Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Bopcats: 25 Year of Rock & Roll Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the January 16, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

The Bopcats – 25 Years of Rock & Roll

EllerSoul Records

17 tracks / 53:24

Lindy Fralin is a household name amongst guitarists, as his custom guitar pickups are well-regarded by players that are looking to upgrade the tone of their axes. Heck, I have bought a few of his products over the years too, and they were all worth the money. But they may not know that the reason his pickups sound so good is because he is an accomplished guitarist in his own right, so he knows exactly what kind of tone is needed for live and studio performances.

Lindy formed The Bopcats a quarter of a century ago, and they have been playing out of Richmond, Virginia ever since. His current band includes Paul Hammond on drums and Steve Hudgins on bass, but over the years he has been joined by his brothers John and Gary Fralin on the keyboards, and a retinue of great bassists, drummers and horn players. They have been making their bread as a gigging band, with their recording efforts limited to a few albums in the 1980s and demo tapes for their press kits. But they recently released a neat CD, 25 Years of Rock and Roll, and it is a great overview of their work, which is rooted firmly in genuine 1950s-style rockabilly.

This CD includes seventeen tracks, eleven of which are originals. The balance of the material is carefully selected covers from the likes of Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, and the Blasters, and there is not a clunker on the album. The band’s overall sound and tone was pulled straight from the early days of rock and popular country music, and is just as pleasing fifty years later. In keeping with the vintage vibe there is only one tune that clocks in longer than four minutes.

25 Years of Rock and Roll starts off with two original tracks, “I Don’t Want to Be Alone” and “Dark Train,” and right away you will hear that that these guys are adept at writing, and have nailed the rockabilly vibe. Fralin’s guitar is tight, the drums are snare-heavy, the bass is round and the keyboards support the songs well. The vocals are lightly soaked with reverb and their harmonies are spot on, making this the real deal.

The rest of their original songs are also very good, and my favorite of the bunch is “Wheels of Mine.” This tune has everything I am looking for: fun guitar parts, an upbeat tempo, and nice vocal harmonies. As an added bonus it is about cars, so what is there not to like?

Their cover tunes run quite the gamut. Even though Dave Bartholomew’s “Who Drank My Beer?” uses raging honky-tonk piano instead of horns, it still captures the spirit of the original. The Bopcats also include a respectful version of Bob Luman’s “Red Cadillac” that includes some of the most killer vintage guitar tone ever. Their cover of the Stones’ “Ventilator Blues” actually comes off better than the original, and the vocals are strikingly Jagger-esque. Dave Alvin’s “Marie Marie” plays very well, and reminds me of how much I miss the Blasters. One song that I never saw coming was a pumped up version of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm.” The band managed to convert one of my least favorite songs into something that I actually like listening to. Bravo!

The best thing about The Bopcats’ 25 Years of Rock and Roll is that this collection of songs is timeless. They could have been recorded in the 1950s, during the rockabilly renaissance in the 1980s, or today. You owe it to yourself to check out what these great musicians have put together here. It will surely put a smile on your face!


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review of Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California


I recently had the opportunity of the Priscilla Queen of the Desert stage musical at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, and was blown away by the production. This is fun show that is really well done, and it was definitely worth the braving the terrible traffic to get there.

The stage show is adapted from the 1994 movie by the same name. This film is a cult classic, with a fairly bizarre storyline. It is a tale of two drag queens and a transsexual woman that travel across Australia from Sydney to Alice Springs to perform a drag act, and meet the surprise son of one of the drag queens. Priscilla is the name of the tour bus that they use for the journey, and you can probably figure out the queen thing for yourself. It is full of sexist stereotypes and a bit of mild racism, but is still a pretty fun movie in a campy way. I liked it…

Priscilla Queen of the Desert was adapted into a musical in 2006 (also in Australia), and eventually moved on to Europe and Broadway in New York. The 2011 Broadway version was produced by veteran show woman Bette Midler. It was well-received by audiences and critics, and was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical award, and picked up a Tony for Best Costume Design.

This rendition of Priscilla is the first national tour of the musical, which kicked off earlier this year at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, and will finish up in September in Denver. The basic story follows that of the movie, with a few plot difference and timing changes, and includes a couple dozen singing and dancing numbers, mostly based on 1970s and 1980s pop and disco tunes. This show has a truly fun playlist, and a great book by Stephan Elliott and Alan Scott, the story carries very well from the movie to the theatre. Well, it is quite a bit happier than the movie, actually, which is what I had hoped for.

