Month: December 2014

5 reasons why the Blackstar HT Club 40 kicks ass

htclub40-overview-imageThe BlackStar HT Club 40 is an amazing amp, especially at its sub $1000 price tag. I’ve had it now for about a year and half, and have put about 50 band rehearsals and 20 gigs on it so far.

If you’re on the fence about picking one up, here are a few reasons that might push you over.

1. It has a great crunch/distortion tone

It just sounds really good. Many amps can get a great distorted tone, but not so many of this quality are at this price. The Club 40 has two different types of distortion. You can blend the two types of tubes for a more Marshall-y tone or a more American-style crunch. It can do everything from light crunch to high gain, and it does it all well.

2. It has a great clean tone

Ok, it’s not a Fender or a Vox, or whatever your favorite sparkly amp is. But, again, for the price, it has a great clean tone. At first, I was worried about the minimum tweaking capabilities on the clean channel (it only has a volume and a tone knob, and two flavors of clean engaged by a switch). But, I found that I didn’t miss anything. There is not a bad clean tone at any setting. I often find myself staying on the clean channel and using a few dirt pedals in front of it.

3. It has an emulated out

Most of us guitar players mic our amps live, but mics have their own set of problems. They have to be placed just right for optimal tone and they pick up all the noise on a loud stage. The Club 40 has an emulated out, which can send the amp’s sound out to the mixing board. It emulates the sound and feel of a mic’d speaker cabinet. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. For me, the combination of this tone with my stage tone coming out of the speaker is great, generally better than when the amp is mic’d. I guess you could mic it as well and get even more variation to your sound, maybe even pan one to one side, the other to the other side. It can also be used to send your guitar to your favorite recording hardware, while keeping the speaker volume silent or low. I haven’t recorded with it yet, since I use Avid’s Eleven Rack for all my recordings.

4. It’s been road tested by many

Nothing is more telling of a product’s quality then the number of people buying the product. And, lots of people are buying the Blackstar Club 40. It’s in a price range that most can afford and the quality and reliability have been proven over the years.

5. It takes pedals well

As with most modern amps, the Club 40 has an effects loop for all your delays, reverbs, and chorus pedals. Most quality pedals you put in front of it, will sound great. I run a wah, octave pedal, a compressor, and a few overdrives into it. Sometimes i use my pedals for the crunch and distortion sounds, sometimes the amp’s dirty channel. This gives me a lot of options and levels of dirt.

Overall, I would recommend it to anyone who plays blues, rock, hard rock, metal, and even country or jazz. You can always add a couple of pedals if you need something more than the amp can produce on its own. You can also add an additional cabinet, for a more rounded sound, since the Club 40 has only one speaker. But, for the price and quality, there are few amps that can compare. It’s perfect for band rehearsals, small clubs, big clubs, and even big stadiums (if you’re so fortunate). These days, small amps are making their way to the big stages as well. Just mic it or run out of the emulated output into the million watt sound system at your local stadium.

 

Pimping up my Mexican Strat

I recently got into guitar playing again after shelving it for several years. I was asked to sit in for a gig, but had no electric. So, I grabbed some cash, went into the local Guitar Center and started looking. I had no idea what to get, so I j just went with a cheap, Mexican made Fender Strat just to get me through the gig. It only put me back $350 and it sounded and played pretty well.

I started getting into playing more and bought an amp and a couple of pedals. I later bought a nice Ibanez Joe Satriani model, followed by a Les Paul and a nice Telecaster. I loved all of the new ones, but still had a thing for my cheap Strat. It was the guitar that brought me back into playing electric, so it had a lot of sentimental value. But, compared to the nicer guitars, it didn’t sound as good, and the quality of some of the components was obviously sub-par.

So, I thought about getting a new American-made deluxe, but I wasn’t in the mood for spending a grand or more on a new strat. So, I decided to start upgrading my baby.

Upgrade #1 : new pickups.

My strat has a H-S-S configuration, and the humbucker was a little ear-piercing. So, I put in a Seymour Duncan JB. Woah!! All of a sudden, my strat sounded killer. It rocked. The other pickups were good enough for now, but I knew I would switch them out one day as well.

