Saturday, April 27, 2013

1994 Fender Stratocaster ST62-58 Electric Guitar Review

Aloha!

Today we are looking at a neat utility guitar, a Japanese model ST-62-58 Fender Stratocaster that I found in the secondhand rack at an Ishibashi music store in Japan. This model is a 1962 re-issue strat that originally sold for 58,000 Yen (this is why they call it an ST-62058). From outside appearances, it is a very faithful recreation of the original. This is an N-prefix “Made in Japan” model, meaning it was built in around 1994. When this guitar was originally sold, the Yen was around 98 to the dollar, which equals approximately $592, which was a heck of a deal back then for such a great guitar.

This one has a glossy black poly finish over what looks like an alder body. The factory used a quality three-ply minty white pickguard, which is nice as often times these come with a garish red tortoiseshell guard. On the back, the cavity cover is the original single-ply white, which is how these came from the Japanese factory.

The neck is super-nice, with good frets (vintage thin wire) and a very pretty rosewood fretboard. It has a small headstock with the proper logos and vintage-style inline tuners. The rest of the hardware includes a vintage-style tremolo bridge with bent steel saddles (marked with “FENDER” which is a nice touch).

The electronics are the typical Stratocaster fodder – three single coils, volume/tone/tone and a 5-way selector. The pickups are strong and the electronics do not ass any unwanted extra noise. It plays, sounds and looks just like a Stratocaster should.

Like most every Japanese-made Fender guitar I have played, it is very well made, with level frets and good neck pocket clearance. After almost 20 years, they are nicks and scratches, with some fret and fretboard wear and worn off chrome, but it has not been abused and is certainly a player’s guitar. I have it set up with 0.010s and it is a breeze to play.

These guitars are one of the best values out there, and if you have the chance to pick one up, you will see that this is the real deal!

Mahalo!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review of A Chorus Line by Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, CA

Aloha!

Musical Theatre West is a true Southland treasure, and for their 60th anniversary season they selected a bunch of really solid shows, including an all-time favorite: A Chorus Line. It is always a treat to see this show, and if you have not seen it in person, this is a great opportunity to see it in a fun venue!

On the off chance that you know nothing at all about A Chorus Line, here are some essential tidbits. This is one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history, debuting in 1975, and running for over 6,000 performances during its first run. It won 9 Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize along the way (I did not know they had a Pulitzer for drama).

It deserved these awards as the writing is first-rate, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. The story is about a group of Broadway dancers that are auditioning for places on a chorus line, and we learn about them through their stories and interactions with the director. Some songs you may know from A Chorus Line are "Nothing," "What I Did For Love," and "One.” Some of the pop culture references are dated, but overall the musical remains timeless (plus it would be a shame to remove the George Harrison references).

If you have seen the show before, you will not surprised by the sets, which are minimal. They use the traditional rotating mirrored panels, which they must have sourced from one of the big set rental places. They were tatty in spots, and a distraction from the close-up seats.

With almost no scenery, the lighting becomes a huge deal, and the lights were fabulous. There are a lot of dialogue and singing scenes that use lighting to highlight individual performers, and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting designs hit the mark every time.

The costumes may seem a bit easier, as they are supposed to represent typical dancer practice attire, but if you stop a think about it for a minute, there was a lot of planning that went into selecting togs for each performer. Each character has a distinct personality, and their clothing summed up each of them succinctly. Of course, the finale used the typical sparkly top-hat costumes, and these were up to par. Possibly these were rented too?

The orchestra pit was empty, so it would be easy to assume that they used canned music, but executive director / producer Paul Garman made it a point to tell the audience beforehand that there was a 20-piece orchestra on stage behind the panels. This is the way A Chorus Line was originally presented, so good on them. But what a terrible sin it is that there was no mention of this in the program, nor was there a list of the musicians who performed. What a shame, because they did a fabulous job. I will give the musical director no credit for his contributions since he did not make sure that his musicians got their fair share. Unfortunately I may be related to him…

Despite the good performances, the sound engineers did not do a good job with the orchestra or the vocalists. Many times the vocals were drowned out by the orchestra, which is unfortunate, as there are so many clever lyrics in this show. Their production of Oklahoma! had the same problem, so they certainly need to look into this.