The sets and lighting were spectacular. The centerpiece is Priscilla, and it moved about on stage as needed and turned around so you could see its festive interior for some of the scenes. It also had oodles of built in lights so it could change colors as needed, and there were a number of sequences that took place on its. It was a striking effect and it really made the show for me.

The costumes were equally good. There were plenty of changes, and each one was more outlandish than the one before. Costume designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardner really outdid themselves.

The leads were well-chosen for their roles, and they did an admirable job of singing, dancing and acting. Wade McCollum took the lead as Tick (or Mitzi), and I felt true empathy for his character’s troubles. Scott Willis played Bernadette (the older transsexual), and Bryan West took on the role of Adam (Felicia). Willis and West had a great chemistry and the conflict from their opposing roles (traditional versus Modern drag queen) was really something to behold. West’s “Material Girl” was a awe-inspiring!

Joe Hart did a fine job as the “straight man,” as he was quite believable. I felt a little bad for Chelsea Zeno, who had to play the role of Cynthia, Bob’s gold-digging wife. She did well, but the role is racist and comes from misogynistic angle, and I don’t think it has a place in a 21st century musical.

The ensemble was a feast for all of the senses, with a pack of hunky and bitchy male dancers in almost no clothes, and a trio of divas that would miraculous appear all over the stage (and above) to sing for the masses. Well done, Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West!

The orchestra was small (about 10 folks), but how many musicians do you need for the 70s and 80s hits they were cranking out? They did a fine job of capturing the spirit of the originals, while giving them a unique tone, and I did not hear any miscues.

The only bad thing I have to say is that though the musical and vocals were great the sound engineer did a terrible job of mixing them. The vocals were often overpowered by the guitar and bass, which is a shame for everybody involved.

Despite this trouble, I have to wholeheartedly recommend Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The book, singing, acting dancing, costumes, sets and lighting were all spot on. It was the craziest and most fun musical I have ever seen, and it provided a 2 ½ hour escape from reality, which is exactly what I expect from musical theatre. The tour has left Los Angeles, but if it comes your way you have to check it out when it hits your town – you will be glad you did!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

tc electronic Polytune iPhone Guitar Tuner App Review


I love that my iPhone can do all kind of things so that I don’t have to carry around as much stuff anymore when I travel. I have not taken a camera on vacation in years, calculators are a thing of the past, and address books and planners have become redundant. Well, I don’t have to take a metronome or tuner with my anymore either.

I really like the way my Peterson Istrobosoft app works a lot like it pedal brother, so I was hoping the Polytune app would be like the tc electronic pedal, but it turned out to be a huge disappointment and a waste of 5 bucks.

This is really quite a surprise, because everything about the app looks good on paper (or the screen). The biggie is the Polytune technology, which allows you to strum all of the strings and get a snapshot of which ones are out of tune. Then you can pluck individual strings to fine tune them. This works very well on their pedal.

It also can be customized so that you can choose guitar or bass modes, and 5 semi-tones for drop tunings. The reference pitch can be changed, and it has a claimed accuracy of 0.5 cent – the same as the pedal.

A neat feature this has is that you can change the color of the display “LEDs” in case you are colorblind and have trouble seeing them. Also, it uses the phones microphone, so you do not have to plug the guitar in. Their pedal cannot do either one of these.

As with most tuner apps, there are plenty of customizable features, and all of this stuff is menu-driven, so it easier to make these changes than on the Polytune pedal. By the way, it will save your changes, so you do not have to set it up each time you use the app.

After I downloaded the app, I was amazed at how much more quickly it would load than the Peterson app. I mean, it comes on instantly without have to wait for the intro screen to turn off – this is a plus. But that was it for the plus column.

The Polytune app just does not work very well. When strumming all of the strings it goes into the multi-string mode and flickers on and off so that I cannot get a good fix on which strings are flat or sharp. It does this even with no background noise, and on every acoustic guitar that I tried – my Martins, the Takamine or the Masterbilt.

When playing single strings it was unable to hold a single tone for very long and would show all of the overtones in rapid succession. It did not matter if the strings were plucked or picked. When I could get a string to stay on the screen for a while it was about half a tone off. I doubled checked my settings, but it was not in a different tuning mode.

This app does nothing well, and I feel like I wasted my time and money. There is nothing else to say.

