Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bruce Springsteen Wrecking Ball Album Review

Good day!

If you know me, one of the last things you would expect to find on my blog is a Bruce Springsteen album review, but don’t worry – I have not run out of stuff to write about, and there is a method to my madness here.

You see, I have been a closet Springsteen fan for a long time, and his gloriously lunchbucket songs like “Thunder Road”, “The River” and “Born to Run” are Americana at its best. But Wrecking Ball could be the best album he has ever put out. This is his 17th studio album, and you will not find the complete E-Street lineup on this disk, though there are a few unexpected guest stars.

There are 13 tracks on his latest release, and 11 are new Springsteen songs in which he takes his usual working-class laments and moves them to a more global scale. By the way, one of them is a cover one of his own songs (“Land of Hopes and Dreams”), that he had previously only released on his Live in New York City album Though all of the themes are political, I do not see this as a political album because he is not taking sides, just pointing out how completely effed up our world is. Compounding this somber theme is an overall sense of hopelessness and anger that I have not seen the Boss embrace so completely before. There is no light at the end of this tunnel.

You might think Springsteen has been here before with The Rising (also a fantastic album), which he made in response to 9/11, but that album had a message of healing and American values, while Wrecking Ball addresses our fiscally and morally bankrupt society. He sets his sights on big businesses that rape our country and environment and politicians that have given up on trying to make our country a better place to live in, and who treat politics like just another business.

Besides the great lyrics, there is also a lot going on musically with Wrecking Ball. This is his first album with co-producer Ron Aniello, who has done a fantastic of making Bruce’s ideas come to life. Guest stars include Rage against the Machine’s resident guitar god Tom Morello, and even the late great Clarence Clemmons makes an appearance.

One high points of the album are “Death to My Hometown”, which is a pretty damned sad second act of his hit “My Hometown” from Born in the U.S.A. But my favorite track is “Jack of All Trades,” which is full of heart-felt anger and frustration. This really is Bruce Springsteen at his best, and you need to check this one out.

Trust me on this one, Wrecking Ball is a winner.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Sneak Preview: Alembic F-1X Preamplifier Review

This bad boy showed up from my buddy Ben today. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into it and see if it lives up to its legendary reputation.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Kala U-Bass Review


I have reviewed quite a few Kala ukuleles on my blog, and overall I have been very happy with their products, and they are a first-rate manufacturer in the uke world. So, it should not be much of a surprise that I also like one of their weirder, products: the U-Bass.

I first saw the Kala U-Bass at Bass Player Live a few years ago, and my first impression was that it was a toy or a gimmick, but after I played one for a while I changed my tune. This is a fun and easy to play instrument that also happens to sound very good.

The U-Bass is about the size of a baritone ukulele, so it has a scale length of 21-inches, which is a bit different than the usual 34-inch scale you will find on many traditional electric basses. The neck, body and top of this one are made of solid mahogany. Except for the inlay on the headstock it is relatively plain-looking, with a matte finish and no binding. You can also get these instruments with a solid acacia body or with a spruce top and mahogany back and sides, but the mahogany one is the best looking one (in my opinion). The bridge and fretboard are both hewn from nice-looking rosewood.

These basses are also available in fretless models, but with a scale that short there was no way I was going to spring for one of those. You might be up for the challenge, though.

The fret wire on the U-Bass is very small (like other ukuleles), which is not a big deal with the strings they use on these basses. The fret ends on this one are well done, and they seem level enough for what this thing is going to do. The hipshot tuners are finished in black, and are more like electric bass tuners than uke tuners, which is a good thing in my book.

The Shadow electronics package is simple, with no knobs, pre-amps or batteries – just a jack on the endpin to plug it in. The passive piezo pickup is not a single strip, but instead has separate elements for each string. This provides much more consistent volume between strings and makes the U-Bass a much more usable instrument. As this is a passive piezo set-up, if you have a poopy amplifier you might need to use a pre-amplifier with this instrument.

This one shows good craftsmanship, with nice joints and an even finish., As I said earlier the frets are good, and it played very well out of the box. As I have seen a couple of shabby Kala products over the years, I recommend playing before buying, or buying from a retailer with a good return policy.

