Gear Goodness

Gear that is simply awesome.

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.

 

7 reasons why the Avid Eleven Rack is a no-brainer for recording guitarists

Eleven Rack If you are a guitar player who writes music and likes to create high quality recordings, you should definitely check out the Eleven Rack by Avid. The Eleven Rack is an amp emulator and recording solution that is simply amazing. If you’ve been on the fence about this one, allow me to push you over. Here are 7 reasons why you should whip out the credit card right away.

1. It comes with Pro Tools 11. Pro Tools is by no means perfect and it definitely has its set of issues. But, it is a standard in most home and professional studios. If you are going to be recording on a regular basis, it’s a great idea to learn the standard software. Plus, even if you go to a professional studio to record some or most of your project, you can always take those files and work on them from home. Pro Tools costs around $600-700. You can buy the Eleven Rack with Pro Tools for $639 ( from Sweetwater as of this writing). Enough said.

2. It sounds and feels amazing. Amp modelers/emulators have been around for a while, but the Eleven Rack was one of the first that really felt like you were playing through a real amp. You can dial up a Marshall, a Fender, a Vox, or any number of awesome amps. You can switch out cabinets and mics (virtually) for an endless combination of tones. Plus, it has a bunch of effect pedals that are also based on some of the most popular pedals out there like the Tube Screamer, EchoPlex, and the MXR Phaser.

When I got my Eleven Rack a few years ago and hit my first chord, angels sang. It felt like I was playing through a stack. There was no latency. I even heard a slight buzz which I would normally hear playing through a real amp. It really feels like a real amp.

3. You can easily re-amp.  Re-amping for those who might not know is the process of sending your recorded guitar track to different amps after the fact. The Eleven Rack and Pro Tools allows you to record two tracks for your guitar, one for the full sound including amp, pedals, etc, and one just capturing the clean signal from the guitar. You can then later run that clean signal to any of the other amps in the Eleven Rack. You can even run that signal to a real amp in a studio if you wish.

4. Play live with your recorded tones. Most guitarists use a number of amps and pedals in the studio and then struggle to get the same tones when playing live. With the Eleven Rack, you just save the tones that used to record and you can use the Rack as your live amp. You can run it through a cabinet if you want to “feel the air”, or directly to the board and monitors.

5. It takes pedals well. On its own, the Eleven Rack has a bunch of amps and pedals that will be more than enough for most guitar players. But, if you have a favorite overdrive, wah pedal or a delay, you still use them with the Rack. You can run your dirt and wah pedals into the Eleven Rack and they sound great. For your time-based effects (delays, reverbs, choruses, etc), you can run them through the effects loop.

6. It’s a one-stop solution. If you want to record your music, the Eleven Rack has everything you need. You can record all your electric guitars and basses using all of the available amp and pedal emulators. You can run a microphone through its excellent pre, and record vocals, acoustic instruments, or whatever. You can hook-up a midi keyboard and access all the awesome keyboard sounds which include organs, pianos, synths, drums, etc. You can also buy awesome plugins like Superior Drummer, which allow you to add amazing sounding drums to your recordings. And, even though the effects you get by default through Pro Tools are awesome, you can add other plugins including autotune, amazing compressors,delays, etc.

7. It’s the best practice amp you’ll ever own. Do you want to play through a Marshall half stack that sounds like you’re at Wembley Stadium while you’re in your bedroom? There are no more excuses for not practicing. Just turn it on, plug in your guitar and a pair of headphones and you’re set. You can use it standalone without having to turn on your computer or Pro Tools. But, when inspiration strikes, just open up Pro Tools and lay down a track.

So, there you have it. No more excuses for not playing. No more wondering how you’re going to get that demo or album made. The only caveat is that if you are going to do recording, you will need to have a computer that’s compatible with Pro Tools. Just go to Avid’s website to check computer requirements.