Should you take a chance and want to try this thing anyway, the tc electronic Polytune app is $4.99 from the iTunes Store. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Takamine EF341SC Acoustic / Electric Guitar Review

Hiya! John Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen are both from the Garden State, but that is not all they have in common. They both prefer the same acoustic / electric guitar for live performances: the Takamine EF341SC. These guys are at the highest level of the game and can play and/or endorse whatever instruments they want to, so there might be something to this.

Takamine is a Japanese guitar maker that has been in business for over 50 years now. Don’t sniff at their products and say that imports are junk, because they build some fantastic instruments. Thought they have built some solid-body electric guitars, they are best known for their acoustic and acoustic-electric steel string guitars. In 1978 they were one of the makers on the forefront of acoustic-electric guitar technology, and have been leader in pre-amplifier design and application ever since. Beside Bon Jovi and Springsteen, other notable Takamine users are Glenn Frey and Kenny Chesney. By the way, the company is named after Mount Takamine in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan.

The EF341SC (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) is part of their Legacy Series, that is hand-built in their pro series facility. It is a single-cutaway acoustic-electric dreadnought with a glossy black finish that covers up some very nice woods. It has a solid cedar top with scalloped X bracing and solid maple sides and back. The black finish contrasts nicely with the white 6-ply body binding and concentric rosette soundhole inlay. There is a single-ply black pickguard and a rosewood bridge with a bone saddle.

The body is pretty large, measuring almost 16 inches across the lower bout, and ranging from four to five inches thick. That big sound has to come from somewhere, you know.

The mahogany neck is a peach, and it is connected to the body with a dovetail joint. It has a 1.675-inch wide bone nut, and the cutaway allows access to all 20 of the frets. The bound rosewood fretboard has an 11.81-inch radius, and tasteful snowflake inlays. They call them snowflakes, anyway, but they look more like little plus signs to me. At the end are Takamine-branded chrome sealed-back tuners. They are probably made by Gotoh.

The EF341SC comes standard with the CT-4B electronics package, which is really neat. It uses a Palathetic under-saddle pickup, and it has a control plate on the upper bout with a 3-band EQ and a volume control. This panel also has a convenient (and surprisingly good) built-in tuner. The 9-volt battery is also accessed through this panel. Using a conventional battery and having it so easy to get at is a true bonus, in my book.

Craftsmanship is top-notch, with terrific fretwork and a great action right out of the box. It is very easy to play, and it is comfortable enough for the longest gigs. The black finish is flawless, which isn’t terribly easy with this color. These are very strong guitars, and I have seen them take a remarkable amount of abuse and still play and sound wonderful.

But the true magic is in how this Takamine sounds. Unplugged, it has a full and rich sound. It does not need any electronic trickery to make it work, in its nature it is a great-sounding instrument. The cedar top and maple body combine to give it a sweet and mellow tone or a powerful jolt depending on how hard you lean into it.

Once you plug it in you will hear what these big-time performers like about these guitars. The CT-4B relays the instrument’s sound very accurately. It instills a sense of warmth for more casual playing, but when it is played hard it can really cut through the rest of the stuff going on in a loud mix. This versatility is essential for a performer that is using it in a rock environment, but that still wants to be able to ooze out a ballad every now and then.

This is all really good stuff, and it works very well for recording too!

The only downside for me is its appearance. I am not a fan of the glossy black finish, as I prefer natural-finish acoustic guitars (and the black shows fingerprints and smudges like crazy), but it does look quite spectacular under stage lighting. Besides the color, I cannot think of anything I do not like about this guitar.

Compared to other guitars on the market, you get a lot of performance for the money on this one. The Takamine EF341SC has a list price of $1799 and a street price of $1249, which includes a very nice hard case.. Used ones are a pretty good deal, coming it at around half of that. If you need a stage-capable acoustic, especially if your music is more rock-oriented, you really ought to give one a try.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tascam TG-7 Guitar and Bass Tuner / Metronome Review


Well, the endless succession of tuner reviews continues. Someday I will get caught up on these, I promise…

Today we are looking at the Tascam TG-7 guitar and bass tuner with a built-in metronome. This little tuner tries to do it all, so let’s see how it works in the real world.

For starters, this is a fairly small tuner, about 6 x 2 x 1 inches, or the size of a glasses case. It has a built-in tripod mount as well as two flip-out mounts that help it stand up on a table better. These mounts have slots in them so you can clip it onto a music stand, if you want.

