First there was the Smart Gate. Now they’re beefing up their noise suppression arsenal with the Noise Clamp. Jim Dunlop showcased this little baby at Winter NAMM (that’s where I took the pic you see above) and now it’s hitting the streets.
Dunlop announces the release of the MXR Noise Clamp.
Crank your stomp pedals to the extremes without the fear of any hiss or excess noise with the MXR Noise Clamp. By sensing your guitar’s dry signal, the Noise Clamp reduces the noise level within the effect loop, coming down hard on even the noisiest signals. At its highest settings, the Noise Clamp works more like an effect, working perfectly for super tight syncopated rhythms.
A single Trigger knob allows you to set the volume threshold at which the gate is active, and a green LED shows whether the gate is on/off. The Noise Clamp is capable of reducing noise up to 26dB, maintaining riff definition at extreme gain levels.
An internal switch toggles between two bypass modes: Loop Bypass or Loop On. In Loop Bypass mode, the Send/Return effects loop is bypassed when the pedal is off. In Loop On mode, the Send/Return effects loop is active while the pedal is off. This can be accessed by removing the back plate of the pedal.
Remember that sweet Jackson Chris Broderick signature model unveiled at NAMM? Well Chris has gone into much more detail about the guitar on his blog here. I was very interested to read about the custom-wound DiMarzio Fundamental pickups that will be featured in the guitar.
Thanks for the interest in my guitars. They are in the production phase of the 6 strings so those should be out soon, as for the 7 we are working out the details of the Floyd low pro bridge (this will be the only 7 to have it) and it should be going into production runs any time now. For the record it will not have a barrel jack (I never liked them), it will have a Fender style jack plate on the side of the guitar that you can reverse if you like. Here is a list of specs on the guitar, I hope you guys like it.
Available to the public in a 7 and 6 string version exactly like the ones I play. I wanted this because first and foremost I primarily play and feel at home on the 7 string but play my 6 strings on stage with Megadeth.
Earl Slick is one of the Coolest Guitarists In The World. I’ve been fortunate to be in his immediate presence twice in my life (including bumping into him in the gents’ at Ding Dong Lounge when he did a gig with Gail Ann Dorsey, Mike Garson and Gerry Leonard), and I’ve been 58% cooler as a direct result ever since. Framus has honoured Slick’s unstoppably rockworthy guitar playing in the form of a cool new signature model, which you can see here. I took that photo above at NAMM while Slick himself hung around telling people about the new axe and looking impossibly cool.
The guitar is kitted out with a Graphtech Black Tusq nut, DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary or P90 pickups, TonePros bridge (Bigsby optional), passive MEC electronics, swamp ash body, maple neck and rosewood fretboard. One thing I think is particularly cool is the control layout (see below). Retrotastic! By the way, you can connect with Aussie Framus distributor Dominant Music on Facebook.
Australian fusion legend Frank Gambale has always been good. Damn good. This writer’s dear Auntie Barbi has often talked of seeing Gambale play around his native Canberra during his teens, before he moved to LA and became known as the ultimate sweep picker and one of the most unique guitar voices in fusion. I spoke to Gambale while he was in town performing as the newest member of Return To Forever (going by the name Return To Forever IV). Gambale is in good company in RTF, with Chick Corea, Jean Luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White.
I saw you at NAMM in January and you were playing through a new DV Mark signature amp.
It’s been a bit of hard work to get it right, but good things take their time, and the DV Mark amps are on their way now. The official release will be at the Frankfurt MusikMesse. We’ve created a line of amps which are different. DV Mark have wanted to venture into guitar amps after their very successful bass line. They made their own amps and I played them and I thought the build quality and everything was good, but they weren’t to my tastes. So they wanted to come up with something for me because they wanted me to endorse their product, and I said that to do that we had to get it to where, obviously, I’m gonna love them! I really want to only endorse product that I love, and that’s been the way for me ever since when, so we worked quite diligently on something I’ve always preferred with guitar amps, which is not something that guitar amps always do, which is I’ve always preferred a preamp and power amp rig. I’ve always loved clean power. Guitar players often like tube power amps, and to me they just don’t sound good! The low end is very muddy and I just don’t think I need distortion from an amplifier. Certainly from a preamp, and I love having a tube preamp, but not a tube power amp. If you go to a big concert and you see a giant PA that’s pumping out incredible sound, you’ll never see a tube power amp in the racks. Never, ever ever! You just need good solid state power. So we’ve made a series of combos and an amp head that combine this idea. The 1X12 combo was ready at NAMM, and it’s about 150 watts. It’s clean solid state power with a tube preamp and a massive amount of sound! And it’s clean, clean, clean, unless you want it to distort.
