V-Picks Have Landed. Some thoughts, and a clip!

February 16, 2011

All v-picks have arrived. Work very busy this week, but nonetheless I am going to try to at the very least do an audio demo quickie to show that they bring out different sounds when strumming and when playing single notes, both clean and overdriven.

Ah, I may be passing on the Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed next week, since the 4.1mms really, really do it for me, I guess I’ll try to get clips of them done soon so the $4 lineup has a part in the thing. They’re nice, but the $10 ones are pricier for a reason imo, really, really comfortable to play. It takes a bit of getting used to, and A/Bing between a Big Stubby and the acrylic V-Picks (of any variety) shows that it isn’t that the Big Stubby sucks or anything, it’s just that the V-Picks are way more comfortable for me and have a sound I like.

My general impression so far is that the 4.1mm V-Picks’ sound is similar or different as follows:

A.) pointed or rounded tips sound more like other pointed or rounded tips. The strongest difference of kind is here; within the “pointed / rounded” distinction it’s more difference of degree, and can be subtle.

B.) there is a sonic quality to the attack that buffed picks have, and a notably different one that unbuffed have. The buffed picks slide the string out of the way while the unbuffed picks are rougher and drag/push the string out of the way. You can feel the difference playing and it’s pretty noticeable to the ear, too.

C.) specific bevel characteristics beyond just “pointed” or “rounded” influence the sound, but less so than “pointed” in general and “rounded” in general. So a slightly rounded bevel sounds different than a really rounded bevel, and a slightly pointed bevel sounds different than a really pointed bevel, but they will sound either “pointed” or “rounded” first.

So, for example, I have a Snake Pointed Buffed that has a very similar bevel to the Diamond Pointed Buffed, and the main difference between them is that the Diamond is a smaller pick while the Snake is a larger pick, not a huge sonic difference. The part of the plectrum that makes contact with the string is similar on the two and so there’s not a whole lot of difference in the sound. But I have a Snake Unbuffed with a more rounded edge, and it sounds totally different than either of those. I have a Dimension Buffed and it sounds pretty different since it is less pointed and also has a built-in offset to the plectrum’s sharper edge, sort of like you’re tilting the pick but without tilting the pick. That imparts a difference. But for straight-up “pointed edge” picks, probably more a question of comfort. If you like bigger picks, the Snake Pointed is preferable to the Diamond Pointed for comfort reasons.

Here’s what I was thinking for the demo, something like the following clip but with a video to show what’s being played when, going through all 8 of the ones I have here (the two $4 ones and the 6 $10 ones). In this clip, I have just two – a Pointed Diamond Buffed followed by an Snake Rounded Unbuffed. This isn’t the most prominently differing pair but these are two of my favorites. The Diamond is little, somewhat bigger than a Jazz III, while the Snake is bigger than a Big Stubby. Both are 4.1mm thick.

Format is straightforward – first I play something with the Diamond, then I play something with the Snake. Have a listen.

V-Picks Part Two: I got chills, they’re multiplying!

February 10, 2011

Alright, I’ve had the 4.1mm ones in for a few days now. Vinni really takes care of his customers. He surprised me with an unbuffed Dimension as part of the delivery (which would normally be another $10; regardless of what you think of the economics being justifiable or not, the fact is he gave me something I’d otherwise have had to pay a tenner for, which is pretty cool of him I think). I am very glad he did, because there’s something really cool about the sound of the unbuffed versus the buffed.

I think that the unbuffed variety might actually be the ticket for anyone who thinks they have too much pick noise, or that they have a too mild sound or feel. The tone with them is way more aggressive because they have more going on in their interaction with the string. Rather than sliding over it as you dig in, they momentarily vibrate it. Vinni refers to it as a “violin bow” sound. I don’t think I’d call it that exactly, or a vowel sound or anything like that… but it is an extremely different attack sound, and it digs in harder too. You’d have to be deaf not to hear the difference. I fully intend to put my money where my mouth is on that one, so to speak, by recording some demos, more on that in a sec.

The 4.1mm picks are definitely the sweet spot ones for me. They’re super comfortable to grip while not being so wide that they compromise the space between strings (even on narrower necks), and they make moving the string very precisely out of the way pretty much effortless.