Then there are the strings, which are thick and made of black polyurethane stuff. They are almost like the silicone strings on Ashborys, but not as sticky and maybe with more tension. As they are stretchy it can take a lot more turns than normal to get it up to pitch, so having real tuners is a blessing.

And, it comes in a nice semi-hard foam case, that appears to be a little long for most airlines’ carry-on luggage size requirements, but they will probably let you bring it on anyway. People bring all kinds of huge crap on the plane with them, it seems.

That about covers the mechanics of the U-Bass, but the real magic is playing it. Despite their plastic composition, the strings have decent tension and they are still soft enough that there is no buzzing. The super-short scale takes a lot of getting used to, and I find myself staring at my left hand when I am playing. The action is high and there is no truss rod to adjust, but the strings are so fat and soft that it does not seem to matter.

It is pretty quiet when playing unplugged, but when amplified the sounds out of this Kala are nothing short of amazing, even though the electronics are not high-tech. Depending on how you use your right hand and where you pluck the strings, you can get thumpy 1960s Motown to a genuine double bass sound. And pretty much everything in between. If you want to sound like Flea or the guy from Tool you are out of luck, though. It just does not have that much of an edge on it.

The only gripes I have are negligible. It is too plain-looking, and I would love to see tortoise binding and chrome tuners like my other Kala ukuleles have. I miss having a strap pin too, but since ukuleles do not usually come with strap pins I will let that one slide.

So, this thing is pretty much a winner, as it plays well and sounds very nice. The folks at Kala put a lot of thought into making this instrument versatile, and they should be happy with themselves. Of course it still looks weird, which is probably enough to scare off many bassists who are concerned about appearance.

The list price for a Kala U-Bass is $660, with a street price of $550 which is steep when compared to similar quality baritone ukuleles, but this one will do a lot more than any of those one-trick ponies. The spruce top model is about $100 cheaper, by the way.

Come to think of it, you can get a decent used Precision Bass for that kind of money too. Hmmm.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Stewart-MacDonald Guitar Basic Set-up Kit Review


A few days ago I wrote about Dan Erlewine’s “Guitar Player Repair Guide” and mentioned that many of the tools needed for basic set-ups can probably be found in your home tool box. But there are a few things you will need for a quality guitar set-up that you probably do not have lying around your shop. But have no fear, the guys from Stewart-MacDonald have put together the things you will need in their basic set-up kit.

This kit includes:

A beveled 18” precision straight edge that is machined to be accurate to within 0.0015”. This will help you check neck relief and verify truss rod adjustment changes.

A string action gauge that is designed to quickly measure string height, but is also good for checking the height of nuts, saddles and pickup pole pieces.

A set of eight under string radius gauges so you can match bridge saddle heights to the curvature of the fretboard.

They also throw a set of set-up instructions into the box too, and of course Stew-Mac has an abundance of helpful hints on their web site. By the way, you can get the basic set-up kit in standard or metric sizes (of course the metric system will never catch on).

The metric or standard kit will set you back $89.11 (which is $5 off the price of these items separately), but you will save at least that much money after you do you first couple of set-ups. They are well-made tools and are certainly worth the money. You can find the basic set-up kit and most any other repair tool you can imagine at


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Van Halen Concert Review: June 12, 2012 in Anaheim, California

Como estas?

When I saw that Van Halen was going on tour with David Lee Roth again, I figured this would be one of my last chances to catch the original line-up (well most of it), so I got ahold of tickets for the June 12th show at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. I was not aware that Kool and the Gang was opening up for them, which was really quite a surprise.

The concert was supposed to start at 7:30, and I got going a little late, but I didn’t have to worry because the Anaheim police department has the whole traffic situation figured out. I guess between the Angels, the Ducks and Disneyland, they know how to deal with crowds.

It is a good thing I showed up on time, because Kool and the Gang actually started at 7:25, and I have never been to a concert that started early. I was a little puzzled by the choice of this band to kick things off, but they were awesome, and it was a nice change of pace from the hard rock that was to come later.

