Morgan Amplification

Posted by on Jan 17, 2016 in Amps, Blog | 0 comments

Where would I even begin to start talking about Joe Morgan? He gets it. He just gets it. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Joe and his wonderful family and friends and there’s nothing about what a guitar player needs that Joe doesn’t understand. To that end, he’s founded a company that makes killer amps that are exactly what you want them to be. Sure, there are a bunch of guitar players out there that are looking for quirky- I get that. However, the most popular amps designs in history are so popular because there’s no tomfoolery involved. For most of us working musicians who love the rich lexicon of great guitar sounds, we just want damned good sounds with minimal knob turning and switch flipping. First off, every Morgan amps I’ve ever heard sounds just great out of the box with all knobs straight up and down. That’s an awesome sign. Second, all the knobs do exactly what you want them to do. You ever play an amp that sounds way too bright? You ever reach for the “tone” knob or the “high” knob and start turning it down, only to find that the frequency it’s changing just isn’t the frequency that’s killing you? Boy, I have- all too often. The range of each control on a Morgan amp does exactly what you hope it would do and that’s a really beautiful thing. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things about Joe Morgan’s amps and one of the common threads through all of his designs that makes his company a great one. Lastly, the amps are all simple in design, compact, light, and priced better than just about all of their competitors. When you’ve got all that going on, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find me a brand I’d be likely to recommend over their line. I personally own an AC40 and an RCA35 and as I said, though the amps are wildly different in their lineage, there’s a similarity to the frequency spectrum and gain structure that makes them both distinctly Morgan in just the right...

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HiTone Amplification

Posted by on Jan 17, 2016 in Amps, Blog | 0 comments

Some time in early 2014, I pulled the trigger on buying a HiTone DR HT30/15 and it was one of the best gear decisions I ever made. For many, the sounds of a classic Hiwatt amp are simply out of reach. Original Hiwatts are getting absurdly expensive and hard to find and the range of other amps meant to cover those tones has been bleak since the early 80’s. Having spent a little time with some real vintage examples, I can tell you that the amps I’ve heard from modern Hiwatts, Reeves, and others are just not it- not it at all. The Harry Joyce amps from the early 2000’s nail it but they’re even harder to find and afford than the old Hiwatts! HiTone, however, has put in the time and the research to bring back the sound and for great “big amp” classic rock guitar tone, they are my favorite. The company has partnered with the son of Dave Reeves (Hiwatt’s original amp guru from the glory days) to ensure that HiTone’s new builds live up to the standard of the originals and Clayton (the builder) over at HiTone does phenomenal work. The result is both bulletproof and toneful and I just can’t recommend them highly enough. The sound is extremely aggressive without being harsh and with a wide, full range that allows for an incredible thickness to your tones. The market is currently saturated with low wattage designs that are extremely saggy and compressed. Don’t get me wrong- those are GREAT sounds but HiTone has come to give you the other side of the rock and roll coin. They have incredible clean headroom, making them fantastic platforms for the pedal lover (like myself) and you’ll be amazed at just how rock and roll they sound without having to slather on the distortion. There’s an authority here that small amps with squishy circuits just don’t offer. There are several models to choose from that all sound amazing and all have the same inherent, core sound. The model I personally use is the 30 watt version of the classic 4 input series. I usually jump the channels together and have my channel volumes both up to about 2 o’clock and it’s still remarkably clean and incredibly musical. Clarity is a beautiful...

