Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: Post Audio ARF-68 Ambient Room Reflection Filter


If you have done any vocal recording outside the studio, you know how tough it can be to get a clean sound with no background noise. Your voiceovers and podcasts have the unmistakable quality that make it sound like you recorded them in the bathroom or a tunnel. The Post Audio ARF-68 reflection filter is a tool that can give you a much drier recording for not a lot of cash.

When you open the box, you will see that the filter is made of molded ABS plastic with 1-inch sound-deadening acoustic foam around the inside face; the mounting brackets are aluminum. The whole thing measures about 18” x 12” x 6” not counting the bracket. By the way, save the box, as it makes for a nice place to store it when it is not in use. The box also contains an instruction sheet that will come in handy, as it might be hard to figure out where all the pieces go when installing it on your microphone stand.

Build quality is good, though there was a bit of adhesive that got schmutzed onto the foam on mine. It still works fine, though. It looks like it should last for a good long time.

With the instruction sheet, installation is straightforward. Take the book of you stand (if equipped), thread the longer barrel nut on to the stand, put the bracket over the barrel nut, and then install the shorter barrel nut on top to sandwich the bracket into place. Then you can install the microphone mount over the second barrel nut, adjust the filter (up/down and in/out) and you are set to go.

With its plastic and aluminum construction it is not super heavy so it is less top-heavy than other reflection filters I have seen and it does not require a special stand. It has enough vertical movement (5-inches) that you will be able to center your microphone easily and without tools – there is a clasp and lock on the back of the assembly that can be worked by hand. In actual use for a voiceover with my Shure PG42-USB microphone I did an A/B test with and without the filter, and the tone was much cleaner with none of the strange thuddy tone I had before. Sibilance was reduced and external noises were almost completely mitigated. I am a fan of this thing!

The Post Audio ARF-68 Reflection Filter does everything it is supposed to do and it will not break the bank. It comes in at around $70 on Amazon (the last time I checked) and it is worth every penny. If you are doing podcasts, voiceovers, or other vocal recording at home you should really look into getting one of these. Trust me!


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: Musical Theatre West’s South Pacific at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, California


I have been a season subscriber to Musical Theatre West for a few years, and have almost always been pleased with their offerings. So, I was thrilled when I saw that South Pacific (one of my favorite musicals) was on the schedule for the 2014-2015 season. I saw it this past weekend as was not disappointed!

Musical Theatre West has been around since 1952, when it started out as the Whittier Civic Light Opera. Their productions evolved over time, and they went from being an all-volunteer operation to producing full seasons, currently under the capable leadership and vision of Executive Director/produce Paul Garman. Their big shows are hosted by the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, which is a lovely venue with plenty of conveniently located parking. And only two bathrooms...

South Pacific is one of the heavy hitters in the musical world, and the original 1949 stage show was based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “Tales of the South Pacific.” The original show won 10 Tony awards and spawned the incredible successful 1958 movie of the same name starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi. Undeniably this musical is so awesome thanks to the music of Richard Rodger and lyrics from Oscar Hammerstein II.

In case you have been hidden under a rock for the past 65 years, the plot is straight out of World War II with a cast of rowdy Seabees, hot nurses, harried officers, stereotypical natives, and rich expatriates. There are themes of love, racial tension, and death, and they all come together in a wonder fashion. The musical was a head of its time, and the racial themes must have been controversial at the time, though no less pertinent today.

South Pacific has such a long history and loyal following that effectively producing it is no small chore. Musical Theatre West rose to the challenge, and put all of the pieces together in a convincing manner thanks to the able direction and choreography of Joe Langworth.

Visually, the sets were good enough, with a just few too many elements taken care of by canvas, but Paul Black’s lighting was fantastic. The costumes were mostly period correct (I’m not too sure if they wore bikinis in WWII), and it is not too hard to come up with old military uniforms.

The sound was very good. There was a 28-piece orchestra (very big for a MTW production) under the supervision of musical director Dennis Castellano. Unfortunately the musicians were uncredited in the program, and I have no idea if they were union or not. The sound engineering was better than usual with no glaring errors other than the ear-splitting volume of Bloody Mary and too much reverb on the quieter numbers.

