AF’s Weblog

April 2, 2012

Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

Do you feel like a cowboy? Do you like the smell of ponies and old leather? Do you like riding on a weird mount and sweltering under an old stinking hat?

Me neither! Personally, I’m more of a take-the-law-into-my-own-hands kind of bass player, a guy who isn’t put off by anything except effort, and who has enough respect for stallions and bulls to avoid them. Even on an early Sunday morning after having spent a full night playing a drunk upright piano in a saloon. My Bronco is a Fender. It eats no oat but it surely spits 40 watts of power when you give it a bass guitar to chew on. Let’s go — or as they used to say in the old west: Yeehaw!

Small Pony

Fender Bronco

It’s so gray and small… And after all, it isn’t so tiny: it’s the size of a 20-liter bourbon barrel (11.25″x18″x15.25″) and weights 30 lbs. It looks pretty sleek: dark gray vinyl covering, black metal grill, only eight controls and three flashing buttons. You could almost walk past the amp without noticing it, like if it were a marmot crossing a valley. In short, it’s one more combo in a product range that already includes a dozen. Fender’s range even includes a 75 watt amp at almost the same price: the Rumble 75.

So, why should I buy an amp with less output power and a 10″ instead of a 12″ speaker? Do they think we bass players from the west are all dumb deadbeats?

“Now, hold ya horses,” says the sheriff, “yuh’re wrong, kid! The Bronco ain’t one of ’em combos like all others. Ptooie!” (that was the sheriff spitting…)

– Really? What’s in for me then? If I wanted to give my money away, I’d rather play poker in the saloon…

– Why, son, with this Bronco, yuh can ride through th’ F-key Prairies while whistling “Down th’ Mountain” in 80 different variations. An’ that ain’t nothin’! If yuh plug it into yuhr computer via th’ USB port, yuh can use it as an audio interface, edit as many presets as yuh want an’ share ’em on the web using th’ Fuse software. Yuh get ’bout 10 effects, eight amp models, an integrated tuner, an’ a free Ableton Lite version.

– Why, Sheriff you sure know a lot of things!

– Wal, kid, I jest read AudioFanzine when I ain’t have nobody t’ track down…

So, this small combo makes all these things for only $250. I’ll have to track it down to see if it’s true. Just give me a mule and my rifle, no French Cancan for me tonight…

Let’s take a closer look …

And for a few bucks less…

Like the Mustang, its counterpart for guitar players, the Bronco 40 is an appealing alternative to many products currently available on the market for about $250. The amp doesn’t have enough output power for rehearsals with a drummer, but it can be the perfect practice amp. We can also imagine ourselves in a home studio recording some bass grooves with it and taking the best out of its wide sound range. Add to that the unique, easy-to-use and intuitive software tool Fuse, the possibility to use the amp as an audio interface, the good manufacturing quality, and the value for money, and you end up with a very attractive combo for people looking for a higher-class practice bass amp.

Advantages: 
  • Good manufacturing quality
  • Ease-of-use
  • Simple control panel
  • Fuse software
  • Can be used as a (backup) audio interface
  • Value for money
Drawbacks:
  • Output power: almost too much power to play at home, but not enough for rehearsals with a drummer
  • Modulation algorithms from the same modulation stage can’t be used simultaneously
  • Some effects seem useless to me
  • Fender offers four different Mustang combos but only one Bronco

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

February 7, 2012

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

When I went to pick up these beauties at AudioFanzine’s editorial office, I asked myself how many Jazz and Precision basses I had already reviewed in my life as an editor. From Standard to Deluxe, Vintage, Special and Classic versions, from US to Mexican and Japanese, not to mention the Korean Series and Squier — Fender’s offer is very wide and almost confusing.

I actually decided to count them for you (and a little bit for me too) and here is the result: Fender’s catalog includes not less than 50 JB and PB versions (without taking the different finishes available for each model into account), but only two Jaguar and one single Mustang basses. Imagine going to a car dealer to buy a new car and having to choose from four dozen variations of the same car, a tricycle and a golf cart! Fender’s fidelity to its bass guitar classics is obvious. However, this review does reveal something new: first of all, although both basses feature the Fender label, their country of origin is China. Moreover, they don’t use their standard pickup combinations, which certainly is a very important point considering that both instruments got their name from their respective pickup sets. So let’s put our hands on this new Chinese girls!

A Bit of History…

In former reviews dedicated to Fender (60th Anniversary and American Specials series), I told you about Leo Fender’s story.

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass

Let’s pick up from where we left off: we were in 1951, a very important year for us since it saw the consolidation of the Precision Bass as a successful instrument in the bass guitar market. Leo Fender had already understood that the success of an electric instrument relied on amplification, so he launched a bass combo in 1952 that was able to withstand the signal of the Precision Bass. This 35-watt amp was called Bassman. The success was almost immediate, especially among jazz musicians (Lionel Hampton’s orchestra was the first to include this instrument). In the meantime, pop and rock musicians would still prefer rockabilly-style double bass for several years. It’s interesting to mention that guitar players also loved the Bassman, mainly for its high output power.