Yeah, I heard it at NAMM and it actually managed to cut through the din of the show floor!
Oh you heard one! Good! Well they’re quite extraordinary. I’m surprised that this idea hasn’t really been done as far as I know.
Well there have been some amps with tube preamps and solid state power amps but they typically try to emulate the sound of a tube power amp anyway, sometimes even with a preamp tube included within the circuit. They always seem to add their own phrasing on top of the player’s, and if your playing is good enough you don’t need that from an amp.
Well any tube power amps that I’ve tried, I always don’t like. Is it my taste? I don’t know, because guitar players do use them, you know? I’ve always been a bit contrarian, but I like the sound I get. The speakers can get to distort when they need to. I’d rather have preamps and speakers distort, but never the power amp. So I’m sticking to that philosophy.
And you have a new Carvin signature model guitar.
At this point I wanted to pursue the semi-hollow thing, mostly because I’ve always thought that semi hollow guitars were the best of both worlds. I can string this guitar up with flatwound strings, for example, and get a very beautiful jazz tone out of it because it’s semi hollow, it has the warmth from the hollowbody aspect of it – to get a very acceptable and real jazz tone out of it. Or I can string it up with .009 to .042 strings and play blues, rock, fusion, latin, anything. It’s very useful, very… what’s the word… I always say the Italian word: utilismo! It’s a utility instrument, y’know? It’s great. I love it. Plus, the craftsmanship. The instrument is absolutely, gobsmackingly beautiful. It’s one of those instruments that is a complete joy to play.
A Carvin was the first guitar I ever reviewed. To this day, the smell of a Carvin guitar case is the smell of career advancement.
Haha. They’ve come a long way. They’ve always made curious instruments and they were obviously searching, but I think they’ve really come into their own now. In fact, my guitar came in as number three best new release product of NAMM this year, and that’s a real honour when you consider all the new products coming out. That was a very good nod in our direction. And a lot of it was, Carvin wanted to release this ages ago but I said “It’s still not ready, man.” I would rather wait until it’s absolutely perfect and there are no issues, and then release it. They were very patient to work with me. It’s funny, sometimes you go head-to-head with some companies because they have their way of doing things. I would say “Can you change this, and move this slightly over here?” And they’d go, “Well, we don’t usually do that. Most guys…” that’s the quote: “Most guys wouldn’t do it it that way.” And I said “Excuse me, I’m not most guys. That’s why I am where I am!” And as soon as I make that point they go “Right. Okay. Right.” Why else do you want me here? Do you want to listen to my ideas? I’m the one playing the bloody thing! I’ve been playing it all my life. If you don’t trust my opinion, who are you going to trust? I think they need input from players. Together we can make an incredible instrument. If you compare my Carvin model, there’s a standard version of this guitar, and it’s a nice instrument, but this and this and this and this and this needs to change. Because it’s nice, but not great. It looks beautiful, but it’s like a beautiful woman: on the surface she looks great, but it’s what’s going on inside, it’s not just the aesthetic. And I’m glad Carvin were listening.
So how’s the Return To Forever tour going?
It’s going great! This is the first tour and it started in Australia, which is fine by me! What can I say, It’s a fantastic group, iconic players, and I feel like I’m the right… no, I am the right man for the job!
Well obviously you don’t get asked to join a band of that level unless you bring something really special to it. I imagine you’re not just there to reproduce Al Di Meola’s parts note-for-note.
