Saturday Night Special (Fender Blues Junior)

Saturday night’s gig was the highlight of a dramatic three-day weekend that included meaningful interactions with apathetic police, nutty nay-bores, energetic children, confusing local roads, cool liquor store owners, strong imported beers, sexy girls, whisky, torrential rain, shopping malls, sunsets, DVDs, greasy noodle shops and my future ex-wife. However the most pleasing interaction by far was between my Ibanez George Benson guitar, mini-pedal board and a blue Fender Blues Junior amp.

More than lack of practice, what to wear and who hang with after; I was worried about having to use an 80-watt Fender Twin, overpowered for a Shibuya cafe that would barely accomodate 80 people. At my last gig with this R&B cover band, I had a choice between a Roland JC-120 and a 15-watt solid state Fender Studio Drive with an 8″ Celestion “Red Force” speaker. I chose the latter, and was very pleased with the results, though the band lamented they couldn’t hear me enough.

This wasn’t a problem this time. I was able to dial in a tight, bright and balanced sound very easily even with the reggae DJ spinning in the background. With the gain and bass set to about 1~2, I had enough clean headroom and none of the boominess I get with big amps in small rooms with the GB-10. Not wanting to repeat history, I engaged the Fat, and cranked the Master up to about 7, tweaked the treble and literally never looked back.

My pedals that night were my new Xotic SP Compressor, AMT “Japanese Girl” Wah, SD Tweak Fuzz and Line6 Echo park all running on my portable Eneloop power supply.  I love these pedals, but was a bit disappointed with their performance with this amp. That’s probably because my settings are optimised for a different environment (usually headphones), and I never really had a change to test them during sound check.

Back home, I did some research on this little machine. Some people complain of harshness, but playing a dark-sounding archtop with overwound humbuckers, brass bridge saddles and flat wounds, this wasn’t an issue for me. Extended highs are welcome for cutting through a 12-piece funk/R&B for a percussive attack and chord clarity. It turns out that this amp can be easily modded to sound more like a Twin, which is what I’ve been seeking in an amp for years.

That doesn’t mean I’m going out to get one, though — not just yet anyway. I’m still waiting for a handmade Little Lanilei 3350LT right now which is cheaper, more portable and should sound better at higher and lower volumes. Even 15 watts would be too much my apartment and the crazy old unmarried and unemployed bitch who lives next door. Then again, I’ve been changing amps about twice a year since selling my Mesa/Boogie Studio.22, so who knows.


Qwik Summer Reviews

Summer’s seen some some serious shopping. Blog blabbing boring begets quick concise comments:

  1. Xotic SP Compressor: Awesome on my G&L, less effective with my Ibanez GB-10 in spite of all the dip switch settings. The three-way switch and blend knob on the top can go from very subtle compression, to nice squash, and even overdrive an amp nicely. Sounded amazing with a little Fender SD-15 practice amp. Still not ready to get rid of my limited edition sparkle-red Barber Tonepress, though.
  2. AMT WH-1 “Japanese Girl”:  Smaller and lighter than a Boss Pedal, this pedal makes my pedal case a lot easier to carry, saving my shoulder for the gig but better suited to my 8-year old son’s foot than mine. It has a very chewy sound more like an envelop filter compared the hollow funkiness of the Budwah, but I love filters, so I’m totally satisfied with the sound (but not selling my black-label Budwah.) Some adjustment to my heel-toe technique is required, adjustable pedal tension with a hex wrench helped. Being op-amp based, there are no issues in front of a fuzz.  The switch and LED make using it easier to use live, too.
  3. Fusion F1 Gigbag + F2 Attachement Bag: This gig bag provides plenty of protection for the guitar, lots of pockets for stuff and support for my back and shoulders. However the killer selling point are the attachment bags that I can use to stow a small pedal board (about five devices), leaving both hands free. The attachment bags is also a great stand-alone laptop backpack, and I now use it everyday on my commute.
  4. Korg Nanopad 2: Cheap and compact, but not user friendly. The pads are touch sensitive, but just barely. They only seem to be capable of three levels, and sometimes don’t trigger at all. The advanced features like scale/key for the XY-pad are not intuitive, but I’m having a lot of fun after read the brief manual several times. I was getting confused by the buttons for Scale/Key/Octave/Range, etc. which only affect XY pad. The editing software can help manage velocity, tempo, scales and opens up some new creative possibilities like toggling pads to hold notes and triggering multiple events, like chords.
  5. Planet Waves PW-GR-01 Guitar Rest: As soon as I saw one of these, I knew I had to have it. Only $10 and made in the USA, this is one of those accessories that should have been made decades ago. It’s not perfect, but does really make reaching for my guitar and picks a lot easier, and again when I put them down.