And when it came to six-string guitar, Leo would listen to the needs of musicians for more sound versatility (the bright Telecaster sound isn’t for everyone) and improved ergonomics (the angular Telecaster body is not the most comfortable), and was about to present a new legend in 1954: theStratocaster. For this project, he worked with Freddy Tavares and Bill Carson starting in 1953. The shape of the Stratocaster was based on the ’53 Precision Bass whose roundness was in turn inspired by the design concept used by theautomobile industry in the 1950’s. The top of the body included a new bevel edge for the right arm, three pickups and a tremolo bar to compete with the Bigsby system introduced in 1952.

Fender Modern Player Precision Bass

Right away, the Stratocaster became a standard and still remains the most copied electric guitar to date. In 1957 came the turn for the Precision Bass to take the Stratocaster as a model: its shape was improved and the single coil replaced by the famous split-coil pickup still used today. In 1960, that is to say nine years after the launch of its first bass guitar, the manufacturer presented its last legendary instrument, the Deluxe Model which would be quickly renamed Jazz Bass. The neck is thinner at the nut than the Precision Bass, the shape of its body is inspired by the Jaguar and Jazzmaster developed a bit earlier. But it was mainly the pickup combination that made the personality of the Jazz Bass stand out: a pair of parallel single-coils using two coils for each string. The sound was tighter than that of the Precision, because the main asset in those days was to avoid damaging the low-quality speakers of bass amps. This particular sound would become later a real signature thanks to great musicians like Jaco Pastorius and, of course, Larry Graham. By the way, while doing my research for this review, I found a classified ad that could be of interest for rich fans of Jaco. After all, even bass players can win the lottery!

China is The Place To Be

Until now, Chinese manufacturing was limited to Fender’s main sub-brand Squier. With the Modern Player series, and following the success of the recent Squier Vintage Modified series, the “Made in China” label enters Fender’s catalog. A new production line is born — a new challenge for the brand, because Chinese manufacturing of musical instruments isn’t well received by demanding musicians. And to fight this prejudice, Fender will have to be convincing…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Personally, I find these new Fender bass guitars under $600 really appealing, especially the blonde one. If I had the money, I would buy and upgrade it with a pair of Darkstar pickups and a Badass bridge, just for fun. That’s the reason why I assert that Chinese people are beautiful (easy for me to say since part of my family comes from Guandong) and that they always make everything better! And this is proven by the intrinsic value of the two bass guitars we reviewed today! The value for money is amazing and you get more than only standard features. In short, a fresh concept showing respect for tradition.

Advantages: 
  • Finish
  • Original and powerful pickup sets
  • Neck playability
  • We like new things
Drawbacks:
  • Gig bag = Cardboard box. Every time a bass guitar is sold in a cardboard box, a fairy disappears…
  • Slight level difference between both Telecaster pickups

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

November 22, 2011

Eden Electronics WTX-500 Amplifier Head and EX110 Speaker Cabinet Review

When I was starting out as a bass player I didn’t dream about the ideal amp. Of course, I fantasized about bass guitars but I can’t remember being excited by a great combo or a bulky stack. For me, amplifiers were only useful tools: you had to plug into one to get a sound. And the most important thing was to have enough output volume, regardless of the sound quality. But the years and the road have taught me that in order to increase my skills as a musician I had to improve the most essential sense to make music: my hearing.

I realized very quickly that the price of the best sounding systems was not something I could afford. Among the most respected (and most expensive) were the David Eden amps. In those times, when the most powerful amp heads weighted about 40 lbs, they were too bulky to be rackable, and produced a very typical sound color, this American company introduced something similar to a UFO: the WT 300, better known as the “Traveler.”

15 years later, I’m pleased to review the WTX-5, the descendant of the original Traveler, and the RX110, a compact speaker cabinet.

Affordable High-End

Before founding his own company and specializing in PA systems, David Eden used to repair household electrical appliances. You might think he enjoys playing bass in his spare time but he is more interested in brass instruments! In fact, he plays tuba, trumpet and sax in several amateur bands. But he also spends a lot of time standing in front of a console, mixing bands whose bass players are his friends. Back in those days (mid 70’s), amp manufacturers were not very kind to bass players. There were only a few stacks available that, technically speaking, didn’t change a lot compared to previous decades. In short, musicians looking for a new sound color, i.e. different from the typical 60’s sound, were out of luck.

While listening to a friend play a Randall amp that produced the most awful sound he had ever heard before, David decided to help his friend out by building a new speaker cabinet. Then, with a good idea in mind about what should be a good bass amp, he started manufacturing his products in small quantity. He founded Eden Electronics in 1976 and manufactured his first line of stereo amp heads, as well as several speaker cabinets (2×12″), in 1978. But it was a risky bet: except for Alembic, very few manufacturers dealt with such concepts. As a consequence, there was a market segment to be conquered but nobody could guarantee the success of such a counter-trend.

