Saturday, March 29, 2014

2008 Sadowsky NYC Vintage Jazz Bass Review


Today we are looking at a very nice Sadowsky NYC Vintage 4-string bass guitar. It is one of the nicest basses I have ever owned, and that is saying something as a lot of instruments have come through the studio over the years.

Sadowsky NYC basses are built in New York City by Roger Sadowsky’s luthiers, and are the best Fender-inspired guitars and basses you can buy. Some haters (i.e. guys without enough money to buy one) sneer and call them “parts basses.” They should go buy a box of parts and see how well they can build one…

This bass was made in August 2008 for one of Sadowsky’s endorsing artists, Fuji Fujimoto, and it has quite a striking appearance. I am not ordinarily a fan of natural finish basses, but this one has a vintage tint applied to its ash body and it looks wonderful when contrasted with its tortoise shell pickguard. It is not too heavy, coming in around 8.5 pounds.

This bass has a traditional four-bolt neck and the neck pocket fit is super-tight, and after 10 years of use and transportation there are no signs of finish damage (i.e. cracking) around the joint. The Sadowsky luthiers really do a fantastic job.

The 21-fret neck is very good, and the original frets are still in great shape. The frets are perfectly level and are finished very well on the edges. It has a 1.5-inch wide neck with a 12-inch fretboard radius, but seems to have a shallower profile than most jazz basses. The trussrod adjusts at the heel, and there is a nice cutout in the body and pickguard, making the process a little easier. The tuners are first rate, as is the high-mass bridge.

This bass has its original hum canceling pickups and Sadowsky pre-amp with Vintage Tone Control. The knobs control: volume, pickup pan, VTC/preamp bypass (push/pull pot), and stacked bass and treble boost. Vintage Tone Control minimizes the treble for a darker tone, and works in both the passive and active settings. Overall this bass is astoundingly quiet, and sounds flawless. It is versatile, and can attain high-gain growliness and ultra clean tones.

The overall condition of this bass was very good when I had it, as It had been well cared for so it only had some light swirl marks on the body and pick guard. It played very well and sounded killer, but then again that is really the least I would expect from a bass that cost as much as it did.

So why did I get rid of it? For the amount of money one of these basses costs (even used they are stupid expensive), it has to be the perfect bass for my feel and playing style. I did not like the feel of the very thin neck, and I prefer the tone (and appearance) of a rosewood fretboard. I have since found a Sadowsky NYC Standard with a chunkier neck and a rosewood board that works out a lot better for me. Keep your eyes on the blog, as a review is coming soon.

If you want a bass like this, it might be time to start saving. A Sadowsky Vintage 4 starts at $4175, and it will take at least 6 months to get it built.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pacific Talent Academy of the Arts

Hi there!

The media focuses so much on all of the bad stuff that happens in the world, so there a lot of positive things that are going on out there that we never get to hear about. One of these would be the Pacific Talent Academy of the Arts, which is based out of Torrance, California.

This is neat organization, with a wonderful mission statement: “ The Pacific Talent Academy of the Arts is a multidisciplinary arts organization whose mission is to present, perpetuate and progress the cultural heritage of the Pacific Islands through quality arts education programs designed to kindle youths’ imagination, mentor their creativeness and develop their sense of possibility.”

There are no worthier goals than celebrating cultural history and developing the arts through our youth, and this group has both of these things covered.

The Pacific Talent Academy of the Arts is the sister organization of Fireknife of Samoa, and was founded in remembrance of Paramount Chief Uluao "Freddie" Letuli, the Father of the Fireknife Dance. Chief Letuli was an accomplished knife dancer that performed in Hawaii and Los Angeles, and later added fire to his routine after seeing a gypsy’s fire-eating act. He first performed the fire knife dance in 1946 at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and through the 1960s he performed with his many different dance troupes throughout the United States and Europe, showcasing his talents and his love for the island of Samoa.

In keeping with Chief Letuli’s spirit, this group works to preserve and perpetuate the performing arts of Polynesia by organizing free workshops, performing at community and cultural events. They target low income, at risk, under-served Polynesian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders and educate them through history and the arts, including, dance, music, cuisine, visual arts and film.

Your best opportunity to see what they are doing is at their annual “Weekend in Polynesia” event, which will take place on September 6 and 7, 2014 in Long Beach, California. The highlights of this event include a Tahitian Ito dance completion as well as fire knife championships. But there will also be crafts, activities for kids, hula lessons, language and craft workshops, musical performers and a worship service. This is a great family event, and admission is free of charge.