There are ¼-inch jacks for input and output on either end so you can put it in-line and use it live. It has a built-in speaker with a volume wheel for the metronome and tone functions, and an internal microphone for acoustic instruments. Switches on top turn the unit on or off, turn on the backlight for the 5-inch wide LCD display, and change the mode from mute to thru-put. The tuner, metronome and tone select switches are on the front, as well as the setup and up and down select switches.

The TG-7 runs on two AAA batteries (included), with no provision for an AC adaptor. Tascam says that it will go for about 300 hours on a set. I find that kind of hard to believe.

The tuner has 12 different modes that include guitar, bass, chromatic, drop-D, drop-G, open-D, open-G and five user-definable scales. It has a full range from A0 to C8, and it is supposed to be accurate to within 1 cent. The tuner can be calibrated from 349.0 to 499.0 Hz, in 1 Hz intervals. There are plenty of tuner display modes: meter (bar graph, animated strobe, fine, and needle.

Should you wish to use a reference tone to tune to, there is a built-in tone generator that will play notes from B1 to B6. The volume of this function is controlled by the aforementioned volume wheel on the side of the tuner.

And lastly there is a metronome that will count at between 30 and 300 beats per minute. There are 16 pre-programmed time signatures, so you will probably find what you need in there. There is a tap mode where you can match an existing beat and the metronome will continue on for you.

This stuff all sounds really good, but there is quite a list of stuff that I do not care for with this tuner.

For starters, it feels like a toy. The switches on the top are small and cheap feeling and since one of these is the ON/OFF switch I am reminded of it every time I use it. The display is wide, but it is narrow and it is dim so it is hard to see in most lighting conditions, even with the backlight on.

The menu structure is not terribly intuitive, and the manual is lame at best. There are quite a few mysteries every time I start monkeying around with the presets. It is almost best to leave alone and use it the way it came from the factory.

The metronome tone is harsh, but it is still not loud enough to hear over most normal playing. They strident sound of it cannot be customized, so you either have to put up with it or turn the volume down and stare at the tiny display screen.

On the plus side it seems to be accurate, but the rest of the stuff that is wrong with is overwhelming so it is not a very good value.

The Tascam TG-7 tuner has an MSRP of $79.99 and a street price of $49.99, but I see them on sale for under twenty bucks on occasion. But even at that low price, I will have to say pass on this one. It tries to do everything, but does none of it well. There are a lot better tuners out there for the money.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Fender American Vintage 1962 Re-issue Jazz Bass Review


The original stack-knob Fender Jazz Basses have been out of reach for the common man for decades now. They were only built for a few years in the early 60’s and hard core guitar collector snatched them all out of circulation years ago.

But, if you really want one of these basses, Fender built a very good copy for quite a while until a couple years ago when they finally discontinued it. This would be the Fender American Vintage ‘62 Jazz Bass (Fender part number 019-0209-800). It is a really neat instrument!

On careful examination, this U.S. built ax really looks the part. It has the contoured alder body with a well-done burst finish and a tort guard (black was also available).

The neck is a pleasantly C-shaped, and is made of maple with a rosewood fretboard. Of course there is a 1.5” nut and a 7.25” fretboard radius. They hammered in 20 vintage-profile frets, and dot markers. The markers are not clay or even tinted, which is a little disappointing. The headstock shape and logo are spot-on.

The hardware looks right too, from the serrated saddle bridge to the 4-bolt neck plate (with the serial number on it) to the strap button on the back of the headstock. Pickup and bridge covers are included with the bass, but the body if not drilled for them.

And lastly, the electronics are the real deal. Fender installed their Vintage Jazz Bass pickups, and they stuck with 60’s style bridge pickup placement (1/2 inch further from the bridge). Fender retained the stacked concentric volume and tone knobs for each pickup, which I feel is a lot more versatile that the subsequent volume/volume/tone control layout.

The 1962 re-issue bass comes with a nice vintage-style G&G tolex hard case, and the goody bag includes the aforementioned covers, as well as a vintage-looking strap that nobody ever uses. I am toying with the idea of installing the covers, but have not pulled out the drill yet.

This instrument came to me new with a terrible set-up and a sky-high action. I pulled the neck off a bunch of times and adjusted it with no joy. Having the truss rod nut at the heel is historically correct, but it is a world class pain in the ass. Anyway, I finally gave up and took it to my tech, who did a wonderful job of getting it set up for me.

