400,000 Hits and being the one of the leading authorities in a number of obscure fields.

At least according to the counter at the bottom of the page.   If one looks a little deeper one finds that a lot of this traffic consists of bots looking around and if you jettison the hits where someone spends less than 30 seconds before discovering nothing they were actually looking for, you understand the real number is considerably smaller.   But, more than enough people spend enough time here each month to convince me that I’m communicating with someone.   That makes this site sort of a public journal.   It’s largely replaced the mass E-mailings I used to send out to people on an almost daily basis.   But, I’m happy it exists, and I get enough feedback from people to make it seem worthwhile.   Thanks.

So far I’ve published 156 posts that average around 800 words per post, so one can see that writing a book is indeed within the grasp of the average person.   That little factoid alone is sort of fascinating to me, as I really had no concept of the shear quantity of stuff one could create fairly easily.   If I were a novelist I’ve written the equivalent (at least in numbers of words) of two average size novels over the course of a couple years.  Which is amazing to me, for one.

One wonders if blogs will one day be a curious artifact from the early parts of the 21st century when almost anyone could first gain access to such a potentially large group of people.   My biggest “success” has been an entry about Irena Sendler and a Facebook “chain letter” inspired by a Glenn Beck program.  If you Google “Irena Sendler Obama” my blog entry is one of the first you’ll come across.   I also get some “interesting” E-mail from Glenn Beck Fans to this day.  (Who knew some of them were literate.)

I’m also fairly high up on Google for anyone who is looking into either a 1961 Honda C110 or a Datsun 1500 Sports Fairlady.  Or someone who wants to replace the control arms on a BMW Z-3.   Anyone who Googles both Ted Nugent and Jerry Garcia at the same time will find Fauxsuperblogs in the top five.   Seemingly, I’d be a great source for “Trivia” players.

I also was one of the first people to review the Badcat Unleash, (a guitar attenuator re-amp device) and I still get quite a bit of traffic from those who are interested in those.  Curiously, I get a couple of questions a week of a technical nature, which I answer if I’m up to it.

Anyone looking for Horse Butte in Lebanon Oregon will also be directed to my site.    I would also seem to the an authority on Deodorant Shelf alarms as well.   A couple of times I’ve actually been directed to my own blog site when doing research on something, which is hilarious.   It’s a bit like everyone being famous for 15 minutes: “In the future, everyone will be an expert on something.”   Or at least appear to be one. 

Oh, I understand that I’m in the same boat.   I do try to confine my comments to something I actually know about.   But, I could be wrong.   I often wonder if anything I’ve written has been cited in someone’s term paper or research project.     So far, at least, and as far as I know, Rand Paul has yet to plagiarize anything from my blog.   (But one can dream, eh?)  On Facebook, I’ve seen political and economic citations to blog pages of people much like myself.   That, in itself, gives me reason for pause; I mean, “What do I know?”

OK, it’s probably time to sign off here before things get totally silly.   I just couldn’t pass on the chance to reflect on a milestone of some sort, and let anyone who reads this know:  “I’m glad you’re doing so.”

The End of the Big amp Vs Small amp war? (Unleash Update)

twin5e3

What you’re looking at is a couple of 5E3 Clones.  The two of them together form a nice pair and will handle most volume levels I’m likely to encounter in stride, but sometimes one might wish for a little more clean headroom than they are able to deliver.

In an earlier post I reviewed the Badcat Unleash, which allows me to get the sound of a 5E3, but scaled up to a degree that prior to the existence of the Unleash would be complicated and expensive to accomplish, and I’m not sure at quite the same sound quality as you get from the Unleash.  This is sort of an update and how I’m currently using the Unleash and some of the gear I’m now using it with.

I’ve been using the Magic Valve (The black one) clone to use as a speaker cab in my living room for my two “Poodle Amps”, a Fender Greta and a Vox Lil’ Night Train.   I’ve also been using it with the Unleash, since I don’t ever really turn up the volume.  I decided to put an Eminence Texas Heat that I’ve had sitting around unused into the cab, as I thought it might be a decent match for the Lil’ Night Train, which sounds a bit shrill through the Jensen P12R in the MVA  cab. I’ve had the Texas heat in the MVA cab before and it adds a different flavor to the 5E3, but since I’ve been using the speaker with three different amps, I thought I’d experiment.

