Monday, September 29, 2014

BOSS BF-3 Flanger Effect Pedal Review


Poke around on the internet for 5 minutes and you will find that you can pay anything you want for guitar effect pedals. Prices for these pedals range from $20 for unusable junk, all the way up to hundreds of dollars for boutique pedals that have been blessed by the pope and marketed by Diddy. Somewhere in between are the BOSS pedals from Roland, who has wisely chosen to target working musicians. Some folks sniff at their products, but I like them as they are reasonably priced, good quality, and they usually do what they are supposed to do. Today we are going to take a closer look at the BOSS BF-3 Flanger pedal.

What exactly is a flanger pedal? Well, it is like a phase shifter in that it splits the signal and delays one of them a little bit, which is adjustable by the user. This delay time varies at a constant rate (also adjustable), to give a really neat and complex sound. Do you want to sound like Eddie Van Halen, David Gilmour or Jimmy Page? Get a flanger.

The BF-3 is a standard single-space sized pedal, measuring 2-7/8 inches wide by 2-3/8 inches tall by 5-1/8 inches long, and it weighs in at around 15 ounces. Its most notable characteristic is that it is a terrifying shade of purple!

This pedal runs on a single 9-volt battery or it takes the optional BOSS PSA adapter. It draws 40 mA at 9 volts (that is pretty huge for a pedal), in case you are thinking of hooking it up to a pedal board power system. By the way, if you run the unit on battery, make sure you unplug the input when you are not using it, as the input jack acts as the power switch.

It has the same general style and appearance as other BOSS pedals, but this one comes in aforementioned terrifying purple. The outside of the sturdy metal case has a separate guitar and bass 1/4-inch inputs, dual 1/4-inch outputs and a jack for the highly recommended AC adapter. The expected BOSS high quality is to be found here, with a smooth finish, clean wiring, and knobs that have a nice feel. These knobs include Manual and Resonance (stacked), Depth, Rate and Mode, so it is not too complicated. Here is what they do:

MANUAL: sets the center frequency to which the effect is applied.

RESONANCE: adjusts the amount of feedback

DEPTH: adjusts the sweep depth – when turned all the way to the right the Manual knob is disabled

RATE: adjusts flange effect speed (0.3 mS to 14.4 ms for guitar and 0.3 ms to 6.3 ms for bass)

MODE: selects the flanger effect and pedal mode.

The following modes are available:

ULTRA: provides a stronger flanger effect

STANDARD: is standard. Duh.

GATE/PAN: in mono, this creates changes in output volume. In stereo, it alternately pans the output to the left and right, resulting in a Leslie-like effect that is pretty trippy

MOMENTARY: flanger is only applied while the pedal is depressed. STANDARD tone is applied, and flanging starts from the low end. Tap tempo is not active in MOMENTARY mode.

Tap Tempo, you say? Yep – if you press and hold the pedal for two seconds, it will enter tap tempo mode so you can set the tempo of the effect to your music by banging it out with you foot. I love this feature!

So, there is plenty going on here, and the big question is does it work? It does, and I tested it out with my active and passive P and J basses, as well as with my Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul. The BF-3 provides a very good flange effect, and though it is digital it has a very warm timbre to it. I am not the world’s bigger flanger fan, so I use it in MOMENTARY mode for additional color as needed. I am not the next Van Halen, obviously…

In a nutshell, the BF-3 is a pretty good pedal for a reasonable price, which is what BOSS is all about. This pedal would be good for classic hard rock and more progressive music. If you are playing jazz, country or blues just stay away from it because it is impossible to get a clean sound out of it.

Unfortunately, there are a few downside to this unit. For starters, it does not have true bypass, which is something that everybody and their brother wants. In truth, there is some color added to the straight tone when bypassing the pedal, and gear nuts are fanatical about this. Also this pedal can be a bit noisy (but not too bad). And lastly, this thing goes through batteries like red Solo cups at a kegger. Buy an AC adapter.

The BOSS BF-3 Flanger does the job well and is reasonably priced with a list price of $217.50 and a street price of $139. They are way cheaper on the used market, but you will be giving up the 5-year warranty if you go that route. Check one out before you buy to make sure it is really what you want, and let me know what you think.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

1997 Fender JB62-75US Jazz Bass Review


Every bassist needs to keep at least one Jazz Bass around, and today we are looking at my current Fender Jazz. Those that know me are surely tired of hearing me talk about how good Japanese Fenders are, so I will just say that this one meets my high expectations. This is a recently imported crafted in 1997 Japan Fender 62-75US Jazz Bass that came straight to me from Tokyo.