So, the basic foundation was solid, and though this is a well-written show its success depends on the cast, and the performers (mostly equity) all delivered solid performances. Alessa Neeck earned the role of Nellie Forbush and her voice was beautiful but her timing was off right from the start. Her love interest, Emile De Beque, was played by Christopher Carl who has voice galore, and who has been performing this role for years in various venues. .

The the other set of lovers, Lietenant Cable and Liat, were portrayed by Patrick Cummings and Cailan Rose. Cummings has a strong stage presence and looks fabulous with his shirt off, and Rose had the grace that was needed to play a character with almost no lines. Jodi Kimuar did a respectable job with Bloody Mary, though the racial stereotype of the character makes me cringe every time I see the show. My favorite character was Spencer Rowe’s Luther Billis, as there is nothing funnier than a macho guy in drag!

The ensemble turned in a solid performance, and they were very good dancers, and they made good use of Langworth’s choreography. Though I have seen this show many times, I had not noticed that aside from a few major numbers, the chorus has relatively little vocal work.

All of this came together well for very solid performance. Musical Theatre West has outdone itself and South Pacific is a classic show with fine production values and a good cast, and a little something for everyone. If you have the chance you should get out and see it before it is gone, but leave the little kids at home with a sitter. This is a long show and they will be squirming in their seats a long time before the final curtain falls (it clocks in at almost 3 hours), not to mention a few adult themes that you will have to awkwardly explain to on the drive home.

If you want to see it you had better hurry as South Pacific is closing on March 1. There are still a few tickets left, so grab them while you can. And, be sure to check out tickets for the last two shows of this season: Les Miserables and Singin’ in the Rain. Also, now is the time to start thinking about next years season, which will include My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and a surprise, which has not been announced but I think you will like this very recent musical. You can’t beat the value!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Bill Durst – Live


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

Self Release

10 tracks / 45:21

Under their national MAPL system, Canadian radio stations must allot up to 40% of their airtime for Canadian artists, and this program helps grow local bands in a market that might otherwise be saturated by their brothers from the other side of the border. Some of these artists become big enough that their popularity extends further south, but often times it ends up that these acts get a loyal Canadian following so they enjoy good careers without us Americans ever hearing anything about them. Bill Durst is part of the latter group.

Bill Durst has been around the block a few times, having been active in the music scene for the past four decades, both as a solo artist and with the band, Thundermug. Since 1972, he has cut ten albums and had seven hits on the Canadian charts. Somewhere in there he played with Tres Hombres, a ZZ Top tribute band, which is how he ended up with that fantastic beard!

Live is Bill Durst’s latest effort, with ten tracks that were recorded at The Music Hall in London, Ontario back in late 2010. Seven of these songs are originals that were written by Bill and Joe DeAngelis, his buddy from Thundermug, and there are also three neat cover tunes. Bill takes on the guitar and vocal chores, and he is joined by Corey Thompson on drums and Paul Loeffelholz on bass and backing vocals. This is one tight power trio!

“Love Have Mercy” is the first track up, and we find out that the beard is not the only thing that Durst got from his stint in Tres Hombres – he came out of that band as a consummate blues rocker, with killer guitar chops, a distinctive voice and the heart of a showman. There is a definite ZZ Top influence in his music, albeit with an edgier sound and a much funkier bass presence.

After this sizzling opener, the band settles into two covers written in 1960 by Willie Dixon. The first is “Little Red Rooster,” which was originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, and then “I Want to Be Loved,” which was popularized by Muddy Waters. In case it ever comes up in a trivia contest, the Rolling Stones covered both of these songs too. Anyway, Bill’s versions of these songs have a different vibe than the originals, as they have been converted to his style of Southern/Texas blues rock. These are Bill Durst songs now through and through, and Loeffelholz’s walking bass lines (punctuated by slaps and pops) are nothing like you would find in the originals.

The other cover is ambitious, as it is hard to top the version of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” that the Allman Brothers included on their 1971 juggernaut, At Filmore East. Bill and his band rose to the challenge, and they knocked this one out of the park. Once again they reinvented this song in their own style, and this fast-faced roadhouse blues lends itself well to Durst’s guitar skills, which are prodigious. I am not going risk the wrath of the Allman’s fans by directly comparing the two versions, but I will let this one rest by saying that it would be very hard to do better than what these guys did with this classic.

