Thursday, January 30, 2014

Re-carpeting Your Old Flight Cases

Buenos dias, amigos!

Flight cases are a staple of the professional music world, and they are used to transport and protect countless items that are needed for performances everywhere you look. They are custom made by companies such as Anvil, Calzone and Jan-Al, and they are ungodly expensive to buy new. But they are worth every penny.

I have quite a few that I use for shows that I put on, transporting cables, mixers, wireless systems, computer monitors, microphones and amplifiers. I picked up most of mine from Craigslist, often paying 10 to 25% of what they cost new. But, many times the foam inside has gone bad (crumbly or sticky), or is not configured how I want it to be, which can be a drag.

But I hardly ever fly with them or transport really fragile things, so I usually tear the foam out and line them with carpet. This makes for a neat appearance and actually frees up a lot more room inside the cases. As a public service, I thought it would be nice to share my technique for fixing up my old flight cases.

1. Tear the old foam out and clean up the insides. This is the worst part. It is best to go slowly and tear out the foam in big chunks. Remaining bits can be removed with a razor blade scraper and possibly some rough sandpaper. It does not have to look perfect, but get the surfaces as flat as you can. When you are done, give the insides a once-over with a shop vac to get all the little bits out.

2. Spray paint all of the corners and edges. This is a nice-to-do item, as it is nearly impossible to get the carpet cut close enough to the edges so that the light-colored plywood does not show through. I use black semi-gloss spray paint in all of the corners and on the edges that the carpet butts up against. If you don’t have spray paint you can use a Sharpie around the edges after you are all done, but it will be a hassle and will not look as good.

3. Cut the carpet to fit. I use rolls of gray indoor/outdoor carpet that I get from Lowe’s or Home Depot. They come in rolls of 6 feet by 8 feet, and cost about 20 bucks. This carpet is durable and looks classy, and each roll will do quite a few cases (I think I got 5 cases out of my last roll). Get a flat surface, such as a folding table) to work on, so you do not have to spread the carpet out on the floor while you work. I use a contractor’s straight-edge to get even edges, and trim the carpet with a box cutter or a pair of industrial scissors. Fit all of your pieces up in the case before your start gluing, because if something does not fit it is really messy to undo your mistakes once it is all stuck together. I usually trim the carpet so it extends up to the extruded aluminum around the opening edges.

4. Glue the carpet in. I use 3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive which has been an automotive upholsterer standby for ages. It runs about ten bucks per can also from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area with no open flames when you use this stuff, and wear a mask, disposable gloves and eye protection. The glue will go everywhere, so wear old clothes and put down some newspapers while keeping this process away from any items you do not want glue on. DO NOT SPRAY THE GLUE OUTSIDE ON A WINDY DAY. I only apply the glue to the back of the carpet, not the inside of the flight case, and I make sure that I get the glue all the way to the edges of the fabric. After waiting a minute or two it is ok to lay the carpet in the box, lining up the edges carefully and trying not to get any wrinkles in the fabric. It is a good idea to wear disposable gloves during this phase of construction too.

That is about it. It is a good idea to leave the case open for a day or two so it can air out because it will smell like spray paint and glue for a while. By the way, leaving it out in the sun speeds this process up a bit. I hope this helps, and drop me a line if you have any questions.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

2006 MusicMan SUB Sterling 4-String Bass Guitar Review


There is a company called Sterling by Musicman sells licensed imported copies of Ernie Ball Musicman instruments, and they recently introduced a budget series of instruments under the SUB moniker, which can be really confusing. You see, the Ernie Ball Musicman also sold a SUB line of instruments in the 2000s, and one of them was the Sterling bass. We are looking at of the originals today, a 2006 American-made Musicman Sub Sterling.

Back in 2003, the Ernie Ball company wanted to provide a lower-cost alternative to their top shelf guitars and basses; the Musicman SUB line of instruments came from this idea. These instruments were built in the same San Luis Obispo factory as their other products, but with features that made them more affordable. This included cheaper body woods and hardware, as well as textured finishes that required less labor and no polishing to complete. It does not say “Ernie Ball” anywhere on this bass.

