Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Boss VE-20 Vocal Performer Effects Processor Review


I am not much of a singer, and it turns out that most people that do karaoke aren’t either. There are rudimentary effects built into my mixers, but it often takes a little more to church up people’s voices so that sober people’s ears don’t burn too badly. Using guitar reverbs for vocals are a recipe for disaster, and many dedicated vocal effects are priced out of reach of the mortal man. This makes the Boss VE-20 Vocal Performer a lifesaver.

Boss is a division of the Roland Corporation and is the #1 builder of effects pedals in the world. They are most famous for their guitar effects, which perform as advertised, are very sturdy, and are backed by a great warranty. Boss’ reputation is safe -- the VE-20 Vocal Performer is a really neat piece of work.

This Boss unit has the usual bunch of effects that most vocalists would want, including harmony (up to 3-part), double-tracking, dynamics, reverb, delay, and distortion. Special effects include radio (that megaphone sound), robot, and strobe. The VE-20 can also provide real-time pitch correction and there is a built-in phrase looper with 38 seconds of mono recording time.

The VE-20 has a metal chassis and is in the standard double-wide Boss format (Twin-Series, I think they call it), so it will fit perfectly onto your pedal board. Its actual dimensions are 2-1/4" H x 6-13/16" W x 6-1/4" D, and it weighs in at a sturdy 2 pounds, 7 ounces (without batteries).

Hooking up this pedal is not too difficult. On the back of the unit you will find the input which is a multi jack that will take either a ¼-inch TRS plug or an XLR. By the way, there is 48V DC phantom power for the XLR, in case you plan to use a condenser microphone. Outputs include a stereo ¼-inch line/headphone jack and stereo XLR outs.

The top of the unit has the controls, which include two pedals -- left for ON/OFF and loop recording (hold for 2 seconds), and the right for harmony bypass and preset selection (hold for more than 2 seconds to scroll through the presets). The right pedal can also be customized to turn any one or a combination of any of the other effects ON simultaneously. There is a knob that allows the user to quickly scroll through the presets to find one that they like, and their names who up on the amber-backlit LCD display. There are also a few LEDs that indicate whether the power is ON, the status of the harmony pedal and if the unit is recording.

I mentioned presets, and there are a total of 80 preset spots on the VE-20 including 30 factory-assigned presets and 50 spaces for the user to make their own. The 30 that come from the factory are actually pretty good, and if you just want the basic you could probably get away with just using theirs. But if you want to make your own it is not a big deal, but it does take a little time.

I have tried out the VE-20 with my usual microphones – SM57, SM58, SM58 Beta and SM58 wireless, and they all sounded fine through this unit. There was no added noise or coloration other than what was asked for, and the vocals were as clear as a bell.

This pedal is great for adding harmonies. Just by pressing the right footswitch you can add preset level (like thirds or fifths), or make up your own. You will need to set the key signature for the harmonies to work, but it is not too hard to do. Also the harmonies can be customized to sound more masculine of feminine. There is also a neat Double Track feature which replicates your voice so it sounds thicker. All of the harmony features work well, and it seems to be very accurate.

The other effects are not jaw-droppingly good, but they are certainly good enough for live sound. The delay, reverb, distortion and chorus are all very usable, and I am glad that Roland thought to include these features.

I have never used looping very much, but had a blast trying it out on this effects processor. It would come in handy for coffee shop gigs or one-man shows so you can make your sound more complicated. Unfortunately, you cannot save your loop – once you stop playing it back it is lost, which is kind of a hassle. It would be nice if there was a USB port so you could save your looping work…

The pitch correction is fun, and would be great for karaoke. There are four different types to choose from, including soft (very natural sounding), hard (abrupt correction), electronic (pure Correction), and robot, which makes you sound like a robot.

All of these features work really nicely, but this is still kind of a complicated piece of equipment, and you are going to want to make sure that you have your presets figured out before your gig. You are not going to want to be on your knees fiddling around with the knobs and buttons during a gig. Do your homework before you take this thing out of the house.

In other news, the VE-20 is a huge power suck, and it takes 6 AA batteries that will run down in a little under 8 hours of use. If you are going to buy one of these you should pony eighteen bucks up for the Boss PSA-120S AC adaptor. It will pay for itself in no time. If you are looking for an aftermarket adaptor, this unit draws 190 mA at 9V DC.

Of course, quality is not cheap and the Boss VE-20 Vocal Performer is a quality piece of equipment. It has a list price of $381.50 and a street price of $279.99, so with a PSA-120S adaptor you are looking at $300 for this thing. It is worth every penny…


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Musical Theatre West’s Oklahoma! Review


Musical Theatre West assembled a terrific season for their 60th anniversary and they have included one of my top five favorite musicals – Oklahoma! I think every single person in the western hemisphere has seen this musical, either the Academy Award-winning 1955 big screen version (with the smoking hot Shirley Jones and that dreamy Gordon MacRae), or in person. Heck, many of you probably were in the musical in high school…

In case you grew up under an uncultured rock, here are a few key details. This was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first hit book musical, and it is now 70 years old. It is set in pre-statehood Oklahoma in 1907, and is an age-old love story of men fighting for the love of lovely young prairie gals, and conflict abounds. Besides the title track, there are quite a few great songs, including “Kansas City,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and “I Cain’t Say No.” And there is also a Rodgers and Hammerstein dream ballet, which they revisited in subsequent shows, such as Carousel.