Besides his guitar chops, Bill Durst has his singing down too. On first impression, he seems to have the typical growly bluesman voice, but after listening for a while I was taken by his vocal range, as well as all of the extra nuances he adds in. He can take a grunt, hoot or holler, and interject it so that it really affects the mood of the song. I am sure that you have heard singers try to do this before and fail, because it comes off as phony or contrived, but Durst can do it with such a natural feel that it really adds to the music. You can hear this with his woo hoo’s on the Creole-influenced “CafĂ©’ on the Gaspe” or his ability to mimic his guitar with the vocals on “Wandering Blues” (my favorite track on Live).

noticeable is how he lets his sense of humor take over every now and then. It can be semi-subtle, like reworking a children’s song into a drinking anthem with “Porcelain Bus,” or more overt, such as the “Hole in My Soul” self-improvement plan: “…I’m gonna give up my cocaine and buy me a bag of pot.” You have to love this stuff!

Live performance CDs can be a dicey at times, but this disc avoids the usual pitfalls. The instruments and vocals are well-recorded with good mixing, and the transitions from track to track are seamless. Also, as all three performers are veterans there is not a miscue or clunker to be found. This is particularly impressive when you consider that these guys did not know they were going to use the recordings from this show to cut a live album.

This CD was a fine introduction for me to Bill Durst’s music, and I am going to have to track down some of his other material so I can hear what else he has done. Live is a great snapshot of what he and his band are capable of, and their live show must also really be something to see. Give it a listen, or better yet, go to his website to see if he is playing in your area anytime soon!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

BOSS PH-3 Phase Shifter Guitar Effect Pedal Review


The month would not be complete without a review of some sort of BOSS effect pedal, so today we are looking at the P-3 Phase Shifter. This is probably the main competition for the venerable MXR Phase 90.

Roland’s BOSS division makes effect pedals for the everyday working musician. These are folks that cannot afford the boutique pedals, or more realistically, they realize that good is good enough (sort of a Voltaire attitude). You have seen that you pay whatever you want can pay anything you want for guitar effect pedals, with the choices include crummy junk for twenty bucks all the way up to hundreds of dollars for stuff that was put together by people in first-world countries. BOSS pedals fall in the middle, as they are reasonably priced and good quality, making them a good value.

What exactly does a phase shifter do? It performs comb filtering by splitting the input signal, introducing a very short delay on one of the signals, and then recombining them. That delay is also modulated (varied), and so the phase of one of the signal (relative to the other) is shifted. Remember the bass part on Nugent’s “Stranglehold” – that is a phase shifter. Do not confuse it with a flanger, which works in a similar manner but with a longer delay.

The PH-3 is a standard single-space sized pedal, measuring 2.9 inches wide by 2.4 inches tall by 5.1 inches long, and it weigh in at a touch under one pound. See? The metric system will never catch on as long as I am on watch! This pedal runs on a single 9-volt battery or it takes the optional BOSS PSA adapter (which is a good idea as it burns through batteries like crazy). It draws 50 mA at 9 volts, 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 either input jack acts as the power switch.

It has the same general style as other BOSS pedals, but this one comes in a shocking shade of chartreuse. The outside of the sturdy metal case has a ¼’ input and output jacks, an input jack for hooking up an external footswitch or expression pedal, and a jack for the aforementioned 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 RATE, DEPTH, RES (Resonance), and STAGE. Here is what they do:

- RATE: adjusts the speed at which the filter changes. It you crank it all the way to the left (MIN) the filter is OFF.

- DEPTH: adjusts the depth of the filter change. The filter effect turns OFF when turned all the way to the left unless the STAGE knob is in the RISE of FALL positions.

- RES: adjusts the strength of the filter effect. The more it is turned towards MAX, the more distortion will be heard.

- STAGE: selects the number of phase steps and the phase type. The 4, 8, 10 and 12 steps increase in depth the higher the number goes. RISE, FALL and STEP do exactly what they say: the sound will emulate rising, falling and non-consecutive tone effects.

