Saturday, October 17, 2009

Flot-A-Tone Amp

Last night I dropped into the Q Worldly BBQ in Cherry Creek to catch Al Chesis and the Delta Sonics show. I didn't bring a camera or recorder because I expected Al to be playing through his usual Bandmaster clone amp, and I've written about that elsewhere.

Well, surprise, surprise... As I arrived Mr. Chesis was setting up a cool vintage amp: an early 60's Flot-A-Tone. These were manufactured by the LoDuca brothers in Milwaukee from the early 50s to the early 60s and sold all over the country. Al's amp looked like a G600 model, which uses two 6L6 power tubes (or tubes from the same family) and two 12AX7 tubes, a 5U4 rectifier, and a 12-inch Jensen speaker.

I didn't get a chance to talk much to Al... harp players can be terse when setting up against the clock; I'm the same way. The amp sounded great. He had it sitting on a milk crate right behind him, in front of the drum kit. Al was playing through his trusty old JT-30 microphone with MC-151 crystal element.

The picture at the top of this article was taken with my cellular phone. I also used my phone to take a short MP4 movie of his playing. Al Chesis is a monster player and his band is tight and talented. The club was packed. A very fun night.

UPDATE: I talked with Al on the phone today (Saturday). The Flot-A-Tone is not a replacement for his regular gig rig, a Bandmaster clone by Mission Amps. He recently bought the vintage amp from a friend and wanted to try it out in a gig setting. The "Q" is small so it was a suitable venue for the 20-watt Flot-A-Tone.

I am partial to 6L6 combo amps with a 12-inch speaker, like Al's Flot-A-Tone and my 5F2H. They have a nice honky tone with good definition, and good crunch when you want it. Lately many harp players clamor too much for huge bass tones from monster 4x10 amps. Little Walter never sounded like that.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Audix Fireball V

This is not a complete review of the Audix Fireball V microphone. My first and strongest interest in the Fireball was its feedback rejection properties. After finding that it did not, in fact, offer any significant feedback advantage over other mics, I have no other interest in it. I shipped it back to Musicians Friend. (Ya gotta love MF.)

In the photo above the Fireball is connected to the Audix T-50K Inline Impedance Matching Transformer, which I already owned and use frequently with other low impedance mics.

If the Audix had superior feedback rejection qualities I was ready to work with whatever tone issues might arise, by means of pedals or processors or amp mods or whatever. But in a day of testing here is what I found:

-The Audix has lower output and lower gain than other mics.

-It has an APPARENT rejection of feedback, but that is primarily because of the lower output.

-When amp levels are normalized to equal volumes, it offered no significant (if any) feedback advantage over other mics I tried.

-The effect varied from one amp to another. On some amps it may have had a barely discernible increase in headroom before feedback; on other amps it had none at all.

-When plugged into my preferred gigging amp, the output was too low to be practical for stage use (the amp delivers only 8 watts) and the tone was not satisfying. And it still had feedback.

I admit, I could have tinkered a lot more with the Audix Fireball V and found a combination of gear that would have produced nice tones at high volumes with little feedback. But I'm not interested in junking my entire rig; I'm interested only in fighting feedback. The Fireball is not a solution to my specific problem.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Roadhouse Joe Update

Here's a sound sample from our Blues Jam at Ziggies in Denver last Sunday. This is from the first set, so it is just band members playing. I'm using my standard gig rig: Mission 5F2H amp pictured above, a bullet mic with Shure CM element, Boss EQ pedal (used mostly to fight feedback), and DeltaLab Digital delay pedal. The amp is lined out to the PA. I recorded this with the Zoom H4 sitting on a table in front of the band.

Larry Cotten on bass

Matt Spinks on guitar

Bruce Collins on drums

Scott Huntington on vocals

Some guy playin' harp

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pignose G40V

Last night at the blues jam we host in Denver a harp player showed up with a Pignose G40V amp. There were no other harp jammers in the club at the time so I got him right up. I was interested in hearing the amp.