Obviously, the SUB Sterling was their take on the Sterling, which has a smaller body and narrower neck than the Stingray. This one has a non-contoured poplar body that is finished in Graphite Gray, of which I have seen very few. Other available colors were: White, Black, Teal, Red, Blue, and Cinnamon. Many of the SUB instruments came with a lame faux diamond plate pickguard, but the later ones came with a black plastic guard. It makes all the difference in the world in the appearance of this bass.

The neck is maple (painted satin black) with a 11-inch radius rosewood fretboard and 22 high-profile, wide frets sunk into the fretboard. This is a 34-inch scale instrument, and the neck is 1.5-inches wide at the compensated plastic nut (early SUB basses did not get the compensated nut). The neck on SUB basses is attached to the body with six bolts and they get the usual truss rod wheel for easy adjustments. By the way, there was also a fretless model available, and they came with a pau ferro fingerboard.

The hardware is a bit cheaper than what is found on the Ernie Ball basses. The chrome-plated open gear tuners are not from Schaller, and though the bridge is similar it seems a bit cheaper (but it still has stainless steel saddles). They had to get the price down somehow, you know.

The electronics are not from the bargain bin, though. These basses come with a single Musicman humbucker that has a volume control and a 3-band EQ. I am not sure if they have the phantom coil or not, and I never took mine apart to see.

So, this was really a good bass, regardless of how much it cost (which wasn’t very much, really). The pickup is mighty, and it has that distinctively strong Sterling tone that quite pleasing. Though the hardware was not quite as good as the stuff on their higher-priced models, I never noticed any problems with sustain or tuner slippage.

The craftsmanship was what I expected to see coming out of San Luis Obispo – the neck pocket was tight and the frets were good, with nicely finished edges and a level fretboard. It weighed a touch under 9 pounds, and it balanced nicely on a strap. The non-contoured body was uncomfortable for me, as I was used to contoured Sterlings by the time I got the chance to own one of these.

Overall this was a great bass, but I was always more of a Stingray guy instead of a Sterling guy anyway. You know how it is – old dogs and new tricks….

The MusicMan SUB Sterling basses were made from 2003 to 2006, and back then they were quite a bargain, with a list price of around $1000 and a street price of $700 or so, if I remember correctly. They did not make a very many of these basses, and I do not see them come up on the used market very often. But when they do, they usually sell for well under $500 bucks, which is a good deal on a US-made bass that plays well and sounds good.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Eric French & Mr. Hyde -- Old City Blues Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the April 25, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Eric French & Mr. Hyde – Old City Blues

Self Release Through French Maid Music

8 tracks / 34:50

Maybe it is the long and cold winters, but New Englanders are unusually tough individuals. Providence/Boston denizen Eric French personifies this, having beaten leukemia and made his own way out into the world as a musician. This skilled singer, songwriter and guitarist even holed his band up in a snow-bound Vermont cabin in the dead of winter to record the new Eric French & Mr. Hyde album.

Old City Blues is Eric’s second release, and this self-produced collection is a more mature and refined work than his debut double album, Eric French & Mr. Hyde. Old City Blues is unique in that he released the songs in three batches over the past year, only recently issuing a disc that includes all eight tracks. French wrote seven of the songs, and chose an amazingly reworked Tom Petty cover to round things out. Joining him on this album are Walter Skorupski on bass, Corey Schreppel on the skins, and Tim Butterworth on the piano and organ.

Eric is not terribly old, yet he has been playing the guitar for the past 20 years and it does not sound like he has been lollygagging either. His playing is confident, and he is secure enough that he can focus on playing with feeling while fitting into the song rather than acting like a star and aiming to impress with pyrotechnic guitar runs. You will hear this right from the beginning as he starts the album off with “Baby Where Ya Been,” a slickly-written rhythm and blues tune.

The traditional blues elements are there for “Poison in Mah Pie,” such as the song structure and the age-old story of a lady trying to off her old man. But Eric brings it straight into 2013 by choosing a modern sound and very clever present-day lyrics. Butterworth’s organ work adds a funky note to this one, as well as the jazzy instrumental, “Spread it Around.” I appreciate it when a talented band like this chooses to not add words to one of their tracks so that all of the individual parts have a chance to shine. This one has a mellow start then builds momentum until it erupts into a full-blown blues jam.