A little more info about the external switch input is probably in order here. This jack allows the user to control some of the PH-3 functions in a hands-free mode with the EV-5 expression pedal. RATE can be changed with an EV-5 pedal expression, which sounds like a great idea – but I did not have one to try out the feature. Tap tempo can be controlled from a regular FS-5U external footswitch, which I do have, and it worked very well. You can do tap tempo without the footswitch, but it is way easier with one, so spend a couple of extra bucks to pick one up if you do not already have one.

The PH-3 works really well when you put it to work, and it does not take very long to get a good tone out of it. It has the ability to get classic tones (Step 4) and modern tones, and the unique rise and fall modes give a great unidirectional phase effect that is more modern and very usable. The ability to match it to tempo is a godsend, and there is not a lot of noise or hiss added to the signal chain. Pretty much it is a winner no matter how you look at it.

If you are searching for a good quality and effective phase shifter pedal, the BOSS PH-3 fits the bill. It will get the job done and is certainly reasonably priced with a list price of $208.50 and a street price of $129. They hold their value well on the used market, so you are better off buying new and getting the BOSS 5-year warranty.


Monday, February 23, 2015

2006 Taylor Grand Concert 312ce Acoustic Electric Guitar Review


When it comes to acoustic guitars I am pretty much a die-hard Martin enthusiast, but I recently stumbled upon a lovely 2006 Taylor Grand Concert 312ce that I think is a pretty neat piece of work.

In case you are not familiar with Taylor’s models (like me), the 312ce is a small-body acoustic with a Venetian cutaway and onboard electronics. It is a very comfortable size, with the body measuring around 4 3/8”deep, 15” wide, and 19 ½” long. This guitar has a shorter scale than most acoustics (24 7/8” versus the usual 25 1/2 inches), but this is the same as a Les Paul, which should make those switching over to acoustic from electric happier.

The body is made from Sapele, which is very similar to Mahogany, and the top is made from solid Sitka Spruce with forward shifted braces. The top has a glossy finish and the back and sides have a smooth satin finish. The top and back are bound with black plastic, and there is a faux tortoise shell pickguard (newer ones are black).

This Taylor’s unbound neck (newer ones are bound) has 20 frets, 16 of which are free from the body, thanks to the cutaway. The neck is mahogany with an ebony fretboard (the bridge is ebony too), and there is a very pretty Indian Rosewood peghead overlay and trussrod cover. The nut is 1 ¾” wide and it has a Tusq nut to match the bridge saddle. The nickel-plated sealed tuners hold well, and look so much nicer than chrome, which is as played as brown Louis Vuitton. The neck also has a satin finish, so it feels broken in right out of the box.

The last piece of the puzzle is the electronics package, which is Taylor’s dynamic Expression System pickup and preamp. This is an under the saddle-type piezo, while newer guitars get the ES2 system with a behind the saddle piezo. The three control knobs (volume/treble/bass) are on the upper bout, and the battery access is down by the endpin/¼-inch jack.

Nice years after this guitar was made it is still in great shape. The frets are in wonderful shape and perfectly level, and the finish on the top has darkened handsomely. It has a super-fast neck, and though I have heard that these guitars do their best for fingerstyle, it is a nice strummer, even when digging in. It is certainly not the loudest guitar on the planet, but it has an uncanny brightness and clarity. The top has loosened up nicely over the years, and it is as sweet as can be.

Plugged in, things are also very good. Taylor’s pickup system has a very natural and earthy tone, and it works well at very loud amplified levels without feeding back. When plugged directly into the board there is no hiss or hum, and it sounds exactly like it does unplugged. Impressive! It does all of this without putting the right arm at an uncomfortable angle, and it is easy on the back too, weighing in at around 4 ½ pounds.

The Taylor Grand Concert 312ce is well-made, attractive, a good player, and It sounds wonderful. So, you are going to pay a fairly hefty price if you want to get one into your arsenal. It has a list price of $2,318.00 and a street price of $1799.00, which includes a nice hard case. These guitars seem to sell for around a grand on the used market, which brings them more within the realm of us mortal men. Check one out for yourself and see what you think!


