Friday, May 19, 2017

Hands On Review: Fender Mustang GT Modeling Amp

Recently I was able to sit down with not just one, but all three model of the Fender Mustang GT. There is a lot of information out there about these amps. Some rave about the features (and there are some innovated and ambitious features in these amps). Others complain about performance. The best way to navigate all the information out there is to spend enough time to get to know these new amps form Fender. That's exactly what I did. Here's what I've found:

Fender Does Fender Well

Fenders Modeling amps have always done their clean tone the best. This may be because they know their particular tone better than anyone, or maybe they just aren't that good at doing models of other amps... The Basic 65 and Bassman models are my favorite. Now, this is across all version of the amp. The clean tones are standout, but that is partly due to the fact that the dirty channels don't really hold up. Marshall type tones aren't hitting mark here. Vox tones don't come across convincing either. Although the worst offender here is the metal sounds. The preset isn't impressive, but changing the setting, at least in my experience, just made things worse. Muddy tones and tons of mush are found in the metal tones. This amps doesn't djent (not that I'm an expert here).

Tech Troubles

I was prepared to check out the app that accompanies this amp, and I did sort of. As I was getting everything set up, I connected my phone to the amp via bluetooth... for a few minute until I lost my connection. I did not reestablish the connection after that. It wasn't for lack of trying. It did force me to get to know the physical controls on the amp. Lets be honest, if you are at a live show, you aren't relying on bluetooth to do on the fly changes. The controls are cleaned up from the previous model. However, that's not always the most convenient when making fast changes in the middle of a set. The large wheel is pretty integral to making any changes. You have to make selections by rotating the knob and then pressing it. This is not always the easies thing to do. I'm sure you can get used to this, but I found my self scrolling past my intended selection and rotating the knob when trying to push it. I will say that the controls are rather easy to get the hang of, but quick and reliable changes aren't easiest thing to do with this set up.

Pecking Order

How does this amp compare to other amps. Well, put this next to other fender amps and you'll find it wanting. Next to a Blues Jr., this amp doesn't stand up well. Even more so with a Princeton. Typical with solid state amps, there seems to be a cap to how loud the amp gets. There is an organic volume level and when you pass that the amp just can't handle it. Instead of tube break-up, these amps react harshly to high volume applications. Comparing the GT next a BOSS Katana is where it really get interesting. These amp are very comparable in price, however they function is a different way. The Mustang and Katana both start in the mid $200 range, but they have different strengths. The Mustang has decent cleans and can mock many of its high dollar relative. The Katana is a little sterile on some clean settings. Other than that, the Katana takes the cake. The higher gain models of the Mustang do not have the convincing openness of the cleans. The Katana shines in the higher gain settings. The Katana also handles effect in the front of the amp better than the Mustang. Which brings up a another point... The effects in the Mustang are a little less than convincing. The list of overdrives is a little thin as well. Just a reminder, the Katana has access to 55 effects... The Mustang doesn't stand up very well to many other amps...

Conclusion

I really wanted to like these amps. Fender took their time coming to market with their latest modeling amps. It looked like Fender had everything wrapped up, but the most important part of the amp is performance. No matter the feature set, at the end of the day, you want the amp to sound good. The more features you add, the more opportunity you have to get it wrong. We want an amp that does everything, and it's tempting to think that "Now they've done it", but they haven't yet. Specifically, the Fender Mustang GT hasn't.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Ugly Truth About The Fender Mustang GT Amp

If you've been living under a rock for the last week or so, then you may not have heard that Fender has finally released there entry into the current gen of digital modeling amps. Of course, we have all become familiar with the Marshal CODE, BOSS Katana, and Line6 Spider V, but Fender has thrown its hat into the ring with the new Mustang GT. So what is the story here? Do we need to run out and buy the latest addition to the Mustang line? Let's aggregate all the information we know about the GT and try to understand whats new, whats good, and what needs to change.