“Evenin’s With the Blues” is an uptempo piece with a plentiful helping of tasteful acoustic and bottleneck slide guitar. He has a fabulous voice, and despite his Yankee heritage French has a bit of a southern accent when he sings. This is the perfect tone for him to take on songs like “Gonna Get” and “Middle of Love” which both have really great lyrics.

Then there is his cover of “Free Fallin’,” which happens to be my least favorite Tom Petty song. The band kept the original lyrics and started from scratch with the music, and it turn out that the music was the part I did not like about the original. This version is a rocking mashup that sounds like collaboration between AC/DC and the Allman Brothers. That turns out to be a good thing -- Eric has only recorded one cover tune, and he knocked it out of the park.

The last song on Old City Blues is the title track, and is the longest one, coming in at 7 ½ minutes. This slow-rolling pure blues tune is another instrumental. Skorupski’s bass and Schreppel’s drum are totally in the pocket and provide a great foundation for French and Butterworth to go to town and play some incredibly soulful solos. What a cool way to finish things up!

All in all, this album is a neat piece of work, and it left me wanting more. If you like it and want to see Eric French in person, he has been performing both solo acoustic and full band shows around New England; judging by his work on Old City Blues I think it would be a great idea to track him down and see what he is doing.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

1973 Fender Precision Bass Review


Today we are looking at a real sweetheart of a vintage bass that will have its 41st birthday in a couple of weeks – my former 1973 Fender Precision Bass.

CBS-era instruments are much maligned because Leo Fender took the magic with him when he left the company, plus the early 1980s axes were total crap, but there were plenty of really nice products that were built in the 1970s. They are still affordable, but prices are creeping up as guys like us can no longer afford stuff from the 1960s are buying the later stuff. This ’73 P bass is a good one, and is amazingly original. I cannot find any replaced parts except for the output jack washer, and the only modification I can find is where someone installed a thumb rest in a truly bizarre location.

Four pieces of ash were used for the body, and it was sprayed with a clear finish at the factory. It is in remarkably good shape with just light wear and no terrible buckle rash or ill-advised touch-ups. White is not my favorite pickguard color for a natural bass, but it is original and has not broken around the output jack like so many of these.

The neck is date JAN 5 1973 and it is B width (1 5/8-inches at the nut). The headstock has a few dings, but the decal is good and the inlays are in good shape. There is a little separation between the skunk strip and the maple, but it has been professionally filled and it feels fine. The neck is true and the truss rod works fine and it has not been shimmed. It still has the original nut, so somehow it escaped the 1970s without the indignity of having a brass nut installed.

As I said, this is a good bass, so it has been played a lot over the years, and though the frets are not worn out, they are low. Chris over at Long Beach Guitar Repair touched them up a bit and set it up with Flats (D’Addario Chromes), and it has a few years of good playing left before it needs any major fretwork.

Over time the original nickel hardware has tarnished, but it is all still functional. The tuners are a bit stiff, and could use some cleaning, the bridge saddles are a tad worn and the chrome is worn off the volume and tone knobs in spots. But, what do you expect after 41 years? The bridge and pickup covers look right, but I have no way of knowing if they are original to the bass. But, everything else looks right, so I am giving them the benefit of a doubt.

The electronics are awesome. The pickups have 1973 date codes, and the stackpole pots are dated the 4th week of 1973 too. Even the jack and cap look to be untouched. The pickups have plenty of output, and the pots work smoothly with no pops or static. I keep them dimed, anyway…

This bass even came with the original Fender case which is in good shape and perfectly functional thanks to a couple of replaced latches. It still has the original orange interior, and even has the dealer tag from Metronome Music of Mansfield, Ohio.

So, this bass still has all of its original parts and they are all in good order, and taken as a whole this thing works very well. The neck has the 1970s fat U shape to it, and really is a peach to play (I think it has a 7 ¼-inch radius fretboard, too). The tone is pure Precision Bass, and you would be hard-pressed to find one that plays and sounds as well. The only downside is that it is a tad heavy, coming in at 10 pounds, 1 ounce according to my digital scale.

