Tuesday, May 29, 2012

T-Rex Fuel Tank Chameleon Power Supply Review

Good day!

Ok. I do not have any powered pedals on my pedalboard (except for my Boss tuner), as I endorse Cave Passive Pedals, but if I did have some I would be first in line to pick up a T-Rex Fuel Tank Chameleon power supply. This is the best-looking and most versatile/flexible portable power supply assemblies I have tried, and is also one of the more spendy ones. T-Rex offers a few different power supplies, and this is one is their best offering (in my opinion), even though it not the top of their line.

The Fuel Tank Chameleon It is not as big as it looks in the photos, but it will still take up a few spaces on your pedalboard, measuring 6.3 x 1.6 x 3.2 inches. It is solidly built with a green-finished steel case, and come in a bit over 3 pounds. Their products have always been bulletproof, and this one also appears to be made to last.

Let’s look at power. This T-Rex product comes with an industry standard removable IEC power cable, and it is switchable from 115V to 230V. So you can take this to Europe, switch out the input cable and still be in business. It has the capability of 1500mA of total power output through its 6 isolated outputs (only 5 can be used at a time) which should be plenty for most any pedalboard setup. Keep in mind that those outputs can be daisy-chained, so you can run a lot more that 5 pedals off this thing.

And you can run a bunch of different voltages from this unit at the same time. Outputs 1 through 3 can be individually set at either 9V DC or 12V DC, and output 4 can be set to either 9V DC or 18V DC. Output 5 is switchable for 9V DC or 12V DC and output 6 is solely for 12V AC. Outputs 5 and 6 cannot be used at the same time. All voltages are switched via little tiny dip switches.

These outputs put out 300mA at 9V or 12V and 150mA at 18V, so read the directions carefully, and do you math if you are going to daisy-chain things together. You don’t want to overload any of the circuits…

So, you can pretty much get the correct power for any of your pedals, and chances are also good that T-Rex provided the cables you will need to attach them too. This product came with 9 DC pedal link cables between 8 and 40 inches long, a 30-inch 5-pedal daisy chain cable, a blue AC cable for Line6 pedals, a 30-inch DC to mini jack cable and a red AC cable for the T-Rex Replica Delay. That is a huge wad of cables, and I have not found any pedals in my stash (or my friends’) that this thing will not power up. All of the outlets are center negative, BTW.

I broke out all of my old pedals, and borrowed a few more, and ran them together in all different configurations using the T-Red as the sole power supply. Pedal types included delays, distortions, a wah pedal, tuners, choruses, octavizers, and god knows what all. Brands included Boss, Ibanez, Dunlop, DOD, and Line6, among others, and they all worked fine with this unit.

The Chameleon was nice and quiet and did not make any interference that manifested itself as noise in my signal chain. It also did not seem to get ungodly hot, so pretty much it did everything it was supposed to while providing a level or versatility that most guitarists with big setups would appreciate. A winner, in other words!

The T-Rex Fuel Tank Chameleon power supply is a great product, and is priced accordingly. The list price is $249, with a street price of $149.99. If I was running a larger pedalboard with a ton of power needs I would be all over one of these, even at a bill and a half.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Korg Pitchblack Chromatic Tuner Pedal Review

Como estas?

Everybody and their brother is making tuner pedals nowadays, and they are amazingly cheap for the performance you can get from them. So why buy one instead of another? It comes down to features, not catchy names, so Korg wasted their time naming their latest pedal the “Pitchblack” (get it?), when they could have spent their energy making a little more usable tuner.

The Pitchblack is a compact-sized pedal with a modern-looking sturdy cast aluminum case that is finished in stylish black. There is not much in the way of controls – just one beefy stomp switch on the front, and calibration and display switches on the back. It runs on a 9-volt battery or you can attach an AC adapter to power it up. There is an extra power output jack on the back that allows you to use this pedal as a power supply to support up the 200mA of other pedals. None of these cables are included, of course.

This Korg unit will tune between E0 (20.60Hz) and C8 (4,186 Hz), and the calibration can be adjusted easily with the switch on the back to change A440 between 436Hz and 445Hz. People might actually use that feature, but I don’t think I ever have. The accuracy is certainly good enough for me – I compared its reading to my Peterson and my Boss and it was the same. It’s rock and roll anyway, so how accurate does it need to be?

