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03 October 2017

Guitar preamps

Sick of lugging those 4x12's around? Then take a look at the modern preamp that can plug into the PA. Since many of us are playing more quietly on stage due to much better venue PA’s and the noise police, we are not using loud amps that can be overdriven and tone-shaped. As a consequence preamp-type pedals that feed into your amp - or even the PA - are becoming increasingly popular and more and more makers are adding them to their range.

Acoustic preamps have been popular for a while enabling you to plug your acoustic straight into the PA with the tone you want, rather than the one that the house engineer decides is right. No more lugging an amp around or sounding crap out the front!

Now, the electric guitar is getting a look in.

Mooer preamp.JPG

As its name suggests a preamp sits between your guitar and your ‘power amp’; all guitar amps have a preamp and power amp built in, so the latest ‘guitar preamps’ are really tone-shaping your guitar signal so that is ready to go into a power-amp. Most effects pedals have built in ‘preamps’ such as a tone control, EQ or delay effect for example.

However, the new breed of preamps for electric guitars which change your tone are digitally recreating the preamp sections of popular amps, such as the Vox AC30.

Recently released, the MOOER micro preamps are “sonically accurate digital recreations of the preamp sections of popular tube amplifiers. We have developed these by directly analyzing real tube amplifiers using a brand new technology to capture their sound, dynamics and response. Each Micro Preamp comes complete with dual channels, integrated speaker cabinet simulation and dual operating modes to suit the needs of all users.” 

This means that you can feed into your clean channel the great sound of a popular amp, through your pedal board. Okay, so a Kemper Profiler can do the same but that costs £1400 and doesn’t fit in your gigbag!

Other small, pedal sized preamps include the Palmer MI POCKET AMP MK 2, which costs £75.00 and “delivers a range of authentic tube amplifier tones”. And the Laney IRT Pulse, which is almost pedal sized, and features a full valve preamp, and all for £199.  

We’ll have one of each please!


11 May 2017

What's with the headstock?

Now, we do like a nice headstock; solid, attractive and giving out that vibe that yes, this is a good guitar and I have good taste because I chose it. Some are very recognisable – think Fender or Gibson; some very plain – think Martin for example and some just wacky – think Jackson! But in all cases we guitarists do tend to look at the headstock and judge the player by what it says or looks like. If we see a guitar with an unknown makers’ name (which may be a custom build that cost mega bucks) do we all think: ‘can’t be any good and why aren’t they playing a Gibson, or Fender or …’?

To me, I love Gibson headstocks – not the ‘cheap’ ones with the transfers on – but those with proper inlays, such as the diamond on a Custom, which you can see from the back of the hall is a Gibson. Snobbish? Yep. I also like some of the pointy headstocks you get on Ibanez type guitars as well as any classy looking, nicely shaped headstock with a distinctive and attractive inlay.

Fender headstocks do nothing for me, although they are very recognisable, and neither do plain acoustic guitar heads. Guild – lovely; looks expensive and playable. Taylor – looks modern and well made. Gretsch – very distinctive. Epiphone – too long unless it is a custom short one with nice inlays. PRS - distinctive certainly. Knaggs - looks expensive (which it is). Looking at the images above, apart from Fender, the common theme seems to be black gloss or dark wood.

A lot of the ‘custom’ makers (both acoustic and electric) lose out in my affections because their headstock is a bit bland and lacks presence, as does anything with a transfer on it – stick £20 on the price and give me an inlay! Some guitars sport some beautiful custom inlays that look like they took longer to make than the guitar, but boy, are they classy!

The guitar world is a funny place and we tend to fall into two camps: those that lust after the classic ‘vintage’ gear from the ‘golden’ age of guitars; and the modern metal player that just wants it in black…

So what’s your favourite headstock?


22 March 2017

Mojo on a budget: £200 electrics

Reading the guitar mags and forums you could sometimes be forgiven for thinking that any electric under £2000 won’t sound so good and any under £1000 are not worth looking at, let alone what they say about ‘mid-priced’ models. And 'affordable'? Forget it. But if you’ve only got £200 can you get a good one? Of course you can. And if it’s reasonably well made, easy for you to play, but needs a bit of a leg up on the sound front then you can always swop out the pickups or buy a ton of pedals!

Budget One.JPG

At around £200 most electrics are deemed to be beginner guitars, even though you can get much cheaper electrics as ‘starter’ guitars. So, is there a decent guitar out there with your name on it? A trawl of the internet for prices and models shows up a good list of suitable guitars that should be well made and sound pretty good:

Squier Affinity Jazzmaster             195
Ibanez GSA60                                   195
Aria 1532 Retro                               199
Jackson JS22 Dinky                          201
Epiphone LP100                               220
Sterling by Musicman Silo3           220
Yamaha Pacifica 112                        220
Ibanez RC220                                     229

Obviously, these are all made in the Far East, but all the makers produce higher priced and spec’d models that are good, so I am sure that some of their luthier expertise will have rubbed off on these models.

Budget Two.JPG

Ibanez have always made good guitars with great necks and the Epiphone and Squier are ‘affordable’ versions of their older brothers from Gibson and Fender – rub off the name on the headstock and from a distance they look as cool as the big boys. The Jackson, Aria and Sterling are good quality alternatives and the Yamaha Pacifica has a deserved reputation as a great, well priced guitar. The Squier Affinty series also includes Strat and Tele options at similar prices so choice aplenty with good specifications and a range of colours.

Whatever you choose will serve you well until you either move up, or decide it’s a keeper and the one for you. Enjoy!

03 March 2017

Brum Guitar Show

Another Brum Guitar Show has been and gone and this years’ was one of the best ever, with a new Acoustic Hall upstairs, where you could actually hear the guitar when you played it (I know, a revolution at a show!), a live performance area and stalls packed full of some great gear.

The usual big boys were there including Fender who had a large selection of models plugged into amps with headphones ready to play; Gretsch, Marshall, Ibanez. Laney, PRS, Blackstar, Yamaha and Musicman. PMT seemed to be everywhere with a shop stand, amp stand, several acoustic stands, electric stand…you name it. All very welcome though.

From the UK we had some eye watering, really tasty custom guitars from Crimson, Turnstone, Patrick Eggle (and Patrick James Eggle), HJ Williams, Flame and Rob Williams, together with new boys Hathaway who are bringing a range of UK made carbon fibre electrics to the market. If we had 20 grand I think we could have come away very happy!


Strangely, although some amps were well cranked it didn’t seem as loud as previous years or it may be that we were so caught up in all the tasty gear around we didn’t notice it!

As usual there was tons of effects pedals (some of which we have never heard of on the retail stands) and accessories to purchase with the highlight being Twin Stomp and ThorpyFX, a couple of bullet proof UK made pedal ranges. Need a new pickup? We had a few of the custom makers there too.

So what caught our eye? It has to be the Brit electrics from Crimson and Eggle, as well as the Hathaway carbon fibre electrics. Most attractive acoustic guitar had to be the Faith Bloodmoon - UK designed and set up and beautiful to look at. GAS has never been more prevalent then now…


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.


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.


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…