Friday, May 30, 2014

1982 Takamine F369 Acoustic Guitar Review


It seems like I have been on a Takamine lawsuit guitar kick the past few months, but I have seen quite a few of them lately. But, today we are looking at an F369, which is a very rare bird – in fact, this is the only one of these I have ever seen.

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 acoustic and acoustic-electric steel string guitars. By the way, the company is named after Mount Takamine in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan. Over the years I have owned and played many of these Japanese-made Takamine acoustic guitars and have found nothing to gripe about with their craftsmanship, playability or tone.

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 1982 F-369.

The F-369 would be a shameless copy of a Martin dreadnought, if Martin sold all-rosewood guitars. They went whole-hog on their reproduction, even 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 an East Indian rosewood body, back, AND TOP! There is no S or SS in the model name, which is usually (but not always) the designation of a solid wood instrument in the Takamine world, but this one appears to be made of solid wood. Who knows, and actually who cares at this point? It is a nice-sounding guitar.

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

The mahogany neck has 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 Martin’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.

This guitar was unsold new old stock, so the condition of this F-369 is fantastic, particularly for a 32 year old guitar. There is no wear to the original frets, no cracks or evidence of repairs, and no dings or scratches. It is a real time capsule!

After a quick set-up with new light gauge strings, I have to say that this Takamine is really a winner. It is not terribly powerful, but it has a sweet sound with fabulous overtones. The volume is well balanced from string to string.

The frets are level, and it is a very easy-playing guitar with no fret buzz. It is not super-good for fingerstyle, but it is still a fabulous instrument and it would be terrific for a beginner or intermediate player. By the way, it weighs in at around 4 pounds, 12 ounces, in case that makes a difference to you.

If you are looking for one of these guitars, remember that they are all over 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.

But, good luck with finding one! As I said earlier, this is the only one I have ever seen…


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Billy Jones Bluez – I’m a Bluesman Album Review

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the August 1, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Billy Jones Bluez – I’m a Bluesman

Self release through American Blues Recording Company

7 tracks / 34:12

Blues music does not have to come out of Chicago, Memphis or the delta, and I am reminded of this as I listen to Billy Jones Bluez’s latest CD, I’m a Bluesman. Billy Jones hails from North Little Rock, Arkansas, which I had never even considered as being a hotbed of blues music.

Billy Jones has long been a bluesman, having been exposed to the blues as a boy at his grandfather’s café and at a nearby juke joint. He was inspired to be like Elmore James and B.B. King, and by the time he was in his early teens he was quite a guitar player. He went on the road at the age of 14 and has not stopped since, playing all over the US and Europe.

His newest CD is a short one, coming in at a little over a half hour. There are seven tracks, including one cover and six original songs. Billy takes care of the guitars and vocals, and he is joined by Corey Bray on keyboards, Derrick Kendricks and Palmalee Byrd on bass and Rickey Martin and Reginald Hammeth on the skins.

I’m a Bluesman kicks off with its only cover tune, “The Iceman,” which is a modern interpretation of Big Joe Turner’s “Ice Man Blues.” This is a fun song with an easygoing vibe, and Billy’s voice and guitar playing are smooth and restrained. Bray has good keyboard skills, and his playing helps fill in the spaces in this well done piece.

After this, you will see that Billy is comfortable enough with his writing and playing that he does not need to be shoehorned into any one genre. “I’m Yo’ Freak” has a funky hip-hop beat that is dominated with 1970s synthesizers and heavily distorted guitars. He keeps this funky vibe for “Nothing But The Blues” but the music is harder-edged with more modern keyboard samples and rocking guitar parts. This song has classic blues lyrics and structures, but he has evolved it into something totally different.

“I’m a Bluesman” is a more traditional blues rocker with a dance beat, neat doubled guitar parts and Hammond B3 samples. This title track is the longest song on the album and there is a cool jam in the middle where it sounds like there are five layers of guitars stacked up.

