Buffalo FX Ram's Head Review
Buffalo FX's new Ram's Head will satisfy the tastes of players who lust after Gilmour's tone on Animals and The Wall.
If you line up a several original “ram’s head” Big Muffs, each will speak with a slightly different accent. Electro-Harmonix allegedly used some 20 different schematics for this second version of the Muff, which the company introduced in 1973. One constant among originals, however, is their midrange scoop, which can make the Muff a shadowy presence in a live situation.
Precision Muffin Makin’ Steve Painter of Buffalo FX says that addressing this midrange drop was the first priority of his ram’s head clone, and indeed, his NOS BC239C transistor-driven unit has a perceptible midrange bump and increased top-end headroom. The components are period-accurate—everything inside this black box existed in the ’70s.
It’s a beautifully built box too. The Buffalo FX Ram’s Head uses the same enclosure as Painter’s last fuzz, the Germanium. It’s taller than most pedals, which may take some getting used to. One reason for the unusual enclosure is a quick-release 9-volt battery drawer, which might remind Muff fanatics of Pete Cornish’s famous clones. No need to fuss with wires or connectors—just slide the battery into place. (You can also power the pedal with a center-negative 9-volt barrel adaptor.)
The straightforward controls mirror the original: sustain, level, and tone. Input and output jacks are at the crown of the box, and there’s a small blue power indicator LED next to the footswitch.
Excellent Muff-style leads with extra midrange to cut through the mix.
Enclosure can be a bit awkward/blocky on a crowded pedalboard.
Ease of Use:
Buffalo FX Ram's Head
Stepping Out of the Shadows Because the original Ram’s Head is so closely associated with David Gilmour’s tones from Animals and The Wall, I hooked up a Stratocaster and an Orange OR50 with EL34s to approximate Gilmour’s classic rig. Running a clean output on the amp, I engaged the Ram’s Head with sustain maxed. This setting was a bit aggressive for most of Gilmour’s leads, but dialing back the gain to 3 o’clock let me nail the sustained bends from “Dogs.” However, the maximum-sustain setting proved excellent for mining Tony Iommi’s Vol. 4 lead tones, especially after adding a slight tone bump and switching to a Les Paul with humbuckers. The extra dirt lends a gritty bite to metal-tinged solos without inducing overwhelming feedback.
In a full-band setting, the Buffalo was a revelation. You sometimes need an extra overdrive or EQ pedal to make a Muff heard within a raging band, but not with the Ram’s Head. Painter’s tweaks provide a hot edge that cuts through dense band arrangements with output to spare. Even paired with a dark, reverb-drenched Fender Twin Reverb, the Ram’s Head easily finds a toehold for lead work or rhythm riffing. I performed an A/B test between the Buffalo and several other Muff-style pedals lurking around my rehearsal space, and the advantages of Painter’s mods shone brightly. The Buffalo usually sounded slightly cleaner, with greater midrange clarity.
The Verdict This is the second Buffalo FX fuzz box I’ve reviewed, and my expectations were high. Steve Painter hand-wires, assembles, tests and screen-prints each box, and his dedication shows. The Buffalo FX Ram’s Head’s added midrange presence increases the circuit’s versatility without sacrificing the power you want from a Muff. It’s equally happy with single-coils and humbuckers, and sounds great through both American- and British-style amps. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a rig this Ram’s Head won’t work with.
Lakland Decade 6 Bass Review
But the 6-string bass offers a truly unique voice with a range that’s between a baritone and a standard bass.
The 6-string bass is often misunderstood. Guitarists tend to wonder why you wouldn’t just slap on a heavier set of strings and tune down, or use a baritone guitar to help cover the lower registers. But the 6-string bass offers a truly unique voice with a range that’s between a baritone and a standard bass. For decades, it’s been an essential tool for country players, who use it to fatten up bass lines tracked by upright basses. And famous players as diverse as Jack Bruce, John Lennon, and Robert Smith have made 6-string bass a part of their arsenal.
The luthiers at Lakland are fans, too, and they’ve spent the better part of two years developing and refining the prototype they first introduced at Winter NAMM in 2012. Called the Decade 6, Lakland’s 6-stringer features the same short scale, narrow neck, and triple-pickup configuration as the 6-string bass most of us are familiar with—the Fender Bass VI. But Lakland also instituted a few changes that make the Decade 6 much more than a high-end clone.
