Majik's Learning Log

This is my Road Case which is, largely, a description of my gear, past and present, with a few stories. I’m copying this across from the old forum, pruning it a bit as I go.

I’m going to start with the guitars I don’t have any more:

Old guitars

Yamaha F310 Acoustic
This is the only photo of this I could find:

This was my first guitar.

I say “my first” as I actually shared a nylon-string acoustic with my elder brother when we were kids and, briefly, had a handful of classical lessons at primary school. I don’t remember why I stopped, but the guitar got broken when my brother was pretending to be a rock star whilst listening to music, and smashed the headstock on the door frame.

I say “my”, but it was actually my wife who bought it from Costco as, on an impulse she fancied learning to play. She gave up pretty much before she started. As the guitar was there I thought I should give it a go. I could actually remember some of the chords I had learned all those years ago at school. At that point I wasn’t really taking it seriously and just messing with it occasionally. Piano was my first choice of instrument and, at that point, I was spending more time on that.

PRS SE Singlecut

This is the best photo I have of this:

This was my first electric guitar. My brother-in-law, David, was living with us at the time and he used to play electric guitar when he was younger. He had been talking about starting again and buying himself one for ages. When we became friends with someone at our children’s school who was a professional rock guitar player, I think that fuelled his interest and he started saving up. When he went to buy it, I went with him to the guitar store. Whilst I was there, amongst the rows of electric guitars hanging on the walls, one stood out to me. I’m not sure why because it wasn’t particularly flashy or brightly coloured, but it just appealed. David saw my interest and said “You should get that, it’s a decent guitar”. So, on a whim, I did. He is a Tele guy, so he bought a Fender Tele Lite Ash (more on that later) and also bought the Cube amp in the photo, and said I could use it.

It was after buying this that I started getting serious about learning the guitar, and I think it was around that sort of time I discovered Justin on Youtube.

I was travelling a lot within the UK with work at the time, and one of the things that appealed to me about the electric guitar was I could easily take it with me and practice in the hotel room without really disturbing anyone.

It was a great guitar and I used it loads, but a few years ago I decided to upgrade so I sold it.

Cadenza Electro-acoustic

This is the only photo I can find of this:
In 2010 I was on a work contract where I had to work in Kuala Lumpur for several months. I was staying in a nice apartment in Mid Valley. Whilst I was there I decided I needed something to do, so I went to a local music shop and bought this. It’s a cheap copy of an Ovation with a bowl-style body and the odd sound holes. It wasn’t the best guitar in the world but it did the job whilst I was out there, and I decided I would bring it home with me when I came back to the UK.

I had it for a few years, and then decided to sell it at the same time as the Yamaha F310 when I decided to upgrade to a better acoustic guitar.

Redwood Bass guitar
The only photo I have of this is with the neck off whilst I was fixing it:

A few years ago I fancied giving bass a go, but didn’t want to spend a fortune on gear in case I decided it wasn’t for me. So I went on Gumtree and found a cheap bass guitar for sale, costing £40. To be honest, it was a cheap model (I think they were only around £120 new) and it was in a real state when I bought it; all the metal parts were rusty, the strings were in a shocking state, the electrics were noisy, and it had been strung completely incorrectly. Also a couple of the frets had loads of wear, and the whole thing was a grimey mess. I bought it as, not only could I use it to learn, but also I saw it as a project to see if I could restore it.

I cleaned everything up, fixed what I could and, for a while, this was my main bass guitar.

Here’s a video of me playing it (badly). Here I was taking part in a challenge on Scotts Bass Lessons:

Yamaha TRXB204

When the Redwood finally died (the jack socket failed, and replacing it turned out to be tricky) I got a new one, so I nipped down to Andertons and bought the Yammy. I don’t have a photo of it, but I do have some video of me playing it for another SBL challenge:

And, yes, it does look very similar to the Redwood. I didn’t specifically set out to buy another black bass guitar, but it was the only colour they had in stock at the time.

I sold it to a friend last year when I got my latest bass (more on that in my next Road Case post).

Swing S100

The story behind this is, between March and August 2020, during the height of the Pandemic, I was in Singapore for work. I arrived in Singapore hours before they shut the borders and, a couple of weeks into my stay, they went into lockdown (or, as they called it, “Circuit Breaker”).

Our movements were restricted and all offices and most shops were shut. I was, mostly stuck in a small one-bedroom apartment for several weeks alone, doing video calls to my work colleagues and family and eating mainly use food delivery services. Unfortunately I also contracted Dengue Fever during this time to add to my misery. Luckily I got great treatment and recovered relatively quickly.

Around June, things started to open up a bit. After a few weeks I found a mall with some guitar shops, and eventually decided to buy a cheap guitar and amp, which became a valued companion for me whilst I was there.

I shot a video of me playing a fingerstyle version of Both Sides Now on it from my apartment:

I didn’t want to bring it back to the UK with me when I eventually came home, so I gave it away to a local friend’s 15 yr old daughter, Angelina. Here’s a couple of photos her mum took from when I met up with them to hand it over:

Apparently she is still using it to learn to play, and loving it:

Honourable Mentions

For a while, we had a Yamaha Pacifica 112V in the house (sorry no photo). This was my daughter’s. We got it for her for her Birthday because she said it was what she wanted, but she never really took to it in the end, and I think I played it more than she did. She has since grown up, got married and moved home and she has it at her new house, and is still talking about learning.

I also had a Harley Benton GS Mini (again, no photo) for a while. I bought that as I was going camping and wanted something to take with me that was relatively small and that I wouldn’t worry about getting damaged or stolen. A while back lent it to my daughter as she thought it might be better for her to start learning on than the Pacifica, as she is quite small, and she has hung onto it, and keeps threatening to use it to learn on.




Current Guitars

The next posts are the guitars I currently have in my possession. I’m going to put them as individual posts to keep the post size down, and so I can put more detail in.

Fender Tele Lite Ash

In my previous post I mentioned that I purchased my first electric guitar whilst out shopping with my Brother-in-law David who was looking for a new guitar, and that he had purchased a Fender Tele Lite Ash. Well, this is that guitar. He, basically, gave it to me!