Musical Theatre West staffed this show with a live orchestra and a big cast that are led by Davis Gaines as director (his debut in the role), Lee Martino as choreographer and Dennis Castellano as musical director. Apparently this is a symbiotic relationship as the acting, dancing and music were perfectly integrated throughout. Anthony Ward went with a more modern stage design, with sparse sets, and it worked out well, and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting and Jessica Olson’s costumes were also very good. The sound was not consistent – the singers were occasionally drowned out by the pit orchestra (which was also mic’d), so I am blaming the sound guys for this one.

Despite the dicey sound, the cast really pulled this show off. The main love triangle of Curley (Bryant Martin), Laurey (Madison Claire Parks) and Jud (Christopher Newell) was perfect. Actually, it is not really a love triangle, as everybody hates Jud, but all three of these actors had a great chemistry with each other and were very believable. Martin and Parks voices were well-matched, which is vital as their duets are integral to the show. And Newell’s take on Jud Fry was appropriately scary and creepy.

Contrasting with this serious relationship is the comedic love triangle of Ado Annie (Teya Patt), Will Parker (Luke Hawkins) and Ali Hakim (Amin El Gamal). Patt’s version of Annie is perhaps the best I’ve seen and her confidence on the stage translates well to the character. Hawkins worked dancing magic but still kept his cowboy persona, and Gamal had perfect comedic timing.

The dancing was universally good, climaxing with the dream ballet sequence. This is never my favorite part of the show as I feel it kills the flow, but it was very well done. Lee Martino’s showed inventiveness with her choreography, and it was very well laid-out, and at times even unabashedly sexy. The ensemble was stocked with capable dancers, and Katya Preiser and Steve Ewing were breathtaking as Dream Laurey and Dream Curly.

For a change, the Carpenter Center was the weak link of this production. The parking guys had their heads in their butts, the temperature of the theatre was freezing, and I have never seen longer restroom lines -- I think all 1000 people at the show must have had to go pee at the intermission. I am willing to forgive this because this is usually a great place to see a show, and the rest of the performance was so great.

Rising above the problems with the venue and the sound, Musical Theatre West really knocked this one out of the park, and it turned out to be a great three hour show! Not only was this the best show I have seen MTW perform, it is the best live version of Oklahoma! I have ever attended. If you are only familiar with the movie version, you are in for a treat if you see this show as there is a lot of stuff they left out of the film.

Oklahoma! closes this Sunday, so you only have a few more opportunities to catch the show, and there are still a few seats available, so check for details. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 East Atherton Street in Long Beach, on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, and parking is $5.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Sennheiser HD 228 Headphones Review


Ear buds are probably the best way to take your sound with you, but they are usually not terribly comfortable, especially for long trips. But there are some nice options for lightweight over the ear headphones. I recently picked up a pair of Sennheiser HD 228 cans, and they are working out to be a good compromise for travel. I already own a few pairs of Sennheiser phones – the HD 280 and HD 380 models, and they are really a phenomenal value.

The HD 228 headphones have a compact over-the-ear design, and fold flat to make them a little more portable for travel. They are available in black or white, and come with a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) jack on the end of a 4.5 foot (1.4-meter) single-sided cable. It does not look like the cable or the vinyl ear pieces are replaceable, so these will not last for the rest of your life.

These cans are very lightweight, and with the padded headband and swiveling ear cups they are super comfortable. They are springy enough to stay on at the gym or while walking, but not so tight that they hurt. I have worn these for hours on end with no problems.

Neodymium magnets are used for higher output, and specs-wise, there is nothing unusual going on with these dynamic headphones. They have a frequency response of 18, 000 to 22, 000 Hz and are capable of putting out 110 dB. Total harmonic distortion is supposed to be less than 0.5% with 100 dB at 1000Hz. The last spec is important to me, and I am getting different numbers depending on where In look. Their website says that these phones have 16 Ω of resistance, while the packaging says 24 Ω.

I have burned them in for around 100 hours, and they loosened up quite a bit and sound much better than they did out of the box. I use them or traveling on planes and at the gym, and though they do not have big ear cups, they provide pretty good isolation and not much leakage to annoy my companions.

They are loud enough for travel, despite the higher than rated resistance ( 32 ohms is as high as I would want to go with headphones for an iPod). I tried them with a few different headphone amplifiers and they really perked up, but that is not really the sort of use these phones were designed for.