This stuff is all pretty standard, and about what I would expect any nice tuner pedal to do, but Korg tosses four different display mode into the mix, which really caught my interest. These modes can be selected by pressing the “DISPLAY” switch on the back of the unit. Here is a quick summary of each:

Meter: Almost like an analog meter tuner. The goal here is to get the green LED in the middle and both of the amber arrow LEDs lit up. If you cannot figure out how to use this mode, maybe you should be a singer instead.

Full Strobe: This kind of simulates my Peterson, and it immediately seemed familiar to me when I tried it. With this mode when you are in tune the eleven LED meters stop streaming and both of the amber LEDs illuminate. The LEDs stream from left to right if sharp, and right to left if flat. Steve Perry’s meter always streams from left to right…

Half Strobe: This is a hybrid of the Meter and Full Strobe modes, and I do not get how it is any better than either of those modes. The idea is to tune so that the LED meter no longer stream and so that the green LED in the middle and both of the amber arrow LEDs are lit up. Meh.

Mirror: This mode is the worst of the bunch. I am not going to waste brain cells trying to explain it.

The Korg tuner works well. It has true bypass, and in monkeying around with it I did not notice any change in tone with it plugged wither directly in line or in my pedal board. The LEDs and note indicator displays are bright enough to use outside, and they were viewable at all kind of angles. As I said earlier, it is plenty accurate as well.

I mostly used the Meter and Full Strobe modes, and liked the Full Strobe mode best of all. It reacted very quickly and it was quite intuitive and functional for me.

But, as always, there are a few things that I do not like. The Pitchblack mutes the signal when tuning, and the display turns off when the switch is pressed. So there is no provision for the tuner to work while you are playing. I like being able to watch my tuning sometimes as I am playing (especially on fretless) so this is a deal-breaker for me. My guess is that they designed the pedal this way to save battery life, but they should have checked with some end users before finalizing their design.

The list price for the Korg Pitchblack Chromatic Tuner pedal is a ridiculous $150, with a very sensible street price of $69.99. It comes in about $30 cheaper than my trusty Boss TU-3, so this could be a great deal for someone who does not mind that it mutes the signal when it is in use. But not me.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shure PGX24/SM58 Wireless Microphone System Review


There comes a time for many bands or DJs when they decide that their set-up would be better off without wires and they are willing to pony up for a wireless system. Unfortunately, often times they start out with entry-level equipment that just does not get the mail delivered. Surely you have run into this before, or seen it in This is Spinal Tap: radio interference, cutting out, and intermittent bursts of shrieking and static.

That is why I spent a little extra time researching and trying different systems before I ended up getting the Shure PGX24/SM58 wireless handheld microphone system. This system includes a PGX4 receiver and a PGX2/SM58 microphone/transmitter. This is delivered in a nice plastic case that looks like it should have a gun in it.

The PGX4 diversity receiver is a nice looking unit, with two ¼ wave antennae and an LED channel indicator display on the front, and ¼-inch and XLR connector output terminals on the back. This assembly is capable of receiving signals from 90 selectable frequencies across 18MHz bandwidth which provides plenty of opportunities to find some clear radio waves to use.

The PGX2/SM58 is bigger than a conventional SM58 microphone, and this is no surprise as the batteries and the transmitter have to go somewhere. It has a mute switch as well as a multi-function LED that lets the user know if the mute is ON, the power is ON, the power is low, or if the mute is locked out. The lock out feature is handy if you want to keep the user from accidentally turning off the microphone. Just press and hold the switch for 10 seconds while the power is on and it will lock the switch out.

System set-up is easy: I just plugged in in, connected a cable from the XLR output to my mixer (just like a regular microphone) and turned it on. I installed two AA batteries in the transmitter (they are supposed to last 8 hours) and turned it ON. Before putting the battery cover back on I pointed the transmitter at the receiver, pressed the SYNC button and that was it. The automatic transmitter set-up and automatic frequency selection paired the system lickety-split and it was ready to use with no hassles.

The sound performance of the microphone is identical to my conventional wired SM58 microphones. I have not had any wireless problems, such as static or cutting out, and there has not really been any downside to using this system. Of course I install new batteries before each use, so I have not had any problems with battery failure. I find that Shure’s claim of 8 hours of battery life is maybe a bit conservative; I had a set go for 10 hours with no difficulty.

