december 2008

Often, it’s the little things that go unnoticed, but in the pursuit of tone perfection, even the diminutive and easily neglected pick can make a big difference. I must

The Spectrum of Plectrum
Often, it’s the little things that go unnoticed, but in the pursuit of tone perfection, even the diminutive and easily neglected pick can make a big difference. I must confess that I’ve been overlooking my own picks. When I buy them, I tend to grab a dozen or so of the same ones I bought the last time, stick a few in my mic stand pickholder, and forget about ‘em. So, when the PG staff was batting around the idea of a story on the plectrum, I saw my chance to get reacquainted with the tiny tool.

There are many factors to consider when hunting for the right pick: size, shape, thickness, flexibility, and material hardness, the edge, the point, and not least the grip. As with every other enterprise in the larger guitar industry, pick designs continue to be developed and refined; there are always new materials and expanded options. Since it’s high time I scouted some new picks, I took this opportunity to examine a handful of the many new options I’d been overlooking. I also talked to Jimmy Dunlop himself, to get the scoop on what I should keep an eye out for. And, since we at PG like to balance things out whenever we can, we also asked a fingerpicker for his take on playing without a pick. I suspect I’m not the only one who’s been taking the spectrum of plectrum for granted, so maybe this will help you in your own quest, too.

An Interview with Jimmy Dunlop

Chris Burgess: I want to thank you for talking to us about picks today. I just realized recently that I’ve mostly been using your picks since I started playing back in the eighties.
Jimmy Dunlop: I’ve pretty much dedicated my whole life to guitar picks (laughs).

Apparently, it’s still going okay for you…
Yeah, it’s going great. It’s an interesting business. A lot of people really underestimate guitar picks. When I meet people and they say, “What do you do for a living?” When I tell them I make guitar picks, they kind of give me that blank stare, but I equate what I do with making paintbrushes for artists. I’m like the guy that made Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintbrush. You know what I mean?

I got you. That’s not a bad place to be, is it?
No. And that’s why with guys like Santana and Jerry Garcia, and all the different people that have called me to design a special pick for them, I usually never charge for it, for the molding and all that. I just want to be able to say, “I did that for him.” It’s just because I want to be a part of that guy’s art in some way.

Does anybody ever call those guys and check to see whether or not they’re still using your picks?
Oh, well, no see… well… Jerry Garcia’s not using the picks anymore… but you know what happens with others, like Santana? They call up and they get the picks shipped to them, and they’ll buy 10,000 picks. Definitely, it’s the repeat business. That’s how we know.

Is there a lot that guitar players don’t know about the pick business? Something like an insider’s view, you know, on what’s changed, what’s still the same, and where things might be going?
Well, the one thing I don’t want to be doing is all of my competitors’ homework right now. This is my life, and it’s what I do, and if I have a couple little tricks that I use… It’s kind of like a guitar players set-up… they don’t tell you exactly what they’re really doing.

Fair enough. Another question I wanted to ask… there’s probably a whole generation of guitar players out there like me who’ve heard the legends of the tone of the tortoise shell pick, but have never played them, and we get um…
I have some. Wanna try one out?

I figured somebody had to have some somewhere. You know, I see advertisements for picks made out of materials that are supposed to imitate that, and I wonder if there’s a lot of truth to it, because I don’t really know… I guess that’s the question. Is it possible to really tell the difference that immediately?
Absolutely. One hundred percent, you can tell the difference.

What is the difference?
It’s a rigidity, and brightness. Tortoise shell picks are very rigid. They have a great memory, and they have a very bright tone. It’s funny, everybody’s searching for that sound. Well, obviously not everybody… every material has different molecular properties, different densities, and they’re all going to interact with the string differently. Do you know my Ultem material?

