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Here is some stuff that I have either played with or bought to use.
If you want to know any more detail or information about the items below feel free to send me an email/comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
(Cost me – £129.99 from GAK)
Bought this little box to do some recording when out and about with my laptop and mobile phone.
Very impressed with both size/weight as well as quality of sound.
Comes complete with cables for laptop as well as thunderbolt for iPhone. There’s a battery compartment for phantom power (though it works fine without the battery if you don’t need phantom). Is has midi connectivity as well.
The main input is a hybrid XLR/1/4″ jack so you can hook up most mics and instruments to it.
I like using it to quickly record ideas to my phone (using the thunderbolt connector and a simple recorder app) and even taking a line out of a mixing desk to record rehearsals. The result is a surprisingly high quality MP3 that I can then import into Logic for editing and enhancing.
The only con is it feels maybe a bit plastic-y when you first un-box it. A battery definitely makes it feel more substantial.
Markbass 2/10 Bass Cabinet
(Cost me – £379 from GAK)
Small, light, powerful, and not too expensive. I can pick this bass cabinet up with my little finger and it still sounds awesome! No more back breaking load ins for me.
So… I ran my Markbass Little Tube 800 through an Ashdown 410 (which you can see further down this page) for a couple of years and thought it sounded good. The main problem with it however, was that it weighed too much and was awkward for one person to carry. After considering a few variations of cabinets and nearly buying one of the new TC electronics cab I opted for the Markbass 102 Traveller. My decision was based mostly on it’s verified compatibility with my amp head alongside hoards of great reviews for it. I would quite like a little more bottom end and volume so I’m considering either a second 102 or a 121 but it really isn’t needed for most gigs I have done recently. Usually the amp/cab is enough to monitor myself on stage fine and add a little beef to the FOH sound if needed. Then if I am playing a larger venue or out at a festival, most of the FOH sound is carried by the PA anyway so I don’t need a huge amp.
This is perfect for what I need and it looks awesome either up on end (as pictured) or on its side. You actually get a little more rumble and a little less clarity when it is flat on its side.
LR Baggs M1a – Active Magnetic Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Pickup
(Cost me – £125 from eBay)
Been wanting one of these for years. Looks cool. Haven’t drilled the relative holes in my acoustic to fit it yet but it works fine dangling about anyway. Best sounding magnetic sound hole pickup I’ve ever used. Got it on the cheap off eBay as well. Nice.
Gigging with it for the first time on Sunday (4th September 2016) as my Taylor 414ce is taking a holiday to the south of France. Not even kidding. I’m gonna pop the LR Baggs in my Big Baby and use that. My Big Baby is currently equipped with a K&K mini which is ok but takes a lot of EQ tweaking and just doesn’t sound as good as the LR Baggs in my personal opinion.
What a beast of a pedal. Nice thick powerful overdrive. Great for chunky chords and riffs. Works well for lead stuff but I personally prefer my tube screamer as it cuts through better and the hot cake has a bit too much low end for some lead. Stacks well with the tube screamer for lots of drive. Prefer how it sounds with my Strat to how it sounds with my PRS. Simple controls, built like a tank, doesn’t take up much room. Good for rock, blues, jazzy boost, gritty funk, can’t stretch to metal. Buy one.
Barber Tonepress – Parallel Compressor
Parallel compression is the answer to the question “how can I get compression without the boxy pop noise in the attack of my playing” which is difficult to overcome with classic guitar compressors. It has a blend knob to mix together your unaltered sound and your compressed sound so you don’t need to lose attack but still get a compressed sound with longer sustain. It also works great for bass and acoustic (and I imagine most other applications) guitar as well. It also has two extra funky switches. One of which changes the speed of the attach of the compression and the other adds a little airy boost to your treble frequencies. I love it and can’t see me needing another compressor any time soon.
Radial J48 Direct Box
(Cost me – £85 from eBay – Bargain!)
Pros – Sounds awesome, really transparent with lots of headroom. Phantom powered so no battery wastage or awkward power supplies. Built like a tank. Simple durable buttons and switches. Toggle the thru to act as a right input so you can go in stereo. The boost in sound quality and volume is like having a pre-amp as well as a DI box.
Cons – Ummmm. Expensive but worth every penny if you want a good sound. Why would you spend hundreds or thousands on a guitar/bass and then run it through a £30 direct box?
I’ve compared 4 different ways of putting my acoustic guitar into my mixing desk:
– Straight in with Jack to Jack guitar lead. Quiet, unbalanced signal. Needs the gain turning up to get suitable volume, therefore creating more noise. No way of preventing ground hum. No way of splitting the signal to a monitor.
– Stereo Jack to XLR. Recommended by Taylor for their expression system. This produced a much louder output. The sound was quite brittle (for want of a better description.) Simple method. No way of preventing ground hum. No way of splitting the signal to a monitor.
