Tuesday, January 31, 2017

NAMM 2017: Etymotic Music Pro 9-15 Earplugs Review


Smart people in the music business understand that their hearing is a blessing (and their livelihood), and that prolonged exposure to loud sounds will degrade or destroy this finite resource. But, many earplugs wreck the tonal qualities of music, leaving a dead mess that is pretty much unlistenable. So, some musicians and concertgoers eschew earplugs and kill their hearing, replacing it with tinnitus -- which is a really crummy trade-off. Trust me on this. There is a viable solution to this problem, and it is the Music Pro 9-15 Earplugs from Etymotic Research Inc.

Etymotic is located in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, which is near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. They have been around since 1983, making earphones, earplugs, in-ear monitors, and hearing protection for musicians, firearms enthusiasts, and tradesmen; there is even a line of products designed for children. I met up with Etymotic’s National Sales Manager, Andrew, at NAMM 2017 and he patiently went through the features of the Music Pro 9-15 earplugs. I came away very impressed!

The Music Pro plugs are a huge step beyond whatever silicone or foam rubber things you are cramming into your ears right now. These are adaptive noise-reduction units that automatically adjust to changing sound levels. They have an amazingly natural sound, and only provide protection when needed. And they adapt to sounds incredibly quickly, so that a cymbal crash or pyrotechnic discharge will be muffled right away.

There are two levels of protection that are available at the flip of a switch: 9-dB or 15-dB. At lower sound pressure levels it almost seems like the plugs are not doing much, but as sound approaches unsafe levels, the earplugs will gradually provide 9- or 15-dB sound reduction. As an added bonus, on the 9-dB setting, there is actually a 6-dB gain for soft sounds, which might make eavesdropping on whispered office conversations a little easier. This boost begins to taper off above 70dB, which is where sound levels begin to be attenuated in either mode.

The Music Pro earplugs are lightweight and after selecting eartips that fit my gigantic ear canals, they fit very comfortably. The NAMM environment is fairly terrible from a sound standpoint, which made it an awesome environment to try them out. Indeed, they let in enough sound so that I did not feel like I was missing out on anything, while cutting out painful sounds from the nearby drums and cymbals. And, I was able to converse with Andrew without any difficulty. Etymotic passed the test!

In the Music Pro earplugs box, you will receive a pair of MP•9-15 earplugs, a selection of ACCU•Fit eartips, a flexible neck cord, a filter tool and ACCU•filters, a cleaning tool, batteries (#10), a user’s manual, and a case. Always use the case, as these things are kind of expensive and you do not want to lose or damage them.

Now, these earplugs are electronic, so they run on #10 hearing aid batteries, which you can find at pretty much any drugstore or supermarket. If you are ready to complain about the price of batteries, try buying these same batteries for your really expensive hearing aids for the rest of your life. This can be your future if you do not take care of you hearing…

Etymotic Music Pro 9-15 earplugs cost $299, so they are not cheap, but they are worth every penny as they are an amazing product that could allow you to enjoy your favorite live music at levels are more enjoyable and less destructive. How much is your hearing worth? For more details or to order a set of your own, head on over to www.etymotic.com


John Wetton: June 12, 1949 to January 31, 2017

Rest in peace, brother.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

NAMM 2017: Manufacturer Overview – Logjam Music Ltd.


I am sure that a lot of folks head to NAMM to see what the big guys are doing, and sure enough these companies are always coming up with new ideas and products. But I really relate to the cool stuff that individuals are coming up with, when they make their dreams into reality and then get a chance to wow the crowds. One of these fellows is Howard Bragen, who took the time to run me through his line of products from Logjam Music Limited.

Howard is first and foremost a musician and songwriter, and this UK denizen came up with a unique way to accompany himself on the guitar: with wood stompers that have on-board electronics that allow them to be played through an amp. They are small and are much more convenient than carrying around a kick drum or cajon, and the sound they make is quite amazing.

Bragen began selling Logjam stompers about ten years ago, and today there are five different models to choose from. These hand-built boxes are made from in the UK from sustainable hardwoods (such as sapele), and require little to no maintenance. No batteries are used, and they use mic capsules (not piezo elements) so they produce a lovely organic tone. All of them come with a 3-year warranty, though I cannot see much opportunity for things to go wrong. Here is a rundown of the Logjam line-up:

The Logarhythm 4 (£74.95) measures 195 X 100 X 45 mm and weighs around 560 grams. This is a larger unit that allows for different tone if it is struck in different locations or if both feet are used. It has a fluted rubber base to keep it from sliding around while you are using it.