Anyway, I hope you find all of this as exciting as I do, and as this is a 501C3 non-profit organization, and I am sure they would appreciate any donations that would help them fulfill their mission. For more information on Pacific Talent Academy of the Arts, check out their website at


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

dbx DriveRack PX Powered Speaker Optimizer Review


When setting up the stage for a band or a hall for a DJ performance, there is usually not enough time to get everything right, and sometimes there is just not enough time to get a good sound check in. And even if you get a killer sound check in, the room will change throughout the event as people come and go and the dynamics of the band of music change. That is where products like the dbx DriveRack PX loudspeaker management system come in handy.

You may remember dbx, as they came to prominence in the 1970s for their compressors and noise reduction technology. Over the years they went through various parent company changes (BSR and AKG) and now they are owned by Harman international. It turns out that they still make some very nice live sound equipment, such as the DriveRack series.

The idea of DriveRack is to automatically optimize the operation of powered PA speakers. This system can quickly configure itself to optimize EQ settings for the room, and it uses an Advanced Feedback Suppression system to nip feedback in the bud. The result is a very clean sound and thumping bass that does not get all blurry.

The DriveRack PX is in the lower to middle range of this family of products, but it is certainly good enough for what I am using it for. Besides the features listed above, it also contains a classic dbx compressor, a dual-band 28 channel equalizer, a stereo multi-band parametric EQ, and a subharmonic synthesizer that provides that bass I was just taking about.

The PX fits in a single rack space, and connecting it to the PA system is a breeze. On the back are a pair of XLR inputs, two XLR main speaker outputs, and two XLR subwoofer outputs. Also on the back are an IEC power socket, an input pad switch and a ground lift switch. That is it, and the hardest part about this is figuring out where you want to put it in your signal chain. In my set-up it is the last thing in my signal patch before my powered speakers.

The front of the DriveRack PX is only a little more complicated, and if you can use a smartphone or an iPod it should not take you too long to figure it out. There are LED meters for all six of the XLR jacks on the back, a selector knob, nine switches for functions and set up, and another XLR inputand an RTA switch. What are these for? I’ll get to it in a minute…

Set-up is easy, if you can read a manual and follow instructions. Just press and hold the SETUP switch to create a new preset (many popular powered speakers are already saved in the unit), and the DriveRack will tell you what position to put the speaker level knobs in. Then select your subwoofer settings, and pull out the handy RTA microphone that came with the unit.

Set that microphone up about 25 feet away from the speakers and press the RTA switch, and pink noise will start to come out of the speakers. Then turn the knob until it reaches the sound level that you anticipate for the gig, and follow the prompts on the screen. It will automatically EQ the system for your room. Like magic!

Following additional prompts on the screen, it will walk you through setting feedback filters. After it is all done, do not forget to save your preset, so you do not have to complete all of these steps the next time you set up. Set-up should take no more than 20 minutes, and subsequent set-ups take maybe 10 or 15 minutes (you will need to pink noise the room each time). It is best to not try to set this up for the very first time at a gig when you are in a big time crush – experiment with it at home a bit first.

You can set up to 25 of your own presets, in addition to the ones you get from the factory. Of course, you can make things more complicated if you want to and this unit gives you the ability to spend all day fiddling with EQ frequencies, but if you are that kind of person you would not be buying one of these in the first place.

Once I did all of this set-up and got my first DriveRack-enabled dance gig going I was blown away. I was using a pair of 1000W QSC K12 main speakers and a pair of 1000W QSC KSUBs in a 500+ square foot carpeted hall, and I could immediately tell a difference. There was a lot more presence and headroom, and everything sounded more clearly with no harshness, even at ridiculous volume levels. This is a tough room to EQ, and usually the sound would get swallowed up, but this time it really came alive.

Score one for dbx!

My second experience with the DriveRack PX was at an outdoor punk/hard rock show that I was providing the PA and doing sound for. This time I brought a pair of 1300W Yamaha DSR115 mains with a pair of 800w Yamaha DSR118W subwoofers and a pair of 1000W QSC K12 speakers for floor monitors. This was an unbelievably loud show, but I went through the set-up wizard (not for the monitors, there is only so much this thing can do), and crossed my fingers for the 6 different bands on the bill. The sound was clear as a bell, and with four vocal microphones on stage and countless different singers of varying abilities and vocal strength there was not a single feedback incident over the next 6 hours.

Score two for the dbx, and I am willing to call it a win after this one. I will not go to a gig without this thing in my rack.

Fortunately the dbx DriveRack PX will not empty your pockets. This unit has a list price of $599.99 and a street price of $299.99, which includes the RTA microphone. That is one heck of a deal, and if you are doinglive sound with powered speakers I wholeheartedly recommend that you pick one up!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

AudioQuest DragonFly DAC 1.0 – USB Digital Analog Converter Review


I spend hours every day listening to music through headphones -- I write at least one album review each week, and it is also nice to have music going as I write for my blog and my day job. I never realized how lame the sound from my laptop was until I discovered the world of headphone amplifiers. Then my boss gave me an AudioQuest DragonFly Digital Analog Converter, and my world was expanded even further.