But with the support of many professional musicians, the pioneer carried on in the same direction. The demands of bass players are simple, but also quite opposite to those of guitar players: a bass player wants an amp that faithfully amplifies his instrument and playing while adding warmth to the sound. Eden works to satisfy this demands by manufacturing custom stacks for professional musicians based on simple but innovative ideas and specifications taken from the military. High-quality components guarantee reliability, increased performance and modular design, making service and upgrades easier. The design of the speakers aim for a flat reproduction over a wide frequency range, a high power rating and a short response time for perfect transient reproduction. The goal of the designer is simple: reproducing the natural sound of a bass guitar depends on the attack much more than on resonance.

Eden amps distinguishes itself from other brands by producing a faithful and dynamic response. In this matter, Eden was among the first manufacturers to bet on 4×10″ speaker cabinets, which are now well established and offered by all brands. Within a few years, the company became one of the leaders in the high-end market segment. To reach the lower market segment, the manufacturer created Nemesis but its sales didn’t quite meet the expectations. In 2002, the company was taken over by US Music Corporation, which allowed David to continue leading the brand. But in 2011 the founder, always faithful to the philosophy that made him successful, decided to create a new company (DNA: David Nordschow Amplification) and go back to elite products.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Personally, I’m quite excited by what I heard during this review. I find the amp reacts very well, is easy to use and very versatile. With its great dynamic response, the WTX-500 head can seduce any player. The 10″ speaker does a good job considering its dimensions: it withstands the B-string of my bass, doesn’t produce uncontrolled sub-lows and reproduces very nicely the frequencies I want to hear. However, I guess this single speaker won’t be enough to play in a large venue. But for a club gig with a small band, the EX110 is both affordable and valuable. And I guess this stack will be of interest for double-bass players. In any case, I recommend them to give it a try considering the difficulties they already have transporting their instrument. To all bass player who want a bigger system for larger venues, I recommend the use of an additional speaker.

Or to choose another product within Eden’s wide speaker range. With a manufacturer committed to bass players for almost 35 years, you can be sure you’ll find the appropriate solution!

Advantages:

  • Component quality (potentiometers, connections, housing)
  • Eden sound guarantee
  • Transportability
  • Size/output power ratio
  • Marc Upson (many thanks)

Drawbacks:

  • Finish
  • No semi-parametric filters
  • Speaker and amp fan a bit too noisy (the amp is not that quiet and the speaker hisses a bit)

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Eden Electronics WTX-500 & EX110

 

October 6, 2011

Tips for Mixing the Low End

Filed under: Bass, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:58 am

Besides vocal mixing – I would say the most common question I read about on the internet is how to manage the low end. The kick and bass, or whatever else might be occupying that area, is the weight and power of a track. In addition, it’s often the rhythmic backbone.

People tend to have a lot of trouble with low end, and I think there are two specific reasons why:

1) Harder to Hear

A lot of speakers and headphones simply don’t reproduce the low end with great detail and accuracy. You really need large cones, preferably 8″ or more to be able to produce the low end correctly. On top of that, rooms need a lot of treatment to manage the low end correctly. Parallel walls and corners tend to distort bass reproduction, making it hard to gauge what you are hearing. To complicate the issue – the actual bass range is much smaller linearly speaking than higher octaves. You can go from a sub bass A to a bass A in 55hz. In the upper ranges, 55hz might not even get you to the next note! Ultimately, this mathematically means your bass elements more readily over lap and leave you with less space to make things separate sounding and focused.

2) Frequency Perception

If you set a bass signal at equal amplitude with a mid-range signal, you’ll perceive the bass signal as being quieter (see Fletcher-Munson Curves). This means it takes more juice for the low end to come out booming. Especially if you’re going head first into some heavy compression, which is often the case for Dance and Hip Hop music. But hey, how important is having a big low end in Dance and Hip Hop? Oh wait…. So how do we get the low end focused and big?

Let’s take a closer look…

Don’t

  • Don’t carve out low frequencies to make room for other low elements. Bass doesn’t work this way too often. If you are carving out frequencies, do it because there’s an excessive resonance there, or because there’s sub build up.
  • Don’t be afraid of narrow boosts. Convention seems to say that you should boost wide. But in the low range – wide becomes very relative. Remember, there’s less space in the low range – so a wide bandwidth is going to be super wide. Also, narrow boosts can help emphasize a good sub. Just be careful when choosing what narrow band – make sure it helps the bass element and fits properly in the context of the track.
  • Don’t feaking side chain every bass to every kick in every mix. Yes, ducking the bass from the kick can be a good way to get the kick in the open. However, the bass should be SUPPORTING the kick. And if it’s supporting the kick, and you duck it out of the way – there goes your support. Also, remember that ducking has rhythmic consequences. In certain styles, where the kick is coming in regular intervals – this can be cool. When the kick doesn’t come in regular intervals, or very close together, you start losing definition of that rhythm. I actually like to do the opposite. Long sustaining bass lines tend to have very little movement, and don’t always aid the rhythm. I’ll side-chain an expander, or an upward expander to the kick – so when the kick hits, the bass jumps a little with it.

In the track below – I actually do both. During the verse, the bass is chained to expand with the kick. In the chorus, the bass is chained to duck the kick. Oh, and there’s a sine wave gated to the kick drum that’s tuned to the root of whatever chord the song happens to be at.