Wampler Hot Wired v2 – overdrive goodness

There is definitely no shortage of overdrive/distortion pedals on the market. I, like many guitarists, have more than I probably need. But, hey, us guitarists are tone chasers and we will never be satisfied with what we’ve got for long.

I have some great dirt pedals including the Xotic AC, Xotic BB Preamp, Suhr Riot, plus my Blackstar amp’s dirt channels. I didn’t really need another. But, I kept hearing about Wampler. And I saw the demo videos as well as the raves by a number of my favorite guitarists. So, I decided I just wanted to get a Wampler pedal. But, which one?

The Hot Wired was made for Brent Mason, one of the most prolific guitar players in Nashville (if you don’t know of him, I bet you’ve heard him play). It is a dual-channel, overdrive and distortion pedal in one, that can go from subtle dirt to full-blown distortion. You can use either channel separately or stack them for some sweet, milky distortion.

I periodically fly to some gigs and I’m limited on what I can take on the plane. This pedal has pretty much replaced three of the pedals on my board that I used to stuff in my carry on: an overdrive, a distortion and a boost.

The Channel 1 side is the overdrive. It has Volume, Overdrive, Blend, and Tone, plus a switch that lets you go from Fat, Normal to Fatter. The Blend knob is awesome because it allows you to blend in the amount of dirt vs. your clean signal. So, when you have the right tone, but the gain is a bit much, and you want some more articulation, you can blend in some more clean signal. Really cool!. The Fat, Normal, Fatter switch is also awesome especially if you switch from a Fender single coil to a Les Paul humbucker like I do. You can find the right tone for all your guitars.

Channel 2 is the distortion side of the box. It has a Volume, Distortion, and Tone knob, plus the same Fat, Normal, Fatter switch. It’s a very smooth distortion that can get pretty gain-y. You can stack the two channels together for over-the-top leads. But even when stacked, it is still smooth sounding, not muddy and unpleasant like some other distortions.

You can set this pedal up in a number of ways. When this is my only dirt pedal, I definitely stack them for leads, and use only one channel plus my guitar volume know for rhythm parts. Sometimes I use just the right side for subtle overdrive.

Like all Wampler pedals, it’s built like a tank, has clever usable features, stacks well with other pedals, and oozes high quality.

Here’s a great demo of the pedal. Warning!!! You might be pulling out your credit card before the end of the video.

 

Xotic EP Booster – keeping it on

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The EP Booster by Xotic USA is one of those pedals that you had no idea you wanted or needed, but you can’t live without it once you try it.

It’s a semi-clean boost with some nice magic sparkle that is inspired by the classic echoplex echo machine used by Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and others. It adds thickness to your sound and a bit of grit when turned up. I bought it for a boost to my leads, but found that I hated my guitar sound when this pedal was off. So, I leave it on all the time and I boost my solos in other ways. The other nice thing about this pedal is the big gain knob on top. When I play live and find that I need a little bit more/less volume, I can easily adjust it with my foot. (more…)

Fender American Deluxe Telecaster (2012) – my latest obsession

ImageA couple of years ago, I began itching for a telecaster. I loved the twang especially with subtle distortion applied. However, I didn’t want to get one and be bound by the limitations I assumed it had. I love playing blues and country, but I need to rock as well, and sometimes hard.

As I researched the models, I was first mesmerized by the look of the 2012 American Deluxe. As I dug deeper, I found the magic piece that sold me instantly…the S-1 switch. I went to the local guitar store and played one, and the infatuation started. This guitar felt and played so good, I felt at home. Then I plugged her in and found all the lovely sounds that a tele is known for. But then, I hit the S-1 switch, turned up the gain on my amp, and I was playing metal on a tele….completely mind-blowing. So, I started saving.

I don’t buy guitars on a whim. I spend a lot of time researching them and I let some time pass to make sure I still really want that kind of guitar as my next one. Well, it’s been over a year, and as surely as I love my wife and kids, I love this guitar. She will be mine…soon!!!