Sennheiser says that the HD 228 phones “provide excellent bass performance” and are “optimized for iPod, iPhone, MP3 and CD players.” Well, they sound good with my iPod and my laptop, but I would not say the bass performance is excellent.

They do, however, have a nice crisp tone with good enough bass. I hear some mid-range resonance, and they are not nearly as good as any of my other Sennheisers (HD 201, HD 280 and HD 380). But they were never supposed to be as good. The HD 228s are cheaper, more portable phones so I never expected any miracles. But I think they are too spendy for what they are…

The Sennheiser HD 228 headphones have a list price of $99 and a street price of around $75. I found mine for $25 on closeout at an electronics store in Tokyo. For $75 you can move up to a pair of HD 201 or HD 228 (on sale) cans that sound a ton better, but keep in mind that they are both quite a bit larger. So, if you crave portability I suggest that you try the Koss Portapro headphones instead.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Shopping for Guitars in Tokyo’s Ochanomizu District


I travel to Japan quite a bit for business, and have spent plenty of my off hours prowling various cities for guitars, but there is one place that has more guitars than I have ever seen anywhere else in the world – the Ochanomizu neighborhood of Tokyo.

Most tourists that are shopping for electronics in Tokyo stop off at Akihabara, which is only one stop away from Tokyo station. There are barely any musical instrument stores there, but disappointed musicians only need to head one train station further to find nirvana, at Ochanomizu.

There are at least dozen large shops here, including a Big Boss, but surprisingly no Ishibashi store. All of them are packed to the gills with inventory, with not a square inch of empty space on the walls or floor. And this is not cheap stuff, either. There is every type of popular collectible American guitars from Gibson, Fender and Rickenbacker, as well as plenty of Sadowsky Metro, Atelier Z and high-end ESP custom instruments. Of course Fender Japan is well-represented, too.

And it is not just guitars and amplifiers in Ochanomizu, either. There are entire shops dedicated to violins, ukuleles and wind instruments, too. I could spend an entire day looking though these shops and still not see everything – it is a total sensory overload.

The only thing I was a little bummed out about was the scarcity of second-hand instruments. The new inventory seemed to outweigh the used stuff by about a ten to one ratio, maybe even more. But most anything else that anybody is looking for can be found here.

If you want to see Ochanomizu for yourself, It is only a few steps from the Ochanomizu station which is served by the Soubu Line from Akihabara or the Chuo line from Tokyo station. You will not be disappointed!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fender Sting Precision Bass Review


Some folks are not very fond of artist edition instruments, but I have found many cases where the artist model gives me a combination of features that is really cool and that I would not otherwise be able to get. One such instrument is the Fender Sting model Precision Bass.

You are surely all aware of Sting, the Tantric monster that was the frontman and bass player for the Police. The instrument he is most readily identified with is an early 1950s (1953, I think) Fender Precision Bass.

Fender chose to issue an artist-edition Sting Precision Bass, model 025-1902-303. This is quite a bit different than their 1951 Precision re-issue in a few important aspects. Like the 51 re-issues, these basses are also built in Japan.

The Sting basses have a contoured light ash body, which is waaay better than the slab body found on the 51s. Not having that edge dig into my wrist is a real benefit. These basses string through the body, and all the ones I have seen are sprayed in 2-tone burst. These come with a single-ply pickguard which looks cheap, but that is the way there are supposed to look.

The neck is supposed to be thicker than on the 1951 re-issues, but it feels exactly the same to me. It is a regular 34-inch scale, and has a nice C shape to it. The synthetic bone nut is 1.625-inches wide and there are 20 vintage frets sunk into the 7.25-inch radius maple fretboard. I see guys whining and moaning that skinny frets wear out too quickly, but there are plenty of old Fenders with vintage-size wire that have never been refretted. I think the whiners need to work on their technique. Oh yes, and there is a Sting signature clock inlay at the 12th fret. Ick.

The chrome hardware consists of vintage-style reverse tuners, and a traditional 2-saddle bridge. The basses do not come with pickup or bridge covers, but they are cheap to buy and they are easy enough to install. It does look a lot nicer with the covers, in my opinion.

The electronics are traditional, with a one single-coil pickup with a master volume and master tone control knobs. This bass sounds about like it should, which is not super edgy or great. But it has a good thump and works nice for blues and country.

The Sting Precision Bass is built in Japan, so it has everything that I expect from their craftsmanship. The finish is perfect, and the fretwork is first-rate. It was a terrific-playing instrument and it would not need much to take it to the next level. The bridge saddles are crummy, but there are nice Wilkinson replacements available (this one has them). I think a Lollar pickup and some nicer pots would wake up the bass too. But the inlay (Stinglay!) at the 12th frets is uglier than sin and completely kills the vintage vibe. Maybe I should have an inlay with my name put in there. I wish they could have put the signature on the back of the headstock like the Geddy basses.

