Posts Tagged ‘Mesa/Boogie’

New Gear :: Chicken Picks

Chicken Picks

There are tons of articles online and in magazines about the unexpectedly pronounced tonal revelation that occurs when switching picks, and how marked the change in your sound can be by simply switching to a different shape or weight or material. Tonal transformation for 50p. It’s a point that’s been made many times, which does nothing to dilute its legitimacy – changing your pick really is an easy win if you’re looking to change your tone for next to no cash.

So this could be another one of those ‘OMG new pick, total tonal epiphany’ posts, but there’s already plenty of those around, and I actually think it’s a little bit deeper than that.

The pick in question is the Chicken Pick, which just came into stock at Strings Direct. I ordered a ‘tester pack’, which is a tenner, and comes with one each of the 2.6mm and 2.2mm thicknesses. First of all, it’s a great pick, very nicely made, and comfortable to hold. The thickness of the pick belies the ease with which it sits in your hands – I normally find thick picks to be a bit unwieldy, and my previous squeeze, the Dunlop Nylon 1MM, was the thickest pick I found comfortable until now. And it improves your tone as well, which is an important thing to mention in the field of plectrum hagiography.

I was thinking about recording a couple of comparison audio clips for this post, which is when the actual difference between this and other picks dawned on me – I’m actually playing better. It reminds me of the review excerpt touted by Mesa/Boogie on the advertising literature for the Mark IV:

“You know how a great instrument can make you play over your head? The Mark IV gave us this transcendental experience.” Andy Ellis – Guitar Player – May 1991

It’s the same deal. With a thicker pick, like this one, you really have to step up to keep it under control. If you try and play with limp fingers, you get nothing out of it – zero forgiveness. But in the same way as playing thicker strings makes things a bit more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, the Chicken Pick repays the extra effort required in buckets. I’ve always known the guitar sounds better when you’re really trying, and hitting the strings at full force (literally the first lesson on my first day of music college), but for whatever reason it’s easy to get lazy when you’re playing, which is something I am regularly and supremely guilty of.

The Chicken Pick  is fundamentally incompatible with lazy playing, and for that reason it has already shifted itself to be my regular pick.

TL; DR – the advantage is 20% pick, 80% psychological. It perversely plays to weaknesses rather than strengths, and is all the better for it. I’m hooked.

Recording :: MESA/Boogie Mark I

For the last six weeks or so, I’ve been sucked in by the convenience of amp modelling. Being able to plug and play on headphones at any time of day is very appealing when you can’t always find the time to set up a rig, or aren’t able to do so at a neighbourhood-friendly hour!

Anyway, earlier this week I decided to set up a ‘weekend rig’ (a ‘Sunday sports car’-type arrangement), and I’ve spent a very pleasant, very lazy afternoon doing some recording. Nothing particularly inspiring music-wise, unfortunately, but I was for the umpteenth time blown away by my Mark I Boogie. This thing records so effortlessly. Seriously, all you have to do is stick a mic in front of it, and that classic, super-thick tone is just there straight away.

Even though the music-assembly wasn’t going so well, I did bounce out a very little sample of the Mark I, which you can hear on Soundcloud. Great fun!

(Telecaster -> Keeley TS808 -> Mark I MESA/Boogie 15″ -> AKG C1000S -> Logic Pro)

 

 

 

Tubes :: Welcome to Tube Town

Absolutely love this graphic from Randall Smith’s latest blog post over at Mesa/Boogie Amplitudes

 

Tone :: Mark I MESA/Boogie 15″ + xotic BB Preamp

This afternoon I plugged the xotic BB Preamp pedal into my 1977 15″ MESA/Boogie Mark I amplifier for the first time.

Although the audio quality isn’t perfect, having an iPhone handy makes it way easy to take snapshots like this (no surprise that there isn’t anyone buying point-and-shoots, camcorders, Flip cams etc… any more), so here’s a minute with the Mark I.

You can hear the Mark I on its own before I click on the BB, which has its EQ set totally flat, a small boost in volume, and drive at about 10:30.