This model code is easy enough to decode: the 62 indicates that this is a 1962 re-issue, the 75 is the original sales price (75,000 Yen) and the US means that this bass shipped from the factory with Fender United States-sourced pickups. This bass looks the part, with a smart 3-tone sunburst finish (poly) over the ash body and a faux tortoise shell guard.

The neck is slim with a pretty rosewood fretboard. The 20 original frets are vintage sized, and there are nice full-sized tuners, not the wrong-looking small base tuners that are found on the 62-58. The logos all look right (except for the contour body one, which is not in the right place) and they even put the extra strap button on the back of the headstock.

They also put the right bridge on this bass, a serrated vintage style unit with the period correct ground strap running from it to the pickup cavity. There are the usual Jazz Bass volume/volume/tone knobs connected to the single coil pickups. No big surprises here.

The overall condition of this instrument is very good, with just normal play wear. The original frets are in good shape and are still level, – the craftsmanship is first rate. The US pickups are a bit beefier, with more output than their Japanese counterparts. What more could you want?

I set it up with roundwounds, and it has a nice medium action, a fast neck, it looks good, and it sounds exactly like a Jazz Bass should. It is not terribly heavy, either, coming in at 9 ½ pounds. You cannot beat the prices of these instruments either, especially if you pick one up overseas. There is nothing on the used market in the US that can even compare at this price point. If you are looking for a solid Jazz Bass, you need to check one of these out if you can find one!


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Little Martin LX1E Acoustic Electric Parlour Guitar Review


Because I travel a lot for work, I usually take along a guitar to try to keep my fingers in shape. If you have flown lately, you know what a hassle it can be, so I try to bring along a smaller-profile instrument. I have experimented with different travel guitars, and my current favorite is the Little Martin LX1E.

My goal was to find something that would fit easily in the overhead bin, be reasonably priced, play well, and sound good. There are plenty of products on the market that do the first two things, but they often end up being miserable to play and/or sounding like crap (e.g. the Martin Backpacker or any of those crummy little Yamaha ¾ size acoustics). So the obvious choices were the Little Martin or the small-size Taylors. So, when it came time to pick up a 3/4 –size guitar, I did my due diligence, and A/B’d the Little Martin with the Baby Taylor and the Taylor Mini GS. Both of the Taylors are fantastic instruments, and played very well, but the Baby Taylor doe not sound good to me, and the GS is pretty close to a full-sized instrument.

The Little Martin is not assembled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, as this would be impossible at this price point due to higher labor costs here. Instead, it is put together (with parts made in the US) at their factory in Mexico, the same one that builds their lower end and Backpacker instruments. Also, the Little Martin does not use much in the way of solid woods. The top is Sitka spruce, but the back and sides are wood-patterned HPL, which stands for high-pressure laminate. The neck is what they call Stratabond, which is a laminated piece with about 35 strips of wood glued together. Martin markets these components as being environmentally responsible, but we all know that they use them because they are cheap. I don’t see too much of a downside with either one of these for a travel guitar, as these materials are quite sturdy and are stuck together well.

The top has X-series Sitka spruce bracing, like the cheaper Martin D-1 and DM models. This is a simpler, lightweight "A-frame" system that uses less braces. The cross braces are tapered drastically at the ends to improve flexibility at the edges of the top to improve bass response at the expense of the treble range. There is no free lunch, you know. the neck has a glued mortise and tenon joint, unlike some of its competitors that use bolt-on necks (Baby Taylor). The fretboard and bridge base are made of Richlite, which looks kind of like rosewood but is actually a composite material that has a phenolic resin injected under high pressure into some sort of fiber (god know what), and then baked. Kind of like fiberglass or carbon fiber, I guess. Anyway it is hard as a rock, and sounds nice. You will also find chrome-plated Gotoh Tuners and a classy-looking Martin logo on the peghead.