Billy Jones gets back to more traditional blues for “Do Right Baby” which has some fantastic guitar tone over an assortment of different synthesizer sounds. There is a slow rolling 12-bar blues base to this one, and the lyrics include one of the coolest lines ever: “You gonna have to run off and join the circus, baby, if you’re looking for a clown.” This song fades out while he is still singing, which is an interesting choice as blues songs usually have a distinct conclusion.

There are synthesized strings and heavy organ work on “Love Nobody Else,” which ends up with a Latin nightclub flair as Billy channels his inner Carlos Santana. His voice works well with this genre too, and his guitar work is smoking hot. This mood carries over to the final song on the album, “You and Me.” His guitar playing on this one crosses over from Santana to Prince, and Corey Bray does a great imitation of Jan Hammer on the keyboards.

Billy Jones’ I’m a Bluesman is an interesting piece of work, and shows that he has solid writing, performance and production skills. If you choose to seek it out you will find it is not in a traditional blues form, but it is still fun music to listen to. He performs regularly throughout the Midwest, and I think it would be a kick to check out one of his shows.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA)


If you watch the news, it is usually a big time bummer, but there are still plenty of good things that happen out there in our world. One of these is the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA) program.

YOLA was started by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s musical director, Gustavo Dudamel, and it is based on El Sistema, the Venezuelan program that nurtured his musical career. The Phil and its community partners provide music education and training, as well as educational assistance to students from underserved neighborhoods. I am a believer in the power of music, and know that this type of approach will foster inclusiveness and help kids grow into thinkers and leaders, all while helping to change our neighborhoods for the better.

The biggest and most accessible component of the organization is the YOLA Neighborhood Project (YNP), whose goal is to improve the community through universal access to music. The YNP is a multi-pronged approach, which encourages local students to join YOLA, while parent ensembles provide families with the opportunity to learn music. As a part of the program, LA Philharmonic neighborhood concerts allow thousands of residents to see one of the world's greatest orchestras at no cost to them. The highlight of the YNP is the annual joint performance of over 1,000 students from partner schools and YOLA.

There are also three YOLA programs that support over 600 Southland students:

-- YOLA at EXPO Center in South Los Angeles includes three orchestras, a preschool, mentorship, group lessons, chamber music and parent ensembles. Students attend four days each week and they perform annually at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and regularly at the Hollywood Bowl. ‘

-- YOLA at HOLA (Heart of Los Angeles) is in the Rampart District, and it provides after-school orchestral instruction five days a week. Their activities include music creativity, singing, ensemble rehearsals, and an hour of academic tutoring daily.

-- YOLA at LACHSA (Los Angeles County High School for the Arts) is located on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles. This is a high-intensity guarantees that each student receives at least 15 hours of musical instruction and academic tutoring per week.

Programs like Youth Orchestra LA help give me hope for our future, and I hope you get the chance to check out the results of their efforts. By the way, in the US there are now around 100 El Sistema inspired music education programs, so chanced are good that there is one near you. Please help them out if you can.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2000 Ernie Ball MusicMan Stingray 5 Bass Review


Today we are looking a fantastic bass I found on the wall at my local Guitar Center, and at a really good price – a 2000 Ernie Ball Musicman Stingray 5.

Ernie Ball started building fivers in 1988, and they have gone on to become the best selling 5-string basses ever made. It seems like every country bassist I have ever seen on stage has a one of these. They have a relatively narrow (17.5mm) string spacing, so the neck is not too wide. Originally only available with a single humbucking pickup, Stingray 5s can now also be had with 2 humbuckers or a humbucker and a single coil. You can even throw in a piezo bridge and go fretless if you want to.

This one is a plain-Jane single humbucker bass, and it rocks. It looks to have been hardly played at all over the past 14 years, and the glossy Trans Teal poly finish is in great shape.

It is all original, including the kick-ass hardware, which includes a six-bolt neck joint, a high mass bridge (bolted AND screwed to the body) and Schaller tuners. This was made before the age of compensated nuts, so it did not get one. Do you really need a compensated nut on a bass?