The background is that he had been living with us for a couple of years at that point. Prior to that, he was working as an IT Manager for a small manufacturing company in the Midlands but was, effectively, unqualified even though he was pretty good with computers and computer networks. He had fallen in love with a Malaysian woman and wanted to go to Malaysia to live with her and, eventually, marry her, but there was no way that was going to happen with his employment history. My work was exceptionally busy at the time, so I offered him to come and work for me, and I would get him some training and experience in the more specialist IT/Telecoms stuff that I did, and maybe get him involved in a few contracts.

That all worked out, eventually. After a few years or sending him on training courses and getting him involved with a few contracts that would look good on his CV, I managed to land a gig with Telecom Malaysia in KL. After working there for a bit, I convinced them that they could use David (and that he would be cheap as they wouldn’t have to pay accommodation expenses) and so he joined me out in KL. That lasted approximately another year with me managing to get back to the UK and work remotely, and with him living in KL with his girlfriend. Soon after that he managed to get himself a permanent job in KL and, from there, moved on to a better job. They got married a few years ago.

When he moved to KL permanently, he gave me his guitar and amp!

The guitar itself is beautiful, with amazing figuring in the maple fretboard.

The spec is also slightly unusual, as it uses Seymour Duncan pickups instead of the stock Fender ones:

The other weird thing abut it is that it doesn’t seem to have a serial number. That would indicate it’s a fake, right? Well, no, because I was with him when he bought it, from new, from a reputable guitar store (Dawsons in the UK) and, whilst he was living with us, it never left the house.

When I took it for a set up a few years ago, the guitar tech said it was odd too, but he felt it was either MIK or MIJ. And, no, there’s no serial number on the heel of the neck, but there is some faded markings in the neck pocket that neither I nor the guitar tech could make sense of. It looks like a number but I’ve not managed to match it with anything on the Fender website:

TBH I didn’t get on on with this guitar for the longest time; as beautiful as it is I never enjoyed playing it. I assumed it was just because I wasn’t a Tele guy. I would have sold it but I never felt it truly belonged to me and, at some point in the future if and when David wanted to start playing again, I could give him his guitar back.

More recently, I’ve come to appreciate it more. I think that the problem I had playing it was largely because I wasn’t used to maple fretboards as none of the other guitars I have had or played have had one. In particular, the lower three strings literally go invisible against the patterned maple from a playing position. These days, I can play more without looking at the fretboard so that’s not such a prolem.

I think the turning point in my relationship with the Tele was when I was working in Tokyo earlier this year. I had already been in Tokyo for a few months at the end of 2019 and was craving something to do in the evenings. I had actually visited the local guitar shops considering buying a cheap Pacifica or similar to use in my apartment. When I came back home for Xmas, I decided it would be better to take a guitar back with me. I didn’t want the hassle of transporting a separate hard case and so the only sensible option for was the Tele as I could take the neck off and stick it in my suitcase along with a small toolkit and a packet of strings. So that’s what I did which meant I got to use it in Tokyo a bit, as it was my only option.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to use it as much as I hoped: January and February were very busy months for me socially in Tokyo with several shinnenkais, leaving drinks, Birthdays, etc. Also my daughter and her husband came over to stay, followed by my wife and other daughter.

Of the guitars I own it’s not my favourite, but I now appreciate it and enjoy playing it.




Freshman Apollo 2 OCBK Acoustic

I bought this several years ago when I wanted to get an upgrade from the Yamaha and Credenza acoustic guitars I had. So I sold those and went shopping.

The local guitar shop had these Freshman Apollo guitars and, at the time, they were on Justin’s recommended list. The shop was selling them at a heavy discount (unfortunately they were closing down). I took my daughter with me as she said she was interested. They had two colours in stock and I preferred the other one, but my daughter said she liked this one, so I went with it as I thought it might encourage her to use it (it didn’t!).

Whilst I quite like playing this guitar, I’m not in love with it. It plays and sounds OK but is nothing special. I am not keen on how it looks. Frankly it’s too “blingy” for my taste. I am actively considering selling it and upgrading to something not only better, but that I like the look of more.




G&L Legacy Tribute

I bought this prior to a business trip to Mexico City several year ago. At that time I was having guitar lessons with a local teacher and had been starting to work through the RGT Rock Guitar grades. I was due to attend the grade 5 exam, but work got in the way and I had to go to Mexico for several weeks. My exam was on the day after I flew back.

There’s no way I was going to get through the exam having not picked up a guitar in weeks (on top of being jetlagged) so I started looking for options online. Guitar shops in Mexico City seemed to have a poor selection and seemed expensive, so I started looking for a cheap guitar I could take with me.

Whilst looking, I happened across Richards Guitars website and was looking through the G&L range. They were out of my budget but, having seen the discussions on the forum, as well as some online reviews, I had fancied getting a G&L Strat-style guitar for a while, so I thought I would browse a bit just for future reference. I had my eye on a sunburst model.

Whillst on the website, Richard popped up in the embedded web chat and asked me if I was interested in the G&Ls, and said he would be prepared to do a special deal on the Candy Apple Red model. I wasn’t keen. I like red Strats (very Hank Marvin) but I didn’t like the look of the G&L with the red headstock.

He explained that he had one red one left in stock and was prepared to do a good price to sell it. He originally bought some of the red models along with various other finishes but, despite being a classic colour, the red ones had been slow to sell because noone liked the look of them in the photos (because of the red headstock). He said that the photos didn’t do them justice and that they looked much better in person. If I was prepared to visit the shop and try it, he would give me a great price if I wanted it. So I jumped in the car and headed up there.

When I got to he shop (in beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon) he plugged the guitar into an amp, handed it to me, and left me to it for half an hour. Straight away all my concerns about how it looked evaporated. In person, the finish is a lot deeper red than it looks in photos, and is slightly metallic. It reminds me of the finish on a high-end sports car. I’m still not a huge fan of the coloured headstock regardless of colour (I don’t think it quite suits Strat-style guitars) but it doesn’t bother me at all.

