Tag Archives: review

End-of-Summer Demo of Chrome Dome Audio’s Tone Philosopher VG-44

In the early Spring, I was propositioned by my friend Kyle to join a show band at Kings Island, a local theme park.
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I had to wait a couple of weeks before I heard I got the gig. Then I frantically learned thirty songs from scratch (OK, really it was twenty-nine songs, because I already knew “Free Ride.” But you get my point). Two weeks after our first rehearsal, we were performing. I played three nights per week. That doesn’t sound like a lot. Somehow it took up my whole summer, but it was a blast.

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While it was going on, I looked like this:

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Among the things that fell by the wayside as a result (including this very blog), were the album that I can’t quite gather the energy to complete, a steady stream of covers I want to record, and the intention to record some demos of an incredible amplifier I got.

Chrome Dome Audio’s “Tone Philosopher” VG-44

Chrome Dome Audio is owned and masterminded by my friend Adam White. A few years ago, he set out to modify an amp for me, which turned into him just giving me an early and unusual version of one of his Tone Philosophers, which he offered to modify for me. I took him up on it a couple of years later, and he turned it into a VG-44, his main production model amp. He also decided to go through all of my amps and tune them up, in exchange for me recording some demos of the VG-44.

Now, all of this is awesome and cool, but it happened right when I got super busy for the summer. So, having opened up my schedule a bit,  I have finally finished the first part of the first demo.

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Note: My VG-44 is slightly unusual. It’s a head and 2×12 half-open cabinet with Jensen Jet-Series ceramic speakers (the production models have different speakers in them), but it’s close enough to give you the basic idea of what it can do.

What you hear:

  • I recorded with the amp on my carpeted home-studio floor. Now, this is a professional production no-no, but is a lot closer to the reality of how most people will end up using it most of the time.
  • The microphone is a normal Shure SM-57 that I’ve owned since the mid 1990′s. It ran through a Grace 101 preamp (Grace preamps are legendary for transparency). The mic was never more than a few inches away from the grillecloth during my experimentation process.
  • The only post-production tone shaping was some bass-cut, and a little reverb added to the solo tracks. No pedal effects of any kind were used. The only thing between the guitars and the amp was a 20-year-old house-brand cable I purchased from Guitar Center.

Guitars I used:

  • A stock 2005 Made-In Mexico (“MIM”) Fender Stratocaster
  • A 1991 MIM Fender Telecaster (which may have had its bridge pickup replaced before I bought it)
  • A stock 1982 Silverburst Gibson Les Paul Custom.

The opening figure is the Stratocaster. The middle portion is the Telecaster, with a slide solo also played on the Tele, and a following solo played on the Les Paul. The closing figure is the Strat and Les Paul playing the riff together. Note how they all respond differently, and stack well in the mix.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Tone Philosopher VG-44, by Chrome Dome Audio:

What do you think? Like it? Sound off!!

Product Review: Electro Harmonix C9 and Mel9 pedals

In 2005ish, I was engaged in robust discussions on the interwebs about pedalboards and pedals in a few public forums. There was an emerging culture of pedal-geeks eager to find quality compact solutions for live performance, and a manufacturing culture that as a whole, couldn’t see past its own proverbial nose.

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I remember stating that classic Electro Harmonix pedals, while I loved the sounds, were too big to be of practical use on a modern well-appointed pedalboard. The pedal industry (those who would listen, anyway), and older players all howled together in derision at the idea that I would use 9-10 pedals. “You must not be much of a player if you have to rely on all that.” “Pro players LIKE big pedals.” “You’ll end up using less.” I heard it all. Meanwhile, I was turning down gigs, sessions and students because there was too much demand for the soundscapes I could create. So there’s that.

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Not long after, the Electro Harmonix “Nano” series hit the scene, and the company has been cranking out different versions of their pedals, plus exciting new ones, for the last decade. Other pedal makers went back to the drawing board(s) as boutique pedals started changing the game. Dual-gain and multi-delay pedals have abounded. Tap-tempo is the new normal. It’s finally getting interesting out here.