Right now, I have the Medium Rounded, the Medium Pointed, the Snake Pointed, the Dimension Unbuffed, and the Dimension Buffed. Based on a few days playing with them and my total inability to pick a favorite but clearly preferring any one of them to my old standby picks, I decided to order some more. Hey, its my money, take it easy 😉

Coming my way, I’ve got a Diamond Pointed and a Snake Unbuffed, and Vinni added in a Diamond Pointed Unbuffed (which isn’t a listed product, just something he wants me to try out given my positive reaction to the unbuffed Dimension). I think there’s something very cool about the unbuffed picks, so I’m really looking forward to trying that one. You’ll be surprised at the difference between the buffed and unbuffed versions of the same pick, I think.

As far as the demo goes, here’s what I plan to do: a clip where I play the same rhythm and then lead thing with each pick in turn, first clean, then with distortion. Simple enough, yeah? I figure this’ll prove you don’t have to have some kind of magic golden ears to hear the differences in the picks, they are really prominently different based on the shape, bevel, and whether they’re buffed or unbuffed. The clips will speak for themselves with regard to that, and people can make up their own minds as to whether the difference is worth $4 for the two Medium (2.75mm picks) or $10 for the 4.1mm picks.

Not sure how the winter weather will affect the delivery of the newcomers, but I’m quite interested to get them in and try them out. When the ones I have coming do get in, I’ll record the demos and this time diverge from my usual audio-only or audio with narration demo to put together a quick video to upload to Youtube so I can display the information visually and use that time for playing. With 8 picks to demo and a few things to go through with each, I’ll need the time.

It’ll be fun to demo some stuff again. I do miss that. And this one’s going to be pretty easy, too, the concept isn’t exactly tough to get nor do the differences require a connoisseur’s ears to discern. Frankly I’d be pretty disappointed if I had got these in and they all sounded the same. Beneath the marketing phrases, there are very real distinctions and I intend to demonstrate them. There aren’t many comparison clips of them around. I am going to try to show that the “chirp” sound some people talk about can be more or less prominent with your picking technique as well, just as part of the demo playing. Lotta stuff to try to fit into less than 1 minute per pick to make it in Youtube’s time limit without being boring, but it should be neat.

I have become a V-Picks enthusiast, and if you like thick picks, you might too if you give ’em a shot.

February 4, 2011

I’ve got two V-Picks and I’m getting two more! Hooray, something I can post about!

(here is a picture I found of a bunch of them, why not?)

Background info: I’ve played Dunlop Stubbies and Big Stubbies pretty much exclusively for the last several years. There were some deficiencies in them – a tendency to get pretty slippery when you start really digging in, leading to me scoring whatever one I was actively playing at the time with a grid pattern on the “grip” of the big stubbies to try to give a little more for the fingers to hold on to – but I enjoyed the very deliberate articulation that their mass allowed, and so I put up with the issues. It seemed like a pretty fair compromise, since lighter picks and flatter picks just never played as well for me. But it did always still feel like a compromise.

Welp, done with that now!

It turns out I was compromising unnecessarily. I’ve known about V-Picks for a long time but never considered actually trying them until recently. I guess there are a few reasons, mainly that the actual plectrum edge on the Dunlops wears out more quickly than I like and then makes the pick as a whole less articulate and more susceptible to drag on the strings and move toward my wrist, despite my efforts to make them have a less slippy grip, but when I lived in central AR I was near music stores that carried them so I could just have them on hand for when the last one wore out and be good to go. Well, now if they wear out I have to either make a minimum of a three hour round trip to get new ones or order them online. The main advertised quality is that they grip extremely well, but apart from that the V-Picks are supposed to be less susceptible to wearing as quickly (I’ve got testimony from a couple people I trust that they’re more durable than most picks, and it makes sense, the material and the bevel on them are both very high quality). I’m down to two packs of stubbies now, which would last me a while but not forever, and anyway I was curious so I figured I’d try out the V-Pick thing.