He had set the guitar up well, and it played beautifully and sounded great too. Like most S-type guitars, it’s a versatile thing with rich and creamy tones from the neck pickup, lots of bite in the neck, great rhythm tones in the middle, and some nice “quacky” sounds from the bridge/middle combo. As with most S-type guitars the combination of neck and middle pickups is the weakest of the available pickup combinations, but it’s usable. At the price he was offering me, it was an easy decision.

So this traveled to Mexico with me and I used it, much to the amusement and entertainment of my business colleague, to practice and prepare for the guitar exam. My colleague had managed to book an amazing simplex apartment in the Polanco area of Mexico City near many good restaurants and bars.

I had taken a recently-purchased Line 6 Amplifi TT with me as it seemed to be ideal for the situation. We plugged it into the apartment hifi and I used it as an amplifier practicing along to backing tracks streamed through Bluetooth, and we also used it to stream music (when the Bluetooth worked).

And when I got back to the UK, despite being heavily jet-lagged, I managed to get a pass on the grading.

I sometimes wonder if I should consider upgrading it to a better model as it is from the cheaper G&L line (made in Indonesia) but then I think “why?”. It’s a decent guitar and I enjoy playing it. Maybe I will come across an S-type guitar in the future which I fall in love with, and end up trading up but, for now, it’s staying put.




PRS S2 Singlecut

There’s not too much of a story behind this guitar. I bought it a few years ago to replace my original PRS CE model.

I liked the CE a lot, but the intonation wasn’t quite right on the high E string, which was starting to annoy me. I guess it must be familiarity with guitars because I had played it for years without noticing. I took it to a luthier who basically said that the problem was the bridge. These guitars have a fixed, compensated bridge and when it works it works well, but if they are off then there’s little room for adjustment. He suggested the fix would be a new bridge with individually adjustable saddles. The problem was not big enough to worry about so I left it, but a year later and it was starting to bug me, probably more psychologically than anything else.

I had seen the PRS S2 models advertised on Andertons YT channel, and saw they were doing a special end-of-line price, so I decided to get one. I sold mine on Gumtree to a guy who was just starting out he actually brought his guitar teacher over to check it out.

When I called Andertons the next day, I found they had sold out, literally that morning. Bummer!

So I scoured the Internet and found someone else who had them in stock. In fact, they were slightly cheaper. They had a decent returns policy so I bought it mail order.

The guitar itself is lovely. However, the nitro finish is very thin and quite easily damaged. I was slightly annoyed at first, but then I realised a bit of wear gives it some character. In the photo you can see a few places where it’s starting to get some wear.

The guitar has two humbuckers, both of which can be tapped to give a “single coil” sound. Like most coil tapped humbuckers, it’s not particularly convincing, but it is a different tone to play with. The guitar actually has quite a dark sound and can be quite muddy, but it’s great for growling rock sounds and thick, creamy solos.

It has locking tuners, which are great.

I think this is my favourite guitar, and it’s the only humbucker-equipped guitar in my collection. It doesn’t suit every song but, whenever I use it, it feels comfortable and familiar.




Gibson SG P90

(I’m not sure exactly what model this is, but I think it’s a SG Special '60s Tribute).

I got this as part of a bunch of equipment a friend, Anita, was selling. I actually got to know Anita through Scott’s Bass Lessons. She was selling a bunch of both Bass and Guitar gear that she had accumulated over the years as she wanted to clear the space to make an art studio. I ended up buying most of it from her including a bass guitar and amp, a tube amp, and some other bits.

Apparently the story behind the SG (if I have it correct) is that she was travelling through Europe with her boyfriend when she saw the SG online for sale second-hand in Belgium, so they did a detour and she bought it.

Being a Black Sabbath fan, she had originally changed the pick-guard out for a completely black one, but she had kept the original laminated one with the white layers so I reinstalled that, as I preferred it.

I was originally thinking I might sell this. I had never played an SG and, although at one point, had toyed with the idea of getting a cheap Epiphone SG, I had always suspected that it wouldn’t be my thing.

It turns out I was wrong. It’s a lovely little thing, and the P90s have a tonal character distinct from all my other guitars. I don’t use it that much at the moment, but I enjoy it when I do, and it’s really nice to play. one odd thing I find is that, when I first pick it up, I sometimes get slightly lost as I expect the 12th fret to be closer to the body than it is. It’s not dramatically smaller than my other guitars, but it feels a lot smaller for some reason. It’s a 2011 model with a matte black finish that I’m pretty sure is nitro.

I’ll cover some of the other gear I got from Anita in later posts.



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Sterling by Music Man SUB Ray 4 Bass

This is part of the package of kit I purchased from my friend Anita. And it really was the hook which got me interested in it in the first place. It’s it’s a cheaper version of the Music Man Stingray which is used by many renowned bass players.

So why did I get it?

I have previously described the cheap, second-hand Redwood bass I got as a project, and the Yamaha bass I replaced it with in a earlier post. They were both great basses for me, but I felt something was missing with the Yammy.

Thinking about it, the Redwood was junk when I got it and, although I transformed it into a playable instrument with a bit of TLC, it was always a bit compromised. But I had it at a time when I was making by first steps into bass playing, and so having an great instrument didn’t really matter, and it wasn’t so bad that it put me off. In fact really the only major thing wrong with it was the action was a bit high, and I actually shimmed the neck to mostly fix that.

But what it had was character. The body had chips and scratches and the frets were quite worn in places (I think the original owner must have obsessively played a single riff), and the knobs were slightly flaky. It was sometimes a little bit of a struggle to play but, as I said, not enough to put me off. In fact I think I liked that about it. And the fact that I had rescued it and restored it also, maybe, gave it a special place in my heart.

When I replaced it with the Yamaha, I got a much better bass, that sounded better, played better, that the knobs worked reliably on, and that didn’t have nicks and little patches on the chrome where once there had been rust.