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Avatar Speaker Cabinets

Posted by on Apr 1, 2013 in Amps, Blog | 0 comments

I’ve always been a big proponent of making good speaker choices for your amp and your style. I think way too many people are unaware what a huge difference speakers make in their overall sound. As a result, I’ve ended up a big fan of head and cabinet set-ups. I do feel that there are some speakers and amps that definitely go together better than others but to limit one amp to one speaker seems akin to only being allowed to use one guitar with one amp. Anyone would tell you that’s crazy, right? So that said- I like having a bunch of cabinets available that are loaded up with different speakers for a variety of options. There’s a couple of problems with that- first and foremost, the cost. I realize that every company has their own motives for their price points. I’ve bought good wood and I’ve tried to tolex a cabinet once or twice (and man, is it miserable work…) so I realize you’ve gotta make money on them but the prices that most amp companies charge for their cabinets is absolutely outrageous highway robbery. I’m sorry. It’s true. They always have some claim about the exact dimensions of their cabinet being the perfect dimensions for the best sound in every single situation, yadda, yadda, yadda… I have compared the same speaker in different cabinets and yes, there is a perceivable difference but it’s way slighter than every cab company out there would have you believe. It’s certainly not more of a difference than a different speaker or spinning the amp knobs would make. Cabinets just need to be made of good, solid, resonant wood that holds the speaker well, sturdily jointed, attractively covered, and devoid of rattles and buzzes. It’s never seemed to me to be rocket science. Enter Avatar cabinets. They are making the best, most affordable, no-nonsense speaker cabinets out there. From their shop up in Idaho, they make models for all combinations of speakers in closed and open back designs for guitar or bass and with a myriad of tolex and grill options. They also stock a huge variety of speakers and you can get your cabinet with any mix of them you want. I’ve used their stuff for years and never had any problems or complaints. The wiring and speaker mounting is solid so I’ve been able to switch speakers a bunch of times with nothing wearing out or stripping. They’ve always sounded great to me and worked reliably. I have an Avatar Traditional 2×12 out with Hunter Hayes right now (it’s painted to match the set but it’s an Avatar!) and a couple of their 1×12’s at home for club gigs and sessions. I find myself hard-pressed to think of why I would use any other cabinets out there and I’ve never heard a good reason from anyone else. As a...

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Dr. Z Carmen Ghia

Posted by on Apr 1, 2013 in Amps, Blog | 0 comments

Dr. Z is one of my favorite amp builders out there. I’m consistently impressed with the build quality, sound, and price points of his models. I own a few of his amps and they are some of my favorite instruments I’ve ever heard. They’ve been fantastically reliable and have ended up on a lot of my gigs and the records I’ve worked on. I first got it in my head that I wanted a Carmen Ghia years before I ever even got to hear one. I grew up in a small-ish town in Virginia and didn’t really run into much modern, ’boutique’ (though I really freaking hate that word…) gear. The store that had all the coolest stuff that I wanted was just a state away in Cary, NC. Though I’ve still never actually gotten to go to Fat Sound Guitars (www.fatsoundguitars.com), I still check their website every now and again as I’ve found they consistently carry the best of the well-known modern gear and also the coolest new gear around. If they think it sounds great then I can pretty much promise you it rocks. Side note here is that the majority of it is ridiculously out of my price range but that doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome. However, one brand they’ve always stood behind is Dr. Z. After reading about the Carmen Ghia head on their site, I knew it was something I’d need to own. A few years later, after I made it to Nashville, I got the chance to buy a late 90’s Ghia 1×12 combo at a good used price so I snapped it up. I’ve since built a really funky headshell for it since I couldn’t get Dr. Z to sell me a real one (bummed me out, man! If anybody at Z ever reads this- any chance you’ll reconsider?? It’s for a real Z- no faking here, promise!) So let’s talk about the amp. Again, I won’t bore you with specs you can read on-line and plus, there aren’t many to talk about with a Carmen Ghia. Volume, Tone, Input, Power switch. Mine is an older one and only has a single 8 ohm speaker out and a hard-wired power cable so it’s ridiculously simple but damn, it sounds good. It is absolutely, incredibly dynamic and pickup sensitive. It’s one of those amps that truly sounds like whatever guitar you plug into it. You can hear your guitar, your pickups, your pedals, and especially your hands- for better and for worse. It is NOT a forgiving amp that smoothes stuff out for you. If you have a bad right hand and smack the strings harshly then you are gonna sound like a freaking wall of glass through this amp. Just a fair warning. It’s a mirror to hold up on your playing and therefore definitely not the right amp for everyone. But,...