Big disappointment. The tone was thin and boxy. The amp appeared to be bone stock. I've heard that these amps sound a lot better with a new speaker. It certainly couldn't sound much worse.

The guy who brought the amp played well enough and seemed to know what he was doing. He was playing through what appeared to be an early Shure Green Bullet microphone -- no volume control. At another point he played a JT-30. Same result: poor tone.

I've always thought the Pignose tube amps were good candidates for a harp amp project. Now I'm not so sure.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Delay Heaven

Tom Feldman compares six popular harp delay pedals, vintage and current. The original Lone Wolf delay pedal sounds terrific here. I also like the vintage Boss.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Amp News: Hummel Endorses Sonny Jr Amps

Mark Hummel is now endorsing Sonny Jr harp amps exclusively. Hummel, of course, is the impresario behind the hugely successful Blues Harp Blowout concerts, and a talented harp player, performer, and band leader. Mark Hummel has more to do with the current popularity of blues harp playing than just about any person on the planet.

This is impressive for Sonny Jr. amps. It got my attention in a big way when Gary Smith endorsed Sonny Jr. amps, and this is another big win for Gary Onofrio, the amps' maker. I talked to Gary Smith at some length about his endorsement, and I'm convinced it is sincere and complete. Smith and Hummel can play any amp they want -- probably for free -- but they chose Sonny Jr amps. Onofrio does not reveal his endorsement policy, but I doubt he gives 'em away to anybody.

Review: Two-Rock J-2

For years I have suffered under the notion that guitar players who drag elite boutique (read: hyper-expensive) amps to blues jams are pretentious twits with more money than talent. Last night at the Wednesday blues jam at Bushwacker’s in Denver I got schooled about that.

Jeff brought a Two-Rock J-2 10th Anniversary Edition amp to the jam… a $4000 amp about the size of a Fender Pro Junior. Jeff was the nicest, most unpretentious guy on earth and a very talented guitar player, and his amp kills. I want one.

During my set I plugged into a Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb (not a re-issue) that had been modified with beefier trannies from a Bassman. The tone was excellent and I enjoyed playing through it. But I had my eye on that Two-Rock and asked Jeff at the break if I could plug in and try it out. He was unendingly generous with his amp and advice.

Whoa… Damn… That is a beautiful sound. I didn’t have my Zoom H4 recorder, but I’ll take it next week and try to get some sound clips. There are good reasons why this amp costs four grand.

The amp is warm and smooth and fat as hell, but also crunchy and responsive to pressure from the mic. It is a combination of my Mission 5F2H (great crunch) and my Masco ME-18 (beautiful wamth) and a Victoria 5112 (gorgeous texture and dynamics) and a big old Tweed Pro (savage bark). A huge sound. I’m totally in love with this amp. I’ve never heard anything quite like it in one amp before.

The Two-Rock J-2 is a 40-watt amp with two 6L6 power tubes. We did the standard quick harp setup: reduce the gain, roll off the treble and boost the bass. Jeff had an elaborate vintage analog delay in a rack, and that thing was lush; one of the warmest delays I’ve heard.

I guess it was I who was the pretentious twit because I sneered at elite expensive gear. The Two-Rock J-2 gets the Blues Harp Amps Blog seal of approval. If you can afford it, buy one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Random Notes

-I changed up the link list over on the right so it groups similar items and reads better. I've had quite a few nice comments about my links, so I thought I'd dress 'em up.

-My band has gone through a few changes lately. The guitar player and drummer suddenly quit because they said we were playing out too much. I didn't know there was such a thing. I found a killin' drummer -- Bruce Collins -- and it looks like we've landed a smokin' young blues guitar slinger, Matt Spinks. We'll be playing several gigs this month, ending with the big Halloween blowout at Ziggies in Denver.

-I bought a Mackie 808M powered mixer, and I've gigged it out a few times. Nice piece of gear! Plenty of power for club gigs, and great features.

-I downloaded Pat Ramsey's album, "It's About Time" from iTunes. What a tremendous talent. It is such a shame he died so young, as do so many great blues harp players.