Monday, October 29, 2012

Why do I need a DI box for my bass?

Buenos dias, amigos!

I recently provided the PA and did sound for a show, and the bass player showed up with no amp (or cable or tuner for that matter), and wanted to run through the mixing board. Of course he did not have a DI box either, and he had never even heard of one. He said that he always runs his bass straight into the mixer and never has any problems. Well, why would he need a DI box?

First off, in the good old days things were more simple. Guitar players had their own amps, bass player had their own amps and there was a PA for the singer. But as time went on things kept getting louder and louder on stage and in the audience (think Led Zeppelin or the Beatles) and there was no way an SVT was going to fill Yankee Stadium with meaty bass tone. So eventually more and more stuff, including the bass signal and keyboards, started going into the mixing board and the house sound system.

You will not notice much of a change in your sound if you are running a passive bass and a short cable to the mixer (ala Mr. Tejano Grunge that I referenced earlier). But if you run a really long cable (50 to 300 foot snake) there will be signal loss (particularly at higher frequencies) and the opportunity for noise goes up, especially around power transformers, stage lights and dimmers. If you are using an instrument with active pickups, it will distort and sound terrible.

If you think about this, this is not too surprising. If you take your little magnetic pickup and try to force it output voltage through a couple hundred feet of wire, you are going to lose a lot of your output. This problem is compounded when you split the signal and send it both the PA and your amplifier.

So some smart people figured out that if the signal was converted from high impedance to low impedance (a microphone is low impedance), it would travel over long lengths of cable with less signal loss. Unfortunately, low impedance signals are more susceptible to noise created by magnetic fields – and just think of all of the magnetic field created on stage by the amplifiers and lights. Old-school landline telephones also send low impedance signals over ridiculous lengths of wire with virtually no added noise. How do they do it?

They use balanced lines, which I am sure you have heard of if you have ever messed around with sound equipment. Balanced line split the signal into two equal parts, with one part in phase and the other part purposely inverted (out-of-phase). There is also a magnetic shield, which makes up the third pin of your standard XLR cable. Outside noise that passes through the shield is picked up equally by both wires. When the two signals come back together, the out of phase signal is brought back into phase along with the noise it has collected. The original signal is now in phase and the noise goes out of phase with its counterpart and cancels itself out. Neat!

So, a direct box (or DI box) takes care of all of this in one little component: It converts the high output impedance of the pickup to a low impedance signal and convert the unbalanced connection to a balance the line. Then you can plug it straight into a microphone line input and put your sound into the hands of the by running the board.

There are untold variations in direct boxes – active, passive, ones with preamplifiers, and some effect and tuner pedals even function as DI boxes and have XLR jacks built into them. This blog post will get too huge if I try to explain all of the different types that are out there.

By the way, a lot of you already have DI boxes, and maybe do not even realize that is what they are. You know the XLR direct out on the back of your amplifier? That is connected to a direct box inside your amp, which will convert your pickup output to a low impedance signal and to convert your unbalanced connection. Go figure…


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Epiphone Inspired by John Lennon Casino Guitar Review


The instruments played by the Beatles are iconic, and it is hard to picture Paul McCartney without a Hofner bass or George Harrison without a Rickenbacker 365, but what about John Lennon? Well you can make a strong argument for the 1965 Epiphone Casino that he used in the Beatles’ later years, and apparently the guys at Gibson agree, as they chose to build the Epiphone Inspired by John Lennon Casino Hollowbody Electric Guitar.

This double cutaway hollowbody guitar is built overseas, and is available in two colors schemes: Vintage Sunburst and Lennon Natural (also known as the Revolution model). Lennon’s guitar was stripped to natural after he painted it with a whacky psychedelic scheme. If you go to the trouble of buying one of these and do not get Lennon Natural, you just don’t get it. It is like buying a sunburst Geddy Lee Jazz Bass – it just isn’t done.

The IBJL Casino has a 5-ply maple and birch body, and a 5-ply maple top. Yes, that mean it is made out of plywood, and this helps account for the lower price of this guitar. True to the Gibson model 330 specifications (which the Casino follows), this is a true hollowbody, and it has no center block. This means that it will have less sustain than a 335, and will also be more prone to feedback. Then again, it does weigh a bit less…

The set neck is shaped from mahogany, and it is a bit rounder and fatter than other Casinos I have played, but it is not a big as a 1950s Les Paul neck. The nut on this model is 1 11/16” wide. There are 22 medium-jumbo frets that are reasonably well installed into the rosewood fretboard, which has a 14”radius. The parallelogram inlays fit flush, and they installed a tasteful single-ply binding on the neck and body.