The Microlog 2 (£54.95) is designed to fit on a pedal board so it is smaller, measuring 70 X 100 X 45 mm, and weighing in at 215 grams. It is smaller, but it still produces a respectable bass drum sound. Of course, there is not quite the variety of available tones as with the Logarhythm 4.

The Prolog (£99.95) is a bit different as it is elongated so that the user can tap the front chamber for a drum sound, and click their heel on the extension to get more of a stick sound. It is a bit bigger than the previous two stompers, as it is 300 X 125 X 42 mm, but it still only weighs 600 grams. This is my favorite of the conventional Logjam stompers.

The Travelog 2 (£64.95) is the portable model that is designed to fit in your guitar case, with a small footprint of 125 X 100 X 45 mm, and a weight of 350 grams.

Lastly, there is the Rattlebox (£139.95), which is Logjam’s newest addition to their product line. It has more of a wedge shape than the other stompers, and it measures 292 X 130 X 50 mm, with a total weight of approximately 600 grams. This box provides a snare or stick sound, and it can be played with feet, sticks, brushes, mallets, or your hands. It has a really pretty and natural tone when it is unplugged, and when it is plugged in it loses none of this organic feel. This would be a cool addition to the Prolog if you wish to have more of a complete drum set sound to go along with your solo act.

All five of these Logjam stompers sounds good, are convenient to use, and they look nice too. They are not terribly expensive and you do not need to buy a lot of expensive gear to make them work with your set-up. I think they are really cool and I am glad that Howard Bragen made the trip to Anaheim to share them at NAMM 2017. For more information, head over to their website at logjam.net


Thursday, January 26, 2017

NAMM 2017: Radial Engineering Key-Largo Keyboard Mixer Preview


I pretty much like everything I have purchased from Radial Engineering, and their Firefly, JDI and J48 are all amongst the best DIs I have ever used. Overall, Radial Engineering builds an impressive collection of professional audio, and one of their stuff is cheap, as they use quality components and their boxes are built with workers earning first-world wages in Canada.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Jay from Radial at NAMM 2017, and he walked me through all of their new products, including splitter boxes, stereo attenuators, a backing track switcher, and all kinds of other cool stuff, but my favorite piece was the new Key-Largo keyboard mixer and DI. This is a useful product that is unlike anything else on the market, which puts Radial Engineering in a good position to sell a metric ton of these things.

Keyboard players often use more than one keyboard, which can get tricky when tying their sound into the mixing board. Some will source a small mixer and cobble things together with the end results that are not always great. Radial took this into account and developed the Key-Largo for this crowd, integrating a dedicated mixer with a DAC, an effects loop, and remote controls, all of this in a relatively small pedal format. Let’s look at what you will have to work with on this unit:

There are plenty of inputs and outputs to work with on the Key Largo. You have four inputs: three stereo ¼-inch jacks and a USB input, as well as stereo effect inputs. Outputs include balanced ¼ TRS stereo monitor jacks and a pair of XLR stereo outs. Also included are a MIDI IN/OUT, and a jack for a volume pedal.

The controls are simple, so that the user will not get bogged down when trying to use this unit live. Each of the four channels has a level control and an effect send knob. There is also and effects receive knob, and level controls for the monitor and main outs (each with a ground lift switch). The two footswitches control sustain and effects send / receive.

The functionality of the Radial Engineering Key-Largo goes beyond what you would get if you bought a small mixer to use with your synths. The USB connection lets you tap into audio files on your laptop and add them into the live keyboard mix. The mixer allows the addition of a stereo rackmount effect to the mix, with the footswitch turning on the effects loop, and the MIDI connectors allow pass-through data to other devices. And of course, it is cool that the keyboardist can set up his own output to the mains and monitors.

I think that Radial Engineering’s Key-Largo is a product that keyboardists will really dig, and it should sell itself, especially with its surprisingly low price of around $379.00. It goes on sale in February, 2017; for more details head on over to radialeng.com


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

NAMM 2017: Peterson StroboClip HD Tuner Preview


Everybody and their brother makes some sort of clip-on tuner these days, with some of them that are so cheap that you can get one thrown in for free when you buy a new guitar. So, if you are going to charge 60 bucks for one of these things, it had better be a good product from an established company. This is where the Peterson StroboClip HD tuner comes into the story. From the name, you have probably figured out that this is a strobotuner, but what exactly is this things?