Due to the nature of A Chorus Line, it would be quite a surprise if the dancing and acting were not up to par and there were no disappointments here. I thought the cast was well-chosen and very talented, and that Roger Castellano did an admirable job with the choreography. I wish I could write a little bit about all of the actors/dancers, but I am afraid that would be a tad dull, so I should stick with the true standouts.

The leads of Zach (the director) and his ex-girlfriend Cassie were both well-done by Chuck Saculla and Chryssie Whitehead, although I had a hard time believing that Cassie was supposed to be too old for the chorus, as she still looks quite young. But there were some other truly outstanding performances from the supporting cast.

Steven Rada is at the top of my list, as his portrayal of Paul (the young man who got into the business in the drag queen revue) was truly heartfelt. His dancing was spectacular, but his acting was even better. With the quality of his performance, I expect we will see a lot more of him.

His counterpoint was Ayme Olivo, who took the role of Diana. She had two big singing numbers, “Nothing” and “What I did for Love,” and she knocked them both out of the park. She was very convincing, and her character’s love of show business was very believable.

Theresa Murray portrayed the perfect Kristine (the girl that just cannot sing). I bet she really can sing, and she certainly can act and her comedic timing is perfect.

And lastly, I am jealous of Marco Ramos, who is as skinny as a rail and can sing like a girl. My god he was ideal for this role!

Overall, this was a great rendition of A Chorus Line. Musical Theatre West was able to capture the spirit of the original 1970’s production while entertaining a 20th-century audience, which is no small task. I love having such a great theatre company in my own backyard.

Sadly, I must chide the other audience members for some truly awful breaches of theatre etiquette as there were more than enough fools in attendance that were unable to silence their cell phones. Damn it, and damn them. I hope they get terrible cold sores and their phones break before their contracts are up.

Despite this, the Carpenter Center is a fine place to see a show. You do not have to drive to Hollywood and hassle with parking, and all of the 1,000 seats in the house are very good. But, I would be remiss if I did not warn parents that this is not a good musical to take young kids to. There is plenty of rough language and mature subject matter, plus this show runs two hours with no intermission. Get a babysitter and save yourself a lot of heartache.

Due to demand, they added a few more shows, but A Chorus Line is closing on Sunday, April 28, so you only have a few more opportunities to catch the show. There are still a few seats available, so check www.musical.org 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.

Mahalo!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Ludwig Metronome iPhone App Review

Aloha!

If you are a studio rat and squirrel yourself away practicing all day, you had better get yourself a metronome. You can spend anywhere between $9.99 and $160 to get a dedicated metronome, or…if you have an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, you can download a free app that does the job just as well.

Lately I have been using the Ludwig Metronome app by Steinway Musical Instruments. Since when did Steinway buy Ludwig?

Anyway, the app downloaded quickly enough for me, and should work on any of the aforementioned Apple products as long as they are updated with at least iOS 4.2 or later. I used my iPhone initially, but have since put it on my iPad too. It seems to work about the same either way.

It took just a few seconds to figure out how to use it, and it does exactly what it is supposed to, which is help keep time. It makes the usual “tick, tick” noises, but it is customizable in a lot of other useful ways. It can be set up so that the downbeat has a different sound, and in one of nine different common time signatures (or none at all, hmm).

As you use the imaginary tempo wheel on the main screen to change the speed, the app will let you know the name of the time signature, and then the difference between allegro and presto becomes crystal clear.

You can set up the Ludwig Metronome app so that it flashes too (in one of seven colors) – and you can modify it so that it flashes on every beat, on just the downbeats, or on every beat with a different color downbeat. It can also be used with no flashes at all.