Meanwhile, in EH’s R&D department…

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A couple of years ago, the B9 Organ Machine caught my ear. Too broke to buy one, I waited for used ones to become available. The C9 was released soon after. The Key9 and Mel9 followed. I was blown away by the Mel9 pedal, and really interested in the C9 pedal. So I bought one of each, determined to choose one or the other, as my new sound option. I use a lot of stacked delay sounds for keyboard-like ambience, and a leslie effect to invoke an organ-like vibe. So you can understand how each pedal has appeal for me.

[True story: in December of 2016, at the latest, I started trying to reach EH to suggest a Synth9 pedal. I used that very name, and even jotted down a few sound patches on a note pad. I was stunned a few weeks ago when the Synth9 pedal was announced!]

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The first to arrive was the Mel9. Blown away by Don Carr’s demo of it on the Sweetwater website, I imagined finding a small handful of sounds to employ to create huge walls of live ambience layered over/under my growling guitar. After a day or two of putting it through its paces, I realized I may have overestimated it. I had similarly been intrigued by the C9, and so I picked one up to compare. As a quick overall comparison, the Mel9 does no organ sounds, but it does more otther stuff. The C9 is almost all organs, except for a Mellotron Flute sound that is actually, in my opinion, superior to that of the Mel9.

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Basic overviews:

  • Both pedals have single input and dual output. One ouput is for the dry, unaffected signal. The other is for the effect. This allows you the option of sending the effect to a separate amplifier or PA channel.
  • Both pedals have separate volume controls for the dry signal and the effect, so you can blend them and/or set volumes to your liking.
  • The C9′s next two controls are for modulation and “click” (the click attack of the organ keys). These controls change different parameters in certain sounds.
    The Mel9′s next two controls are for attack and sustain. Like the C9, they perform different functions on some sounds.
  • Both pedals have a main sound-patch dial, and each one has 9 sounds.

Impressions:

The C9 has less variety. Everything is an organ, with the exception of the “Mello Flutes” (Mellotron Flute). That said, more of the C9 sounds are useful. The Mel9 has more variety, but I found fewer sounds to be good.

Functional Criticisms:

The C9 is an organ machine, and as every organist knows, you’re gonna want to control the Leslie. There is no control of the modulation, except by twisting the “Mod” knob. While it’s a mono pedal, the C9 mod sounds really nice and spatial at slow speeds, giving a nice doppler chorus without getting phasey. The faster speeds are less beautiful, but usable. Honestly, it makes more sense to run the C9 with no modulation through a good leslie simulator. I tried this, but it wasn’t awesome, though I retained control of the leslie speed.

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The Mel9 attempts to capture the classic seasick side-effect of the Mellotron tapes being pulled at inconsistent rates across its playback heads. This is done reasonably well, but there is no control over it. It’s always on. Always. On. ALWAYS. It can never be dialed-back, down, out, etc. Sure wish this was a dial I could turn!
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Both pedals could benefit GREATLY from an expression pedal control, and a switch to scroll through sound patches. I pray for future mods to be discovered.

Operations:

The option is either to use all effect, with no guitar blended in, or to blend guitar plus effect. Unfortunately, some sounds require different settings than others. To use more than one sound, you need to do some knob-turning. This means either (1.) bending down and fiddling, mid-set, or (2.) keeping the pedal within reach (On a music stand? Top of the amp?).

That brings up the issue of signal path. EH insists that you run the C9 or Mel9 FIRST (or close to it) in your signal path. That means it comes pre-gain. So if you’re blending dry & effect, the effect is then going through your distortion pedal. This is not pretty. I put mine after my gain pedals, so that I had the option of a dirty rhythm with an effect blended in (the gain, which wasn’t too high, didn’t change the C9/Mel9 sound much).

In any case, I started imagining a complex system of signal routing that became increasingly absurd.

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Bottom line:

The C9 gives you some great organ sounds, without much control. The Mel9 gives a few more novelty sounds. It’s probably best to approach both pedals in one of two ways. Either they are something you goof around with on a tabletop, while you sit nearby and twist knobs, or you choose ONE sound, dial it in, and use that ONE sound on your live rig. Changing sounds is impractical, live. But if dialed-in nicely, it can create a cool backing keyboard bed. The questions you and I are then left with is whether an organ bed or a Mellotron bed is better. Today, I can’t answer that.