There are no surprises in the hardware department, which includes a nickel Tune-O-Matic bridge and a trapeze tailpiece. This one has Gold Grover tuners, which don’t match, but I guess that makes it more authentic. The electronics are very nice, with a pair of Gibson USA Tribute P-90 pickups: a P-90T at the bridge and a P-90R at the neck. The controls are volume/volume/tone/tone with a 3-way toggle pickup selector switch.

The finish on this one was very nice, and I could not find any flows on it. Overall the workmanship was good, with a few exceptions. It needed a set-up right out of the box, which is not too surprising (I guess), but the frets needed some work too. They were pretty close, but they were not all level. My tech leveled them for me at a reasonable price and did a complete set up, but I expected a bit more for a grand.

Once I got the guitar into shape it played marvelously. The neck was stout enough for my hands (which are kind of big), and the rounded shape was very comfortable. By the way, it has a standard scale length (24 ¾ inches), in case you were wondering. It was quite light, and balanced very well on the strap.

I have not played many guitars with P-90 pickups, which are great-big single coils. I was expecting more noise from them, but they were just about as quiet as Gibson’s humbuckers. They can have a very clean tone, and crunch up nicely when they are pushed harder. I was able to get the guitar to feedback when I cranked things all the way up, but it is not too hard to figure out what causes that, and reducing the volume brought things back under control. This guitar would be great for jazz, blues or classic rock, just as you would expect it to be -- you can get a lot of very pretty tones from it.

I like the Epiphone Inspired by John Lennon Epiphone Casino guitar in a lot of ways: the way it looks, the way it sounds, and the way it plays. Which is all of the important stuff, isn’t it? I also think that it is a reasonably-priced instrument with an MSRP of $1665 and a street price of $999, which includes a very nice Epiphone hardshell case. Check one out if you get the chance!


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sennheiser HD 201 Headphones Review


I use my Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones on an almost daily basis, and I think they are probably one of the best headphone buys out there. Though their price is relatively low in the high-fidelity world (around a hundred bucks), you might be looking for something a bit cheaper. Well, I recently had the chance to try out Sennheiser’s HD 201 headphones, and depending on what your needs are they might be just the ticket for you.

The HD 201 cans are closed-back over the ear (circumaural) cans with a 3-meter cord and an 1/8-inch jack. A gold-plated ¼-inch adapter is included. They do not come with any sort of carry case of bag, but how many extras can you expect at this price point?

The ear cup have padded black naugahyde covers, and they are mounted to pivots that allow them to tilt back or forwards (about 20 degrees worth). This helps them fit differently-shaped melons, and lets you leave one cup in place in case you need to slip the other off the ear for a bit. The padded headband is adjustable and fits my head well. I think the top of my head is kind of flat, so take my observations for what they are worth.

A pair of the HD 201 headphones comes in at around 6 ounces, according to my digital scale. There is a fine line between making these things light enough so that they are comfortable, but not so light that they feel flimsy and cheap. Unfortunately these ones fall on the flimsy and cheap side of the line. But that is just my first impression. I have banged these things around quite a bit and nothing has broken off of them and they still sound the same. It appears that they will last for quite a while.

Of course the biggest deal is going to be how these things sound, and they work pretty well. I tried them out with my iPod Classic, my laptop and from my CD player, and got very similar results. They have a clean and natural sound, with limited bass and bit too much emphasis on the upper ranges. You are not going to $100 or $800 sound out of a pair of $30 headphones, so get realistic. They are a huge step up from the ear buds that came with your iPhone, and they are well-balanced for the price

Though the resistance is considerable less than my HD 280 Pro headphones (24 Ω), the HD 201s do not put out much volume. Perhaps the neodymium magnets in the HD280s give them more oompf. Anyway, these headphones benefit greatly from using a headphone amplifier (like a CMOS), so they are not going to be great for portable use. The cups seem to seal well, so your cubicle mates will not have to listen to your crummy music that leaks out around the edges.

As you have probably figured out, there are a few downsides to these headphones. If you want them for listening in the office or at home, you are in luck. But if you are in a noisier environment and you will have to crank the volume on your iPod to make them loud enough to hear. Plus you are not going to want to take these to the gym as that 10-foot cord gets hung up on fricking everything.

