Majik's Learning Log

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.




Blackstar Fly 3 Bass

picked this up a few years ago as we were going to a festival called “Tribe Of Doris” with some friends. This is a quirky affair held in the grounds of Stamford Hall in Leicestershire over several days in Summer.

It basically comprises a bunch of workshops in music, dance, arts and crafts as well as food and drink stands (including a rum shack), live music events, and stalls selling interesting and unusual items. The workshops include gong baths, drum circles, hand pan lessons, flamenco dance, folk and sea shanty singing, and many others. The attendees camp in the grounds and it is generally a very chilled out and reinvigorating experience.

I had recently started playing the bass, and I noticed there was a bass guitar workshop being run, so I picked up the Blackstar so I could take it, and my bass guitar, with me. It was small, battery powered, and could also be used as a stereo Bluetooth speaker so, whilst I wasn’t using it for guitar, we could use it for background music. It comprises a main amp unit with an optional speaker extension to make it stereo if you want.

For such a small thing, it’s really quite impressive how good it sounds. Obviously it’s not going to get much above “bedroom practice” volumes, but that was all I needed. The workshop teacher, an interesting reggae musician called Reuben Moses, was impressed with it and it worked very well for the lessons (mostly in a large tent) and for practising back in our own tent.

Since I picked up the THR10II earlier this year, which also works with bass pretty well, I don’t really need the Blackstar any more. I’ve been meaning to sell this, but I just haven’t got around to it.



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Roland V-Studio 20

I mentioned Linux Kernel patches in my Katana post. This is one of the early devices that got me into testing ALSA driver patches. I picked this up cheap from the local Dawsons as it was a display model and end-of-stock. It intrigued me because it wasn’t just a desktop multi-fx device, but also a control surface. I also wanted to test some recent ALSA patches.

This is quite a nice unit because it has built-in stereo mics as well as an XLR input for an external mic (with phantom power) as well as a guitar input. Despite its looks, it’s not a mixer and you can only use one input at a time.

It’s powered by the USB connection to the PC, which also provides the audio and MIDI interface. It has audio outputs which I used to connect to a mixer, and also a headphone socket.

The onboard guitar effects are based on (I believe) the Boss GT-10 engine which is old by current modelling standards, but is actually pretty good. The unit also has some vocal effects, including pitch correction and chorus, and some bass amp modelling. So all in all it’s a pretty versatile little unit.

The sliders and buttons on top are a control surface. For those that don’t know what that is, it means they are MIDI controllers which are designed to communicate with and control a DAW. So, for instance, there is a set of “transport” buttons on the front edge which can be used to trigger play, record, fast-forward, rewind, etc. on your DAW. The faders can be mapped to individual channel faders on your DAW mixing view.

The idea is it gives you dedicated hard buttons for commonly used functions on your DAW. I contributed the MIDI mapping I created to the Ardour project.

Another really nice feature at the time, that I hadn’t seen on many other similar units (other than the Boss JS-8), was the ability to “re-amp”. That means you can record the “dry” guitar with no effects or amp modelling into your DAW, and then replay it back to the unit via the modelling and effects. This lets you test different amp models and effects, and different settings, on the same recorded guitar (or vocal). After “re-amping” the recording, you can the record the result.

The effects, and the routing to and from the computer, were controlled using a quite nice little application that would run under Linux using WINE.

You could also connect a foot switch or expression pedal.

I haven’t used this device in ages but I don’t see any point in getting rid of it at the moment, partly as I can’t see anyone would want it these days. Support for it on Windows or Mac stopped a few years ago, so only Linux users can still use it.



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Boss GT-001

This is, in some ways, a more modern version of the V-Studio 20 (VS-20).

Like the VS-20, this is a desktop multifx/modelling unit. In this case it contains the modelling technology used in the Boss GT100v2 floor unit, which is much more modern and, until the fairly recent GT-1000 launch, was Boss’s flagship modelling technology.

It has a huge range of models and effects compared to the VS-20 and, unlike the VS-20, you can create effects chains where you can put the effects in just about any order. You can also run two amp models at a time on each patch and either switch between them or blend them together. You can also have different effects in each chain.