(Before we go anything further and we are on the same page, this is a "reactions" post. A hands-on review is in the works)

There Is A Lot Right
Many if not most of the features that are present in other current-gen modeling amps are present here. Most notably is the connectivity. The Marshal CODE and Line6 SpiderV both let you connect and control the amp via mobile app. What Fender did right, besides their iconic cleans, was to allow the mobile device connect via Bluetooth and the amp to connect via Wifi to your network. Finally a fully wireless amp (well, except for the power cable). The design is nice and clean, which puts it above the SpiderV right out of the gate. Other improvement: high quality interface, 60 second looper, Celestion speakers, more power (200 watts). Fender has put a lot of thought into the this amp. It is the last one to market with their modeling amp, so they'd better have learned from mistakes made by the other guys. So, does that mean that Fender got everything right? Well...

They Got A Lot Wrong Too
As you can imagine, this amps are popular with cover bands and session artist. Those that need to play many styles in the same set, and portability is important. So these amp tick a lot of boxes. Also high up on the list is reliability. You'd think that would be in the bag, what with it being solid state and all, but users have reported issues with one  of the key features: the bluetooth connection. First, the connection is lost when your phone goes to sleep, also, the app and amp have a few glitches to work out. Selections on the app have a slight chance to select the wrong option on the amp. Fortunately, there this is only a seldom annoyance, but reliability is paramount in every piece of a rig. Another misstep was to take away some functionality of the previous models. Everything is editable on the manual controls, but the on-the-fly on/off of effects is only available via the $100 footswitch that is only included on the flag ship $600 200 watt version. Not to mention, it is a four button switch with three different modes... I guess it need to do a lot since you aren't going to be running many effects into this amp.

Conclusion
I want to like this amp. I am, admittedly, a Fender fanboy. But I can't endorse this amp souly on the brand on the front of the amp. This amp delivers a multitude of options and effects. There are tons of presets and everything is customizability. There is a community build around the Mustang line that, no doubt, will provide endless possibilities for that looking to nail tones with little to no button mashing. There are some issue with this amp, just like there are with many others, The main feature of any amp though is what it sounds like. I've only really experience the presets and the fender cleans are legit. The dirtier (less-fender) the model, the weaker the sound. Will this be improved in the future? Can it be improved? I don't know. It is a solid, if not overdue, update to the Mustang line. Fans of the Mustang amps will enjoy the long awaited update to current spec. If you are on the fence about buying this amp, I'd suggest putting it next to the Marshal CODE and close your eyes. Pick the one that makes you feel the fuzziest.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hands-On-Review: Boss Katana Amplifier

The Boss Katana amplifier has been a thing of interest for many guitarist since it's announcement at the end of 2016. The ever growing threat of solid-state technology catching up with our beloved tubes is once again made evident by Boss' latest offering. Would I consider trading in my tube combos for a Katana? No. But, with the feature set and price range of these little combos, many people are asking themselves if this amp is the right choice. I'll tell you what I think...


Punching Above It's Weight


Those of us accustom to 1X12 tube combos will notice that the Katana is a petite package. I found myself questioning whether or not it actually had a 12 inch speaker. It is also light-weight. I have seen the specs for the amp and told myself that I know what to expect, but the size and weight are actually surprising. So, naturally when you approach an amp like this you have certain expectations. Small, light-weight amps sound small and light-weight (thin). Perhaps this is a psychological tactic by Boss to precondition you, so that when you actually do play through this amp it sounds big and heavy. Because this amp sounds big and not light-weight. The cab and speaker reverberate harmoniously by providing bass and presence in equal measure.


Well Balanced


I've spoke about the initial shock of playing trough the amp, and how the low and high end are lovingly coupled in a homogeneous blend of frequencies. That is balanced indeed. However, the vast array of knobs would seem to tip the scales of form and function in an unfavorable direction. Again, at first glance, our impression is not congruent with our experience. Anyone who has fiddled with knobs on an amplifier can sit down with the Katana and produces varying tones of blissful harmony. With a neutral EQ and bypassed FX you can dial up four different Amp Types. The problem that has plagued many amp like this one has been the fact that they either have settings that all sound the same or so different that they couldn't possibly come from the same amplifier. This would make changing channels in a live setting unpleasant at least. But Boss has Balanced the amp types so that they sound related but not redundant. Probably the most impressive part of this amp, and that's before we talk about the effects.