You have probably seen the old Conn ST-11 strobotuners before – I remember the day our school orchestra got one back in 1980 or so, and it transformed my ideas about tuning. The Conn tuner uses a wheel that shows different octaves and the strobe effect of the tuner will make one row of the wheel appear to stop for the octave that is being played, while the overtones for other octaves will move about depending on how far they are out of whack. The advantages of this are incredible accuracy (within 0.1 cent), along with an intangible coolness factor. The Peterson Stroboclip HD simulates this effect with a nice bright LCD display that is a little simpler to look at and easier to use. I was fortunate enough to have Sue from Peterson walk me through the function of this tuner at NAMM 2017, and I was impressed with what they put together.

The StroboClip HD is fairly normal sized, 1.75 by 2.4 by 1.2 inches, and it weighs under two ounces. It has nice rubber jaws and it is adjustable to all kinds of angles. The tuner is powered up by a single CR2032 battery, which you can find at your local drugstore or supermarket.

The big story for me is the HD LCD display with its very clean bar segments.. It is very attractive, and is big enough that I can see it well without my reading glasses. It is bright enough to see outdoors while not causing blindness on dark stages. Also, it is viewable from a pretty wide angle, so the display does not necessarily have to be pointed right at you.

Other than its appearance and form function, the StroboClip HD works similarly to other Peterson Tuners, which is a very good thing. In this case, there is no microphone, and a Piezo element is used to pick up sound vibrations. The specifications are solid with accuracy that is guaranteed to be within 0.1 cents(like all Peterson tuners) and a tuning range of 16Hz -1975Hz. Concert A is adjustable from 390Hz to 490Hz. I believe that this tuner delivers on all of this, and it is certainly easy enough to use.

As an added bonus there are 50 available “Sweetened Tunings” that include programming for specific instruments such guitars with Buzz Feitan tuning, 7-string guitars, 12-string guitars, bass, violin, viola, cello, sitar, mandolin, and many more. These tunings take into account string deflection and unique harmonics to make tuning as accurate as possible. They are pretty cool, and this feature makes the StroboClip attractive to a wide range of musicians.

And finally, a USB port is provided to download new presets from Peterson, if you find that the preloaded ones are not sufficient for your wants and needs.

When the Peterson StroboClip HD tuner is released (soon!) it will retais for $59.99, which includes a one year warranty; I think is a heck of a deal! For more details, go to www.petersontuners.com


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

NAMM 2017: Product Spotlight – Boveda 2-Way Humidity Control System


I am pretty sure that most guitarists know that humidity affects the way their instrument plays, and that long term exposure to environments that are too damp or too dry are detrimental to their axe. But how many actually do something about it? Lump me into that group too, I am just as guilty…

There have been desiccant packs and in-case humidifiers for years, but the user of these products has to know the what the actual humidity is to decide which solution to use, which can end up being a lot of work. The best solution would be a product that works to achieve the optimal humidity without a lot of user input, and it turns out that there is a product like this out there: the Boveda 2-Way Humidity Control system.

I thought the 2-Way Humidity Control system was pretty darned neat when I saw it last week as the NAMM show. Jason, Boveda’s VP of Operations, took the time to walk me through the details of the science and how it is applied, and I am now a believer in this technology.

This is an easy product to use, all you need to do is purchase the starter kit for $29.95, and you will be set within a few minutes. The kit includes four Boveda packs and two fabric holders. The packs are a paper-like material with a liquid in them, so they are kind of squishy. Put one or two of them in the fabric holders and hang them through the soundhole of your guitar or put them in the case and you are good to go -- nothing to soak, no hygrometer, and no drama. When it feels like the contents of the pack have dried out, it is time to replace it.

This sounds kind of magical, but there is legitimate science behind this product. There are a few scientific principles that state that a saturated solution of salt in water will maintain a constant level of relative humidity inside an enclosed chamber. You can vary the salts or type of salts to achieve different levels of relative humidity (for guitars 45% to 50%), put this solution into a bag with a semi-permeable membrane, and it will be able to maintain that lever of humidity inside a closed guitar case.

Thee are a few things to keep in mind, of course. The Boveda packs should last for 3 to 6 months, but if you have a wood case the first set will not last that long. The wood in the case can dry out, and it might need to be hydrated too. It is always a good idea to keep the case closed, even at gigs where you might leave it open, so it does not dry out again.