Ten Commandments of Bass


This was stolen from a friend's Facebook page:


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

1987 Fender Japan Keith Richards Sonny TL67-70SPL Telecaster Review


Here is another guitar from Fender’s Japanese affiliate that you will not see every day, a rare 1967 Reissue Keith Richards signature Sonny Telecaster, model TL67-70SPL. Of course, Keith’s is a 1966 Tele, but it is hard to get everything right…

The serial number on this had an E-prefix, and it is marked “Made in Japan,” which dates this one to around 1987. This is one of the earliest ones of these that I have seen.

TL67-70SPL can be decoded as follows: TL = Telecaster, 67 = 1967 re-issue, 70 = original price (70,000 Yen), SPL = special build. This guitar is expertly crafted with a white ash body that has been sprayed with a 3-tone sunburst finish, so that the grain shines through. A single-ply black pickguard is mounted, and it provides a nice contrast. I am tempted to see how a tort guard would look, but this is how Keith’s is, and he knows best!

The neck has a medium C profile with vintage frets and there is a late 60’s type logo on the headstock. Gotoh tuners are used on these Fender Japan Custom Shop models for their stability, although they look out of place on this guitar. A four-bolt F-stamped plate holds the neck to the body. The signature feature of this guitar is that the bridge is machined from a block of brass, with six solid brass saddles. It makes a huge difference in the tone of the guitar. I am sticking with normal tuning, not the 5-string open G that Keith uses, so there are still six saddles on this instrument.

On to the pickups: this one uses a Fender humbucker at the neck and a traditional vintage single coil at the bridge. The pickup used in the neck position has that Gibson PAF '57 reissue humbucker sound. On all of these the bridge pickup is a bit weaker than the neck, but this particular guitar seems a little worse. I am going to have to chase that down to see if it can be improved.

The craftsmanship on this guitar is impeccable. The fretwork and nut-detailing are superb. The neck pocket fit is as tight as they come. There is a good reason that these guitars were not exported to the US, as they are a tough act to beat. Of course, this guitar is 20+ years old, and it shows some honest wear, but it is still quite handsome (and it is not nearly so beat up as Keef’s).

It plays as nicely as it looks as the frets and neck are still very serviceable, and I have it set up with 0.010 Slinkies. After I look into the electronics situation I will get back to you all to let you know how it turned out.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Samson Meteor Mic USB Microphone Review


There is nothing like waiting until the last minute to make hasty decisions about an electronics purchase, and that is how I ended up buying the Samson Meteor Mic for a work project. Samson is not exactly the leading name in anything they sell, but this USB microphone worked out ok.

There is no arguing that most laptops come with terrible onboard microphones, so if you are going to do any sound work, such as Skype, VOIP webinars, or voiceovers, you will need to step up your equipment if you want better sound. There are tons of USB microphones available that do not require converters, and the Meteor falls somewhere between the other crap they sell at Best Buy and professional quality recording microphones.

When you open the box you will get the microphone, a USB to Mini-B cable (a fairly short one, too), an honest-to-god printed instruction manual and a velvet carry bag. This factory-sealed unit had no bag, which actually disappointed me a little. The box works well enough for storing it, though.

The microphone is one of the coolest-looking things you have ever seen, with an old-school Shure 55 look that has been heavily dipped in chrome (like Mix-a-Lot’s Desert Eagle). It is made of some sort of metal, so it has a heavy feel (about 10 ounces), and it has folding legs with little rubber pads. The legs can adjust to different angles and seem to hold their position well. There is a standard 5/8” microphone stand socket on the bottom, should you choose to mount it, though you will need to fold the legs down so you are not blocking the capsule and the USB port. Folded up, it measures about 2-inches by 4-inches.

The Meteor has a 1-inch condenser capsule, and it needs 5 volts to operate, which is provided through the USB port. There is not much in the way of external features, with a mute switch, an LED (blue = on, amber = muted, flashing red = clipping), a 1/8-inch 16-ohm headphone jack, and a volume control for the headphones. There is no external gain control, which is a stone-cold bummer for me, as all adjustments need to be done through the computer.

Spec-wise, it has a cardioid (uni-directional) pattern and a fairly flat frequency response of 20 Hz to 20kHz. It is a 16-bit rate microphone with 44.1/48kHz resolution.