The Low Down
Dressed in a striking candy-apple-red finish, a faux tortoiseshell pickguard, and black pickup covers, the 30 1/4"-scale Decade 6 is a thing of beauty. Our review bass has an alder body, but ash and mahogany are also available, as are several other finish options. The Decade’s “Shorty J” maple neck has a 4-bolt joint, and it’s topped with an 18-fret rosewood fretboard adorned with bird’s-eye-maple dot inlays. Tuned one octave below standard tuning, the .024–.084-gauge strings are anchored by open-gear Hipshot tuners on one end and a custom bridge on the other.
The three JP-90 pickups are made in-house by sister company Hanson Pickups, and they feature alnico 5 magnets for crisp highs and tight, warm lows. With outputs of 8.6k for the neck and middle pickups, and 9.6k for the bridge, they’re very close to vintage specs. While the 5-way blade switching is more akin to, say, a Fender Strat, the single volume and tone controls are similar to the Fender Bass VI. That said, I would have liked to have seen Lakland include a version of the Bass VI’s bass-cutoff slider (aka the strangle switch)—a fan favorite that expanded the versatility of Fender’s already-expressive instrument.
Rock-solid build. Off-the-charts playability. Versatile—from tic-tac to more modern tones. Excellent definition and note separation.
Lows aren’t as deep as a 4-string. Could use traditional “strangle” switch. Pricey.
Playability/Ease of Use:
Plugging the Decade 6 into a Verellen Meatsmoke tube bass head driving an Ampeg Isovent combo cabinet, I started out the way many 6-string bass fans would: I set the amp with lowered mids, turned down the lows slightly, pushed the treble, and palm-muted a spaghetti-western bass line. The resulting tic-tac tone was spot-on with the sound of cowboy film soundtracks that Ennio Morricone made famous in the ’60s, but with noticeably more midrange muscle and bite. More traditional bass parts had an extremely detailed attack and upper midrange, with the thick, rubbery response that short-scale basses are known for. In fact, the tones were so full and robust that, had I been blindfolded and listening to someone else playing the Decade 6, I would’ve been convinced they were playing a traditional 4-string.
Each of the five pickup-switch positions offers a wealth of distinct tones, from the scooped midrange in positions two and four to the bolder mids and highs when soloing the bridge and the bowel-rattling subs from the middle and neck pickups. The instrument also handled overdriven tones with aplomb—a fact that should prove appetizing to players hungering for heavier sounds. Playing full chords through the Meatsmoke’s roaring overdrive channel yielded a monstrously powerful wall of sound that still managed to retain clarity. The note separation—while not as defined as an electric guitar’s—was light years beyond what most standard basses can produce. And this gives the Decade 6 unique abilities to add contrasting textures within songs, such as using overdriven broken chords and fuzzed-out melodic interludes above the 12th fret.
The Lakland Decade 6 is a marvelous instrument that not only nails the time-honored 6-string bass tones of yesteryear, but also has its own unique voice. It combines the warm, syrupy lows of a traditional 4-string with the bright attack of a P-90-equipped guitar. Though the low end doesn’t quite reach the depths of a P- or J-style bass, the tones are expansive enough to cover a wealth of musical applications. Everything about the Decade 6—from the solid build to the even weight, attractive looks, and knockout playability—is tailored to near perfection. And then there’s the huge fun factor.
Bassists who eschew picks or think the narrow string spacing is just for guitarists might be tempted to pass by this Lakland, but they’d be doing themselves a serious disservice. The Decade 6 brings the timeless tones of the 6-string bass to a new generation, and its superb quality alone deserves the attention of even the harshest skeptics.
Roland Cube 80GX Amp Review
The 80GX builds on with the company’s COSM (composite object sound modeling) audio software to hone a formula that’s always delivered a lot of bang for the buck to players who need to cover a lot of musical ground on a budget.
Roland introduced the Micro Cube in 2005 to the delight of street buskers the world over. The compact, battery-powered amp quickly became the benchmark in portability and a fixture for anyone engaging in small-scale, spur-of-the-moment gigging in unlikely locales. Over the years, Roland has expanded the Cube family considerably in both wattage and size. This summer marks the release of the Cube GX series, which comes in 20-, 40-, and 80-watt models and builds on with the company’s COSM (composite object sound modeling) audio software to hone a formula that’s always delivered a lot of bang for the buck to players who need to cover a lot of musical ground on a budget. Here, we’ll take a look at the 80-watt Cube 80GX.