The overall look is rather Spartan, with no binding to be found anywhere and no pickguard. There is no glossy lacquer or poly here, either, just a hand-rubbed finish. If I hold onto this it might get a pickguard, just to church it up a little bit. Like I hold onto anything very long…

Though it is small, the Little Martin is easy to play. It has a 23-inch scale (about 2 1/2 inches shorter than a full-size guitar), so it is not too much of a transition to this instrument. The neck has a flat oval shape, and it is considerably easier to play than Martin’s miserable Backpacker models. With the 1 11/16-inch nut and a 16-inch radius fretboard fingerstyle is possible, and it is fun to play melody lines on it. The body is a modified 0-14 shape, and it is big enough that it can be comfortably played on the knee, though I still prefer to use a strap, even when sitting. There is no neck dive and It is nice to have a body to rest my right arm against – both of these are big minuses for the Backpacker.

I got rid of my Little Martin LXK2 to get this LX1E because of the E in the name, which means “electronics.” This instrument has a Fishman ISYS T onboard preamp system. It has Volume, Tone shaping, and Phase controls with a Fishman Sonicore pickup. It does not take up much space on the upper bout, and it even includes a kind of crummy tuner. There is a separate battery box down by the endpin, and it takes a conventional 9-volt battery.

Besides playing well, it sounds pretty nice, too, especially when plugged in. Though it lacks the bass and punch of a dreadnought, it is loud enough for practicing or around the campfire, plus it sounds less tinny than the small Taylors, and nothing like the nasally Backpacker model. Apparently their bracing system lives up to its promises. It does not have a very complicated or rich sound, but it has even volume from string to string, and … This particular guitar was very well put together by the folks down Mexico way, and the fretwork was very good. Intonation is pretty close to perfect. I picked it up secondhand from a pawnshop, and though it was pretty filthy it cleaned up nicely and has a good set-up with medium gauge strings.

The Little Martin sounds good enough and plays so well that I think this would be a great starter guitar for kids or people with small hands, and obviously it is a great instrument for the travelling business man. This guitar comes with a nice padded gig bag, which has worked well for travel, but there is one caveat. On small regional jets there is just not enough room in the overhead bins (and no closet), so I have had to gate check it a few times. It has handled all of this with no problems, so it is super-durable. But…it still makes me nervous enough that I ended up springing for an SKB molded hard case. Now this thing is ready to travel anywhere and I can have peace of mind. By the way, it weighs 3 pounds, 10 ounces, which is not too bad either.

I have save the best part for last, and that is the price. The Little Martin LX1E has a list price of $519 and a street price of $399, which includes the nice gig bag and a one-year warranty. This is a hundred bucks more than the model without a pickup, but I think the extra expense is worth it. You will get a lot of guitar for not much cash, so you should check one out if you get a chance.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

2012 Fender American Standard Precision Bass V 5 String Review


Those that know me are aware that 5-string basses never stick around for very long here, but I am also a die-hard Precision Bass fan, so I had to give the Fender American Standard Precision Bass V a try. It is an awesome playing and sounding bass, but I am afraid that it is still not going to be enough to convert me.

Fender has been in the Precision Bass business for over 60 years, and this is a logical extension of their highly successful flagship bass. It has the classic profile with a contoured alder body that does not have an 1/8-inch of plastic-looking poly on it. The finish seems relatively thin, which allows the instrument to resonate better and have a more authentic vintage Fender tone. This one is covered in a beautiful three-color burst, with not too much red in the fade.

The maple neck is graphite-reinforced, and the rosewood fretboard is loaded up with 20 medium-jumbo frets. There is a matte vintage tint finish on the back that is pleasant and does not require any breaking in. The profile is a comfortable c-shape that makes access to all five strings fairly easy.

The Precision V hardware follows the trend of their 4-string offerings, which is a good thing. The bridge has a thicker bass plate that makes me wonder how they are able to bend it without having it crack, and it can either string through the body or terminate at the bridge. The tuners are lightweight units that help prevent neck dive while still holding well. The chrome on all of these parts seems very thick, and looks almost as good as nickel. The tortoiseshell pickguard is the right shade of brown and avoids the usual trap of being too red and looking stupid.

Electronics are about what you would expect, with master volume and tone knobs, no active electronics, and what Fender calls a 60’s vintage Precision Bass split single coil pickup. I am not away of the company making many 5-string P Bass pickups in the 1960s, but this one has plenty of output and it does replicate the P Bass sound. Close enough!