I called Vinni and he recommended two to try out, the Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed. They’re part of the “standard” lineup of V-Picks and are equilateral, so while they do cost twice the individual price of a Dunlop Big Stubby, they have three times the usable plectrum edge. The rounded ones are rounded, the pointed ones are pointy, and “medium” in V-Picks language means 2.75mm which is pretty comfortable to me, just slightly thinner than I’m used to.

I got them in and was pretty much immediately sold on the whole idea. The whole “grip” thing is absolutely true. I don’t have to destructively mod them to try to get them to stay put, they just do. There’s some adjustment to the different shape, just to be expected with any new pick, but it wasn’t very long, and the comfort of the grip really knocked me out. The edge type makes a really distinct difference in the sound. It turns out that I like the pointed variety better, they are every bit as articulate as the Stubbies but they play much easier. The distinct tip is very articulate; I can get more motion but there’s nothing at all that prevents me from playing softly. The rounded version is clearly a high quality pick, too, but I just prefer the tip on the pointed one. I think this set would be perfect for anyone who wants to see what the fuss is about, because it lets you feel the difference in the grip, get accustomed to the thicker pick, and lets you hear and feel the difference between two especially distinct varieties of the tips that he offers in the product line, at safe-bet prices.

So, having received two picks with three identical edges for longevity, picks which are well-reputed to be very durable anyway, one of which has already proved awesome for my needs… the obvious choice was to go ahead and order two more from the $10 a piece, 4.10mm-thick premium line! I figure in for a penny with a boutique pick, in for a pound, and from talking to him I get the impression that Vinni’s a really nice guy who cares a lot about his product quality and wants you to be happy with your decision. He tried to talk me out of buying any premium picks before I had a week with the ones I’ve got, but where’s the fun in that? I could get hit by a flying toilet seat and end up a grim reaper or something, I want to step it up quickly. So, I’ve got two of the premium picks headed my way now:

A Dimension (Buffed), and a Snake (Pointed). I’m really looking forward to the thicker picks, as comfortable as the 2.75mm picks are I can only imagine how easy the grip will be on the thicker ones, and they both have a similar edge quality to the pointed one that I like so much.

I know initially the concept of “boutique” picks sounds silly, but the main line of products are perfectly affordable considering the advantages they have over the Big Stubbies and how much those have been costing me due to wear; maybe the $10 ones seem a little silly to some, but I for one am a big fan of thick picks and I finally got tired of some issues my pick of choice was giving me. I found a great option that’s durable with very nice qualities for not a lot more in the Medium Pointed V-Picks at $4 a piece (plus $3 shipping that covers as many as will fit in the envelope, buy a few to justify the shipping charge and you’re probably set for life so long as you don’t have guitarist friends who steal your picks). So I’ll spend my tenner how I want, and I really can’t wait to get in the premiums. I imagine they are going to be some seriously comfortable picks.

I’ll update when they get in to let you know what I think, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions about the ones I have, if anyone is curious. They’re really different from each other in how they feel and sound thanks to the very different edges, though the grip is more or less identical since they’re the same thickness and material. 

Jet City Amplification JCA12S

January 14, 2011

I got something cool!

Jet City Amplification JCA12S – $129, I got it new at Zzounds.com


No clips yet, since I actually get to write this one up for FrugalGuitarist as a guest contributor. I’m pasting the following bits (edited for context) from an ongoing discussion I’m in over at KVR, where the cab was first pointed out to me and where some pretty knowledgeable folks are discussing the relationship between Soldano and Jet City Amplification.

The tonal balance of the cabinet is impressive. The speaker itself, I have on good authority, is actually pretty dark – darker than a Greenback. That makes sense of my observation that the cab has a surprisingly even frequency balance compared to 1x12s I’ve used in the past. It is big for a 1×12; I think the same cab could be used with a different mounting setup to make a diagonal-configuration 2×10, if somebody felt like messing with a good thing for some reason.

And it is a good thing. I have to say, I did not expect this 1×12 cab to sound as big and massive as my prior 4×12 oversized V30 cab. I know I said before that I’d probably replace it with a Greenback or something, but whatever they’ve got going on in this thing is just perfect. I have played worse sounding big cabs that cost a grand. This has much, much more impact and “chug” factor for gainy stuff (but still represents my amp’s sound and cleaner pedals’ sounds quite well). If anything, it’s like my Univalve handles this one speaker more easily than the 4×12, but I had 100W’ers into that big sucker too, and none of them sounded better than this. Amazed at how nice it sounds.