I cannot blame the factory for the set-up, as it sat around for a long time at the store before I bought it. So it shows a bit of shelf wear, but the overall craftsmanship is very good, with a very pretty finish and nice but and fret work.

It has a fabulous sound with dead quiet electronics, and the neck is very playable. When I am using it, I am reminded of why I was drawn to Jazz Basses in the first place. The thin neck is easy to navigate around, and having the bridge pickup provides a nice edge that I do not get with my P basses.

But, unfortunately, I am still a Precision Bass convert, I really only need (or want) one Jazz Bass, and my Sadowsky handles everything this bass will, and then some. So, this one will not be along for very long.

The American Vintage ’62 Jazz Bass is not a cheap instrument, with a list price of $2149.99 and a street price of $1399.99. But it has a look and a slew of features and components that are not found on the American Standard basses, so it is worth the price of admission. Besides, if you take good care of it, in 50 years it might be a collectible too…


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sadowsky Metro UV70-MB-ASH-4 Electric Bass Review


All of a sudden it seems like July got to be Sadowsky month! Today we are looking at my current favorite jazz bass, a 2006 Sadowsky Metro UV70 (Ultra Vintage 70’s). This is one of the best sounding and easiest playing jazz basses I have ever owned, and there have been quite a few that have been through here over the years.

In case you are not familiar with the brand, Roger Sadowsky builds the best bolt-neck basses in the business out of his Long Island shop. Of course, you pay a premium to get your hands on one of them, with prices of most of them around $4000, and a six-month wait for custom orders. His Metro line is a little more accessible for the common man.

About a decade ago, Roger set up a production facility in Tokyo, which is the land of meticulous luthiers. Originally called the Tokyo line, they are now called the Metro series, and these are some seriously good instruments. The idea was to produce basses with the same electronics, but with no custom options so they can benefit from economies of scale. They also use less expensive bodies and necks, as well as cheaper labor to bring the prices down a bit, but don’t get the idea that these are cheap instruments, in any sense of the word.

So, Sadowsky Metro basses come in four or five string models with traditional precision and jazz bass profiles, rosewood or maple fretboards, and an assortment of pickup configurations. As I said earlier, there are no custom options, and if you are looking for a left-handed or fretless bass you will have to keep on looking. Generally they weigh a pound or two more than their New York-produced instruments due to wood selection and the lack of body chambering.

The only visual distinction between Metro and New York basses is that the Metro basses do not have the NYC letters on the headstock. That is it.

As I said earlier, we are looking at a Sadowsky Metro UV70 that was built in 2006. I am not the original owner, having bought it from a terrific guy through Talkbass. It is in great condition, unmolested and unmodified.

The UV70 is a jazz bass with a copy of Fender’s bound and blocked neck. There is no better looking fretboard on the planet, if you ask me. It has 20 frets and a curved heel, which is the only way to go, in my book. It has a truss rod adjustment wheel at the heel, so set-ups are easy. The neck is finished in nitrocellulose lacquer (like all Sadowsky basses).

This bass has a 2-piece ash body with a gorgeous grain, and it is sprayed with clear poly (again, like all Sadowsky basses). It has a 3-ply black pickguard, which is not my first choice, but it matches the fretboard inlays and binding, so I cannot complain too much. If I remember correctly, Fender guards will not fit these basses, so if I want to go tortoise shell, I will have to get one from Sadowsky.

Sadowsky says that these use the same electronics as their New York basses, so it has Sadowsky humcancelling coil pickups, and the much-copied Sadowsky pre-amplifier. As this is an older Metro bass, it does not have Vintage Tone Control, so the controls are volume, pan, treble boost and bass boost. Since this is a 70’s model bass, the bridge pickup is about ½-inch closer to the bridge.

I have owned and played both Metro and NYC basses, and in the real world they just do not sound quite the same. It probably has something to do with the wood they select, but the Metro basses generally do not sound quite as sharp. Don’t get me wrong, though, this bass still sounds incredible and the tone is way better than any bass that Fender or any other maker is building today.

The craftsmanship is befitting the price, with a perfect neck pocket, fretwork and nut. The frets show no wear and are still level as can seven years after it was built. The finish is even and the inlays and binding are perfectly flush. The chrome high-mass bridge and open-back tuners are still shiny and clean. This is a real cream-puff!

