Here's a collection of powered guitar cabs that will help your digital rig feel more alive.
The proliferation of all-digital rigs, from arenas and stadiums to your local pub, proves that it's not a passing fad and that today's tech offers killer tone. This lineup of juiced-up cabs offers a wealth of options at a range of prices.
Atomic CLR Neo MkII
Described as a "reference monitor for the stage," this 500-watt, bi-amplified system contains two drivers, a max peak output of 130 dB, and a wealth of XLR outputs and inputs.
DV Mark DV Powered Cab 112/60
The Italian amp gurus' solution for digital rigs is a lightweight cab with a Pearl White NEO speaker and both balanced and unbalanced inputs.
Built around a class-G 500-watt power amp, this proprietary design can work as a monitor, backline, or even as a PA. Around back it has a low-cut control, ground lift, level, and single input and output.
ISP Technologies Vector FS8
Tuned for deeper bass response and smoother high end, this compact floor monitor/guitar cabinet houses a 175-watt RMS power amp and dual XLR inputs.
This dual-input unit is stage-ready with a tilt-back design, XLR output, and a flat response 12" speaker. Bonus: It comes equipped with a contour EQ to suss out any pesky problematic frequencies.
This active guitar speaker offers a cab emulated XLR output along with a custom driver and LaVoce compression driver. It also has an aux in for jamming along with your computer.
Kemper Power Kabinet
Inside this 1x12 combo sits a 200-watt setup that works exclusively with the company's popular Profiler and Stage units. It also offers 19 speaker imprints and the Celestion designed Kemper Kone, which is also available as a standalone speaker.
Tech 21 Power Engine Deuce Deluxe
A 200-watt cab that's designed with a nod to the digital set, with a powerful 3-band EQ and a defeatable tweeter. It comes it at a manageable 29 pounds.
Line 6 Powercab 212 Plus
Need a more elaborate setup? This 500-watt, 2x12 is loaded with MIDI, dual outputs and inputs, 12 different onboard speaker emulations, and room for up to 128 of your own impulse responses.
ValveTrain PowerTrain Studio 20
Going the digital route but still want the glowing glass? This loud and portable cab uses two 6V6 power tubes and a 12AX7 preamp tube. Another great feature is the dead-simple, 1-dial control panel.
Plus—Zakk Wylde's favorite emojis, that time I was Kurt Russell in Antarctica, and what I said to Rodney D. at his house party.
Although there have been times when I thought, "Maybe I should, for posterity's sake," I don't keep a personal journal. A) Who's actually gonna read it? And B) am I really going to stick with it? (I do keep a dream journal for my own amusement from time to time, though. There's some weird shit in there.)
Looking back over nearly 12 years at Premier Guitar, there are a fair number of funny/batshit things that've happened on the job, too. Not as bizarre as my dreams, but unusual enough that PG "posterity" might get a laugh or two out of them. Here's a handful of standouts.
1) We've done Rig Rundowns with some pretty high-profile players over the years. Pretty much all of them get that YouTube is full of d-bag trolls. Even everyday idiots like you and me know that. So imagine my surprise one day when a call was patched through from one of the most well-known guitarists of the '80s (name withheld to protect the thin-skinned/arrogant). We'd recently published a Rig Rundown with said artist, and—despite being in the public eye for close to half a century—they were apparently unaware people shit-talk on the internet.
Them: I want the comments deleted or the video down.
Me: That's what people do online. I recommend not reading the comments.
Them: I'm fucking pissed. These people are assholes. They have no respect. I'd like to see them do what I do.
Me: Yes, there are a lot of assholes. But if they're not engaging in hate speech or libel, we let them be—they're impossible to keep up with.
Them: Okay, then I want the video down.
Me: We invested a lot of time and money in this, and the overwhelming majority of viewers are being respectful and complimentary. It's better for you and us if we just let it be.
Them: This is fucking bullshit. You guys suck. [Line goes dead.]