It is not possible to overdo things with the Boveda packs. The more you put in the case, the longer they will last. The science will not change, and they will continue to constantly adjust to the target relative humidity. It is a good idea to use the fabric holders that are provided in the starter kit, as they are soft and will help contain leaks should you happen to poke a hole in one of the packs. Also, keep in mind that Boveda sells these products with different target relative humidity levels for tobacco, food storage, and herbal medicines, so make sure you order the right stuff.

I think the Boveda 2-Way Humidity Control system is pretty slick, and it is cheap insurance to help prevent your instrument from cracking and warping. As I said, the starter pack is around $30, and you can buy 4-packs for $15.98. They supply this product to D’Addario too, so you might see them in their packaging at your local music store. For more details or to purchase online, go to bovedainc.com


Monday, January 23, 2017

NAMM 2017: Graphtech Tusq Guitar Pick Review


I stopped by the Graphtech Guitar Labs booth at NAMM 2017, and they slid me one of their Tusq guitar pick to try out. When I saw the pick I was kind of like “Meh – another pick,” but Dave from Graphtech told me that these picks were different as they have their own harmonics. This got my attention, and then he dropped their pick on the counter and it made a resonant “clink” as if he had dropped a shard of glass. One of my fake tortoise shell picks produced a dull click when I dropped it, so I left it there on the counter and decided to go home and give their pick a fair test drive.

Surely you know a thing or two about Graphtech by now, or at least the guitar stuff that they build. This Canadian company produces products under the Tusq, Nubone, and String Saver names (plus many more), and they sell really good nuts, bridge saddles, bridge pins, machine heads , and… guitar picks!

Tusq picks are available in three different harmonic tones: Bright (white), Warm (cream) and Deep (gray). Each of these comes in three different shapes, including standard, teardrop, and bi angle (kind of a bigger triangle), as well as plenty of different thicknesses. I ended up with a bright tone standard pick that is 1.0 mm thick.

The pick itself is blindingly white, with raised logos on either side which allow me a bit more grip than my picks. The edge is a tad sharper, and it is the stiffest non-metal pick I have ever tried. My A/B testing was the Tusq against my regular celluloid picks on a Telecaster, a Stratocaster, and my Takamine EF acoustic. It was not a blind test, but there was an obviously difference in tone between the two types of picks.

I really dig the stiffer feel of the pick, as it gives me the kind of control I look for. It is indeed much brighter than I am used to, though not as gnarly as aluminum or titanium picks that I have tried in the past (and later gave up on). The difference with the Tusq’s brighter tone is that it is less strident, and a little more musical. I wish I had gotten the Warm and Deep models too, as it would have been nice to include them in this comparison.

As far as longevity, after about an hour of playing with the Tusq pick there was noticeable wear to its edges. This was with normal strumming and picking, with no Pete Townshend windmills added in for flair. I have never actually worn a pick out before as I usually lose them in a day or two -- I have no idea where they go, and think that maybe my cat is hiding them somewhere. So, for me this wear would be a moot point, but for those that can keep better track of their stuff, they might be able to actually wear them out.

If you are interested in the Graphtech Guitar Labs Tusq picks, they seem to cost around $6 for a half dozen from most retailers, and there are combo packs available if you want to see which ones work best for you. For more details head on over to graphtech.com


Sunday, January 22, 2017

NAMM 2017: Selling Your Music Gear On Reverb.com


I have been selling music gear on the biggest online auction website for almost 20 years now, and as the years have gone by my satisfaction has waned as costs and regulations have ballooned, while finding buyers has become more difficult. Don't even get me started on Craigslist, which is a cesspool of humanity and scam artists.

I have been using Reverb.com for online purchases for a year now, but never even thought of using it to unload gear that I am no longer using. And I have a lot of gear that is not doing much of anything right now! After speaking with Rachel from Reverb.com at the 2017 NAMM show, I am going to have to give it a shot and get some of my guitars, basses, speakers, and live sound equipment up for sale pronto.

Reverb.com is pretty much an online service that puts buyers in touch with retailers and everyday people who are selling new and used gear. The company is based in Chicago and was founded in 2013 by David Kalt, who you might also know as the head honcho for Chicago Music Exchange. This website is a completely separate entity that was founded to be “An online community created and run by musicians where buying and selling music gear is easy and affordable.”

In my dealings with Reverb.com, I think that they have achieved this goal. When I buy something through them my interactions are with musicians who are knowledgeable about their products. Many online auction site sellers know nothing about the gear they are peddling, and I have been disappointed many times with products I have received. This is not the case with Reverb, as my very few less than great experiences were solved quickly after contacting the sellers, who were more than happy to make things right.