– Cheap estudio DI box from Dawsons. This worked better than the previous two methods. Nice strong signal with the ability to trim some of the input gain with a louder instrument. Ground lift seemed to have some effect.
– Radial J48 active DI box. Sounded really good and very strong signal, so much so I actually used the trim button to reduce the output to the desk slightly as it was reaching the top end of the gain on my desk. Ground lift eliminates ground hum. There is an option to reverse polarity. There is even a high pass filter/low cut filter so you can eliminate lower frequencies that often aren’t needed on an acoustic guitar in live situations.
The best sound with the most versatility definitely came from the Radial J48 which I suppose in unsurprising considering it is the most expensive option by a fair way. I am going to use this little box at every gig and even recording I do from now on. If anyone reads this and would like to hear a comparison between them all I can post a video. Just let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here you can hear the difference between this Direct Box and a cheaper alternative, a jack to jack and a jack to XLR with both acoustic and bass.
Ashdown 4/10 Bass Cab Review
(For sale – will accept just about any offer over £30 if you’ll come pick it up!)
Pros – This Ashdown Cab is very loud without breaking up and sounds really nice without any muddyness or lack of clarity. Handles on either side make it easier to carry considering its weight. Well built and won’t break in a hurry. Horn switch on the back very handy for different tone/basses/venues.
Cons – Biggest con is it it really heavy. It could do with some castors.
The ashdown 4 by 10 is a great sounding bass cab, especially considering new they aren’t very expensive, and second hand, MUCH less. No unpleasant highs or too muddy lows. I power it through my new MarkBass Little Tube Bass Head which sounds gorgeous with a lot of variation. This ashdown cab is a very loud, nice sounding speaker, however, it comes with the drawback of being exceptionally large and heavy. It won’t even fit in the boot of some cars and is a pain to squeeze into a back seat even with two people battling with it. It looks the part with its four 10″ speakers and tweeter, covered with a carpet feel casing and metal grill on the front.
The Ashdown 4/10 bass cab is definitely an amp I’d recommend to someone who needs the power and has the ability to transport it. Otherwise I’d suggest getting two 2/10 Cabs which gives you the option of using just one for smaller gigs or both for larger gigs with the option to aim the speakers in different directions (towards the drummer for example).
Tanglewood Canyon III Electric Bass Guitar in Spalted Maple Review
Advantages – Light, affordable, easy to play, varied and easily adjustable tone. Looks awesome. Nice tone.
Disadvantages – Not as much sustain as a larger bass such as a p-bass, tone not amazing but still very good for price. Hard to find one. Awkward to play when sitting down.
I spent months looking for a suitable bass guitar primarily for use in my function band ‘The Beat Collective’ as well as many other ventures such as recording and depping. I was originally aiming for a 5 string yamaha bass but I struggled to find a suitable instrument anywhere without resorting to importing one from the states. But then, by sheer fluke, I was browsing through Gumtree Leeds and decided to take a quick look at the Manchester Gumtree when I quickly found this beautiful looking, naturally finished, thru-neck 4 string bass. The Tanglewood Canyon III!
The Tanglewood Canyon 3 is the top end of the Tanglewood bass guitar range, it’s very nice to play and does all I need it to for a player in my situation. It is a long scale active bass with 24 frets and East River pickups which sound great for Rock and Soul and even slap and pop can sound good with the right settings. The Canyon 3’s four controls for volume, bass, middle and treble are nicely set into the body in small circular recesses and the three tone controls are all centre indented which is handy for reliable on stage adjustment. I considered replacing the pick-ups when I first got it, but after putting it through a decent amp, (Markbass Little Mark Tube) I decided to leave them be. The high end of the tone is quite woody and the low end has a nice kick to it which is easily adjusted using the tone controls. When I got the guitar I was surprised to see flat wound strings (essentially fretless bass strings) on it which were nice to play on a first, but I quickly got tired of their dull, characterless tone. I got these replaced with Rotosound strings along with a set up to lower the actions slightly, and it came back to life, especially in the slap and pop department.
All in all the Tanglewood Canyon III is a nice sounding, easy to play, light and affordable bass guitar that looks fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a bass guitar for under £800.
Tanglewood Canyon III in band recordings through Ashdown Head and Cab. Recorded with a microphone not DI….
MarkBass Little Mark Tube Bass Head Review
As far as I am concerned, I can’t see myself having to buy another bass amp head ever again! Just maybe different bass cab shapes and sizes. The Markbass Little Mark tube head is extremely powerful for such a small, light (6.31 lbs), and elegant looking unit. It is a valve amp head with produces 800 watts into 4 Ohms, it has a 4-band EQ, variable pre-shape filter and a vintage loudspeaker emulator. It also has two input channels (one with XLR input as well as 1/4” jack), a variable XLR line out and a handy mute switch if you pull the master volume out slightly. On top of this, there is a control that can blend between the warm sounds of the tube preamp with the clean attack of the solid state preamp (The black control next to the Markbass logo.) On the back of the unit there is also a ground lift switch, a pre/post EQ switch, a line out for a tuner, and the main outputs are a speak-on out and class 2 wiring as well for 1/4” jack connections.
