august 2010

The Pete Anderson signature Reverend is a versatile, P-90-equipped hollowbody

Pete Anderson came to prominence in the ’80s as country star Dwight Yoakam’s lead guitarist and producer. Along with the Blasters and Los Lobos, Yoakam and Anderson brought roots music into the Los Angeles punk and alternative clubs, establishing a fresh audience for a new genre that would soon become “Americana.” Thanks to Anderson’s twang-infused Tele work and back-to-basics production, Yoakam was embraced by Nashville as a “new traditionalist,” creating country-radio hits alongside George Strait and Randy Travis. Not satisfied with sticking to chicken pickin’ and crying steel guitars, the team crafted songs like “Fast as You” that revealed elements of Anderson’s Detroit blues beginnings. His post-Yoakam solo music delves deeper into the blues, while his work with singer Moot Davis explores swing and rockabilly.

Download Example 1
Clean - Neck pickup, then Bridge pickup
Download Example 2
Dirty - Neck pickup, then Bridge pickup

Searching for an instrument that could handle the variety of styles at his fingertips, Anderson joined forces with Joe Naylor at Reverend Guitars. Anderson had been playing a modified Epiphone Joe Pass archtop on the road for a few years, and the tweaks he made to that instrument inspired him to design his own dream machine with Naylor. The result is the Pete Anderson Signature guitar—Reverend’s first hollowbody.

Hot-Rodded Hollow
The PA’s body consists of a laminated spruce top and laminated maple back and sides. Reverend offers the guitar in two finishes—satin vintage clear (the color of the model we tested) and satin black. The lack of a gloss finish gives the guitar a funky, road dog look, while the set-neck construction and cream binding on the body, f-holes, and three-piece korina neck speak of a classier instrument. It’s a combination that works well to express Anderson’s fondness for pawnshop specials.

The guitar’s 2 3/8" body is fully hollow but sports a novel top brace that Reverend calls the Uni-Brace. This single wood strip starts at the neck block and ends at a second block under the bridge. This bridge block allows Reverend to mount a fixed Tune-o-matic-style bridge, rather than the moveable wooden bridge often found on hollowbody and archtop guitars. If you’re like Anderson—used to performing wide blues bends and pedal-steel licks—a fixed bridge is essential. The Uni-Brace runs the body’s full depth, but because it’s only a ½" wide it allows the instrument to retain the classic tonal characteristics of a hollow f-hole guitar.

Running along the bass-string side of the body, the Uni-Brace divides the interior and limits internal air movement. This contributes significantly toward reducing uncontrollable feedback at higher stage volumes. Connecting the bridge block to the neck block, the Uni-Brace also increases sustain and adds structural integrity. This reinforcement prevents the neck from pulling up and forward over time. Stiffening the bass side of the body also increases low-string punch and clarity.

Other modern specs include a 1 11/16" graphite nut, low-friction roller saddles, and Reverend Pin-Lock machine heads. These all help keep the guitar in tune when using the Bigsby B70 vibrato. The nut and rollers offer silky string slippage, while the tuners eliminate the need for any string windings that might loosen and fail to tighten up fully as you work the Bigsby arm.

The electronics incorporate some tricks that weren’t typically employed on vintage instruments. The two Reverend dog-ear P-90-style single-coils are reverse-wound to cancel hum when used together, and each pickup is sonically calibrated for its respective position. In addition to standard Volume and Tone knobs, the PA also includes a Bass Contour knob—a passive low-frequency roll-off control common to all Reverend guitars.

Contemporary players will also appreciate how the neck joins the body at the 15th fret for improved access to upper regions of the 22-fret rosewood fretboard. A moderate 12" radius and medium-jumbo frets promote clean bends and comfortable chording.

Plugging In
The guitar arrived set up with extremely low action, yet it exhibited no string buzz through the amps I plugged it into (all guitars will buzz acoustically with the action this low), nor did it fret out at any point on the neck. I prefer my action a tad higher, so I simply applied a screwdriver to the task of raising the bridge a bit. Both acoustically and amplified, the guitar exhibited more sustain than a typical hollowbody, but a little less than your average solidbody. The Reverend arrived perfectly intonated and it stayed in tune despite my severe Bigsby manhandling.