But it also felt a bit characterless to me. I think the problem was it was too similar to what I had before and I think in my mind I had envisaged upgrading to something else. Maybe if they had stock in a different colour than black, I might have gelled with it more. In retrospect, I didn’t enjoy the black.

When Anita told me she was selling her bass and sent pictures, I was really interested. It was a step up, quality wise, from the Yamaha I had and it looked great. It seemed to have the character I was looking for. It is a simpler guitar, having only one humbucker, and I think that was part of the appeal: where I am now with my bass learning, I actually like having simpler controls. The Yammy was very flexible, but I never knew what to do with the controls so I generally left them set to one setting. The Sub Ray has limited options, but they fell “right”.

When I went to pick it up, I knew it was the right choice. It looks great, plays great, and has character in spades. And it also has a fair bit of tonal variety if I ever want to explore it, but with only one humbucker and a couple of tone controls, I’m not going to be overwhelmed with options. And I love the look of the headstock with the chunky open tuners.

I’m not really into chasing tones, especially on the bass, but I do like how this bass sounds: it has a it of a “bark” to it that seems to suit rock music. It has a satin finish neck which feels great, and a bit of a retro, kitschy style.

Here’s a video of me playing it over a backing track from September last year. At the time I had only just got this song up to speed, but wanted to get it posted before the month ended.

The production on this is a bit rushed and not particularly slick, but I didn’t want to spend too much time on it. The audio isn’t a great mix but it’s mainly so you can hear the bass. And I somehow truncated the video abruptly, but I couldn’t be bothered to go back and re-render it.

Shortly after getting the SUB Ray, I was wondering what to do with the Yamaha, when a local friend phoned me. His teenage son had been learning bass at school, and he wanted to get him one for his birthday and wanted advice. He had been considering getting him a Yamaha as that is what his son was using at school. How serendipitous! So I sold the Yammy to him and, basically, threw in the cheap bass amp I had for free. His son loves it!

So that is my last guitar from my current collection.



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A “family shot” of the electrics:

And one including the acoustic:




Amps I used to own

Line 6 Amplifi TT
I had been interested in the Line 6 Amplifi range as a possible practice amp. I was interested in the online tone library and how you could match that to songs, and how you could stream Bluetooth audio to it; at the time it was one of the earliest Bluetooth-enabled guitar practice amps.

So when I knew I was going to Mexico for several weeks, I thought this would be the ideal thing to take with me: it was small enough to pop into a suitcase, would plug into the hifi in the apartment, and supported bluetooth streaming for the backing tracks I was learning as well as general streaming for pleasure.

It did the job… kind of… the guitar side worked OK but the BT streaming was flakier than a Greggs sausage roll. Even if I put my phone directly on top of the unit I would frequently get interruptions. A lot of the time I ended up using the BR-80 had also brought with me on headphones.

I assumed it might have been local interference, but when I brought it home I tried using it there and it was just as bad (other bluetooth streaming works fine).

At home I plugged the TT into the amp/speakers on an old Clavinova we have. I had used that for other amp modelling systems, which had sounded pretty good with it.

It sounded OK, but not really that great, especially with higher gain sounds. The app allowed you a lot of flexibility in tweaking the tone by adding effects and different amp models, messing with the parameters, changing the order of effects and so on, but I really wasn’t that impressed with the sound. Also a lot of the cloud based tones were downright dreadful, and the factory supplied ones were typically OTT. And I found the app a faff to use (partly because of the flaky BT connectivity).

I just felt it was a great idea, but poorly executed. I ended up not using it and part exchanging it a few years later with a bunch of other kit.

Laney Tommy Iommi TI15-112 tube amp

I got this as part of the bundle of stuff I purchased from Anita. I was quite keen to try it out as, although I already had a valve amp, I thought another which was voiced differently might be useful. However, I was also wondering if I really would use it but, as Anita was happy to me to re-home anything I didn’t use, I decided to give it a try.

It was a great little (actually, not so little) amp if you like hard rock or metal. It’s quite dark sounding and has no clean at all: even if you turn the gain all the way down you got quite a heavy, snarling crunch tone. On top of that it also had an onboard boost which could be foot-switch activated. Basically, it was high-gain, or higher-gain. For the right sort of song, it sounded great. It was also very loud even in 1W mode.

I lived with it for about a year before I decided that it really wasn’t for me. I was making an effort to use it when I could but it really was limited in what I could use it for as I really don’t play that much high-gain stuff, and the lack of anything resembling a clean or even a crunch tone made it useless for 90% of the stuff I was playing. And I worked out that if I needed that I could stick a distortion pedal/setting on one of my other amps. It was also taking up a fair bit of space as I didn’t have anywhere useful to put it. So I sold this on Gumtree. They guy I sold it to was very keen and, I got the impression, was a Black Sabbath fan, so I imagine he is enjoying it.

Some other stuff I used to have

Digitech RP250

I got this for a Birthday present a year or so after I got my first electric guitar. It was the first proper modelling system I used. I loved this little thing and I used it all the time, either plugged into an amp, or into the Clavinova amp/speakers or, mainly, with headphones. It had a tuner, and drum machine, which was much more fun than a metronome, and several of the stock patches were pretty good. I got quite good at dialing in effects and tones using the PC based application as well as the knobs and buttons on the front of the unit itself. I actually thought the user-interface was quite good. As for most of these systems, the stock patches are mostly awful, but if you spend some time learning to use it, there’s some great tones to be had.

I eventually replaced this with a RP355, as I wanted the extra foot-switch and the looper.

Boss GT-3

This was a beast of a floorboad multi-fx unit that my Brother-in-law bought off eBay when he lived with me, and then hardly used. When he left for Malaysia he sad I could keep it.

It was actually very good quality multi-fx system and, like a lot of Boss stuff, built like a tank. Some of the tones from it were really good, but the user interface was really difficult to use. I used to drag it out and have a play every now and then, but I never really used it that much. It didn’t really have any sort of sentimental value so I didn’t mind getting rid of it. I eventually traded it in along with the Amplifi and my old RP250.