Samson advertised the Meteor Mic as being plug and play with no drivers needed, and it actually works out that way. I tried it out on Windows 7, Windows 8, and OSX laptops, and it set-up automatically with all of them with no problems. You can also buy Samson Sound Deck noise cancellation software, but I have not tried it.

The sound quality is clear, though it definitely tends towards the tinny end of things. It is really best to be less than a foot away from this thing, but it works well enough if it is on its stand on the desk near you. As it has a cardioid pattern, there will be drastic differences in volume and quality if it placed in the middle of a meeting room, and only the folks directly in front of it will sound good.

But, on the plus side, it is portable, not terribly expensive, and easy to set up and use. For sure it will be an improvement over whatever microphone they put in your computer at the factory. I do not know how durable it is, but time will tell. If it craps out or falls apart I will update this review…

So, I would recommend the Samson Meteor Mic for podcasts, voiceover work, and webinars if everybody that is going to be speaking can be in front of the microphone. Keep looking if you are looking for something to record music with. It is not cheap, and not expensive either, with a street price of around $70, which includes a one-year limited warranty.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Benny Jenkins Bloodline – Can’t Take the Blues

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the November 21, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Benny Jenkins Bloodline – Can’t Take the Blues

99 Man Records

12 tracks / 42:56

By definition, the blues can be a stone cold bummer, but west coast swing, jump blues and rockabilly always put a smile on my face. Fortunately, a combination of these styles is the brand of blues that Benny Jenkins Bloodline is selling on their new CD, Can’t Take the Blues. This is the stuff they made rock and roll from, you know…

Benny Jenkins grew up on the south side of Chicago, where his brother introduced him to the blues at the tender age of ten. With his trusty harmonica he joined his siblings Alex and Don in the Jenkins Brothers band at the age of 18, and they toured around the US and Canada during the 1970s and 1980s. Benny worked on a few side projects along the way, including the Delta Kings and The Sinners. He has relocated around the United States, from St. Louis to Nashville, and finally back to Illinois.

Benny plays the guitar and harp, as well as providing the vocals for this project. He is joined by Todd Gallagher on the double bass, his brother Don Jenkins on drums, and his son Dylan Jenkins on rhythm guitar. This makes the collaboration a family affair, and right from the get-go it is apparent that there is good chemistry in this group.

Can’t Take the Blues is a home-brewed effort, including 12 original tracks written and produced by Benny, with not a cover tune to be found. They kick things off with “Step Back,” a short tune that is radio-friendly and danceable. Benny’s voice is pleasantly gritty, and the driving guitar lines are punctuated by a tasteful solo midway through that shows that he has all the guitar chops that he needs. “Blues Party” has a similar good times vibe, and either one of these songs would be a great soundtrack for your next party.

The title track comes up second, and after a drum intro we get to hear what Jenkins can do with the harmonica. He has tone to die for and works the harp perfectly into this classic tale of a man that lives for the blues. Plenty of comical pictures are painted in this 12-bar blues song, and he also shows off his sense of humor in “Reefer Smokin’ Mama” and “6 Ft. Underground.”

Todd Gallagher throws out a nifty intro to “Hey Mama,” which is not an easy task on the double bass. This song has a sweet vibe with its wailing harmonica and jazzy bass line, and it is all held together by Don Jenkins’ brushes on the drum kit. This is a lovely ode to his mother (who passed on when Benny was 8), and I am sure she is proud of what her sons have done.

Though many musical influences are heard on this disc, Benny does not let the listener forget that he is from the Windy City. “Jumpin’ on Maxwell” celebrates the birthplace of Chicago blues (with very few words) and “Bring Back the Blues to my Radio” bemoans the lack of decent entertainment of the airwaves. This tune calls out some of his favorite artists, all of whom made it through town at one time or another, including the three Kings (BB, Albert and Freddy), Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Elmore James. You will not find a better list of blues influences, though he might have better luck find these guys on the air if he subscribes to satellite radio…

The album finishes up with “Mush Mouth,” a minute long freestyle harmonica outro. What a cool way to bring things to an end!

This album is well-recorded and mixed, and flows smoothly from one song to the next. Benny Jenkins Bloodline’s Can’t Take the Blues is a solid effort and they deliver the goods on every track. From the energy they show on this CD, I can only imagine that their live show would be a hoot to see. Check it out for yourself and see what you think!