Kool and the Gang is a big band, and I counted eleven guys on stage, including, two drummers, two guitars, two saxes, trumpet, trombone, keyboards, and one guy on bass, who turned out to be Kool. Everybody got to solo (yes, the trombone guy too), and these guys showed up to entertain. They even had their synchronized dance moves down!

They played all of the favorites, including “Ladies’ Night”, “Hollywood Swingers”, “Jungle Boogie”, Get Down On It”, and their closer “Celebrate”. I know it not the original band line-up, but they brought their A game and played well, and the crowd really got into it.

After Kool and the Gang were done, a small army of men carted off their tons of gear, and left a simple stage set-up for Van Halen. Eddie on stage left with his pile of amps, Alex in the middle on a riser, David Lee Roth up front with his own dance floor, and Wolfgang on a riser on stage right with his mountain of amps.

Van Halen started right on time, kicking things off at 9 o’clock on the dot with “Unchained”. And from the start it was apparent that these guys still have it going on. Eddie looked good (not so skeletal), Dave appeared as athletic and limber as ever, and Alex is still a dynamo on the skins. And Wolfgang did fine, which is a compliment from me.

You see, before the concert I was ambivalent about Michael Anthony no longer being in the band, but after this show I don’t think it really matters. Wolfgang plays the bass well and sings fine, and after all, he is family. He did a good job and deserves to be in the band as much as anybody does. By the way, I am still available to fill in if he does not work out…

It was easy for everybody in the arena to see the show, because they had the biggest video screen I have ever seen behind the stage. It was super high definition video, which gave use plenty of chance to see Dave mugging for the camera.

After the first song they went into “Running with the Devil”, and played a few tracks from their new album A different Kind of Truth. This is their latest album, the first Van Halen album that Wolfgang has played on, and the first for DLR since 1984. And this is what the playlist ended up being: only songs that Dave originally performed on, and no Sammy Hagar stuff. Not that this was a problem, they have more than enough hits to play a two hour show.

By the way, there were no synthesizers on stage, but there were synthesizer tracks in some of the songs they played. So, I do not know if there was a keyboardist off stage, or if they were pre-recorded tracks.

And the show pretty much kicked ass. They didn’t leave out any of my favorite tunes, and the band was on. Dave was out of tune sometimes, but it appeared that he had problems with his –in-ear monitors, so maybe he could hear what was going on very well. He was perfectly in tune when he was singing and playing the acoustic guitar by himself during “Ice Cream Man”.

I only have a few gripes about the show, foremost being that the sound was muddy and Dave didn’t have good monitoring. With this being a high-dollar show and them bringing four of the biggest mixing board I have ever seen, there is no excuse for this. And the other thing was Dave’ video homage and soliloquy to his dogs. I just didn’t get it.

Regardless of this, the show was worth the money. If you get the chance I highly recommend seeing Van Halen while they still have this line-up. You never know how long it will last…


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dan Erlewine’s Guitar Player Repair Guide Review

Buenos dias, amigos!

There are few things as miserable as having a guitar that does not play right, and generally, it is a pain to have somebody work on your stuff. Whether it is just a set-up or a major overhaul, you are at the mercy of repair shops that may not listen to what you really want, and might put your beloved instrument into repair shop prison. I have had great luck with my local repair shop, but chances are good you will not be so lucky, so you might want to take the steps to learn how to do your own repair work.

But how? It is not like there are luthiery schools on every corner, and they do not teach repair at ITT Technical Institute. Well, you can learn a lot from one of the best in the business by purchasing up Dan Erlewine’s “Guitar Player Repair Guide”.

Mr. Erlewine has been around forever, and has invented many repair tools that are used by your local guitar repair guy. He has built and repaired very high-profile guitars, and has produced DVDs, books and magazine columns devoted to guitar repair. He is the real deal, in other words.

The “Guitar Player Repair Guide” is over 300 illustrated pages that cover the most common procedures that may need to be performed on acoustic and electric guitars. He breaks down the procedures into three categories: “Basic” for folks that are new to working on guitars, “D.I.Y” for those who are skilled hobbyists, and “Deep” for those are not afraid of heavy-duty repairs. The procedures range from cleaning your guitar and replacing the strings to resetting necks, replacing frets and fitting acoustic guitar bridges. He even includes instructions on how to properly pack a guitar or amplifier for shipping.