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Current Amps

Roland Cube 20X

My Brother-in-law bought this at the same time as he purchased the Tele, and said I was welcome to use it. Like his other guitar gear, he said I could keep it when he moved to Malaysia.

For quite a while I was very unimpressed with this thing. I could never get a good sound from it on any of the gain settings. It wasn’t until a few years later it was that i realized that was my beginner playing at fault and, after I had learned to play better, I could make it sound pretty good. Having said that, the gain settings aren’t amazing and, because it’s quite a small unit, it has quite a “boxy” sound. But it goes plenty loud for a practice amp, and it’s built to withstand the apocalypse!

I keep thinking I should sell this as I hardly use it any more. But it’s really a nice little amp and it’s not really taking any any space at the moment. I actually love the “JC Clean” setting on it. I mainly have used it for summer weekend or evening noodles whilst sitting in the conservatory (I really should do more of that). It’s also been really useful for local events: I lent it to the guitar player in the live band we had supporting our local village Panto production a few years ago, and it easily kept up with the rest of the band.

Now I have the Yahama THR10II I may consider selling it on, but I’m in no hurry.




Tascam MP-GT1 Guitar Trainer

A special shout-out for this little thing. I’ve not used it in years and I tried to sell it a few years ago and noone was interested, so it got thrown into a drawer and forgotten about. Frankly, it’s mostly obsolete. But for a few years this was my go-to guitar teaching tool.

It’s about the size of an old-school tape Walkman (I’m struggling to think of anything modern that is that size and shape). It had a simple LCD display, a belt clip, a rechargeable battery, and an on-board memory that you accessed by connecting it via USB to a computer (which would also recharge the battery).

Basically, it was an MP3 player and phrase trainer. You loaded MP3s into it and could play them. But you could also slow them down, pitch shift them, and do A-B section looping. It also had a tuner and a metronome. It had about 1Gb of memory for songs which was enough for more than a hundred or songs or backing tracks.

What is more is you could plug your electric guitar into it and it had onboard amp emulation with some effects including overdrives, distortions, modulations, etc. The amp emulation and effects weren’t fantastic, but they were good enough.

I spent many a happy hour wandering around our conservatory with headphones and my PRS plugged into this little thing trying to learn songs or licks.

After posting about this on the old forum and saying I was probably going to recycle it, glpguitar (Luka) said he was interested in it. The rechargeable battery in it was dead, so I gave it to him. He got a new battery and it now has a new lease of life.



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Marshall MS-2

We picked this up from the guitar shop for fun when I went with my Brother-in-law to buy his Fender Tele. We had low expectations of it, and they were met. It really is a toy and pretty useless other than as a portable headphone unit (and I think there are better options for that, like my Tascam unit above).

Frankly, I use it as an ornament.



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Boss JS-8 eBand

This isn’t a conventional amp, although it can function as one. It’s basically designed as an all-in-one practice tool. And it’s probably the “amplifier” I have used more than any of my other amps over the last several years.

Firstly, although it has speakers, the speakers in it are rubbish. But I primarily use it on headphones so as to not annoy the family. The next generation version of this, the JS-10, has much better speakers and a better audio engine in general and I have considered upgrading a few times, but couldn’t justify it.

It’s basically an MP3 player that you can connect a guitar into and play along. In may respects it’s similar to the Tascam MP-GT1 unit I used to use, but in a table-top form and with better facilities and better sound. It has a full suite of guitar amp modelling and effects onboard which can be saved into patches. One of the useful capabilities is to link patches to songs so that when you select a song you get up to two associated patches automatic dialled in for you.

You can, of course, just use it as a headphone amp (or a desktop amp through the dreadful little speakers (or line out into something better). Or you could use it just as an MP3 player and play music on it.

The MP3 player supports a range of capabilities for A-B looping, slowing down, etc. songs and it comes with a bunch of pre-recorded drum beat and backing track loops in a range of styles. You can even record directly to it, or plug it into a computer and use as an audio interface to record into a DAW.

It also has a metronome, tuner, and an AUX input. You can connect a footswitch to it for various functions including using it as a basic looper.

Oh, and it works with Bass, and has Bass amp presets too.

It’s not the easiest user interface in the world, and there are no modern capabilities like Bluetooth or smartphone app support. Transferring songs on and off it is via USB or a SD memory card and a special app on the computer. But, in some ways, I think it’s better for it (for me, at least); there’s no distractions and no reaching for a phone and messing with screen timeouts and unlocking, Bluetooth connections, battery charge, etc… I have it loaded with a bunch of backing tracks for stuff I’m learning or which came with music books.

I’ve used a few more modern tools which operate using a smartphone and I’ve not enjoyed the experience. One of those is the much-hyped Positive Grid Spark amp which I will discuss in a later post, but I’ve largely gone back to the JS-8 because I find it easier and more satisfying to use for most of my practice.



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Vox Pathfinder 15R

I’ve had this little amp for several years. I picked it up from the guitar teacher I was using at the time for a bargain price. It was taking up space at his house he wanted to use for other things, and I had done him a couple of favours so he offered it to me. At the price it was a steal and, for a while this was the amp I used in my office.

It’s a lovely little amp but it’s a little difficult to control. It’s quite easy to get a clean tone on it and it goes into overdrive quite well using the gain control, but it quickly gets loud. There’s also a boost control on it but, in my view, it’s too aggressive. Part of the problem is it’s difficult to balance the volume between clean and overdriven sounds as it starts getting so much louder as soon as it starts breaking up. I’ve not really tried it with a overdrive pedal, but that might work better as the break-up is happening in the pedal rather than in the amp.

But the tones you get when you dial it in are pretty good for a solid state amp. The reverb on it is decent and it has a vibrato, although I’m not really keen on vibrato as an effect (in general). It looks pretty good too, although mine really needs a good clean up.

Since I got the my Katana which has become my office amp, this has mostly sat in the cupboard unused and getting dusty although I have now put it in the conservatory and may try to use it a bit more. I’m loathed to get rid of it because it’s such a nice little amp and really isn’t taking up too much space.