MVA2While doing this it occurred to me that I should try this speaker with the Unleash, since it’s capable of handling 150 watts, and then it dawned on me that I should try it along with the Jensen Tornado that lives in the Coronado 5E3.   The Unleash’s Class D amp will deliver a full 160 watts into a 4 ohm load, so I thought “Why Not?”.

Well, I now have a very interesting rig, to say the least.  The 2X12″ speaker array with all that power behind it can deliver a major punch on the bottom end.   The kind of full, robust, grand piano like bottom that one usually associates with amps like a Twin Reverb.   The Twang it can deliver with a Tele plugged in is almost baritone like.   In fact, it makes me want to get another baritone.   Setting the 5E3 (either one) to around 2 on the volume control and then turning the Uneash up to set the volume, I can play squeaky clean rhythm guitar at any level I can imagine I’ll ever encounter the need for.  Imagine a tone between a stock 5E3 and a Tweed Twin and you’re probably close to what this sounds like.
pedalboarunleash

I like the Fulltone OCD because it can be nearly transparent at low gain settings and it also seems to blend in well with the distortion in the 5E3 in a very organic, natural way.   I use it more as a tonal flavoring than anything.   The Barber Electronics Barb-E-Q is a equalizer that gives you a three band tone stack with an additional three preset personalities: Tweed, Blackface, and Marshall, it also has a pull boost feature on the Mid Pot which I don’t often use with a 5E3.  Again, more for tonal variety than anything else.   Popping the Blackface setting into the mix really enhances the pseudo-Twin personality and goosing the Treble pot on it invokes a “Bright Switch” ambiance.  The OCD and the Barb-E-Q go into the front end of either one of the 5E3 amps.

Time based effects sound so good through the Unleash effects loop that I’ve recently upgraded them to a a TC Electronics Flashback +4 Delay and Hall of Fame Reverb.   The clarity of the  loop is such that you can hear the effects quite distinctly even if you turn them down to levels where they would be rendered into mush by sending them through a distorting poser amp stage. 

What you hear in the Unleash loop sounds much more like what you’d hear on a recording where effects are added post amplifier.   There are some delays in the Flashback with a slight chorusing effect when applied to a clean signal results in this stunning shimmering sound.  I’m still experimenting here and look forward to when programming software for both the TC pedals comes out next month.

Going back to the original premise of this post, the thing to keep in mind is that all of this is totally scalable;  raging distortion at bedroom levels to thunderous cleans and everything in between.   For very low levels, where people do not hear bass at the same intensity as other frequencies, you can stick an EQ pedal like a BOSS GE-7 into the loop and get as full a sound as you want at whisper volumes. 

The Texas Heat and the Jensen Tornado didn’t strike me as an obvious combination, but they work quite well together and provide a nice contrast with the Jensen adding a little more bottom end than the Eminence.   The Texas Heat is rated as being more sensitive then the Jensen, but I don’t really hear that with them sitting side by side.    You do get that interesting sense of motion though, that you get when using two dissimilar speakers.  There’s a sense of more harmonic complexity as well along withe impression of the sound source moving in location.

Of course, I had to try the Greta and the little Vox through the Unleash with the pair of 12’s and once you get over the novelty factor of having so much power on tap with those little amp’s personalities behind it,  you start to focus on the differences between the two.    The Greta is more touch sensitive and the change from clean to distorted is more gradual; it really thrives in that area before you get a lot of fuzz added to the basic tone, you can get a nice sustain with very little hair on the notes.  You find yourself using the guitar’s volume pot to exploit the amp’s touch sensitivity.

In contrast, the little Vox thrives on more aggressive sounds, and the key to using it with the Unleash is getting the right balance between the setting of the Vox’s Gain and Volume controls.  Since the Vox has separate Bass and Treble controls and the additional gain control, it takes a little while to dial it in  with the Unleash.    It sounds “Bigger” than the Greta and to my ear it sounds more Marshall than Vox, but that may be my own preferred tonal settings more than any intent on Vox’s part.  It makes me play more in the rock idiom and less towards the blues and of the spectrum.