I played the PA through an Egnater Rebel-30 and an Orange Tiny Terror, in addition to running it directly into Ableton Live with Line 6 POD Farm plug-ins. Through the Egnater’s clean channel, the neck pickup produced warm jazz tones à la early Jim Hall with his Gibson ES-175. The PA’s tone knob was voiced nicely for this classic sound. Using the Bass Contour knob to roll off the lows, I was able to coax a striking Strat-like blues character from the neck pickup.

Switching to the bridge pickup produced plenty of Tele-style twang. At lower volumes, I found it unnecessary to roll off any lows with the Bass Contour. At increased—but stil clean—levels, I rolled off just a bit of bass to maintain good bite. Applying full bass rolloff to the bridge pickup produced a slightly scooped midrange that didn’t float my boat on clean settings, but it gave me a great throaty tone with snap and articulation when I dialed in higher gain on the Egnater’s lead channel or with the drive cranked on the Tiny Terror.

When I switched on both pickups, the PA offered chiming tones with or without the bass rolled off. The dual-pickup setting blissfully cancelled the standard 60-cycle P-90 hum as well.

Though the PA excelled at traditional jazz, blues, country, and rockabilly riffs, it was no slouch at soaring ES-335-style fusion and all-out distorted rock. The guitar even revealed its charms through amp-modeling software, a quality I’ve usually only found in more expensive instruments.

Playing through the amps in clean mode, I was able to sit facing the speaker with no feedback issues, despite relatively high volumes. Even with a fair amount of distortion, the feedback remained controllable, though if you want to avoid run-away feedback onstage, you’d better turn down the guitar volume before taking your hands off the strings to clap along with the crowd. Of course, fans of semi-hollow and hollowbody guitars know that controllable feedback can be one of their most gratifying pleasures. And that was certainly true of the PA—I really enjoyed adding Bigsby vibrato to its feedback- sustained notes.

The Final Mojo
The PA is a well-crafted and finely tuned machine. Its combination of spruce and maple keeps potentially muddy P-90s clear and focused at all volume levels, making the guitar suitable for a wide range of musical styles. Its hollow body produces the woodiness associated with this type of instrument, while the Uni-Brace really mitigates the howl often associated with cranked archtop guitars. That’s why the Reverend Pete Anderson is a no-brainer for roots players—but rockers who aren’t dedicated Floyd-wigglers might want to give it a shot, too.
Buy if...
you need a cool-looking, fantastically versatile hollowbody.
Skip if...
locking tremolos and metal are your thing.

Street $1199 - Reverend Guitars -

Jol Dantzig''s debut column addresses the goals luthiers have when choosing pickups for their guitars

Routinely prying apart a coveted instrument didn’t used to be the norm. With an almost total absence of do-it-yourself literature, guitarists from the original Golden Age of electric guitars were pretty much stuck with the pickup choices that instrument builders had made for them. Of course, this didn’t stop those hapless artists from creating what we now consider the definitive sonic palette of contemporary music. So, what did those builders know that seemingly has been lost? And how come, aside from a few pickup products that are focused on breaking new ground, most pickup work today seems to be a time-travel rehash—a search for something that happened before? It’s enough to either completely empty your wallet or just plain stop you cold in your tracks.

The replacement pickup industry has become engorged with choices to the point that most guitarists have a hard time finding what’s right for them—or even knowing what to look for. Internet bulletin boards, which I refer to as the Wild West Web, simultaneously inform, skew, and confuse even savvy consumers with endless options. Pile on the fact that “great” tone is subjective, and you can easily see how the business of winding wire on magnets remains a black art. You also recognize that lack of a clear objective can keep you searching indefinitely.

One common mistake is attempting to make a guitar sound like something it isn’t. Another expensive detour is thinking that because a particular pickup sounds good in one guitar, it will sound good in another. If only there were some magic graph or rating system that could make sense of all our options.