The Effects


Undoubtedly the most anticipated aspect of this amp is the effects. obviously Boss wants to promote the 55 available effects, but the fine-print to that is that you can only store 15 and the fine print to that is that you can only use 3 at a time. To be fair, this is not limited in a way that makes the effects trivial, but you are bound to use a PC to do any great deal of editing to the stock effects. Given the recent focus on android and iOS connectivity, this seem like an oversight. This actually seems like area that Marshall got right with the CODE series. The CODE series features mobile connectivity and a on-board editing menu screen. The Katana would do well with one of those options. Instead, it has none. Not that this takes away with the impressive sounds that the amp is capable of. Plus, serious users have a great editing tool in the Tone Studio software. Having said that, this is Boss and the effect that were available during the review were solid. Boss really did their homework and provided quality effects that 100% usable.

Conclusion

I still really like these amps. They have a lot going for them. Would I use this as my everyday/gigging amp? No. It just can't replace a tube combo and pedal board. But, for the bedroom player or recording artist on a budget, this amp can really fit the bill. The amp really need a PC to be all that it can be. I've had gear with similar functionality and I doubt that I ever used it. All in all, this is an impressive unit. It shines most where you don't expect it. The effects are usable, but might be a little cumbersome to edit in depth. Boss nailed so tone of feature on this one, but at the same time, I'd like to see some improvements.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

5 Ugly Truths about Video Game's Love Affair With The Guitar

It's seems like a very long time ago, but there was a time when video games discovered the guitar. Every young guitarist that that their dreams had come true. They could combined their passion for an instrument into the brightly colored screens and scrolling dots.


The Predecessors


Before there were guitar heroes or rock bands there was Parappa the Rapper. It was an early rhythm bases game (the same type of game that all guitar related games are). In this game you had to press buttons on a regular controller in a particular rhythm. It was basic idea wrapped around an interesting interface. The game featured well written original music... ok, so as well as you can write a song about frying French fries and the like, but hey, it was rather entertaining. I actually played this game before the big guitar boom in gaming.


The Explosion


For the most part I turned my nose up at most of the Guitar Hero games. I thought that I was going to avoid degrading my self by not picking up one of those plastic atrocities. Of course, the popularity of the games finally came to a point where it was impossible not to try. ...and I sucked. I was disappointed in myself. I knew that I would be able to crush this fake guitar with my amazing real-guitar skill. But it turns out that following a scrolling dot and pressing buttons doesn't directly correlate to playing the guitar. There was a time, after the peak of popularity that I sat down and played the Guitar Hero for a few hours. I progressed very little and was very frustrated. Real guitar for life...


The Aftermath


Guitar Hero and the other games that followed had their time. I think that it was a novel idea and actually credit the games for an increased interest in learning actually guitar. However, there is a lot of disappointment when an expert Guitar Hero picks up an actual guitar and then must start over from the beginning.


Conclusion


I never invested in these games. Of course this was a fad. It blew up, then it fizzled. There were product tie-ins and band tie-ins. It did introduce a lot of young people to classic rock and guitar driven music. That hasn't help stop the onslaught of electronic noise in 117% of pop music, but sometimes you just can't stop the musical equivalent of Adderall.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

5 Ugly Truths About Being A Guitarist

If you are like me, then you began playing the guitar and had a very clear image of what 'playing the guitar' should have looked like. Very few actually achieve that initial image. You might have thought that you would make it big and play music with your heroes, or making a million dollars with nothing but your axe and sweet licks. Those ideas might be spectacular visions of grandeur, the truth is a little ugly...