This one is a 2012 model and it is very well-kept. It shows almost no wear and the craftsmanship is first rate. The fretwork is very good with no buzzing and perfect intonation. The finish shows no flaws, and it is obvious that Fender’s US employees had their A-game on when they put this one together. I have nothing to complain about on the assembly of this instrument, which is an uncommon occurrence.

It plays well and makes all of the familiar Precision Bass sounds until you get down to the B string, and then things seem to get a bit fuzzy. The fifth string is a bit dark and indistinct and is not nearly as tight as the B on a Stingray or even some of the lower end Ibanez offerings. I have experimented with various strings have not found any that sound as good as the factory strings – I wonder who they are buying them from. Anyway, it is a nicely made instrument and it has the Fender tone, which counts for a lot.

If you buy one of these new it comes with an uber-nice G&G Tolex case and a full complement of case candy. And it should come with nice extras like this because it is not cheap – a new Fender American Standard Precision V Bass has a list price of $1949 and a street price of $1449. This is not a lot cheaper than a Stingray 5, which I feel is better made and is a lot more versatile with a decidedly better B string. But if you want the P-Bass sound in a 5-er this is pretty much the best game in town. If you are thinking of buying one be sure to check it out before you buy.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Blackstar HT-5R 1x12 Combo Guitar Amplifier Review


Guitarists are in a really sweet spot right now, as there are oodles of really good small tube amplifiers on the market, and they will not have to break the bank (or their backs) to pick one up. One I tried out recently is the very nice Blackstar HT-5R.

Blackstar amplifiers was founded ten years ago in Northampton, England by four friends. Two of these folks were former Marshall research and development employees, Ian Robinson and Bruce Keir, and they have used their experience to create a full line of gnarly tube amp and some really excellent pedals.

Though they are known for their high-power offerings, the HT-5R is also a neat piece of work, and it is an excellent small gig or practice amplifier. It is pretty small (18x14x9 inches), but it still manages to pack a 12-inch speaker, a Blackbird 50 made by Celestion. The speaker is good for 50 watts at 16 ohms. The whole combo is not too heavy, coming in at around 27 pounds, but it still has a sturdy feel. This is an open-back amp, of course…

It is a good-looking amp too, with a black and chrome theme that will probably not look dumb in 10 years. I do not care for the size and look of the logo on the front, but it would probably come off without too much trouble. It seems really well put together with heavy plywood and good corner protection and the tubes are recessed to help prevent damage. The HT-5R that I played had a couple of lump spots on the Tolex and the piping did not seem to fit well around the front mesh, but then again this is not a super-expensive amp.

This is a 5-watt tube unit, but it makes its power differently than the rest of the herd of cool little amps that have been coming out over the past decade. This Blackstar uses a 12BH7 dual triode valve in a push-pull output stage to get the characteristics of a 100W output stage, making it sound like a lot bigger amp even at lower volume levels. These guys are pretty clever!

Using the HT-5R is not difficult as it is not exactly a knob farm, even though it is a two-channel amp. The controls are on the top panel, and include volume and tone for the clean channel, gain and volume for the overdrive channel, a three band EQ (labeled “Equalisation” for you Anglophiles) with an ISF knob, a reverb knob and switches for standby and power. Bless Blackstar for putting the volume switch somewhere easy to find. A footswitch is included for the channel switching, or the overdrive switch on the control panel can be used.

Around back is the IEC power cable socket, 3 speaker outputs, a switchable emulated output (also good for headphones), the footswitch socket, an effects loop and a ¼-inch input for MP3/AUX sources. These are located so that they face down and cannot be seen when the amp is standing up normally, making them a total pain to use in low-light situations. The orientation of these features is probably the thing I like least about the HT-5R.

A few of these features need a little further explanation. The ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) knob is a supplement to the EQ knobs and it changes the tonal characteristics. Turned fully to the left, when maxed out it tightens the bottom end and boost, and when maxed out it has the British thunder to it. There is some kind of variable logic in-between. The switchable emulated output is for the headphones or mixer and it replicates the sound of a 4x12 closed back or a 1x12 open back cabinet. This is a stereo out so you can get the full effect of the reverb (the “R” in HT-5R).

I tried out this Blackstar amp with my Tele, Strat and Les Paul and came away impressed -- it was able to get most any tone I was looking for without a ton of knob fiddling. I am sure that this was in part because I was using the right tools for the job and not trying to make a strat sound like a Les Paul, or vice versa. I could get a very respectable clean, as well as a nasty bark when overdriving. It would do a respectable Pink Floyd, GNR or Dan Fogelberg.