It’s controlled using a version of Boss Tone Studio which will be familiar to anyone who has a Boss Katana:

Boss Tone Studo does work on Linux under WINE but, unfortunately, it only works in offline mode; it won’t directly control the GT-001. This is because it will not connect to the GT-001 until it’s done a handshake with it to test the audio driver and, until recently, the GT-001 didn’t work as an audio device on Linux at all (the same applies to Boss Tone Studio for Katana). However, with the patches I helped with, it now does so I may experiment with trying to get it fully working at some point.

Like the VS-20, the GT-001 also has a switchable mic input with phantom power, and includes some vocal effects. It’s powered off the USB, but can also have a separate PSU connected so it can be used without a computer. It can have a footswitch or expression pedal connected, and has a mode where it can be used as a basic control surface, although it lacks the physical faders of the VS-20.

It can also be used for re-amping (as can the Katana).

An interesting capability is a guitar-to-MIDI setting which converts notes played on the guitar to MIDI notes to control a synthesizer. I have experimented with this with variable results. It can, sort of, work with strummed chords, but it mainly works with single notes, and doesn’t handle slides or bends. To me it’s a fun thing to experiment with, but not particularly practical.

All in all this is a really powerful, portable, and great sounding, little desktop guitar recording device, that can also be used as a standalone practice tool with headphones (or to a mixer/PA).

When I went to Tokyo to work in 2019/2020 I took this, along with my Tele, for the last few months I was there.



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Boss BR-80

Now this is a fun little device:

This is what I got as a replacement to the old Tascam MP-GT1 guitar trainer I used to use.

In fact, I replaced the Tascam, initially, with a Boss Micro-BR which was the first version Boss made, but then upgraded to the BR-80.

The BR-80 does a lot. It’s:

  • a field recorder with built-in stereo microphones
  • a MP3 guitar trainer with A-B looping, slow-down, and guitar cancel capabilities
  • a portable guitar amp simulator and effects processor, based on the GT-10 engine
  • a portal vocal recording and effects processor using either the internal or external mics
  • a portal multi-track recording, editing, and mixing system with mastering capabilities
  • a drum sequencer with MIDI triggerable drum sounds, so it can be used as a drum synth
  • a USB audio interface

It also has a built in metronome and tuner, and a bunch of supplied “micro tracks” backing tracks.

I bought this primarily because I was doing a lot of travelling and spending most of the week staying in hotels near my clients, and thought it would be useful to take along with a guitar to give me something to do in the evenings. I also took it with me when I went to work in Kuala Lumpur for 4 months several years ago. I didn’t take a guitar with me, but bought a cheap electro-acoustic at a local KL music shop, and used the BR-80 with it.

I’ve also used it as a field recorder for all sorts of things, including helping me, and others, to learn lines on the odd occasion I’ve done some local am-dram: stick the recorder in the middle of the group when doing a read-through, and then send a copy to everyone to listen to whenever they want. I’ve also used it to capture the sound of our local church bells, which I then created a “soundfont” (synth plugin) for, and have recorded some of our handbell practices with it.

I’ve not really used the multi-track capabilities of it that much. I did a bit whilst in Malaysia, but layering, editing, and mixing on the tiny display and with limited controls is quite painful. You can program in your own drum sequences as part of that but, again, it’s pretty painful to do it.

These days, you could do the multi-tracking and sequencing a lot easier on a smartphone or tablet.

The jog dial on this unit is getting a bit sticky and I probably need to take it apart and clean it. Other that that, it works fine and as a guitar trainer/portable amp unit, it’s great.



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Roland Studio Canvas SD-50

This is a bit of an unusual one.

The story behind this is that a friend of mine has a covers band. I often used help them with their sound and lights, and he would always ask me for gear recommendations. Several years ago, their keyboard player had a reasonable keyboard synth, but it didn’t really have a couple of sounds they needed. In particular, they were after something which gave them the synth sound from Van Halen’s “Jump”.

I did a bit of research and recommended this synth module: it could plug into his existing keyboard via MIDI, it had a pretty good Jump synth sound, as well as a range of decent electric piano sounds that they liked, and a second-hand one could be bought reasonably cheaply off eBay.