Dan provides a listing of tools in the back that are needed for each of the three categories. Chances are good that you already have many of the basic repair tools at home, such as a guitar tuner, screwdrivers, hex wrenches and pliers. So, for a small investment in a few specialized tools you can start doing your own set-ups and repairs. Everything you need can be purchased online through Stewart MacDonald.

My copy came with a DVD that covers guitar inspection, setting intonation and stringing up your guitar. The only thing I do not care for about the book is the way it is bound. I really wish it was spiral bound so it would lay flat on my workbench. The older editions were spiral bound…

I highly recommend that you purchase Dan Erlewine’s “Guitar Player Repair Guide”. I got mine for $29.95 from Stewart MacDonald, and surprisingly it was signed by the author. You will save at least that much the first time you do your own set-up. Trust me!


Friday, June 15, 2012

Review of The Addams Family Musical Comedy at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles


I love musical theatre and was excited to get out last weekend to check out the touring production of The Addams Family. This show was at the beautifully restored Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, which is a fabulous place to visit. It was also a bargain ($22 orchestra seat)s, so it was a no-brainer when I was thinking about picking up tickets.

I will admit that the concept of making a musical from a 1960’s TV sitcom (or a 75-year old cartoon) indicates that there really are no new ideas out there. But the characters are classic and so well known that less character development is needed, which comes in handy when telling a story through a stage musical.

The Addams Family musical comedy opened on Broadway in 2010 with Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane in the leading roles. It initially received kind of stinky reviews as the plot was lame, which is surprising because the book was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and the music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. These are not nubes. Since then it has been re-written, and through countless performances little tweaks have been made to turn this into a very good show. You’ll have to trust me on this, because I am not going to spoil the plot for you (this time).

This 2+ hour show (with an intermission) uses a real orchestra made up of about a dozen folks, most of whom are local performers. This includes keyboards, drums and other percussion, electric guitars and bass, strings, brass and woodwinds. A little bit of everything. I love having live music at a show, and they were very good, though the sound was a but muddy and thumpy at times (particularly in the second act).

As this is a touring production, the sets could not be as fantastic as the Broadway show, so the designers had to get creative. The minimal set changes were well mitigated by clever use of the curtains and lighting as well as the movement of smaller elements. This led to an efficient flow and made each scene feel unique.

The Addams’ costumes were exactly what you would expect if you have seen the tv show. Morticia was able to show off her goodies well, and came up with a surprise at the end too. The costume folks were able to use their creativity when putting together the Addams ancestors’ togs, and did a fine job.

The puppetry was also fun, as it allowed a few extra characters into the mix. This also helped out with set changes and helped tell a few other parts of the story. You will see what I mean if you get around to seeing the show.

All of these things are needed for the show to make it, but there is one last piece, and that is the cast. Fortunately The Addams Family has a solid cast, because these characters are so well known.

The main character in this show is the patriarch, Gomez Addams, who is played by Douglas Sills, a Tony-nominated actor with oodles of experience. He has a good voice, stage presence, and fine comedic timing. And he is a nice looking man, too.

Sara Gettelfinger was chosen to play Morticia, the deadpan mother of the year candidate. I already mentioned that she wore the costume well, but she also has a strong voice and can dance well. This is a tough role to fill, because everybody expects her to act just like the television Morticia. She did fine.

The main love interests (and causes of all the Addams family’s problems) were Wednesday Addams and Lucas Beineke, who were played by Cortney Wolfson and Brian Justin Crum, respectively. Their performances were adequate, but there was nothing they did to make them stand out from the thousands of other pretty actors who make a run at the big time every year.

Grandma Addams was almost a non-entity in the show, other than providing a few comic spots, and being the delivery device for some of the plot devices. Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond) could have stolen the show but his part was simply not quite good enough. His big number towards the end was entertaining, but at the same time made me wonder what kind of drugs the authors were taking when they wrote it. It was a real Twin Peaks moment.