I’ve yet to try the Vox in a full band setting and will hold off on doing a full blown comparison of the two.  At levels I can deal within my house, I prefer the Greta to the Vox at this point.   I think that has to do with the fact that the touch sensitive thing stands out when you are just playing by yourself.   For now, I’ll just say that they are different enough that having both of them makes sense, they sort of compliment each other. 

Comparing them to the 5E3 clones, the Greta at times sounds fairly close the the  5E3’s, but just a tad more scooped in the mids and maybe a little more gradual in the transition between clean and distorted.  The Greta also has a different flavor to it’s distortion, not quite as chaotic or complex (depending on how you look at it.).   Cynical types my call the tone out of the Greta “Generic Fender”, in the same way one might view a Telecaster set up with three pickups Strat style——-   But in reality it’s just it’s own voice, Fender-ish for certain, but really something new, and especially when pumped up with a powerful amp.

The LNT is just begging to be played through a 4 x 12″ cab.  That’s the sort of thing it makes me think of whenever I plug into it.   I’ve found myself playing stuff like the chords to “Sweet Jane” or “You Shook me All Night Long“, or maybe “Baba O’Riley“.   I admit I haven’t spent much time working with the clean side of the amp.  What do expect from someone who has played mainly Fender, or Fender Style amps all his life?

I’ll eventually work through this and get it out of my system, but for now it’s too much high gain fun.  “Hmmm, I wonder that with would sound like with the fuzz box in front of it?”

 

“Unleash the————Amplifier?” The Bad Cat “Unleash” and a Preliminary Review

    I’m patiently waiting for one of the little Swiss Army Red boxes you see  below. (Note: It’s now here, Here’s a link to the full review:
UNLEASH REVIEW )

BCBlogTheUnleashI have two 5E3 (Fender tweed era Deluxe amp).clones that are fantastic sounding guitar amps, but they have a relatively narrow operating range, volume wise, if I want them to sound their best.    being only 12 watts, I can’t expect them to deliver much in the way of clean volume, in fact, that’s why I have two of them.  One of them isn’t quite enough to overcome the sound of the rest of the band and still stay clean.  And sometimes, even with two of them, I wish I had just a tad more volume available.  (Three of them would just be too much.) They also don’t sound all that good at bedroom levels. The little red box above should be of help here.

I use them because when they are in the sweet spot of their operating range the advantages outweigh any drawbacks.  The compromises I have to make are acceptable to me.  But, I worry how they might do at an outdoor gig, for example.  I really prefer to hear my own amp on stage and would rather not hear to much of my guitar in the monitors.  And, having to drag two of them around is less than convenient.  In my old age I want a one trip rig.

The BadCat Unleash is a a device that takes the output of a guitar amplifier and applies a dynamic reactive load to it so that the amp responds like it would if it was connected to a speaker, and then feeds the amp’s output to a class “D” switching 100 watt amplifier that feeds the amp’s output to a speaker.   These are all things that have been done before this but this is the first time all of these functions have been packaged in one small lightweight unit.    What this will allow me to do when hooked up to one of the 5E3’s is:

  • Replicate what my 5E3 sounds like when it’s cranked, but at a volume I could talk over.
  • Give a single 5E3 more clean headroom than two of them do now: tweed Deluxe tone in a 100 watt package.
  • Give me a 100 watt amp that only weighs about 5 pounds more than my 5E3, or a little over 30 pounds.
  • Give me two foot switchable volume levels independent of distortion levels.
  • Add a post power-amp-section effects loop that will allow me to add reverb, delay and other effects post distortion.
  • Add a direct out for silent recording
  • Now you know why it’s painted Swiss Army Red

The whole key here is the effectiveness and transparency of transferring the information from the 5E3’s output to the unleashed. I’ve owned three attenuators and this is always a major problem: you can hear them in the circuit.  (The Unleash is not an attenuator but can function like one, and has to deal with similar problems of dealing with passing along the host amplifier’s signature tone.)   I think there is reason to believe that BadCat might have an advantage in dealing with this problem when you realize that BadCat is owned by Inductors Inc., a leading distributor and manufacturer of high quality magneticsinductors, coils, transformers and chokes.  They supply devices to Peavey, Fender, Manly and Budda, among others.  And they have a staff of engineers who are experts in this field.