You see, your laptop is not optimized for audio playback. The managers and engineers in the computer companies’ product cheapening departments have to cut as many corners as possible to make their wares competitive in the marketplace, and the audio output suffers considerably. If you are watching cat videos on Youtube this is not much of an issue, but if you really love music and want it to sound as good as possible, upgrading this output is not too big of a deal and it does not have to cost an arm and a leg. I say this because in the audiophile world it is possible to spend $10,000+ on a digital analog converter, but it is possible to get the job done (and well enough) for under $200.

This is where the DragonFly DAC comes into play – simply plug it in and bypass the cheap-o sound card that the child laborer installed at your favorite third world computer factory. This unit is the size of a normal flash drive with a USB connector on one end, a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) headphone jack on the other end, and a cool dragonfly logo that lights up (more on this later). It has a rubberized coating and comes with a leatherette sleeve to help protect it in your backpack or laptop bag (I keep mine in my headphone case). It is a little thicker than some thumb drives, so you might want to invest in the AudioQuest Dragontail extension cable ($17) if your USB ports are recessed into the case of your computer.

It is astounding that this thing is made in the U.S., and even more amazing is the number of high-quality components they were able to cram into its tiny footprint. It actually has a metal case under that rubberized coating, and there are 107 parts in there including its heart and soul, the 24-bit/96kHz ESS Sabre digital-to-analog conversion chip. This chip is also found in quality CD and Blu-Ray players.

There is a lot going on inside this small package, the first of which is its asynchronous clock function. There has to be a clock so that digital music is played back with the proper timing, and there is a clock in your computer that is usually tapped into for this function. But your machine is so busy doing other operations in the background (virus checks, auto-saving files, viewing porn), that the clock will be off inducing errors into audio playback, such as harshness and a lack of clarity. The Dragonfly has its own dedicated clock (two of them, actually) so timing errors are minimized, which improves the detail of what your are listening to, as well as making the sound stage larger.

Another important feature of the Dragonfly is its 60-position analog volume control, which is unheard of on DACs at this price point. A digital volume control will reduce signal resolution and degrade sound quality. Of course it still has to be controlled digitally with the computer, and make sure you read the instructions to set this thing up properly. Pretty much it is best to max out the volume control on the app or program you are using to play the music, and use the master volume control on the computer to set the level. Again, it is a good idea to read the book…

This unit also functions as a headphone amp, and it will work with most any headphone that has more than 12 ohms of resistance. I borrowed my friend’s high-zoot Sennheisers with 300 ohms of resistance, and the DragonFly had the oomph to push them.

Before I forget, DragonFly can be set to a line level output so it operates only as a DAC, so you can control volume with other audio components down the signal chain. I have used this mode to run the audio output directly into my mixing board for DJ gigs.

The AudioQuest DragonFly will work with almost anything. It is compatible with PCs running Windows XP, 7 and 8, as well as Mac OS X Mavericks, Mountain Lion, Lion and Snow Leopard. It can accept every file format I threw at it, including MP3, CD-standard 16-bit/44kHz and native 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution, regardless of music file format. A cool feature is that the logo will light up in different colors based on the resolution of the incoming audio signal. And lastly, it works with every audio file program I tried, but for this review I am sticking with iTunes, because it is common, and is what I use most often.

Blah blah blah. So how does it work?

DragonFly installation was easy as pie. I plugged it into the USB port and attached my headphones, and set up the volume and sound controls as shown in the instructions. In less than two minutes and I was ready to go.

I launched iTunes on my Windows 8 laptop and tried every set of Sennheiser headphones I have, including HD 201, HD 228, HD 229, HD 380, and HD 600 as well as my Ultimate Ear in-ear monitors. Immediately it was obvious that the DragonFly provided a warmer tone that the original sound card could not achieve.

This was with a wide assortment of music, including Larry Coryell, Buddy Guy, Bryan Ferry, Ray Price, King Crimson and the Boston Pops. I was impressed with the organic tone that had a noticeable improvement in separation and clarity – it a very natural listening experience. There was no unusual compression and the silence between phrases had a natural decay with no abrupt cut-offs. This is one of my big gripes with digital playback. Bass and mid-range performance were exceptional

As I said earlier, I also set the DragonFly for line-out and ran it through my mixing board and QSC powered speakers. The increased detail and clarity made a huge difference with 6000 watts behind it, which made the sound of the middle school dance incredible, even if the organizer’s choice of music was lame beyond belief.