The Human Voice Lesson
Choosing a pickup can be a daunting task, but if you know what to look for it’s a whole lot easier. I learned a valuable lesson while working with Don Gehman, a legendary and brilliant record producer. It wasn’t about guitars at all, but the exercise was applicable just the same. Don had a phenomenal collection of vintage microphones, and when a certain manufacturer wanted some input on their new line of tube mics, they sent some to us in the studio to critique. It was my job to set the new mics up next to Don’s $10,000 Neumanns and Telefunkens, run the identical chains, and get the levels set. We were using a really sweet Neve sidecar and some Fairchild 670 limiters, but we also had some modern Focusrite mic preamps on deck for comparison.

With everything in place, Don asked the vocalist, Tommy Shaw, to speak into each mic while we listened with eyes closed. As Tommy went from mic to mic, speaking, shouting, then finally singing, I had a hard time making up my mind. Don, on the other hand knew immediately what he was listening for. When I told him I couldn’t choose which one I liked best, he offered some sage advice. Don reminded me that I knew Tommy’s voice well enough to identify him on the phone with a single word, and that I should listen for the mic that made Tommy sound, well, like Tommy. “The object,” Don confided, “is to bring out the character in the voice that makes it sound like who the singer is.” This is the identical process I use today to determine which pickup to pair with a guitar.

Putting It to the Test
It’s a time-consuming task to ear-test pickup after pickup through a variety of amps and at a wide range of volume and gain settings, but it can be a lot of fun, too. I got to use Don’s lesson recently when choosing a pickup for a new instrument I’d designed and built from African limba. This guitar had a 25.5" scale, which tipped the response toward snappy and bright. The body was chambered, which kept the mids and lows lively and prevented the treble from running away with the show. An unamplified test confirmed my intuition—the guitar was airy and projected well. The bass was tight but not pronounced. The most apparent virtue was a nice upper mid that was well defined, smooth, and breathy. This, I decided, was the attribute to emphasize—it was the instrument’s true voice, and I didn’t want to bury it. I’d need a pickup that could support the low end without sacrificing the breathiness of the upper mids.

The cast of suspects included Lollar Imperials, Wolfetone Marshallheads, Tom Holmes 450s, and a number of Duncans (based on Pearly Gates, ’59s, and Seth Lovers), two sets of DiMarzios, some stacked Phat Cats, a Harmonic Design set, and even some active EMGs. I had narrowed the field down to this group based upon my experience and knowledge of the guitar’s construction. Any of these pickups could be a stellar choice under the right circumstances.

Choosing the Right Amp(s)
It’s always a good idea to use your main amp to set a comparative baseline, but I also like to audition with a slew of amps to get a better feel for what the pickup/guitar combination is capable of. If I can find a magic combination that just blows me away, it will be worth considering even if it is a specialized setup. (This concept isn’t encouraged in many marketing circles, though. I’ve found that, in an attempt to appeal to more customers, some salespeople prefer watered-down products that sound pretty good in the largest number of circumstances.) In this case, the test amps ranged from small combos like my vintage Ampeg Jet, a Fender Pro Jr., and a tweed Fender Harvard, to a Mesa/Boogie Rectifier half-stack and a 1972 100-watt Marshall. Plus a lot of stuff in between, like my trusty red- panel Vox AC30 Twin and various Fenders.

I kept Don’s lesson in mind as I listened for the character of the guitar to come through. What I heard was that clear, breathy upper mid with a tight, but slightly attenuated bottom end. For me, this guitar really seemed to come alive with Euro tubes as opposed to American 6L6s or 6V6s. I could easily compare that with my Simul-Link-equipped Mesa/ Boogie Blue Angel, just by turning a knob.

It was a tough call, and I had to keep focused on the point of the exercise. In the end, I found that—in this guitar—the Seths with the Alnico 5 option really opened up and shimmered without surrendering the African limba body’s midrange voice. It wasn’t that the others weren’t good, it was just that the Seths really transmitted what was great about this particular guitar.

My advice is to be open to the possibilities within any instrument—then celebrate it. Just like good friends, guitars come in all shapes and sizes, and every one has a different personality. Find a pickup that highlights the character of the guitar instead of trying to make it only what you can imagine. In the end, you’ll be surprised how liberating it is. And that’s a game worth playing.