The ISF knob really does work as advertised, though I lost patience with trying to make the in-between settings work for me. For someone like me they would have been better off putting a switch on it instead of a knob. Maybe a three-way switch so I could turn it off, too. It does make me wonder what the HT-5R would sound like with no ISF and a sweepable mid instead.

The digital reverb is probably amongst the best on-board units I have heard. It is perfectly usable the way that it is, though it should be noted that it is for both channels, and it is not foot switchable (the footswitch only controls channel switching).

I tried out the emulation switch and liked how it sounded though my phones. This would be a nice feature for recording, though it may be a moot point for on-stage work, as you are going to need a bigger amp if you are at the size of a gig that would require a sound guy.

Which comes down the final point: power. All-in-all, this is a 5-watt amp, and it is going to find almost all of its use for practice and very small gigs. It is loud enough to make the neighbors made, but probably not enough to make them call the cops.

Keeping all of this in mind, the Blackstar HT-5R is a durable amp that sounds good, and it is not very expensive for what you get. It has a list price of $629 and a street price of $499 (including a footswitch), which is not too bad at all. It would certainly be near the top of my list if I was looking for a new amp in this size range.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Rex and the Bass Logos


An artist friend of mine put together some new logos for Rex and the Bass. I am super-stoked with how the turned out and think they give the site a fresh new look that is not a derivative of something that I found on the internet and modified for my own purposes There is no way I could have come up with something original like this on my own.

If you are interested in having something like this done for your band or site, drop me a line and I will pass along your information.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Acoustic Strap Secure Review


If you have an acoustic guitar with an endpin jack for the pickup, chances are good that there have been a few close calls where the strap has slipped odd the endpin, and if you are lucky you were able to catch the guitar before it hit the floor. There is not much of a flange on most of these jacks, so there just is not enough surface area to hold a strap properly in place. As time goes on and the hole in the strap wears from taking it on and off the guitar the problem only gets worse.

This is where the Acoustic Strap Secure comes into play. This product is the brainchild of Marcus Daniels Luthiery in the state of Washington, and they have definitely filled a market need. It is a 1-inch diameter machined brass knob that fits through the strap and then screws onto the threads of the output jack. The outer edge is knurled so you can crank it down with your fingers and no tools are required. That is all – it is not complicated and there are not many parts to lose or chances for things to go wrong.

The Strap Secure is available in two models: standard 3/8″ x 32 tpi to fit Switchcraft and Fishman output jacks, and metric M9x.75 to fit L R Baggs and other output jacks. You will probably want to trim the end hole on your strap a bit so the Strap Secure busing does not cause the strap to bunch up, and it is up to you if you want to leave the strap permanently installed on the guitar. I leave mine installed most of the time to avoid wear and tear to the output jack.

If you decide to pick one of these up, they are $20 (shipping included) from or $14 from Stew-Mac, but you have to pay for the shipping separately. Give one a try and let me know what you think.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Album Review: Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the August 22, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Various Artists – Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series

Rounder Record Company

13 tracks / 48:40

I do not watch much television, let alone reality shows, so I was a bit nonplussed when the Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series CD showed up in my mailbox. I am not familiar with the show and figured that it would be a compilation of mood music and kitschy dialogue from the show. I was wrong – this disc is chock full of first-rate blues, country, Zydeco, bayou, soul and roots music.

In case you are in the same boat as me, Swamp People is a reality show that has been broadcast on History since 2010. The show follows groups of Cajun alligator hunters as they ply their trade in Louisiana. It is quite a hit for the network, with millions of viewers for each episode. Who knew?

The songs on Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series are not really derived from the show, but instead fit in with its theme. There is only one original track (the theme song, “Swamp People”), and most of the rest of the collection pre-dates the show, sometimes by decades. There are famous classic recordings mixed in with more obscure new music, and it all fits in well with the premise of the program.

The title track, Steel Bill’s “Swamp People,” is the newest song of the bunch and it was written specifically for the show. Its country rap stylings and lyrics remind me of what Kid Rock has been doing for the past decade. It will probably not become a classic, but Billy Joe Tharpe did a good job of making it match up with the subject matter of the show.