The electronics are the stock ceramic pickup (alnico was used until 1991 and after 2008), with a 3-way selector switch. The positions are: series, single coil (closest to the bridge) and parallel. I am a big fan of the parallel mode. The knobs include the volume control and a three-band equalizer.

After I got it home, I cleaned it and installed new strings and it is a fantastic bass. After more than a decade the 22 frets are still level and the finish shines like new. I like the feel of their gunstock oil necks and this one is no exception. The electronics have no hum, and I really like the tone of this instrument, as it really cuts through the mix. It is pretty much a winner! It is a tad heavy at 10 pounds, 8 ounces, but that is the way it seems to go with these.

Ernie Ball is a fabulous company that still makes their instrument in San Luis Obispo, California, so you are going to pay a bit more to get the Cadillac of 5-string basses. The cheapest ones available have a list price of $2350, and a street price of $1645. Shop around a bit if you want to pick one of these up new.

Of course, my track record with 5-string basses has been terrible. Most do not stick around for more than a month or two, but I am going to give this one the old college try, and it is a great playing bass. We’ll see if this one makes it until my 3rd quarter inventory update.


Friday, May 16, 2014

1997 Sadowsky Standard J Bass Review

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a gorgeous Sadowsky NYC Modern 4-string bass guitar. It has to be 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 1997 and it still in exceptional condition. I love burst finishes, and this one has a perfectly sprayed ’59 Sunburst poly on its alder body and it looks wonderful especially as their Standard series basses do not come with a pickguard. It is not chambered but it is not heavy, coming in around 8 pounds, 12 ounces.

This bass has a traditional four-bolt neck and the neck pocket fit is super-tight, and after 16 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 and has a 12-inch radius on the pau ferro fretboard. The trussrod adjusts at the heel, and there is a nice cutout in the body and pickguard, making the process a little easier (newer Sadowsky instruments use a truss rod wheel). The tuners are first rate, as is the high-mass bridge.

This bass still has its original pickups and Sadowsky pre-amp -- this was made before Vintage Tone Control. The knobs control: volume, pickup pan, bass boost and treble boost. There is a separate mini switch to switch from active to passive. 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 is very good with only a few light dings and no fretwear. It plays well and sounds killer, and is probably the best bolt-neck bass you can buy. Unfortunately I am way overloaded with basses right now, so it is on loan to a friend in Texas. I will surely be re-united with it someday, one way or another.

If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. But now is the time to start saving -- a Sadowsky Standard 4 starts at around $4000, and it will take at least 6 months to get it built. Be patient!


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sennheiser HD 229 Headphones Review


Ear buds are the most convenient way to take your sound with you, but they can be uncomfortable, especially for extended trips. But there are some nice options for lightweight over the ear headphones, such as the industry standard Koss Portapros. I recently picked up a pair of Sennheiser HD 229 cans, and they are working out to be a good compromise for travel. I already own a few pairs of Sennheiser phones – the HD 280 and HD 380 models, and they are really a phenomenal value.

The HD 228 headphones have a compact over-the-ear design, and fold flat to make them a little more portable for travel. They are available in black and red or white and orange, and come with a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) jack on the end of a 4.5 foot (1.4-meter) single-sided cable. It does not look like the cable or the vinyl ear pieces are replaceable, so these will not last for the rest of your life.

These cans are very lightweight, and with the padded headband and swiveling ear cups they are super comfortable. They are springy enough to stay on at the gym or while walking, but not so tight that they hurt. I have worn these for hours on end with no problems.

Neodymium magnets are used for higher output, and specs-wise, there is nothing unusual going on with these dynamic headphones. They have a frequency response of 18, 000 to 22, 000 Hz and they are capable of putting out 110 dB. Total harmonic distortion is supposed to be less than 0.5% with 100 dB at 1000Hz. These phones have 16 Ω of resistance, so they are loud enough for travel, (32 ohms is as high as I would want to go with headphones for an iPod).