The MSRP for a pair of Sennheiser HD 201 headphones is $29.95, and I usually see them for around $25. Doing an online search I found a pair of new ones on Amazon for $21.95, which is way cheaper than the price of a pair of nice ear buds, and you will surely get a lot better sound out of them. By the way, make sure you get these from an authorized dealer, as they come with a 2-year warranty.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars 3rd Edition Review

Como estas?

Any serious collector of vintage guitars has to be familiar with George Gruhn, the owner of Gruhhn Guitars in Nashville, Tennesee. I have done business with him, having purchased guitars from him, and had him authenticate some pre-CBS Fenders over the years. He is the most popular authority on the history of vintage guitars, as well as how to identify and verify the originality of these instruments.

He has shared his knowledge with us though “Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars,” which was originally published in 1992 in collaboration with Walter Carter, who has is also a fabulous guitar historian. It includes acoustic and electric guitars, amplifiers, basses, banjos as well as ukuleles and mandolins. There are specifications for each instrument form the major manufactures such as Fender, Gibson, Martin, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, and even Mosrite.

His book went through an extensive rewrite in 1999, adding a boatload of new information and correcting mis-steps from the first edition. This book was well laid out, and it was easy to find out exactly what I needed to know. After 10 years, he issued a 500-page 3rd edition in 2010 (which I bought), and it appears that the wheels have fallen off the cart.

All of the good information is there, but the way it has been re-categorized is abysmal. The earlier editions were sorted by type (such as bass, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, archtops, etc.), but now it is now sorted by model and manufacturer in alphabetical order, and this makes for some interesting bedfellows. This might be ok if you know exactly what you are looking for, but what if you are trying to IDENTIFY a guitar? Let’s say you have a lonely and unidentified Gibson acoustic, and you are a die-hard Fender guy so you have no clue about what it could be. You whip out your 3rd edition and sift through the entire Gibson section to try and find it. Every limited edition SG, every Flying V, those awful faded guitars, and every one of the half-million variants of the Les Paul. What a pain the butt.

This is not going to cut the mustard, and it pains me to say this, as I really like George Gruhn, but I cannot recommend “Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars 3rd Edition.” Your best bet is to forgo the new information and purchase a new copy of the 2nd edition, which is still available on


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Technical Pro DVB80 Professional CD / DVD / Karaoke Player Review


In the digital world, audio equipment keeps progressing so quickly that formats drop by the wayside pretty frequently. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would never use any of my CDs anymore I would have thought you were a nutjob. Well, it has happened, and nowadays my entire music library is on my computer, and shared with my phone, iPad and iPods.

Despite these advances, I still need to bring a CD player to my shows as people always seem to bring along a CD that they want to play a track from, or if somebody requests karaoke (shudder). I am still stuck in the dinosaur days of CD+G for my karaoke library, BTW.

Well, my Numark dual disk player recently pooped the bed and I was loathe to spend much on a replacement, and decided to try the Technical Pro DVB80. It met my format requirements, came with rack mount tabs (1U) and was dirt cheap.

The DVB80 will play back a dizzying array of formats, including DVD, DVD-R, DVD-RW, VCD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3, Kodak CD and CD+G. So you can watch movies, play music, view photos, or do karaoke with onscreen playback. By the way, this is a region-free DVD player (PAL/ NTSC), so it will play discs from other countries too. It is not Blueray compatible, though, but what do you expect for 90 bucks? As an added bonus you will find an SD card slot and a USB port on the front, so you can use these as music or photo sources too.

On the back you will find two microphone inputs (1/4-inch TRS) that can be used for karaoke or if the DJ is too cheap to buy a mixer. There are two RCA audio outs and a 5.1 RCA set-up that goes along with a Dolby AC-3 decoder so you can use your surround sound system. Oodles of video output jacks are also available, including YCbCr/YUV, RF DIN, Coax, CVBS, VGA, digital signal fiber optic.

All of these features are crammed into a normal-sized package and the DVB80 player measures (19" w/brackets) x 2.5" x 10" and comes in at around 6 pounds. It is capable of running on 110 or 220V systems, so it will work in pretty much any civilized country as long as you have the correct power cable (this player uses a removable IEC cord). A full-function remote control is included, which makes cuing up tracks a lot easier.

Prior to getting this player I had no experience with Technical Pro’s products, but they have not disappointed me. The players works well and cues up tracks nicely. There is no added noise to the audio output, and the picture quality is as good as non-Blueray players get. Overall it is a nice piece of equipment, and I hope it holds up better than my Numark player did.