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Aracom''s attenuator reduces the level of your high-gain head, and matches impedances as well

If you have an amp that sounds great when you crank it up but it’s just too loud for most playing situations, you’ll want to know about the new Aracom Power Rox PRX 150-Pro amp attenuator. Designed for use with tube amps, this unit lets you reduce the level of a fully cranked head or combo.

The PRX 150-Pro is housed in a black anodized-aluminum case with an amp-style strap handle, and it looks all business. When I unpacked my review unit, the vented front, side, and rear panels caught my eye. They are, of course, for cooling, but they give the box a striking, industrial vibe. A passive device, the PRX 150-Pro requires no AC power for operation.

Two front panel knobs—Step Attenuation and Variable—let you control your amp’s output level. Step Attenuation has six discrete settings labeled A-F. Settings A-E reduce the level in 3 dB increments. Switching to position F engages the Variable knob, which lets you further attenuate the output by as much as 16 dB. The unit can handle a 150-watt input signal and our review model provided an overall cut of 30 dB (which effectively takes a 100-watt amp down to 0.5 watts—3% of the amp’s power rating). However, Aracom informs us that the latest PRX 150-Pros can attenuate up to 40 dB— which can take a 150-watt amp down to .015 of a watt.

The PRX 150-Pro’s magic really happens at the back panel. The input—where you plug in your amp’s speaker output—offers 2-, 4-, 8,- and 16-ohm settings, and that’s what sets the PRX apart from most other attenuation devices. Having a variable input selector lets you use the PRX with different amps with various fixed output impedances. You don’t have to purchase separate units to accommodate, say, a Fender Super Reverb and a Marshall JCM900. And if your amp offers selectable output impedance, you can explore the different taps on the output section, which can alter the amp’s tone and feel.

The Aracom’s own output impedance is also variable, and you can set this independently of the unit’s input impedance. You can switch the PRX 150-Pro’s parallel output jacks to 2, 4, 6, 8, and 16 ohms, which gives you complete flexibility to mix and match amps and speaker cabs with dissimilar impedance ratings. Very flexible. Further, a true-bypass switch on the back panel allows you to bring the PRX in and out of the circuit.

How Does It Sound?
I tried this unit with several types of amps, using both Les Pauls and Strats, to get a good idea of the unit’s sonic capabilities. First, I used a 4-ohm Fender head with a 16-ohm Marshall cabinet. When I used this type of rig in the past, I had to rewire my Marshall cabinet to 4 ohms. I was pleasantly surprised to hear this setup with both amp and cabinet operating at their normal impedances. The sound on the least attenuated setting (A) was more open and a bit tighter in the low end than I was used to hearing.

As I reduced the levels by stepping through settings B-E, I detected little sonic difference until I got down to the Variable knob settings. It’s worth noting that when you lower the dB level on a high-powered amp—whether with a master volume or a power attenuator— the sound changes because you’re not pushing the speakers as hard. This is simply a mechanical issue. That said, the feel I got using the PRX 150-Pro at these lowered levels was great. And this made playing quietly a lot more enjoyable.

I tried other amp combinations, including a Marshall Super Lead head with a Marshall cabinet and a Vox AC50 with a 2x12 Vox cabinet. I had the Vox set to 8 ohms to match the cabinet’s 8-ohm impedance. With each rig, the results were very much the same: Tone and feel stayed consistent through the A-E ranges. Testing the Marshall head was especially fun, because I tried switching between transformer taps, which altered the amp’s tightness, overtones, and low-end response. In this application, the Aracom gives you another option for sculpting your tone. (By the way, the 8-ohm tap on the Marshall sounded best to me.)

The Final Mojo
Sonically, the Aracom PRX 150-Pro attenuator stayed very true to every amp I paired it with. My tone stayed stable as I lowered the dB level to its minimum amount (the variable control doesn’t turn the sound completely off). Even super-quiet bedroom settings sounded very good and responded to picking and touch extremely well. This attractive, sturdily built unit would be a great addition to any guitarist’s tone arsenal.
Buy if...
you need quality tones at lower levels, or you need to match impedance between different amps and cabs.
Skip if...
you have a low-power amp that already provides the tone and volume levels you require.

Street $660 - Aracom Amplifiers -