And the last thing in the function department is that you can tap in your own tempo (maybe for that Metallica song you are learning), and then hit the play icon so it will motor along at your selected speed. This is a surprisingly handy function when learning new music.

There are a few other fun features too, like the option of using new of vintage Ludwig logos, or selecting nifty Ludwig drum wraps as the decoration for your app. Of course there is a Ludwig dealer locater that is built in too – you have to expect that from a free app…

The Ludwig drum wrap is a stone cold awesome deal, and if you are looking for a metronome, you have nothing to lose by giving it a try. Check it out!

Mahalo

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith & Roger "Hurricane" Wilson Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson Album Review

Aloha!

This CD review was originally published in the November 15, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith & Roger “Hurricane” Wilson – Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson

Bluestorm Records

hurricanewilson.com

13 tracks / 64:23

Blues has evolved through the years, and there are so many different variations that it would be impossible to figure them all out, but every once in a while you stumble across blues in its pure form. Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is just such a collection of music, and it is a real treasure. This is a live CD from Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson that was recorded on December 11, 2009 at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This was a sold out show, and the crowd sure had a real treat that evening!

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was a legendary bluesman, and a skilled vocalist, harmonica player and drummer. You probably know him best as a sideman for Muddy Waters, although he had quite a career that culminated in winning the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album with fellow legend Pinetop Perkins. Sadly, Willie passed on last year so we will not be blessed with his magical harp playing anymore, which makes this recording all the more precious.

Roger “Hurricane” Wilson put together this project, wrote four of the songs, and is a veteran bluesman in his own right. He plays over 200 shows per year, travelling around the United States in his recreational vehicle; he has been gigging for 40 years, and has been playing in his own bands since 1978. Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is his eighth album, and it was released under his own Bluestorm Records.

As the CD starts out with the Sonny Boy Williamson song, “Eyesight to the Blind” you will hear that this is a stripped down blues show with one guitar, one harmonica and two voices. This recording catches all of the nuances of their live show, and the harp, guitar and voices are well mixed; you will find that the sound quality is consistent throughout. Coming in at a little under three minutes this is the shortest song of the collection and is a nice warm up piece.

Not surprisingly we get to hear a few Muddy Waters tunes too: “Long Distance Call,” “Got my Mojo Workin’,” and “Can’t be Satisfied.” “Long Distance Call” is remarkably restrained, and Smith’s harmonica howls on this one while his voice is seasoned and rich. “Got my Mojo Workin’” is more uptempo with a little shaker percussion to spice things up, and Smith and Wilson give a little back and forth on the vocals. These classic songs are great to hear in this stripped down format.

Slim Harpo’s chart-topper “Scratch My Back” starts off with 3 minutes of harmonica and some tasteful guitar picking. There is not really much to the lyrics on this one, which allows the performers the opportunity to shine. “Hoochie Coochie Man” from Willie Dixon is always a winner and was certainly a crowd favorite the evening this was recorded. As with the rest of the album, Wilson holds a rock steady beat with his guitar playing, and he really digs in on this one while doing a fine job on the vocals. Listening to Smith’s harp on this one makes you realize that there really are different levels of harmonica players, and he was definitely top shelf material.

A little dialogue gives the early history of Louie Carr’s “How Long Blues,” an 8-bar blues classic that has been recorded in every genre imaginable. These guys capture the original country blues spirit of this song, and Wilson’s voice brings out the hound dog sadness of the lyrics. “Willie’s Boogie Finale” is a neat instrumental to wrap up the CD, and it is not surprising that it showcases his talent on the harmonica. It was a certainly a good choice to bookend this album, and Willie’s sentiment “If you enjoyed yourself tonight as much as I did, you’d go home in peace” is a fitting end.

Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is a great collection of songs that is presented by two really neat guys. Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson had a great chemistry, and unfortunately will not be collaborating again (at least not in this world). I have to strongly recommend that you give it a listen.

Mahalo!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spruce Top Kala U-Bass SSMHG FS Review

Aloha!