Anyone who has spent time with previous Cube versions, especially the more recent 80XL, will be perfectly at home with the GX. And the differences in the control layout and expanded sonic possibilities are welcome developments. Like the 80XL, the 80GX has three channels—JC Clean, Lead, and Solo. JC Clean aims to capture the sound of the renowned Jazz Chorus-120, and engaging the bright switch boosts the mid and treble presence for a more cutting and crisp tone—which, when we’re talking about a JC-120, is pretty crisp. The Lead channel has a 10-position rotary switch for selecting amp type—from acoustic sounds to tweed and heavily distorted settings. The third channel is called Solo, but it’s essentially any preset you dial up and save by holding down its button.
Bass, middle, and treble knobs govern all three channels, and the presence knob works a lot like the bright switch on the JC Clean channel, though it has much greater range. The EFX control lets you choose from five effects—chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, and heavy octave. Having all the effects on a single knob saves space but sacrifices versatility and control. And you have to move through the whole rate spectrum of a given effect before you click over to the next, which then engages at the lowest rate. Intensity and mix are set at fixed points, and the delay works in a similar fashion—repeats are fixed at around five, and turning the control clockwise increases the ratio of delay to dry signal. The “warm” delay has a more analog feel, while “clear” has a more digital-like repeat. A tap button, meanwhile, enables you to set the repeat rate. Reverb also comes in two flavors, spring and plate, but feedback is fixed, and turning the knob clockwise increases intensity.
Roland’s newest feature is the i-Cube link, located above the input jack. Connecting the provided 1/4" (4-pole) mini cable to the headphone jack in your computer, iPhone, iPad, or other digital device allows you to jam along with audio files. Further, the Cube Jam app for iOS devices enables basic recording over tracks from your playlist. You can even tweak recording and master levels, as well as the speed and pitch of playback.
Stacking Effects and Tweaking Tones
The 80GX’s JC Clean channel is a fine approximation of the powerhouse amp whose super-clean, high-headroom tones have appeared on everything from new age to shoegaze albums. That said, an authentic JC-120, with its dual speakers and large, open-back cabinet, will certainly sound airier than the 80GX. With a single 12" speaker and a closed back, the overall output of the 80GX—regardless of channel—is stouter than what you’d hear from an open cab.
I routed a handful of pedals through the JC Clean channel, and they all rang with precision and clarity. The bright switch was a little harsh for single-coils, though it gave humbuckers a welcome cutting edge. But while the 80GX was a great blank slate for my pedals, the onboard effects left me pretty impressed, too—and you can stack up to three of them. I preferred the spring reverb and its longer tail. It’s a bit brighter than most spring simulations, and you don’t get the magical clang of an actual spring, but it has nice body and breadth without dominating your sound. However, the limitations of the delay are a tad frustrating, because you can’t change the number of repeats. This means you can’t, say, get a true country- or rockabilly-style slapback, because you’d want up to three repeats instead of five. The warm delay, however, does have a very natural analog feel, though it’s a bit bright. Pairing it with a nice dose of spring ’verb and the Lead channel’s “black panel” tone is a nice, Fender-esque alternative to JC Clean.
The Lead channel’s “acoustic" sound bears little resemblance to an actual acoustic—upper frequencies are brassy and it mostly comes off as a rather thin-sounding electric guitar. Single-coils will get closer to an acoustic sound, especially when you use the neck pickup and roll back the guitar’s tone a touch. Here you can find stronger hints of hollowbody resonance, but while it’s a serviceable stand-in for an acoustic in a busy band mix, it’s not a viable replacement in a solo or small-combo situation.
Pros: Sturdy, compact construction. Very versatile. i-Cube
offers fun, convenient practice tools.
Cons: Onboard effects have control limitations.
Ease of Use:
The Lead channel’s “classic stack” sound delivers enough bristling attack to make it a clear nod to Marshall plexi tone. Both humbuckers and single-coils worked well in with this gainer sound, as well as with the “metal stack” and “r-fier stack” sounds. The stack settings are far from flawless simulations, but they certainly capture the spirit of these expensive amps. These more aggressive combinations work especially well as Solo-channel presets, and they also match up well with the rhythm tones you’re likely to also create with the Lead channel. You can even use a footswitch to mimic a 2-channel Marshall or Mesa/Boogie head.
It’s difficult to deploy an army of onboard effects and amplifier voices in a single, affordable combo without making a few sacrifices. Vintage-tone sticklers who rely on the purity of a genuine blackface Fender or a Marshall plexi aren’t going to abandon the real thing for the Cube 80GX. But if you’re looking for a convenient, Swiss Army knife-type amp and can roll with the limitations inherent in this size and price bracket, the 80GX puts a wealth of tone at your fingertips. And those who need enough sounds to cover everything from Skynyrd to the Police with a super-portable rig they can use anywhere—from the farmers market to bars—will potentially find the Cube 80GX a godsend.