None of the shortcomings I mentioned above were dealbreakers, and I still found The Addams Family to be very entertaining. It is a heck of a value, and you should check it out when it comes to your town!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Sadowsky Metro MV4 Bass Guitar Review


There are a handful of boutique bass builders whose basses I crave and number one on the list is Roger Sadowsky. His staff builds incredible basses (and guitars too) out of his New York City shop, and they are the most playable and best-sounding bolt neck instruments you can buy. Unfortunately, the popularity of these instruments results in a minimum entry fee of $3500, and at least a 6 month waiting to get one made to your specifications.

Fortunately for all of us, there is a more cost effective solution to getting their hands on a new Sadowsky. This would be the Sadowsky Metro series of basses.

Back in the early 2000s, Mr. Sadowsky decided to have a line of basses built overseas. Not by shoeless starving kids in China, but by the best luthiers in Japan. These were originally called the Tokyo line of basses, but have since been renamed the Metro series. The idea was to use the same electronics and hardware, but cheaper bodies and necks and have lower labor costs.

The bass we are looking at today is a Sadowsky Metro MV4. This is a Fender Jazz bass copy with the familiar offset waist body and pickguard shape. It is drop-dead gorgeous with the ’59 Burst finish showing off the gorgeous grain on the ash body. This is a solid body, not chambered like a NYC bass. The sparkly clean maple neck has not graphite strips, unlike their newer custom basses, which have two..

Sadowsky says that these use the same electronics as the New York City basses, so it has Sadowsky humcancelling coil pickups, and the much-copied Sadowsky pre-amplifier with Vintage Tone Control. The knobs are: volume / pickup pan / vintage tone and preamp bypass / stacked treble and bass boost. I have had the opportunity to compare these basses to real NYC basses, and they do not sound quite the same, but are still very good. Maybe it is the wood they use for the bodies that make them sound different.

One noticeable thing you do not get with the Metro series is the ridiculously light weight of a New York City Sadowsky. Generally the Metros will weigh a pound or two more. This one weighs in at a 9 pounds 12 ounces, instead of the usually 8 pounds for a NYC Jazz Bass. 9 ¾ pounds is still pretty light, and if you are going to save $1500, you are going to have to give something up.

This Metro is a fantastic bass. It sounds great, and plays like a dream. The construction is very good, and the neck and fretwork are perfect. It is better quality than anything Fender or their Custom Shop is producing today.

Metro basses come in the same Sadowsky semi-hard case that the New York City basses used to come in (they have since changed to a deluxe hard case for NYC basses). The MV4 basses sells for $2425 new, and Sadowsky does not allow their dealers to discount these at all. Nice used ones run around $1700 to $1800.

So, if you do not need a fancy top, a custom color, or a left-handed fretless bass (none of these options are available) this is a viable alternative to a NYC Sadowsky. They are worth the money.

Friday, June 8, 2012

1981 Greco PB-450 Spacy Sound Lawsuit Bass Review


By now you all know that I love Japanese basses, and there is a special place in my heart for lawsuit-era knockoffs of Fender Jazz and Precision basses. I have owned oodles of Aria and Tokai copies, but only rarely run into ones with the Greco brand. Well, today we are looking at one that I found recently: a 1981 Greco Spacy Sound, a faithful and unabashed copy of a 1970s era Fender Precision Bass.

I found this bass in Japan and it now lives with me here in the US. It seems to have been spared the indignity of ill-advised and unnecessary modifications over the years, which is a real blessing. Things are only original once, you know.

This one has a contoured P body that appears to be made of agathis. It was sprayed with a classy 2-tone sunburst with a bright red in it, and a 3-ply white/black/white pick guard.

This Greco’s 4-bolt neck is maple and the fretboard is still in good 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 Spacy Sound headstock shape is an exact copy of one that would be found on a Precision Bass, and the Greco logo is styled to resemble Fender’s. Lawsuit basses always have campy small print on their headstock decals, and this one informs you that Greco is for the “Brazen Picker Professional”. Word, my brothers.