With so much gain in the tone already, I liked using the BB to just push it into saturation, and it seems to naturally raise the upper-mid range a little, too. In the room, it starts to get into Mark II territory — maybe with a slightly British twist? — although the effect is not as pronounced on video.

I’d love to try out the xotic AC Booster with this rig: the BB’s lower drive cousin is even more transparent, although in my A/B test the BB was quite a bit more versatile.

 

New Pedal :: xotic BB Preamp

I visited Regent Sounds Studio in Denmark Street earlier this week to test out a few pedals and was totally blown away by the BB Preamp by xotic effects, USA.

Testing with a Telecaster, and straight into the front of a Fender Princeton reissue, I was originally comparing the xotic AC Booster and Wampler Paisley Drive. I loved the tone of the Paisley in a YouTube clip I’d watched the night before, and was particularly excited because that clip had been recorded with a Tele and a ’70s SF Princeton (just like mine). When it came to testing it out ‘in the flesh’, however, the xotic pedals came up trumps. One of my highest priorities in choosing this stompbox was transparency, and it’s perfectly possible to set the AC and the BB where you just won’t notice they’re on. The Wampler, on the other hand, had a bit of an EQ agenda. I’m sure it’s a really, really clear pedal, and it definitely has a great drive sound…but man, next to the xotic boxes it was way, way too colourful.

When it came to deciding between the AC and the BB it was a pretty tough choice, but the BB, with more drive on tap, just seems a bit more flexible. So far I’ve been enjoying it into the front of my Princeton, but the rig in the picture above is waiting to be experimented with. This thing is a total chameleon, so if I get some time I’d love to do a video of it with a few different amps. For now, it’ll be rocking in conjunction with my 1981 Mark IIB and ’09 Deluxe Telecaster.

 

iPhone 4S Camera :: 1981 MESA/Boogie Mark IIB

It struck me while I was playing today how awesome the Mark II looks, sitting on top of a 1×12 EV loaded extension cab and pumping out just the best tone. This thing really delivers. Anyway, as I’ve had the 4S for a couple of weeks now I decided to have a go at taking some more decent pictures of the Boogie. Bottom line: I’m really starting to enjoy the camera on this phone.

The parallels between MESA/Boogie and Apple are pretty clear to me – the beautiful hardware, the build quality and unparalleled functionality. While I’m certain I won’t be using the 4S in 30 years time, at this moment in time is seems like a nice pairing of camera and subject.

More pictures below

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Reading List :: Thursday 20th October 2011

Well it looks like Google can’t win. Yesterday’s (still ridiculously named) Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich announcement brought with it the revelation that the folks in Mountain View were finally ready to shed the By Engineers, For Engineers vibe their mobile OS has been bugged / credited with (depending on your geek-factor). Yes, Ice Cream Sandwich is full of design changes and the general consensus is that it brings the OS’ level of polish up a great many levels, an area it’s never been able to draw parity with iOS or WP7 in no matter what speeds and feeds get crammed into handsets.

Of particular note was the switch of system font from Droid Sans to Roboto. Personally I think it’s okay, but Typographica and ‘The Understatement‘ seemed pretty pissed this morning, with the former calling it a ‘four headed Frankenfont’ and the latter feigning impartiality in a piece headlined ‘Roboto vs. Helvetica’.

Anyway, I like Roboto, or at least am indifferent to it. The idiot anti-Apple / anti-Android camps are basically using this one as a battleground: Gruber makes a number of good points to counter some guy’s stupid anti-Apple beef piece, and on the other side of the coin ‘The Understatement’ linked above is an equally stupid and thinly veiled, pro-Apple prime slice, probably exactly the sort of thing that the Android guy was railing against in the first place.

Dream Theater continue to bug the hell out of me. I cannot stand about 90% of their music, but there are so many things I adore about John Petrucci. The best way I’ve found to enjoy his playing is through the many promo videos he does for my favourite company in the universe and the builders of the greatest amplifiers on the planet ever, Mesa/Boogie. This morning, Mesa blogged a couple of sweet videos of John’s touring rig, one from his tech and the other from the man himself. I’ve gotta get myself a Mark V, man. Seriously.