The Fender Sting Precision Bass has a list Price of $1199 and a street price of $899 and this is supposed to include a nice padded gig bag. But you can pick up used ones all day long for 5 or 6 hundred bucks, which is not too bad, really.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Honda EU2000i Portable Generator Review


I rambled a bit about generators in my last blog post and promised to get back to you on which one I ended up with. Well, you probably guessed from the title of this post that I went with the Honda EU2000i.

The EU2000i is a neat unit that is very compact. This generator measures around 20 x 12 x 17 inches, and comes in at 47 pounds dry. With its fuel tank full it is around 55 pounds, and it is easy enough for a big guy like me to carry it around by its molded-in plastic handle.

It has a 98.5cc 4-cycle gasoline engine mounted on a metal chassis inside its blow-molded plastic body. There are two 20A 125V AC outlets and one 96 watt DC outlet that can put out 8 amps at 12 volts. The DC outlet is designed to accept a specific Honda wiring harness that can be used to charge automotive type batteries. Overall this generator is rated for a maximum of 2000 watts at 120V AC (16.7 amps), and a more realistic 1600 watts at 120V AC (13.3 amps).

One neat feature of this generator is that should you ever decide that you need more power, you can buy another EU2000i or an EU2000i Companion (with a 30A outlet) and easily link them together with a special wiring harness to double your power output. Honda has some clever engineers, I guess.

It is super-easy to use. Push to choke lever to the side, and move the start-stop switch into position. Open the fuel cap vent and give the recoil starter cord just one pull. It will light off, and you are in business. Once it is going, you can back off the choke pretty quickly, and once you put it into Eco-throttle mode (by pressing a switch) it will quiet down considerably.

Eco-throttle mode will be fine for your live-sound needs, as you will not need to have instant access to full power like you would if you were running a power saw. This mode will reduce noise and let you go a lot longer on a tank of fuel. And you will find that quietness and fuel-efficiency are what Honda generators are all about.

The EU2000i is insanely quiet. The first time I used mine was at a big party in a park (around 1000 people), and I chained it to a tree about 40 feet away from the sound board. I started it up, started stringing the extension cord, and I by the time I got to the table I thought it had stalled out. I started walking back towards the generator, and it had not stalled. It was just so quiet that I could not hear it over the sound of the crummy Harbor Freight generators that the bounce house guys were using on the other side of the park. It is rated at 59 dB(A) at full power or 53 dB(A) at ¼ power.

At this same party I went through a little over ½ gallon of fuel in five hours. This was running a mixing board, two 500-watt powered speakers, a wireless set-up, a small effects rack with a CD player and my laptop. Honda says that it will empty its 1.1-gallon tank in 4 hours at maximum power or 9.6 hours at ¼ power. Amazing!

Maintenance is simple, but is very important. The oil should be changed after the first 20 hours of use and then every 50 hours thereafter. This is not a hard job but it is a little messy and your Honda dealer would be happy to take care of it for you (for a fee). The other thing to do is keep the fuel in good shape. I recommend a fuel stabilizer, such as Sta-Bil, that will keep the gas from going bad. Run the generator at least once or month to keep crap from building up in the fuel system. That is about it. You might need a spark plug sometime, but they make plugs a lot better than they used to so it should be good for quite a while.

There have been no surprises with the EU2000i. I have used it for a few outdoor shows and some power tool work and it has never let me down while putting out perfectly clean power. In fact, my amplifiers have quite a bit less noise when using this generator than many hard-wired residential or commercial power outlets that I have used. Go figure.

The one thing I have not needed it to use it for is a power outage, but it does give peace of mind to have it around. Honda says it will run an Energy Star efficient fridge or freezer, or any number of other appliances including microwave ovens and blenders. It would certainly be cool for camping or a tailgate party.

The Honda EU2000i is not cheap, with an MSRP of $1149 and a street price of around $950. I know you can get more powerful generators for less money at Harbor Freight or Home Depot. But, you get what you pay for, and Honda is the leader in reliability, quietness and efficiency. They offer a 3-year warranty on their generators, which is head and shoulders above any of the other manufacturers. Think about it…


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Do You Need a Generator for Your Gig?


Have you ever done a site inspection or shown up to a gig, only to discover there are no power outlets anywhere? Festivals, beaches, parks and big yards are the usual causes of this headache. That leaves you with three choices – run the world’s longest extension cord, track down a generator, or walk away from the gig.

Running a string of extension cords is really bad news. If you get a few hundred feet of cord strung across a park (or a skate park as I had to one time), there is a lot of stuff that can go wrong. For starters, it can get unplugged or cut, or possibly even stolen if you are in the wrong neighborhood. Also, as cables get longer resistance increases, so there will be less power available to you and an increased chance of tripping a circuit breaker at the other end. Any of this stuff will ruin your gig.