Me: Good talk.
It felt like John Carpenter's The Thing, minus fluid-gushing creatures.
2) Thankfully, most interactions with artists are quite the opposite—famous or not, they're overwhelmingly positive, friendly, and grateful. But nothing quite compares to texting or emailing the mighty Zakk Wylde. When we approached him about penning his Fret 'n' Wylde column, he was all in. The series was short-lived due to his hectic schedule, yet while it lasted, all our interactions, whether via email or text, were a hoot. Full of familial sentiments ("Father Shawn!"), brimming with enthusiasm, and replete with devil-horn and flexing-muscle emojis. (Hope you're well, Father Zakk!)
3) Late one deadline night about 10 years ago, alone in the office, I decided to take a break and crank up our Vox AC30—not in our sound room, in my own office. Twenty minutes later, I almost pooped myself when a security team appeared unannounced in the darkened hallway. Note to self: AC30s set off alarm systems.
4) Also about a decade ago, in the middle of a brutal Midwest snowstorm, our power went out the night of another big deadline. Art director Meghan Molumby, managing editor Tessa Jeffers, and I had to unplug our computers and a couple lamps, and lug them to a neighboring business that had a generator. We spent most the night pounding away at keyboards with half-numb, fingerless-gloved hands and watching our breath puff up into darkness as tiny space heaters almost kept our teeth from chattering audibly. It felt like John Carpenter's The Thing, minus fluid-gushing creatures.
5) Not too long after PG started our annual Mystery Stocking promotion, we received as a donation a bizarre headless, double-sided instrument—guitar on one side, bass on the other—from a company none of us had heard of before. The 6-string side was missing a bridge saddle, and both sides were pretty much ergonomically unplayable, so we didn't include it in the booty. The next year, we received the updated model, complete with headstock and the proper number of saddles. Both remain heavily guarded at PG HQ.
As with your job, I'm sure, there are countless other memories that bring a laugh, a cringe, or a tear to the eye … maybe all three. Some can't be shared without implicating the guilty more than is advisable. Some—like coworkers heating cans of soup on a space heater,helping themselves to subordinate employees' lunches, or lying about smoking in the office despite ashes being all over their desk—aren't as funny if you don't know the people. Others are maybe slightly too mundane for publication—cramping into darkened tornado shelters as sirens blare, or combing through rubble from raccoon break-ins with fellow employees—but they're no less memorable or endearing, if not simply for the (mostly) lovely people they're tied to.
Anyway, thanks for listening. Maybe next time I'll fill you in on that time I dreamt I was at Rodney Dangerfield's house party and stupidly said, "Hey Rodney—did somebody step on a duck!?"
Its name might sound slightly pharmacological, but this limited-edition P-90–style axe is tough, mean, and unquestionably virile.
Killer P-90-style tones with Fender spank. Excellently voiced tone knob. Nice playability.
Slightly rough fret ends.
$1049 street (w/gigbag)
Fender Noventa Stratocaster
If you never learned to count to 90 in Spanish, Fender's limited-run Noventa series sounds like it needs a lot of small-print "Don't take Noventa if…" disclaimers. Once you get the translation down (and remember the term "P-90" is a Gibson invention), it's clear what the series' three models—a 3-pickup Jazzmaster, a single-pickup Telecaster, and a 2-pickup Strat—have in common.
Fender Noventa Stratocaster Review
With its transparent red finish (surf green and daphne blue are also available), oversized black single-coils, black pickguard, and hardtail bridge, it's hard not to see our review guitar as a bit of an SG-ified Fender. But even if the visuals seem slightly obvious, fans of burly, bristling, vintage P-90 grit will likely bite their tongue after plugging one in.
Even if the visuals seem slightly obvious, fans of burly, bristling, vintage P-90 grit will likely bite their tongue after plugging one in.
