Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review of Jimmy Herring’s Subject to Change Without Notice


This CD review was originally published in the December 6, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Jimmy Herring – Subject to Change Without Notice

Abstract Logix Records

10 tracks / 59:54

Whenever I get a new album, I always try to figure out what genre the music fits into and often times find that iTunes does not agree with my gut feeling on the matter. Subject to Change Without Notice from Jimmy Herring defies my attempts to categorize it, as there are no two songs that fall into the same genre. And this is cool with me, because a CD with ten songs that all sound the same would be pretty darned dull. By the way, iTunes says this collection is “Dance & House” music, which is not even close in my book.

North Carolinian Jimmy Herring has led a wonderful life as a guitarist, having studied at the two best guitar schools in the United States: the Guitar Institute of Technology and the Berklee College of Music. Plus he has played all kinds of music with some of the best musicians around, including Phil Lesh, Derek Trucks, John Popper, the Allmann Brothers and members of the Grateful Dead. But most currently, he is the lead guitarist for Widespread Panic, which has to be the most underappreciated southern rock band on the planet. Flipping though his discography I found that he has appeared on over twenty albums for various bands and artists, and all of them are quality projects.

Subject to Change Without Notice is Jimmy Herring’s second solo release, following up on 2008’s Lifeboat. He plays guitars on this album and is joined by musicians Neal Fountain and Etienne M’Bappe on bass, Jeff Sipe on drums and Matt Slocum on various keyboard instruments. Jimmy wrote seven of the ten tracks, and the remaining tunes are respectful covers of songs from The Beatles, Jimmy McGriff and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Studio legend John Keane took care of the production chores, and contributed some sweet pedal steel as well.

Jimmy Herring is a guitarist, so it is no surprise that this is a guitar-centric album, and his fans will note that this disc strays further afield than his previous release, which was more of a jazz fusion effort. “Red Wing Special” starts things off with a bang as Nicky Sanders plays a mean gypsy fiddle while Herring shows off his nifty picking skills. The speedy bass and boppy drums complete this very complex 5-minute package, and prove once again that in the music world it is entirely possible to have the total equal more than the sum of the individual parts. This stuff just works thanks to the superlative musical skills of all of the participants. By the way, this tune is an instrumental (as is the rest of the album) so you will need to be inspired by the music, not the words.

The slow rock jam “Kaleidoscope Carousel” is up next and we get to hear Jimmy’s slide and rhythm talents, which are bundled together over the very pretty keyboard layers. Then on “Aberdeen” we get to hear Herring play truly smooth guitar solos in a waltz tempo. His guitar takes the place of the human voice in this song, and makes the mood while B3 master Ike Stubblefield lays down some serious gospel organ on this track. Ike also pitches in on Jimmy McGriff’s “Miss Poopie,” which has a marvelous groove.

Carter Herring (Jimmy’s son) lends his cello to the mix on a faithful re-do of George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” and John McLaughlin’s ethereal song “Hope.” His instrument is an unexpected voice that works well in conjunction with his dad’s guitar. Bill Evans provides a tasteful jazz tenor saxophone break on “Hope,” a song that has held up well since it was originally recorded back in the 1970s.

My favorite track on Subject to Change Without Notice is “Curfew,” which features the most popular banjo player on the planet, Bela Fleck. This song has really fancy country picking that would do Albert Lee or Chet Atkins proud. The drums and bass back off to more simple lines, allowing Jimmy and Bela the opportunity to shine as they play in perfect sync and then riff off of each other. The upbeat mood of this tune carries over into the finale, “Bilgewater Blues.” Matt Slocum brings the funk out on this one with his mighty keyboard skills, and Jimmy lets loose one last time with his mighty guitar chops.