Rachel went through the whole process of signing up for a Reverb.com account, which is free, and explained the fee structure to me. It is simple, really. There is no fee to list items, and Reverb.com collects a 3.5% fee of the final selling price of items ($0.50 minimum and $350 maximum fee) – compare this to what you are paying on other sites. She also showed me how to list items (also easy - only one page to fill out) and let me know that listings can go until the items sell, with no charge if you need to cancel the listing for any reason.

It seems like a no-brainer, so I am going to have to give Reverb.com a shot. I will document how everything goes, and provide updates on Rex and the Bass. In the meantime, head over to reverb.com to check things out for yourself!


NAMM 2017: Genzler Magellan 350 Combo Bass Amplifier Preview


I was glad to see Jeff Genzler start a new amplifier business, as I really enjoy the tone and features of his products. In fact my current rig is a Genz Benz Shuttle 9.0 through a pair a pair of Aguilar cabinets, and I have used this rig for longer that any I have ever owned. And, at this year’s NAMM I was able to chat with Jeff for a few minutes (he is a personable guy), and check out Genzler Amplification’s new Magellan 350 combo bass amplifier.

Jeff has moved from Arizona to Brooklyn (yay!), and parlayed the name equity he earned at Genz-Benz into his new company, Genzler Amplification. They sell a smaller line of products that is focused on bassists that are looking for reliable gear with modern features, plenty of power, good tone, and a reasonable price. This is a tough combination to achieve, but Jeff and his longtime engineer, Scott Andres, have the experience and industry contacts to pull off this feat. As an added bonus, a portion of sales goes back into his local community to support music programs. From every angle I really dig what they have going on!

This Genzler combo is a package that include the Magellan 350 (MG-350) head and the all-new Bass Array 10-2 (BA10-2) cabinet. The mount for the head is a cleaner design that then one used on the Genz Benz Shuttle combo amps, which is not surprising as Jeff is always thinking of better ways to make things happen. The cradle is easy to remove from the cabinet if you need to, or if you want to move the cradle to a different cabinet.

The MG-350 head is the heart and brain of the combo, and it is capable of putting out 175 watts in this application, and up to 350 watts if you add another BA10-2 extension cabinet. These are 350 real watts, and this stack has more than enough output for most applications. This 3.5-pound amp measures 9” by 9.83” by 2.63” and it has a clean look. The front panel controls are intuitively laid out; they include volume, a mute switch, contour control (more on this in a bit), a 3-band equalizer with a sweepable parametric mid control, and a master volume control.

Around the back of the MG-350 are a the power switch, an IEC power cable socket, two Neutrik Speak-On speaker outs, an impedance selector switch, a ¼-inch auxiliary input, a ¼-inch headphone jack, and an XLR direct output with switchable mic and line level settings, pre and post EQs, and a pin 1 ground lift switch. What else could you want?

Let’s go back to the contour control. This switchable circuit (using the CURVE switch) allows continuously variable control of two different response curves using the SHAPE knob; you can tell which curve is selected by the color of the LED above the knob. I will left the Magellan Owner’s Manual explain the differences Curve A (Blue LED) “boosts lows and highs while simultaneously cutting Mids. The slopes are fairly gentle which keep the tone shaping very musical. This curve covers a wide range of sounds from flat to classic to modern depending on the position of the SHAPE control.” Curve B (Amber LED) “Provides a variable pre-shaped curve with attenuated high mids and highs, a low mid bump, and a slight roll-off of the lowest bass frequencies. Again, the slopes are fairly gentle which keep the tone shaping very musical. This curve is intended to provide sounds in the range of vintage amps and vintage cabinets that do not have tweeters.”

If you are looking for no tone changes or if do not like this feature, just turn the SHAPE knob all the way counter clockwise, and the result will be a completely flat setting (in either CURVE switch position).

The other part of the combo is the Bass Array 10-2 cabinet. This 13" by 15.5" by 15" box weighs 21 pounds and has a distinctive angled front and baffle held direct sound towards the player. It is loaded u with a single Neodymium 10” woofer and four 2.5” Neodymium line array drivers. It can handle 250 watts at 8 ohms, and has a frequency response of 55 to 20KHz. It is a classy-looking piece of work with a nubbly vinyl finish with metal corners and a single beefy carry handle along the back edge of the cabinet top.