A while back I reviewed the Mahogany-top Kala U-Bass, and thought maybe I should go through their similarly-equipped spruce-top ukulele-inspired bass. It turned out that there were not many surprises with this one.

I first played 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 about 61% the length of a normal bass guitar. The neck, back and sides are made of solid mahogany, and the top is solid spruce. The bridge and fretboard are both hewn from nice-looking rosewood.

The spruce-top model is a little dressier than the mahogany model, with classy binding on the top and back. It has the same toad inlay and matte finish. There is also a U-Bass with a solid acacia body, but I have never seen one in the wild. These instruments 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 embroidered soft 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.

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.

I notice no sound or playability differences between this one of the mahogany bass, so the changes are only aesthetic. And looks-wise, the mahogany one is pure money and my #1 choice.

My gripes are few and far between. The top is pretty soft, and gets dinged by fingernails too easily. I also miss having a strap pin, but since ukuleles do not usually come with strap pins I will let that one slide.

The list price for a spruce top Kala U-Bass is $530, with a street price of $450 ($100 cheaper than the mahogany one), and is steep when compared to similar quality baritone ukuleles, but this one will do a lot more than any of those one-trick ponies.

Mahalo!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Epiphone Hummingbird Acoustic Guitar Review

Aloha!

The law of diminishing returns turns out to be true in almost every case where it is applied, and the cost of musical instruments is no exception. There are some very nice budget guitars out there, and as you add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the price the improvements in tone and playability are not commensurate with the amount spent. Don’t get me wrong, there is no substitute for a Santa Cruz acoustic or a Sadowsky bass, but there are some great values out there for short money.

One example of this would be the Epiphone Hummingbird acoustic guitar. Surely you know of Epiphone, they produce the entry-level Gibson brand instruments that get re-sold for almost nothing as soon as a guitarist can scrape up enough dosh for a real Gibson. Though much maligned, these imported guitars can be quite good.

The Hummingbird was Gibson’s first square-shoulder dreadnought which was introduced in 1960. This flat-top has been adopted by plenty of high-profile players over the years, including Keith Richards, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow and Tom Petty. It is pretty much Gibson’s answer to Martin’s D-series guitars.

The Epiphone version here was made in Indonesia and it is chock full of good materials and parts so the labor costs must be almost non-existent. Human rights advocates be warned…

The woods are surprisingly good, with a solid spruce top and a bound mahogany body and neck. The fretboard and bridge are made of real rosewood, which is amazing when you consider that Gibson is using all kind of bizarre stuff for Les Paul fretboards instead of rosewood. The body is sprayed in a bright Heritage Cherry Sunburst, which is probably my least favorite part of this guitar. It is very bright and unnatural looking.

Oh yes, and it has the signature hummingbird-decorated pickguard, which I am quite fond of. For the life of me I cannot figure out Gibson puts a plain guard on the Hummingbird Pro models.

The slim-taper profile neck is quite good. It has a 1.68-inch wide nut and 20 frets with a 15 ½-inch scale. The rosewood fretboard has pearloid parallelogram inlays and there is an adjustable trussrod. On one end there are chrome Grove tuners (though the factory calls them nickel), and on the other end there is a compensated synthetic bones bridge saddle. One welcome piece of hardware is two strap pins. Why do so many manufacturers only give you one?

And the Epiphone Hummingbird is really well put together. The finish quality is good, and the frets are as good as the ones that you will find on a new Gibson Les Paul (which is not saying much, I guess). The tuners hold well, and in general the intonation is good. The neck can be adjusted for a low and fast action, though a little nut filing may be needed. And best of all, this guitar has a gloriously loud tone and a relatively balanced sound from string to string. Keep in mind that this is not an expensive guitar, and everything is relative…

I have saved the best for last, and that is the price. The Epiphone Hummingbird has a list price of $499, and a street price of $299. If you look around you can find even better deals online, and used ones are embarrassingly cheap. But if you buy a new one you get the Epiphone Limited Lifetime Warranty and Gibson 24/7/365 customer service. This is really the best acoustic deal on the market right now. Trust me…

Mahalo!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dorothy Moore Blues Heart Album Review

Aloha!

