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17 February 2017

Where did my amp go? Small is the new big

First, we had small heads and combos from the likes of Vox, Laney, Marshall and Blackstar: 1 to 5W of tube power in a small cabinet that was ideal for bedroom and studio use. Reasonably light and easy to move around with great tones and a bit of oomph when required.

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Then came the ‘lunchbox’ amps - up to 200W of power from a tiny cabinet led by the ZT Lunchbox combo and little heads such as the Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 5. The theme carried on with the superb range of ID:Core combos from Blackstar - starting at 10W in stereo with great tone shaping controls in a shoebox sized cabinet.

Not to be outdone the likes of Fender, Vox and Roland came up with the Fender Mini Deluxe at 1 watt, the Vox Mini 3, Roland Micro Cube and even the Blackstar Fly3, each being very small but still with usable tones and output for practising.

See where this is going? Admittedly, most of these do not have a tube in sight but still come up with the right tones for the purest. Could we have a tiny amp with tube tones and lots of power? You bet! Step up the Orange Micro Terror - tiny with a big heart pushing out 20W-  and small tube amps like the Hotone NANO with 5W. But we wanted more and this came in the form of the BluGuitar AMP1 Nano Tube 100 - 100W of power from a large pedal sized box that can fit in your gig bag. No more lugging heavy combos and cabinets around - just turn up and plug into the PA.

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Does it end there? No. Not to be outdone Vox have moved it on again with their new MV50 head. Up to 50W from a tiny box with a cute VU meter on the front. Analogue yes, but with a newly designed Nutube, a ‘revolutionary new vacuum tube nanotube’, according to Vox. We definitely want one of these when they come out!

What next? A mobile phone sized 100W tube amp that fits in your pocket? Watch this space…

14 February 2017

A day in the life

Of a wannabe rock star/average bloke with a guitar! We’ve all been there and are mostly still there - that level where we want to get better, be better and sound fantastic but are not quite sure how to achieve it.

All the practice blogs/forums tell you that to be as good as your guitar hero you need to spend 10-12 hours a day, from the age of ten, playing the guitar. Well at my age, and bearing in mind that I played a bit as a teenager and then didn’t touch a guitar again until fifteen years ago, it’s a bit late! I still want to sound good though and feel as though I have achieved a certain level (being realistic as a guitar player is a tough one, as you know), but I feel a bit stale and that I have reached a plateau. So, what to do?

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Why is it that when you see/listen to a video demo/review of the amp/guitar/pedal you bought, it sounds great but you can’t get that sound? Is it you, the amp/guitar/pedal, the studio edit or all three? Now, YouTube and the free sheet music sites are brilliant for accessing music and being shown how to play it but you’ve still got to nail that sound (and practice), which is the hard bit!

The Star Letter in this months’ Guitarist mag sums it up - Matthew is at a crossroads with his playing and doesn’t enjoy it anymore and feels like selling all his gear. He just ‘feels that he’s not that good’ and has lost his confidence as a player. Their advice? Go play with a band or at an open-mic night (difficult if you have no confidence) or pick five songs that you’ve always wanted to play and go learn them accurately and fully. Now this seems excellent advice for anyone who has hit a plateau and doesn’t have the time or the confidence to go to a tutor in order to move on.

Lately, I’ve been jamming along to drum tracks which is a great way to develop your timing and also your improvisation and soloing/chord work. The Line 6 JM4 has loads of tracks at different tempos which is great. What I can’t do for now is play along to the song version of them as I don’t know all my scales fully yet! Back to time for practice…

So these five songs…where’s my music folder….

01 February 2017

Time to buy British?

With rising prices from Europe and the US and uncertainty over the future of supply, if you are in the market for a top end guitar or amp is it time to buy British?

The list of British makers (and designers) is on the increase and having looked around the guitar scene in the last year or so and visited guitar shows in London, Birmingham and Bristol, it is great to see so many ‘British’ makers around. From acoustics to bass and electric you can find a great choice out there. Some admittedly are copies of the iconic US brands (then again everyone seems to copy Fender and Gibson), some are quite 'Ibanez' and shred like but others are totally unique.

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I can understand why more of us don’t buy British acoustics as the only ones available that are made here are low volume, largely hand built guitars at big prices; yes, they will be worth it in terms of sound, playability and beauty but if you are in the market for a UK built acoustic costing £500 - £1000 you’ll be looking for a long time! 

On the electric side you can find British made guitars from around £750 - we don't quite do 'volume' like the rest of the world but there is plenty of choice out there. Mainstream British brands inlcude Gordon Smith (now with new owners), Patrick Eggle and PJ Eggle, not to mention Manson and his famous creations. Some of these guitars are gorgeous, hand-made, and most can be fully speced to your unique requirements - shape, neck, woods, finish, pickups and hardware.

The UK amp market is flourishing also with companies like Victory taking the market by storm. Add in Ashdown, Cornell, Hamstead and Hayden and we are nearing tone heaven!

Are UK guitars and amps expensive though? Not if you compare it to a US made Gibson, PRS or Fender. But there is the rub; these are made in the home of rock ‘n’ roll, the USA and we all want their name on the headstock don’t we! Are they better? I would doubt it but that is all down to personal taste. Whilst some of the UK makers may equate to Morgan cars (and there is nothing wrong with that) many equate to Jaguar or Aston Martin and these surely compete with the prestige car marques that we all want don’t they?

So if you are in the market for a high end guitar or amp check out the British boys (and girls).