Daylight – Matthew Weiss Mix

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for mixing the Low End

August 16, 2011

Fender 60th Anniversary Precision Bass Limited Edition Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 4:23 pm

We don’t turn 60 everyday, and we don’t always have the opportunity to celebrate the advent of our species to this planet: the “Homo Sapiens Bassistus-Electricus.” Although Leo Fender was not the inventor of the electric bass, he found out how to make a great success out of the forgotten concept developed by Audiovox 14 years earlier. And this allowed our favorite instrument to conquer the international music scene to end up in your hands — you lucky, spoiled kids who have been pampered for 60 years.

Forgotten Fatherhood

 

bass fiddle model 736

Yes, the bass guitar was born in 1937 — not 1951 — from the hands of the man who had already conceived the fist electromagnetic pickup for a musical instrument (launched in 1932 and originally used to amplify zithers, pianos and Spanish guitars). A forgotten genius, a good Samaritan took pity on double-bass players who always had to travel alone because of their bulky instrument: in those days, once the double-bass was in the car there was no space left except for the driver. The poor bass player had to drive by himself and “enjoy the road” alone, unlike the other members of the band who generally traveled together in the same vehicle. The name of the great inventor was Paul Tutmarc and even though he was more than one decade ahead of his competitors in the electric-music market, his business was a failure. He could never apply for a patent for his electromagnetic pickup at the end of the 30’s because Bell had been controlling the exploitation of induction since 1875, when Alexander Graham Bell applied for his telephone patent. And the instruments Paul Tutmarc developed were only locally successful (his company was based in Seattle) and quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, he developed the first electric double-bass: the 1933 Bass Fiddle in cello format; and its little sister, the Bass Fiddle “Model 736” (1936), which had a more compact size (about 1 meter long) and was the first bass to be held horizontally.

As a consequence, Leo Fender was the inventor neither of the electric bass nor the electric guitar. The first amplified guitar is officially attributed to Georges Beauchamp in 1931, just before he founded the Ro-Pat-In Corporation with Adolph Rickenbacker. Called “Electro Spanish Guitar,” the instrument had a hollow body and featured a piezoelectric system.

 

Les Paul The Log

The first solid body guitar was “The Log,” a prototype designed in 1940 by Les Paul that was never marketed.  So, give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s!

However, this doesn’t reduce the genius of the man from Fullerton who understood better than no one how to convert technological innovations developed by others into successful businesses — thus paving the way for electric music genres.

 

Leo Fender literally created the electric guitar market and was the first entrepreneur to venture a mass production strategy in a very small industry. His success is well deserved considering that he succeeded where most of his predecessors failed. Without the success of the 1950 Broadcaster guitar (quickly renamed “Nocaster” and later “Telecaster”), Gibson’s bigwigs would have never recalled Les Paul who gave his name to the first solid-body guitar of the manufacturer (1952). The same thing applies to bass guitar: without the success of the Precision Bass, launched in 1951, Gibson would not have developed the EB-1 (1952) and Rickenbacker its Model 4000 (their first bass guitar) whose design was motivated by the success of the ’57 Precision Bass.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

As a summary, my personal opinion about the timbre of this lady is that it sounds like an excellent Precision Bass. I hope the simplicity of my judgment will be understood among fans of this classic: you can run to your dealer and try it out. Players who don’t especially like Leo Fender’s standard or who prefer a Jazz Bass, won’t be converted to a new religion. But give it a try anyway, trying it out is free! Personally, I had a lot of fun playing this bass, which will nevertheless make you a bit nostalgic: how many technological improvements in 60 years! Intelligently upgraded old recipes will always succeed. With the same philosophy in mind, Fender also offers a 50th Anniversary Jazz Bass that makes me curious. The price of this lovely Precision Bass is somewhere between 1,350 and 1,500 euros with the case, a strap and all accessories you need to adjust the instrument. I wish a beautiful summer to all readers!

Advantages: 

  • Original finish
  • Simple and effective
  • Overall weight and ergonomics
  • Good value for money
  • Sold with case
  • Isolation of the electronics and dual pickup
Drawbacks:
  • Lack of some accessories I really like
  • Lefties are punished…
To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender 60th Anniversary Precision Bass

March 7, 2011

Schecter Diamond P Custom IV Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:21 pm

Following the Schecter Ultra Bass review published last summer, here we have a brand new product from the Asian manufacturer.

Coming directly from South Korea (read the history of the brand in the previous review), the Diamond P custom IV is a variation of the Precision Bass concept based on two dual-coil pickups. After some bizarre experiments, the manufacturer adds a standard bass guitar to its product catalog.