The Ultex pick. When I first started playing around with that material about maybe eight years ago, we got some extruded Ultem in, and we punched it out, and it was very hard on our dyes. It had a little potato chip curve to it, because we had to pound the material and displace it so much that I really couldn’t get it to work right. But that sound, and the way that pick snaps, I think it emulates tortoise shell the best. I took it one step further. I worked with a friend of mine who was hip to all the different new polymers and plastics, and we bought new machinery, because it does melt at such high temperatures that standard machines like the ones we have here would be burned up in six months. The levels are so high when it flows correctly for a guitar pick. We actually had to buy machinery to be able to process that material. That’s how sold I was on the feel and the sound of Ultex.

Is there other stuff out there that’s kind of similar, or is that pretty much it?
That’s what I’m working with now. I mean, there are other guys who are using something, well I’m not exactly sure what … I think maybe an organic-based type material?

Something protein-based.
Right. I think that stuff sounds pretty good. It’s hard. I don’t know if it has the flexibility. I think with Ultem you really get the cool flexibility, and the memory. That’s what I’m going for.

I’m starting to put things together… there’s still so much to learn. Maybe a lot of players are like me… we’ve sort of been taking the pick for granted, you know?
I have the opportunity to work with the greatest guitar players of our time. Like I said, I equate what I do to making paintbrushes for artists, and there’s brushes for different strokes, and brushes for different landscapes, and you’ve got a fine brush, and you’ve got a wide brush… picks are the same way. You know, if you want a different tone, it starts with the pick. If you use a metallic pick, you’re going to interact with the strings differently; it’s going to be very bright, like a harsh sound. If you go for a celluloid pick, it’s going to be a soft tone. It’s a very soft pick, and it’s going to give you a more mellow tone.

I used to worry mostly about it being made out of something I could keep my fingers on when playing out. That’s become less of a problem for me over the years, but it’s still one of those habits. When I look around at picks that are available, I don’t think first about the tone I’m going to get, I think first about whether or not I’m going to be able to hold on to it.
Well you’re going to love this new pick I just came out with. I don’t know if you play with any nylon picks?

Actually, I do… the .88s.
Oh dude, you’re going to love the Max- Grip .88mms. It is like the ultimate grip on a nylon pick.

Sounds good to me. What I really like about the nylon picks is that you can quickly wear a really nice set of grooves in it, and really shape it to your grip. Not a lot of other picks do that as easily.
Yeah, that’s the flexibility and the memory.

How has the business of making and developing picks changed over the last few decades? Is that something you’re interested in?
I don’t know that the business has changed that much. We went through a period where we got involved with picks like the Strum Rose picks and picks that went beyond standard shapes and features. There’s a ton of different ideas for picks. I get calls once a week—actually, somebody else takes the calls now. Somebody always comes up with something… put it on a ring, do this, do that… but the standard pick shape, I love. It’s just that now there are so many new materials out there. It’s about trying to find the next Tortex, or the next Nylon, or the next Celluloid. For me, it’s got to be in materials.

The design itself is what’s lasted?
Yeah, I think the basic design, but there are also tips that can be changed, and other stuff. It all comes down to who you’re catering to. Gypsy jazz guys like those big 3 mm chunky picks, and then you get the rock ‘n’ rollers who like the .88s

You know, I was joking the other day with Joe Coffey, saying he could just cut up milk cartons because his picks are so thin. I’m not into them, but he really likes that flexibility. It seems like every guitar player has a different preference.
Thirty-one flavors, man. They did it with ice cream. I mean how many SKUs of picks do I have… a thousand? To find the right pick, you’ve got to just try out as many as you can. Research the guys that you look up to and aspire to sound like, and figure out what they’re using.

What if they’re using one of your pick designs that you’re not taking credit for, so you don’t know how to get a hold of ‘em?
(laughs) Then I’m out of luck, I guess… story of my life (Rodney Dangerfield routine) So has this been helpful?

Yes, extremely. I think our readers will appreciate it. Thank you again.
Yeah, you’re welcome.