Upgrade #2 : new Tremolo Steel Block
So, I researched about other upgrades. One that kept coming up was upgrading the block under my bridge. So, I talked to my local guitar repair shop guy, and he said it will make a big difference. I also didn’t like the current bridge and tremolo bar, so asked that he put in a new one as well.

Upgrade #3 : locking Tuners

My strat went out of tune frequently just after a couple of aggresive bends or tremolo dives. Because of that, I refrained from doing such things. But, then when I’d watch videos of others playing Strats and totally abusing them, they stayed in tune.

When I got the guitar back from the shop and strummed my first chord….I nearly teared up. It sounded amazing and that was just acoustically without plugging it in. The new bar was adjusted nicely and they did an overall setup. I plugged it in and for the first time since I’ve had this guitar, it sounded like a real strat. It quacked, it rocked, it growled and just plain, knocked me over. Even the original middle and neck pickups sounded much better. And, I could finally use the tremolo bar like a madman (I don’t normally, but I now could).

So, with the parts and labor, i’ve already spent more than I paid for the guitar, but still less than if I bought a high end strat. Plus, it’s my guitar. The one that has so much sentimental value to me.

Other Upgrades I’m considering:

1. Coil Split the JB Humbucker – the guitar shop guy said that a popular upgrade for HSS strats is splitting the humbucker so that you can go from single coil to humbucker at the flip of a switch (or a push of a button). And, he said that the JB humbuckers are especially great for doing that, so I got lucky on my choice of pickups.

2. Upgrade the middle and Neck pickups – I still have the stock Mexican strat pickups in the other two positions. They’re not bad and actually sound better due to the other upgrades I made. But, they’re lower output than the JB so they’re not balanced well in terms of volume. Plus, they’re a bit noisy and crackly. But, they’re usable. I’ll eventually get new ones but haven’t yet done the research.

If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment. I don’t mind spending the money on a special guitar I know I’ll keep forever.

NAMM is coming, NAMM is coming

NAMM showThe NAMM ticket confirmation email arrived a few days ago and I’m beside myself. I’ve been to NAMM several times over the years, missed last year, but back at it again. (Read my previous NAMM post for reasons why you should go).

I’m a total NAMM nerd and love everything about it. I love walking for hours and hours through the noisy convention center, looking at all the gear, trying things, seeing amazing musicians jamming, and snapping a few pictures of the stars. It’s also entertaining to see some of the has-beens from the 80’s strolling around still decked out in their old clothes but not rocking them as well. There’s also a bunch of freakish people with small entourages that are probably in some new popular bands that I don’t know about yet. And, there are the buyers and the people working the booths who obviously don’t want to be there, but have to for work.

It’s entertaining to watch the whole mix of folks. It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s exhausting. But, I love every minute of it.Last time I went, I came in on a Friday afternoon, checked into my hotel, and hit the show for the last couple of hours on Day 2. Then did a full day on Day 3, and left earlier on Day 4. This year, I’m getting there on Thursday afternoon and leaving when the doors close on Sunday afternoon.

Every year I have a list of gear I want to check out. This year, I’m jonesing for some hollowbody guitars so I can’t wait to try some Gretsch, Ibanez, and Godin boxes, as well as some other lesser known brands. I also can’t wait to see the latest pedal offerings. Some of my favorite brands are Wampler, Xotic, MXR, Electro Harmonix and Earthquaker Devices. I’m also checking out amps by Egnater, Bogner, Orange, and Fender.

The coolest thing about NAMM is that you get to try things out that are not always found in your local guitar shops. And, you get to discover new things that you didn’t know about. The bottom level of the convention center usually has the smaller, lesser known brands that offer some innovative products. Sometimes, you find some gems there.And, then there’s the after show parties, jams and concerts.

Anyways, I’m getting excited and hope to catch up with some of my friends that go as well as make some new ones. I’ll take pictures and post details when I get back. See ya there!