I would have a hard time with letting some drunken karaoke performer loose with one of these, though as they do not come cheaply. The list price for a complete Shure PGX24/SM58 system is $558, and the street price is $399. So, you might be tempted to shop around and buy a dirt-cheap one from a shady seller, but be very careful when buying Shure wireless systems online or from Craigslist ads, as they are now being counterfeited like there is no tomorrow. I have seen a few of these systems being offered on eBay from foreign sellers for half the price without OEM packaging. Caveat emptor, amigos…


Monday, May 21, 2012

Nashville Tuning with D’Addario EJ38H Strings


For years I have heard guitars that use Nashville Tuning (also known as “high strung” guitars), but have never really given one a try. You have heard this sound before, but maybe did not know what it was called – think of “Dust in the Wind” and Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” if you need examples.

The basic idea of Nashville Tuning is to make a six-string guitar sound like a 12-string. But I think it adds a little more, with elements of harpsichord, mandolin and autoharp. That sounds like the three levels of Hell, when I put it that way, doesn’t it?

This is not really an alternate tuning (like drop D), as the same notes are used, but the octaves are different. For Nashville tuning, the two high strings (B and E) are the same as normal tuning, but the lower four strings are tuned an octave higher than normal (two octaves on the low E if you are David Gilmour).

I have mostly heard acoustic guitars tuned this way, though I guess you could do the same thing with an electric guitar. And, it easy enough to convert your acoustic guitar if you want to give it a try.

In the old days you either had to buy a 12-string set and cannibalize it for the strings you needed, or buy the strings separately from your friendly (and patient) local music store. These days you can just plunk down 4 bucks for a set of D’Addario EJ38H phosphor bronze strings, which includes these gauges: .010 (high E), .014 (B), .009 (G), .012 (D), .018 (A), and .027 (low E). This is, of curse a pretty light set of strings, and if you crave something beefier, you can build your own set from single strings – try .012, .016, .010, .014, .020, and .030 (make this one a wound string, please).

Install them as you would normally, and remember to tune the lower four strings an octave higher than normal. I usually involuntarily grimace as I do this and squint my eyes, as I wait for one of the strings to break. They never do.

Of course there are down sides to everything, so I need to toss a couple of caveats in. Your guitar might need a new set up as the string tensions will be different. And, more importantly, if you are playing by yourself, you will notice that most of the bottom end is gone, and the sound will be less full. Nashville Tuning is best used when it is being used on a guitar that is playing along with another guitar that is using conventional tuning.

That is all I have on this subject. Give it a try, and you will be pleasantly surprised. The worst that can happen is that you are out 4 bucks.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hercules Triple Auto Grab Guitar Stand Review


There are plenty of really bad ways to store guitars at a gig or rehearsal place, and many of them come about when there is the desire to have more than one ready to play. This is when guitars get leaned against amplifiers or chairs, and they inevitably fall over and break expensive parts.

Guitar stands are the answer, but having more than one set up takes up too much valuable real estate on stage. This is where the Hercules triple guitar stand comes into play.

Hercules makes the best guitar wall hangers on the market, due to their Auto Grab System. When the guitar headstock contacts the yoke assembly, the weight of the guitar makes a pair of levers swing into place to keep the guitar from falling out. This same system is incorporated into their floor stands.

This means that the Hercules stands use a completely different strategy to hold the guitar, in that all of the guitar’s weight is supported by the headstock, and not the body. The body rests against foam on the legs and an adjustable back rest, and the manufacturer asserts that the foam will not damage the guitar’s finish. I would be careful with nitro-finished instruments, though.

These Hercules stands are made of heavy steel, and are adjustable for height. They break down nicely into one piece so there are no worries about losing parts during load-in or load-out.

My experience with the triple stand has been very positive, and I have used it with different combinations of guitars and basses. It remains stable when changing instruments, and does not get unbalanced if only loaded with one or two instruments. I have not had any troubles with parts breaking off or the foam discoloring the finish on my guitars.

As always, quality does not come cheaply. The Hercules Auto Grab triple guitar stand has a list price of $131.95 and a street price of $92.95. It is worth every penny.

If the triple stand is overkill for your application, Hercules also makes single and double stands, which have street prices of $46.95 and $74.95, respectively.