The hardware is good. The machine heads are 4-screw open-gear Greco-marked JH-6 pieces that look like Fender tuners, and there are chrome barrel knobs, and a bridge that is a copy of a 5-screw Fender unit. This one has 2 extra screw holes in the front corners, which I think is a good idea, and something that Fender should have done in the first place. Kaizen, the Japanese call it.

The pickups and electronics also appear to be 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 Spacy Sound is not terrible heavy, coming in around 8 pounds 14 ounces according to my digital scale. It is pretty easy on the back, not to mention the eyes.

And it is attractive. It is in good overall condition, particularly when you consider it is 31 years old. There is visible corrosion on the tuners and neck plate. The finish does not have very many blemishes and it still shiny – it has not been abused. There is visible corrosion on the tuners, neck plate and bridge.

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).

So, overall this bass is a real winner, and quite a bit more special than anything Fender made in 1981. Spacy Sound basses are very rare so If you want one, now is the time to buy as they are not going to get any cheaper.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Memory Lane: Echo and the Bunnymen Porcupine Album Review


I was putting a mix together for a party and ran into “The Cutter” in my music library, and thought this might be a good time to take another looks at Echo and the Bunnymen’s Porcupine album , which is just fabulous. It came out in 1983 when I was in the midst of my heavy metal days, so I did not discover it until a few years later when I was a moody college student.

Porcupine was the post-punk band’s third studio album and it was initially panned as it was not very commercial, and it was released at the time of their greatest popularity. However, it has since gained the recognition as the powerfully rich classic that it is. “The Cutter” is one of their bigger hits, but there is a lot more to this album than this one track, as ALL of them are very good.

All ten songs on the original album are well-written, with cleverly moody gothic lyrics and plenty of catchy guitar hooks. The tracks range from almost pop to discordant walls of sound, and everywhere in between.

”Clay” is as close as you will find to a pop song on Porcupine, but the Bunnymen put their own spin on it, and added howling guitars to make it a little less palatable. It may very well be my favorite track on the album.

”Heads Will Roll” is also fairly accessible, and shows quite a bit of experimentation with different string sounds. These might be the strings that Shankar added to the mix after the record company sent them back to the drawing board for not making a commercial enough album. This is also a superbly written song, and a killer track.

Perhaps the most richly-produced track would by “Gods Will Be Gods” which has a dizzying amount of textures and feels. When I listen to this song I ALWAYS hear something that I have not noticed before.

And, of course, there is “The Cutter” which is a classic song with the best drum and bass line to come out of England in the last 30 years. Period.

Besides being well written, all of these songs sound just right, and I think this may be one of the best-produced albums of the 1980s. It has since been remastered and has some bonus tracks added. I think the remastering has made the songs clearer, and it is easier to hear all of the parts, and there are plenty of them. It was a worthwhile effort.

Admittedly, you have to be in the right mood to listen to Porcupine in one sitting, but it is well worth it. I think this is one of the albums you just have to have in your collection, even if you are not a fan of the band. It is that good…


Sunday, June 3, 2012

QSC K12 Powered Speaker Review


When I go to clubs and shows I still see oodles of JBL speakers, but the past few years I have started to see a lot more of the QSC K series loudspeakers. I am a fan of these self-powered units, and currently am using two Ksubs, 4 K8s and 2 K12s. We are going to look at my K12 speakers today.

The QSC K12 speakers are one of the miracles of modern engineering and technology, combining the speaker and amplifier into a tidy and lightweight package. The come in at a surprising 41 pounds each, including an integrated 1000-watt (2000 watt peak) power amp and an on-board variable-speed cooling fan keeps the temperatures under control.

The amplifier is a class D (efficient, cheap and small) assembly, with 500 watts going to the 12-inch driver, and 500 watts to the 1 ¾-inchhigh frequency driver. It has a variable power supply from 100 to 240 volts, and both US and Euro spec connectors are included.