This CD review was originally published in the November 23, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com

Dorothy Moore – Blues Heart

Self released through Farish Street Records

farishstreetrecords.com

10 tracks / 42:34

Whenever I get a new CD from a legend of the music industry, before my first listen I always wonder if it will live up to the artist’s previous catalog of work. Maybe it is the pessimistic way of looking at things, but a lot of times it does not work out well – look no further than last year’s Bob Dylan Christmas album. Well, this time Dorothy Moore made things easy on me and I do not have to be such a sourpuss, because Blues Heart, her latest CD, is very good.

Dorothy Moore has quite a musical career since signing with Epic Records and hitting the Billboard Hot 100 in the mid 1960s. She has been in and out of the industry with various record companies, and has recorded in the pop, soul, blues, gospel, and disco genres. As of late she has been recording secular music on Farish Street Records, her own label. It seems she has found her niche with the blues; she has worked with music from solid writers and put out a very nice recording.

Blues Heart is not just a clever name, as this is a smooth blues and soul album. Dorothy laid down the vocals in Nashville, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi with the help of Vince Barranco on drums, David Hungate on bass, Clayton Ivey on keyboards and organ, Steve Johnson on guitar, Jim Horn on flute and Harrison Calloway with the synthesizer horns and strings. Oh yes, and Dorothy has taken up the harmonica, so we get to hear a bit of her new talent on this album.

There is no doubt that this is a blues album when the first song is a about a lady whose man steals away with another woman; he even takes all of her money without leaving a note. I guess that would be a few good reasons to be “Coming Down With the Blues.” Dorothy’s voice is soulfully mature and pure honey, and Steve Johnson shows off his guitar skills by expertly playing off of her. You will also hear some heavy synthesizer work on this which carries through much of the album. Electronic music might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it works well in this context.

It would not be fair if I did not talk a little about Ms. Moore’s harmonica skills, which she has been working on for the past three years. We hear her harp on the second track, “Let the Healing Begin,” which is a slow blues jam with honky-tonk piano and a fat bass part. It was wise to pick a slow jam for her first recoded harmonica solo, and she did an admirable job on the “Mississippi sax,” as she calls it. This song’s old-school blues vibe contrasts nicely with the next track, “Make Up.” This funky tune is full of phased guitars and hearty organs and synths, and recounts the joys of reconciling after a disagreement – in a sexy way.

“My Time on Earth” is a poignant ballad that grows into a hopeful anthem of love for our fellow man. Dorothy goes into full-on soul mode for this song, which any of us could only hope to have for our epitaph. This sense of hope fades as “When the Hurt Comes Down” comes up next. This is a classic uptempo break-up song, with some very pretty background vocals to contrast with her plaintive wails of sorrow. We also get a dose of Jim Horn’s breathy flute, filling up the song the rest of the way with soul.

There are yet more songs of distrust and betrayal, but there is a fun twist on “Nosey Neighbors,” as she sings about how she is spying on the single lady across the street who is spying on her old man. “And if you work out in the yard, now here she comes, washing on her car.” She does indeed have a nosey neighbor, and her neighbor has a nosey neighbor too!

The closing track for the CD is definitely off the beaten path. Though not as controversial as it was when it came out in 1968, the story and message of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” is unchanged and is still appropriate for today’s audience. This tune is a bit more of a bare-bones production, and Ivey does some nice organ work to fill in the gaps. This final song remind us of how strong Moore’s voice still is, having held up so well over the last 40+ years of studio work.

Dorothy Moore did an admirable job of putting together Blues Heart, and if you are looking for a laid-back blues vibe you will get a kick out of it. I hope she is working on a follow-up, because her experience is so valuable to the blues community, and I think she has a lot more to say to us.

Mahalo!

Monday, April 8, 2013

2003 Fender Japan Jazz Bass 62-75US Review

Aloha!