Friday, February 6, 2015

1987 Fender Japan Jazz Bass Special PJ-36 Review

Hi there!

I have written before about the original run of Fender Jazz Bass Special instruments. One of these was my first decent bass, and they have remained one of my favorite basses of all time. If you are not familiar with these, the Jazz Bass Special was made famous by Duff McKagan of Guns N Roses, and later of Velvet Revolver. These basses were made by Fender at the Fujigen factory in Japan, and were of better quality than the instruments Fender produced in the US. They were originally built from 1985 to 1987 (or so). 
The ”special” part of the Jazz Bass Special is that it has a Precision Bass body shape with a Jazz Bass profile neck and a P/J pickup configuration. 

The bodies are probably basswood, as they are light, and they all got black hardware, (including brass bridge saddles that have been anodized black). They have a control cavity routed in the back so there is no pickguard (this also makes it easier to add active electronics). I have had them finished in black, red, Sonic Blue, and of course, the yellowed pearl white of Mr. McKagan’s basses.

Well, today’s black Made in Japan 1987 Jazz Bass Special has all of this stuff, but it is a domestic-only PJ-36 model that has different specifications than the models we are used to seeing. Starting from the top:

1. Gotoh compact tuners instead of full-size Fender style clover leafs

2. All of the neck, including the headstock is finished in clear instead of black

3. Standard volume-volume-tone set-up for the PJ pickups, with no TBX tone circuit

4. Output jack located on the front of the instrument instead of being recessed into the side

Not having a black neck will be a deal-breaker for most folks, as that is the signature look of the Jazz Bass Special. It is not too big of a deal for me, as these are still pretty awesome, and the lower price point to get into one of these is attractive.

This one is a great bass; the frets and fretboard are still in great shape almost 30 years later. It is light, really light, weighing in at around 7 pounds, 4 ounces. It appears to be largely unmolested, though I do not know if the knobs are original, as I have never seen one of these before. There are big ugly splotches on the body paint where something reacted with it or someone tried to cover up damage.

It is a nice player, and I got a low action out of it with no problems. It has good tone, and I have always loved the flexibility of having the PJ combination.

So, what am I going to do with it? I am not a fan of modifying guitars, but this one is going to get breathed on heavily, as the paint damage is enough to kill any sort of collectability. It is coming apart for a new custom paint job by a local hotrod builder, and it is getting some sort of active electronics package (I am still deciding which one). I will stop short of putting a brass nut on it. Maybe.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Lazer Lloyd – Lost on the Highway


This CD review was originally published in the December 12, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Lazer Lloyd – Lost on the Highway

Blues Leaf Records

13 tracks / 54:44

I have been listening to the blues for most of my life and had never run into a blues record from Israel before, but this first one is setting the bar high. I recently had the opportunity to listen to Lazer Lloyd’s newest album, Lost on the Highway, and it certainly gave me a lot to think about.

Lazer Lloyd was born in New York as Eliezer Blumen, and he started playing guitar at the age 15. After attending Skidmore College his music career turned the corner, and he was about to go to Nashville to work with producer Gary Tallent (also Springsteen’s bassist) when he found another calling. After being asked to play at the Millinery Center Synagogue with the late Ray Shlomo Carlebach (The Singing Rabbi), he accepted the challenge of taking his music to Israel, where he has lived for the past 19 years. He has been busy plying his trade, working with various bands as well as his own power trio, Yoon.

The Lost on the Highway album cover advertises “Solo Recordings” and that is exactly what he delivers. This CD includes thirteen original tracks, and features Lloyd in the singing role, as well as playing six and 12-string acoustic guitars, with a little harmonica thrown in for good measure. And when you listen to his songs, you are getting to the roots of the blues and folk, with no filler added.

“Lost on the Highway” is the first track, and it is raw blues that sounds like it was cut live in one take, which is a good thing in this case. From the first strains of his acoustic guitar, the listener can hear that Lloyd has serious chops, with confident fingerpicking and slide work. His voice is pleasantly full and strong as he tells the traditional lament of a man on the road, adding the bonus destination of Tel Aviv to the usual list of cities that you find in songs like this.