This one did not stick around too long, as a local guy wanted it a lot more than I did, so I moved it along to him. But don’t worry -- I still have my ’57 re-issue plus a killer Sadowsky P, so the Precision Bass is still well-represented here.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review of Candye Kane Live at Harvelles in Long Beach, California


After following her music for years, I finally had the opportunity to check out Candye Kane live at Harvelle’s in Long Beach, California on Friday December 13, 2013. If you have not been to Harvelle’s before, it is a satellite location of the 80 year-old Santa Monica institution, and it opened in 2011. You will find this dark and cozy blues den in the basement of the Congregation Ale House on the Long Beach Promenade.

Candye Kane is a legend in her own right, with a truly amazing life story, and she is a heroic blues performer who has appeared on stages all over the world despite significant health challenges over the past few years. Her personal successes and challenges have surely contributed to her convincingly soulful voice. She was joined onstage by Laura Chavez on guitar, Kennan Shaw on bass and Kurt Kalker behind the drum kit.

On this evening, Candye got the 9:30 time slot, right after a party featuring White Boy James (which is quite an experience; you will have to ask me about it sometime). There was a $10 cover and 2-drink minimum, but nobody seemed to be enforcing the drink requirement. They loaded onstage in record time and kicked-off right on time with no fuss and a minimal soundcheck. They are professionals, you know.

And I was blown away by their performance! Her band is tight, and Laura Chavez has the most amazing chops, definitely ranking her among the best guitarists I have ever seen live – right up there with all of the rock and roll gods that I grew up with. The backline of Shaw and Kalker were dead-nuts on, and provided the foundation that any good band has to have.

Candye’s voice was great, and she played two sets peppered with songs from the dozen+ solo albums she has cut over the years, with the mix more heavily weighted with material from Superhero, Coming out Swinging and Sister Vagabond. Oh yes, and she even threw in a few Christmas-themed songs and provided plenty of banter throughout. She took time between sets to greet her fans and sign autographs, so that she got no break at all – she is the hardest working woman in show business.

It turns out that Friday the 13th was not unlucky for me, and I had a great time! I cannot stress enough that you have to see her live show, so please check out her Facebook page to get the latest tour dates, and for more info seek out her website at -- you will be glad you did!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Epiphone Thunderbird Bass Hard Case Review


Anyone that has a Gibson or Epiphone Thunderbird bass knows that you cannot buy one of these instruments and then stick it in a one-size-fits-all case. I tried a few hard and soft cases and none of them came close to fitting so I ended up having to order the factory case for my Epiphone Thunderbird Classic IV. It certainly was a mixed experience.

This is really the only choice, as I cannot figure out how to order one of the beautiful Gibson brand Canadian-made TKL cases, as they only sell them with the basses (and used ones are no bargain on eBay, either). So I shopped around and found that the Epiphone cases are the same prices everywhere, so I ordered one from Amazon to take advantage of their free shipping.

And when it showed up it was pretty much what I thought it would be. The case is made in China, and it is plywood covered with Tolex and lined on the inside with plush gray fuzz. There are three latches with a key-type lock on the center one. Does anybody actually lock their cases? The hinges seem solid enough, and will definitely outlast the Tolex. The bass fits like a glove, and there is no movement at all once it is nestled into its recess. The handle is comfortable, it balance well when carrying it and there is a huge storage are under the neck support. So far, so good.

It is heavier than hell, but then again it is made of wood so that is to be expected. But a legitimate concern is the quality of these cases. The Tolex is not terribly thick, and it appears that there was little effort to get sawdust and crap off the wood before they glued it down. This means that there are weird bumps all over the outside of the case. And worst of all, the screws that hold the center compartment in place missed their mark, so it is not held in by anything.

I debated about whether I should try to fix it myself, but decided that if I did and really screwed it up they would not let me return it. So it went back to Amazon and they shipped a new one out immediately and I had it in hand a few days later. The replacement case was the same, but with the compartment properly screwed into place. Good enough.