The neck pickup can be positively corpulent, great for nasty blues riffing, particularly with a good helping of overdrive or the guitar's tone knob eased back. Yet, full up, it puts crisp articulation behind formidable brawn. In the middle position, the blend of taut chime and muscle lets you chunk-up rock 'n' roll nasties, sparkle-up strummed chords, or put some stank in your funk. That's because the bridge pickup is rather incisive—a little more so than I expected. With amp or pedal raunch, the soloed unit is glorious for, say, violent Stooges riffs, but with clean tones it can feel somewhat strident. That's where the impressively voiced tone control comes in. With its gradual, consistent taper, the tone knob yields enough shades for everything from subtly muted rhythms to wiry country spank. Best of all, regardless of pickup position, it never imparts über-muffled tones till it's completely counterclockwise.
Sound City SC30, Fender Vibrolux Reverb, SoundBrut DrVa Mk.II, Ground Control Tsukuyomi, SviSound RetroZoid Germanium Fuzz
There's a lot of musical gold inside the scales.
• Develop a deeper improvisational vocabulary.
• Combine pentatonic scales to create new colors.• Understand the beauty of diatonic harmony.
Improvising over one chord for long stretches of time can be a musician's best friend or worst nightmare. With no harmonic variation, we are left to generate interest through our lines, phrasing, and creativity. When I started learning to improvise, a minor 7 chord and a Dorian mode were the only sounds that I wanted to hear at the time. I found it tremendously helpful to have the harmony stay in one spot while I mined for new ideas to play. Playing over a static chord was crucial in developing my sense of time and phrasing.
The following is the first improvisational device I ever came across. I want to say I got it from a Frank Gambale book. The idea is that there are three minor pentatonic scales "hiding" in any given major scale. If we're in the key of C (C–D–E–F–G–A–B) we can pluck out the D, E, and A minor pentatonic scales. If we frame them over a Dm7 chord, they give us different five-note combinations of the D Dorian mode. In short, we are building minor pentatonic scales off the 2, 3, and 6 of the C major scale.
Viewing this through the lens of D minor (a sibling of C major and the tonal center for this lesson), D minor pentatonic gives us the 1–b3–4–5–b7, E minor pentatonic gives us 2–4–5–6–1, and A minor pentatonic gives us 5–b7–1–2–4. This means you can use your favorite pentatonic licks in three different locations and there are three different sounds we can tap into from the same structure.
If you smashed all of them together, you would get the D Dorian scale (D–E–F–G–A–B–C) with notes in common between the D, E, and A minor pentatonic scales. Ex. 1 uses all three scales, so you can hear the different colors each one creates over the chord.
Ex. 2 is how I improvise with them, usually weaving in and out using different positional shapes.
The next idea is one I stole from a guitarist who often came into a music store I worked at. On the surface, it's very easy: Just take two triads (in our example it will be Dm and C) and ping-pong between them. The D minor triad (D–F–A) gives us 1–b3–5, which is very much rooted in the chord, and the C major triad (C–E–G) gives us the b7–9–4, which is much floatier. Also, if you smash these two triads together, you get 1–2–b3–4–5–b7, which is a minor pentatonic scale with an added 2 (or 9). Eric Johnson uses this sound all the time. Ex. 3 is the lick I stole years ago.
Ex. 4 is how I would improvise with this concept. Many different fingerings work with these, so experiment until you find a layout that's comfortable for your own playing.
If two triads work, why not seven? This next approach will take all the triads in the key of C (C–Dm–Em–F–G–Am–Bdim) and use them over a Dm7 chord (Ex. 5). Each triad highlights different three-note combinations from the Dorian scale, and all of them sound different. Triads are clear structures that sound strong to our ears, and they can generate nice linear interest when played over one chord. Once again, all of this is 100% inside the scale. Ex. 5 is how each triad sounds over the track, and Ex. 6 is my attempt to improvise with them.