It plays just as nicely as it looks, and it is set-up with a tasty low action and a fresh set of D’Addarios. This bass is everything that the Fender Marcus Miller bass tries to be, but it is not. It looks better, sounds better and plays better.

Oh yeah, and this UV70 is quite light for a Metro, coming in at a bit under 9 pounds. I have seen these weighing in at up to 10 ½ pounds before. Ask the weight before you buy…

Metro basses come in the same Sadowsky ultralite semi-hard case that the New York basses used to come in (they have since changed to a deluxe hard case for their domestically produced basses).

So what is the final damage? The list price of a new ash-bodied Sadowsky Metro UV70 is $2975 and Sadowsky does not allow their dealers to discount these at all. This is about the price of a used NYC bass, and used Metros usually sell for a bit under $2000.

So, if you are looking for a Sadowsky, but just can’t pull the trigger for a New York model, this might be just the ticket for you. You will have a hard time finding a better bass, regardless of price.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sadowsky Preamp DI Box Pedal Review


Roger Sadowsky’s basses are the best built and sounding bolt-neck instruments you can buy. Their craftsmanship is impeccable, and their electronics have a unique tone that works for any bass sound I have needed to achieve.

If you want to get a taste of this sound without dropping 4000 bucks on a new bass, you can buy their electronics package and install it in your bass. But what if you have a vintage bass that you don’t want to modify, or what if you are not sure it is the sound for you? Well, you get on the wonderful internet and buy the Sadowsky preamp / DI pedal!

This pedal is a quality piece of equipment. It is not terribly big, measuring about 4.5 x 4.5 by 2.25 inches, and coming in under two pounds. It is heavy duty, with a crinkly black finish, nicely silkscreened graphics, and little rubber feet on the bottom to keep it from sliding around.

Inside are the same electronic circuits that you would find inside a Sadowsky bass. It is easy to set-up -- just plug in your bass and connect the box to your amplifier and /or mixing board, and you are ready to go. There is a single ¼-inch input as well as XLR and ¼-inch outs, and a tuner out.

The controls are simple too, with bass boost, treble boost and volume knobs, a ground lift switch for the DI, an ON/OFF switch (pre-amp bypass) and a Mute switch. The Mute switch works nicely with the tuner out. Anyway, it will not take a lot of knob-twiddling to find your sound with this one. Heck, you might have more knobs on your bass.

The Sadowsky preamp / DI pedal operates on a 9-volt battery, and there is a low battery LED indicator. Why doesn’t everybody do this? It will accept an AC adaptor, and Sadowsky recommends that you buy it from them. It is about 10 buck more than a generic one you might buy, but if you are going to get one, buy theirs. Most power supplies that you buy are switching units, which will add noise to the circuit. Sadowsky sells a regulated linear power supply, so it will be quieter. By the way, they recommend that you use only the battery for the quietest operation. I never plug my pedal into the wall, and the battery seems to last pretty long. If you are playing all day, every day you might want to buy the power supply.

I have tried it on all of my basses, and it added the Sadowsky sound to all of them without extra noise or weird tonal changes. I focused mostly on my Fender 57-reissue P bass and 62-reissue Jazz Bass. By experimenting with the knobs on the basses and on the preamp pedal I was able to get pretty darned close to the sound I get from my Sadowsky P bass and J bass. Of course they are heavier and the necks are not nearly as nice, but that is a different story. This box does everything that it is supposed to do.

I have seen a few guys whining on the internet about there not being a mid control. Well, guess what? Sadowsky has been building basses for decades without a mid control and they seem to work just fine. By the way, the reason that there is no mid is because they use a FET circuit (like a solid-state tube), instead of an op amp circuit. So, there is no way to wire a mid control so that it would not affect the treble and bass curves. So deal with it: either you like the Sadowsky sound or you don’t. Most bassists do like it…

The tuner out is nice, and there was not extra noise added to the signal when switching the preamp on or off or when going to mute mode. The pedal has a very sturdy feel, and it should last a long, long time. It will be worth every penny, should you choose to buy one.

The Sadowsky preamp / DI pedal has a list price of $289, and it can be purchased directly from the Sadowsky shop on Long Island, or from select dealers around the country. Check one out -- you will be glad you did!