Dava Picks
Dava’s Dave Story has been improving musicians’ tools for a long time, and he brings several good ideas together with these picks. He sent us a large variety, so I won’t go into detail about them all except to say that all are well-suited to their different purposes. Save for the Jazz Grips, all Dava Control picks feature a control region with an inserted molded tip. The control area allows you to easily change the flexibility of the pick by moving your grip, instead of loosening it. Different levels of flexibility in the same pick is highly useful. The inserted tips are also cool because you can get different kinds of tone and playability, but all the picks share the same grip.

The Spectrum of Plectrum
The Rock Control grips with 1mm celluloid tips are smooth and bright, the delrin are indeed fast, and the precision tip offers a sharp point. The nickel silvertipped Master Control picks are very bright, but also seem to get really good purchase on the strings. I liked the precision and clarity these tips brought to single-note lines.

Dava control nylons offer the same pliant feel and grip as standard nylons, but with Dava’s control region for a range of flexibility. Joe Coffey, who plays acoustic and electric rhythm guitar, reports that these have solved an old dilemma for him. He prefers the flexibility of very thin nylons, but they leave him without the mass and grip he needs for more dynamics and power. He been using these for a few weeks now, and I don’t think he’s looking back.

The Spectrum of Plectrum Ra Denney started making these picks from lignmum vitae, the densest wood on the Janka scale, but he now also offers picks made from Snakewood, which is slightly less dense but can be shipped internationally (it’s not on the CITES list). When it comes to presentation, these pull out all the stops—taking these handmade beauties out of their satin pouch produced subdued “oohs” and “ahhs” of appreciation all around. They play extremely well, too, and are far more comfortable and welcoming than I had anticipated. After a few weeks, it’s become hard think of a hardwood pick as an extravagance.

The Spectrum of Plectrum We tested a Rubber Grip Surfpick, a Jack Grassell holy bullet, and one of the new Snakewood Surfpicks. Each had a snug fit and enough mass to require very little force for a secure hold, letting me relax my grip a lot for strumming. Going from light runs to digging in was easy, too, since I didn’t need a death grip to keep from losing control of it. The Rubber Grip Surfpick has become my favorite of the three. The weight and thickness makes a smooth, clear attack easy. Denney will provide as sharp an edge as you prefer, and he’ll also replace your broken picks, but remember that wooden picks don’t flex, so don’t try to test them that way, or you’ll break them.

Big Rock Engineering
We got good selection of picks from Allen Chance with the X-1 ergonomic pick grips, which are stick-on, curved aluminum grips that will mount on just about any pick surface. It’s not complicated, but it does change the nature of your pick. These grips curve around your thumb and finger, requiring less force to get a good grip, which lets you relax your hand. It takes some getting used to, but it gives you control and dynamics without fatiquing tension. The X-1 does keep your finger and thumb from having much contact with the pick surface, so some techniques, like pinch harmonics, are out. Since the grip reinforces good technique, it does seem like it would be a very good practice pick for beginners and players who want increased accuracy.

The Spectrum of Plectrum
Big Rock also offers the F-1 ergonomic grip pick, which has a similar concept, but is made from a single piece of folded plastic that’s flat on the thumb side. The folded side curves around your finger, so it also takes less force to get a good grip.

Dunlop Ultex
The Spectrum of Plectrum As I said, I have not been adventurous when it comes to pick selection, and have tended to stick to whatever’s been working. But since I’ve always liked the Dunlop nylon .88s and the tortex 1mm picks, I thought it would be a good idea to try the ultex picks. It turned out to be a very good idea. The ultem material is harder than a tortex pick of the same gauge, and much denser than the same gauge in nylon, but it’s still got flexibility—and even more of a snap. I like they way they feel, and the sound is brighter. They’re not hard to keep control of, despite the fact that they’re quite smooth. I’ve been finding myself going for the 1mm ultex picks a lot lately.

