Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Mon, 25 May 2009

Eric and Albert

On Friday I got a message from my dad to ask if I was interested in seeing Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall the following night. His neighbour has a box and there was a seat going spare. I've been listening to Eric's music for many years and admire him as a guitarist, but was not really in the 'Clapton is God' camp. Still, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to see one of the greats in this iconic venue that I had not visited before.

The Albert Hall seems smaller in real life than it appears on TV. The box was opposite stage, but still not too far away. The support act was Arc Angels from Austin, Texas. Their blues-rock reminded me somewhat of Derek and the Dominoes with some nice slide playing. One of the guitarists is left-handed and they swapped guitars in the middle of one song just to show off a little. They were pretty good, but the sound was not quite good enough to make out the lyrics.

Eric took to the stage exactly on schedule with his band. I didn't recognise the first song, but it was followed by a series of classics from the Dominoes album, some Cream and solo pieces like I Shot the Sheriff and Cocaine. There was an acoustic set in the middle that included Layla. The encore was Crossroads and they left the stage to great applause, right on schedule.

Eric was a good as I would expect, mostly playing his trademark black Strat. He seemed to be using a tiny Fender amplifier sitting on the drum riser. Andy Fairweather-Low backed him up with some cool soloing himself. I was less impressed by all the keyboard solos from the two players. They got a bit repetitive. There were a series of door-sized screens behind the stage. These were used well on the acoustic set to show close-ups of the guitars, but were otherwise just distracting when just showing random patterns, presumably to set a mood.

The sound was pretty good. Better than for the support. The volume was about right. It doesn't have to be deafening as when I saw McFly with my daughter a couple of weeks back. The mood was pretty relaxed with the audience seated until the last song, but good applause and a fair bit of shouting, some by men professing their love for Eric. It was obviously a very well rehearsed show with little spontaneity. All very well done, but a bit lacking in emotional involvement. Clapton didn't say more than 'Thank you'.

It was only when we were leaving that someone noticed that the Duke of Kent was in the neighbouring royal box. I hope he and his family enjoyed it, but it didn't seem to hold the interest of two girls there who spent half the show taking pictures of themselves. I'll be back at the Albert Hall next month with my family to see The King and I.

[20:52] | [/Music] | Comments | G

Thu, 07 May 2009

Roland Cube 80x Guitar Amplifier

I've owned a few guitar amplifiers since I bought my first electric guitar as a student. When I bought that guitar I also bought a small, but sturdily built 10W unit called a 'Black Box'. It looked like someone may have built it from a kit. It made a noise, but I'm not sure it was too impressive. Next I picked up something that I think was called a V Amp in an auction when the company went bust. It was big and loud, but never left the bedroom. I used those with my old Vantage Strat. Whilst living in Germany I bought a Peavey Backstage 110. This had some use at home, but also made appearances at some jam sessions. It came along to the audition for my current band, but was determined to be a bit weedy. It puts 65W through a 10" speaker, but just didn't seem to move enough air to cut through.

For a while I've been using various amps at the rehearsal studio including a Marshall Valvestate and some random transistor combo. The Marshall sounded good, but was a bit flakey, probably due to lots of abuse.

I started looking for a new amp. The choice is vast. In the £200-400 range there dozens to choose from ranging from basic transistor amps through to pure valves with hybrids and modelling amps in between. Some people are valve/tube purists and won't consider anything else. I was keeping my options open. Somewhere I read about the Roland Cube range that seemed to get good reviews as versatile gigging amps with good reliability. The Cube 60 looked like what I needed with a variety of amp models and some effects. I was all ready to buy one when Roland announced the Cube 80x at the NAMM show in January. As well as more power it introduced an extra preset lead channel and a looper. The former sounded useful for gigging and the latter just sounded like fun. From listening to people like Steve Lawson I've been intrigued by looping and have wanted to try it. The 80x was not due out until April, so I resigned myself to hanging on for that as it just seemed ideal for my needs.

Last week it finally arrived and I 'un-boxed' it at a rehearsal. It made a very good first impression with the volume and sound quality. This was mainly using the Marshall model, but I also used the clean channel. It's very intuitive to use as you just choose the model and then twiddle the knobs as you would on an analogue amp.

To use all the features you need up to six footswitches. Those available from Roland's Boss range are pretty expensive, so I thought I would make my own. I bought a metal case and some switches from Maplin. A couple of hours of drilling and soldering, then I had something. It didn't quite work. I think one of the plugs is faulty. I also found that the momentary switch used to start/stop the looper did not work very well. Eventually I realised this was due to it being a normally open rather than the required normally closed type. I'll have to go back to Maplin and pick one up. I still managed to have some fun, but had to hold the switch down and release it when I should have just been pressing it now and again. The looper is great for recording one or more rhythm parts and then soloing over it. I can imagine that it could be used in performance to allow one guitarist to cover multiple parts, with limitations. It's not as capable as some of the stand-alone units, but then the whole amp costs less than a lot of those. Considering you are getting a three channel amp with several effects, the looper and a tuner for around £300 it's a bargain. I'm sure the sounds will not meet everyone's standards, but I think it's going to be good enough for what I need right now.

There are some professional demos on-line by Johnny DeMarco (slightly hyper American) and Alex Hutchings (more laid-back Brit). I'm getting some issues at the moment with Youtube and other Flash-based sites getting stuttering sound. This could be related to my recent Kubuntu upgrade that ran a lot smoother than previous versions.

[22:08] | [/Music] | Comments | G

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