I have burned them in for around 100 hours, and they loosened up quite a bit and sound much better than they did out of the box. I use them or traveling on planes and at the gym, and though they do not have big ear cups, they provide pretty good isolation and not much leakage to annoy my neighbors.

Sennheiser says that the HD 229 phones “provide excellent bass performance” and are “optimized for iPod, iPhone, MP3 and CD players.” Well, they sound good with my iPod and my laptop, but I would not say the bass performance is excellent. I did try them with a few different headphone amplifiers and they really perked up, but that is not really the sort of use these phones were designed for.

They do, however, have a nice crisp tone with good enough bass. I hear some mid-range resonance, and they are not nearly as good as any of my over the ear Sennheisers, but they were never supposed to be as good. The HD 229s are cheaper, more portable phones so I did not expect miracles. All-in-all, they are a good value.

By the way, avoid the white ones like the plague. The ear cups get dirty and do not clean up well, and the plastic turns yellow, so they look nasty in less than a year. I made this mistake with some closeout HD 228 phones that I bought a few years back, and am not going there again.

The Sennheiser HD 229 headphones have a list price of $79.95 and they sell for around 40 bucks on Amazon. For the price range and portability they are very good, but if you want heavy sound, spend another 50 bucks and get a pair of HD 228 Pro headphones (but they will be bigger). But, if you crave portability and comfort, these are a great value.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Snapz Acoustic Guitar Bridge Pin Puller Review


There are a lot of ways to pull stuck bridge pins from acoustic guitars, and many of them involve misusing tools that were designed for another purpose, as well as the possibility of damaging the instrument or the pin. There are a few different tools out there that are specifically designed for this task, and the Snapz bridge pin puller is one of my favorites.

This tool is very easy to use:

1) Slide grip ring up so the jaws can move

2) Press tip down onto bridge pin so the jaws will open up and pop over the end of the pin

3) Slide grip ring down to lock the jaws into place

4) Pull on the handle to remove the pin

And that is it! The Snapz bridge pin puller is made of plastic, so it is a lot less likely to damage your bridge and your wood, plastic or bone bridge pins. A friend of mine said it seems kind of cheap since it was made of plastic, and that he would rather have one made of metal, but that seems like a bad idea to me. They makes things like chisels and files out of metal, and I would rather minimize the exposure of my delicate wooden instruments to such things.

An added bonus is that the pin is held captive by the tool, so it is less likely to fly off under a workbench or into a dark corner when it finally pops loose.

These things are cheap enough that I bought a couple of them so I could have them at home and in my emergency kit. It is better to be safe than sorry, and I would rather have one of these with me than having to resort to a pair of pliers in an emergency.

If you are thinking of picking up a Snapz bridge pin puller, make sure you shop around. I found them for $7.50 from Stewart MacDonald and Amazon (plus $6 shipping!) or $10 from Allparts. It really is a neat tool, and you should try one!


Friday, May 9, 2014

Review of The Long Beach Symphony Pops “Broadway’s Greatest Hits” with Todd Ellison, Susan Egan and Special Guest Jane Lynch


On May 3, 2014, the Long Beach Symphony finished up their Pops season with “Broadway’s Greatest Hits,” which made for a really fun evening! This event featured famed Broadway musical director Todd Ellison as the conductor, and Broadway veteran Susan Egan on vocals.

This event was held at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, which is a neat facility that includes the Convention Center, the Terrace Theater and the Long Beach Arena. Surprisingly the show was held in the sports arena, not the theater, but this allowed for a cool schedule and layout. The raised stage was set up along the long edge of the floor, and tables were set up on the remainder of the floor so that the customers could bring in their own picnic dinners or eat catered food that they had ordered ahead of time. There was also regular seating available in the loge, which ended up being pretty far from the stage.

The doors opened at 6:30PM so the picnickers would could get started with their meals, and the show kicked off right on time at 8:00PM. The full Long Beach Symphony was used for the “Broadway’s Greatest Hits” show, with the addition of a drum kit and a guitar. It was nice to hear a full orchestra performing the songs, as most Broadway shows use a smaller orchestra.