Red Bear Trading Co.
Dave Skowron’s New Tortis picks are handmade from a hard, protein-based material, and are designed to emulate the characteristics of real tortoise shell. They are very stiff and have no flex, but they are fast, smooths picks with a nice warm, bright tone. The click is really there. The polished surface feels different, glossier, than plastic varieties, but even though they’re not sticky I had no trouble keeping traction. You have to let go to drop one.

The Spectrum of Plectrum
Since the picks are made from such hard material, Skowron creates the speed bevel himself (right-handed or left-handed). The density, feel and tone make them excellent for acoustic flatpicking, but they’ve been making me pretty happy on the electric as well. You might break one if you try to flex it, but it takes a lot of effort, so unless you’re a monster you’re not going to break it by playing. People around the PG offices really liked the look of the turtle shell with engraved Red Bear logo, but they’re offered in other colors, as well as a good selection of shapes and sizes.

A Fingerpicker’s Perspective
by Lance Keltner

I used to use a pick, in the mid-eighties. I found I was tucking that sucker into my palm and using my thumb and three fingers instead. It was an involuntary motion, not at all based on the style of music I was playing, as I was in a rock band in Texas, then played with Tim Karr (EMI) and Phil Lewis from L.A. Guns in the early nineties. Neither of these bands’ sonic landscapes would conjure up images of someone gently fingerpicking a classical guitar.

How could such a bizarre (and seemingly wrong) change in technique take place by itself? I honestly couldn’t figure that out, but it felt great and actually sounded really good. I found I could control the dynamics of my tone with much more precision by using my fingers. If I was using a really touch-sensitive amp, the effect of playing sans pick was greatly magnified.

My bass player Carmine and I were hanging out with a gang of New York players at China Club in the eighties when Jeff Beck showed up. He was a gracious, friendly guy who really didn’t want to talk guitars—more of a hot rod guy really—but he did indulge me for a moment before changing the subject to the thirties-era Ford street rod he was working on.

Jeff’s hands look like two small war zones. They look like those of a dedicated mechanic (which he is), and several fingers look as if they’ve been mashed by auto parts (which they have). I asked him, “So why did you quit using a pick?”

“Well you’re a singer, right?” he replied, “and you have a mic stand handy all of the time that you can put some tape on with some picks, right?”

When I answered, “Yeah, I do,” he said, “Well I usually don’t and I would get sweaty and drop my pick and have to dig around in my pocket for another, so one day I just said to myself… Jeff, you can’t drop your finger, can you?”

Just give it a try. Put the pick down for a second, or hide it in your palm. Experiment. Some players, like Beck, use their thumb a lot. I use my thumb for down strokes, and my fingers in an upward motion (think banjo player). You’ll notice if you work on it that your speed will increase and you’ll be able to play things that you just can’t pull off with a pick. I feel more attached to the rig when I’m sans pick. I get a tactile connection to the tubes and speakers that I just can’t muster with a piece of plastic between my fingers and the strings.

You will tear up your fingers a bit in the beginning, until you get a comfortable technique. During one tour, I cut myself up so badly that I had my right hand taped up like a boxer for about four gigs. That hasn’t happened since I’ve figured out what works for me. It feels normal and natural now. Give it a try; you’ll find some tonal variations and some riffs in your hands that you didn’t know were there.

Angus Clark talks about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and all things gear

Angus ClarkFor fans of massive, layered guitars, the holidays can often be a bit of a drag—not only does gift buying abruptly take the place of gear buying, but maudlin Christmas music— full of soft vocal harmonies and the occasional bell choir—begins its perennial creep into every facet of our lives. Fortunately for those guitarists that find their sanity slowly escaping as late December approaches, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra—a touring company that fuses holiday classics with heavy metal sensibilities and large-scale production values—also exists, and is likely coming to a city near you.