So they bought it and used it for a few years until the keyboard player left the band. They got a new keyboard player and he had a newer keyboard that had all the sounds they need so it got stuck in a cupboard.

A few years later when he was clearing out his cupboard, my friend found this and asked me if I wanted it, for free. He couldn’t be bothered to eBay it, and he thought I would have some fun with it.

So that’s how I ended up with it.

It’s basically a MIDI GS Synth module, but it also has a bunch of other goodies in it too. For instance, you can plug a USB stick containing MIDI tracks into it and play them. You could use this, for instance, for backing tracks (although, being MIDI backing tracks, they might be a bit cheesy).

It’s USB powered, but can also run off batteries or a power supply so you can use it independently of a computer as a synth module connected to a MIDI keyboard.

If you do connect it to a computer, it supports USB MIDI both as a MIDI synth, and as a MIDI I/O device, so you can use it as a MIDI interface for your computer. It also has an audio capture input that is switchable between mic or instrument, so you can use it as an audio interface. It has a Hi-Z setting so you can jack a guitar directly into it, and I have done this in the past. It doesn’t have any amp emulation so you need to do that in software.

It’s quite old in terms of synthesizer technology and it doesn’t have any patch editing capability other than basic add-on effects like chorus and reverb. These days, for many of the patches you are better off using software synths or samplers, but it does have some great sounds; the piano and drum patches are very good, coming from the Roland digital piano and vDrum series.

If anyone is interested, here’s a Youtube video of someone exploring some of the sounds:

I really don’t use it much because, as I say, it’s usually more convenient and often better to just use software synth plugins these days, but I do occasionally have a play with it or find a use for it. One of the more interesting capabilities it has is that the output from the synth can be configured to appear on the USB bus as an audio input. That means you can play a MIDI track to it and capture the resulting audio output directly just using a USB cable. Not that many modern synths do that.



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This is the pedalboard I use with my Katana amp:

It’s basically a tuner, a looper (actually a Digitech Trio+ which is a lot more than a looper) and an expression pedal. There’s also a wireless receiver. This is built on a Temple Audio pedal board with a Pedal Power Digital power supply mounted underneath.

I recently added an additional foot switch controller for the Trio+, from Bright Onion pedals.

And, in front, you can ss the GA-FX controller for the Katana, which the expression pedal is connected to.



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Harley Benton GS-Travel-E Mahogany

A few years ago, I bought one of these (the model without the pickups) for a camping trip. I had it for a couple of months and then gave it to my daughter, as I thought it would be ideal for her to learn on. It looks like I may be going camping again this year and I thought it would be good to replace it, as well as to have a “beater” guitar I can use in the garden, etc.

As I now have my Yamaha THRII 10 amp with wireless, I decided to get the one with the onboard pickups, as it wasn’t much more money.

For the money, I think these things are amazing. The action on it is pretty good, especially around the nut where cheap acoustics are often difficult to play, and the tone is quite nice. It’s all laminate, of course, but that means it’s resilient (and similar guitars costing more than 5 times the price are also laminate). The pick guard is a nit naff: it’s just a plastic sticker, and it’s bubbled a bit recently from spending too long in a hot car.

The shorter scale length takes a little getting used to, but not too much. The distance between the strings is also a bit narrower than it is on most full-sized acoustic guitars, but is still playable. Some people may struggle with this but I found it to be OK.

The action near the 12th fret is a little high, and I may need to tweak the truss rod, as I sometimes found getting partial barres to ring out was tricky.

The onboard pickup seems good enough, and the onboard chromatic tuner is the best I’ve seen on an electro-acoustic:

One small warning: the pickups may not work with some wireless systems because it is, effectively an active pickup and these sometimes have the polarity reversed. It doesn’t work, for instance, with the Line6 G10T transmitter, but it will with the newer G10TII.

It comes with a gig-bag which isn’t particularly rugged, but will do for carrying it and keeping it clean and preventing small knocks when carrying it.



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Ardour v6

Some software stuff: this is mainly what I use as a DAW (this and Harrison Mixbus which I picked up at a very good price).