The custom toroidal interface between the output of a tube amp and the high quality Class D amp is going to be the major factor to this whole enterprise and there is a patent pending on it from what I understand.  All reports I’ve managed to find about the Unleash say that it is amazingly transparent.

I’ve seen photos of the interior of a Bobcat amp which also uses the unleash technology and it looks like the output  amplifier module (actually an amp and a power supply) is a highly regarded class “D” switching amplifier that is manufactured in the Netherlands.   To give you some idea of how highly thought of this module is, it is used by several high end amp manufacturers (Genesis makes an amp using this module that sells for $2,250.00!) and is capable of delivering 180 watts full audio spectrum into a four ohm load and with the much narrower bandwidth of an electric guitar will not likely having any problems delivering  a clean 100 watts into an 8 ohm load. It should sound exactly like the 5E3, only bigger.

If it only has the headroom of my Bandmaster Reverb, (Which is a 40 watt tube amp) it will be more than enough for any foreseeable use I might put the amp to, so I should have a safety margin.   The reason you need clean headroom is that you don’t want the class “D” amp to start imposing it’s own distortion signature on the sound.  In this application you merely want the amp to re-produce the sound of the smaller tube amp, not add it’s own voice.  From the reports I’ve heard, the amp will likely have all the headroom I need.

I’ve ordered a Jensen Tornado for the amp that is rated for 100 watts and has received some good reviews from people when used with a 5E3 clone like the one below (which happens to be one of mine).

I’m excited about the Unleash, and I’ve been watching the news about it for 9 some odd months now.   The more I’ve looked into it the more I became convinced this could be a breakthrough product.   When I spoke to Steph Maffei, senior vice-president of Sales and Marketing at BadCat, when I was pre-ordering my Unleash (He was the guy they routed me to on their phone system: he also answered all my questions in detail and treated me like I was ordering 1,000 of the things) he mentioned that this has taken them  a little by surprise.  In addition to getting the introduction of the product to be just right, interaction with the guitar community gave them some ideas concerning how the device could be made even more useful, such as adding an effects loop.

In a few weeks, when I have the Unleash and the new speaker, I plan on doing a full report on it.  I also plan on using it to record a audition demo with the band and hopefully get it all sorted out in time for an upcoming gig.

For more on this subject, here’s a post on the amp and speaker I’m planning on using with the Unleash:

Coronado Amplification 5E3 and Jensen Tornado 12″ speaker.

THE UNLEASH IS HERE!

 

The Future of Guitar Amplification.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”   Henry Ford

 

As someone who started playing guitar when the only amps available were tube amps and the only “effects” were reverb, tape echo, tremolo and the brand new Maestro Fuzz, I am amazed that you can still buy a hand-wired tube amp some 47 years later (or a Telecaster, Strat or Les Paul).   Yet we can also buy digital wonders one could only dream of back in the day.

When amplifiers first appeared on the scene, back in the 30’s, what people thought they were getting was just a louder guitar.  Well, it didn’t take long before people discovered that some of the sounds that came out, although not sounding like an acoustic guitar, were pretty cool, and pretty soon guitarists were using those “distortions” in musical ways.    Even what we think of as “clean” doesn’t sound much like an acoustic guitar, and by the time amplifiers were available in large quantities to the public, they were designed to achieve what were already becoming “established” tones.   Yet, guitarists insisted on doing things that the designers did not plan on and went on to make “rude” noises with their amps.

When I first started playing, you didn’t see ad copy that referred to distortion as a positive thing.   Indeed, if you look at ad copy throughout the later 60’s you’d see ads like this Marshall ad touting “distortion free” amplifiers:

 MARSHALL 1968 ADVERTISEMENT

Most of the infamous changes to the “Silverface” amplifiers were made with the interest of reducing amplifier distortion.   Most of the “signature” tones we all now revere were, in fact, mostly happy accidents.   And most of those “colors” were pretty much fossilized by 1975 or so, and with the possible exception of heavy metal, there hasn’t been a lot new since then, with the few variations being the exceptions that prove the rule.