Monday, July 8, 2013

Kenny Lavitz Flipside of the Blues Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the January 10, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Kenny Lavitz – Flipside of the Blues

Self Release

13 tracks / 46:04

Though the blues originated in the Deep South, these days you will find it coming from pretty much every corner of the globe. Over the last year I have seen a lot of great new music coming out of the Pacific Northwest, and Flipside of the Blues from Kenny Lavitz is no exception.

Kenny Lavitz is a guitarist and singer who has been working out of Portland, Oregon for the past few decades. He is originally from the New York/New Jersey area, and his musical journey has led him through stints in Miami, at the G.I.T. in Los Angeles, and five years of touring with his own band before settling down in PDX. This experience has provided him with a wealth of knowledge, and you can clearly hear his mastery of the guitar. And, of course, his background in latin and jazz always make his music more interesting.

Flipside of the Blues is Kenny’s third CD, and his first since 2005’s Too Many Hats. He wrote all thirteen of the tracks on this disc, and has done a nice job of integrating horn parts into the mix. Chipping in on this effort are Dave Fleishner on keys, John Hughes on bass, and Rudy Battjes on drums and percussion. The respectable horn section consists of Tim Bly, Renato Caranto, Pete Moss, and Paul Mazzio. Battjes was also responsible for recording and mixing, and co-produced the album with Lavitz.

Right from the start, listeners will find that this is a fun record. There is a blues base to most every song here, but the way Lavitz mixes in different styles (and that fabulous horn section) to create a glorious funk really does make this the flipside of the blues -- it is not just a clever title! The first tracks “What You’re Doing” and “Fish Won’t Bite” are delightful in different ways, the first with a hard 2 and 4 beat, the latter with a bar-room piano in the background. “Get a Little Funk” has a wonderfully punchy round bass line and a tight organ part that doubles up with and then plays off of Kenny’s slick guitar work.

Legendary New York City guitarist C Lanzbom appears on two tracks: “Hard Times” and “Get Up.” I am not sure who gets credit for which parts that are being played, but he works well with Kenny, and the end result is hard-core slide work and Hendrix-inspire wah pedal work in these songs. I was surprised to see his name come up on the liner notes, as he is not exactly located next door to Portland.

The lyrics of the songs are thoughtful and run the gamut, and my favorite ones from Flipside of the Blues are found in “On Her Way,” which he dedicates to his daughter. I was expecting a corny ballad, but instead got to hear a lively celebration of the maturing of his daughter – you can certainly hear the pride in his voice.

Kenny gave the horn players a rest and drove out of the funk groove for the last three tracks on the CD. “Turtles, Frogs and Snakes” is a hard rocking Texas boogie that makes me picture early ZZ Top. Greg Sommers lends a sweet harmonica tone on the instrumental “Association,” and this fits in nicely over Lavitz’s jazzy guitar. And the CD wraps up with a two minute track, “Another Another Day,” which is full of rockingly fat delta-style slide guitar. There is a lot more than funk going on here, for sure.

I like Kenny Lavitz’s Flipside of the Blues, and though is not the usual straight-up blues album, I think that blues fans will dig the funky vibe and first-rate musicianship and writing that are found here. Just hearing his guitar work, Hughes’ bass and Battjes’ drums are worth the price of admission, and all the other good stuff found within is icing on the cake. Give it a listen, and see if you agree!


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Long Beach Guitar Repair – Long Beach, California


I was profoundly disappointed when World of Strings closed down after 50 years in the business. It was the only good repair shop in town, and they could work on any stringed instrument. Plus, their staff was the best, both friendly and knowledgeable and willing to give informed information and opinions. ,

Fortunately for us locals, the void was not there for long, as last month four of their former employees joined up and opened their own repair shop just east of the old World of Strings location. If you ever frequented the old store, you will instantly recognize these folks and feel right at home. They are Brian Stewart, Chris Baird, and Guillermo Rios. Pam Spangler also came over and is running her violin and bow repair business out of this location.

There is not anybody else in town that you would want to trust your prized instruments to. Spangler worked at World of Strings for over three decades and teaches at Long Beach City College, Rios is a top-shelf flamenco guitarist, Baird was the guitar tech for Korn for more than ten years, and Stewart has been working in the business for almost 30 years (the last 14 at World of Strings). For what it’s worth, my wife thinks that Brian is cute and Chris has pretty eyes.

These guys have worked on my guitars and cello for years, and I would trust them to do any of my repairs, from set-ups to refrets or customization. They have made numerous unplayable Les Pauls work the way they should and helped make one of my semi-hollowbody guitars into the best instrument I have ever played.