Adobe have cleared up a few mysteries behind that awesome video of the ‘Deblur’ Photoshop preview from the MAX Sneak Peek a couple of weeks ago in a post to the Photoshop blog. If you’ve watched the video then you can pretty much just skim through, the meat in the sandwich is the before/after JPEGs. It’s amazing. Like fantasy, TV magic. Very exciting.

Finally, I got way too distracted by the Sony Design History page. One of my (very) early tech favourites were Sony’s catalogs, which I basically read from cover to cover ever year until I was about 10. Looking back at the company’s design history is very nostalgic for me on that level, but also illustrates just how many classic products Sony has built over the last 60 years, and how few of the real revolutionary ones came in the last 15.

Best Rig Ever…

Could well be. I’d love to build this out with a couple of 1×15 extension cabinets, a power conditioner and remote switching.

I think this just might be the best rig I’ve ever built. The distortion of the Mark I is so thick and full, and the 15″ speaker handles the bottom end beautifully. At the other end of the spectrum, the OTS has so much high-order harmonic content and clarity. The Electrovoice EVM12L in my late-80s MESA/Boogie 1×12 cabinet is one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard, with all the usual punch you’d expect from an EV but with the top end wonderfully rounded off through years of gigging. Running the OTS through that cabinet is a perfect match – the speaker takes care of the harsher top end and leaves a tone that’s round and full all the way up the frequency spectrum.

You don’t need to worry about the bottom end when the Mark I is in town, so I paired these amps with my favourite Telecaster. This guitar seems to emphasise just the right frequencies to make this rig come alive; it’s the ballsiest Tele tone I’ve ever heard. Recordings, video etc… to come.

Fender Telecaster –> Startouch A/B/Y –>
A: 1977 MESA/Boogie Mark I, 15″ combo    
B: Ceriatone OTS-50 (Dumble Overdrive Special clone) –> MESA/Boogie EVM12L 1×12 cab

MESA/Boogie Doghouse Workshop

The Original ‘Home of Tone’

A wonderful bit of footage, apparently from a couple of years back, surfaced a couple of days ago on the MESA/Boogie ‘Amplitudes’ blog. The clip documents a trip taken by a couple of Boogie stalwarts and Our Fearless Leader, Randall Smith, to the ‘Doghouse’ – the original MESA/Boogie workshop. According to MESA in their blog post accompanying the clip, the Doghouse was the workshop in which the ‘majority of the legendary Mark I amplifiers’ were assembled (somewhere in the region of 3000 amps) before the company moved to their current factory in Petaluma, CA.

Aside from the fact that I am a huge fan of his amplifiers, Randall Smith is also one of my favourite businessmen. It’s very rare that an inventive and brilliant engineer (in the vein of everyone in tech’s number one guy, Woz) also possesses the business nous to build his product into a multimillion dollar industry-leading company, but that’s exactly what Randy has done. The classic tech-industry startup cliché is a few guys working on a great product in a basement or garage, and it seems from this film that this pattern extends to the world of hotrod guitar amps, too.

For me, this clip holds extra significance, though. In 1977, my 15″ Mark I amplifier was hand built in the Doghouse workshop, the underside of the chassis bearing the date of completion and the letters ‘RCS’ – Randall C. Smith. More than three decades later, the amp that Randy built up in the California hills is still killing it. Thanks, man!

Mesa/Boogie Logo + Wallpaper [High-res]

I’m a huge fan and long-time user of Mesa/Boogie guitar amplifiers and cabinets. Aside from pumping out the best tone out there for over 40 years, Mesa also has the best customer service of any company I’ve ever dealt with, and have always been more than happy to field support questions about my amplifiers, some of which were originally purchased over three decades ago.

While they’ve been better than every other amp maker in keeping their web presence refreshed, the desktop wallpapers on their site are only available in 1024×768, so I’ve made a couple of high-res versions of the classic Mesa/Boogie logo available here for download (links after the break). Enjoy!

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