As long as modeling devices are conceived and marketed merely as ways to replicate established tube sounds they will have to start doing something that gives them advantages over the tube amps that are on the market.    They are improving with each generation and it’s probably only a matter of time before the price/performance ratio begins to make them look even more attractive.  I do find it interesting we’re still using stuff that was created to deal with stage situations that no longer exist in most cases, yet most amplifiers have evolved little since the late early 50’s.   About the only other device more complicated than a hammer that survives more or less intact is the B-52 Bomber.

That said, guitarists tend to be sheep and it’s going to take some influential guitarist of the future to achieve fame and fortune while becoming identified with a specific amplification device.  Still, tubes are a BIG marketing factor, and any “breakthrough” will be easier to sell if packaged with a tube or two.  The big weakness of tube amps (aside from size, weight, cost and maintenance, which are factors that haven’t caused the demise of tube amps for over 40 years.) is that they are not easily scalable and to perform at their best can only operate at a somewhat narrow range of operating volumes.   What sounds good at rehearsal is not always going to sound good at all gigs you might attend: small clubs, large clubs, gigs where you run through the PA, gigs where you don’t, outdoor gigs, etc.    Wouldn’t it be great to have an amp you could dial in a sound with in your bedroom and have it should pretty much the same when you do a gig at the club?

One development I see on the horizon that bears watching is the “Unleash” technology being developed by BadCat:

See Previous Post: Unleash the Amplifier.

I think the revolutionary aspect of the Unleash is that BadCat recognize the advantage of separating tone generation and amplification functions.  This is an advantage that modeling amps should have, but few fully exploit this.  If you look at most “modeling amplifiers”, where they fall down is in the “amplification” part of the process.  Many of them have puny amplifiers that start to impose typical “solid state” distortion at much lower stage volumes than one would expect from their power ratings.    I think the Mustang series of amps show an increasing awareness (at least by Fender) of this concept, as when I tried out a Mustang III, I was surprised how loud it could go before you sensed it injecting any of the power amp’s tone into the sound.  Fender’s amp seem to have a little more clean power than some other 100 watt hybrid amps, some of which cost a lot more than $300.

I’ve also noticed a few people who use devices like the Fractal Axe-Fx,and then use a device that imposes its own signature on the sound.  Running an Axe-Fx into a Boogie power amp and then into a 4 X 12″ Cab seems to miss the point. It might sound good, but would severely  limit your ability to model other style amps.  Guitarists still expect amplifiers to be “sound creators”: not just devices to make the sound louder.  There [I]are [/I], however, some guitarists who use powered speakers (PA speakers as opposed to guitar speakers) to amplify digital modeling devices. 

For the amplifier of the future, I see a device with a form factor similar to what we have now, with a simple knob based interface.  It will have the ability to fine tune/update onboard software by an outboard computer or laptop.  It could have both pre amp and power amp tubes, (If for no reason other than is is hard to market any high end guitar gear without tubes) and possibly some computer controlled parameters to alter what the tubes are doing.  It will also provide feedback from sensors in the speaker to allow further correction (monitoring of how transparent the amp actually is) and the emulation of a few signature speaker sounds.   It might have circuitry for a way to adjust the tonal balance you’ve programed into the amp to account for the acoustics of the room you’re in or how loud you’re playing.   The power amp section will be a switching amplifier with enough power to provide useful power for most situations.

I’m predicting if the “BobCat” is a big hit, you’ll see other manufacturers jumping in with similar hybrid tube/class “D” designs.    The class “D” amps can easily be made powerful enough that they can be mostly transparent devices to make the signal large enough to drive guitar speakers.   Amplifiers from Quilter, and offshoot of QSC are using class “D” amplification and seem to be gaining some degree of traction as well.   This won’t happen overnight and predictions of this sort are notoriously inaccurate, and usually comically wrong.   If nothing else, save this article somewhere and it should be worth a few laughs in a decade or so.  But it’s still fun to speculate.