So, yeah, it’s $129 for a full cab and a Jet City Eminence custom speaker, and I’m leaving it totally stock. The more I play with it the more I like its inherent sound and responsiveness. I’m guessing they picked the speaker for the 1×12 intentionally to offset the way that smaller, single-speaker cabs can tend to sound either boxy or ice-pick shrill (or both, ugh, I’ve had some bad experiences with 1×12 combos). I’ve heard some conflicting reports as to how involved Soldano is in the current Jet City Amplification lineup. I’ve heard more confirmation of involvement than denial, but that’s not really proof, even if the “Yea” votes come from people who deal amps for a living. If it is indeed basically a slightly adjusted Soldano cab design with a speaker that’s matched up perfectly, I just don’t see a downside. Or maybe there isn’t a downside. It sounds great. Doesn’t really matter who decided what ratio the dimensions of the box would be, the end result is mighty fine.

Its construction quality is great, screws in all the right places, and even the purely cosmetic stuff is well put together. More expensive cabs that are still in the affordable range (thinking specifically of Randall’s middle of the road cabs, here) aren’t any apparently better constructed. If there’s an area where they must be cutting corners, it has to be in the wood itself. Higher end cabs would feature higher end wood, but the construction quality, dimensions and nature of the wood in the JCA12S still provide an excellent product. The construction is all 3/4″ hard ply, which is pretty much the best you could reasonably expect at the price range. I’ve cranked my amp and while it only pushes around 17W with my tube configuration when fully engaged, it is still extraordinarily loud. The cab doesn’t lose any of its nice qualities. It keeps up very well. Maybe if you ran it closer to the speaker’s output limit it would start to sound strained, but full blast from the Univalve, if anything it sounds better than my old cab, at less than half the price I paid for that one used (and when the 4×12 I owned was new, it was one of the around-a-grand types).

I don’t have direct experience with anything Jet City apart from this, but based on my experience with the JCA12S I would feel very comfortable buying the 2×12 version if I were running a higher wattage setup. This is cab engineering and production done very well. The price is ancillary to the quality, frankly. I keep coming back to this, but I’m just used to paying WAY more for good gear than this, and I’m pretty blown away by the quality of the cabinet and the sound. I know it used to retail for $200, so maybe the $129 is a clearance thing. Still, even at $200, it’s probably the best cab deal going.

Devi Ever Bit Demo, and a post extolling the benefits of Loudmax free cross-platform master limiter!

November 16, 2010

First, this pedal (product page on Devi’s site here) is really, really cool. I could go on for a long time about how cool it is, but I’m going to save a comprehensive writeup for getting off my butt and writing up something for FrugalGuitarist about it, since it is a very affordable pedal compared to the boutique industry in general. Quick blurbs: it has a huge amount of range, I can barely believe it’s a two knob pedal. The Control knob has a MASSIVE impact on what’s going on. There’s a sweet spot for your guitar and setup where it gates at just the right moment and fuzzes up just the right stuff to make it sound really nice and synthy. Before that point, the gate clamps down big time and you barely get any signal through, losing both attack and sustain – a challenging sound to use, but probably useful nonetheless. After that point, it sounds more like a conventional, but very high-gain and full range fuzz, good for lead tones. It also has an incredible amount of volume output, because of an internal structure of cool cascaded boosting stages.

It sounds great DIRECT! How many pedals actually sound awesome direct into a DI or mixer? Not many that I’ve tried, even some which aim to do so. But this pulls it off with aplomb. Very neat pedal, my first Devi Ever pedal. I spoke with her on the phone to discuss getting it and I am really glad I did. Here’s a pic of it, lovely looking thing that recalls the classic Legend of Zelda cartridge from the NES days and gives you a bit of a push mentally toward using it to make old chip-synth sounds with your guitar 🙂

Second, LoudMax (home page for the plugin here) is a great cross-platform, free master limiter VST that enabled me to do something that I had trouble getting my go-to commercial tool to do! First, cross-platform freeware is such a delightful rarity that it deserves comment on that merit alone – but cross-platform suck would still be suck, right, so the fact that this is quite nice indeed makes it a stand-out, easy to use tool that I think more people should be aware of.