For TSO, guitar is not an afterthought; it is one of the main courses, and guitarist Angus Clark happily obliges by creating a thick wall of sound. In his eighth year with TSO, Clark has become a staple of the show, blowing audiences away with frenzied renditions of classics like “Flight of the Bumblebee” under showers of pyrotechnics, all while making it look easy. And while Clark admits to being a bit of a Strat aficionado—he plays in a Deep Purple tribute band and has just released a Strat-soaked solo effort entitled Your Last Battlefield—he consistently looks forward to November, when he can strap on a high-powered Jackson and live the big guitar dream.

We caught up with Clark as he geared up for 70 shows over the course of 66 days, stretching from November into the early new year. We talked about preparing for the TSO tour, what it takes to be a true professional, and the definition of heavy.

Angus Clark
Angus’ Plexi bears the scars of the road
What was your guitar education like?
I started playing when I was 13; I took lessons in New York where I grew up. At the same time, I was pretty much listening to nothing but Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. So those would be the two halves of my education: my record collection and my lessons. I went to USC, where I was a music major and from there I came back to New York, went to NYU and got a Master’s in music.

When did you hook up with TSO?
I was living in New York just after completing my Master’s degree, and I got a gig with a band called Naked Sun on a German label distributed by BMG. And we got dropped as soon as I joined the band, which is a classic story [laughs].

We were bound and determined to get a new record deal. So we got in a van and went back to L.A., played some showcases and nothing happened, except that I met a woman who worked for Kitaro, who is a Japanese new age artist. They were looking for someone who could play like David Gilmour, and I basically had the hair, the Strat and the whole thing going on. So I got the Kitaro gig, and I did that for four or five years, from ‘94 until ‘99.

So you were playing new age music?
That era of Kitaro essentially sounds like orchestral space rock. It was like Pink Floyd with no singer.

That sounds unbelievable.
Oh man, it was a great guitar gig. I had huge, long guitar solos with strings backing me up. We played in front of castles in Japan, all over the place. It was phenomenal for me as a guitarist. I’m on five of his records, and four of them were nominated for Grammys.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Marty Friedman worked with Kitaro; he had Kitaro produce one of his solo albums, Scenes. And so Marty would come see the Kitaro shows and we became friends; when Marty left Megadeth, Al Pitrelli [playing with TSO at the time] joined the Megadeth and TSO called Marty to see if he was interested in doing the tour. He wasn’t available, but he said, “I know another guy in New York,” and they called me. It’s only six degrees of separation [laughs].

Angus Clark
“There were definitely guys [at the audition] that are more technically proficient than I am, but the nature of getting a gig like this one is being a good performer.”
What was the audition process like?
There were a couple auditions, and there were a bunch of really good guys there. There were definitely guys there that are more technically proficient than I am, but the nature of getting any gig—well, any gig like this one, at least—is being a good performer.

You’ve gotta be able to play the stuff, number one, but then you’ve gotta perform the material, and I had a proven track record of that. I toured the world for five years; I knew how to get along with guys on a bus. You bring all of that with you to the audition.

What is it like playing on such a well-known spectacle of a show? Most players will never experience playing in front of a wall of pyrotechnics.
It’s intense; you think, “How the heck did I get here?” And I’ve had that experience more than once. When I was first with Kitaro, they flew me to Japan and they set me up on a stage with a huge PA rig, and I’m playing all this Pink Floydinspired stuff, and they’ve got this mirror ball—it’s just like I’m on the Dark Side of the Moon tour. I couldn’t fathom it.

The last two years of the TSO tour, we’ve been using a scissor lift stage—it looks just like the things that KISS would ride. I was like, “I can’t believe this!” I just commend Paul O’Neil and TSO for wanting to do that level of production, because it’s a family show, and a rocker can bring his kids and enjoy that level of production without having to worry about the content of the show.