With its wide range of genres there is a little something for everybody on Subject to Change Without Notice, and you do not have to be a guitar aficionado to appreciate the great collection of music on this disc. Be sure to check out this release and Jimmy Herring’s other work, as he is a real American treasure.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Rest in Peace, Ray Mazarek: February 12, 1939 to May 20, 2013

TC Electronic Polytune Chromatic Tuner Review


It seems like I write about a new electronic tuner every month, and it is no surprise as there are metric ton of these things out there nowadays, and you know what? They are all pretty good! It took a long time, but my trusty Boss tuner pedal was finally supplanted by the mighty Peterson Stomp Classic. Today we are looking at the latest challenger that was plugged into my board: the TC Electronic Polytune. This thing brings a lot to the table…

I have used plenty of TC Electronic equipment over the years, and it has been universally good stuff. They have been around since 1976, and I really like the tone of their amplifiers and effect pedals. Their products are solid and reliable, and are a definitely a good value. The Polytune is no exception.

The tuner is compact, measuring 3 by 5 by 1¾ inches, and it weighs in at a solid 10 ounces -- it is certainly a compact package. It seems sturdy, and I think it will survive drop test nicely. It runs on a 9-volt battery (that requires a screwdriver to access) or an AC adapter that is not included. It draws around 50mA. If you run it on the AC adapter there is a 9-volt out so you can use it to power other pedals. Do people use stuff like this? I don’t…

The Polytune has a ¼-inch input and output jack on either side and NO built-in microphone. Boo! On the back are the power jacks, and a small USB port that is apparently something they use at the factory. So it is not some kind of cool output or portal for installing new presets. Interesting.

The only control is the bypass stomp switch, and this unit is equipped with true bypass, which is a godsend. I would not consider a tuner pedal without this feature. The display has oodles of tiny mutli-colored LEDs with the standard configuration of red for out of tune and green for in tune. It is super easy to see in all light conditions because TC Electronic included an ambient light sensor so it can adjust to how much light is available. This is nice as it is not too blinding on dark stages, and you can still see it in daylight. Of course, the glare direct sunlight is still kind of a pain.

The specs of this unit look ok on paper, with accuracy of about 0.5 cent, and A 440Hz is adjustable from 335Hz to 4550Hz. As far as I can tell, the Polytune delivers on these promises.

So far, none of this stuff is terribly unusual, but TC Electronic has provided a neat twist. The Polytune has a logic called “MonoPoly” that allows the tuner to discern if you played one string or all of them. If you played one string it will go into the usual chromatic mode, but if you play all of the strings it will go into polyphonic mode and you check the intonation of all of your strings at the same time. Really – it will display all six and tell you which ones are in tune, flat, or sharp.

Initially this might seem like a gimmick, but it is truly awesome and a huge time saver, particularly if you are on stage getting ready for the next song in your acoustic coffee house set.

Does this polyphonic feature work on all guitars and basses? I do not know, but it works on all of mine. Electric guitars (Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul, Explorer), active basses (Sadowsky, Marcus Miller, Stingray), passive basses (Precision and Jazz), and my acoustics with pickups (Takemine and Martin). All of them worked fine, though I must add in the disclaimer that I use normal tunings. If you use alternate or drop tunings (from E-flat down to B) the Polytune is supposed to work, but I cannot personally vouch for it. The same goes for 5-string basses – I just do not have one lying around right now.

By the way, the polyphonic mode seems to work better when using a pick on both guitars and basses. See what you think…

So, the polyphonic modes is a great tool for quickly checking to see where the guitar is, tuning wise, but I still prefer to fine tune each string individually in the regular chromatic mode. Since it automatically switches modes based on what the user is doing, this is not a big deal.

There are two different display options, too. There is a conventional needle style, or a streaming mode which kind of replicates a strobotuner effect. I have tried both and each works fine, and both will hold notes for a good length of time. I have no preference for one display mode over the other, strangely enough.

By the way, when you select different modes or reference tones, this unit will memorize you settings after it powers off, so you do not have to set it up again every time you use it.