Maybe I’m no help at all, because now I’m considering adding/comparing a Synth9.

Have you tried a B9, C9, Key9, Mel9 or Synth9? What was your experience? Is there another pedal that seemed like it promised the moon, but delivered less? What was it? How would you improve this EH series of pedals? Do you know of any mods? Share your thoughts!

Product Review: Xotic SP Compressor

My love affair with compressors began in high school.

I was all like, “I Image result for love compressors!”

At the time, I had limited gear, limited access to it, and limited funds to acquire it. In addition, there was no real source of information to guide me. Based on descriptions of the effect alone, I thought a compressor might make a good boost to my gain stages for solos. Turns out this was correct.

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My first compressor was made by Arion. Remember Arion? They made plastic pedals. The compressor looked like this:

The fact that it was designated “SCO-1” somehow made it seem VERY cool to 17-year-old me.

In any case, I got it brand-new at a local music store for about $25. It did what I thought it would, though it made me aware of what I’ve since described as a “papery” sound that cheap (and/or poorly-operated) compressors can produce.

Next came the Boss ME-5, Boss’ first multi-fx, which had a Boss compressor built in. Later, I got an ME-10 (because I needed MORE effects!), but then traded it for individual pedals, one of which was an MXR Dyna-Comp.

I used the Dyna Comp, mostly cheerfully, for several years, until I started to notice that it was hit or miss… and as time passed, it seemed like there were more misses than hits. I tried several compressors… various Boss comps (they all have that flat, overly squashed “papery” sound), Ibanez CP-9, some hand-made Ross clone, a couple of Jangleboxes, an Orange Squeezer and maybe a few others that I can’t remember. Someone suggested the MXR Super Comp as a viable contender. I found a used one, liked it, and used it for years. I even recommended it. In fact, it worked so well for me that I bought a second, for a smaller pedalboard I assembled.

For reasons that escape me, I sold the first Super Comp and kept the second. Maybe it isn’t as good as the first, or maybe my tastes are changing as I age (or both). In any case, I started researching and shopping for a new compressor in earnest about six months ago. That led me to the Xotic SP Compressor.

It’s a mini pedal, about 2/3 the width of the small MXR enclosures (like a Dyna Comp or Phase 90). It’s surprisingly TALL since Xotic thought it needed to carry a battery. In this day and age, I was a little shocked by that, as almost everyone now has access to power supplies and pedalboard solutions. It’s height helps make it more accessible, should you decide to put it in the second row of your pedalboard. You might not need a riser for it.

Here in the Tone Parlour, I tested the SP with my early-90′s British made Vox AC15 combo and my Telecaster.
   

The SP features a small toggle switch to choose high, medium or low compression ratios. I suppose this eliminates the need for another knob, but I think I would prefer a small knob. Frankly I would also prefer smaller knobs (in the ballpark of those smaller knobs Boss uses)  for the other two controls, which are simply Volume and Blend. There are also four dip-switches inside if you want to make more serious tonal alterations to it. The SP features a small fairly bright vivid green LED to indicate if the pedal is on or off. Controls are responsive and intuitive, and the build quality is excellent.

Here’s a link to Xotic’s manual on it: https://xotic.us/media/wysiwyg/Effects/SP_Compressor/manuals/SP_Compressor_manual.pdf

Guitarists tend to want either “color” or “transparency” in a compressor. I tend toward the latter. The blend feature on the SP helps quite a bit. I can either use NO blend (full effect), and build a compressor setting that I like tremendously, or I can build a whole different setting with the blend in play. Right now, I’ve landed on a setting with the compression toggle set on medium, the blend turned down from full-on to about 3 o’clock, and the volume just past noon.

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It was easy to back my playing off, and have the compressed signal sound enough like my dry tone for me to call it “transparent” with confidence. But something cool happens when I play harder into the SP,  and the glorious midrange growl of my Telecaster gets a little more pronounced. So… it’s “transparent,” but with some colorful side-effects? Maybe? Hard to describe.

