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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Review: Mesa/Boogie “Throttle Box” distortion pedal

All I did was to to wear my Dream Theater shirt while visiting one of the local music stores. The guy immediately said, you gotta check this pedal out, it’s John Petrucci in a box!

I opened the box, and there was no teeny-tiny JP inside. That kinda would have creeped me out. Instead, you could say that it is more of a Dual Rectifier squeezed into a rather small and nimble, yet sturdy distortion pedal. It has four knobs and a toggle switch. Three of the knobs are your standard garden-variety controls that every dist pedal comes with: level, dist and tone. The fourth is a midrange sweep control that scoops out everything between the rumbling bass and cutting treble for a really threatening sound. Or leaves it in for a more snarling, aggressive rock tone. The little toggle switch selects low or high gain, it basically takes the pedal from standard to insane.

So, how good is it? Judging by my most recent Boogie experience, I’d say: really good. This pedal delivers an obscene amount of distortion! It also completely takes over the signal chain – there is not much left of the actual amp tone. I was able to plug a Les Paul into a small Fender combo and without much fiddling nail a solid Petrucci lead tone. I’m not necessarily a Boogie freak, but if I were into that sound, I would definitely take this pedal into serious consideration before shelling out the massive amounts of cash a Mark or a Recto commands.

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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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Review: Bogner “Ecstasy Blue” distortion pedal

The Bogner Ecstasy Blue is a combination distortion and boost pedal. It comes armed and ready with lots of potential settings: I counted seven knobs, four toggle switches and two footswitches. The distortion section comes with your typical level and gain controls plus a 3-band EQ. The toggle switches enable you to switch between 1) regular and Variac, 2) Plexi and Blue, 3) three different pre-EQ voicings and 4) EQ and gain shifts. There are also two very small knobs that control the gain and volume of the boost function; these small plastic knobs double as on/off status lights for the boost.

I have to say I was pretty amazed by this pedal. It managed to preserve some of the feel of the amp I ran it through (some form of modern Fender tweed amp) and at the same time sound very classic and British. It was extremely responsive to my pick attack and the volume settings on the guitar. On one hand, I’m the sort of guy who prefers MXR pedals just because there are fewer settings that I can mess up, and therefore I felt rather bewildered by the plethora of adjustments possible with this pedal. On the other, there is no doubt that anyone looking for a classic rock tone might not have to go further than the Bogner Ecstasy. Even without the boost, it would be a darn good distortion pedal. With the boost, you basically have two distortions in one.

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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Review: Mesa/Boogie Mini Rectifier Twenty-Five

The last time I played a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier was in early 2010. I absolutely loved it and since I was anyway thinking of upgrading my solid-state Marshall rig to something that used tubes, it felt like the logical next goal. Something to save up for, something to daydream about. Who knew, it might turn out to be the last amp I would ever need to buy. (Yeah, right…)

But I got sidetracked by another project in another field, and when I came around to trying out new amps, I had discovered another brand that I immediately fell for. So when the Mini Rectifier came out, it caused almost an existential crisis for me. By that time, I had realized that 100 watts was the epitome of overkill for the sort of thing I normally do. I had got used to my 20 watts, and to get the Rectifier sound in a small package with about the same wattage – it was a dream come true. For that very reason, I refused to try it out. I wanted to continue living my musical life in the bliss of ignorance. I didn’t want to get floored by the sound of it. When I finally had an amp that I was really satisfied with, I didn’t want to restart the switching procedure.

But something happened along the way. I found out that good enough is most often good enough, and perfect just a pain in the ass and not worth the hassle. I didn’t expect anything when I finally did plug into a Mini Recto. Still, it was disapppointment in a box. Sure, it has a lot of power, even at the 10-watt setting. But I can’t figure out why someone would want that over-distorted sound. It sounds like the thing is broken!

Perhaps I’m not equipped to understand the brilliance of Mesa/Boogie, just because I don’t live on the road, or whatever. But I cannot for the life of me understand what the hell it is that you spend all that extra money for except for the logo.

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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Review: TC Electronic “Spark Booster”

I’m not a pedal expert or connoisseur by any measure of the word, but I have the distinct impression that the market for boost pedals has exploded in the last few years. Hell, even Boss has released one!

I was immediately intrigued when I saw the specs for the TC Spark Booster. Active bass and treble controls, gain and level controls AND a toggle switch that selects clean, fat or mid. I saw lots of applications for it: boosting my Stratocaster into humbucker territory as well as fattening up my Gibson tones (like that were necessary, really).

It turns out that the pedal is every bit as good as I wanted it to be. The Spark Booster is extremely flexible. You could use it as a transparent, clean boost, either for a volume jolt on a clean sound, some extra bit of dirt on a distorted tone, or perhaps even to even out the output differences between humbuckers and single-coils. I found out that it can do a lot more than that. It can add that sparkle and liquidness to a lead tone, without being as drastic as an old-fashioned overdrive pedal. You could even use it to turn a regular two-channel amplifier into one with three or four channels. It dirties up the cleans and adds lots of overtones and balls to the distortion channel. True, it is noisy, but that is to be expected when you add 26 dB of gain, and besides, you already own a noise gate, don’t you?

This pedal is now officially on my wish list and will be added to my board shortly!