In actual day-today usage, the tuner works just fine, and It did not add noise to my signal chain when put in my effects loop. The Polytone will run for about 6 to 8 hours of continuous use on a good quality battery, which is in line with other tuner pedals I have tested.

The Polytune is very good, and if I needed a new tuner pedal in its price range, it would be one of my first choices, if only it had an internal microphone. But this is a moot point as I like the operation and features of my Peterson strobotuner better, so it is not going anywhere in the near future.

The TC Electronic Polytune pedal is priced competitively with the rest of the chromatic tuner market, carrying an MSRP of $149, and a street price of $99. This includes the tuner, a 9V battery and some 3M Velcro so you can attach it to your pedal board (a nice touch).

By the way, TC Electronic also has a Polytune app for the iPhone. I will have to give it a try and report back to you…


Friday, May 17, 2013

2012 Martin D-28 Acoustic Dreadnought Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a guitar that never stood a chance in my collection, a 2012 Martin D-28 acoustic. This is no fault of the guitar, but is it an innocent bystander of my fickle nature. It is still a beautiful dreadnought that anyone in their right mind would be glad to possess.

The D-28 is a classic in the Martin line, and it was put into production shortly after the D- series was introduced in 1931. This guitar hit the market at exactly the right time, and its full range and sweet tone were just what the performers of the day were looking for. As time went on, this became the signature model in the company’s line-up and it became the guitar of choice of for musicians from all genres, including legends such as George Jones, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley.

There were a few cosmetic changes to this model over the years, and some structural and functional changes including a slimmer neck and better internal bracing. The 2012 Martin D-28 we are looking at today represents the zenith of this guitar’s development, and it is a solid piece of work.

On initial inspection the D028 does not look super fancy, but it is still a very handsome instrument. The solid sitka spruce top has a nice grain, and fortunately it is not as blindingly white as some new Martin guitars I have seen. The sides and back are made from pretty solid East Indian rosewood. The body has multi-layer black and white binding, which looks very nice. It carries over to the purfling on the back. The black pickguard and the rosette are not my favorite look, but it they are well accomplished.

The neck is a fine piece of workmanship. It is made of satin-finished hand-shaped mahogany with an ebony fretboard (the bridge base is ebony too). The neck is not bound, and 14 of its 20 frets are clear of the body, which is a change that Martin made in 1934. The neck has an easy and shallow profile, with a 16-inch radius and a 1 11/16-inch wide nut. The nut and compensated bridge are both made of bone.

Grover tuners are installed at the factory, and they hold well but I am not sure that they really fit into the look and character of the instrument. There is no electronics on this one, but supposedly there is one available. The $95 K&K Pure Mini is a nice choice for these, if you want to plug in.

And the craftsmanship is first-rate. I came out of the box perfectly set up, and the nut and fretwork is unparalleled. It plays very smoothly, and it feels very comfortable even without any break-in period. It can be a very loud guitar, and the more you lean into it, the more you realize how well balanced it is from string to string. I go back and forth on whether I like the sound of mahogany or rosewood better, but the tone of this one is great, so rosewood it is…

These guitars are fantastic, but not terribly cheap. A brand new Martin D-28 has a list price of $2799 and a street price of $2399, which includes a nice molded hard case and a limited lifetime warranty for the original purchaser. Think of it as an investment in your future, as these guitars will last a lifetime if kept in a loving environment.

By the way, a while back I went on the Martin factory tour and got to see first-hand the care that goes into building these guitars, and it made me proud to own one. If you are ever in Eastern Pennsylvania, I highly recommend that you stop by their factory for a tour.

Unfortunately for this D-28, the week after I picked this one up I stumbled across a D-18 Golden Era, and the its Adirondack top distracted me so much that I had to off this one in a big hurry. So, this guitar moved on to a fellow in San Diego, and he loves it to death.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Yamaha MG82CX Mixing Board Review


I have tried plenty of mixing boards in the past, but only use Yamaha boards these days as they reliable, easy to use and relatively cheap. I have a few different ones, depending on what job I am doing, and the MG82CX is the smallest of the bunch. It is a really neat piece of equipment, too!