About That Fame


Well, you might have guessed that it would be very difficult to make a name for yourself playing the guitar. The guitar is a wonderful instrument that many enjoy, but there is the problem, many enjoy playing the guitar. There is a crowd of people that are doing the same thing that you are. That is why there is such a large community of guitarist. Forums, Blogs, Stores, and other things exist because there are so many of us. This fact alone makes it difficult to stand out. It is difficult to play faster, smoother, harder, more technical or some other superlative more than everyone else. Just shear numbers would dictate that there is someone else that has been specializing in that one thing more than you. Not to discourage you from trying to progress, in fact, this reason is my personal motivation to keep pushing myself. Having said that, the thought that being the top of your particular ''field'' won't be enough to propel you to stardom


About That Fortune


Another common assumption is that learning and playing the guitar with just burry you in all the money. The logic here is a little funny here. Making money is a bad reason to pick up the guitar. I've spent countless dollars on my habit hobby. I have made a little bit of money hear and there, but fortune is not the word that I'd use to describe the amount. I'm sure I've spent way more than I've made and I doubt that will ever change. There are tons of working musicians that make a living with their craft. That's not completely out of reach for the average guitarist that devote enough time and energy toward it. Supplemental income is achievable, a living can be manageable, but breaking six figures is going to take a lot more than just talent. You'll have to constantly market yourself and network to make connection that will further your career.


Your Heroes Kind Of Suck


I mean, I don't know you heroes but I'm working with generalities here, so work with me. Let's assume that your hero has achieved that fame and fortune that we discussed earlier. This means that, in addition to the talent, they have a work ethic that has propelled them to were they are. They also have a personality and temperament that is complete different then what you image. It's easy to assume that you know the people that you look up to, but many times you can disappointed. I'm not saying that these people are all type-a jerks, but they are conditioned to a very demanding and time-consuming schedule. Depending on who you hero is, this is achievable goal, but you'll never know if that person will live up to your expectations. Also, depending on who your particular hero is, you might want to get on that, because they might die. That's why all my heroes are already dead. That way I don't have to try...


Other People Don't Love Your Playing


Yes, people enjoy the guitar, but growing up in my house, people did not always like listen to the same songs over and over (other wise know as practice). Most impressive guitar playing is enjoyed by other guitarist that know how hard it is to make those particular sounds. The common person will equate strumming chords and typically challenging arpeggios to one another. That's because they have to basis to compare the two. To them, they are both difficult. You could have Eric Clapton setting in you living room playing the guitar and, after a while, you'll ask him to stop. Even if you are very talented, sometimes the noise is just unwanted. Don't be the guy at the party to pick up the guitar and start playing Wonder Wall. for the love of Pete don't play Wonder Wall...


So Easy To Waste Money


I own so many things. Many of them relate to the guitar. I own several guitars... and amps... and pedals... cases... chords... books... *sigh* I've bought so many things. I like buying things. I also like buying guitar things. That cost money. Lots of money. Do I need to say more? Yes? Ok. A starting rig will run you a few hundred dollars, As you progress you will probably spend thousands of dollars if you continue to play. Acoustic or Electric, your rigs will get a little more complicated and refined (is that a contradiction?). You can also spend money on things that don't need. Extras are so temping. I've bought several 'boutique picks' because that's a thing now. They aren't necessarily better. My point is, just like many hobbies, you will spend countless dollars on your self... you self-centered narcissist.


Conclusion


I don't even know anymore. I've never given so much thought to why guitar playing might suck. It doesn't suck, in fact, it is absolutely rocks. I love playing guitar and I'll stop playing when I lose control of all of my limbs... Yes, I will start playing with my feet if I lose my hand in a harvesting accident.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

5 Ugly Truths about Guitar Magazines

If you have been playing guitar for a long time (we're talking 10-15+ years), the you know what it was like to read guitar magazines. They were to way to find more information about the thing you love to do. They had everything. There were articles about your favorite guitarist, gear reviews, tabbed out songs, and girls holding guitars... I mean, it was all you could ever ask for, right?


They're Out Dated


Of course they are. In the internet age, nearly all print media is looking like a dinosaur. people are writing and publishing their thoughts on the hourly basis. The best way to get the latest information about you preferred artist is to follow them on social media.