Sound-wise, the MarkBass Little Mark is amazingly versatile, awesomely loud and generally mind blowing. It handle the lows without muddy blur for your rock or metal which can be enhanced with the VLE control, and on the other hand you can push the VPS filter up above 12 o’clock and out come the higher end tones which is perfect for a funky slap sound, all without touching the EQ! At all settings from lows to highs on the EQ to different levels of the VLE and the VPS filter, this amp produces a clear tone that can sit nicely under your band or, with minor adjustment, can cut through without being offensively loud or harsh sounding.
Out of all bass amps I’ve played including Ampeg, GK, Trace elliot, Ashdown, Hartke, among others, this amp is definitely a winner for me. It seems to be able to easily handle all sorts of different sounds brilliantly which I’ve never found with other amps. The Little Mark’s great sound and power along with its light, small transportability, are among the many reasons I would recommend this it to anybody who can afford it, and why I never intend to trade it in for anything else. I have never reliably heard anything bad about the MarkBass Little Mark Tube, or the MarkBass brand in general. From what I have heard MarkBass have great customer service should you have a problem (which I have also heard is very unlikely due to their reliability!)
Taylor Big Baby Acoustic Guitar Review
(Cost me – £420 – though they are much cheaper now)
I have a habit of stumbling over instruments in shops, giving them a quick play, then falling in love with them and not being able to put them down. This is exactly what happened in Manchester with my Taylor Big Baby. Going to Forsyths in Manchester just to accompany someone to look at violin bows and I came away with this beauty. I do not regret it for a second! I previously had a Baby Taylor but sold it because I rarely used it and had a Yamaha CPX5 but sold this as well. This guitar does what the other two could do and more (with a little help from my Seymour Duncan XL Woody pickup).
The action is nice and low and the neck isn’t too thick the whole way up to the 14 th fret making it very easy to play. The sound is sparkly and bright especially with finger picking making it great for folky, acoustic finger style. It is a very loud guitar without sounding too boxy, and soloing is quite effective on it also. It holds its tuning very well and works very well with alternate tunings and capos. It isn’t great for slide because of the low action but it can be achieved if you are gentle!
The matt finish make the guitar look gorgeous and not to flashy. The simple headstock adds to the simple professional look with the Taylor logo at the top. I find few things on an acoustic more irritating than there only being one strap lock (why do people think one is enough?) but fortunately the Big Baby has one on the bottom of the guitar and one just behind the 14th fret on the other side of the body.
Seymour Duncan XL Big Woody Acoustic Guitar Pickup Review
I’ve only used this pickup a few times for gigging and only once for recording so I think I’ll keep testing it for a bit before I do a full blown review on it. So far it has performed very well and sounds good recorded as well. The only problem I have had with it so far is that I had to significantly reduce the height of the pickup poles for the little E and B as they were much louder than the others. The cable can be a little irritating but if it can be fixed in place then it will not be as issue. The XL Big Woody produces almost no hum what so ever even at high volumes and it looks awesome and natural especially when next to my natural finish Taylor acoustic guitar and winds up perfectly into its bag in the front pocket of my guitar case!
Full review to follow.
Continued… Having used this for a while in a variety of situations I have decided it just isn’t good enough for what I need it to do. The levels between the strings aren’t quite very equal (DI box might help sort the balance? Or Compression?) and it doesn’t sound as nice as other pickups I have now tried. Considering its price it does a good job and looks good, however I have decided to update to a better quality acoustic pickup.
Fishman – Rare Earth Humbucker Acoustic Guitar Pickup Review
This is a magnetic sound hole pickup installed just in front of the neck in the sound hole under the strings. The difference between this and the Big Woody was staggering when I first used it through a PA system. It offers warm and smooth tones with even gain between strings. Easy to fit for temporary use by just holding it inside the sound hole and tightening the screws on either side. The only problem with this is having the delicate looking wire and jack attachment dangling down the side of the guitar. I would recommend getting a professional guitar engineer to install it so the jack input replaces your strap lock in the back of our acoustic guitar. This pickup has a little volume control that you can access by putting your finger past the strings down the side of the pickup near the bass strings.
It sounds good with both pick strumming as well as finger picking and also soft and hard strumming styles. I use it in my Big Baby Taylor Acoustic which is a wonderful combination to play and to listen to. I have yet to record properly with this pickup, however I don’t think it would ever sound as good as recording with a condenser microphone.