This mixer is useful in situations where I need just a few microphone inputs and/or want to run my iPad through the PA. It also works wonders for karaoke parties. All of the basics are there, such as EQ functions, an effects loop and a headphone out, as well as a neat array of DSP effects. Besides the regular stereo outs there is also a pair of monitor outs. By the way, all of these outputs are ¼-inch, not XLR.

Like all Yamaha mixers, they play a little trickery with their specs. They call this an 8-channel unit, but is you look at it 6 of the channels are the 3 stereo inputs that are only controlled in pairs. Sounds like 5 channels to me, but since I have owned other Yamaha mixers, I knew this before I bought it.

I have used it for a few parties and small gigs and have been happy with the sound. If you do not go overboard with the effects they can be a nice addition, and the compression controls for channel 1 and channel 2 work reasonably well. With only 2 buses there are not a lot of options for monitor output, but if you need that much flexibility you are probably going to buy a bigger mixer anyway. Sliding faders and mutes switches would have been nice, but at this price point I am happy enough with the knobs that they provided.

By the way, this is one of the few mixers out there that can be mounted to a microphone stand (if you purchase the optional adapter kit). The MG82CX is made of plastic, so you have to be gentle with it, and if you need something to use on the road everyday you might want to consider a sturdier product. But, if you do not need a powered mixer or a bazillion input channels, this would be a great mixer for the money.

The Yamaha MG82CX has a list price of $209 and a street price of $159.99. This is a bit more than the slightly larger MG102C that I also use, but having the effects makes it worth price differential, especially for karaoke. If you are doing small shows, it is definitely the pick of the litter.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Orange OBC410 Bass Cabinet Review

I remember when I started playing bass that everybody and their brother was using speaker cabinets with 15 or 18-inch speakers in them. Guys that used cabinets with 10 or 12-inch speakers usually teamed them up with larger speakers because there was not enough air moving to satisfy them. In 1988 (or so) I endured a deafening audition/practice at an airplane hanger near Santa Anita that shredded the speakers in my two old-technology 4x10 cabinets.

Everything has changed over the past 25 years, and now there are plenty of 4x10-inch cabinets out there that have a full range of sound and sickeningly huge power capabilities. Today we are looking at the Orange OBC410 bass cabinet that I tried out recently with the Orange Terror 500 bass head -- it is a nice piece of work, for sure.

This is an imposing cabinet, measuring 24 by 24 by 18 inches and weighing in at a spine-compressing 95 pounds. It earns this weight honestly through liberal use of 13 ply high-density 18mm birch plywood. This English-made (really?) product comes in two colors: orange or black. But why would anyone in their right mind buy one of these and not get an orange one? There are nice skids to help protect the tolex, but no wheels. Ouch.

This cabinet is loaded with four 10-inch heavy-duty Eminence speakers coupled with a crossover and a n Eminence APT80 horn. It is rated at 600 watts at 8 ohms. There are two parallel ¼-inch/Speakon connectors on the back panel, along with a 3-positon horn control switch (Hi, Lo and Off).

I hooked the OBC410 up to the Terror 500, and let fly with a few different active and passive basses. My initial impression was that it had a very tight and punchy sound and that was well-balanced with the horn control in the Off position. This cabinet certainly took everything that the 500-watt Terror could dish out, and it got to incredible volume levels with consistently good bass and no farting out.

I tried the horn control switch in the Hi and Lo positions, and was not happy with the higher registers in either one of these modes. For a thousand bucks, I think they could have included a variable control like the other manufacturers use. As it sits, I think the horn is not terribly useful.