There are few things sweeter than a good Fender Jazz Bass, and we are looking at a pretty good one here today. I will not give the usual rant about how good Japanese Fenders are, but just say that this one meets my high expectations. This is a recently imported crafted in Japan Fender 62-75US Jazz Bass that came straight to me from Tokyo.

The model code is easy enough to decode: the 62 indicates that this is a 1962 re-issue, the 75 is the original sales price (75,000 Yen) and the US means that this bass shipped from the factory with Fender United States-sourced pickups. This bass looks the part, with a smart 3-tone sunburst finish (poly) over the ash body and a faux tortoise shell guard. I have to say faux, because I recently got an email from a lady that thought it was terrible that they make these pickguards out of tortoises. Really.

The neck is slim with a pretty rosewood fretboard. The 20 original frets are vintage sized, and there are nice full-sized tuners, not the wrong-looking small base tuners that are found on the 62-58. The logos all look right and they even put the extra strap button on the back of the headstock.

They also put the right bridge on this bass, a serrated vintage style unit with the period correct ground strap running from it to the pickup cavity. There are the usual Jazz Bass volume/volume/tone knobs connected to the single coil pickups. No big surprises here.

The overall condition of this instrument is fair, with normal play wear and a couple of notable issues from its earlier life. There is a huge finish chip on the back of the body, and an impressive cymbal ding on the edge of the fretboard. I will leave the chip alone, but the fingerboard ding will have to be addressed, as it bugs me when I play this bass.

Other than these issues, this is a wonderful instrument. The frets are still in good shape and are still level – it has a good low action. The US pickups are a bit beefier, with more output than their Japanese counterparts. It plays nice, and has the right look and sound. What more could you want?

Mahalo!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Shredfest 5 Kid’s Cancer Benefit and Auction – April 13, 2013 at House of Blues in Hollywood

Aloha!

A friend of mine clued me in to a neat event next weekend at the Sunset Strip House of Blues in WeHo: Shredfest 5 to benefit pediatric cancer research. This is put on by a wonderful organization, Shred Kids’ Cancer.

Cancer is a terrible disease and I am sure that almost everybody has a loved one who has suffered from some form of it. There are many organizations that raise funds and awareness for cancer, but Shred Kids’ Cancer is a little different. Here is their mission:

“Shred Kids' Cancer is a 501c3 non-profit public charitable organization dedicated to serving our community by offering a solution for kids to help fight kids' cancer and show their peers who are suffering that they are here to help them. This is an organization made up of kids and started by a kid. Kids can use their creativity and organization skills (with the guidance of adults) to make a difference by raising awareness and funds to support research that leads to improving the care, quality of life and survival rate of children with cancer. “

This is, by far, one if the neatest things that I have ever heard of.

Shredfest 5 is a big fundraising event for the organization, and there is a little something for everybody that participates. For starters, there is a battle of the bands, with nine bands on the bill. The winning band will get to perform in June at The Late Night Lounge at Michelle Clark's Sunset Sessions Rock!

There is also a silent auction of signed memorabilia from artists such as the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Led Zeppelin, U2 and Pink Floyd. Also being auctioned off is an assortment of quality musical equipment, including as guitars, basses, drums and live sound gear. There are non-musical items up for bid too, like vacations, movie tickets and whatnot.

Shredfest 5 will take place at the House of Blues in West Hollywood on Saturday April 13, 2013 from noon until 3PM. Tickets will be $20 at the door, or you can buy them in advance from participating bands for $15. Full details and a list of the bands and auction items can be found at their website: http://www.shredkidscancer.org/Shredfest_5.html

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Audio Technica AT-HA20 Headphone Amplifier Review

Aloha!

I avoid doing reviews on stuff that I cannot find any research material for, but I am going to make an exception for a neat headphone amplifier that I picked up in a secondhand store in Japan. Today we are looking at an Audio Technica AT-HA20, which I believe was never sold in the States.