Those records are very ingrained into my head because I’ve listened to them since I was 13 and I love the music. I think what Chick likes about me and the reason he hired me in the first place in the Elektric Band is that I’m a stylist. I have my own voice. There are a lot of guitar players and it can be really hard to distinguish [between them] sometimes. I created an entire way to play the guitar, really, or brought it to the forefront – the sweep picking technique – and it was a means to an end to play the musical concepts that were going on in my head. I didn’t know it when I was 13, putting this style together, that it would be adopted into the lexicon of guitar techniques. Now everybody uses it. Just like when Van Halen came along and started tapping, people were going ‘What the hell is that?’ and it was the same when I came out with my sweep picking. People were going ‘How is this possible? What is it?’ It’s one of those spark points in history. And now, 25 years, 30 years later it’s an accepted technique that all virtuoso or good players will use to some degree. Before that it didn’t exist, really. When I auditioned for Chick back in 1986 he heard something that was very different. And everybody’s like that in this group. [Jean Luc] Ponty is absolutely recognisable anywhere for his beautiful lyricism. His soul and style is very unique. Same with Stanley [Clarke]. And everybody in this band has this incredible identity. That’s why I think I fit in, and have done for years with Chick. I have a very distinct way of playing that is part of the charm of the band. [Note: scroll down to the bottom of this article for a great video of Frank talking about joining Return To Forever
Well my auntie used to know you back in the day in Canberra and she always told me that you were really great even back then.
Really? Back in Canberra? Haha. My brother keeps saying “You were the hot kid in Canberra” but I wasn’t thinking about it. I wasn’t thinking about it. I’ve never thought of anything other than being the best possible guitar player I could be. Being mediocre just wasn’t an option. I didn’t want people going “Oh, y’know he’s good, but… y’know.” I’m either going to be the absolute best I can be or I’m going to take up something easy like brain surgery.”
And aside from Return To Forever, this year you’re releasing your Soulmine project, which is R&B, funk and soul influenced (with Victor Wooten on bass, Joel Taylor on drums and Gambale’s wife Boca on vocals).
Yeah! Boca is a wonderful singer/songwriter and talented pianist. She’s just a fantastic talent. I’ve wanted to do vocal music. Back in Australia I was always in vocal bands and it’s something I’m returning to – although I’ve done vocal tunes on my instrumental records too. Before, I was doing the lead singing, but I wanted a wonderful, talented singer to front the sound. We wrote ten songs together. I’m really excited about it. Four part vocal harmonies… I love sophisticated harmony. It’s got it all. It’s the best of all worlds, and I will be touring it.
DR Strings were showing off their sweet Neons at NAMM, both on Media Preview Day (the first and last shots) and at the show itself. These strings look awesome and I have a set sitting here waiting to review as soon as I get a minute. I can’t wait to see how they play – they certainly look cool, especially on those Warwick basses and Framus guitars.
I’ve long been an admirer of Z.Vex pedals – I can really relate to the combination of colour, humour, tone and originality in everything they do. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out the Z.Vex stand at NAMM, especially those killer custom finish creations. So what was Z.Vex showing at NAMM?
Well first off, check out this sweet amp. The version at NAMM was a prototype and the final version will be a little smaller than this behemoth. It’s cool that soon there will be another amp to sit alongside the Nano Head and the iMPAMP. That’s Marc from Z.Vex showing off this groovy creation.
Also check out the Instant Lo-Fi Junky, a nifty little unit which aims to give you the same vibe as the Lo-Fi Loop Junky but in a real-time, non-loopering format. This pedal combines a chorus and a compressor which can be mixed and matched in interesting ways, and it sounds amazing.
Finally, check out these custom-painted pedals. You can check out the range of custom designs here.
While at NAMM I was fortunate to stumble across Buddy Blaze Guitars. You may know Buddy as the guy who designed the Kramer Nightswan with Vivian Campbell, the dude who modified the Dean ML which would eventually become known as Dimebag Darrell’s most iconic guitar, or the designer of a very cool Dean signature model of his own. Buddy recently announced a new line produced in Indonesia, and I got to try these guitars out first-hand at NAMM. The playability is amazing, both from comfort and speed perspectives, and I can’t praise these axes enough. Dig the second one in the batch of pics below. And the final pic is the Buddy Blaze Generator, the artist signature model for Sugarland’s Scott Patton, with a design by Stephen Jensen to compliment Sugarland’s touring stage. Cool huh?
That pic up there is me with Buddy. As someone who’s admired his guitars for years, it was super-cool to meet him and find him such a warm, friendly dude who obviously loves guitar as much as geeks like me do.
For more information on Buddy Blaze, check out his website.