What can I say? It is pretty nice and it sounds good, but the Orange OBC410 has a list price of $1379 and a street price of $999. This is very spendy for what it is and I am not impressed with the horn control. There are plenty of good 4x10 cabinets out there for less cash, and the only reason I would ever buy one of these is if I really wanted an Orange head and needed a matching cabinet to complete the set. This is not going to happen…


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Orange Terror Bass 500 Amplifier Review


I am a fan of the Orange Tiny Terror guitar amplifier, so it was only a matter of time until I made time to review their equivalent bass head, the Terror Bass 500. Though it is not a full tube head, this hybrid unit is still a pretty neat piece of work.

In case you have been living under a rock, the Orange Music Electronic Company is a British amplifier manufacturer that has been around since 1968, and they have maintained a loyal following. In recent years they have shown a resurgence in popularity, as they have introduced some compelling new products.

As I said, the Terror Bass 500 is a hybrid amplifier, meaning that it has a tube pre-amplifier stage and a solid-state power amplifier. The preamplifier is based on a pair of 12AX7 tubes and the power stage is a class D amplifier that is rated at 500 watts at either 4 or 8 ohms.

This head unit fits in with the whole “Tiny” theme. It measures a scant 12 x 7 x 6 inches, and it comes in around 11 pounds. That class D technology really is quite miraculous, insn’t it? It carries over the visual theme too, with a white-finished steel chassis and nice looking silkscreened graphics.

Like its bothers in the Orange line-up the Terror 500 is not terribly complicated to use, so setting it up the first time should only take a few minutes. On the back are two Speakon speaker outputs with a 4 ohm / 8 ohm switch, and a socket for the IEC power cord. Why doesn’t everything use an IEC power cord? That’s it for the back.

On the side (yes, the side) there is a balanced XLR out, a ground lift switch and the effects loop ¼-inch jacks. And on the front there is the power switch (yay!) a single instrument input, and active/passive switch, and knobs for volume, gain, treble, mid and bass.

That is it – this is really quite simple. It is a single channel amp, so there is no switching, and there are no effects built in. Plug it into you speaker cabinet, set the impedance and start experimenting with the knobs. Unlike some other new amps, the flat setting appears to be all of the EQ knobs at 12 o’clock.

And right out of the box, this thing sounds killer. I plugged it into an 4x10” Orange OBC410C 8 ohm cabinet and the tone is satisfyingly warm and round, and is definitely tube-driven. Dialing in gain results in plenty of dirt (in a good way), and the distortion is glorious. It cannot do a perfectly clean and sterile tone, but someone that is buying the Terror 500 is probably not looking for the GK sound.

Volume-wise, the Terror 500 is about on par with the Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 that I currently use and the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 that I have tested before. It is pretty loud, but it is no SVT. If you are looking for the same tone but with ridiculous power, Orange has the same-size hybrid Terror 1000, which might be enough to get the job done for you.

I think that the Orange Terror 500 is a nice amplifier, and it certainly sounds good. is a tad spendy for what it is, with a list price of $1139 and a street price of $899 (which includes a nice padded travel case). In this price range they have to compete with the Tone Hammer ($699) and the Shuttle 6.2 ($755), and if you are not totally hung-up on having the Orange tone these other amps will certainly get the job done for less cash. I suggest trying and comparing before buying…


Thursday, May 9, 2013

K&K Sound Pure Mini Acoustic Guitar Pickup


I have a very nice Takemine acoustic guitar with a fantastic electronics package that really has me spoiled. But there are occasions when I would want to plug in my other nice acoustic, a Martin D-18 Golden Era, so I started looking around for a pickup I could install that would not change the appearance or structure of the instrument. I finally decided on the K&K Sound Pure Mini pickup. It was a good choice!

K&K Sound is originally from Germany, and they started building equipment back in 1984. They relocated to Coos Bay, Oregon in 1995, and they have created quite a reputation for selling first rate acoustic instrument transducers.