Things really pick up after this, and the rest of the album is fantastic. The Rounder folks did a nice job of combing their catalog for gems, and they stuck with the alligator theme whenever possible. First up is Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses,” a hilarious country song from 1970 that details a one-armed gator hunter’s troubling upbringing and brushes with the law. Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie” is another winner. This swamp rock hit from 1968 was written by drawing from his hardscrabble upbringing on a Louisiana cotton farm. The lyrics are funny and a bit corny, but he pulls it off and it is a great song. Elvis covered it, you know…

The other king, Hank Williams, makes an appearance on Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series. This CD would not have been complete without “Jambalaya (on the Bayou),” his 1952 country hit. There have been so many covers of this song that it was refreshing to hear his original again, which adds a bit of Cajun flavor as he recounts the life of partying and eating in the Louisiana style. If this song is not in your library, you are missing out.

One song that I never saw coming was The Neville Brothers’ “Fire on the Bayou.” I had not heard this 1981 soul/funk piece in the longest time, and it features the tight back line and beautiful vocal harmonies that these gentlemen are known for. The Neville Brothers are native sons of New Orleans, making the inclusion of this hit all the more appropriate.

A couple of neat instrumentals were thrown into the mix, too. Buckwheat Zydeco’s “Zydeco La Lauisianne” has a frenetic party pace and some lovely accordion work, and Amanda Shaw’s “French Jig” is full of fantastic Cajun fiddle. This young lady is one to watch, as her singing is just as good as her violin playing. Though she is only 22, she has already released four very good albums, and we will be seeing a lot more of her.

The album finishes off with an obvious choice, “See You Later, Alligator.” But instead of the popular (and predictable) Bill Haley and the Comets version, they went with the original performed by Bobby Charles, who is the man who wrote the song in the first place. Charles’ original is in the New Orleans blues style with some nifty drum work, and I prefer it over Haley’s rock and roll cover. To me, this is the standout track on this project.

So, do not judge Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series by its title or by the show that inspired it. If you write it off because you dislike the show you will miss out on a fabulous amalgamation of Southern music. This stuff was recorded by the best the business has to offer over the past 50 years, so check it out if you get the chance!


Monday, September 8, 2014

2014 Art and Lutherie Ami Cedar Parlour Acoustic Guitar


If you are looking for a new parlour guitar, this might be a good candidate: a nice Art & Lutherie Ami Cedar. Art & Lutherie guitars are a fabulous value -- they are an offshoot of the Godin family of guitars and are made in Princeville Quebec. They claim that 95% of their wood comes from Canada, too, and the other 5% must be all of that Indian rosewood.

I am impressed by the sound and the build quality of this guitar, and even more by the price, which is pretty reasonable. Godin’s concept was to make an instrument that is similar to the parlour guitars of the early 20th century. But its small size does not mean it is a toy. It has a full-size neck and plays like a real guitar.

The Ami is a handsome instrument, with a vintage burst finish over the solid cedar top, and red wild cherry back and sides. The fretboard and bridge are made of Indian rosewood. The finish is sort of a semi-gloss, and the body has a simple binding around the top. The super cheap-looking stick-on rosette is my biggest gripe with the appearance.

The sealed tuners are nice quality and hold well. It has first-rate Tusq (synthetic bone) compensated nut and bridge saddles that are made by Graphtech.

The neck is made of a single piece of maple, with added sections for the headstock and heel. It has a smooth satin finish, which does not get sticky over time. The nut is 1.72-inches wide, so it is a little narrow if you do a lot of finger picking, but this is a close to normal scale (24.84-inch) guitar so the frets are not too close together. There are 19 medium frets and there is an adjustable trussrod. This guitar had a great set-up right out of the box, and the frets ends are finished well, with nice edges.

The Ami is a nicely-made guitar, with solid materials and it sounds nice and plays well too! It has a fairly balanced tone and surprising volume when picked hard. It is pleasant to play, and is a great travel guitar.

Should you take it on a trip, it is nice and light, weighing in at around 3 pounds, 11 ounces according to my scale. They come with a good quality padded gig bag, which is a nice bonus.

If you do not want the burst finish or the cedar top, there are other options available with the Art & Lutherie Ami guitars. You can get Ami cedar tops in blue (shudder), natural, and black. Or you can choose a spruce top in burgundy. There is also a nylon string model available.