Todd Ellison came all the way from Connecticut to conduct the orchestra, and his musical direction credentials are top-shelf. He is currently working on the Broadway revival of “Annie,” and he also directed the Tony Award-winners “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “La Cage aux Folles” and “42nd Street” plus oodles of other musicals. Todd also conducted over 20 albums (some of them Grammy winners) and he was Marvin Hamlisch’s musical director. Ellison took over the piano at one point during the show to pay tribute to Hamslisch, and it was a really neat moment.

Susan Egan was the featured vocalist for the evening, and she is an amazing talent with a solid Broadway career too. She was the original Belle form “Beauty and the Beast,” and also took the lead in “Thoroughly Modern Mille” and “Cabaret.” Her current solo artist career is probably a bit more lucrative than Broadway. By the way, Susan is a local who grew up in Seal Beach and was a member of the first graduating class of the Orange County School of the Arts.

This show included numbers from “Beauty and the Beast,” “Chicago,” “Camelot,” Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “My Fair Lady,” “Annie,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Wicked.” Surely there were some folks that were disappointed because their favorite musical did not make the cut, but you cannot make everybody happy. The orchestra did a few songs without Susan, but none of them were terribly long (songs in musicals rarely are).

A highlight of the evening was guest artist Jane Lynch from Glee, who did a few songs from “Annie:” “Easy Street” as a duet with Egan, and “Little Girls” on her own. Lynch is fresh off the role Miss Hannigan in the Broadway revival of the show, and she is a perfect for the part.

The Long Beach Arena is huge (13,500 seats), and it is hard to fill that big of a hall with a symphony orchestra. From the loge the sound was pretty quiet, and it was hard to pick up all of the nuances, but the vocals were still crystal clear.

Overall, the show was well done, the musical arrangements were good, and there was a nice selection of shows represented. Egan, Ellison and Lynch are all great entertainers and set up a good rapport with the audience. I would not hesitate to see one of the Long Beach Symphony pops concerts when the new season starts. If you are in town, try to check one out too!


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

BBE 282iX Sonic Maximizer Review


There have been lots of bad things that have been said about BBE Sonic Maximizers, and I do not disagree with much of what is said, but that does not keep me from using them on a regular basis. Guess what? Lots of other people do too! So, today we are taking a look at my BBE 282iX Sonic Maximizer. Please remember that I am a musician and a sound guy, not a scientist, so cut me some slack…

These things are hyped and marketed as a magic tool that will make anything sound better: live music, pre-recorded music, individual instruments, recording and mixing. BBE can deliver on many of these promises, at least to some degree.

But what is a sonic maximizer? It is not an aural exciter because it is not synthesizing new sounds, rather it is changing the phase of the input signals and then limiting them. Effectively this makes the bass boomier and the treble more sizzly. Or something like that. It is like having a distortion box and a compressor pedal all in one unit with almost no controls.

From my research, this appears to be a relatively simple analog process that can dynamically boost the treble based on how much midrange energy is in the input signal. The signal chain includes an input buffer that is routed to a level detector, as well as to the low, mid and high bands. The user can regulate the phase controlled treble frequencies with "Process" knob and the phase controlled bass frequencies with the "Lo Contour" knob. Then all three of these signals are mixed in a summing amplifier and routed to the output. For the 282iX, the maximum boost adjustment will be +12dBu at 5kHz for the Process knob, and +12dBu at 50Hz for the Lo Contour knob, with a total maximum output of +20dBu. The total frequency response is 5Hz to 30kHz.

This is a desktop model, so it is perfect for those who do not haul around a rack, such as DJs. It only weighs a couple of pounds and it measures about 10.5 by 8.5 by 2.5 inches. It has a nice looking black chassis and beefy silver knobs. Sort of an Oakland Raiders theme, I guess.

