 12-inch Shuttle cabinets. How is it that I still have this set-up? Probably because it is so awesome!

17. Genz Benz Shuttle 3.0-8T. A powerhouse for its size, and a nice value on the used market.

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

19. Fender Blues Junior III amplifier. A great amplifier for the money.

20.Fender Vibro Champ XD. I have been having a miserable time trying to sell this. I might have to trade it in at Guitar Center for a new set of strings or something.

Good thing I only do this once a quarter. It seems like I could do it once a week.