They also sell strings and accessories, and they are stocking Ruben Flores and Almansa classical and flamenco acoustic guitars. Also, they have a nice selection of electric guitars and basses that they have built, and I am sure if you want to pick one up they will make you a fair deal for one.

All of this is good, but their experience really pays off for customers that are not really sure what they are looking for. If you have a kid that wants to get into playing the guitar, stop in and they will give you sound advice and will keep you from buying the wrong guitar that either costs too much, or that could be a piece of junk that will discourage the learning process. When you break the headstock off your dad’s old guitar, after you stop crying, loosen the strings and take it in. They have seen it all before and they will reassure you that it can be fixed well, and it will probably not cost as much as you think it will. This kind of stuff is priceless, my friends!

When I stopped in the other day to drop off a cheap-o Martin, it appeared that things are going well, as they all had instruments on their benches and their spirits were good. Their new shop is laid out well, and it is in a better neighborhood – heck, I even found a parking spot out front! Parking was a real bear at the old shop…

Long Beach Guitar Repair is located at 2930 East 7th Street in Long Beach, and they are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM. For more details about their business, check out their website at or search out their page on Facebook. Or, if you are social media-impaired you can call 562-621-9000. You will be glad that you did!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP


Today we are looking at a neat little amplifier that would be perfect for small solo acoustic setting: the Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP, an amplifier that was designed to handle both acoustic guitar and vocals simlutaneously. It was introduced about ten years ago and was discontinued a while back, but you can still find new ones out there for reasonable prices.

This amp is an updated version of the popular Acoustasonic 30, with new digital effects such as reverb, delay, chorus and Vibratone. You can probably figure out from its name that this is a 30-watt amplifier, and this solid state unit drives a single 8-inch LF speaker and a tweeter.

This comes in a nicely-sized package, measuring around 15 x 16 x 20 inches, and weighing a tic under 35 pounds according to my scale. The cabinet is shaped so that you can set it with so the speaker faces forward, or you can tilt it back so you can hear yourself better. It has a pleasant brown tolex covering and a tasteful tan and silver weave grille cloth.

There is not much going on the back of the amp: just an IEC-type power cable (yay!), a ¼-inch line out and a foot switch jack. The inputs are equally simple, with a single ¼-inch instrument input and an XLR microphone input. By the way, the XLR does have phantom power, in case you are using a condenser microphone.

Both of the input channels have their own volume controls, 3-band equalizers, phase switches to control feedback, FX selectors and FX level controls. The instrument channel also has a String Dynamics control to cut rowdy high-frequencies.

I tracked down the optional footswitch, which has two switches to cut the effects to the instrument and microphone channels. It was about 40 bucks, but it was worth it to me.

In the real world it is light and portable, and due to its simplicity, setting it up is a breeze. You won’t even need to look at the manual to solve mysteries of foreign knobs or features (now that I told you what the String Dynamics knob does).

Fender says that the Acoustasonic 30 DSP is “optimized especially for acoustic performers.” I don’t know what this means, but it sure works nicely with my guitars. I tried it with my Takamine EF341SC (active pre-amp) and my Martin D-18 Golden era that as a K&K Sound Pure Mini pickup installed. It performed as advertised with both of them.

The sound reproduction with both instruments was very true with the EQ set flat. As there are no controls on the Martin, I was able to optimize the tone with the EQ. I messed around with the String Dynamics knob, and I did not like the way it worked when playing fingerstyle, but it did calm down the top end nicely when I really laid into some heavy strumming. The effects are ok, but are best when added in small doses. If they get overwhelming the foot switch makes it easy enough to turn them off.

The vocal channel is very good. The effects are a lot more handy for this input, and adding a touch of reverb + chorus or chorus + delay made me sound a lot, well, better. Singing is not my forte…

It gets plenty loud for a coffee-house or small wedding/party gig, and it works well with no drama. So, pretty much it is a winner. I would buy one again if it broke. I still have plenty of the 5-year factory warranty left, though.

As I said earlier, the Acoustasonic 30 DSP has been discontinued, but they are still out there. They have a list price of $499, and new-in-the-box ones are selling for around $350. On the used market they are a real bargain, coming in around $200, or so. If you are looking for a single amplifier to handle your acoustic guitar and vocals, you will not find a better deal out there!