Classic Piece

Schecter Diamond P Custom IV

Many manufacturers add products inspired by Leo Fender to their product portfolio. You can find lots of Jazz Bass and Precision Bass copies on the market right now. I won’t discuss that, because every market segment has its own classic pieces. For example, nobody would blame violin manufacturers for flagrantly counterfeiting Giovan Giacobo della Corna’s or Zanetto Micheli’s work. The same applies to the bass guitar market. Geniuses are as influent in art as they are in the industry. The thing that interests people like me — musicians who love their creative tool — is the reinterpretation of classic instruments, considering that all manufacturers try to give a personal touch to the “standard” bass guitars, either in the body shape or the pickups, thus trying to differentiate it from the original masterpiece. Why? Because genius can be reinterpreted. More or less successfully.

Schecter Diamond P Custom IV

So, what about this Diamond P, which is, as its name suggests, a variation of the Precision Bass? Our first impression is that the manufacturer doesn’t really invent anything but rather mixes everything. And we don’t mean that in a negative way — a good synthesis is better than a bad invention! But it’s important to say things as they are: the Diamond P takes the neck and the body of a standard Precision Bass. The pickups combination is the same as on the former Precision Deluxe US (equipped with a dual JazzBass pickup originally conceived for Roscoe Beck’s Signature bass). It is precisely the presence of this kind of humbucker that made me want to review this four-string bass guitar. That’s because the Precision Bass I’ve been playing for 11 years has the same humbucker. I like this pickup for its consistency and its powerful sound when I play finger picking style. So I’m curious to see how another manufacturer makes use of this pickup configuration (dual Precision plus dual Jazz Bass), especially on a low priced instrument.

Fender went half way with the Mexican Big Block which had a Precision humbucker in the middle position. But it lacked its counterpart on the bridge. Enter Diamond P with humbuckers in center and bridge positions.

Schecter Diamond P Custom IV

The bolt-on neck (four screws) has almost the same dimensions as the original: 42 mm @ nut, 57 mm @ 12th fret and 34″ scale. The fingerboard has the same length and width as the original, a modern C-profile and one more fret (21 frets) than the American Standard Precision Bass. Featuring an Indian rosewood fingerboard, the neck is easy to play but not quite that comfortable for small hands. The white nut is made out of plastic… nothing to brag about. Quite the contrary.

 

Although the instrument is new, I noticed some white marks around the G string, which goes to show that the nut material is too soft. A first drawback indeed. The solid Grover Vintage tuners are reassuring — they are the standard machine heads for this kind of instrument.

The alder body has a black glossy finish. It is also available in white (Vintage White) and blue metallic (Dark Metalic Blue). It’s true that black is beautiful, but watch out for finger marks, especially if you’ve had a greasy meal! A black pickguard is screwed onto the body. The bridge allows the user to choose two different stringings: either the traditional “top load” or the more modern thru-body. This way, you can emphasize either attack or sustain depending on your taste and needs. The massive bridge has an irreproachable manufacturing quality and seems to be better than the bridge on the original American Fender bass guitars. The strings on the instrument are medium D’Addario, probably a 45-105 set.

The passive electronics for the two pickups offer two volume controls and one tone control. The latter is a push-pull pot that allows you to split the bridge pickup. The instrument uses Schecter pickups: one dual Precision and one dual JazzBass with ceramic magnets. The overall finish of the instrument is good.

For the review I connected the bass guitar directly into my Novation audio interface. I apologize for my rather poor playing: I twisted my wrist during Christmas holidays. (I might have had too much booze…)

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Talking money, you can get this Schecter for $499 in stores. The price is adequate for a passive bass guitar with bolt-on neck and two dual-coil pickups made in Korea (products coming from Incheon offer a good manufacturing quality) and sold in a cardboard box. This Schecter can be very interesting for a wide range of bass players.

Advantages:

  • Well-balanced instrument either in standing or sitting position
  • JazzBass humbucker
  • Good manufacturing quality
  • String-thru massive bridge
  • Five-string version available
  • Available for lefties
  • Push-pull pot for pickup splitting
  • Versatile and effective sound range
  • Output power

Drawbacks:

  • Pickups set too high
  • Nut too soft
  • Lacks some personality
  • Sold in a cardboard box

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Schecter Diamond P Custom 4 Review

February 21, 2011

Fender Rumble 150 Review

Filed under: Amps, Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:11 pm

I got a bit nostalgic when I wrote this review. I was 16 when my first amp was waiting for me under the Christmas tree. Not a 15-watt amp but a big one. To play in a band, do live gigs and be cheered by a wild crowd. In short, I could stop playing by myself in my room. The amp was almost more bulky than the Christmas tree: it was a second-hand Fender BXR 300, a huge combo with casters. I played my first live gig with it — this 15″ amp brings back lots of memories.

Sixteen years later, I’m reviewing the Rumble 150. This descendant of the BXR is conceived for bass players looking for a first amp to play in a band — like I did at that time. Let me wipe a tear… And now, let’s get on with the review!

Workhorse

Fender Rumble 150

64 lbs, impressing size (13.4″ x 22.8″ x 23.6″) and 150 effective watts. A big 15″ woofer, a tweeter for high frequencies (it was missing on my BXR) and enough volume to provide a big and deep sound. The manufacturer kept the front port for the bass-reflex (it’s the third generation), and removed the bright LEDs and the carpet covering. The latter is replaced with a black textured vinyl covering. Carpet or vinyl? It’s all a matter of taste. Personally, I don’t like to dust nor vacuum clean. On the other side, Tolex is easily marked. It’s an aesthetic or practical choice.