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Bugera G5 Infinium Head and Harley Benton 1x12 Cabinet with Celestion Vintage 30

I got these several years ago as, until that point, I only had small solid-state/modlling amps, and I fancied getting a valve amp. I wanted something with an FX loop, and I liked the idea of a separate head and cabinet. After a fair bit of research I went with this pairing.

The amp is 5 W but, as a valve amp it goes pretty loud. Luckily it also has an attenuator so it can be used at more family-friendly volumes. The amp has an ECC83 in the preamp and a 12BH7 in the power amp. It has a clean and an overdrive channel which are foot switchable with the supplied footswitch, as is the built-in reverb.

I’m currently using the stock valves. I did try swapping the ECC83 in the preamp for a JJ replacement as this was recommended by some, but I was underwhelmed and swapped it back.

The cabinet is an absolute bargain given it actually cost me less than if I had purchased the speaker separately. It’s probably not the best made or prettiest cabinet in the world, but it’s good enough for my purposes.

The combination gives me a wide range of clean, bluesy and rock tones. The clean channel doesn’t have as much character as, say, a Fender but it takes pedals well and, with a bit of boost in the front, overdrives nicely.

The overdrive channel also has a “morph” control which is supposed to allow you to vary the tone between “US” and “UK”. To my ears the difference is not that great, but it does affect the mid-range somewhat. It’s not something I really find to be that useful. This isn’t a high-gain amp so it benefits from an external pedal pushing it. The FX loop would also support using an external pre-amp pedal, which I may try at some point.

Most of the time, at the moment, I’ve found it most useful to stick with the clean channel and use pedals in the front end to push into overdrive, or to create distortion.

One of the things which annoys me slightly is that it defaults to the reverb being on when powered up. The on-board reverb is pretty good, but I don’t always want it, or I want to use an external reverb. Recently I have disconnected the foot-switch and turned the reverb level down to zero and am experimenting with controlling gain and reverb with external pedals.

I’ve not really used this as much as I should recently: I have too many other options distracting me, and I do most of my practice on other amps at the moment. But I do enjoy it a lot when I do use it.



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Orange Micro Terror (and cab)

I’ve had the amp head for a while; it was part of the stash of equipment I purchased from my friend Anita. I purchased the cabinet new quite recently because I decided it was about time I used this little thing more.

When I first got it I tried it out plugging it into my Harley Benton 1x12. It was good, but it wasn’t convenient to keep swapping the cabinet between this and the Bugera G5, and it wasn’t compelling enough for me to use it that much, so it’s mostly sat on the side in it’s box.

About 18 months ago I lent it to a friend at a local jam group I attended, and he was very tempted to buy it off me, but eventually he decided he didn’t need it and gave it back. I could probably sell it, but I’m not desperate for the relatively small amount of money I would get for it and could do without the hassle of dealing with selling it, so I’ve decided to keep it for now.

Rather than have it sitting on the side in a box I decided, on a whim, to get the matching cabinet for it so I could leave it permanently set up. I have already been using it a lot more. It has quite a “spanky” clean tone with loads of mid-range character and some breakup, especially when I use it with my Fender Tele. And it dirties up nicely with a boost or overdrive in front of it.

It only has one channel, and not much in the way of controls (gain, tone, and volume), but the controls that are there work really well. And with the FX unit I’m using in front of it, it’s ideal. In some ways more so than my Bugera. It also has a headphone output and an aux input which I will probably never use.

The matching cabinet is (as you might expect from an 8in speaker) a little “boxy” and relatively quiet, but for home use that’s a really good thing, and it hardly takes up any space on the side. It also allows you to crank the amp a little without it getting ear-splitingly loud (this little thing is 20W) which means you can get some nice pre-amp tones from the 12AX7.

Plugging it into the HB 1x12 cabinet gives it a much louder voice if I ever need that.

The one small issue I have with this is amp that it is so small and light that it’s easy to knock over, especially with the guitar cable plugged into it; slightly too much movement on the cable and the amp can go flying. As you can see from the photo, a solution to that is to pass the guitar cable underneath the head and down the back. It makes it look neater too.



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Markbass CMD JB Players School bass combo

This is my bass amp. It was part of the package of equipment I bought from my friend Anita and it was one of the things that, along with the bass, first interested me when she mentioned she was having a clear out.

And it is totally ridiculous!

It’s big, it’s quite heavy, it’s loud, and it’s covered in carpet (well, a sort of thin, carpet-like material). It is a large cube that’s big enough to sit on and which has the controls on the top. It’s far too loud for home use: I can barely get the master volume knob past 1 before it starts rattling the walls and getting complaints from the family, and it doesn’t have a headphone socket.

I don’t use it that much (usually when the family are out) but when I do I love it. It has a great, full and punchy tone even at low volume.

When I first started playing bass, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it so, along with my tatty £40 second-hand bass, I got a cheap 25W practice amp which was OK at the time, but not that great.

By the time Anita contacted me about selling her gear, I was thinking about getting a better amp anyway. My first concern with the Markbass was that it was far too big, and I didn’t have anywhere to put it. But I thought about it and moved a few things around, and now it sits in the corner next to my coffee table, which would otherwise be a bit of a dead space.

It’s a 250W amp with a 15in speaker, so it can get pretty low and loud.



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Positive Grid Spark 40

So I got one of these things. I ordered it back in March 2020 when they first started advertising them as it looked quite good and I thought it would be useful as a portable practice amp. I didn’t actually get it delivered until mid September.

It’s OK, but I’m not overly impressed. The sounds you can get from it are pretty good quality, and it supports bass and acoustic guitar as well, which is a bonus. I think it’s a bit bass heavy on the guitar sounds but, conversely, when you use it with bass guitar the small speakers seem to struggle quite a bit. Acoustic guitar through it sounds very good to my ears.