MSRP on this guitar is a mere $419, with a street price of about $349. You can negotiate a bit lower than the street price so check around before you buy. It is definitively one of the better small-sized acoustic guitar for the money.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Big Al & the Heavyweights – Sunshine On Me Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the June 20, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Big Al & the Heavyweights – Sunshine On Me

Self Release through Blusiana Records

11 tracks / 39:01

New Orleans is a mixture of different cultures, sensation and vibes, and it is cool that a few of Louisiana’s native sons have formed a band that is producing diverse music that any Crescent City native would be proud to call their own. That band is Big Al & the Heavyweights, which had its genesis in 1992 as the Unknown Blues band with founding members Warren Haynes and Al Lauro. After Dickey Betts tapped Warren on the shoulder with an invitation to be in the Allman Brothers (how could one resist?) Al pushed on and changed the band’s name to its current moniker.

They have earned a stout fan base by sticking to a solid game plan: making good music and getting out there to prove themselves to live audiences. The band has cut six well-done albums and is on the road more often than not, playing regularly around the Gulf States with occasional forays into the Midwest and points beyond, including the Chicago House of Blues. It does not hurt that they have staunch celebrity advocates (Dan Ackroyd and Emeril Lagasse) who are in their corner and are who do a stand-up job of getting their music out to the masses.

The Heavyweight lineup for Sunshine On Me includes New Orleans native Al on vocals and drums, bassist Dean Galatas from Bayou Liberty and two guys from Baton Rouge: Harmonica Red on the harp and James Bass on vocals and lead guitars. John “The Colonel” Fuhrman plays the harmonica and provides background vocals and Wayne Lohr plays the B3 and accordion as well as handling the lead vocals on a few of the tracks. This is an impressive line-up, and their talent is outshined by their ability to bring out the best in each other.

This most recent release includes eleven tracks, and you will find that their recordings have become more eclectic over the years, integrating element of blues, rock, jazz and Zydeco. The band has arrived at a place where they have their own sound, and it is a marvelous thing to behold. This is evident from the first track, “Don’t You Want Me,” which is hard to categorize in only one genre. It has an obvious blues foundation, but the hand percussion gives it a Cajun / roots music feel, and the break at the end of each verse is a real kick.

“What’s Up With That” has a more traditional blues feel, with a driving bass line and some nice work from James Bass on the sax and vocals. His voice is versatile, sounding very different from the opening track. You will find that their songwriting is mature, with this song constructed well to sync with the clever lyrics.

In the title track you will hear the heavy sounds of producer Anders Osborne’s electric guitar and the familiar tone of guest artist Warren Haynes’ slide guitar. This southern rock feel is seasoned with a tasty bit of Wurlitzer piano from Wayne Lohr. He takes over the vocal chores on “Money Matters,” a slow low-down blues song with wonderful harp playing from Fuhrman. Lohr also whips up his accordion for “Dance With Me,” a short Louisiana-fueled dancehall tune.

The Heavyweights pull out the stops with two down home Zydeco songs: “Pass a Good Time” and “Zydeco Boogie.” The combination of squeeze box, fiddle and washboard on these tunes provide a fun contrast with the road house and blues elements found throughout the rest of Sunshine On Me. Osborne did a fabulous job of producing this album and integrating all of these different styles, and all of the tracks play perfectly due to the engineering work of George Cureau and mastering by Parker Dinkins.

My favorite track on this disc is “Midnight Train to Memphis,” a blues rocker with some fine bass playing from Dean “The Bass Machine” Galatas. He does an admirable job of doubling Bass’ guitar work as Lohr belts out the throaty vocals while working the Hammond organ. The Colonel brings everything together on this one with his groovy harmonica stylings.

Big Al & the Heavyweights have come a long way since their first album, and Sunshine On Me is a just reward for two decades of hard work. It is a great listen and you should check it out for yourself. Also, make sure that you look through their website to see when they will be in town next so you can catch their live performance. With over a hundred shows per year the chances are good they will be near you at some point. I will surely be keeping an eye out for them during my travels!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

2008 Fender Japan Telecaster All Black TL-71-AB Electric Guitar Review

Hi there!

It would not be a trip to Japan for me without wandering through a few music stores and checking out the instruments that we never get to see her in the states. Today we are looking at another gem – a fairly rare 2008 Japanese Fender Telecaster – the “All Black” model. I think the model is TL-71-AB, meaning that its basic design is similar to a 1971 Tele.