Any of these Hercules stands would be a great way to safely have your guitars readily at hand without taking up a ton of floor space. I recommend checking them out if you get the chance.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Donald "Duck" Dunn -- November 24, 1941 to May 13, 2012

I woke up this morning to hear the sad news that bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn had died. Reports are that he passed away in his sleep after an evening of shows at the Blue Note in Tokyo, Japan. He was 70 years old.

Mr. Dunn was a session bassist for Stax Records and a member of Booker T. and the M.G.’s, but probably received the most mainstream fame from the movie The Blues Brothers, where he portrayed himself.

He was the go-to bass man, and had performed with Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King, Neil Young, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Guy Sebastian, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Roy Buchanan, and a whole lot more.

I copied countless bass lines from him over the years, and I am sure pretty much every other bass player in the world did too.

RIP, Duck.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

1981 Tokai Hard Puncher Bass Review


Those that know me are aware of my deep love for obscure Japanese basses, and today we are looking at yet another lawsuit-era bass: a 1981 Tokai Hard Puncher, a faithful and unabashed copy of a 1970s era Fender Precision Bass.

This bass seems to have been spared the indignity of ill-advised and unnecessary modifications over the years, which is a real blessing for me. Things are only original once, you know.

This one has a contoured P body with a lot more grain than I usually see in early Japanese basses, so it might actually be ash. A girl can always hope. It was sprayed with a stunning 3-tone sunburst with a bright red in it, and a 3-ply black/white black guard. The thumb rest looks to be original to the bass.

This Tokai’s 4-bolt neck is maple with a pretty rosewood fretboard that is still in excellent shape, front and back. The 20 medium frets are still in great shape, with very little visible wear. It has the typical 1 5/8” P width nut (plastic), but the neck is not overly chunky. I would call it a medium profile C shape. The truss rod adjusts at the heel, and it still turns easily.

The Hard Puncher headstock shape is an exact copy of one that would be found on a Precision Bass, and their logo even is styled to resemble Fender’s. Tokai always put campy small print on their headstock decals, and this one informs you that Tokai is “The Quality Musical Instruments of the World.” Word, my brothers.

The hardware is pretty middle of the road stuff. The machine heads are 3-screw open-gear pieces that kind of look like Fender tuners, the barrel knobs are kind of cheap looking with flaky chrome, and the bridge is a copy of a 5-screw Fender unit. If this one sticks around I will swap the barrel knobs out for nice ones and put a vintage Fender threaded saddle bridge on it. I love those things.

The pickup and electronics are original to the bass. There is not much to say about them except that they are exactly what you would expect – a split coil pickup with volume and tone pots.

This Hard Puncher is not terrible heavy, coming in a little under 8 ½ pounds according to my digital scale. It is pretty easy on the back, not to mention the eyes.

And it is very attractive. It is in very good overall condition, particularly when you consider it is 31 years old. The finish does not have very many blemishes and it still shiny – it has not been abused.

It is a good playing bass with no buzzing and a low action. The pickup has strong output (hotter than its contemporary Fenders, and there is no buzzing or static. I play P basses with the controls dimed, and this one really makes my SVT bark (in a good way). I like it a lot, so I might try to keep it around for a while.

By the way, this one still has the factory “40” sticker at the heel of the neck, which is an indication of what the original price was, which in this case would be 40,000 Yen. This would have been $181 in 1981 when this bass was built. Hopefully this helps illustrate why these basses were such a threat to Fender – the Hard Puncher was a lot of bass for the money at the time, and 1981 to 1984 Fenders bit the hairy root.

Tokai Hard Punchers are getting a little harder to find, but you can still find nice ones for under $500. If you want one, now is the time to buy as they are not going to get any cheaper.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Amplifier Repair Tip: GPS Electronics of Norwalk, California


If you need your amplifier repaired and you are in the Los Angeles area, I have the hot ticket for you: do not take it to your local guitar shop, because they are probably going to send it out somewhere else for repair. And that somewhere else is probably going to be GPS Electronics over in Norwalk, so go there first and cut out the middle man.

GPS Electronics has been in business since 1996 and does work for music stores, the local theme parks (we have some big ones), city governments, school districts, churches, and of course everyday musicians like us. They specialize in guitar amplifier repair, but are also have tons of experience repairing PA systems, keyboard, pedals, speakers, and mixing boards.