The amp models are pretty good, but there’s limited options on the effects and no ability to alter the chain which is stuck at:

noise gate → drive → amp → modulation → delay → reverb

That’s a good thing in some respects, as there’s less to have to mess with, but it does feel a bit limiting compared with other options. There’s no specific speaker cab emulation that is selectable/tweakable.

Mains hum is a BIG issue for some people because the power supply they ship it with is ungrounded. Replacing it with a grounded PSU fixes it, but they should have shipped it with one to start with. I have a bit of hum, especially when connected to a laptop via USB. Unplugging the laptop PSU helps a bit. I’ve been meaning to dig a grounded PSU out of my garage to try it.

The big hype around this amp seems to be the software. I should point out this is all app based and actually nothing to do with the amp itself (other than that it only works with the Spark).

The software basically allows you to stream backing tracks from YouTube, Apple Music or Spotify to the amp and play along with them. I can do that with any bluetooth enabled amp (or, in fact, a non BT enabled amp and a nearby Bluetooth speaker or a £20 Bluetooth audio streamer like the Blackstar Tone Link). Even the metronome is basically part of the app, streamed to the speaker via bluetooth.

Where the Spark software is different is that the app has the ability to analyse songs from Youtube, Apple Music, or Spotify, and put up a chord chart for it. That’s fairly clever. Personally I don’t find it that useful (especially as many Youtube backing tracks already print up chord charts) and it’s not particularly accurate with more complex chords.

The other thing it does is the “Smart Jam” which lets you pick a drummer and play along. The clever(ish) part is that the app will listen to a chord sequence you strum and will then build a simple backing track for it. In that respect it’s similar to the Digitech Trio. However, the Trio has more drum options, variations, more control over the resulting track and is generally much better in every respect.

Personally I found it a bit limited and uninspiring… Hopefully they will update the app to improve on this. But, as I said, it’s all app based so I could forsee other vendors launching their own app which did something similar.

You can download tones that other people have created from a cloud based service. But the interface for this is dreadful, and there are hundreds of the same patch polluting the catalog, where new users have accidentally uploaded the factory patches to the cloud. There’s also lots of similarly named patches. I hope they can improve on this substantially.

You can use it as a USB recording interface. It is supposed to be stereo, but this only seems to work on Windows computers with their special drivers. For me it just come out as mono. That’s not really an issue for me as if I was recording I would apply stereo panning in my DAW. And I don’t think there are any onboard effects which are specifically stereo anyway. The biggest issue I have with USB recording is the mains hum, which might be the ropey power supply.

Physically it’s pretty small, but quite heavy even though the power supply is separate. The carrying strap is quite nicely arranged but, at the same time it seems a bit basic. The construction is OK, but not as good as something like the Katana or Yamaha THRs.

I got the package with the case. The case arrived 6 months after the amp.

I do use this a fair bit at the moment because it’s a novelty, and I’m trying to get to know it. I mostly use it on bass as I can run it at a manageable volume, unlike my Markbass amp. I’ve used it with my electrics and my acoustic a bit as well, although I’m tending back towards my other amps for electric. The main reason I’m using is, frankly, convenience because it’s currently located where I play guitar the most, and because it supports Bluetooth, so I can stream music or audio from other apps (like Loopz, JG Time Trainer, Music Speed Changer, Youtube, etc.) to it.

At this point I’m really not using most of the app based facilities. I have better music players including the Youtube app itself.

Would I recommend it? Yes and no. For the price it’s a fairly good deal as a practice amp and the quality of the tones and the versatility are pretty good for a package that size. I think they have messed up on the power supply, although I have heard reports they have fixed that in later shipments.

Some users, who don’t have other tools, might find the app facilities to be useful. I found them to be gimmicky and poorly implemented, and I found the user interface to be clunky in some places and dreadful in others. Things like the app not working in Landscape mode on an Android tablet (now fixed) were annoying.

Does it live up to the hype on Youtube: absolutely not!

Are there better options for the price? Hell, yes. For most people, a Katana 50 is a much better amp in almost every way: it sounds better, it has more effects and more flexibility in how you can use them and, unlike the Spark, you can use it as a low-volume practice amp at home, and also for band rehearsals or even gigging

I’ll probably hang onto this amp for now, as I am using it and it does suit me as a bass practice amp, and it doesn’t take up much space.

By the way, since originally posting this, the Spark has had a couple of updates.

One of them was to add some more amp models and effects, one being an EQ. The Spark is famous for being too bassy, and not necessarily in a good way. Now that it has an EQ option, it is possible to correct that a bit.

A lot of people online are saying “it’s got an EQ now so that’s not a problem any more”.

Well, i disagree. The EQ takes up the MOD pedal slot, which means you can’t have any other MOD pedal, like tremolo, or chorus, at the same time as fixing the problems with how it sounds. It’s not a great solution. Compare this with something like the Katana which has s a powerful global EQ which doesn’t use up an effect slot.

The other upgrade is the Jimi Hendrix pack which includes a bunch of additional amp and effects models based on well-known Hendrix tones. This is a paid upgrade, but it’s actually a very good one IMO, and there’s some great sounding stuff in there. There’s also a bunch of additional Hendrix-oriented fluff in the app if you are into that sort of thing (I’m not), and some links to some Hendrix Youtube videos, backing tracks and predefined patches for specific songs (which they, grandiosely, refer to as “Auto Tone”.

They’ve also just bought out a Bluetooth pedal controller which can be used to select patches and control individual effects amongst other things (like starting and stopping Youtube backing track videos). It looks interesting and it’s not too expensive, so I might get it at some point.




Boss Katana 100 mkI

I bought this a few years ago to put in my home office so I could do some more practice more during the day.

I work from home most of the time and the music room where I normally keep my guitars isn’t that far away, but I like to keep a guitar near at hand so I can pick it up and strum or noodle when I’m on a long conference call, or when I need a break. It’s also good to have something I can turn up loud without disturbing the family too much, and the music room is right next to the living room, so I can’t do that there.