All in all, I thing the DragonFly is a winner. It woke up the sound from my laptop in ways that I could not expect, and the experience reminded me of the first time I ran my music through a dedicated headphone amplifier. True audiophiles will sniff at this because it is based in the digital world, it does not cost enough money and it does not have enough knobs. But I am the target audience for this product, and it hits the mark perfectly.

Of course, all of this goodness does not come super-cheap, but at $150 the AudioQuest Dragonfly DAC is worth every penny (and it comes with a one-year warranty). By the way, this is the price of version 1.2, which is supposed to sound even better than the version 1.0 that I have. If you spend very much time listening to music on your computer, and if you want it to sound as good as it possibly can, you need to pick one of these up.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Album Review: Professor Porkchop and the Dishes – U R My Everything

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the June 6, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Professor Porkchop and the Dishes – U R My Everything

Self Release

11 tracks / 40:38

There are countless reasons to go to Louisiana: the cuisine, its culture, a strong variety of college and professional sports, plenty of hunting and fishing opportunities, and (of course) the music. The state’s history of blues, zydeco and swamp music is priceless, and its native sons are heroes that its populace can be proud of. Professor Porkchop and the Dishes’ new album, U R My Everything is a prime example of this and its slick performances and clever lyrics should not be missed.

Professor Porkchop is Chris McCaa’s pseudonym, and he is the leader, singer and pianist/organist for this Shreveport, Louisiana-based group. The rest of the crew for this album includes Jason Coffield on guitar and saxophone, Danyelle Bryant and Brady Blade on the skins, Rick Wallis and Shawn Stroope on bass and George Hancock on flute, baritone saxophone and percussion. There is a lot of role-swapping going on here, and there is no way I will be able to keep it straight.

U R My Everything was produced by McCaa and Stroope, and includes eight original tracks and three cover tunes. It is hard to assign this album to any one genre, because even though it has a solid blues bass, it is flavored with funk, soul, jazz, ragtime and a healthy dose of bayou spices. McCaa’s voice has been compared to Randy Newman and John Hiatt, and rightly so, but it is still more his own than anybody else’s. Throughout the changing moods of this album he is able to deftly adapt to different styles but never lose his unique sound, thus giving the band’s sophomore release a sense of continuity.

McCaa has a great voice, but he also has keen keyboard and writing skills. His comfort in his abilities is evident as he chose to start U R My Everything off with four original songs. The title track begins with a mellow vibe flavored with electric piano, but solidifies quickly as the chorus adds in organ and heavier guitar chords. But this is not a one man show, as the backline is solid and the guitars are spot on. When “Blame it on the Moon” gets going, you can see where the Randy Newman comparisons come in. Chris’ voice is similar, and indeed he has a deft touch on the piano. When you add in the sadly clever lyrics and creative rhymes, we get to see that he really has the whole package.

The band did not forget their Sportsman’s Paradise heritage, as they crafted a fabulous homage to the Crescent City in “Move to New Orleans.” Any locals that have moved away will be made jealous during this tour of all the great spots in town. Then they move on to Shreveport for the next track, “Sprague Street Rag” which is a short instrumental with full-blown ragtime piano accompanied by only a pair of spoons. Chris McCaa certainly has fine chops!

George Hancock brings plenty to the table too, as his jazz flute work in “Puerto Rican Hotel” is both tasteful and skilled. Throughout this selection he is in perfect sync with McCaa’s electric piano and the rhythm section. I was surprised to find a second instrumental tune on the album, but this Afro-Cuban fusion piece really works well into the mix of other styles.

Professor Porkchop and the Dishes included a sprinkling of cool cover tunes too. Their take on “Knock Me a Kiss” is the best version I have heard since B.B. King’s, mostly due to McCaa’s fine vocal phrasing. They also took a crack at Ray Charles’ “Roll With My Baby,” and the rolling bass line and sweet saxophone make for more of a modern feel (in a good way). And “Early in the Morning,” a Louis Jordan hit from 1947, has its upbeat tempo held in place by a nifty snare riff with a slick overlay of the tinkling ivories.

The album comes to a close with the hardest tune of the bunch, “I’m Gone.” This Southern blues rocker has growly vocals and a neat stereo effect of the rhythm and lead guitars; it is almost like this is a five-minute guitar solo with a song happening underneath it. The guitar tone is gloriously distorted, and the bass is fat and totally in the pocket with the drums. And, in keeping with the rest of their original songs, the lyrics are top-notch and worth paying attention to.

U R My Everything provides a most laid-back vibe, and it is great music for just sitting back with a tumbler of your favorite beverage and listening with a fine sound system or a good set of headphones. Professor Porkchop and the Dishes have outdone themselves and delivered a solid piece of work throughout. Check it out if you get the chance!