In particular, for my usage here, I found this to be really good at treating an exceptionally distorted and processed mix without losing detail in the individual tracks. So, here’s a track combining the really exceptional fuzz pedal run direct, and the really interesting and usable cross-platform free limiter. Hope you like it, it’s outside of my usual idiom but that’s just the way the pedal sounds, it wants you to play it like an instrument and so you kind of do.

This mix is SMASHED. On purpose. The stereo field exists because of the smashing, the panning of the drums, and some stereo effects that do a neat thing. Dynamic range is approximately ~0.1db or so.

Two things, EZdrummer twisted kit with Auraplugs freestortion GE Fuzz on it at a 40/60 mix, and my guitar into a Devi Ever Bit: Legend of Fuzz pedal direct into AT3 (amp and cab bypassed) with some carefully tuned effects and a multi-tap delay (two, in this case) to achieve a pretty precise sound. The limiting is really important to the track, because it has to very substantially control the interaction between the guitar track and its stereo effects and the drum track’s panning. Without it, it wouldn’t sound varied, it’d sound pretty samey – with the limiting smashing things right, the stereo field is much more complex, really turned out better than I could have hoped.

I’m posting the clip here because Loudmax kicked butt for me. I was having trouble getting my go-to limiter, T-Racks 3 Deluxe’s Brickwall Limiter, to do the trick. It was wanting to pump in a way that obscured the drums more than I wanted even in the advanced and saturation modes. I knew that none of my other limiters would really do what I wanted (TBT Pocket Limiter and Tube Limiter are two I use a lot on individual tracks to catch peaks, but I don’t like their behavior on a busy mix). So, I figured I’d try the new-to-me tool out to see how it would perform. I threw Loudmax on it and within about 30 seconds had it sounding exactly like I wanted it to just by adjusting the two sliders for a thorough crushing. Really had a kind of “magic button” effect, it just did exactly what I wanted right away. Very cool.

That said… It won’t replace the T-Racks 3 Brickwall Limiter for most of my stuff because I usually want to preserve dynamics and just prevent any stray peaks, which the T-Racks 3 Limiter does exceptionally well. Even for less dynamic material that I want loud but not too crushed, I like how the Clean and Saturation modes do different but equally impressive things. The TR3 Deluxe Brickwall Limiter just kind of “handles” the limiting all on its own. So this isn’t me saying “ditch commercial software, you’ll only ever need this freeware tool!”

But there’s something really, really cool going on with LoudMax and I definitely intend for it to be part of my tool kit in the future, especially when I am working with heavily distorted and crushed material and trying to achieve a specific sound. I like its behavior at the edge of what’s advisable and beyond. I look forward to playing around with it more to see how it behaves when things are less slammed. I figure if it can handle abuse, it probably does well with “use.”

Wampler Paisley Pedal Initial Thoughts and a quick demo!

November 9, 2010

I wrote the following about it yesterday after playing around with it for awhile:

Got mine in today. I’ve run it alongside about ten other pedals today in my own examination and it’s definitely a high quality overdrive with a clear, responsive drive character. It plays nicely with others that deserve the accolade of “a great overdrive” – it and the Tim/Timmy, for example, are a great pair, and it sounds awesome with the Barber UnLimiTeD (or, to stay somewhat more topically relevant, any of the Wampler amp-in-a-box designs I own: Plexidrive, Plextortion, Super Plextortion, Black ’65, and to a lesser extent the Tripe Wreck… the latter doesn’t really need or benefit much from an overdrive, it has plenty of dirt on its own and can inherently sound “boosted” with a bit of tweaking).