Besides retail repairs, this shop is also an authorized warranty service center for Ampeg, Crate, Fender, GK, Marshall, Peavey, Yamaha and many more manufacturers. That says a lot about the experience of the technicians and the confidence that these companies have in GPS Electronics.

I recently needed to have my Ampeg B15T repaired (it had gone teats up), and I took it over to George (the G, of GPS) to have them look it over. Their shop is located in an office park and there are no big signs, so make sure you get your directions straight before you head over.

From the front counter I could see a few of the repair benches in the back, and noted that the shop was tidy and the technicians were neatly dressed, and there was a metric ton of amplifiers on shelves waiting to be worked on. It seems like it would be a good place to work, not a sweatshop or filthy hell hole.

George wrote up my repair order and gave me a date (about a week out) when I would receive my estimate. He called me up a week later with a very reasonable estimate ($82), and quoted me three days for repairs to be completed.

Well, three days later my amplifier was done (with no extra charges) and it worked fine when I got it back. This may not sound like a big deal, but in this day and age it is difficult to find shops that do a good job, not to mention keeping the promises and commitments that they make. I wholeheartedly recommend that you give them a try.

GPS Electronics is located near the 5 Freeway in Norwalk, making it a convenient drive from Los Angeles or Orange Counties. They are open Monday through Friday from 10AM to 6PM, and are closed on weekends. You can reach them at 562-802-0840, or check out their page of Facebook.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review of The Midwest Rock 'N' Roll Express Tour – May 6 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, California


I am not the world’s biggest fan of Styx, REO Speedwagon or Ted Nugent, but I like their music well enough. And that is what the Midwest Rock ‘N’ Roll Express Tour is all about – I got a chance to see all 3 acts on one bill without having to put up with any of them for more than an hour or so.

I caught their May 6 show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, which is definitely not my first choice of concert venues. It is a great outdoor amphitheatre in beautiful Griffith Park, and there are really not many bad seats. But getting your car parked is a bear, and usually your car gets boxed 2 or 3 vehicles deep and it can take an hour or two to get it sprung. This time I got really lucky with parking, which made the whole evening go smoother.

I am going to give the Greek Theatre thumbs up for communicating so well before the concert. They sent an e-mail out with details about the facility, and included a schedule of when the acts would be appearing.

Additional props go out the bands, their crews and the facility management, who made sure that all three bands (and the opening act) started EXACTLY on time. Amazing!

The show kicked off with Stan Bush who played a 15-minute solo acoustic set, which had to be a little nerve-wracking in a large venue that was waiting for Ted Nugent to come on stage. Stan did well, and the crowd seemed to appreciate his work.

Then came the Nuge who led off with “Wango Tango”, and he met all of my expectations. His 50-minute set was filled with shrieking guitar calisthenics, a thumping backline, a dancing girl, some thinly-veiled racism and plenty of profanity. He worked in all of the popular tunes, but then again there was nothing that was released after 1977, so he had better know these songs by now. I was glad they chose to include the Motown classic “Hey Baby”, as well as one of my all-time favorite songs, “Stranglehold” (quite romantic).

Nugent’s band was a hoot. Mick Brown’s drums and Greg Smith’s bass were tight, and it was a pleasure to see true professionals at work. I was super-impressed by Derek St. Holmes on guitar and lead vocals. He has an incredibly strong voice and is a great showman. But, looking back at it all, 30 minutes would have been enough Ted Nugent for me.

The crew only took 15 minutes to cart off Nugent’s stuff and set the stage for REO Speedwagon, who had a more complicated stage, light and video show. They had a Hammond and a grand piano to fit on the stage too, so that took up some of the space that Nugent’s massive amplifier display had previously occupied.

REO Speedwagon got 20 minutes more than Ted, which was cool with me because their music does not all sound the same. They got things started with “Take it on the Run” which ended up being a shaky start for their set. They played the tune at a little slower than normal tempo, and Kevin Cronin’s voice was not warmed up yet. I was a little worried after this song.

But, REO pulled it all together. They worked though all of the “Keep on” songs (Pushin’, Loving You and Rolling), and again, I was very impressed with the professionalism of the band, and they nailed all of their parts. As Cronin warmed up he started sounding like the good old days, which was a relief to me. There were a few times where it seemed like the sound guys messed up (dropped guitar solo and vocals), but overall it was a strong set.