The front side is sleek and simple, which is a good thing: just a black protection grill and a black panel with white silkscreen. As for controls and connections, everything is on the front panel. Nothing on the rear panel except the power connector. The connections are quite comprehensive: instrument input (with active/passive switch), effect loop, RCA aux input (for connection to a PC, MP3 player…), phones output, footswitch connector (for overdrive control), and XLR line output.

Fender Rumble 150

The amp also provides numerous settings: gain control, overdrive section (with gain, balance and bypass), two shape switches (punch and scoop), four-band EQ, and an on/off switch for the tweeter.

As mentioned in the headline, the Rumble 150 is equipped with four rugged casters. It also has two recessed side handles with springs, which are a bit too thin for my taste. However, they do their job. I love casters! What would be of our backs it it weren’t for them? Considering the price, it’s not surprising that the amp and preamp stages use solid-state technology. A big fan on the rear panel ensures cooling, and it also makes a bit of noise. This noise is not deafening but it is clearly audible when you aren’t playing.

So, what’s new? To make it short, the Rumble 150 has more output power than its predecessor. Indeed, the whole product range got more watts, except for the Rumble 15. I guess nobody is going to complain for getting 50 watts more, plus overdrive. The manufacturer doesn’t offer the 2×10″ alternative, which is a good choice considering that users of this amp want to play loud and heavy rather than gently.

The product is made in China. The overall manufacturing and finish quality is good. Ok, now let’s plug a bass guitar! For this review, I used my American PB deluxe 5, a Boss RC-20 (my faithful sampler on stage) and a Zoom H2.

As well as a pair of cables — never forget the essentials!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

My impression at the end of the review is that the combo provides a wide sound range, in spite of its rather sophisticated sound character. The sound samples show that the user can shape the sound easily to find the tone he wants. A very good point if this is your first amp. If you are a beginner, you probably don’t really know what kind of music you’ll end up playing.

It’s always important to stay open and have the possibility to become an all-round bass player and have fun with any music genre. Considering its price, the Rumble 150 is an interesting product for musicians who start playing in a band and want enough output power for that. The quality and value for money are good. Give it a try and compare it with competitor products.

Advantages:

  • Value for money
  • Actual output power
  • Easy setting
  • Versatility
  • Casters

Drawbacks:

  • Tweeter distorts at loud volumes
  • Neutral sound character, especially when the tweeter is off
  • I’m too old for such gifts under the Christmas tree… I want my youth back!

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Rumble 150 Review

February 7, 2011

SWR HeadLite Amplifier Head & Amplite Amplifier Review

On today’s menu, to get rid of the cold and warm up, we have a light but nourishing pair of SWR class-D heads (an amp/preamp combo and a power amplifier).

This would be a dream come true on any restaurant’s menu. And since French gastronomy (Yes, I is Vrench!) is now part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage, I would like to talk about food. But what do 7 lbs of potatoes and a 800-watt amplifier system have in common? First of all, the weight! And also the fact that both fit inside the vegetable compartment of a small fridge. Class-D amplifiers are more common nowadays. Most manufacturers have developed their own models, and now SWR serves us a new interpretation.

Small is Sweet…

SWR HeadLite and AmpLite

And it even fits in my gig bag’s pocket. The main advantages of a switching amplifier are its extremely compact size and very light weight, despite a high output power. Just imagine riding to the recording studio with 400 watts on your bike. And if that’s not enough, imagine the same with 800 watts! Plus a tube preamp, semi-parametric EQ, compressor and enhancer. The whole universe of SWR has been miniaturized an fitted into a very convenient and compact housing.

Headlite: 1.8″ x 8.5″ x 9.8″ for 3.7 lb. / Amplite: 1.8″ x 8.5″ x 9.8″ for 3 lb. Incredible! But before testing these products, let me make a brief summary of the brand as well as of class-D technology.

Garage Brand

In the beginning of the 80’s, clean sound was trendy. It had to be less raw and more sophisticated than the past decade. All radio stations played New Wave synth music, Michael Jackson was the King of pop and soul music changed disco for funk. An engineer at Accoustic Control Corporation, the brand of choice of Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius and John Paul Jones (to name just a few!), decided to radically change the bass amplification market based on the fact that many famous studio musicians wanted more sound clarity and neutrality.

SWR HeadLite and AmpLite

Steeve W. Rabe started his small revolution in a garage where he, together with some associates, tried out many preamp/EQ/amp combinations until he satisfied the pro bass players in Los Angeles. A handful of them tested the prototypes during different recording sessions.

This long and arduous work would lead to the brand’s first amplifier head in 1984. Called PB-200 (which became later the famous SM-400), this amp head already offered all the features that made the young company a success: a tube preamp, a stereo amp, a semi-parametric EQ, a DI out (a groundbreaking feature for a bass amplifier), an aural exciter, and a compressor.