In some ways, this as much of my toolkit as a guitar or amp. In fact my use of Ardour pre-dates my first electric guitar or amp. Some screen shots…

Mixing view:

Track editing view

A video project

(The last is a screen shot from the project I used for my Both Sides Now video previously in this thread).

Ardour (as in “our DAW”) is an open-source DAW that was originally developed on Linux but has, more recently, been ported to Mac and now to Windows. It’s a “donation-ware” project in that to get a working download version you are asked to make a donation to the project. The suggested donation is $45 but you could pay as little as $1 if you like.

As it is an open-source project you can, of course, download the source code for free and compile/build it yourself, but this is beyond most people.

Ardour supports all of the conventional capabilities of a multi-track DAW including audio and MIDI tracks, busses, plugins and so on. It also supports video projects such as syncing audio soundtracks to video. It was originally built around the Linux Jack audio server which basically allows complete freedom of audio and MIDI routing between applications as well as centralised tempo, timeclock and transport controls. It was also, originally, based on the open-source plugin standards LADSPA, DSSI and LV2 although it also supports AU and VST plugins.

Compared with many DAWs I have tried, Ardour offers very flexible routing and bussing capabilities enabling you to build some quite complex setups, especially if used in conjunction with Jack and routing between it and external applications.


Ardour is in it’s 6th major version with v6.0 announced in July last year (2019). It is under continuous and active development and v6.3 was announced 3 days ago (at time of writing this post).

Because of it’s background, coming from Linux, historically Ardour didn’t ship with any plugins as most Linux distributions come with dozens of LADPA/LV2/DSSI plugins including the excellent CALF Studio gear plugins and virtual instruments like Helm, ZynAddSubFX, Fluidsynth, LinuxSampler, and DrumGizmo.

In recent years, because it’s been ported to Mac and Windows, they have started to include some plugins with the package.

In my view Ardour is a fantastic DAW and should be considered as an alternative to Reaper and others for those looking for a step up from tools like Audacity. I have only ever used it on Linux so I can’t speak for how well it works on Mac or Windows, although the main developer is a Mac user, so I suspect it would work very well in that environment.



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MixBus 32C

Mixbus is a commercial DAW from renowned mixing console maker Harrison Consoles. Harrison Consoles have been used by many iconic artists and their records over the last few decades including Queen and Michael Jackson.

Mixing view

Track edit view

Mixbus is a commercial DAW from renowned mixing console maker Harrison Consoles. Harrison Consoles have been used by many iconic artists and their records over the last few decades including Queen and Michael Jackson.

Mixbus is heavily based on the Ardour platform and Harrison are actually a major sponsor of Ardour, as well as a contributor of code and plugins to the Ardour project. Probably more than 90% of the functionality between Ardour and Mixbus is the same, as you might notice from comparing the screen shots of the two.

But there are some key differences, and it’s these that have always made me interested in Mixbus, enough that when I was presented with an offer to get Mixbus 32C for $99, I jumped at it.

Note that Mixbus is in two versions: Standard Mixbus is normally $89 and is great for most users. Mixbus 32C is the professional version which pretty much fully emulates the renowned Harrison analogue hardware console and is normally $349, so getting 32C for $99 was a bargain.

So what’s the differences?

Well, Mixbus is not only different from Ardour, but from pretty much any other mainstream DAW in one important aspect: how it sounds!

In a previous post I stated that most DAWs pretty much do the same thing, and that is true. Most DAWs are totally “transparent” and have no sound of their own. They do not colour or impact the nature or quality of the audio being mixed in any way on their own. That is, generally, by design and is a reason why digital audio recording and mixing is better than analogue audio recording and mixing. However, it’s also a reason why it’s worse…

Analogue recording and mixing systems degraded the audio and coloured the sound. A lot of this was highly undesirable. For instance: every time you “bounced” tracks from one tape to another the audio quality was impaired; every time you pass the audio signal through electronics, including the console itself, it was distorted by the circuits and the noise level increased; every time you mix or combine multiple tracks together, a “summing” function is used which adds further distortion and noise.