Speedwagon left the stage and came back for an encore of “Ridin’ the Storm Out” which already had pre-canned video and sound effects running. What if nobody cheered and clapped? Would they have just walked off with their tails between their legs and gone home? I think it is time to let the obligatory encore go away. Just add another song to the set, guys – it is a good one, after all.

After a 25 minute break, Styx hit the stage with an even fancier stage set up and a lot more audience interest. It was obvious that this was the part of the show that a lot of the crowd was waiting for, and I don’t think that anybody went home disappointed.

The band played almost nothing but hits, with “Blue Collar Man”, “Grand Illusion” and “Too Much Time on my Hands” starting things off. Tommy Shaw and James Young were as strong as ever on vocals and guitar (Shaw was a bit stronger, even), and Lawrence Gowan was fabulous on keyboards and vocals, He made me forget all about that other guy that has been erased from the history page on the Styx website. Lawrence did a nice job of working the crowd during a classic rock interlude in the middle of the set. Man, his voice is sure a lot like that other guy’s.

They added in a b-side, “Man in the Wilderness” to keep things real, but they probably could have left it out and not lost anything from their performance. They have more han enough real hits to fill up an hour for their die-hard fans.

As with the other bands on the bill, the rhythm section was strong, with Todd Sucherman on drums and Ricky Philips on bass. I was glad to see that Styx remembered their roots and brought out founding member Chuck Panazzo on bass for a few songs. If only his brother was still around.

Styx closed out the evening with two encore songs: “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Renegade”. I should have seen these coming from a mile away. “Paradise” was their opening song for years, and “Renegade” is always a crowd favorite. Well done, boys!

To answer a question I had asked myself on the way to the Greek: “No, there was no Damn Yankees reunion with Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw.” Oh well.

The Midwest Rock ‘N’ Roll Express will be performing another 20 dates over the next two months throughout the Midwest and east coast, so chances are good they will be performing near you. Check them out if you get a chance!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lazy Lester -- You Better Listen Album Review

Hi there!

Here is a review I wrote that was published in the February 2 issue of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check them out at www.thebluesblast.com

Lazy Lester is anything but lazy; at 78 years old he is still touring and recording today. Born in 1933 as Leslie Johnson, he is the living link to the Louisiana blues scene of the 1950s and 1960s, when he had a string of hits on Excello records. He did quite a bit of solo work, but is most notable for his work with Lightnin’ Slim.

Lester broke into the business on the strength of his harmonica playing, but has a unique voice and guitar chops to boot. The years have been kind to the man, and his voice has gotten more character and is pleasing to hear. He still blows a mean harp too.

He describes his music as “swamp blues”, a combination of blues, early country music, and swamp pop. He says his main influences are the country singer Jimmie Rogers and legendary southern harp men Jimmy Reed and Little Walter, but I hear a bit of Detroit and Chicago blues influence in there too.

Lazy Lester’s latest album, You Better Listen, is an old-time blues album with non-traditional origins. Lester recorded this material at Juke Joint Studio in Norway, which is not exactly next door to his northern California home. The album was produced by guitarist Morten Omlid, who is part of Spoonful of Blues, which is the backing band on this project. This is the same group that Lester hooks up with for his annual tours of Norway.

The 13 tracks on You Better Listen are a compilation of original material, old blues hits, and a couple of classic country tunes, all in Lazy Lester’s swamp blues style. Through the usual studio magic, Lester is able to play guitar, sing and blow the harp simultaneously on many of the songs.

Staying true to his roots, Lester kicks off the album with the Lightnin’ Slim’s “Rooster Blues”, and this track proves that his voice is still amazing and his harmonica is as sweet as ever. The other thing this recording shows is that his Norwegian brothers from Spoonful of Blues have a great feel for the blues and are very good musicians in their own right.

It is more than cool that Lazy Lester covered Slim Harpo’s “Scratch my Back”, especially when you consider that Lester was a percussionist on Slim’s original hit recording. The raw drum sounds and guitar reverb come off perfectly for this old-time blues standard, and there is a great play between the harp and guitar. This turned out to be one of my favorite tracks on You Better Listen.

There is a classic country vibe in much of Lazy Lester’s work, and on this album he broke down and gave us a real-live country tune, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”. This Roy Acuff number has been thoroughly converted to a honkytonk song with a healthy dose of saloon piano, which is pretty cool in my book.