So that leaves you with looking for a generator, but maybe you have no idea what you are looking for. There are all different sizes and brands of generators out there, and you can spend virtually any amount of money if you are going to rent or buy one. This brings up a good question – rent or buy?

In the short term, it is easier to rent. You just pay for a generator when you need one, and you don’t have to store the thing or maintain it. This is a double-edged sword, though. There might not be a unit available when you need it, and rental power sources may not be well-maintained. Driving across town to pick one up might not be the best use of your time when you are scrambling to get ready for your gig, either.

If you buy your own, you are golden. You have one whenever you need it, and you can make sure that you buy the right generator for your needs. Also, you will have one around the house in the event of a power failure, and it is nice to keep your refrigerator going and have a few lights on. The downside is that you are responsible for maintenance – keeping the oil changed and making sure that the gas does not go bad. And you are going to have to spend a lot of money if you buy new, probably a thousand bucks.

If you decide to jump into the deep end of the pool and buy one, be wary of anything that is sold at Harbor Freight. I have experienced many of their generators, and found them to be unreliable and short-lived. Also, they put out dirty power that will add noise to your signal chain. And, worst of all, their operating sound is at a volume and frequency that makes them unbearable to be around. I did a street festival one time and the people in charge gave me one of those cheap-assed generators to use. It was teeth-grindingly deafening, and people had to move their sales booths away from the offending unit.

Used generators can come with their own kinds of headaches. Only buy one from a private party if you know the model well and if you can be assured that it has been maintained properly and does not have too many hours on it. Good luck.

When you are trying to figure out what generator you need, you will need to look at their power ratings. They are rates in kilowatts (kW), and you amplifiers are rated in watts, so you can get pretty close. You don’t want to come up too short on power, but keep in mind that you probably never run your 2000-watt amps at their full capacity, and amplifier manufacturers love to inflate their power ratings. There are some pretty good websites for calculating your power needs, so I will not go into that here.

Also, make sure you find a generator with a quality inverter, so there is no noise added to your signal chain, and so you can run a laptop from it without danger. Once you get a unit that provides nice clean power, remember is that you should avoid running lights and sound off the same generator. Most lights suck power like crazy, but even worse they will add a lot of noise and make your equipment sound like crap. If you have to run lights too, bring another generator. If some ill-prepared maroon wants to hook up their lights to your generator while you are running sound, tell them to go buy their own.

And there is one final thing to think about – if you buy a generator, everybody and their brother will want to borrow it from you. See my earlier comments about the ill-prepared maroon.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will review my generator of choice…


Monday, February 11, 2013

Johnny Boots All or Nothing CD Review


This CD review was originally published in the October 18, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Johnny Boots – All or Nothing

Self Release

13 tracks / 57:09

Johnny “Boots” Giannicchi is the real deal: a fabulous blues- rock guitarist and singer who has gigged and worked hard to get where he is today. Besides these roles, this Connecticut gentleman is also the band leader and producer of his latest release, All or Nothing. This CD is a blues-rock juggernaut that includes nine original tracks and four well-chosen covers. There is a definite Stevie Ray Vaughan vibe to this work, with occasional forays in the directions of delta blues and country.

Johnny is joined on this release by Peter Bennett on bass and Darro “Sparkie” Sandler on drums. This power trio is augmented on occasion by the tremendous Hook Herrera on the harmonica and co-producer Paul Opalach, who sits in with various instruments on many of the tracks. All of these folks are more than capable musicians, and any changes in personnel are not obvious as there is good continuity throughout.

“Stone Cold” is the lead-off track for All or Nothing and right away the listener can hear that Johnny Boots has a masterful grasp of blues and rock guitar. This is an uptempo 12-bar blues song that uses some great kitchen metaphors to describe the inevitable swings of a grown-up relationship. Johnny’s voice proves to be strong with just the right sound for this genre. It was a wise choice to position this song up front on the CD.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is the title track, “All or Nothing,” which has a lot of 1970s psychedelic blues rock in it. Lots of soaring guitars and ride cymbal on this one take me back to my youth. I am picturing a smoky concert arena with oodles of red stage lights when this one is playing through my headphones.

They managed to sneak a ballad into the mix and “Actions Speaks Louder than Words” is a great song with heartfelt lyrics. This track is a perfect opportunity chance for Johnny to slow down and show off his voice. His guitar work is sublime on this track, and shows that he knows enough to not have to play every note just because he can.

Stacy Williams provides vocals for “It Takes a Big Girl to Cry,” which is a duet that comes straight out of the 1950s. Ms. William’s voice meshes perfectly with Johnny’s, and this slower tune is a nice change of pace. Opalach brings the bass guitar and keyboard parts, and Boots gives the listener some tasteful picking on his electric guitar.

Johnny Boots does not limit his songwriting to temporal subjects, and feels comfortable expressing his eternal views in “Hosanna.” I had not expected to find a Christian rock anthem on this album, and this one is a neatly-crafted song, with many layers of acoustic and electric guitar. There are some nice backing vocal harmonies, as well.