When put together, The Magellan 350 combo measures 15.5” by 15”D by 16”H, and weighs in at around 25 pounds. It comes ready to play with a short Speakon cable to connect the head and cabinet. There are a pair of combination Speakon NL-2 and ¼” input jacks on the back of the cab so you add a second Bass Array 10-2 cabinet to take advantage of the full 350 watts from the MG-350. And, in my opinion, two of these look really tight when they are stacked.

Looks aside, the combo is also very effective gigging tool. There appears to be enough output for moderately sized gigs, and the tone is to die for. When trying it out at the 2017 NAMM show I found that it can be very smooth, but it also can be super punchy and responsive. Both of the tone curves should prove to be very useful, and I am especially impressed with the Curve B, which really delivers a sweet vintage tone. I look forward to wringing out this package a bit more in the future when I have more time!

I think Genzler’s Magellan 350 combo is a keeper and it should be a good seller for the company. It has a list price of $959, and if you want to add a second Bass Array 10-2 cabinet, it will have a list price of $569. I am not sure what MAP will be, but this is a great value, especially with Jeff Genzler’s history of making high quality products and his 3-year warranty. Check one out for yourself – I think you will be impressed! Go to genzleramplification.com for more details


Saturday, January 21, 2017

NAMM 2017: Manufacturer Preview – Ernie Ball Paradigm Guitar Strings


I have been using Ernie Ball guitar and bass strings for decades, so it was cool for me to get to try out their new Paradigm strings at the 2017 NAMM show. In case you have not heard of Paradigm, it is a line of strings that are guaranteed to not break or rust. This is quite a sales tool, so I had to find out a little more about them.

Paradigm strings will be available in both acoustic and electric sets. There will be four acoustic sets (Extra Light, Light, Medium Light, and Medium) and eight sets of electrics that will maintain the usual Ernie Ball sizes and nomenclature (Slinkies, Super Slinkies, Etc.).

How they are made is kind of fuzzy for me as I am not a physicist, but I will give it a try. The strings use a high carbon hex core, and before wrapping this wire core is blasted with plasma to remove impurities, Then the wrapping is applied and the Everlast nano treatment is applied. This is not a dip or a coating, and the overall result is strings that feel like they have a little more bite to them, but it is a slight difference and the tone is identical.

Testing has been intense, with Beta sets going out to select customers and artists, and the results have been good. On the Ernie Ball website you can find videos of Kenny Wayne Shepherd and John Petrucci abusing these strings and not being able to break them. In fact, Petrucci’s whammy bar snapped before the strings did. Cool!

When these strings go on sale they will be priced at around $14.99 per pack, and though I am a little vague on how the warranty works, I think it goes a something like this: 1) Purchase strings 2) register the serial number inside the pack with Ernie Ball 3) If a string breaks or corrodes within 90 days, contact them and they will send out a replacement string (not the whole pack). This sounds pretty simple to me, and I am sure they would not make this offer unless they have a lot a confidence in their strings.

I am pretty excited about Ernie Ball’s Paradigm strings and I am eager to give them a try so you all can get a proper review . Unfortunately, I will to wait until they are released in March of 2017, but something this revolutionary should be worth the wait. For more details go to ernieball.com


NAMM 2017: Builder Spotlight - J Ferro Basses


This week I had the chance to meet with the crew from J Ferro Basses, and this was really neat experience as this company’s team has a lot of energy and they offer up quality instruments at reasonable prices. This company is based out of sunny Southern California, and it is headed up by Jose Ferro, a long-time music industry executive with decades of guitar and bass experience.

Well, everybody and their brother is building basses, so what sets the J Ferro products apart from the rest of the crowd? First, they understand what players are looking for, and they offer basses that are playable and that are capable of a wide range of available tones. Second, they use amazing woods with solid tops and distinctive body shapes that provide a unique identity. Third, the craftsmanship of these imported instruments is very good. And lastly, they are able to offer all of this at a price that is very competitive in the market.

I want start out by telling you what you can expect from each of their four models: Arcadia, Avalon, Denair, and Escalon. All of these neck-through basses have 24 frets and 5-piece maple/mahogany necks with a thin U shape. Also, these basses can be strung conventionally or through the bridge, which provides totally different feel and tone. And lastly, the electronics package for all of them is a pair of hand-wound pickups that are wired through an active preamplifier with a 3-band EQ, along with usual volume and balance pots.

After considering the standard features , there is a staggering amount of variations within these models. There are 4, 5, and 6 strings basses with 34 and 35-inch scales, and you will find different combinations of body and top woods that include mahogany, birdseye poplar, spalted maple, ash, and ebony. And most interestingly, you can even get conventional or multi-scale (fanned) frets on the Denair models. There are not many builders that offer this kind of versatility.