It would be easy to just cover old Excello hits, but Lester wrote four new tracks for this album. “Courtroom Blues” has a simple background with a slow tempo, but throws in plenty of harp as well as an old favorite, the Hammond organ. Prison lyrics always are a sure-fire hit subject for blues music, too.

Another Lazy Lester original is the “OJ Shuffle”, a quick-paced instrumental with just the bare bones of instruments: harmonica, guitar and the simplest of percussion. There is nothing like a good shuffle, and this one delivers the goods.

You Better Listen wraps up with the “Paradise Stomp”, an instrumental that honors his new hometown. It provides a change of pace and a healthy countrified dose of Lester’s harmonica to put an appropriate end to this project, sort of like the music over the credits at the end of a good movie.

Overall this is a great album with solid tunes and Lazy Lester’s inimitable voice, but I must warn you that it sounds like it was recorded 50 years ago. The producer and mixer must have been going for a retro vibe, because the background instruments are muddy and the lead vocals, harmonica and guitars are a bit gritty. It works for me, but if you are looking for rocket-ship modern production you will be a bit put out.

I will leave you with one last bit of trivia before I go: Excello producer Jay Miller came up with the nickname Lazy Lester not because of a poor work ethic, but in honor of Lester’s slow style of talking and his easygoing manner.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Adam Yauch -- August 5, 1964 to May 4, 2012

Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, died today at the age of 47. He had struggled with cancer since 2009.

MCA was one of the founding members of the Beastie Boys, which started as a hardcore punk band in 1979, and transitioned to hip-hop in 1984. They re-invented their sound many times over the years and have always remained relevant, thanks to his creative input and his collaboration with his friends.

I am very sad to hear of his early passing, and offer my condolences to his wife and young daughter.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

1980 The Aria Pro II SB-1000 Bass Guitar Review

Hi there!

Today we are looking at another gem from the crown of Japanese guitar-building, a 1980 The Aria Pro II SB-1000 bass guitar. Note that I said “The” Aria Pro II, as this logo on the headstock differentiates the early production basses from the later ones.

The original run of these Aria Super Basses was built in Japan from 1978 to 1986, with a fair number imported to Europe and North America. They were adopted by a few popular bassists, such as Jack Bruce, Cliff Burton and John Taylor. They eventually re-issued these basses, and they are now available at premium prices.

As I said, this is an early bass (from around 1980), but it has many features that have been carried on to current production. Most noticeable is the Canadian ash body with neck-through construction. You can see this through the transparent finish, which shows the gorgeous 5-ply maple and walnut neck.

This one is finished with dark walnut stain over the ash, but they were also offered in transparent red, natural, and black. The black ones are as rare as hen’s teeth.

The C-shaped neck is sweet with a 24 medium-jumbo frets sunk into its rosewood fretboard. It Is beefy, with about a 1.75-inch nut. The headstock has a pretty veneer on it, with the usual legend: ”Designed & Approved by H Noble Original Custom Body P. No. 555719 A Product of Matsumoku. 4 11 n.m.”

The hardware is good, with a high-mass brass bridge and a brass nut. A factory brass nut, by the way. There are also nice brass covers over the electronics cavity on the back of the bass. The closed-back tuners are marked Aria Pro II, but they were manufactured by Gotoh.

This is all nice stuff, and it is a beautiful instrument, but what sets these SB-1000 basses apart from the rest is the electronics package. This includes an MB humbucker, 18-volt pre-amplifier, a six-position tone switch and a coil tap switch. Unfortunately, these early models did not have a power LED indicator on the front. Everybody and their brother wants an LED on their bass…

The 6-position tone switch provides most any tone you are looking for, from thick and boomy to sharp and aggressive. I have had a few of the original SB-1000s, and they are pretty consistent in tone and quality. The only downside is the weight, as they are usually around 11 pounds. This one comes in at 10 pounds, 8 ounces.

First series Aria Pro II SB-1000 basses are getting a bit hard to find, and I was lucky to run into one that was in such good condition and that included the original hardshell case in similar shape. If you have a choice, I would recommend picking up one of the original series instead of a re-issue, as they are usually very good basses. The quality of the re-issues is spotty, and if you do purchase one make sure you play it first so you don’t spend 4 figures on a dud.