Following the success of their amp heads in recording studios, SWR started to manufacture speaker cabinets to set a foot in the live amplification market. The first Golliath speaker cabinet was introduced in 1986 and combined four 10″ speakers (a new concept introduced by Trace Elliot) with a tweeter. The success was immediate in the professional amplification market.

In 1997, Steeve W Rabe sold his company to form Raven Labs. The new owners would sell the brand again to FMIC (Fender Musical Instrument Corporation) in 2003. Today, the products of the brand are manufactured mainly in Corona and Ensenada, California, together with other Fender products.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Marcus’ Favorite Tool

I had to return the products just before the trade show in Paris (France) so that Marcus Miller could use them for demos. I’m moved by the fact that I could use the same gear as Michel and Marcus (yes, since we all use the same amp, we call ourselves by our first names): it is almost as if I had intruded into the privacy of these two bass guitar gods…

It’s true, I’m boasting a bit but this conclusion is mine and I want it to be brilliant and positive. SWR offers an affordable class-D system considering its quality. It requires a bit of adaptation to manage all possibilities and to get on with the lack of visual scales around the controls, but I’ll bet you anything that they will add them to future versions. To be seriously considered — for fun or business.

Advantages:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Sound shaping possibilities
  • Connections
  • Output power
  • Sold with bag (not included with the products reviewed)

Drawbacks:

  • No scale around the controls
  • Only one speaker out on the HeadLite

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  SWR Headlite Amp

February 4, 2011

Dynamics Processing Meets Rock Guitar: How to Compress a Guitar or Bass

Dynamics processing with studio-oriented processors? Been there, done that. But have you re-visited it lately in a guitar context? Dynamics control for vocals or program material is very different compared to guitar. Much of this is because there are many ways to use dynamics processing for guitar (or bass). So, let’s take a look at the different ways to apply dynamics, with examples of suggested settings.

For an introduction to compression, check out the article “Compressors Demystified.” If you’re already up to speed, let’s give a few basics on how to set up studio processors with guitar (however, note that these same basic techniques work with plug-in software compressors as well as hardware).

The Interface Space

“Stomp box” dynamics processors, while designed specifically for guitar, are more limited than rack-mount studio hardware – but the latter have issue levels with guitar. Interfacing involves one of four approaches:

Use the instrument input. If the processor has an “instrument” input, you’re golden. Plug the guitar directly into the processor, then run it into the mixer, amp modeler, guitar amp (assuming you can adjust the output level to avoid total overload), or whatever. Look for an instrument input impedance above 100kilohms, and preferably above 220kilohms, to avoid dulling high frequencies and reducing level. But too high an impedance (in the 5-10Megohm range) reaches a point of diminishing returns, because now the input may be too sensitive and prone to noise pickup. A 1Megohm impedance is a good compromise setting.

Use a preamp or suitable direct box. Adding a preamp or direct box (assuming it has an appropriately high input impedance) before the processor will preserve the guitar signal’s fidelity and allow for best level matching. If you’re driving a guitar amp, you may be able to use the dynamics processor’s output control to add some extra overdrive, but don’t go overboard (or do, if you like really nasty sounds!).

Insert into your guitar amp’s effects loop. If you want to record with your guitar amp but are using a line-level processor, patch it into the guitar amp’s effects loop. The loop should be able to provide line levels for the send (goes into the processor’s input) and return (comes from the processor’s output).

If you’re using a hardware mixer, insert the dynamics processor into your mixer’s channel inserts. This will also match levels properly, although you’ll still have to figure out how to interface the guitar with the mixer. The choices are the same as above: If the mixer has an instrument input, great. If not, use a preamp, direct box, etc. between the guitar and mixer.

Now let’s take a closer look how to really do it…

Double Your Pleasure

Patching two compressors in series, with both set for small amounts of compression, can give a significant amount of compression but sound less obvious than using a single compressor to give the same amount of compression. The first stage essentially “pre-conditions” the signal so that the second compressor doesn’t have to work so hard.

 

If you have a stereo compressor that can be set to dual mono operation, you can patch the two individual compression channels in series. With plug-ins, you can just insert two in series in a track. The drawback is that unlike standard compression, where you have to adjust only one set of controls, an ˆ la carte approach requires adjusting both sets of compressor controls. While this might seem like a disadvantage, most of the time you’ll set them to similar settings anyway.

Window Shopping

To get an idea of what’s out there in compressor-land, visit a few retailers and manufacturers and you’ll see the choices are huge, ranging from under a hundred dollars to thousands (and thousands!) of dollars. But realistically, for the type of application we’re describing here, you don’t need anything too fancy – it’s not like you’re using the compressor to re-master vintage recordings for audiophile releases. Besides, these days technology is at a level where even fairly inexpensive devices can deliver excellent results.

 

In any event, all the above tips are just guidelines. Experiment with your dynamics processor, and you may find yet another way to exploit these perhaps unglamorous, but extremely useful, devices.

To read the full detailed article see:  How to Compress a Guitar or Bass

September 7, 2010

Ibanez BTB 700DX Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:56 am

The BTB (Boutique Bass acronym) represents one of the nine IBANEZ bass families. It was conceived to provide features of a boutique instrument at an affordable price for the masses. Now, if I can only decide on the red or black finish..