My only gripe is that I do not think this player was originally designed to be a rack-mounted unit. The tabs are flimsy, and the metal that makes up the chassis is thin, so the whole thing sags quite a bit when it is bolted into place. I put shims between mine and rack units above and below it so it cannot flop around.

I think the Technical Pro DVB80 is a good deal, with a list price of $159.00 and a smoking hot street price of $88.95. This includes the remote, rack mount tabs and a 1-year warranty. It is a lot of player for the money!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Difference Between Condenser and Dynamic Microphones


I used microphones for quite awhile before I figured out there are two different popular types of microphones available, plus I never knew why I would want to have phantom power on my mixing board. Now I know, and I thought I would try to summarize the differences between condenser and dynamic microphones for you all. Of course, a lot of my friends are smarter about these things than I am, so if I get something wrong here be sure to let me know.

The fundamental difference between condenser and dynamic microphones is the method in which they receive and pass on sounds:

∙A dynamic microphone operates via induction. This means that it uses a coil and a magnet to produce an electrical signal (inducing a voltage). The microphone has a diaphragm inside that is attached to a coil. When sound pressure waves hit the diaphragm it vibrates, and the coil moves back and forth across the magnet, producing an electrical signal which is sent through the microphone cable to the mixing board. This means that they do not require a battery or external power to operate. Dynamic microphones are the more popular option as they are generally not very expensive (many are under $100) and they are well-suited for most every task. They are not complicated and do not have many moving parts, making them durable and thus ideal for live sound applications. Also, due to their design they can cope with high volume levels, such as from brass instruments or when miking speaker cabinets.

∙A condenser microphone operates via conduction. This means that there are two plates (or diaphragms) inside the microphone, with a small space between them that acts as a capacitor (or condenser) that stores electrical energy. When sound pressure waves hit the front plate it moves, changing the distance between it and the back plate. This will allow the electrical current to charge or discharge the capacitor, sending an electrical signal to the mixing board. This process requires an electrical power source to be used, either in the form of a battery, or more commonly from phantom power that is supplied from the mixing board. Condenser microphones are very sensitive, making them ideal for the studio environment. Of course they are more complicated than dynamic microphones, which makes them more expensive ($300 and up) and fragile. If you combine this with their inability to handle high volume without distorting, makes them ill-suited for most live sound work.

This might be a good time to talk about phantom power. This is 48 volts of direct current (at 2 to 10 mA) that is applied through the two signal lines of a balanced XLR connector and referenced to pin 1, which is ground. This power is usually supplied the mixer, PA system or other recording equipment. Dynamic microphones do not use phantom power but are not damaged if phantom power is put through them (it may cause a hum, though). And always keep in mind that you should never ever turn phantom power ON before plugging a microphone in.

Anyway, I hope this explanation helps. Writing about things like this certainly helps me to collect my thoughts better!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Cameo Blues 10,000 Hours CD Review

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the July 19, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Cameo Blues – 10,000 Hours

Make it Real Records

11 tracks / 44:49

The 10,000 hour rule is the theory that one must put in 10,000 hours of practice to master most complicated skills. I have seen the rule applied to soccer, golf, hockey, and of course music – all you have to do is practice 20 hours a week for 10 years, and you are set. The Beatles got their 10,000 hours in by performing over 1200 eight-hour sets in Hamburg between 1960 and 1964, and came back as seasoned performers. They were not an overnight sensation.

Well, 10,000 Hours also happens to be the title of Cameo Blues’ new album. This is their second album, but don’t let the size of their catalog trick you into thinking these are a bunch of newcomers, because this Toronto-based band has been around in one form or another since 1978. If these guys haven’t gotten their 10,000 hours in yet, they must be pretty close because they sure do sound tight.

Cameo Blues is made up of John Dickie on lead vocals and harmonica, Mike Sloski on drums, Ray Harrison on the keys, John Bride on guitars, and Tom Griffiths holding down the bottom on bass. They collected 11 tunes for this album: seven originals by Mr. Dickie and his buddies in the band, and four well-known covers. They arranged the album so that all of the originals are up front, and the covers are the last four tracks.

Cameo Blues wisely chose to kick the album off with “Penguin Walk,” a rock and roll boogie that showcases Texas guitar tone, some nice organ work and a driving bass line. The lyrics are smart and the music is well-suited to the band, setting a high bar for the listeners’ expectations. The title track comes up next, and the pace does not let up as Dickie’s distorted voice tears into “10,000 Hours.” Sloski does some very tasteful and appropriate drum work on this tune, and its message should make this song required listening for every new band that hopes for overnight fame and fortune.