I part exchanged a bunch of older kit at Andertons (about a 45 minute drive from me) to get the Katana. I chose the 100 model because it had an effects loop and I wanted to experiment with looping, partly as I had a Boss RC-3 looper already and I wanted to use that for my own loops, as well as for backing tracks and the onboard drum beats. I got the GC-FC footswitch with it.

This is a great amp, and I really should spend more time with it. Not only does it sound great, but it’s got a host of great sounding effects which can be combined in flexible ways. It’s a very versatile amp.

One of the things I like about it is, although it does use modelling technology, it’s not trying to pretend to sound like other amps. It’s trying to sound like itself. It also is easy to use if you just want to twiddle a few knobs on the top panel, but has a powerful editor if you want to deep-dive.

A while ago I lent the Katana to a friend who is a professional musician, and he has used it with his band when his normal 100W Marshall valve amp stopped working and was in for repair. He really liked it and was seriously considering getting one for some gigs as it was so much lighter than his Marshall.

For a while I did actually consider whether I need this amp any more. I did love the onboard effects and playing with the patches, and it sounds great when set up properly, even at low volumes. But I do have too many amps and, frankly, although it’s far simpler to use than most modelling amps I’ve seem, in practice I find myself only using a handful of tones and the effort to mess around with tone editing and level matching to build a patch set is something I find myself less and less interested in.

It was also a bit far away from my PC to conveniently connect it for patch editing using the Boss Tone Studio.

Recently, though, I have re-positioned some stuff in my office and now have a laptop stand next to the Katana if I need it, and I’m using it a bit more. I have, occasionally, wondered if I should upgrade to the MkII, or may even get a MkII head to use with my 1x12 cabinet.

Last year I worked with one of the Linux kernel developers on trying to squash some bugs in one of the Linux sound drivers, and we managed to get the code updated and tested against a bunch of Boss/Roland devices, so now the Katana is supported in Linux out of the box.




Yamaha THR10ii Wireless

I picked this up in a small music store “Sound Alchemy” in Singapore whilst I was over there. In Singapore, the main place to go for musical instruments is the basement floor of Peninsula Shopping Centre which is near to St. Andrews Cathedral.

As an aside: I was hoping to get to ring the bells at St. Andrews whilst I was there. St. Andrews is famous in bell-ringing circles for being one of the few working bell towers in this part of the world, and because it very recently had a brand-new set of bells installed which, by many accounts, sound and feel great. Unfortunately Covid happened, and bell-ringing was one of the first casualties of the restrictions.

I had been considering getting one of these amps previously when I was in Tokyo and was visiting guitar stores in Ochanomizu and Shinjuku but, at the time, none of the stores had the new mkII model.

It’s a fairly basic practice amp, but it also works fantastically as a Bluetooth speaker and, in both modes, it was a bit of a lifesaver (or, at least, sanity saver) whilst I was stuck in my small apartment in Singapore. It was perfect for that environment because it’s possible to use at low volumes or with headphones and it can play backing tracks from a phone or PC.

It doesn’t have the biggest selection of amp models in the world, but that suits me: personally I just want to dial in a quick and appropriate sound for the thing I’m playing. I don’t really care that much if it’s an accurate representation of a specific amp.

I’ve been through the stage of systems that model dozens of well-known amps and of trying to match them to the song I’m learning and I’ve realized that is a bit of a fools errand. Unless you are specifically trying to re-create a “sound-alike” recording, there really isn’t much point in trying to match the tone on a given track. Even the artists themselves generally don’t do that. IMO if (as a learner) you are always obsessing about the nuances of an amp model, then you are focusing your mental energy on the wrong thing. Such things are a distraction from learning and playing the guitar.

Of course you want to have appropriate tones and, as a general rule, the THR10II has them. It supports acoustic, electric, and bass guitars as well as a “clean” setting that can be used with keyboards or other instruments. For electric guitars it has clean, crunch, lead, high-gain and “special” (extra high-gain).

The previous THR models came in different physical versions with the “classic” models, but a separate “boutique” and “modern” models sold separately. The THR mkII has all of these combined into a single unit, so for each of the settings you have a choice of amp variants. On the THR30 you can select between these variants on the top panel. On the THR5 and THR10 you have to use the app. The app also lets you tune the tone by setting the amp parameters and the cabinet modelling used, as well as giving you finer control over the effects parameters.

The audio from the THR10II is pretty good for its size. You won’t be gigging or even rehearsing with this thing any time soon, but it’s perfect for bedroom practice. It lacks a little on the lower bass frequencies, especially when using it with a bass, but it’s still good for practice purpose and the sound is always well balanced.

Compared to the Spark 40 amp, I think overall the THR is better. The Spark has better lower bass reproduction (probably due to it’s bigger physical size) but always sounds a bit unbalanced and, sometimes, the bass can sound a bit “processed”. In fact, one of the main criticisms of the Spark is that it’s too “boomy”. There’s none of that with the THR.

The construction of the THR series is rock solid, and it also looks great too with it’s looks suiting something which is as much a Bluetooth speaker as a guitar amp. It wouldn’t look out of place on the side in most living rooms. When powered on the THR has a nice amber “tube” glow, thanks to a couple of internal LEDs. When I returned from Singapore, I carried this thing as hand luggage with no problems.

I got the wireless version as I see opportunities to use this in the garden in the future. In fact I briefly used it when we had a fire-pit evening a couple of months ago. The battery seems to last for 5 hours or so in use.

It can also support a Line 6 wireless transmitter (at additional cost). This plugs into the top and charges from the THR, so when you want to use it you just unplug it from the THR and plug it into your guitar. I didn’t have this in SG, but I picked up one recently in the UK. It’s a bit of a gimmick in some respects, but there’s situations where I can see it being quite useful, like the garden situation where passing a guitar around people sitting around a fire-pit could be tricky when there’s a cable involved. Also, because the amp is physically quite small, with the cable there’s always the danger of accidentally pulling the unit over, which wouldn’t be good if it’s on a high shelf.

I’m not using this amp that much at the moment because I don’t need to but I can see myself using it quite a bit on occasions in the future, whether that is in the garden, going to friends or family (when we are allowed) or future business travel.