You might be saying to yourself: ”well, what about lefty basses and fretless models?” J. Ferro is a new company and they started out with the types of basses that most players actually use, but for 2017 they are adding 3 fretless models (Arcadia 5-string, Escalon 4-string, and Denair 5-string), as well as multi-scale lefty 4 and 5-sting Denair models. A little something for everyone I guess!

All of these good parts and materials would be meaningless if they are not put together well, and their factory does a great job of building the J Ferro basses. The frets are level and well finished on the edges, and the factory set-up on the basses I saw was spot-on. Also, the woodworking is clean, with tight fretboard inlays and flawless finishes. And lastly, the basses deliver a killer array of sound, from bluesy thump to edgy and aggressive. I think they are pretty awesome, and they would be terrific instruments for gigging or the studio.

The last thing to cover is how buying one of these will affect your finances. There is no middleman here, as J Ferro sells their basses factory direct, so you will find prices that range from $999 to $1199 (padded soft case included). These are custom feature neck-through basses for the price of the bolt-on mass production models that others sell, making these instruments a killer value.

For more details and ordering information, see the J Ferro website at: jferrobass.com, and while you are there check out my favorite model, the Kilian Duarte Signature Model which is new for 2017-- it is to die for! And as Jose Ferro says, “It’s Your World, Play it!”


NAMM 2017: Mighty Bright NuFlex LED Music Stand Light Review


There are plenty of clip-on lights out there to choose from, so how does the discerning consumer decide which product to clip onto their music stand or mixing desk? For me, the answer is to choose the most reliable product, and lights from Santa Barbara based Mighty Bright have a stellar reputation, not to mention a staggering number of models to choose from. Today we are looking at the NuFlex, which was introduced at the 2016 Winter NAMM show, where it was selected by Music Inc. magazine for an Editor’s Choice Award.

The NuFlex is a tidy clip-on lamp that sports 3 LEDs on the end of a flexible neck. The clamp is beefy and has a nice rubberized jaws, and the whole thing is about 8 inches long and weighs a tad over 5 ounces. Also in the package you will find a nylon carry sack and 3 AAA batteries. You are not stuck with using batteries, though, as there is a micro USB port on the battery compartment which would be handy for more permanent installations The micro USB cable and power source are not included, but everybody and their brother has this kind of stuff lying around.

Moving on to the actual performance of the NuFlex, I was very impressed with the fit and finish, as well as the ability of the clip to hold onto surfaces as varied as a Hamilton music stand, the edge of my kitchen table, a hardcover book, and the top of a laptop screen. This thing would have been a godsend when I was changing my kid’s timing belt a few weeks ago! The flexible neck feels sturdy and stays put wherever I angle it. Mighty Bright has first-class customer service, but with products of this quality I cannot imagine that they have a lot of returns.

The light itself is not the ghoulish blue glow that you find on cheaper products. Instead, the light is a warm, and puts out up to 35 lumens (Whatever that means, I am not a scientist). When I say “up to” that means that the light is dimmable, and by holding the power switch down it will transition from brighter to dimmer, and then back again. Apparently 35 lumens are enough to illuminate up sheet music, computer keyboards, and shop projects, as I never felt like I needed more light when using the NuFlex.

Best of all, the Mighty Bright NuFlex will not break the bank, as it comes in under 25 bucks. And if you want something besides black, there are four other colors to choose from. This thing is a winner, and I do not miss the plug-in incandescent lamps that we used to stick on our stands in the old days.

For more information or to purchase, head over to www.mightybright.com


Friday, January 20, 2017

NAMM 2017: Axe Leather Company Custom Guitar Straps


There are many companies making guitar straps, but few of them check all the boxes for what I am looking for. These things include quality materials and workmanship, comfort, durability, and a clean/classic look. If I can buy one from a local small business that is owned by a fellow musician, that would be the icing on the cake. Well, the Axe Leather Company checks all of those boxes!

The Axe Leather Company is a labor of love from Violet Heart, an accomplished Seattle-based guitarist (www.violetheartmusic.com). She started the company, designs the straps, sources the materials, and constructs all of the products right there in the Pacific Northwest; there is no doubt that the buck stops with her.

Violet starts with solid materials to build her straps, including chrome-tanned leather from Italy and nickel plated hardware, including the solid brass buckles. That's right, I said buckles – the straps are available in 3 different lengths (35-43”, 44-52”, and 53-61”) and they have buckles so you can fine tune the length without having an extra chunk of strap poking awkwardly out.