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2011 Nash JB-63 Jazz Bass Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a fabulous Jazz Bass copy: a Bill Nash built JB-63. I was all out of Jazz Basses recently, and this one practically fell into my lap. What could I do?

Bill Nash has been assembling vintage-style guitars since 2001, and has gained a lot of respect and a faithful following because he builds guitars that play very well and sound incredible. These guitars have all received the relic treatment, and they will not build you a shiny new guitar. I’ve asked…

By the way, Bill Nash initials and dates the headstock on each guitar they build, and writes the serial number on the tip of the headstock. And the serial number convention is something I have not seen before. The first two letters of the serial number denote which dealer the guitar was shipped to. In this case it starts with “SND”, because it was originally shipped to Soundpure Music in North Carolina.

Spec-wise, this JB-63 is a fairly faithful reproduction of a 1963 Fender Jazz Bass. It has an alder body with a black nitrocellulose lacquer finish and a dead-on accurate tortoise shell pickguard. The slim maple neck has a C shape and a 10-inch radius rosewood fretboard with a 1 ½-inch width Tusq nut. They installed tall Dunlop 6105 frets on this one, which is a departure from the early 1960s standard.

The hardware is also true to the theme, with Kluson-style reverse tuners and a serrated-saddle bridge. Nash went with Jason Lollar pickups, which I think are the best choice for a J-bass these days. There is no pre-amplifier, just the expected volume/volume/tone pots.

And all of these fabulous things were put together very well by the folks over at Nash Guitars. The craftsmanship is very good, with a comfortable neck and great fretwork. I have not found any dead spots, and the Lollar pickups sound very rich. It does not hurt that it is relatively light, coming in at a touch over 9 pounds.

This is one of the best Jazz Basses I have ever owned, and it should be for a street price of around $1900.

As with all Nash guitars, I am a little hung up on the way this one looks. Even though this one is described as having light aging, I think the relic process goes a little too far -- I guess I do not have to worry about scratching it. Also, there are no bridge cover or pickup cover holes drilled in the bass, which is an oversight for a 1960s Fender replica. If that is all I have to complain about, they must have done a good job!

If you have not had the opportunity to play a Bill Nash guitar or bass, I recommend you give one a shot. It may be the closest you will get to play a pre-CBS Fender.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI Review

Hi there!

Do you remember the heyday of the Ford Ranchero and the Chevrolet El Camino? They were a combination of trucks and cars, and people still argue today about how to classify them. Well, Fender did something similar with the Bass VI – a hybrid of guitar and bass that was introduced in 1961. They were not popular at the time so they did not make many, and now they are prized by collectors. In 2013 Fender’s Squier division re-issued this instrument as the Vintage Modified Bass VI, and now they are flying off the shelves.

The Bass VI is tuned E to E, and octave below conventional guitar, though some players install heavy guitar strings and tune them as a baritone guitar. It has a similar shape to the Fender Jazzmaster with a 21-fret, 30-inch scale neck. There are three single-coil pickups wired through volume and tone knobs, and four slider switches. The switches are ON/OFF for each pickup and a bass cut switch. The hardware is rounded out by a vintage six-saddle bridge with a floating vibrato. The Squier version is fairly close to the specs of the original, unlike the current Fender Pawnshop series Bass VI.

Looking this thing over, it appears to be a really nice piece of work from the folks at Squier’s Indonesian factory. The body is carved from basswood (light and cheap, plus it has the word “bass” in it) and is sprayed with an even glossy coat of Olympic White poly. These white instruments come with a faux tortoise shell pickguard. In case you are wondering, the Bass VI also comes in 3-tone sunburst with a tort guard, or black with a 3-ply white/black/white pickguard.

The modern C-shaped maple neck is pretty good, with smart looking pearloid block inlays set into its bound rosewood fretboard. The fretboard has a 9.5-inch radius, instead of the original 7.25-inch radius, making it a little better for playing guitar chords. I guess this, the profile and the block inlays are part of the “Modified” moniker of this instrument. They chose a synthetic bone nut that is 1.650-inches wide. The frets are medium-jumbo, and they are very well finished and level straight from the factory. I do not know how they can do that at this price point. The set-up left something to be desired, but after a bit of work the action was set well and intonation was good.

It all comes together well. This is a great playing instrument, and I do not have any trouble playing it guitar-style, and chords are pretty easy to achieve. Finger-picking aggressive bass parts can be a bit difficult if you are not paying attention, but adapting to this was easier than I thought it would be. The .025 to .095 strings have fairly low tension, so that might be something I will look into changing somewhere down the road. It is a compact size, and would be a handy for players that find full-sized basses to be too big.