It also puts some pedals to shame; plugging it in alongside the Bad Monkey is not flattering to that inexpensive pedal. Though I do respect the BM’s sound and features for the price it just can’t compare sound-wise anywhere on its gain knob. It walks on the MXR Zakk Wylde OD, which is a nice sounding, well-modded SD-1, so I’m going to presume it’d hold up great against any close Tubescreamer variant as well. I don’t know, I don’t like “shoot-outs,” they get people worked up to pick a definite winner or loser when sometimes that’s not the point, but it’s got a sound that does seem just better than several of the ODs I’ve thought were pretty okay.

As far as versatility goes, definitely a lot going on. It sounds great into pretty much any amp model I’ve got, and into my physical amps as well. I still need to do more testing but I don’t play anything like Paisley’s material and this pedal still fills a serious OD need for me. It does low gain to hefty crunch without having to adjust your guitar’s volume, very responsive to your picking/plucking dynamics; I can see why someone with Paisley’s playing style would dig it. It really retains the attack regardless of how hard you dig in, too, so chords don’t sound like a compressed “wall,” they sound like a bunch of notes together to make a whole.

I’d like to hear other recipients’ comments on whether they think it’s got any kind of a “Dr. Z in a box” sound. I am a little hesitant to apply amp-in-a-box if the builder isn’t specifically aiming at that kind of thing, especially since a heck of a lot of that depends on what kind of actual amp you’re running it into (that is, a tubescreamer can sound pretty amp-like when it’s run into a nice amp; it takes something special on the design end of things to make anything sound like a specific amp or convey the general tonal signature of this or that amp). Into my THD Univalve, it kills. Thick, but with great definition, plenty of sustain without ever sacrificing the attack. It’s a sophisticated and great sounding design, but I’m not sure if it was intended to be a “Dr. Z in a box,” so much as just a really nice, natural sounding overdrive. It definitely can be adjusted to emphasize different frequencies more or less, maybe even frequencies that a particular amp would have more to do with than others. I want more input, though, I don’t feel comfortable calling that one.

Lastly, I’ll echo the sentiment that the clips on the site aren’t telling any lies. If you like what you hear, you’ll like it in person. I hope to have some clips recorded and posted by tomorrow evening. I want to do at least two, one to convey a single setting I find really nice that responds well to my playing, and another to show how it sounds when you muck about with the controls. There’s a lot of range in it thanks to the two switches, the difference in sound with the presence off or on is pretty big but the mid contour switch has a huuuuge impact on the overall sound.

A simple three knob pedal it ain’t. But it sure pulls off some great tones. More to come in the days ahead.

Annnnd here’s a clip!

I plan to do at least one more. I had some issues with remembering to, uh, talk into the mic consistently, so at one point I’m kind of half canted and of course with the polar pattern it made it sound a little different from the rest. Oops. Hopefully what really matters, the sound of the pedal, comes through just fine.

A quick clip of the Digitech Grunge pedal

October 10, 2010

This is a quick clip I recorded of the Digitech Grunge. The much-maligned pedal actually sounds nice in my opinion! I have the gain too high here, it’s a bit over-compressed. It has a lot of treble available, maybe into a darker setup that could be useful but in this case I overcompensated and had the treble set a bit low. It gets pretty shrill if you turn it up too far, the potentiometer is quite sensitive. I’ll edge it up a touch for the next clip… Carefully.

Obviously just a quickie to try to demonstrate that, holy crap, Digitech isn’t awful?!!? It looks like I will finally have the full lineup of these guys pretty soon. Right now I’ve got plugged in, in order, the Bad Monkey, Screamin’ Blues, Hot Head, and Grunge. Death Metal is in the works. I want to note that the chain of pedals does NOT have a noticeable noise floor, either to my ear or to my DAW’s input. So despite the fact that they are all buffered pedals, the buffers are good and aren’t mucking up the sound. Also, they seem to be capable of operating at high signal levels without issue, which is good for anyone who wants to do sound design stuff with inexpensive pedals since you’ll encounter some approaching-line-level signals sometimes with synth racks and such.

To reiterate, these pedals do. not. suck. I will try to prove that with clips. They are definitely not “holy-grail-of-tone” pedals, but they are pretty substantially underrated in my opinion (even if some of them are essentially copies of another major manufacturer’s design – BOSS, basically – with a different EQ setup).