The 282iX has simple inputs/outputs and controls. On the back there are balanced XLR ports for the inputs and outputs for both channels, as well as the power switch and the socket for the 12V power supply (included). On the front there is a bypass switch and the Lo Contour and Process knobs. There is only one set of knobs that is used by both channels, unlike some other BBE products. That is it. If you cannot figure out how to hook this thing up and use it, you have chosen the wrong hobby or business.

BBE Sonic Maximizers are almost universally reviled on guitar forums. Guitarists complain that they are tone sucks and a waste of money. I am not going to argue with them, and would not put one of these in my guitar signal chain because it would alter my tone. A decent equalizer will provide many of the same benefits without changing the tone.

These units can help in the studio to somewhat make up for poor microphone placement and production. They can make bad recordings sound surprisingly good, and can really perk up the drum tracks. But they can make the instruments sound unnatural. I would only use one in the studio as a last resort.

The Sonic Maximizer really comes into its own for live performances. It can make the bass guitar and vocals (especially female vocals) cut through the mix better. Sounds that are dulled by playing outdoors or in bad rooms can really be perked up. But again, be careful how much you dial this thing up because it can get out of hand pretty quickly.

But in my opinion, the best use of the Sonic Maximizer is when playing pre-recorded music through a PA system. This is especially true when you are doing DJ work and somebody hands you an iPod or a CD that they ripped and it just sounds terrible. There is a lot of magic in adding in a little delay and compression, and it will make these recordings sound the best they can. And DJs, if you do not believe me, read this next sentence:

THERE IS A GOOD REASON WHY EVERY GENTLEMEN’S CLUB IN THE U.S. HAS A BBE SONIC MAXIMIZER IN THEIR SOUND SYSTEM. Everybody and their brother wants their DJ system to sound like the PA at a strip club.

But I must warn you, if you overdo it, it will kill your tone and headroom. Keep comparing the tone with the bypass ON and OFF to make sure you are not getting too far off into the woods. It is entirely possible to make your mix sound way worse with this thing.

When I use mine it comes after the mixer and is the last step before the signal goes into my powered QSC K-series or Yamaha DSR speakers. Set-up does not get much easier than this. I have had great luck with the Sonic Maximizer, and I will not go to a gig without it.

The282iX I got is nicely made, and the knobs have a nice feel to them.. I have not had any troubles it and do not anticipate any difficulties, but if I do BBE backs it up with a 5-year warranty. That provides a little peace of mind.

The BBE 282iX Sonic Maximizer has a list price of $299, and a street price of $199. I checked Musician’s Friend and they have them on sale for $79.99 right now which is a smoking deal, and brings them into the realm of affordability for most of us. Check one out if you get a chance, but make sure you understand what you are getting, and don’t overdo it.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Orange MT20 Micro Terror Guitar Amplifier and PPC108 Cabinet Review


A few years ago I wrote a less than flattering review of the Orange Tiny Terror guitar amplifier, so I did not have much hope for their even smaller Micro Terror, but after messing around with it for a while I came away impressed. This is more than your usual practice amplifier.

The Orange Music Electronic Company is a British amplifier manufacturer that has been around since 1968, and have maintained a steady following throughout the years, in part because of their association with major acts of the 1970s.

Micro Terror is not just a clever name: this thing is about the size of a kitten. It measures about 5.5 by 4.5 by 6 inches, and weighs in at less than two pounds. Even with its tiny footprint it cranks out 20 watts of solid-state power, with a 12AX7 tube pre-amp for added character. It looks like a downsized Tiny Terror, with the same white case and little cartoons for each knob and jack.

The controls are dead simple: gain, tone and volume -- the Micro Tiny Terror is not a knob farm. Also on the front are the ON/OFF switch, a single ¼-inch input, a headphone jack and a 1/8-inch auxiliary input. On the back there is a single 1/4-inch 4 ohm speaker output and a jack for the power supply. This uses a laptop style power supply to provide 15 volts DC, so converting this for use in other markets should be easy.

Build quality (from China, not England) is very good, and the finish was laid nicely over the steel chassis. This amplifier does not come with a carry bag, but it is small enough to fit in a gig bag pocket.

