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.
This vintage Leslie-designed cabinet is one of the first—and still among the finest—modulation effects built for guitar.
It's time to discuss the Fender Vibratone—Fender's "Leslie" guitar speaker. The Leslie cabinet is famously known for making the swirling sound of the Hammond organ, which everyone has heard in classic soul, gospel, and blues recordings. But the Leslie is also great for guitars. I try to be a natural-tone idealist, eschewing most effects, but Leslie-style modulation is my guilty pleasure.
I first heard a Hammond organ with a Leslie via Booker T. & the M.G.'s on The Blues Brothers movie soundtrack in 1980. I think I saw that movie over a hundred times as a kid, and I memorized the dialog and could play the songs and guitar licks. The tone, groove, and melody in "Time Is Tight," with Booker's organ and Steve Cropper's guitar locking and trading, hit a nerve in me. I still consider it the best soul instrumental ever.
"I first heard a Hammond organ with a Leslie via Booker T. & the M.G.'s on The Blues Brothers movie soundtrack in 1980."
So, let me explain how this swirling sonic effect works and share how to get great tone out of Fender's rotating pseudo-Leslie. The patent for "continuous modulation by acousto-mechanical means, e.g. rotating speakers or sound deflectors" was filed in 1956 by Donald J. Leslie. Since CBS owned both Fender and Leslie in the mid-'60s, they crossed brands and introduced the Vibratone for guitarists in 1967, based on the Leslie 16. The Vibratone was equipped with a single 10", 4-ohm Jensen speaker and required an external driver amp. In front of the vertical speaker, there is a rotating, circular Styrofoam rotor, with an asymmetrical opening. As an internal motor spins the rotor, the sound waves are intermittently blocked and allowed to pass through its opening, which creates a 3D Doppler effect. The audible result is that the frequency and volume are changed as the sound exits the cabinet at three places—both sides and the top—which simultaneously creates both tremolo and vibrato effects. The rotor has two speeds: approximately 40 Hz (slow) and 340 Hz (fast).
Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, and Robin Trower are among the notable guitar-wielding, classic-rock proponents of the Leslie effect. Here, the author drives his Vibratone with a Bandmaster Reverb head.
Since the Vibratone speaker sits deep into the cabinet, it sounds muddy, bass-y, and not as loud as a regular cab. Swapping with a louder 12" speaker is recommended, so the Vibratone can keep up with other amps onstage. Speakers with neodymium magnets can reduce weight in the 77-pound cab. I like to use powerful 40-watt driver amps with wide EQ possibilities to get enough cut and clean volume with the Vibratone. Also, I prefer to not plug in via the cabinet's crossover coupling unit with its high-pass filter. Instead, I install an input jack on the back, simply wired directly to the speaker. Keeping things simple reduces sources of failure, and the amp's crossover introduces unnecessary complexity. Without that mod, I simply dial down the bass on the amp.
Black-panel Bandmaster, Bandmaster Reverb, and Bassman amps are great drivers for the Vibratone since they are powerful, 4-ohm rated, and have enough sparkle. Plus, they sit nicely on top of the Vibratone. I use a second combo amp—for example, a Super Reverb—with the dedicated amp driving the Vibratone. An AB/Y pedal lets me select the Vibratone alone, the Super Reverb alone, or both together. I use two microphones on the Vibratone—one on each side. They are panned oppositely in the PA, with the left microphone panned 80 percent to the left and the right panned 80 percent to the right. This creates a big swirl in the room, and the audience can hear the powerful rotating vibrato effect in stereo through the PA. You don't get this kind of full stereo vibrato in a room with a single amp and a chorus pedal.
Note the sound ports on the top and sides of the cabinet, which, along with the rotor, give the Vibratone its Doppler effect.
The only other amp vibrato effect to challenge the sound of the Vibratone appeared in Magnatone combos of the same era and continues to be part of the recently revived brand's recipe. Magnatone's frequency modulation happens in the electrical circuit, using tube gain stages with varistors, which are resistors that simply drop in resistance value as the voltage across them increases. This circuit-based vibrato is more electrically advanced, requiring more components and more tube and overall circuit maintenance. But the upside is that you can get stereo vibrato out of small and lightweight combos without lugging around a bulky speaker cabinet with its electrical motor, belt, and a rotor that requires oiling and other maintenance.
There are several modern rotating speakers that are easier to find and maintain than a vintage Vibratone or Leslie. I've also found a few good Leslie-effect pedals, like the Analog Man chorus. But they don't beat a mechanically rotating Leslie-designed Vibratone in stereo mode, IMHO. Now, I hope you are inspired to go find your swirl.