The mood lightens up a little with the clever lyrics of “21st Century Rockit 88,” which is a piano-driven bluesy rock number with plenty of slide guitar. Harrison does a fabulous job on the keyboards in addition to receiving writing credit for this track.

“Plowing Our Row” is a thoughtful look at our dependence on fossil fuels, without going overboard on political commentary. This is a more straight-up blues song with strong vocal harmonies over a foundation of organ. But the serious tone of this tune is offset by the next track “Gasoline,” which rocks out with a great guitar intro and a thumping bass line. At a little over three minutes, this song ended too soon for me…

10,000 Hours gets some gospel-inspired Hammond B3 courtesy of Lance Anderson on “Hold Your Love,” a sweet ballad that also has some nice piano work by Harrison. Bride provides a super-smooth guitar solo in the middle too, showing he has soul as well as chops.

The last original track is “Talk Radio,” which bemoans what has become of our airwaves. I miss the days when you could actually find decent music on the radio too, guys. Griffiths’ bass is plenty growly on this tune, which is a nice counterpoint to the complicated (and upfront) keyboard parts.

The covers are popular tunes, but all of them are done differently than I have heard before. The first is Willie Dixon’s “Howlin’ for My Darlin’”, which has been shortened to “Howlin’.” Dickie has the perfectly seasoned voice for this straight-up Chicago blues track. Going with a theme, next up is a masterful version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sittin’ On Top of the World.” This song has nice interplay between Bride and Dickie, the latter on both vocals and harmonica.

Perhaps the most unexpected track is the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” which has enough organ to lend a circus/horror show vibe to the proceedings, without veering too far off into Emerson Lake and Palmer territory. It is a complete departure from the original, but rocks just as hard. I will have to sneak this one into my next DJ gig.

The last track on 10,000 Hours is Jimmy McGriff’s “All About My Girl,” and this hard-rocking instrumental gives everybody in the band a chance to shine one last time. This was a great choice to finish up with, and is a capper to a uniformly solid album.

It is nice to find an album with 11 tracks that are all well done, with the added bonus that each of them is unique and steps out in a different direction. I highly recommend that you give Cameo Blues a try and add 10,000 Hours to your play list.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Musical Theatre West 2012-2013 Season


I love going to the show, and though I already have tickets for the 2012-2013 Pantages season, after I saw what Musical Theatre had on tap, I had subscribe to their season too.

Musical Theatre West has been around since 1952, when it started out as the Whittier Civic Light Opera. Their productions evolved over time, and they went from being an all-volunteer operation to producing full seasons. They now perform the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, which is a lovely venue with plenty of conveniently located parking.

I have attended their shows before and their cast, choreography, costumes, sets and music are always up to snuff. It is great to have the opportunity to see quality entertainment this close to home (and avoid the hassles of heading to Hollywood).

The Musical Theatre West 2012-2013 season consists of four oldies but goodies, and if your musical theatre experience is limited, this would be a great way to get some experience with genre. The season includes:

∙42nd Street

∙A Chorus Line


∙Sunset Blvd.

Single tickets are available from as low as $20, and season tickets can be had for under $100. Parking is only $5 in the university parking lot, but be careful when you leave because the university police take events like this to be an opportunity to issue traffic citations like there is no tomorrow.

You can check out ticket and venue details at


Thursday, October 18, 2012

BBE 882i Sonic Maximizer Review


I have heard plenty of hate for BBE Sonic Maximizers over the years, and I am picking up what you are putting down. But…I have one in my rack, and so do a lot of other people. What is the deal? I thought I would try to explain this with my review of the BBE 882i Sonic Maximizer, but keep in mind that I am a musician and a sound guy, not a scientist.

For starters, what do people expect this thing to do? They think it will be a magic tool that will make anything sound better: live music, pre-recorded music, individual instruments, recording and mixing. Remember Studio Magic from that episode of The Simpsons? That is how these processors are hyped by those that love them, and BBE touts many of these benefits as well. And they can deliver on many of these promises, at least to some degree.

But what is a sonic maximizer? It is not an aural exciter because it is not synthesizing new sounds, rather it is changing the phase of the input signals and then limiting them. Effectively this makes the bass boomier and the treble more sizzly. Or something like that. It is like having a distortion box and a compressor pedal all in one unit with almost no controls.