I mated this amplifier up with the closed-back Orange PPC108 cabinet, which is a pretty good match-up. My god, just look at how orange it is! The cab seems solid and should hold together like a brick house. It is loaded with a single 8-inch special-design (whatever that means) Orange speaker that can handle 20 watts at 8 ohms. The whole thing is light, coming in at around 9 pounds and it measures around 10 by 10 by 7 inches.

This combination of amp and cabinet ends up being a really good practice amplifier. It can do an unbelievable crunchy overdrive, and the tube really warms things up. I had good results with a Strat or a Les Paul, and it was really fun with my Bass VI. Unlike the Tiny Terror, this amp does a good clean sound too (not as tinny), though it is a single-channel amp, so switching back and forth takes some knob turning.

Running the Micro Terror through a bigger speaker cabinet, the Orange PPC112, brought this into a new dimension of fullness and volume, and turned this into a good small gig set-up. Of course this speaker will cost you a few hundred bucks more.

As it is, the Micro Terror and PPC108 is better than most any practice amp you will find on the market, especially when you factor in the price. The MSRP of the Micro Terror is $199 with a street price of $149, and the MSRP of the PPC112 cabinet is $139 with a street of $99. You will not be able to do better for $250!


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Review of Black Sabbath at the Hollywood Bowl: April 26, 2014


Somehow I have made it through all 46 years of Black Sabbath’s existence without ever having attended one of their live shows. Well, I remedied this situation on Saturday night at the world-famous Hollywood Bowl!

The big news for this tour is that it includes three of the four founding members: Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, Geezer Butler on bass and Tony Iommi on guitar. Drummer Bill Ward couldn’t agree to the contract terms for the tour – whatever, it was his loss. Black Sabbath is touring in support of their latest album, 13, which is their first studio release to feature Ozzy since 1978, and the first for Geezer since 1994. It is a good album, so you might want to track down a copy.

The Hollywood Bowl is pure Los Angeles, and it is a good place to see a show. The acoustics are good, and since it is in an urban area they have to keep the volume in check. There is always a laid-back vibe, and it is my favorite Southern California outdoor concert venue. Unfortunately parking and traffic are terrible ($23 for stacked parking!), but it is LA – what are you going to do? By the way this was the band’s first appearance at The Bowl since 1972.

The show kicked off right on time at 7:30PM with the opening act, Reignwolf. Despite the terrible band name, it was really something to see. Jordan “Reignwolf” Cook’s trio put on a high-intensity 35 minute set, including a mesmerizing version of “Electric Love” which featured him playing the guitar and drums at the same time. You have to see it to believe it.

After a quick stage reset, Black Sabbath hit the stage at 8:30, and did an amazing 2-hour set, which was kicked off by “War Pigs.” They did not miss a hit, going through “Snowblind,” “Black Sabbath,” “Fairies Wear Boots,” “Rat Salad,” “Iron Man,” “God is Dead?”and finishing up with ”Paranoid” and “Zeitgeist” (from their new album) for the encore. There were a few other songs from 13 sprinkled throughout, and trust me, they all sounded like Black Sabbath songs!

Everybody was in top form for the show, especially when you take into account their ages and the extreme lifestyles they have endured. Ozzy played the frontman role perfectly with plenty of energy and his voice held up well through the whole two hours. Iommi and Butler still have their chops, and both were favorites of the crowd. Drummer Tommy Clufetos (Ozzy’s touring drummer) was huge and had one of the best solos I have ever seen in “Rat Salad.”

The sound was very good, and they had a first class light show and lasers, with good visual graphics on the giant screen behind the stage. The cameramen did a fine job of tracking the musicians, which really helped keep the audience in the swing of things. A nice touch was the firework show at the end of the show. That must have made the neighbors happy…

This was the last US stop on the Black Sabbath Reunion Tour, so this might have been your last opportunity to see Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi all on the same stage. Ozzy did say that they might be doing another album, so keep your eyes out and if they are able to do another tour it will be a must-see. Don’t live a life of regrets – check it out if you get the chance!