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Fender Road Worn Stratocaster and Telecaster

Posted by on Mar 31, 2013 in Blog, Guitars | 0 comments

I’m a huge fan of Fender guitars in general and there’s a good reason for that. Actually, there’s all the reasons. Who ISN’T a fan of Fender guitars? Their classic designs are responsible for a ridiculous percentage of all our favorite tones on all our favorite albums- but you know all this already. Fine. So why even interject my thoughts on them? I really could just tell you that I use strats and teles on the road and in the studio all the time. No one would really need me to justify that. However, I think it’s worth mentioning particular models I like and why since they do have a gigantic product line. I have owned a bunch of different Fenders over the years. My first guitar was an early 90’s Mexi standard strat that absolutely ruled for its incredibly meager price. That’s one of my favorite things about the Fender company. You can go into any guitar store and grab a US or Mexi standard strat for a reasonable and affordable price and it will be great. Sure, you may find you want to change some things on it but that’s part of the beauty of Leo’s design. Easily changeable parts make for an easily customizable guitar to its owner and also for easy repairs and thus a damned near infinite life-span on the cheap. I’ve changed things out on a lot of my Fenders over the years. For THIS review, I’m concentrating on my Road Worn guitars. I own (and use constantly) a Road Worn 50’s Tele and a Road Worn Player Strat HSS. I got my tele first a couple of years back and immediately loved it. It’s good wood with a real nitro finish and solid hardware in a fantastic price range. What more do you need? I DID do a couple mods to it right off the bat but they were easy to do. I need it to be said that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it right out of the factory- I’m just a picky fella. First off, I like black pickguards on blonde teles so that went on. Secondly, I’m a stickler for the sound of brass saddles so I just changed out the whole bridge to a US tele bridge. While I was in there, I dropped in a set of Fralin blues special pickups (and rewired it old school with a CTS switch and pots). They are my all-time favorite tele pickups and they absolutely kill in this guitar. Truth be told, years later I bought a late 90’s US ’52 reissue tele just because it came up for a great price. It was dead sexy and felt great but the road worn blew it completely out of the water. It was no contest. It wasn’t even close. The road worn was light and open and airy and had...

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Paul Reed Smith Mira 25th Anniversary Soapbar

Posted by on Mar 31, 2013 in Blog, Guitars | 0 comments

This is the second in the growing list of PRS guitars that I love but let’s make no bones about it- this guitar is a Les Paul Special double cutaway only way better. I don’t know how the legal stuff works in the gear world and I doubt I ever will. I don’t know which design elements of a guitar you can copy and which you can’t but Gibson has always seemed to be one of the most aggressive companies out there in attacking copyright infringement so something about the Mira must be on the level. It’s not like PRS is based overseas and skirting the laws here- this model was built in the good old US of A. Normally, I’m bothered by copycats but in the case of Gibson, I’m all for it. I make no attempt to keep my opinion of their guitars a secret- they originated nearly all of my favorite guitar designs ever but in the last 20 years, their quality has plummeted while their price has skyrocketed. Frankly, I now love to see other companies building guitars that are, in many main elements, copies but with a quality level twice Gibson’s custom shop at half Gibson’s price. If Gibson’s not going to build killer versions of their classic designs at an affordable price like they used to do, then somebody else should and PRS is the perfect candidate. Otherwise, Gibson’s just a half-dead old man holding those awesome copyrights hostage from the music world. There. Rant over. So- let’s talk about the Mira. Like the Starla and so many other PRS models, this thing is an absolute pleasure to play. Light-weight, well balanced, great neck, great finish, and excellent fretwork. I find I can play it for far longer periods of time than other guitars of mine with no hand fatigue (something that becomes more of an issue for me the older I get, sadly…) I haven’t directly compared the body shape to an LP Jr double-cut but it feels dead on. Even the neck joint looks and feels right to me. The body might be a touch thinner but it’s probably just an illusion caused by the very comfortable bevel around the edge of the top that is a definite departure from the blocky body shape of its Gibson counterpart. It’s got the same 1 volume, 1 tone, 3-way switch controls that I’m used to and a single wrap-around tailpiece bridge. Aaaaand, let’s talk about that bridge for a minute because I love it. I don’t know what they make theirs out of but it’s very light-weight and resonant. And in STARK contrast to my 2001 Gibson Les Paul Junior, the bridge on my Mira is dead-freaking-on in its intonation compensation and placed correctly on the body for overall adjustment. I’ve found that Paul Reed Smith’s hardware is like the Apple of guitar...

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