As I said, the Epiphone Thunderbird bass hard case is the only game in town, but at least it is not super-expensive. The list price for one of these cases is $148 and the street price is $97.50 – just make sure you buy it from a retailer with a good return policy in case it is not up to snuff.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Stewart MacDonald Guitar Strap Button Review


Not everything that shows up this blog has to be complicated, and today we are looking at a product I wish I had found a few years ago – Stewart MacDonald strap buttons. But, these are not the plain old conical ones that have been on electric guitars since the beginning of time, but are deluxe pieces that will match the end pin on your beautiful acoustic guitar.

I am as guilty as the next guy for installing strap pins on the neck heels of my acoustics. I hate typing a strap to the nut end of the neck, and I think the guitar balances better with the strap at both ends of the body. I know it may be considered heresy, but both of my Martins have strap buttons on the heel now -- but these Stew-Mac buttons make this modification a lot more tasteful.

The buttons are available in white, fake ivory, ebony and snakewood, and they measure 17/32” across by 7/16” tall. The white and ivory models are made machined from some sort of high-zoot plastic, and the others are real wood, or so I have been told. All of them are machined, so there are no seams, and they have brass bushings inside so they will not crack if over-tightened. Thinking about it, I would much rather crack a strap button instead of my guitar, so maybe this is not a great selling point. They come with your choice of gold or chrome screws (no black, sorry), and they range in price from $4.80 to $5.60, with discounts if you buy ten or more.

Installation is pretty easy, and Stewart MacDonald even has a tech tip on how to install one. If you are not sure what you are doing, your local guitar shop can put one on in a minute or two. Also, these parts do not come with a felt washer, so you will have to order them separately (10 for $3.50).

I think they look sharp, and will keep these in mind the next time a new acoustic guitar comes into the studio.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Chicago Blues Guide


The music genre most closely associated with Chicago is the blues, and if you are looking for information about what is going on in the Chicago blues scene, you will want to become familiar with Chicago Blues Guide. This online “Webzine” not only tells you where to go to find live blues entertainment, it also provides info on music that local artists have released.

Chicago Blues guide was founded by Linda Cain, and is written by her and a staff of contributors with diverse backgrounds, but a singular love for great music. These folks provide reviews of CDs, DVDs and live shows, as well as features that include artist interviews and book reviews. Besides this, there are listings of upcoming local shows, lots of photos, lists of Chicago record labels and clubs, and links to your favorite artists’ web pages and cool radio shows.

In case you have not figured it out yet, I am now writing for Chicago Blues Guide, so I would certaibly appreciate it if you would head over to their website to see it for yourself. So, for all the info about what is going on in the blues world of the Windy City, be sure to check out


Monday, January 6, 2014

Altered Five Gotta Earn It Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the March 7, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Altered Five – Gotta Earn It

Self-produced through Conclave Records

10 tracks / 40:56

There is a lot of great music that comes out of the Midwest, and I find that many of my favorite rock bands and blues artists come out of that part of the States. I don’t know if it is the long cold winters, the flat land, or something special they add to the water, but I am not questioning the results. Altered Five comes straight out of Milwaukee and lives up to my expectations for a fine Midwestern blues and soul band!

Altered Five has been together since 2002, touring and playing festivals with material that consisted mostly of gassed up and funky versions of cover tunes. You can hear their takes on songs from artists such as The Pretenders, Sting and Prince on their 2008 debut album, Bluesified. But as of late, they have been focusing more on writing their own songs, as you will hear with their follow-up effort, Gotta Earn It.

Seven of the ten songs on Gotta Earn It are originals, with just a few wisely chosen cover tunes from Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, and Buddy Guy. This quintet (Altered Five, get it?) includes Jeff “JT” Taylor on vocals, Jeff Schroedl on guitar, Scott Schroedl on drums, Mark Solveson on bass and Raymond Tevich on keyboards. These guys are all very good musicians, and all of those gigs have formed a very tight connection as they are perfectly in sync and groove marvelously with each other.

They start the CD off with a cover tune, and by their song choice, you can tell right away that they changed their game plan and no longer cover the tops hits of the past few decades. “Ain’t that Peculiar” is a 1965 song from Marvin Gaye that was written by Smokey Robinson and the other guys from the Miracles. This was a popular song from Marvin Gaye back in the day, but it is certainly not as popular (or catchy) as “Heard it through the Grapevine.” The band has turned up the rock and tempo knobs on this version and cleverly arranged it so it sounds edgy but not harsh or too complicated. Taylor’s voice is powerful and raw, and it is perfectly suited to the blues rock that Altered Five creates.