The K&K Pure Mini used to be called the Pure Western Mini. I guess they didn’t want to make people think this pickup is only good for country music. K&K recommends it for all types of steel string acoustic guitars.

The Pure Mini is a 3-head bridge plate transducer and it attaches easily with super glue gel to the underside of the top. It is also easy to remove without damaging the guitar if you are careful, but there is a chance you will break the pickup. I had mine professionally installed as it required that the end pin hole be enlarged to ½ inch. This does not bother me as there are oversized end pins available if I ever decide to go back to the stock configuration.

So, how does it sound? It has more output than any passive acoustic pickup I have ever used. This fullness of sound is evenly balanced from string to string and the tone is very woody and natural. It is quite a peach, and I do not find the lack of controls to be the least bit of a bother. I have mostly used it with my Fender Acoustasonic DSP 30 combo amplifier though I have also used it with my mixing board (with a DI box, of course). It works great in both of these situations.

If you are looking for a basic acoustic guitar pickup system the K&K Sound Pure Mini cannot be beat. It has a list price of $130 and a street price of $90. If you are unsure of how to install it, I recommend that you get your local luthier to help you out. Give one a try!


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review of John McLaughlin’s Now Here This Album


This CD review was originally published in the November 29, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension – Now Here This

Mediastarz Monaco Records

8 tracks / 50:00

I have been put in the trick bag again, having the opportunity to review a new album from one of my boyhood guitar heroes, John McLaughlin. Fortunately he has put together yet another fantastic collection of music, so I am not in the bad place of having to be a harsh critic of his work. Now Here This by John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension is fifty minutes of well-crafted songs that shows that he is still at the top of his game.

John McLaughlin has been around the block a few times, and has guitar credits that few others can claim. He has jammed with Jimi Hendrix, worked with Carlos Santana and Miles Davis, been a sideman for the Rolling Stones, and in 2010 the guitar god Jeff Beck called him “the best guitarist alive.” I could go on for hours, but you probably get the picture. He is joined on this album by his band of the last five years, The 4th Dimension, which now includes Gary Husband on piano, Ranjit Barot on drums and the masterful Etienne M’Bappe on bass guitar. You will notice that nobody gets vocal credits because there are no vocals, which is not unusual for a John McLaughlin album.

Now Here This is McLaughlin’s 24th album, if I counted them right, and he gets production credit as well as writing credit for all eight tracks. I am not too eager to classify this music, but if pressed I would call it post-bop jazz fusion (which is really a vague cop out, isn’t it?). But it would be more useful to think of it as four extremely talented guys getting together to make some complex sonic textures. A great example of this is “Trancefusion,” the first song on Now Here This. This is a seven minute thesis on how to properly play the tightest fusion on the planet. McLaughlin and M’Bappe double each other’s lines at a frenzied pace while Ranjit Barot crawls all over the drums, and this song comes off like a drum solo with melodies written over the top of it.

Fortunately, McLaughlin knows that few listeners can handle a whole album of high energy jazz fusion, and things get funkier with the blues-based “Echoes from Then.” There is still plenty of complicated guitar work, but he never goes over the top and despite the speed at which he plays, he is still able to infuse feeling and musicality into the tune. But the real high point of this song is Etienne M’Bappe’s popping bass lines that go where few others have gone before.

Things finally slow down for the smooth and sexy “Wonderfall” which starts out with some pretty fretless work from M’Bappe. Gary Husband also gets a chance to show off his keyboard skills on this song, and the natural piano sound is a lovely contrast with the synthesizers and synth-guitar that are also used here. He obviously has great improvisational chops and a good feel for the keys, which must be a prerequisite for membership in The 4th Dimension. If it had words, this would be a ballad, and it is a nice chance to take a breather before things take off at full speed again with the precise and intricate melodies of “Call and Answer.”

“Take It or Leave It” is the final song on the album, and at under four minutes it is also the shortest. This funky tune is like having a sweet dessert after a meal. It is also a reminder that this quartet has all of the talent in the world, but also shows that they are still able to work well together and play off each others’ strengths.