I did not have a chance to try out this unit in the store, and have to admit I was initially puzzled by its appearance. Why stick a clear top on this thing if there is so much empty space inside, with nothing much to see? Then I plugged it in and had a moment of clarity. It turns out that the factory put a bad-ass blue LED inside so it lights up the cavernous interior and entertains the user. ‘Nuff said.

This amplifier has a clean appearance, with a machined aluminum case and the aforementioned clear top. The user interfaces on the front are kept to a minimum, with a power switch, ¼-inch and 1/8-inch outputs, and a volume control. On the back are stereo RCA inputs and outputs. The whole thing is powered by a hefty AC adaptor, and there is no battery option for this baby. It is really easy to set-up -- just find a 1/8-inch to RCA adaptor and you are good to go.

Beside not having a battery compartment, the size of the AT-HA20 keeps this from being a portable unit. It measures in around 1 ¾ x 4 1/8 x 6 inches, and it weighs a little under a pound. This is a good size for the desk, as it does not take up too much real estate, and Audio Technica put rubber feet on the side too so you can stand it on end if you want to.

The amp requires 500mA of power at 12 V, so it is not a real power hog. It has a maximum rated power stereo output of 100mW per channel at 32Ω with a total harmonic distortion of 0.5%. During normal usage at a more reasonably 20mW output, the THD drops down to less than 0.08%. The rated frequency response is 10 to 100,000Hz.

One of the reasons I use a headphone amplifier is to increase the volume when using high-impedance headphones with my laptop or iPod. The AT-HA20 does an admirable job of this, and the 64-ohm Sennheiser HD280 Pro cans that I use at work have plenty of output when running them with this amplifier.

The other reason I prefer to use a headphone amp is to improve the overall tone that I hear, and this is a lot harder to quantify and describe. But, with the added headroom, a lot more detail becomes evident, and to some degree the circuits will alter the overall sound of the source music. I find that theAT-HA20 is amazingly neutral and does not add much color to the sound, with a mild boost in mids and perhaps a slight increase in sibilance.

So, this amplifier also spruces up the sound of headphones that are maybe not too great, like my cheap-o Sennheiser HD 201s. It enhances the weaker registers, and gives the phones a more balanced overall tone. Overall, this was one of my better secondhand store finds, and it has taken up permanent residence on my desk.

After doing a search online, I am pretty sure that the Audio Technica AT-HA20 has been discontinued, but there is still some old stock out there, and a guy in Hong Kong is selling them $116 on eBay (with free shipping). If you have been jonesing for a headphone amp, this might be a good place to start.

Mahalo!

Monday, April 1, 2013

2nd Quarter of 2013 Inventory Update

Aloha!

The first quarter is over, and it looks like I need to have a garage sale to make some room out in the studio, so if you see anything here that strikes your fancy, let me know. Drop me a line if you see something that interests you, but don’t wait too long or you might miss out…

Basses: (it makes sense to start out here, as this is Rex and the Bass)

∙ Fender JV Serial 1957 Precision Bass re-issue, 1970 Precision Bass re-issue, Sting Precision Bass and MIJ Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass

∙ Sadowsky NYC Ultra Vintage P Bass

∙ Ernie Ball Musicman Stingray 4 with a 2-band EQ

∙ Spruce top and mahogany top Kala U-Basses

Electric Guitars:

∙ Yamaha SA-700 Super Axe

∙ MIJ Fender Telecaster Sonny, and two black CIJ Fender Stratocaster 1962 re-issues

∙ Gibson Les Paul Standard

Acoustic Guitars

∙ Martin D-28 and D-18GE

∙ Simon and Patrick Songsmith Dreadnaught

∙ Epiphone Masterbilt AJ-500RE and AJ-500ME

∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano and tenor ukuleles

Amplifiers:

∙ Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 12-T with extension cabinet

∙ Ampeg SVT Classic with an Ampeg 810 Classic Cabinet

∙ Ampeg V4B

Check in again on July 1 to see what has made the cut. I am motivated to make some room, so you know it will be different!

Mahalo!