From my research, this appears to be a relatively simple analog process that can dynamically boost the treble based on how much midrange energy is in the input signal. The signal chain includes an input buffer that is routed to a level detector, as well as to the low, mid and high bands. The user can regulate the phase controlled treble frequencies with "Process" knob and the phase controlled bass frequencies with the "Lo Contour" knob. Then all three of these signals are mixed in a summing amplifier and routed to the output. The maximum boost adjustment will be +12dBu at 5kHz for the Process knob, and +12dBu 50Hz for the Lo Contour knob. Or knobs in this case, as we are talking about the 882i, which is a dual-mono unit.

The 882i has simple inputs/outputs and controls. On the back there are balanced XLR and ¼-inch TRS ports for the inputs and outputs for both channels. On the front there is a power switch, a bypass switch, Lo Contour and Process knobs for each channel, and sets of level LEDs for each channel. That is it. If you cannot figure out how to hook this thing up and use it, you have chosen the wrong hobby or business.

BBE Sonic Maximizers are almost universally reviled on guitar forums. Guitarists complain that they are tone sucks and a waste of money. I am not going to argue with them, and would not put one of these in my guitar rig because it would alter my tone. A decent equalizer will provide many of the same benefits without changing the tone.

These units can help in the studio to somewhat make up for poor microphone placement and production. They can make bad recordings sound surprisingly good, and can really perk up the drum tracks. But they can make the instruments sound unnatural. I would only use one in the studio as a last resort.

But the Sonic Maximizer comes into its own for live performances. It can make the bass guitar and vocals (especially female vocals) cut through the mix better. Sounds that are dulled by playing outdoors or in bad rooms can really be perked up. But again, be careful how much you dial this thing up because it can get out of hand pretty quickly.

But in my opinion, the best use of the Sonic Maximizer is when playing pre-recorded music through a PA system. This is especially true when you are doing DJ work and somebody hands you an iPod or a CD that they ripped and it just sounds terrible. There is a lot of magic in adding in a little delay and compression, and it will make these recordings sound the best they can. And DJs, if you do not believe me, read this next sentence:


Everybody and their brother wants their DJ system to sound like the PA at a strip club.

But I must warn you one last time, if you overdo it, it will kill your tone and headroom. Keep comparing the tone with the bypass ON and OFF to make sure you are not getting too far off into the woods. It is entirely possible to make your mix sound way worse with this thing.

I use mine through the AUX effects loop on my Yamaha mixers, so I use the ¼-inch TRS jacks. Then I send the regular stereo out to my powered QSC K12 or Mackie Thump speakers. Set-up does not get much easier than this. I have had great luck with the Sonic Maximizer, and I will not go to a gig without it.

The 882i I got is nicely made, and the knobs have a nice feel to them. It only takes up one rack space, and it is not a very deep unit, so I can put it under my Furman and still have the wall warts fit on the back. I have not had any troubles it and do not anticipate any difficulties, but if I do BBE backs it up with a 5-year warranty. That provides a little peace of mind.

The BBE 882i Sonic Maximizer has a ridiculous list price of $499, and a friendlier street price of $249. I checked Amazon and they are selling them for $169, which is a smoking deal, and brings them into the realm of affordability for most of us. Check one out if you get a chance, but make sure you understand what you are getting, and don’t overdo it.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gallien Krueger Fusion 550 Amplifier Review


It seems like every bass amplifier manufacturer out there is making a hybrid amplifier, which would be a unit with a tube pre-amplifier and a solid state power amplifier. Gallien Krueger is no exception, and I recently had the opportunity to try out their Fusion 550 bass head, and I thought I would pass along my thoughts.

Gallien Krueger is one of the biggest bass amplifiers manufacturers out there. The company was started by a couple of HP engineers back in the early 1970s and became one of the most popular bass amplifier manufacturers in the world. They were pioneers in lightweight high-power solid state amplification. Their products and customer service are very well regarded in the music industry.

With their solid-state background, I guess it is not too surprising that the Fusion 550 is the first bass amplifier that GK ever built with an all-tube preamplifier. The engineers did not skimp on the six-stage pre-amp that includes three 12AX7 tubes, which accounts for why this amp is so much bigger than its competitors. This is a full-sized head, measuring 19 x 5.25 x 9.75 inches (3 rack spaces tall), and it weighs in at a stout 27.5 pounds. This a bit less than the monstrous GK 2001RB, and is nothing compared to an SVT, but it is significantly more than a Genz Shuttle.