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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Review: TC Electronic “The Dreamscape”

On paper, The Dreamscape is an excellent idea: a combined chorus/flanger/vibrato pedal. It costs about as much as two regular TC pedals, so what you get is three pedals for the price of two, and some of that John Petrucci mojo as well. And you only have to fit (and supply power to) one small pedal onto your board instead of three. Right?

No, you don’t. Not really.

I really wanted to like The Dreamscape, and not just because of whose signature is reproduced on the top of the chassis. Effects pedals are an on/off thing for me, and after selling almost all of them in 2010, I have recently entered a new “on” phase and am currently shopping for a chorus and a flanger. This pedal could be just the ticket and then I would get a vibrato pedal for free.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. It did sound really good. The chorus sounds, especially, were fantastic! They sounded good both clean and distorted, even when I put the chorus ahead of the distortion, which I prefer for simplicity’s sake. But that was basically it. The flanger and vibrato were too subtle for my taste and you also don’t get the level of control you would get from TC’s dedicated flanger and vibrato pedals. So this is basically just a good chorus pedal with John Petrucci’s signature on it. You could get that very same chorus sound by downloading one of JP’s TonePrints into the TC Corona for half the price.

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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The Tale of the Lunchbox

We guitar players are living in exciting times. I am talking about the lunchbox amplifier: a small form factor head that packs a full set of tubes (or valves) and is rated between 1 and 20 watts.

For not much money, you can get a tube amplifier that you can crank to your heart’s content and both your eardrums and your rental contract will be intact afterwards. Moreover, you don’t have to break your back to bring one onto a small stage, and when it gets there, it doesn’t completely obliterate the rest of the band.

It started with the smaller, upstart companies, and now, five, six years down the line, even the high-wattage giants Marshall and Mesa/Boogie have jumped on the bandwagon and issued lunchboxes of their own.

I think this is a wonderful development. Tube amplification has all of a sudden become a realistic option for us home recording people who happen to live in apartments. As well as for amateur musicians who take to stages that are no more than dimly lit corners of restaurants. Even though the sound quality of solid-state equipment has been steadily improving in the past 20 years, there is just something about tubes that we don’t want to abandon.

This is all well, but it does beg one question. Did it take that many years for the industry to realize just how overpowered a 50 or 100 watt stack really is? Or has it been a form of confirmation bias: amp manufacturers have only ever offered 50 and 100 watts, thus people have not been able to buy anything else, confirming back to the manufacturer the correctness of their offerings?

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in editorial, gear

 

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The Peavey Disaster

There is good news and there is bad news, and we’ll start with the good. The Peavey Classic 30 is a remarkable amp. I have played through it on several occasions and I have been blown away by the tones it can achieve. If you play rock and blues and hate pedals, it could very well be the one and only amp you would ever need. It can do glassy clean and warm overdrive and sounds good with neck, middle and bridge, single-coil and humbucker.

However, the Classic is the exception that proves the rule: that Peavey’s products suck. I didn’t like them in the early 90s, when the 100 or 120 watt Ultra heads were the standard backline provided by local sound companies. I disliked the sticky distortion and the dead clean sound. But I hated the footswitches even more. Whoever designed that footswitch could never have been within spitting distance of an actual stage. It’s such a stupid design that I can’t even fathom it. First of all, you have three tiny switches crammed together in a unit that is about as wide as an average man’s foot. But the most important switch, the one that actually, you know, switches between distorted and clean sounds, is in the CENTER! The consequences of this do not wait to make themselves known: you come crashing into a quiet, clean section with massive distortion just because you couldn’t tap-dance the gorram thing into switching to your clean sound. And what happens then? The clean section gets busier, louder, there is a massive crescendo, until it’s your turn in the spotlight, for that classic Big Rock Chord:

“plink”

Thank you, but no thank you.

The most embarrassing part of this is that I ignored every warning signal my brain was firing at me, and went ahead and bought one. Indeed, I bought a 60-watt Peavey Ultra 2 x 12″ combo in 1999. The footswitch design hadn’t changed a bit, but at least the upgraded version sounded better than the old one. I was even happy when I brought it home and fired it up to brighten the Saturday afternoon for my new neighbors. The bliss lasted two hours, because that’s how long I got before the amp blew up the first time. I immediately took it back to the shop to get it fixed, and two weeks later, the aluminium strip on the front came off.

I lost track of how many times I had to take it back to the shop, but it was probably seven all in all. It was an impossible situation, because you cannot get new tubes on warranty more than you can take a car back to the dealer just because it ran out of gas. Still, the repair guy was amazed at how it kept eating tubes on me. They acknowledged that it was abnormal, but could not do anything besides help me change tubes and fuses every time it blew up.

In all honesty, I think I went against my character and selected Peavey over Marshall because I was cheap. A Marshall with comparable specs would have been a couple of thousand crowns more expensive. Boy, did I delude myself! I easily paid twice that difference in repair bills during the four years I put up with this piece of crap.

The conclusion is a simple one: when shopping for amps, do your research and follow your gut instinct rather than your wallet. As far as I know, no big-name guitar players plug into Peaveys. Perhaps there is a reason for that. All I know is that I will never buy another Peavey product for as long as I play guitar. It is just a crying shame that the Classic is so good. It deserves to have a better brand name associated with it.

 
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Posted by on 17 March, 2013 in gear, review

 

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