The sound is really unexpected. It sounds like a bass with solid low end when cranked through my bass amps, and makes fairly normal guitar sounds when put through my Twin Reverb. This really is the Ranchero of guitars! The guitar pickups are a good match with this package, and I like that they reversed the polarity of the middle pickup to provide a little more crunch. The bass cut (“Strangle”) switch makes the sound a lot more guitar like, which is a nice feature. There is no extra hum or unusual noises with the one that I got.

I like it a lot.

I have saved the best part for last, and that is the price. The Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI has a MSRP $549.99 and a street price of $349.99. You would be hard-pressed to find a better bass/guitar for the money. By the way, I do not see many of these on the used market, so it appears that there are plenty of folks that agree with me.


Friday, March 14, 2014

1980 Takamine F-340 Acoustic Guitar Review


Over the years I have owned and played a few Japanese-made Takamine acoustic guitars and have never been disappointed with their craftsmanship, playability or tone.

Takamine is a Japanese guitar maker that has been in business for over 50 years now. They have started building guitars in other countries, but all of their high-end guitars still come from the land of the rising sun. Don’t sniff at their products and say that imports are junk, because they build some fantastic instruments. Though they have built some solid-body electric guitars, they are best known for their acoustic and acoustic-electric steel string guitars. By the way, the company is named after Mount Takamine in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this company became famous (or notorious) for building righteous Martin guitar copies that earned them a strongly-worded memo from the Martin legal department. Today we are looking at one of these animals: a 1980 F-340.

The F-340 (catchy name, isn’t it?) is a copy of the Martin D-18, their iconic dreadnought. They went whole-hog on their reproduction, with using Martin’s headstock shape and logo script. I can see why Martin was upset, particularly when you consider that this is a nice guitar, and surely provided unwanted competition for a fraction of the price. This would be a lawsuit guitar, if a lawsuit had ever been filed.

The body has the traditional dreadnought size and shape, with 14 frets free from the body. This one has a laminated mahogany body and back, and a laminated spruce top, as there is no S or SS in the model name, which is usually (but not always) the designation of a solid wood instrument. Who know, and actually who cares at this point? It is a nice-sounding guitar.

Like the Martin D-18, ornamentation is sparse. The body has a multi-ply binding around the top and a simple black binding around the back while the neck is not bound at all. The rosette is elegant, and combined with the black pickguard and black-painted bridge it fits in well with the visual theme of the guitar.

The mahogany neck has its original 20 chunky frets, and they are skillfully sunk into the rosewood fretboard. The peghead has chrome-plated sealed tuners, probably made by Gotoh. This Takamine shares the D-18’s 1 11/16-inch nut, and 25 ¼-inch scale. The fretboard is a bit more curvy with a 12-inch radius, instead of 16-inch.

The condition of this F-340 is very good, especially for a 34 year old guitar. There is very little wear to the original frets, no cracks or evidence of repairs, and only small dings and chips here and there – no signs of abuse here!

After a quick set-up with new medium gauge strings, I have to say that this Takamine is really a peach. It is not the loudest dreadnought I have ever owned, but I never expected that going into this deal. It has a sweet and mellow tone that is tolerant of the occasional mis-fretted note, and the volume is nicely balanced from string to string.

The frets are still level, and it is a very easy-playing guitar with no fret buzz. It is not the greatest fingerstyle guitar, but for the basic stuff I am using it for, it is a fabulous guitar. It would be a terrific instrument for a beginner, for sure. I am holding onto this as a guitar to loan to friends that are considering taking up the instrument.

If you are looking for one of these guitars, remember that they are 30 years old now, so you should look it over carefully or have a luthier check it out. Just look for the usual stuff: bridge lift, cracks, evidence of previous repairs, and fret wear.

Compared to other new guitars on the market, you get a lot of performance for the money on this one. Finding a used Takamine F-340 is not terribly difficult, and they are still very reasonably priced, at around $350 to $450 for a nice example, which is 25% of what you would pay for a playable D-18. If you need a durable budget acoustic, you might want to track one down!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Mojo Roots – What Kind of Fool Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the May 9, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

The Mojo Roots – What Kind of Fool

Self Release

11 tracks / 48:48

I made it a point to catch some blues shows when I was in Missouri last month, and I have to say that every time I go to a bar there to check out a band I never come away disappointed. Somehow over the past few years I have missed The Mojo Roots, but after listening to their new CD, What Kind of Fool, I will have to make a better effort to find one of their gigs the next time I am in the area.