The solid-state (class G) power amp section is lifted from the Gallien Krueger 1001RB-II, and it is rated for a total output of 550 watts (500 watts at 4 at ohms for the main amp and 50 watts at 8 ohms for the horn amp).

The Fusion 550 is a fairly simple amplifier, as far as the controls on the front go. There is a single input with an active/passive switch, a channel switch and a gain potentiometer. Tone controls include a four-band equalizer, an adjustable mid contour control, as well as bright and deep filter switches. The output controls both parts of the bi-amp system. After setting the horn level, when the master volume control is changed the, the ratio between the woofer and horn stays the same. Oh yes, and there is a mute switch too.

The back of the amplifier is where you will find the Neutrik Speakon and 1/4" speaker output jacks as well as an adjustable direct out with a pre/post switch. There is also plenty of other good stuff, including a ground lift, an effects loop, a tuner out, and the footswitch input jack.

As I said earlier, this appears to be a fairly simple amplifier, and there are certainly not enough knobs for a two-channel amplifier. That is because GK has equipped this amplifier with footswitch-actuated motorized gain, master, and horn level controls. Yes, that means that when you hit the footswitch for the second channel the knobs move by themselves. Spooky, and I do not think I have seen this feature on a bass amp before.

I have played the Fusion 550 with my Stingray 4, Stingray 5 and a passive P bass through my Ampeg 810 cabinet and also though a pair of GK 410 cabinets. I do not use a separate horn, so I left that control at zero. The volume is impressive, but not in the same league at the 2001RB, and it did not seem any louder than my SVT. Then again, how much do you really need? If you are going that huge you will probably end up going through the PA anyway…

I am able to get a lot of different tones, foremost of which is the usual clean GK tone, which is a good thing. But there is a lot more to than that on tap. Such as a truly gnarly overdrive tone that is punchy and rich and rivals what I can get out of my Ampegs (almost). But I must note that I had trouble getting much of any overdrive with the active switch ON, which is not too surprising, I guess.

Getting a good tone is not hard, as the folks over at GK put a lot of through into the EQ section. This amp may have the best sounding mids I have run into. The contour knob is switchable to be centered at either 500Hz or 800Hz and it works very well for fine-tuning my tone. Also, the Deep and Bright switches are well-positioned and actually have a positive effect on the tone, unlike similar switches on almost every other amplifier out there.

The motorized channel-switching turns out to be a non-event. The knobs move pretty quickly, and I did not have any problems with them. I am a Luddite at heart, so they scare me a little, but Gallien Krueger has been around the block a few times so I am sure they put some miles on these amps before they started up the assembly line.

So the Fusion 550 is a winner in my book. Although it is heavier than its hybrid competition, it sounds great, has simple controls, and is loud enough for most gigging situations. It is also reasonably price compared to its competition, with a list price of $1356 and a street price of $949. BTW, I saw them on a few weeks ago for $700, so keep your eyes peeled for deals before you buy.


Friday, October 12, 2012

The 44s Americana CD Review


This CD review was originally published in the June 27, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

The 44s with Special Guest Kid Ramos – Americana

Rip Cat Records

13 tracks / 54:44

I do not get many blues CDs from local bands, so it was cool to get Americana from The 44s, whose record company, Rip Cat Records, is in my hometown of Long Beach, California. But though this is a Southern California band they have a post-war Chicago sound, and they definitely exude a rough and raw old-school rock and blues vibe.

You will notice on the cover of their CD that it says “with Special Guest Kid Ramos”, and this phrase says a lot about what to expect from The 44s sophomore release. Kid Ramos produced Americana and provided various supporting guitar parts for many of the tracks. He became a pro when he joined James Harman in 1980 as his guitarist, and he has since worked with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Bobby Jones, and is a founding member of Los Fabulocos. But besides his guitar chops, he also brings a great ear to this project, and he is a fabulous producer.

The 44s formed in 2007, and over the past five years have matured into their own sound. They gained a lot of momentum when their first album, Boogie Disease, was released last year. This earned them a lot of attention and provided them with the opportunity to play more than 200 shows all over the U.S. and win some new fans. By the way, Boogie Disease was also produced by Kid Ramos, and supposedly cost only $800 to make.