They're Not Exactly Ethical


I don't mean to slight the competition here, but let's face it. If your lights are kept on by the people you are reviewing, then do you think there is a bias? I know that if would be difficult for me to be completely ethical if I had to manage a relationship with the people I am actively criticizing. So called reviews in these magazines read like reheated press releases. Good thing you are more savvy than to believe those wood-pulp-pushers and you read blogs!


They're Old Fashioned


So, remember those girl and guitar that I mentioned way back in the introduction to this post? Well, turns out that they are falling out of fashion. They were once was a strong presence in guitar periodicals, but recently guitar-babes have been view as a 'tacky addition' rather than 'attractive feature'. Even NAMM, once the home of many a booth-babe, has done away with the distraction. This is probably due the fact that woman are becoming more of a part of what has been traditional a male dominated hobby. It probably doesn't come as no surprise, but woman don't enjoy the objectification of other woman... go figure.


Tabs Aren't That Hard To Come By


One of the main attractions of these magazines are the transcript songs in the back of them. Unless you had a very guitar ear and a lot of patience, these magazines were a god-sent. Now-a-days we have website on top of website trying to shove their tabs down your throat. Not only that, but you have a dozen different versions to choose from. Honestly, the internet has not been nice to print media, but that's the way the world works.


There Will Be Boxes


... of magazines.  Anyone with a subscription to a magazine will tell you that sooner or later you will have a pile of paper that needs to be tamed. Typically this requires a large box of holding. Once that box is full (because it will be full) you'll put it in you closet... until you move it out to make room for you next box of magazines. Then, you'll put the boxes in you garage, or attic, or somewhere until that is overflowing with glossy pages on top of glossy pages. This will continue until the ghosts of all the murdered tree come and take you away to answer for  your crimes against tree-kind.


Conclusion


Keep reading my blog. Duh...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ugly Guitar Truth About Keeley Eletronics D&M Drive

NAMM showed us lots of interesting pedals and gear, but something stuck out like a bad pun about British dental work. I'm talking about the Keeley D&M Drive. Sadly we can't call this the DM Drive because then we could pretend that it was some allusion to a D&D dungeon master. I mean, nerdy table top RPGs are better than out-and-out product hocking. Yes, this pedal in question is specifically designed for That Pedal Show's host's D-name and M-name. What does this mean and why is it ugly? Ehh... let's see:



Let's Face It


Basically this is a three knob drive pedal glued to a three knob boost pedal and sold as a custom(?) pedal. They did do something right. They made the pedal order switchable. You will be able to boost into the drive circuit or drive into the boost. That adds a great deal of range to the sounds this pedal is capable of. However, they'd be able to do more if you allowed for a loop in-between the two sides, but that is a little over-the-top for a drive boost combo. However, with a G2 system you can have full functionality with the press of a button. So, There's that.


Speaking Of Faces


Just that. You have D-name and M-name looking at you from the top of the pedal. It looks like that got the same guy that did the Rhett and Link logo, but they paid him in high-fives, and he was hung-over... from meth...(you get hung over from meth, right? you know what, don't answer that). It's not that bad. However, if you didn't know that D-name and M-name had a YouTube show about pedals, then you'd probably wonder why there is a bald man in front of a setting sun and a reject Doug character on the pedal.


It's Hard To Find


Right now there is little information about this pedal. Just finding an image is tough to do. In fact the most information right now is the actually video that D and M did at NAMM for Keeley. In the video, They quote the old joke about NAMM: NAMM, Not Available Maybe May... So, we might be looking a few months off before common folk like us can get our hands on it.


Conclusion


Based on the very little information that is available, it is very hard to come to any real conclusion. But what we can here in the NAMM video is pretty telling. There isn't anything objectionable in the video as far as I can hear. The drive is officially described as 'Tight' and the boost is called a 'mid-boost'. The best thing is to take a listen to That Pedal Show, and if you like their tones then this might be up your ally. So, when 'maybe-May' get around here and you have $229-249 to spare. You can have you're very own D&M.