The Mojo Roots are based out of the Show Me State, and the band is made up of Jordan Thomas on vocals, harmonica and guitar, Trevor Judkins on lead and slide guitar, Jim Rush on bass, and Andy Naugle on drums. Thomas also produced this album, and this sophomore effort includes six original cuts and five cover songs from the likes of Albert King, Otis Redding and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.

The first thing that struck me when listening to What Kind of Fool is how well-constructed and easy it is to listen to. This is apparent from the get-go with the original title track which is a nice bridge between traditional blues and a more contemporary sound. Thomas’ voice is smooth, and the plot is the usual tale of a man whose lady is stepping out on him. The guitars are artfully layered with a righteous dose of slide and it is perfectly mixed and recorded. This song is a slick as they come, and was the perfect choice to get things started. I wish we had a radio station in Los Angeles that would play stuff like this!

From there they transition into a modernized take on Albert King’s “I Got the Blues” which is highlighted by a sublime patchwork of rhythm and lead guitars. With half of the play time and no horns or keys this song ends up with a different character than the original. Despite its more bare-bones personality, The Mojo Roots were able to make this is one as smooth as silk. Another well-done cover is the 1965 Otis Redding A-side, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” This truly beautiful song is a classic and Thomas’ voice is certainly up to the task. John D’Agostino contributes some tasteful organ work that makes the mood on this track complete.

Their original songs have clever lyrics and are well-constructed. “That Kind of Girl” did not go where I expected from the title, but instead ended up as a celebration of a woman that is totally out of reach. “Deaf, Dumb and Blind” is the heartbreaking tale of a woman who desperately pins her hopes on a man that will never treat her right. The quality of these songs makes me wish they could have included a heavier mix of original tunes on What Kind of Fool.

The boys finished up this project with a Chicago-tinted cover of Little Johnny Jones’ “Hoy Hoy Hoy.” This fast-paced romp features Thomas’ harmonica, and he coaxes a marvelous tone out of his harp. The band performs like seasoned veterans that they are; Rush keeps things moving throughout with a relentlessly walking bass line, while Naugle (the human metronome) beats his snare and crash cymbal to death. What a fun way to bring the curtain down on the show!

If you think that there is nothing new or exciting in the more conventional blues genres, What Kind of Fool will change your mind and give you hope for the future. This band is fresh and delivers the goods with eleven first-rate tracks, and they obviously went all out to give us their finest effort. Any up-and-coming artists should pick up a copy of this album so they can see how high the bar has become, and to get some pointers on what can be done with a modern blues album.

As I said earlier, I am jonesing to catch The Mojo Roots’ live show, and apparently there are a few other folks who agree, as the band was a semi-finalist at the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. Give What Kind of Fool a listen, and if you are in the Missouri area and like what you heard, check them out for yourselves. You might run into me there…


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 Bass Amplifier Head Review


We are looking at a milestone today. I recently replaced the bass amplifier that I had owned for longer than any amp before, the Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0. I replaced it with a more powerful and slightly updated version of the same thing, the Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2. I think this one will be sticking arounf for a while too.

I could not help it, I was tempted by super-low blowout pricing.

The Shuttle 9.2 is truly a marvel of modern technology. It is small and lightweight, with a footprint of 10” by 10” and a total weight of around 4 pounds. And despite its small size it can crank out 500 watts at 8 ohms, or 900 watts at 4 ohms.

Of course, it uses a class-D solid state power amp to get this much output without a weight penalty, but still uses a 12AX7 tube pre-amp to get a nice warm tone. Plus you can dial in a ton of gain on the pre-amp stage and get your tone all crunchy. The .2 models got the Genz Benz 3DPM™ power management circuitry for increased headroom and a heavier tone. So, it is plenty loud and it sounds good.

But, it also has plenty of features, most of which really work for me.

On the back are an effects loop, a dedicated tuner out, two Speakon outputs, a Genz-only type footswitch jack, an XLR output and a ¼-inch headphone jack.

On the front are gain and volume for the pre-amp, the 3-band EQ with parametric mids, a mute switch (also yay!), three signal-shaping switches and a master volume control. And do not forget the world’s brightest LEDs.

My only gripe is that the power switch is located on the back of the unit. That’s all!

I have paired the Shuttle 9.2 with a pair of Aguilar cabinets (GS112 and GS112NT) and this is a formidable combination. I am getting more than enough usable volume, even if I only use one cabinet. benefit of the 600-watts. This set-up has a very organic tone, and not as sterile as my previous rig. The overdriven tone is insane, and overall it is more full and heavier than anything I could achieve with my old Shuttle 6.0. It is not a knob farm, so set-up and changes on the fly are uncomplicated.

I am not sure what the warranty and service situations are with Genz Benz products after the Fender upheaval, but I am pretty sure Fender will take care of things if there are any problems. That being said, I have owned four Genz Benz amplifiers over the years and have had no problems with any of them.