Friday, May 2, 2014

Various Artists – Jock’s Juke Joint Contemporary Blues from Scotland Volume One and Volume Two Album Reviews

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the July 11, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Various Artists – Jock’s Juke Joint Contemporary Blues from Scotland Volume One and Volume Two

Lewis Hamilton Music

Volume One 17 tracks / 1:17:44

Volume Two 18 tracks / 1:15:25

In my ignorance, it used to be that I associated the UK blues music scene only with London and the seaports of Liverpool and Belfast. But over the past year I have reviewed CDs from some really fine Scottish blues artists, including Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers and the Bare Bones Boogie Band. Despite these positive experiences I still did not fully grasp the depth of their blues scene until I got Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Jock’s Juke Joint Contemporary Blues from Scotland. It turns out that great blues was always there and I just did not know about it.

These two compilation CDs are intended to provide an anthology of the great original blues music heritage of Scotland. In the real world there is no Jock’s Juke Joint (nor any other juke joint in Scotland), but you should think of it as the place where you could go to hear some fine tunes and have a good time. Many of us will not be familiar with these bands, so the liner notes provide a nice biography for each artist in addition to describing their roles in the local blues music scene. This is a very helpful and pleasant surprise, as many CDs I get these days are bereft of interesting information like this.

Compilation albums like these are awesome because they provide exposure for bands that may not otherwise see the light of day. I often find stuff I really like to listen to -- leading to many album purchases, which is surely what the people that put them together are hoping for. I guess their marketing works well on me!

On the two discs of Jock’s Juke Joint Contemporary Blues from Scotland there are 35 tracks from different artists, and they cover the gamut of blues types from delta to boogie to Chicago-style and blues rockers. There is no way I can describe each one in detail (and have you finish reading this review, anyway), which is a shame because there is not a bad song to be found within. So here are highlights of a few tracks from each volume that stand out for me.

From Volume One “South of the City” by Albany Down got my attention early on in this disc. This well-written blues song starts out with a basic acoustic guitar riff and builds into a monstrous guitar anthem. Paul Turley gets guitar credit, and Paul Muir’s vocals are smoking! Also, Lewis Hamilton and the Boogie Brothers’ “Empty Roads” is a hard-edged countrified blues number which gives Hamilton a chance to tear loose on his guitar. This is surely one of the standout tracks from this disc.

I would be remiss if I did not mention The Bare Bones Boogie Band’s contribution of “Fallin’ for Foolin” from their Blue CD, one of the best albums I reviewed last year. Helen Turner’s vocals are incredibly emotional on this 7-minute jazzy slow burner, as are fellow Scot Iain Black’s guitar work and Trev Turley’s spot-on bass. This song is so tight that you can tell they have been together for over two decades.

Volume Two is just as good, with some fun stuff including the instrumental “Jam’al” from the 4 Als (which really is four guys named Al) led by Alan Nimmo on lead guitar. This uptempo boogie is only 3 minutes long but every second is pure gold. Jed Potts & the Hillman Hunters’ “Don’t Tell Me” has a fifties delta feel to it, and Cameron Grey does a masterful job of playing his harp off of Potts’ soulful voice and smooth guitar stylings.

Angela Moore’s vocals on the Baby Isaac original tune, “What the Hell,” capture the proper amount of indignation that you would expect from the title. Gary Arnott’s harmonica is also first-rate in this song which evokes images of the 1960’s rhythm and blues divas. Hot Tin Roof provides some no-frills blues with “Maybe Baby,” which features Andy McKay Challen on vocals and acoustic guitar and Gavin Jack on electric lead guitar. These guys prove that you don’t need a lot of personnel to make intricate and interesting music.

Jock’s Juke Joint Contemporary Blues from Scotland Volume One and Volume Two are a stone cold awesome collection of all genres of blues music. And if this is not enough for you, a third volume is in the works and will be released soon. If these discs are any indication of the blues to be found in Scotland, I have got to find a way to get over there and check it out for myself!