Digital doesn’t have these problems: you can mix and bounce tracks an unlimited number of times, route it any way you want, and perform unlimited mixes with no loss of quality. However…

In past, analogue console makers, like Harrison, took advantage of the distortions caused by the analogue electronic circuits and tuned them to make them enhance, rather than degrade, the audio as much as possible. They weren’t able to eliminate the distortion, but they could make it “musical”. The result of this is that analogue consoles “have a sound” and a Neve will impart a different sound from a Harrison, or an SSL console. Even different models of console from the same vendor would sound different from each other. Experienced producers and mixing engineers would often choose a studio to use based on the sort of sound they were after and the console that was available in that studio.

Digital mixing via DAWs doesn’t have this. DAWs do not touch the sound in any way: once the signal is in digital format it, effectively remains “intact” throughout the DAW unless the user deliberately colours it with things like EQ and compression plugins. Without this, digitally mixed music can sound harsh and sterile, and lacking the warmth and “musicality” that was often imparted by analogue consoles.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here is Grammy-winning mixing engineer Andrew Scheps on the subject ( the relevant part is at 3 mins and 21, but the whole video is worth watching):

Now, of course, we have loads of plugins available to us, many of which emulate old analogue EQs, compressors, etc. very well so we can, if we know what we are doing, get some of that character and musicality back into our mixes.

But one of the big things that most DAWs don’t do well and which is difficult to emulate with plugins is the summing function. Digital summing is absolutely precise and numerically correct, but it’s not very “musical”. What many professional producers do, to solve this, is to perform the final mix summing function in an external (aka “outbourd”) analogue summing device. They do this e converting the individual channels or busses back to separate analogue channels and pushing them into an external analogue mixer. Some of these can be very expensive.

Why Mixbus is different is that it includes an emulation of the renowned Harrison analogue console circuit on a number of its mixing busses. That means you should get all of the benefits of using an outboard analogue summing mixer without the hassle or expense.

This also points to one of the key differences between Ardour ad Mixbus: Ardour has busses and you can create any number of them as required (and you can do the same in Mixbus) but these will do digital summing. Mixbus has a set of specific analogue summing busses that create that musical, analogue sound. Mixbus 32C additionally (over Standard Mixbus) has a full emulation of the Harrison analogue console EQ circuitry, as well as additional analogue summing busses.

Mixbus also has built-in tape saturation emulation (in the screen shot, it’s the analogue-style meters in each of the mix bus strips).

So my reason for getting Mixbus over and above Ardour was to experiment with this and, hopefully, to improve some of my mixes (when I get time).



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Some stuff which isn’t really guitar related, but is musical.

2 Octave Hand bells, made by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

This is a beautiful preloved set of handbells which we picked up from a lady in South Wales just after lockdown.

During the pandemic, as we were not allowed to ring in the tower for many months, we’ve been doing some hand bell method ringing, meeting either in a function room at the local pub or, over summer, in the garden or conservatory (appropriately socially distanced).

We are also due to do some Xmas tune ringing with the local Guides later this week.




Akai MPK Mini Mk3

I got this for fun, as I wanted a cheap MIDI controller to play with. I wanted to get one of these in Singapore, but I couldn’t find anyone that would ship to me.

It’s a cool little MIDI controller for the price. The keyboard is not fantastic, but it isn’t terrible and it is velocity sensitive. The pads are really very good and responsive, and the joystick and knobs seem to work very well. Everything is assignable and tweak-able through the editor app.

And there are a few cool features like a configurable arpeggiator for the keyboard, and a note repeat for the pads.

It’s a lot of fun. I just need to work out what I’m going to do with it.




Artiphon Orba

This is a fun little thing I got as a Birthday present earlier in the year. It’s a palm sized drum-machine/synth and MIDI controller.

Standalone, it has 4 modes: Drum, Bass, Chord, and Lead. In each mode you tap the 8 pads to make a sound. You can then sequence them and build simple songs.

It has quite sophisticated touch expression controls and you can also shake it and tap the side for additional sounds, and rotate it to control modulation.

Here’s a video on it:

It also can act as an expressive MIDI controller for a MPE MIDI instrument either via cable or Bluetooth.

It’s a bit of a toy, but it’s also a lot of fun.