The other two cover songs are also pretty cool, and the band went to a lot of trouble to make them their own. “You’ve Got to Earn It” is another Smokey Robinson song that was a Temptations B-side from 1964; though the words are the same, Altered Five’s version is a lot funkier. And Willie Dixon’s “Watch Yourself” is faster and edgier than the version that Buddy Guy recorded back in 1961.

You will find that their original songs are very solid, too. The lyrics are not terribly complicated and mostly use predictable rhymes, but in each case they do a good job of painting a complete musical picture. In the course of the album they are able to provide a little bit of something to interest most average blues or rock fans on Gotta Earn It.

“Three Wishes” is a mournful soul ballad with a lot of gospel sound to it and truly bummed-out lyrics. Scott Schroedl and Mark Solveson are hold down a steady and restrained bottom end while dual piano and organ parts play under scorching guitar riffs and solos. There are also a few nice blues pieces, but none of them are in the same style. Though “Keep the Best,” “Older, Wiser, Richer,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Tight Spot” are all different types of blues, they all have the Altered Five sound to them. This unique sound is more noticeable because of the way this album was mixed, as every instrument really jumps out at you. If you don’t like the music in your face, this might not be for you…

While everything this band plays has a little funk to it, they went all out on “Dynamite.” This song is covered with distorted guitars and vocals, and fairly simple lyrics to elicit thoughts of a truly deadly lover. And to finish things up they ended the CD with “Bounce Back,” which is the most pop-oriented of the bunch. Taylor smoothes his vocals out and tones things down, showing that his vocal skills are multi-dimensional. I would be slacking off here if I did not provide an honorable mention for Tevich’s funky organ work -- it is really quite amazing.

Altered Five has avoided the sophomore slump with “Gotta Earn It,” and in fact it is a better album then their debut due to the inclusion of their own material. They have an original sound while providing entertaining blues-based music and you will find that it is certainly worth the time to take a listen.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

tc electronic BG250 1 x 15 Bass Combo Amplifier Review


Bassists are always looking for more power out of their amps, but also want them to be as light as humanly possible. It used to be that these things did not go well together, but since the GK 400RB came out, the proliferation of solid-state amps has been impressive. Today we are looking at one of the fruits of these efforts, the entry level tc electronic BG250 1 x15 bass combo amplifier.

The BG250 combo is reasonably sized, measuring around 29” tall by 23” wide by 19” deep. It is covered in black Tolex over a plywood cabinet with a black metal grille on the front. It weighs in at a sprightly 35 pounds, so it definitely meets my lightweight criteria. There is a single rubbery carry handle on the top, but it is so light that it is good enough for the job. By the way, the ugly BG250 Toneprint logo on the front is a static-cling sticker that peels off easily enough.

As you probably guessed from the name, this combo contains is a 250-watt amp (Class D). It does not matter how many ohms we are talking about as there are no speakers outs, meaning you are stuck with the 15-inch driver and 1-inch tweeter that the BG250 comes with. By the way, BG250 is also available in 1 x 12, 2 x 8 and 2 x 10 configurations…

With just a power switch and IEC power cable socket on the back, everything you are looking for is going to be on top of the amplifer. And there is a lot going on!

There is a single input with a gain control and a 3-band equalizer. You will also find TubeDrive and TonePrint controls (each with their own ON/OFF switches) and a master volume control. The expected footswitch input, mute switch and balanced XLR out are provided, and extras include a 5-string bass tuner, an 1/8-inch headphone out and an 1/8-inch auxiliary input. Ah yes, and a mini USB port, which we will talk more about later.

I really like that they included the auxiliary input and headphone jacks, as this allows a player to plug in a CD or MP3 player and practice silently. A blessing for parents everywhere! Also if you purchase the optional tc electronic Switch 3 footswitch (street price $50), you can turn the TubeDrive, TonePrint or tuner ON or OFF, which would be really useful.