An alternative pickup to this which I considered buying was the Fishman Rare Earth Blend sound hole pickup. With the built in Cardioid microphone blended with the magnetic pickup, the ‘Blend’ supposedly offers a warmer and more realistic acoustic tone. However, I heard stories of feedback problems when you use more than a bit of the microphone making it kind of pointless for what I needed it for.
I can’t see me needing another pickup any time soon. This one sounds great, looks great, has a small volume control, massive battery life and the option to fix it in or use it when needed.
Sounds crap through some speakers, lack bottom end in comparison to a under saddle pickup. However, through an RCF PA speaker with a Mackie desk it sounds awesome. Even through my Marshall Acoustic amp in sounds fantastic, still love it.
Another Update… Use a DI box. In fact, with all electro/acoustic guitar and acoustic guitar pickups, use a DI box. It boosts the signal, balances the signal, most give you the option to reduce the signal and also to engage the ‘ground lift’ switch to reduce hum/interference. DI boxes vary a lot, but essentially do the same thing to different qualities.
Other Acoustic Guitar Pickups
I played on a Martin guitar with a K&K pure mini system fitted and was immediately surprised how such a comparatively cheap pickup system could sound so good! The pickup is a 3-head, bridg plate transducer. It is a passive system so there is no need to replace batteries. There are however no controls for volume or tone, which could be a good or a bad thing as the pickup replicates the sound of the guitar very well. The system is installed inside the guitar with the jack output replacing the strap end pin on the back of the guitar and the 3 head pickups installed on the underside of the bridge. Considering it is a passive system is is loud and warm. The K&K is a great pickup all round and may well replace my Fishman Rare Earth in my Baby Taylor.
LR Baggs M1 Sound Hole Pickup
I have tried a guitar with this pickup in once so I am not hugely experienced with it. However, I was very impressed with both the price and sound quality. Arguable one of the best sound hole pickups out there. Looks good as well. They are, however, quite hard to get hold of. I found a good collection of them knocking about in Denmark Street in London.
BOSS DD6 Delay Pedal Review
Advantages: Not too expensive, compact, versatile with lots of settings. Simple to use. Unusual settings like reverse delay, and ‘warp’.
Disadvantages: No separate tap tempo pedal or pedal input unlike the DD7. No gate.
Could do with having tap tempo separate like it is on the DD7. It is a pain to have to hold the pedal down for several seconds to tap the delay. Works well though for what I need it for. Warp option is handy for song intros and crazy noise building sections.
Tayor 414ce Acoustic Guitar Review
I had been looking for a potential new guitar for a long time and tried many different brands and models. I tried Martin, Taylor, Gibson, Lagg, Faith, and Takemine. I eventually settled on either Martin or Taylor as they both have a good reputation and I enjoyed the sound and playability of both. Both were really expensive, but I wanted a really nice acoustic as it’s the instrument I use most. I wanted a guitar that sounded great acoustic but really I wanted the best sound possible when through a PA, this is where (in my opinion) Taylor had the edge. the expression system sounded far better than the Fishman systems on the Martins I tried. The system I do wish I tried, which is supposed to be amazing, is the Fishman Ellipse Aura.
The 414ce is a grand auditorium model guitar with a cutaway. It is made of Ovangkol and Sitka Spruce. But there is nothing here you can’t learn from the Taylor website. I think it’s beautiful with a great finish on beautiful woods. It’s not too big but has a good strong sound and is good for posture!
The acoustic sound is very nice, even and loud with a really satisfying low end. Sounds awesome with a decent condenser mic or two in front of it in the studio and just for general playing.
The pickup system is called the Taylor Expression System. This is an subtley inbuilt pickup system with a tastefully placed preamp and battery compartment. To quote Taylor:
“The ES is an all-magnetic acoustic guitar pickup system that works like a microphone to produce a pure signal and a warm, natural acoustic sound. When you plug in, you’ll hear the sound of your guitar, not the sound of the pickup. No complicated controls. No tone simulators. Just a clean amplified acoustic guitar sound supported by three simple controls — volume, bass and treble.”
It works by blending the sound of three different pickups inside the guitar. There is a Dynamic Body Sensor® and a Dynamic String Sensor®.
Update (01/09/2016) : I have done various festivals this year, and without fail, soundmen have always said how beautiful this guitar’s DI tone is. Last year Andreya Triana’s (Bonobo) guitarist borrowed my 414 and it sounded incredible and he had nothing but good things to say about it.
The main downside to the pickup system is if you are playing near something like neon lights or other conflicting electrical equipment there is almost no way of avoiding noise. Taking into account that this is a professional standard guitar though, I have never had this problem at a professional fully equipped venue or festival, only when playing is restaurants or bars next to fridges ad sharing power supplies with cheap lighting and till machines. I bought the LR Baggs for these smaller gigs.
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If you want to know any more detail or information about the items below feel free to send me an email and I will get back to you as soon as possible.