The cover tunes run the gamut of blues, and include Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” and “John the Revelator,” and Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker.” “Crossroads” is the funkiest version I have ever heard, and Hook gets to tear loose with his harp. Things don’t go too far astray, and the spirit of the original is still there. Both of the Son House songs start in a more traditional delta blue style, but electrify quickly. House’s lyrics surely stand the test of time, and would make these tunes work no matter what you do to them. “Shake your Moneymaker” is one of the faster versions around and is chock full of crazily distorted guitar, in a good way.

The album ends on a fun (and patriotic) note with “Rodeo Girl” which features Paul Opalach on bass guitar, baritone guitar, keyboards and percussion. He is a jack of all trades, apparently. This song has a countrified sound to it, and the sound of the guitars and the layout of the story give this one a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers feel.

All or Nothing is a slickly-produced CD with plentiful guitar chops and thirteen very listenable tracks that provide almost an hour of musical entertainment. It is a great follow-up to Johnny Boots’ previous release, Everybody’s Got to Eat, and any fan of blues or rock will find something to like on this one. I recommend that you give it a listen; you will certainly get your money’s worth!


Friday, February 8, 2013

Nady CT-6 6-Way Cable Tester Review


There is nothing like having a channel go dead while you are running a show. I had a mic crap out on me during a recent show, and after switching channels I figured it had to be the XLR cable or the microphone (praying it wasn’t the snake), so I ran up and swapped out both components real quick to keep the show going.

Later on I tested the mic and found out it was ok, and threw the cable on a shelf and figured I would get to it later. Well, I recently picked up a Nady CT-6 6-way cable tester, and thought I would see how well it worked. I used to scoff at cable testers because I have a pretty strong electronics background and have a really nice digital multimeter so I can test things out myself without needing to have another piece of equipment. In theory this is nice, but I hadn’t gotten around to checking this cable, had I?

Besides testing failed equipment, it is also nice to have something like this so I can go through all of my cables before I pack up for a gig, so I know I am not taking any bum equipment. Of course I carry spares, but why deal with the hassles of tracking down dead leads during the stress of a set-up.

The Nady CT-6 gets the job done for me. It is a sturdy metal component, painted silver with kind of cheap looking graphics on the front. It is not a lot bigger than an effects pedal, measuring 5 x 3 ½ by 1 ½ inches, and it weighs about 1 ½ pounds. There are outputs and inputs on the top and sides that allow you to test cables with the following ends: banana plugs, ¼-inch TRS, DIN, phono (RCA), Speakon and XLR.

This unit is fairly easy to use. It is powered by a 9-volt battery (not included), and there is no ON/OFF switch -- the unit powers ON as soon as a cable is plugged in. When you plug a cable into both sides of the CT-6, it passes a small amount of current through the cable, and if it comes out the other side ok, it will illuminate one of the LEDs. By turning the 6-position knob, a pair of LEDs will light up for however each conductor that is inside the cable (up to 5). If an LED does not come ON, there is an open circuit. The sixth position is for testing the battery.

If you have a cable or circuit that you want to check that is not included on this unit, you can plug electrical test leads into the banana plug jacks and use this as a continuity checker.

I have been using this tested religiously and have already found a few bad cables before loading up for shows, so it has already paid for itself. Learning how to use it was a breeze, and it seems to be holding up well. If any of the connectors go bad, they look like they should be easy enough to service. The only hang-up I have is that the battery leads seem REALLY thin, so I think that will be the first thing to break.

The Nady CT-6 6-way cable tester gets the job done for me, and did not break the bank. These have a list price of $39.99 and a street price of $34.95, but I recently saw that had them on sale for $29.79 online.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gallien-Krueger 2001RB Bass Amplifier Head Review


It does not come up very often, but sometimes you need a bass amp with just a little more oompf. When that time comes, one amplifier to consider should be the big boss Gallien-Krueger 2001RB. This thing is a monster!

Gallien-Krueger has been building quality solid-state amplifiers in the United States since the company was started by a pair of Hewlett Packard engineers over 40 years ago. They have become the biggest bass amplifier manufacturer out there on the back of their RB series of bass amplifiers, which were introduced back in the early 1980s. Their products and customer service are very well regarded in the music industry.

The pinnacle of their solid-state bass amplifiers is the rack-mountable 2001RB. This unit measures 19 x 5.25 x 12 inches, which equate to 3 rack spaces. It weighs in at around 42 ½ pounds, which is not too terrible when compared to my SVT. This is an unavoidable comparison, which will surely come up again. It certainly makes it the heaviest solid-state head I have ever used.