In passing, I mentioned earlier that I had used a Janglebox in the past. When its toggle is set to high, the SP will do a pretty good Janglebox impression. The reason I don’t own a Janglebox (I think I have owned as many as three of them) is that it lacks sufficient output gain after compression. I want to use my comp as a slight boost as well. While this just didn’t happen with a Janglebox, the SP has more than enough gain to spare.

At some point, I may write an article listing the things about which I have said, “I can’t believe I waited this long to get this.”

It’s too early in the honeymoon for me to definitively say this about the SP, but it really clearly sets itself apart as a superior piece of gear.

Really impressed.

Product Review: Tech 21 FlyRig RK5

Review of the Tech 21 FlyRig RK5, by Dave Eberhardt

First off, I recorded a demo of the FlyRig RK5, which you can check out, here: https://youtu.be/vzaO05Kvlvs

Tech 21 has produced several items which I like very much. The original SansAmp has shown up on a many of the recordings I’ve made (I’ll bet you a sandwich you can’t identify which ones), and I liked the Bass Driver preamp on my bass so much that I bought an RBI to keep in my studio rack.

The original FlyRig seemed like such a great idea when I first discovered it, and the RK version had the sort of gain I really like, so I jumped on it. The SansAmp section, reverb and DLA (delay) are the same in both models, so the only difference is the OMG gain in the RK version, versus the PLEXI gain in the original.

First reactions: The FlyRig box is surprisingly tiny, and so I was even more surprised at how tiny the actual FlyRig actually is, inside it. Seriously, it’s the size of two cell phones end-to-end. It came with its own proprietary (and alarmingly flimsy) power supply. Sadly, this is not a standard 9v adapter, so you can’t add a FlyRig to an existing pedalboard daisy chain.

Sounds and features: By itself, the SansAmp section is glorious. It sounds like an amp, and responds like one. Tone controls are responsive and musical. The reverb is remarkable. Unfortunately, it isn’t foot-switchable. There’s no graceful way to deal with this on stage. Just don’t even try.

The OMG gain is fantastic, and interacts well with the SansAmp. Then the OMG boost sends it all into screaming rock Valhalla. Used without an amp, the SansAmp functions well as an amp-simulator, letting you boost it with the two stages of the OMG. With an amp, the SansAmp section can be used as its own boost/gain, and the OMG and its boost can be tweaked differently. So there are lots of gain combinations to explore.

The DLA section boasts a really nice-sounding tap delay, with the option to add a randomized modulation. Turning the delay-time all the way down allows the modulation to be used as a “secret” chorus. As a delay freak, I was disappointed that the only realistic use of the delay was tapped quarter notes (or 8th-notes if I double-timed it). If you want dotted-8th delays, you better be able to tap a beat-and-a-half. Lotsa luck with that. I was further disappointed (and really surprised) by the DLA noise floor.

Persnickety: There is a current trend to have footpedals color the clouds with their huge bright light shows. I hate this. When I perform, I want my pedal rig to be as unobtrusive as possible. The Flyrig lights up every knob in each section that’s enabled. I wish each function just had a single LED. If you like footlights, you may love it. Moreover, when powered-up, the whole unit -I mean, each section- defaults to being ON.

At the end of a few weeks of using it both live and in the studio, I found myself craving more options, or wishing I had just gotten an OMG pedal. To me, the unit doesn’t offer much that I don’t already have, and it’s tiny footprint (while impressive) isn’t enough of a perk to replace anything I already have.

I asked Tech 21 if the FlyRig could be modded with extra jacks (I was really interested in a send/return, perhaps on a single stereo jack), and was told that they couldn’t imagine such an option. In my experience, manufacturers are rarely imaginative in this regard.

Maybe someone else will mod their FlyRig, and I’ll revisit the option. Until then, I’d rather use something a little larger, quieter, and better-appointed

Pros: Compact, great amp-sim and gain stages.

Cons: Reverb isn’t switchable, delay is limited and noisy. Power supply is distressingly cheapo.

 

Have you tried one? What was your experience?