Americana is another step forward for The 44s, and with eleven original tracks and only two covers, there is plenty of new stuff to hear. The originals are well-written and cover the expected subjects of woman trouble and the consequences of poor life choices. The songs are played by a tight 4-piece group, with Johnny Main on vocals and guitar, Tex “The Weeping Willow” Nakamura on harmonica, Mike Turturro on bass and J.R. Lozano on the drums. And for good measure, Ron Dziubla appears on a few of the tracks with his saxophone.

The album starts with “Hanging Tree”, which has some gloriously overdriven guitar and hard-played harmonica fashioned into a hard-driving boogie. If you have not heard Main’s voice before you will be pleased with its gritty and mature texture, and you cannot help but love the Little Walter that is coming out of Nakamura’s harp. This was a great track to start with, and it sets the mood for the coarse sounding (in a good way) blues that defines The 44s sound.

On the second track, “Lady Luck”, Ron Dziubla adds his horns into the mix, and his tasteful contributions made me wish that he had more of a presence on this album. This track is full of rich reverb-soaked guitars, which are a great counterpoint to the saxophone parts.

“Cocaine” is pure Chicago blues right out of the box, with plenty of squeaky and warbly harmonica and an uptempto driving guitar riff. Turtorro and Lozano work well together to keep the groove moving on this one, and the drums part are not just your usual high hat and kick drum. The plentiful fun drum fills help make this a super-entertaining song.

The two covers are wisely-chosen: Willie Dixon’s “You’ll Be Mine” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Mr. Highway Man”. These are both good times rocking tunes, and I hope they include these in their live set, as I plan to see them at the upcoming 4th of July festival that Rip Cat Records is putting on in Long Beach.

My favorite track on Americana is “Hard Times”, which is one of the slower and more bare bones parts of the album, because it takes the blues back to its roots. It is mostly acoustic guitar and harmonica, along with some light drum work. Main provides soulful lyrics, and he and Ramos trade some licks and have some fun guitar interplay towards the end of the track.

Americana shows that The 44s first album was no fluke, and proves that they are one of the most potent blues bands in Southern California. I hear something new every time I listen to it, and highly recommend that you get a copy of this CD (or download it from iTunes or Amazon) at your earliest convenience.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2010 Ernie Ball MusicMan Stingray 4 Bass Review

Hi there!

I don’t think there has been any time over the past ten years that I have not had a MusicMan Stingray bass around the house. So, without any further ado, today we are looking at a gorgeous 2010 Stingray that I picked up from my friend Tom a while back.

The Stingray bass was designed by Leo Fender and Tom Walker, and it was introduced in 1976. It was originally available only as a 4-string with a single humbucker pickup, a two band equalizer, and active electronics. This was one of the earliest productions basses with an active pre-amp, if not the first. This gave it more output and a more aggressive sound than the competition.

Ever since Ernie Ball bought the MusicMan brand in the 1980s, there has been a constant improvement in features and options available for the Stingray, including: contoured bodies, improved neck joints, better truss rod ergonomics, and oodles of electronics and pickup configurations.

But I am a simple man, and I still prefer a plain-old Stingray with the original 2-band equalizer. And that is why this bass appeals to me so much, because it is pretty close to the way it was originally intended to be.

As I said before, this Stingray was built in 2010, and it is finished in a gorgeous vintage sunburst poly. And I must say that Ernie Ball is spraying one of the most beautiful sunbursts on the planet these days. This one has a contoured ash body with a six-bolt neck joint (for extra special sturdiness and sustain).

The neck is a peach. It is true, and the truss rod works freely. You have to love the easy to adjust trussrod wheel. It has a nice-looking rosewood fretboard, and the 21 high-profile frets are still in great shape. The back of the neck is finished in gunstock oil and wax, which always feels as smooth as silk. This one has a compensated nut, which I am unable to hear an intonation difference from, but someone with a good ear might…

The original hardware is all there, which includes the Schaller BM tapered post tuners and the high-mass bridge. I love the way the bridge bolts so solidly to the body on these basses. It is not a Classic model, so it does not have the string mutes, but I am not sure how many people actually use those things anyway.

The electronics are also unmolested, with the original single humbucker pickup and 2 band equalizer. The bass and treble knobs are boost and cut, not boost only, as some maintain. I think this misconception came about because there are no center detents.

This is a well-made bass. The finish is perfect and the frets are simply gorgeous. I strung it up with some new Hybrid Slinkies and dropped the action a little and It plays well and sounds magnificent, just like every other Stingray I have ever owned. As a bonus, it is very light (for a Stingray, that is), coming it at a little under 9 pounds. I know I have said this before, but this one might be a keeper…