How does the style of TSO compare to the projects that make up the rest of your year?
The rest of the year I’ll do my record, which is very Strat heavy, a Blackmore-meets-Tony Iommi-meets-Gilmour kind of thing, and then I’ll play in my Deep Purple tribute band, which I love, because we only do MK III material, not the “Smoke on the Water” stuff. Then TSO time comes and I’ve got the Jackson Randy Rhoads model on and a rack of doom [laughs]. But when I’m making my record, I’m just using my 50-watt plexi. Some of the cuts are just the guitar straight into the amp, which is the best sound in the world.

How do you develop the tone you use with TSO? Is it left to your discretion, or is there someone saying, “This is what I need you to sound like.”
There’s a specific notion of what it’s all supposed to sound like, and you have to be in the range of that. That’s part of the reason I use a POD, in case someone says, “I really need this to sound like this,” they can just pass the preset over to me. The only thing is that we’re all different—the tone comes from your fingers, so what I need to get from an amp, in order to get the right sound for TSO, is different from what Chris Cafferty or Alex Skolnick has to do to get the right tone. But so long as at the end of the day you get it, that’s mission accomplished.

Angus Clark
Angus backing TSO violinist Anna Phoebe in NYC in 2007
Photo: Phil Langer
Do you like working with the POD?
I do, I use it all the time at home. I just did this solo on this new Metal Church record, and I composed it at home with the POD; then I went into my rehearsal room and cut it at deafening volumes with my plexi. You can’t underestimate to what degree the POD changed the game, in terms of just being able to work on things. I’m amazed by that stuff.

You’ve created some massive tones for both TSO and your solo work; are there any particular secrets you’ve discovered for creating that?
Well, two things. One is the 50-watt plexi, a 1987X. That to me is where it’s at. As for lead, in a studio here in Brooklyn—because I gotta represent Brooklyn—called Sweetfire, there’s this a 100-watt head, but it’s a JCM 800 that actually has a channel switching function and reverb on it. I don’t remember what the model number is, but that was like the JCM 800 lead tone, right out of the box, just the way you want it.

So your tonal secret is pretty much just “get a Marshall.”
[laughs] And then get a good guitar and put DiMarzio pickups in it.

Go on to the next page for more with Angus, plus his gear box.

Do you like scooped tones?
Not really. It’s so funny; you listen to Randy Rhoads—a big influence for me—and he’s got a lot of high-end and midrange snot in there. That scooped thing just gets too much pick attack.

What about dropped tunings?
Well, here’s another secret of tone: heavy strings and high action. I like having my Strat—the main Strat I’m using now is a ’62 reissue—tuned to Eb, and it has a set of D’Addario strings on it that goes from 11-52. I just realized that I wasn’t getting enough sound, and someone introduced me to a hybrid set with the 52 on the bottom. When I started detuning to Eb and D, I moved to 11s.

D’Addario makes a set of 11-52s now. Because you know the kids love to drop tune those guitars.

What do you think of those that drop to notes like C to be heavy?
Crazy notes, but there’s some of that early Sabbath where he’s got a low C# on the guitar, and he was playing eighths on a Gibson scale guitar!

What’s funny about that early Sabbath stuff is that every now and then I’ll notice a sound coming out of my plexi, and I’ll listen and say, “Is it supposed to do that?” Then I’ll put Black Sabbath on and I’ll hear that same sound, and I’ll say, “Okay, my amp is fine.” [laughs] I’ll be worried until I confirm it with Sabbath.

Your MySpace page says, “A new breed of guitar hero...”
A new breed of American guitar hero [laughs].That’s a tagline I got from Al.

What does it mean?
Well, this gets off the TSO track, but I just think that... if you start from Eddie Van Halen and move to guys like Yngwie—and I’m an immense Yngwie fan—you had that whole look and style just raining down on everybody for five or ten years. And all the guys that made their names then still have a profile, this real gravitas to who they are. But chops guitar is coming back. Bands like Dragonforce are on Guitar Hero and everyone’s interested in technical playing. And so I just think it makes room for a new generation of guys who can make their names in that realm of guitar, and I’m all for it.