Now Here This is a very well made album, and the production values and mixing are first rate. I would expect nothing less from John McLaughlin, who is has more experience than anyone in the business. Keep in mind that the content is jazzy, and if you are in the mood for some bare bones blues or rock, this fusion CD will not be your cup of tea. But if you are looking for a tight rhythm section, great improvisational keyboards and one of the best guitarists on the planet you will find the real deal here.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Radial Engineering Firefly DI Box Review


I have amassed quite a collection of DI boxes, and I have to say that my favorite of the bunch is the Radial Engineering Firefly, which is also the priciest of the bunch. This is not too surprising, I suppose…

Radial Engineering builds an impressive collection of products, including one of my favorite passive direct boxes, the JDI (which I still need to write a review of…). None of their stuff is cheap, as they use quality components and their boxes are built with workers earning first-world wages in Canada.

Firefly is big and heavy for a DI box, measuring around 5.25 x 8.25 x 1.75 inches, and coming in at a bee’s dick under 4 pounds. This is a solid piece of work with a gnarly 16-volt external power supply and depending on how you want to use it, you might want to spring for the optional rack mount kit. No matter how you use it with the quality of its construction it should last you for years and years of studio and/or road work.

On the back you will find the sockets for the power supply as well as two ¼-inch input jacks. These allow two guitars to be plugged in, although only one of the signals can be used at a time. They are switched with the select switch on the front panel or with the optional footswitch. There are LEDs for each channel so you know which one you have selected, and each one has its own trim pot. There is also a ¼-inch “Insert” that allows you to run effects straight into the unit for both channels.

The outputs on the back are a balanced XLR out and an unbalanced auxiliary ¼-inch out. This means you can run the ¼-inch out to your stage amp and the XLR to the mixing board. Or a recording console. There is an extra ¼-inch tuner out too.

Some other extras (also on the back) are little tiny ground lift, phase polarity, and pre-post switches. The pre-post switch will change whether the amplified signal comes before or after the tube. Mmmm. tube.

Besides the channel trims, the other controls are simple, yet innovative. There is a Level knob that controls the master volume for both outputs and a Low Cut control that works below 500Hz. It will go down to -25dB at 100 Hz. The super-neat feature is load adjustable drag control, so you can change the stock impedance its preset 3.9 MΩ. The stock setting is good for active pickups and passive piezo units. By using the controls range of 22 kΩ to 500k Ω, you can get the most out of the Firefly with a wide assortment of passive magnetic pickups. This kind of flexibility is astounding.

I forgot to mention that the optional footswitch also has a mute switch. Maybe I should see about getting one of those.

The Firefly does the basic DI stuff, which is making a low-impedance balanced signal out of your bass’ high-impedance unbalanced signal. It is amazingly quiet and natural sounding, and it has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. These things are pure heaven to work with when they are plugged into your board. But it does a lot more and really ends up being a kick-butt preamplifer too.

You see, this Radial unit has a Class A FET front end and a 12AX7 tube drive circuit. The tube gives the output sound a new level of warmth and robustivity. This is universally true with every instrument I plug into to it. I have tried it with a plain-old passive P-bass, my active Sadowsky, and even 18-volt Kubickis, and Musicman Bongos, and they all came out sounding better than they do dry. Having two inputs channels is really handy for having an active and a passive bass plugged in, so you can set levels for each of them and then leave them alone.

The Firefly is not just for basses, though I hear it works marvelously on double basses too. I have used it with my Stratocaster and my Martin D-18GE (with an add-on K&K Pure Mini pickup), and it killed with them too. This might be a keeper.

The only thing I am lukewarm about is the drag control. I have messed around with it and only saw small changes in the tone, and perhaps not enough of a change for me to even want to mess with it anymore. Still, this is not a deal-killer by any stretch of the imagination, and I am sure there are some aficionados that would give their left nut to have this feature.