You can see why they call it this – it is almost all black! The body is glossy black, as is the back of the neck and the headstock. I am willing to bet it originally had a black pick guard on it too, but it was wearing a red tortoise shell one when I found it hanging in the store (it was a used instrument). I do not mind, though, because I think it is a nice contrast. They went for a silver Fender logo and no other markings on the headstock.

I read online that these are made of basswood. but it weighs 8 pounds, 1 ounce, which is a tad heavy for basswood, so I had to pull the neck. It looks like ash in the neck pocket to me. The neck is maple, and it is has a pretty rosewood fretboard.

The hardware is certainly good enough, with chrome Gotoh sealed-back tuners to hold the strings solidly. Their clean modern look goes well with the color theme of the guitar, and I am glad they did not choose black tuners. And fortunately they went with a three-saddle bridge – Telecasters with six-saddle bridges just do not look right.

The electronics are where I get a little lukewarm on this thing. This was not a super high-end guitar, so it ended up with a basic run-of-the-mill pickup set and chintzy pots. The wiring looks awfully thin, too. But, all-in-all, it is a solid instrument.

I found this one at Komehyo in Nagoya, which has the biggest secondhand guitar inventory that you will find in the city. It is in like-new condition, with not a scratch or ding on it, and the price was cheaper than what you would pay for a MIM Telecaster here in the United States.

Of course it looks awesome, and the finish is just beautiful. But it also plays very well, with nice fretwork and a great set-up and action. I wish there was a little more bite to the sound, and this one might get a set of Lollars and nicer pots and wiring if I am able to hold onto it for more than a month or two, but in the meantime it is certainly good enough for anything I will be doing.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Things that the Sound Guy has That Nobody Else Does


If you have ever been in charge of sound at an event, you know that you are probably the best-prepared person there. Whether it is a company picnic, a carnival or an awards show, the sound person is the go-to for anything that anybody else forgot to bring. One exception is my wife’s friend, Leslie, who has a Broadway background and organizes her events like I have never seen before. She knows how to put on a show!

I have thought it over, and here is a list of stuff you are going to have in your road case or tote that nobody else thought to bring, even though they desperately need it for their job. Here goes:

1. Tape. Chances are that the poor folks running the school carnival did not plan that the booth signs that the kids made would need to be stuck up somewhere. They see your roll of gaffer tape and start salivating. Besides the fact that it costs you 20 bucks a roll, it does a terrible job of sticking down banners and tablecloths. Maybe toss a roll of masking tape in your gig kit – it will save you trouble in the long run.

2. The Schedule. How many times has the event organizer come up to you and said there will be a skit, or a dance act, or an award presentation, but could not tell you when any of these things were going to happen? Everything is a last minute call on their part, it seems. Bring a piece of paper and a pencil so you can help them figure it out. You know they won’t have anything to write with…

3. Power. One way or another you have the power. Electric power, that is. If they are looking for an extension cord, you are the one that has it. If you are in the middle of a park with your own generator, you know that the snow-cone guy’s POS Harbor Freight generator will not start and he will have to glom onto one of your outlets. So, you get static through your speakers every time he grinds up a block of ice. Every time.

4. A Table. Nature abhors an unoccupied flat surface, and you have one. That award they are going to hand out? It ends up on your table. Random cell phones just end up there – keep an eye on yours so it does not disappear by mistake. And miscellaneous drinks – they always end up on your table, even though you have plenty of expensive electronic crap to spill it on. Someone else’s drink has a half-life of about two seconds on my table. Go set it on the guitarist’s amp, please.

5. Tools. Screwdriver? Check. Pliers? Check. Pocket knife? Check. Your multi-tool is priceless, because nobody else has any of these things. Flashlight? Yeah, right.

6. Direct box and cables. Hey high school kid with the cheap-o acoustic/electric guitar – did you bring a cable? No. Did you bring a direct box? What’s a direct box? Exactly.

7. Shade. Out in the middle of a field in the dead of summer your easy-up will become a lot more popular than you could ever imagine. Stake out your turf early so that you get to enjoy it too, and make sure you figure out which way the sun is going to cross the sky so you are not frying in the late afternoon.

8. A sense of humor. Someone has to keep things light, and it will not be the cranky principal, the stuffy vice president, or the overwhelmed scoutmaster. Maybe you should be that someone!