You’re gonna have a new breed. John 5 is an amazing player; Bumblefoot is amazing. These guys are throwing down with the best of them, and they’re able to make their own names. It’s not like, “Oh man, you weren’t there then, so you don’t get to be a guitar hero.” We’re making room for guitar heroes again, and I think that’s a great thing.

Angus’s Gearbox
When Angus takes the stage with TSO, here’s what he’s caroling on.

Jackson Custom Shop RR1T
Gibson ’61 SG VOS
Fender ’62 Stratocaster reissue
Atomic Guitar Works Strat-style guitar w/humbuckers
Rocktron Prophesy
Mesa Boogie Fifty/Fifty
Power Amp
EVH 5150 Mk III head
Randall isolation cabinet w/
Celestion Vintage 30s
D’Addario strings, .011-.052

Angus Clark
Trans-Siberian Orchestra

We've got the scoop from Goodsell, Soultone, Blackstar, Egnater, Red Iron and Bogner

LA Amp Show: Hot New Amps
Not to disrespect any guitar or amp shows involving big, open convention halls that sound like twenty Guitar Centers on a Saturday afternoon—we’re big fans of going anywhere gear is gathered—but there’s something to be said about Loni Specter’s L.A./N.Y. Amp Show formula. Instead of booths, each vendor has a hotel suite. You walk from room to room and fire up any piece of gear you want, as loud as you want, all while spending some quality time with the manufacturers themselves. Imagine rolling into the Fuchs room with your guitar, plugging into the new ODS-HRM and having Andy Fuchs himself show you how the amp’s unique post-overdrive tone stack works.

Click here for a listing of all of our 40+ video demos from the Amp Show.
This year’s L.A. Amp Show involved about 50 manufacturers—most of them were amp manufacturers, but some guitar, effects and accessories companies were there, too. Held at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, California over the weekend of October 4th and 5th, the fourth year of this event involved the usual sights. There was an interesting mix of celebs like Warren DiMartini, Steve Trovato, Zakk Wylde and Tommy Smothers—who managed to beat Zakk at arm wrestling in the hotel bar; live performances by Carl Verheyen, Raj Phanse, Marc Ford, and the Travis Larsen Band; a “Tone Wizards” panel session; and of course, lots and lots of gear. New this year was a “Vintage Amp Exchange,” where owners of pre-1970 amps were welcome to bring their stuff to sell, trade or simply show off.

As for the actual show of newer gear, there was no shortage of buzz-worthy stuff. With so many big name manufacturers, boutique operations and startups bringing their “A” game (knowing that NAMM is around the corner), we needed both days to check everything out—and we still ended up missing a few rooms. Here’s a sampling of what our staffers and contributors on the scene in L.A. got excited about:

LA Amp Show: Hot New AmpsGoodsell Amplifiers
The words luscious and sweet come to mind when you talk about what Goodsell is known for; their amps sound amazing, too. The Atlanta company’s reputation for versatile, pro-level tone is best exemplified by their line of Super 17 amps, but Richard Goodsell is now making a high-gain growler called the Black Dog. This 50-watt, EL84- equipped, face-melting head is loud as hell, with thick overdrive and Goodsell’s famed touch sensitivity. Look for the street price to come in under $2000 when these puppies make it to retailers.

Video Demo

LA Amp Show: Hot New AmpsSoultone Amplification
When we walked into the Soultone room, we were greeted with righteous JTM45-ish sounds by a player who was readily channeling Hendrix. Yes, the chops were there but the Soultone head had a lot to do with it, too. There was some serious, unadulterated plexi action going on in the room.

With a wide range of looks, from vintage to classy gator-skin luggage, Soultone’s amps had a commanding visual presence as well. The company offers what it calls a Heavy Duty line and a Pro line, in addition to kits for DIYers.

Read MoreShow less