Besides the length, there are other options, including lots of colors, having a smooth or suede backing, and your choice of styles: Classic, Eyelet, and Rings. Look at the pictures - I’m sure you can figure the last part out for yourself. The only option you do not have at this time is width, as right now all of the straps are 1.5-inches wide. But Violet is in touch with her market, and production of 2.25-inch straps will start this month!

Having had the opportunity to see and touch the strap in person at the 2017 NAMM show, I can assure you that Violet Heart certainly has a good eye for design and style, and she is also very careful in her crafting of these straps. The seams are straight, her cuts are clean, there is no glue seepage, and all of the hardware is perfectly installed. As a side note, these straps are 100% leather, with no poly or foam fillers to pad things up and create uneven weight distribution.

I think Axe Leather Company straps are a winner, and considering the quality and care that goes into their construction, the price range of $99 to $136 (plus shipping) is more than reasonable.

At this time, all of the products from Axe Leather Company are available online from their website. For more details of materials, options and prices, head on over to www.axeleather.com - you will be glad you did!


NAMM 2017: Your Heaven CloseUp Microphone System Review


Setting up a microphone and getting the warm, authentic sound for an acoustic instrument is a tricky business, whether you are doing it for live performance or in the studio. Dynamic microphones are cheap, but are not always very high fidelity, and good condenser microphones are really expensive; both of these options will also pick up every other sound in the room. Of course you might have a great pickup system installed in your instrument, but those do not come cheap either.

There is another option out there for you to consider: Your Heaven Audio’s CloseUp System. Your Heaven Audio is based in Providence, Rhode Island and its founders studied music and technology at Brown University where they came up with the idea for this project as well as the EzQ Drum System. After years of development (including a few new patents) these products are now on the market, with applications for acoustic guitar, and string quartet instruments (viola, violin and cello), with models for other string instruments are on the way (including a double bass model!).

With the CloseUp System kit you will get the EzQ processor (the aluminum box with all of the electronics in it), the transducer, a soundhole cover for acoustic guitars, if you want (or need) to use one, a USB cable, a mute pedal, a 110-volt power adapter, and a TRS to XLR cable, all packaged up neatly in a really nice case.

The EzQ processor is the heart and brains of the system, and it is powered via a 9-Volt battery (for approximatley 7 or 8 hours of battery life) or through the USB port. This USB port can also be used for output to a recording device, with the other output being a balanced ¼-inch out. Inputs include the XLR microphone input and a ¼ footswitch jack that can be used to mute the unit. Controls are simple, with just tone and gain knobs. This is a very user-friendly unit!

Installation is a breeze, and it can be done with no tools as the microphone clips on to the instrument with no tools needed. The longest part (5-10 mins) of the installation is setting the unit up with your computer to configure it to your specific instrument. It just takes a few minutes of playing the instrument and clicking icons on the screen and you are done. There are four presets in the unit, so you can have up to four of your instruments saved in memory, in case you want to switch the microphone attachment over to another guitar or violin.

Your Heaven gave a nice demo of the CloseUp System at the 2017 NAMM show and I came away impressed. They had a mid-level steel string acoustic on hand that was equipped with an LR Baggs undersaddle piezo and preamplifier, and it was set up for an A/B comparison. I was already familiar with the Baggs system, as I have owned and played instruments with it before. It is a pickup that is “just good enough” with kind of an edgy tone, and of course there was good outside noise isolation due to its design.

I was a bit skeptical about how well the CloseUp System would work at the show because the Your Heaven Audio booth was right in the middle of the drum hall, which is a crazy and noisy environment. But, with the soundhole cover in place there was no outside noise coming through the microphone. I was even more impressed with the tone of that was produced by the EzQ processor. The sound was very natural, with none of the brittleness that I find with onboard piezo systems, so the inherent warmth of the instrument was allowed to shine through. As an added bonus, because it does not rely on undersaddle transducers, the balance from string to string very even, so I did not have to adjust my playing style to get the guitar to sound right.

Overall, I think Your Heaven Audio’s CloseUp System is a winner when used with the acoustic guitar. I did not get a chance to hear it on a violin, but from their demo videos it appears that this technology crosses over very well to other string instruments. Pricing is around $350 for acoustic guitars, which is a good deal when you figure out how much it would cost to have a nice system installed in your guitar, not to mention that this system can be easily moved from instrument to instrument. For more details and ordering information, head over to www.yourheaven.net