If we could find all these possibilities with triads, it's logical to make the structure a little bigger and take a similar approach with 7 chords, or in this case, arpeggios. Naturally, all the diatonic chords will work, but I'll limit this next idea to just Dm7, Fmaj7, Am7, and Cmaj7. I love this approach because as you move further away from the Dm7 shape, each new structure takes out a chord tone and replaces it with an extension. I notice that I usually come up with different lines when I'm thinking about different chord shapes, and this approach is a decent way to facilitate that. Ex. 7 is a good way to get these under your fingers. Just ascend one shape, shift into the next shape on the highest string, then descend and shift to the next on the lowest string.
Ex. 8 is my improvisation using all four shapes and sounds, but I lean pretty heavily on the Am7.
This last concept has kept me busy on the fretboard for the last five years or so. Check it out: You can take any idea that works over Dm7 and move the other diatonic chords. The result is six variations of your original lick. In Ex. 9 I play a line that is 4–1–b3–5 over Dm7 and then walk it through the other chords in the key. These notes are still in the key of C, but it sounds drastically different from playing a scale.
In Ex. 10, I try to think about the shapes from the previous example, but I break up the note order in a random but fun way. The ending line is random but felt good, so I left it in.
While all these concepts have been presented over a minor chord, you can just as easily apply them to any chord quality, and they work just as well in harmonic or melodic minor. Rewarding sounds are available right inside the harmony, and I am still discovering new ideas through these concepts after many years.
Though the above ideas won't necessarily be appropriate for every style or situation, they will work in quite a few. Developing any approach to the point that it becomes a natural extension of your playing takes considerable work and patience, so just enjoy the process, experiment, and let your ear guide you to the sounds you like. Even over just one chord, there is always something new to find.
The pedal stacks hard clipping with soft clipping and adds an overdriven transistor.
Boutique pedal company McGregor Pedals has launched its third pedal: The Cozmic Fuzzball. It follows on the heels of the McGregor's previous pedals, the Crunch Transparent Overdrive, a single-channel, low-gain overdrive pedal for guitar and bass, released in December 2019 and the Crunch Plus Overdrive, a medium-gain version for guitar and bass released in December 2020.
Designed and built by Garth Heslop, the brand new Cozmic Fuzzball pedal is built on the same foundation as the previous two pedals, though you would never know it. Heslop takes it to the next level by stacking hard clipping with soft clipping and adding an overdriven transistor for that sweet fuzz tone. Beginning with the attack control on minimum the Cozmic Fuzzball delivers distortion with a bright creamy edge. As you bring up the attack the distortion gets heavier; by noon on the attack, you have already started to hear fuzz layered in. Both the fuzz and the sustain grow from there. The Cozmic Fuzzball was designed for both guitar and bass.
McGregor Pedals - Cozmic Fuzzball - Demo by Michael Schau
The Cozmic Fuzzball has a straightforward control set:
·Attack: This controls strength of the signal hitting the fuzz transistor; more attack = more fuzz and sustain. At the lower end with low output pickups the effect is mild distortion/overdrive. As you bring up the attack the distortion gets stronger. Soon you will hear fuzz starting to layer in. Pin the Attack and you are in fuzz-land. The output of your pickups will have a significant effect on how much fuzz is generated (as will your guitar's volume pot)
·Tone: this is a variable high pass filter; the left side of the range is more for bass guitar, the right for both bass and guitar.
·Vol: This attenuates the amplified and clipped signal after it leaves the tone filter.
·LED Brightness (Unmarked Trimpot on the side): Please make the adjustment gently using a jeweler's screwdriver.
Key Cozmic Fuzzball features:
Hand soldered in Vancouver, Canada
High grade components picked for their superior sound and response
True bypass with soft-click switch
Standard 9-volt DC center-negative power operation (no battery compartment)
Top-mounted audio jacks and power input to help with packed pedal boards
The Cozmic Fuzzball is currently priced at $210 and can be purchased directly from the McGregor Pedals online store via mcgregorpedals.com.