Ibanez BTB 700DX

Need I present Ibanez?

That was a rhetorical question. I have never talked about Ibanez on this site, hence, I will briefly summarize the brand’s history for the curious ones amongst you.

The HOSHINO SHOTEN company was founded six years after the first World War, in the land of samurai soldiers. In those days, the company sold scores and music paper (“Shoten” means bookstore in Japanese). During the following years, the founder and his successor (Matsujiro and Yoshitaro HOSHINO, respectively) gradually changed the activity of the company to importing musical instruments. In 1929, the company HOSHINO GAKKI (which means musical instrument) was created for this purpose. They imported Spanish guitars by SALVADOR IBAÑEZ (which is the name of the craftman who created the workshop, as well as the first double-neck guitar). Some time later, a civil war devastated the land of castanets. The workshop of Salvador’s two sons was destroyed and some members of the staff were killed during violent clashes in the streets of Valencia. Due to this tragedy, the Japanese importer lost its main supplier so they bought the brand to manufacture the products in Japan (in the city of Nagoya). In 1962, Junpei (Yoshitaro’s son) took over the family business and inaugurated a new production facility called Tama Seisakusho Factory. The company manufactured guitars and drums until 1966. From this year on, the company subcontracted most guitar manufacturing and concentrated on drums (under the brand STAR, which later became TAMA).

At the beginning, IBANEZ was exclusively influenced by European instruments, from traditional Spanish guitars to EKO and HAGSTRÖM replicas. Later, the brand followed the trend of American instruments and started manufacturing GIBSON and FENDER replicas. The business flourished until the end of the 70’s when the manufacturer had to face a trial initiated by a parent company of GIBSON. But this setback was positive because it forced the manufacturer to produce its first own instruments (called “modern”): thus the Iceman and Roadstar electric guitars and basses were born. Encouraged by this success, IBANEZ started developing original designs and new concepts (slim neck-through body, two-octave fingerboards, active electronics) to become the reference brand we know today.

Slapper’s Small Shop

The new BTB (Boutique Bass acronym) looks like its grandparent while offering different electronics. Neither Japanese nor Korean, the bass is made in Indonesia, the land of Orangutans and Java.

I have always liked Ibanez necks. In my humble opinion, they are the main reason for the success of the Japanese company. So I’ll start with this component, which I’ll compare with the neck of an SR model (one of the manufacturer’s classic products).

Ibanez BTB 700DX

The first thing worth mentioning is that all necks of the BTB series are neck-through. You’ll either love it or hate it, it’s all a matter of taste! The basis of the concept is sustain, so the neck is made out of five (three maple and two bubinga) plies. The BTB neck has slightly increased dimensions, compared to the SR:

* The scale is 35″ long (instead of 34″)

* The fingerboard is wider at the nut (41 mm instead of 38 mm)

* The neck is wider at the last fret (64 mm instead of 60 mm)

On the contrary, the thickness of the neck has been slightly reduced; the back of the neck is a bit less round than that on a Soundgear (a half millimeter at the first and the 12th frets) — it’s not much but you can feel it. The instrument has 24 frets, which makes two octaves. The neck/body junction is somewhat original: the last fret is cut so that only the G and D strings are over the fingerboard. It looks nice but, honestly, I don’t understand the usefulness of it! A lot of effort has been invested in suppressing two notes (A and E) out of four, that could actually be useful.

Ibanez BTB 700DX

If this feature is for aesthetical reasons, the choice might prove ungrateful. However, considering its place on the neck, it won’t disturb many musicians except for a few solo bass players. In summary, you get a slightly wider and slimmer neck. You have more space to move your fingers without hindering the movement of your left hand. The wide cutaways allow an easy access to the upper frets. The slightly longer scale poses no problems and my left hand feels very comfortable on this neck.

The headstock design matches the body and the fingerboard design at the last fret. The headstock hosts Gotoh-type tuners (I emphasizes the word “type”) which are quite basic sealed lubricated machine heads. To be honest, I personally find they don’t quite reach the level of a “boutique” bass guitar. On the contrary, the bridge provides four independent saddles to make you feel confident. The ash body feels very comfortable. Its shape supports the right arm really well and it gives the instrument a light weight considering it has a neck-through body design. The fret work is not exceptional but it’s alright. The bass is provided with an Elixir string set, like most Ibanez instruments.

Now let’s take a look at the electronics…

A Place to Call His Own…

Compared with its direct competitors, this bass guitar ranks in the higher end of the market. It features a neck-through body, a semi-parametric EQ and a good pair of pickups for about $1,000. The BTB is a nice-looking and affordable active bass. Now it’s your turn to test it!

Advantages:

  • Neck-through body
  • Original EMG pickups
  • Ergonomic body and pleasant neck
  • Integrated electronics
  • Available as five-string version

Drawbacks:

  • Tuners
  • Battery compartment and cover
  • Not available for lefties
  • No gig bag included

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Ibanez BTB 700DX Review

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