Lloyd does not speak much of his homeland on this album, and he only lightly touches on the standard blues subjects, instead focusing on man’s relationship with spirituality. “Higher Ground” is about finding one’s place in the world, and this folk blues song features beautiful fingerpicking and intense harp interludes. This is backed up with a heartfelt ballad, “Been Trying,” which is laden with sentiments about trying to lead the good life. This is one of my favorite tracks on this disc.

He lets his guitar do the talking on “Swamp Meditation,” a slow rolling Delta blues instrumental. He does not do anything fancy here, but he already proved his technical skills on the first four tracks. Here he demonstrates his feel for the instrument and the song, and the results are impressive. I thought that “Back Porch” would be another a capella tune, but after a 3 ½ minute intro he launched into verse. This song is notable in his use of guitar chords that are not generally used in blues music, but they work well here to add an exotic mood to the song.

“Politician” is a cranky commentary that relays the frustration we all have with our elected officials. As he does not call out any parties or policies, this is more of a social commentary than a political song. After skirting the political minefield, be takes a tasteful approach to discussing his prayer relationship in “Talk,” as well as a trip to the Garden of Eden in “Man” and the judgment day on “Landlord Blues.” He put a lot of thought into writing these songs so that he could talk about what is on his heart without being preachy or in your face.

Lazer Lloyd’s Lost on the Highway provides a fresh take on the blues and it is definitely worth a listen. His guitar playing alone is worth the price of admission, and when you add in his vocals and strong songwriting skills, this disc is a winner. He toured the United States this past summer in support of his new CD, and I hope he comes back again soon so I can catch one of his performances. From what I heard here it should be a show to remember.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shredneck Practice Guitar Neck Review


A lot of strange stuff comes through the Rex and the Bass studio, and today we are looking at one of the weirder ones – the Shredneck. This is a practice tool that is designed to help improve strength and dexterity in your playing hand, as well as helping to build or maintain calluses.

How weird is it? Just look at the pictures. It is a chunk of guitar neck with tuners on the end. You get seven frets to play with, so you can master the cowboy chords in no time flat. I got the electric style model, which has a 1 11/16-inch wide nut. I have no idea what it is made of, though the fretboard appears to be ebony or rosewood with no discernable grain. There are not really any specs on their website about what it is made of. It has a nice feel, with a C-profile that does not feel like any of my Strats, Teles or Les Pauls.

When you play it, it does not sound like a guitar, or even terribly musical. How could it? With such a short scale length the frets would have to be stupidly close together to make it sound like a guitar, so just tune it so the strings feel like the same tension as your regular guitar and go to town. The headstock acts as the body, and there is some felt stuck to the end so it does not slide off your knee. There are also strap pins, but I am not sure how you would ever use them. <p>And, you know what? It works pretty darned well. For my left had, it feels like a guitar, and I can sit there and noiseless fret chords while chatting on the phone or watching TV in the hotel room. It is pretty cool to keep my fingers in shape and my calluses nice and thick while on the road or when parking my butt in otherwise useless situations.

The one I got is relatively well built. The fret ends are good, and it is a solidly made piece of work from China. I would buy one of these things, but there are a couple of issues here. I know it is not terribly expensive, but I cannot forgive the fairly obvious finish flaws in the sparkly gold paint, the rough routing job and the bubbly felt on the end of the headstock. The quality of Squier and Epiphone beginner electric guitars is better, and you get a whole guitar for a few dollars more. The Shredneck folks either need to reduce their price point or up their production standards. Maybe both.

The Shredneck comes with a nice carry case, and it would certainly be easy enough to throw in a briefcase or carry-on bag for your next flight. One nice add-on is the tuner tips which fit over the ends of the tuner posts to cover up pointy string ends that could puncture your hand or snag on your sweater. All of this can be yours for the low price around 65 bucks from Amazon (MSRP $99.99).

If you like the concept of this tool, it is also available in models that approximate the feel of 7-string electrics, acoustics and basses, as well as a model that simulates playing in the upper registers. Also, if you have a hankering to get one that is inspired by your favorite artist (Zakk Wylde, etc.) they might be able to hook you up.

Try before you buy, and see what you think!