It heavy because there is a huge power supply and four amplifiers inside of that pretty case. These include two for the low end with 540 watts each at 2 ohms (or 1080 watts bridged at 4 ohms) and 2 high-end amps with 50 watts each at 8 ohms. You can power up to 4 cabinets with this thing! That is a ton of power, and there are two continuously variable speed fans inside to help keep things cool (and to make the amplifier last longer).

There is plenty of stuff going on the front of this amplifier. There is an input stage, two sets of channel controls, voicing filters, an EQ and an output stage.

The input stage includes a the ¼-inch input jack, a -10dB pad switch, a pre-input clip LED, tuning mute switch and a channel select switch.

The channel controls are set up with channel A for clean and channel B for overdrive. You will see that channel A has a Level control, while channel B gets four knobs. These include: Level, Gain, Edge (overlapping treble) and Bottom (overlapping bass). By overlapping, I mean in addition to the 4-band equalizer and voicing filters that both channels share. By the way, the channels are switched via a button on the front of the amp or with a foot switch.

Tone controls include an active four-band equalizer, and two voicing filters: contour (flat to +2dB @ 50Hz,-10dB @ 500Hz, +3dB @ 7KHz) and presence (flat to +9dB @ 10KHz). There is also a 5-string bass switch that adds 10dB at 20Hz.

The output section consists of a Boost knob, which add in the traditional Gallien-Krueger growl, as well Tweeter and Woofer volume controls. There is also a tweeter hi-cut b switch (above 10KHz) and a Woofer crossover switch (above 5KHz).

The back of the amplifier is where you will find the four Neutrik Speakon and four 1/4" speaker output jacks, and a switch to select dual mono or bridge modes. The right side speakers have their own level control knob. There is also an adjustable direct out with a pre/post switch and a ground lift. There is also plenty of other good stuff, including an effects loop, a footswitch jack, a tuner out, remote trigger in and out, and chain in and out. The remote trigger and the chaining jacks are used if you want to connect a bunch of 2001RB amplifiers together. The idea of this scares me, frankly.

I tested the G-K 2001RB out with my Stingray, an assortment of passive and active Precision and Jazz basses and even my Kala U-Bass. This amplifier is a powerhouse, yet still has all of the Gallien-Krueger tones that I have been using over the past 25 years. The clean G-K tone is there in spades, but this is not a one-trick pony. It can distort out for rock, play smooth for jazz and blues, and can pop like a mofo for funk. The 5-string switch really boosts the low end, maybe even too much. The filters and channel switching work flawlessly and it will do most anything you want it to do. Except for sounding like an SVT, that is. The tube warmth is missing, but if you are playing at the insane volume levels this thing is designed for, warmth is a pipe dream.

As far as output, this amplifier can put our more volume than any single amplifier I have ever played. I tried it out with everything from a single 15-inch speaker to a pair of 8-10 cabinets and the 2001RB made the most out of all of them. I do not think there is a speaker cabinet out there that this amplifier will not be able to drive to its fullest.

That being said, I need to editorialize and throw in my 2 cents worth as a sound guy. If somebody showed up for a gig I was running with one of these amps and a truckload of cabinets, I would not be terribly happy. Things like this almost always lead to volume creep. The bass player is too loud, so the guitarists turn up their amps, and the bass player adds more volume. All the while I am cranking the vocals and drums up to match, and soon the audience is holding their ears and having a terrible time. If you need your bass sound to go that huge you should probably be going through the PA…

Anyway, everybody will disregard my advice, and that is ok because the Gallien-Krueger 2001RB is certainly a top-notch amplifier. It sounds great, has versatile outputs and relatively simple controls, and is can be terrifyingly loud. There is not really much out there to compete with it, especially at its street price of $1299 (MSRP $1856). If you need this much output, it is totally worth every penny!

p.s. Don’t forget that GK includes a 2-year warranty and has the world’s best customer service.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers – Empty Roads CD Review


This CD review was originally published in the October 4, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers – Empty Roads

Self Release

10 tracks / 51:01

As a fan of blues rock guitar, listening to Empty Roads, the new Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers CD, is a real pleasure for me. This is the follow-up to their debut release, Gambling Machine, which was a tremendous effort and made me wonder what to expect from these guys next. Well, what they did next was follow the usual road to success in the music business: plenty of hard work and practice with endless gigs and then back to the studio. Their sophomore effort builds on everything they learned from their first album and moves the band along to the next level, as this is a very good album that provides plenty of variety.

Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers was formed in Scotland in 2010, and there is not a lot of personnel to become familiar with. The band consists of Lewis Hamilton on guitar and vocals, his father Nick Hamilton on bass, and Ian (Santa) Wallace on the drums. That is it: no horns, keyboards, harmonica, or backing choir. It is just a classic blues rock trio with a British feel, sort of like Rory Gallagher with Gerry McAvoy and Ted McKenna. Lewis takes total control of the musical content and is responsible for writing, recording, producing, mixing and mastering all of their songs.