Though this is the biggest of the K-series, the enclosure is still relatively small: 24-inches tall by 14-inches wide by 14-inches deep. It is made of ABS plastic, and there is a heavy-duty steel speaker grill. Recessed aluminum handles are built into the top and the side, and the cabinet is shaped so it can be put on its side to be used as a stage monitor. QSC also provide threaded sockets all over these speakers so they can be used in permanent installations with truss clamps or cables. O, for portable use there is a standard-size speaker stand socket in the bottom that tilts up to 7.5-degrees so you can adjust the speaker angle

There are plenty of input options, including combination XLR / 1/4” sockets, as well as RCA jack in case you would like to hook up an iPod or CD player without using a mixing board. There are also line and mix level XLR outputs if you wish to hook up more speakers or a subwoofer. There is a great subwoofer option, the Ksub, which I have written about before.

There are also quite a few controls on the back of these speakers. You get two gain controls, as well as two digital signal processing options for low frequency (Ext Sub/Norm/DEEP) and high frequency (Flat and Vocal Boost).

These specs and features are all first rate, and they have a frequency range of 48 Hz to 20 kHz, and a deafening peak output of 131 dB. This all comes together in the real world as a package that really works. The bigger drivers fill in gaps that my K8s cannot, and they are still clear and punchy, and can be louder than any guitarist I have found. They are very even across the frequency range, and I have not found any hot spots.

These are quality-made speakers, and QSC stand behind the K Series with a 6-year transferrable warranty, which is the best I have seen on any power speakers. Just make sure that you register them with QSC, or you are S.O.L. I never register any products, but I make an exception with QSC because their warranty is that good.

The list price for the QSC K12 powered loudspeakers is $999 each, with a street price of $849. On occasion they go on sale, or B-stock units become available, which gets the price about 100 bucks cheaper, so that is the time to buy. But, even at their normal price, with their sound, size, weight, power capability and warranty, they are worth every penny.


Friday, June 1, 2012

1990 Philip Kubicki FCS Ex Factor Bass Review and Comparison to a “Real” Kubicki

Hi there!

I have owned at least 8 Philip Kubicki Ex Factor basses over the years, and have long heard comparisons between the ones that were made in Phil’s shop versus the ones that were made and sold by the Fender Custom shop from 1988 to 1991. Seeing as how I happen to have a 1990 FCS Ex Factor in my possession, I thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts on this subject. I am an internet pundit, you know…

But, before I get going, I am going to say that they are all very good basses, regardless of where they were made, and are still a notch above most everything else on the market today.

For starters, the number one difference that know-it-alls like me will bring up is the electronics package. The basses that the Kubicki shop built all came with the 18-volt preamplifier that Phil designed. These are the ones with the 6-position selector switch (including standby) that sound like the thunder of the gods. Most of the Fender-built guitars came with a 9-volt preamplifier that only had 4 tone elections (including standby). I say most, because some of the early FCS basses used Phil’s leftover preamplifiers. The pickups appear to be the same on all of them.

The difference in tone between the two is big, but the 9-volt preamplifiers are not bad, just different. In active mode they are not as aggressive, but still sound nice and are plenty usable for most any gig environment. The passive tones are similar between the two.

As far as playability goes, I have found difficulty in getting a low action on a FCS Factor when compared to Santa Barbara-built bass. The truss rod will not drop the strings as close to the board, so grinding sometimes needs to be done. This one is no exception, but I am not willing to mess with it. Also, I have found that the 34-piece laminated rock maple necks tend to be a bit more reactive to climate changes than the original basses. I have heard this is because Fender did not seal the necks as well. Rumors…

It always struck me that the hardware was a tad cheaper, and the workmanship was a bit less precise of the FCS models, but I am not sure if this was just the power of suggestion. What I find now is that all of the Factor basses I run into have about the same appearance now that they are all over 20 years old, and most had plenty of use over the years.

The soft maple body, poly finish, logos, appearance and ergonomics are the same between the two different manufacturers, so nobody will know the difference unless they see the Custom Shop decal underneath the finish on the back of the headstock.

In conclusion, it really comes down to the action and electronics that make the biggest differences between these basses, so if you are looking for one of these on the used market there is a reason why the Kubicki-built basses have a premium over the Fender Custom Shop basses. Either way you are going to get a great bass, so it is your decision based on what features about these basses are most important to you, and what your budget is. Given a choice, I would pick a bass that was built before Fender got involved or after they turned the reins back over to Phil.