Hello Troubadourians! Every year, on the third weekend of January, the NAMM Show comes to the Anaheim Convention Center. It is my responsibility and privilege to attend the show and see what new and exciting things have been thought of and subsequently brought to fruition by established companies and new companies as well. While I’m always looking for things that excite me, I’m also always on the lookout for things that the readers of this column will find useful when they perform or record. Which could be anything that promises good guitar tone and anything that seems like it can move us closer to that ever-elusive plug-and-play “box” that can give us good tone wherever, whenever and without having a cluttering of boxes at our feet. Here are a few of the things that really impressed me this year.
Tech21: I’ve been a fan of Tech21 products since they introduced the FlyRig5 a couple of years ago. The FR5 was an instant “must buy” and has been an integral part of my electric rig ever since. This year, Tech21 introduced the Bass Fly Rig on essentially the same platform but with the addition of a built-in tuner and DI (Direct Insert) output. In keeping with the five-effect concept, the Bass Fly Rig has five effects that modern bassists will find most useful. Beginning with a SansAmp preamp, the BFR also features a compressor, chorus, octafilter, boost, as well as the tuner (a feature I’d like to have on my FR5. More on this later…). Since the bass guitar is almost always run directly into the P.A., especially on larger stages, the DI was a no-brainer. Compression has been used on basses since day one both in the studio and live performance in order to even out dynamic transients and increase punch and sustain. Chorus has become as much at home on the bass as on guitars and the Octafilter makes getting synth-bass type tones easy and tasty. A Boost for solos or to make a momentary line or part “jump out” is very handy. But it’s the built-in tuner that makes me envious. As an electrical engineer, I couldn’t resist asking Tech21 operations engineer John Bednar if there are any plans to include a tuner in subsequent versions of the Fly Rig Guitar models. (I even had some “ideas” about how it could be “easily” done…) Unfortunately, and after gently shooting down all of my ideas, he said that there weren’t any immediate plans to add a tuner to any other Fly Rig models. I had to admit that his reasons for not adding a tuner were electrically and practically sound. While I was at the Tech21 booth, I noticed the new Q\Strip pedal. I asked Dale Krevens, vice president, to tell me more about the Q\Strip. She explained that the Q\Strip was designed to replicate the EQ and preamp section of a vintage recording console and allow you to bring the tone-shaping circuits with you wherever you are whether performing live or in the studio. I was impressed with the warmth and accuracy of EQ that the Q\Strip brought to the acoustic guitar, which was at the booth to be used for demos. While the fine detail of any tone can be lost in the cacophony that is the floor of the NAMM Show, I was able to hear the potential of what this pedal could do for a good acoustic guitar under better circumstances. Dale also recommended that I try the Para Driver DI on acoustic guitar. She said that since it contained an even more powerful preamp, it might prove even more useful when in a “guerilla gig” situation. I’m anxious to try both with my Collings.
Blackbird Guitars: Blackbird Guitars founder, Joe Luttwak, has two new guitars that really caught my attention; the El Capitan and the Savoy. Both are made from Ekoa® linen fiber which is natural composite material based on linen instead of carbon fiber. (Blackbird also makes guitars that utilize carbon fiber). The look and sound of the Ekoa-based guitars is nothing short of amazing. If you are used to—or turned off by—the Batman-esque look of carbon fiber guitars, the Ekoa guitars will change your mind about fiber guitars. First, the Ekoa fiber looks essentially like wood and has a very wood-like tonality. They have a warmth that I wasn’t expecting and sound better and fuller than some “real wood” guitars that I’ve played. I played both an El Capitan and a Savoy and both guitars well represented the 14-fret small jumbo and 12-fret O size body styles that they respectively are based on. While I felt that they could have used a slinkier setup to be more in-line with my particular preference, they played well in general and were in-tune. Did I mention loud? Both guitars, especially the El Capitan, were quite loud acoustically. This could be further enhanced by the built-in MiSi pickup system (which tended to favor high frequencies so some EQ would definitely be in order). These guitars were good enough that with the right setup and EQ; I could gig with an EL Capitan when I didn’t want to risk my Collings. And, I could take it to the beach afterward and not worry about hurting it in the least.
Interview with Paul Janowski from Blackbird Guitars:
Strymon: Co-founder/sound designer Pete Celi is one talented dude. (I want his job). Not only does he design some of the best effects devices on the market today, he’s also a really good guitar player, which definitely gives him an edge when making a sophisticated piece of electronic hardware sound musical. I was first blown away by the “Flint” pedal a few years ago, and Pete has developed many more mind-blowing devices since then. The mastery of time and modulation effects is obvious but Pete and Strymon had yet to take on the dangerous area of gain-type devices. Until now. The Riverside changes all of that. A multistage (four to be exact) drive device, the Riverside allows you to dial in whatever gain you desire. From the “verge of breakup” to “singing D-type” to “full saturation” and everything in-between. The Riverside does it. I think I need one of these…
Interview with Pete Celi from Strymon:
DR Strings: Full circle to bass stuff, a shout out goes to Tony Pinheiro of DR Strings. Thanks for the sample set my friend. Kelly Bowen, our bass player in the Sven-Erik Seaholm Band, says, “DRs are the best!”
Look for videos of the Tech21, Blackbird, and Strymon interviews on the Troubadour website. —CL
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)