You used to be able to find the Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 online at a street price of $829, discounted from the list price of $1099. But, the supply seems to be drying up after the Genz line-up was cut by Fender. If you have a chance to buy one, you ought to snap it up because they are a great amp for the money!


Friday, March 7, 2014

American DJ O-Clamp 1.5 Review


Not everything that I review for Rex and the Bass has to be expensive or high-zoot, but most all of it is very good gear. The American DJ O-Clamp 1.5 is another winner, and it will not drain your life savings to add a few of these to your lighting set-up.

Some folks do not mind using C-clamps to affix lighting elements to their trusses, but I prefer the security of O-clamps that go completely around the truss tubes when heavy stuff is dangling over my head. American DJ sells three different versions of the O-clamp to fit 1-inch, 1.5-inch and 3-inch truss tubing. Actually, they are all 2-inch clamps, but the smaller sizes use plastic inserts to bring them down to the proper diameter. So, I can use my extensive collection of 1.5 O-clamps with either 1.5 or 2-inch trusses.

The ADJ O-clamp is made of injection-molded plastic with a swing-out bolt that secures the two halves together with a wing nut. Each clamp comes with a standard-thread bolt that fits most lights, and they also include a wing-nut and washer in case your light base is not threaded. As these are plastic the weight limit is 28 pounds for each clamp, so you are not going to be able to mount heavy speakers with these.

For my set-up I use O-clamps to mount all manner of things to my On-Stage lighting truss. This includes Chauvet 4-Bars, pin spots, a mirror bar mount, and (on occasion) small powered speakers. For the 4-Bars I needed to use longer mounting bolts, but I did not have any trouble finding the right size at Lowe’s. It was simple enough to pop the adapter inserts out and replace the bolts, but you have to get small-head bolts so they fit into the slot and allow the inserts to go back into place.

I have seen a few of my fellow internet pundits complaining that these clamps do not fit well, and that they wish the adapter inserts were made of a softer material instead of hard plastic so they can grip the truss better. This has not been my experience. I have always been able to mount my equipment at whatever angle is needed without slipping. Maybe they have different brands of trusses with slicker finishes or slightly smaller diameters tubing. Either way they work fine for me, and if I ever had any problems I would just use a bit of gaffer tape to take up the slack.

Thus far I have experienced no problems with these clamps damaging my truss tubing -- no matter how hard I crank them down they have not caused any scratches, scuffs or dents!

So, the American DJ O-Clamps are pretty much the best thing since canned beer, and as I said earlier, they are not terribly expensive. In fact, they have a list price $7.95 and a street price of $5.95. If you do not need to hang heavy equipment, these are all you will ever need!


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Martin MSP3200 SP Medium Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings Review


On my trusty Martin D-18GE I sometimes experiment with different strings, but so far I have always gone back to my favorites, Martin MSP3200 SP Medium Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings. This set includes the following gauges: 0.013, 0.017, 0.026, 0.035, 0.045 and 0.056

The 1 and 2 strings are high-quality steel with a bronze coating, which is a great combination. The other four strings have steel cores with bronze windings. The steel helps keep the strings from breaking (I cannot remember the last time I broke a Martin string), and the bronze helps the strings sound brighter for a longer period of time. By the way, the bronze in these strings in an 80/20 alloy. I wonder that the other 20% is…

After installing a new set of these strings it takes an hour of two of playing to get them to over their initial overly bright and crisp tone. They do not stretch very much, and once they settle in they have a beautifully even and sweet tone across all of the strings. This tone translates well for both recording and live performances.

Volume and intonation are very consistent from string to string and set to set, so Martin must have a great quality control department. I get awesome volume from my dreadnoughts with these Martin strings and they hold up for a surprisingly long time. I play every day, and end up changing them out about once per month. As I said earlier, I never break these strings, even though I change to different tunings fairly often.

Some of my friends swear by the coated Elixir strings, and they do hold their tone around twice as long as the Martin strings, but they also cost twice as much. Plus I do not care for the feel of the Elixirs, and their tone does not fit in with my style of playing. Don’t get me wrong, Elixirs are very nice, but the Martins just work better for me.

Martin makes their strings in Mexico, and right out of the package I have never had a bad string from them. But I do not care for is their packaging. The strings come in paper envelopes inside a cardboard box. I would prefer that they were in an airtight package, as I never know how long these strings have been sitting around at the store, and I believe that exposure to air and moisture degrades string performance over time.

Though the Martin MSP3200 Medium Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings have a rather high list price of $15.29, you will find that the street price is about $5.00 per pack, which is not out of line with the competition. They sound great and hold up well, so if you do not currently use them you should give them a try.