So, the Radial Engineering Firefly is the best direct box I have ever tried, and if you want one there will be a hefty price to be paid. It has a list price of $700 and a street price of $599, though some sellers will knock it down to fewer than 500 bucks if you haggle a bit. It is worth every penny…


Friday, May 3, 2013

2005 Gibson Custom Shop VOS Les Paul 57 Reissue Gold Top Review


Today we are looking at a lovely 2005 Gibson Custom Shop VOS Les Paul 1957 re-issue gold top guitar. It came from the factory with a gorgeous Antique Gold finish over the carved maple top, along with single-ply cream binding. This guitar has been subjected to Gibson’s VOS process, so it has a gently worn look (but not really reliced). It is one of the coolest looking guitars ever made, and it is a very good reproduction of the original!

The body is made of mahogany, as is the quarter sawn 1-piece long-tenon neck. The neck is killer. It has a bound rosewood fretboard with mother-of-pearl inlays and no wear at all to the 22 frets. It is a shame that many new Les Pauls do not come with a rosewood fretboard anymore. Of course the neck has the chunky and round 50’s profile, as this guitar very accurately replicates a 1957 gold top…

It has nickel hardware, which includes: Gibson vintage tulip tuners, a stopbar tailpiece and an ABR-1 Tune-o-matic bridge. Nickel is so much classier looking than chrome, if you ask me.

The pickups are the original Burstbucker 1 and 2 models, and the Custom Shop got things right by using CTS pots and bumblebee tone capacitors. They do a nice job of emulating the PAF bite that these guitars were originally known for.

Unlike many new Gibson guitars, this instrument really works well, and The Custom Shop guys should be proud of what they did with this one. The neck and the frets are perfect, and the chunky neck provides a tremendous amount of sustain and clarity. It plays like butter and sounds killer. It is quite possibly the best Les Paul I have ever played.

If you wish you could take a time machine 56 years back to 1957 to buy a new one, this is the closest you are going to get. Of course, you will pay for the privilege.

In 2005, the Gibson Custom Shop 1957 VOS Les Paul reissue gold top had a list price of $4778, and the street price was $3099. Fast forwarding to today, the list price is up to an astounding $6351, which works out to a street price of $4128. Though this is a very good guitar, that is a ridiculous amount of money to lay out. You have to want one of these really badly to drop that kind of coin…


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Buddy Guy’s Legends Club, Chicago Illinois


This past weekend I went to Buddy Guy’s Legends Club in Chicago, Illinois for the Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony. What a cool place!

Legend’s has been around since 1989, and everybody who is anybody has played there: Bo Diddley, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Black Crowes, David Bowie, ZZ Top, Junior Wells, Slash, John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Greg Allman. Oh, and Buddy Guy plays there every now and then too.

The stage is big, and there is plenty of seating, though it sure can get crowded in there. If you get there before it gets too busy there is plenty of stuff to look at. There are lots of cool photos, a few Grammys and guitars signed by a lot of the acts that have come through.

The food is pretty good, with some neat Cajun choices. They have killer fried okra and jambalaya, as well as po’boys, gumbo and catfish. They also have the usual American standards like burgers, ribs and chicken fried steak. There is not a lot of healthy stuff on the menu.

The drinks are stiff, and so are the prices for them. When you add this to the cover charge to get in (usually 10 to $20 for the evening shows), it can be an expensive outing. But, the staff is nice and the servers won’t leave you waiting around forever for your next drink.

So, if you are in the Windy City and want a cool place to hang and hear some great live music, Legend’s will be hard to beat.

If you want to check out Buddy Guy’s Legends for yourself, it is located at 700 South Wabash in Chicago, Illinois. They are open seven days per week: on Mondays and Tuesdays from 5PM to 2AM, and the rest of the week from 11AM to 2AM