I guess this brings up the question of what TubeDrive and TonePrint are, doesn’t it?

TubeDrive is the simpler of the two features: it is a tube pre-amplifier and amplifier emulation. That it simulate both stages makes it different than other amps that have tube emulation. The more the knob is cranked, the more tube overdrive you get. As I said, it is footswitch controllable.

TonePrint is a lot more complicated. It allows the user to choose the type of effect that is installed on the amp, and new effects can be downloaded from the tc electronic website for free. Download is accomplished through an included (really short) USB cable or with a smart phone via the TonePrint iOS or Android app. The phone will actually communicate the new effect via its speaker to the amp through the pickups of your bass. Amazing! Only one effect can be on the amp at a time, and the default is the CF Chorus. There are also five other stock effects, including flanger, vibrato, octaver, SpectraComp, and Bass Drive. There are also custom TonePrints from popular bassists including Mark King, Duff McKagan, Roscoe Beck and others. That is a lot of technology for what is supposed to be an entry-level amplifier.

I tried out the BG250 with a few different basses tosee how it would work. This included a passive Precision Bass, an active Jaguar bass, and a Musicman Bongo 4H. With TonePrint and TubeDrive OFF, I thought that this did a very good job of reproducing the normal tones of these instruments, and the typical tc electronic clean sound that I have found on their other amps. I had to dial back the gain quite a bit for the Bongo, thanks to its 18-volt preamp. The tone controls are very useable, and I like that they designed these circuits with cut and boost at different frequencies.

Power-wise, this amp can hold its own, and the speakers are able to take most everything that it can put out. I would say that the volume is louder than last month’s Fender Rumble 350, and the overall sound and presence is quite impressive for its 250-watt output. It would work well for garage practices and small gigs.

The most impressive feature for me is the TubeDrive. It really can do the tube sound, and it was fun to crank in progressively more of this effect until I had a gnarly buzz saw tone!

I have no complaints about the TonePrint feature or its interface. I used both the iPhone app and the plug-in with the USB cable and they both worked as advertised. The 3-foot USB cable is a bit unnerving, as I do not like getting my computer that close to a big speaker magnet. The effects are really pretty neat, though I have to wonder how many people in the real world are going to go to the trouble to download these effects, and I would have been just as happy to not have this feature, and have a simpler (cheaper) amplifier. You have to admire tc electronic for thinking outside the box, though! The XLR output worked well when I put the amp through my PA, and I ever tried out the practice mode by plugging in my iPod and playing through my headphones. This worked nicely, and the headphone output was strong enough to drive some pretty high-impedance cans.

There were a few bummers about the BG250, though. It has perhaps the most fragile Tolex I have ever seen, and setting another head on top of it resulted in a neat circular cut in the top. And the on-board tuner is terrible -- it had a hard time holding a tone, and is pretty much useless.

So, the tc electronic BG250 is a great entry-level combo amp with decent power and excellent portability, but I think the Toneprint software is not necessary at this price point. These amps have a list price of $599 and a street price of $399 but I have seen retailers closing these out at around 300 bucks. You would be hard pressed to find a better amplifier for that kind of money.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

1st Quarter 2014 Inventory Update

Hi there!

Time flies by, and it is time again for the quarterly update of what is stacked up around my studio these days. I have made a little room recently, but there are always a few things that I can move along to someone else. So, if you see anything here that you cannot live without, drop me a line. It is all good stuff…

First off, the basses (only 3?):

∙ Fender JV Serial 1957 Precision Bass re-issue

∙ Sadowsky NYC Ultra Vintage P

∙ Aria Pro II SB-900

Electric Guitars:

∙ MIJ Fender 1962 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ Gibson Explorer – still apart for a project. I can hardly wait to see it!

Acoustic Guitars:

∙ Martin D-18 Golden Era, Little Martin and Backpacker steel string

∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele (on loan to a friend)


∙ Ampeg V4B

∙ Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 with Aguilar GS112 and GS112NT Cabinets

∙ Genz Benz Contour 500 210 Combo with 115 Extension Cabinet

∙ Fender Twin Reverb

∙ Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP

Check in again on the first of March to see what is still around. If you know me, you know it will be different!