In the last year I’ve undergone a bit of a guitar pick metamorphosis. For years I’d been a strict Jazz III user for rock stuff (switching over to Jazz III XLs for acoustic, Delrin for bass and maybe the occasional Stubby 3.0mm), but after I found myself feeling a little lost while using an unfamiliar pick during a lesson with Paul Gilbert, I made a conscious effort to use any and every pick I could get my hands on. I’ve really enjoyed the Ultex Sharps, and the sharp-tip Max-Grip 1.14mm really rocks my world when I’m playing my Fender ’62 Stratocaster Reissue. So how about the new Ultex Jazz III 2.0 and Tortex TIII?
Ultex Jazz III 2.0
The Ultex Jazz III 2.0 is (obviously) made of Ultex, a much more matte, stiffer material than the nylon of the original red Jazz III. There is already an Ultex Jazz III design out there, although it lacks the sculpted tip and velvety feel of the 2.0. The 2.0 again features raised lettering (which improves the grip further) although I find it less obtrusive than that of the nylon version. There’s a slight bulge in the middle of the pick which makes it simultaneously more grippable and more controllable – it’s super-easy to angle the pick slightly for different articulation effects and pinch harmonics, and I find that the pick really flies from string to string when you use Frank Gambale-style (down-up-down, down-up-down) economy picking.
The fine, sharp tip is also ideal for Roy Buchanan-style circular picking (where you use the point of the tip to ‘draw’ tiny circles on the surface of the string, thus attaining the speed of an angry hummingbird). I’m a dude who likes to occasionally play at ridiculous speeds which betray my affiliation for 80s-style shred, and this pick never tripped me up on those wild alternate-picked flights of fancy.
The Ultex Jazz III 2.0 is the Empire Strikes Back of Jazz IIIs: a sequel that contains all the great elements of the original while improving on them in certain key ways (and also being significantly darker).
The Tortex TIII is made of (duh) Jim Dunlop’s popular Tortex material, and is available in standard Tortex gauges (.50mm, .60mm, .73mm, .88mm, 1.0mm, and 1.14mm). I tested .73mm, .88mm and 1.0mm. What I like about the Tortex material is that it’s a little tougher than nylon, and therefore doesn’t ‘give’ as much. In that sense, a 1.0mm pick has more stiffness than the equivalent thickness Nylon Standard. The TIII combines the tone and feel of Tortex with the sharp pointiness of the Jazz III, and as such it’s great for players who really need to dig in harder than the Jazz III’s enhanced precision might allow, while also enjoying the latter pick’s detail and articulation. I found it to be especially good for bringing out extra attack and wallop from single coil pickups. This pick will be greatly appreciated by players who like the size of a conventional pick but need a sharp tip for faster playing styles or for extra twang.
While at NAMM I got to try out the new Gibson Firebird X (shipping soon). This guitar caused quite a buzz when it was announced in December. Many thought it was overkill, some didn’t like the shape, others didn’t dig the colour. The colour was changed (it looks much darker in the pic above than it is in real life) and the release date was pushed back while Gibson engineers added further capabilities to the guitar’s technical side.
But first thing’s first: how’s she play?
Extremely well. The neck is very comfortable, with a nice balance of shreddiness and grab-hold-of-chordiness, and the string tension is loose enough for big greasy bends. The guitar is very well balanced. The controls are easy to access (especially the rows of sliders which face the player).
The inbuilt tones are very good, with the pickups summoning a range of modern, retro and futuristic sounds from humbuckers to single coils to P90s and then some. There’s a really pleasant, musical treble to most of the pickup settings.
The effects sound a little too neat and polite if you ask me – more like digital studio reverbs, delays and modulation effects rather than gloriously dirty pedal and amp ones. It’s nice to have them, but I think a lot of players will bypass these in most situations. Depends on what you’re going for, and I could imagine hardworking cover band guitarists really digging the inbuilt effects and the ease of having everything right there in the guitar.
The Firebird X is a great playing guitar with some wonderful inbuilt tones, but although it attempts to be a one-stop shop with effects, tunings and pickup selections, it could be a little too complicated for some players. It’s certainly not the traditional Gibson many players are looking for, but for those willing to put in the work learnings its intricacies, it’s a pretty exciting tool.