First up on Empty Roads is “Walking Out Your Door,” which gives the listener a good feel for what to expect from the rest of the album. This is a rocking 12-bar blues song with strong guitar, a smooth bass line and a heavy kick drum and snare. Lewis’ voice has that raspy whiskey voice that everybody is looking for, but he still manages to sound youthful and energetic. This is a slickly-written track with nicely interspersed guitar solos and verses.

There is some neat slide guitar to jump start the next track, “Empty Roads,” which moves a little more towards the country music side of things but still maintains its blues roots (albeit with a harder edge). There is plenty of neat guitar work on this and Hamilton gets some healthy distortion out of his axe. This segues into “Drinking Game,” which proves that every true bluesman needs to have a signature drinking song with simple lyrics. This track is a bit slower and is a straight up blues song with thick layers of guitars and a solid backline.

“Tear Me to the Bone” shows that Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers has a funky side. Like all of the other tracks on the album, it is built around the guitar parts, and this one has fun lyrics with the familiar theme of a man done wrong by his woman. It is cool to finally hear some background vocals on this track, by the way. After this Lewis changes to a completely different gear, and gives us “Like a Burning Tree,” which is a slow delta blues track with just him and his slide guitar.

I am not going to give a blow-by-blow account of every song on the album, but there is a little something for everybody in here. Lewis arranged the CD so that it ends up with two neat instrumentals. “Granny Cool” is an awesome electric guitar jam that lets Santa show off his drum chops, and the elder Hamilton finally gets a chance to pop and slap on his bass. “The Stream” is something completely different, providing a tasteful and elegant acoustic outro for the album.

Empty Roads is ten solid tracks of first-class music that will make most any blues or rock fan happy. Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers have outdone themselves with this release, and have set the bar for even better things to come. Check it out!


Friday, February 1, 2013

Epiphone Tom Delonge Signature ES-333 Guitar Review


Before we get started here, I have to say that I am not a Tom Delonge fan, and will not be going into details for fear of inciting the wrath of the Blink-182 frontman’s fans. But, his Epiphone signature model ES-333 guitar seemed like a pretty sweet axe, and it is kind of different than the other models in the Gibson/Epiphone line-up, so I thought it would be fun to take one for a test drive.

This semi-hollowbody archtop guitar is built to Delonge’s specifications by the fine folks in Epiphone’s Chinese factories. The laminated maple body has a mahogany center block, and it is sprayed with a poly coat of brown with a cream-colored racing stripe down the center. A matching cream single binding is set around the edges of the top and the back. On paper this all sounds a little lame, but in person it looks very nice. When looking over the one I played, the finish was very smooth with no imperfections, but seemed a bit on the thick side.

The ES-333 neck is made of solid mahogany and it is natural colored, with a clear matte finish on the back and on the headstock; you will find that it is set to the body at the 17th fret, The rosewood fretboard is bound, and has the classic dot marker inlays. The fretboard has 22 medium-jumbo frets sunk into it, is 1 11/16-inches wide at the nut, and it has a 12-inch radius. It is not a very husky neck, and it feels like a slim 60’s profile to me.

The hardware is not too surprising. This Epi gets a 3-ply BWB pickguard and chrome metalwork. The tuners are sealed diecast 16:1 Grovers and at the other end is an Epiphone LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge and stopbar. Wait a second – what is LockTone? This is a slight redesign of the classic Gibson set-up that includes little springy clamps to fit around the posts so that everything does not fall apart during string changes. When everything is assembled the appearance is the same as before. I have seen lots of Excel charts that show that sustain is actually increased with these parts, but it seemed about the same to me.

And lastly there is the electronics package. I have not seen a Gibson with this simple of a set-up in awhile. There is a single Gibson USA Dirtyfingers humbucker pickup located at the bridge and a single volume control with a 1-inch 500k pot an d a heavy-duty output jack. That’s it.

This makes for a very loud guitar, and it does have a very even sustain. The ES-333 has a good clean tone, and it overdrives nicely. But those are the only two tones I can get out of it. I know and believe that tone is all in the fingers, but I am obviously not good enough to coax anything else out of this guitar – it is punk rock all the way. It is sort of like those MusicMan Benji Madden Silhouette guitars, I guess.

The quality is so-so. It came out of the box with a poor set-up, and it took a good bit of truss rod tweeking and the intonation needed to be completely reset. The frets are not perfectly level, but in all honesty it is a LOT better than almost all of the new Gibson Les Pauls I have seen coming out of their US factories. After messing with all of that, it played nicely with no buzzing despite a reasonably low action.

The Epiphone Tom Delonge Signature ES-333 does not ship with a case, but then again what kind of case could you expect for a guitar with these features and a street price of $499 (MSRP $832)? It also comes with Epiphone’s limited lifetime warranty and Gibson’s 24/7 customer service. Anyway, if you are a guitarist that loves Delonge, Blink-182 or Angels & Airwaves, picking up one of these will be a no-brainer at this price point.