Gear Reviews

TC Electronic BodyRez Pedal Review

Released in 2015, the TC Electronic (TC-E) BodyRez Acoustic Pickup Enhancer is, according to the manufacturer: “Designed to restore the natural acoustic resonance of your instrument when using under-saddle pickups.” The name is clearly an amalgamation of the words body and resonance and pretty much sums up the mission of this pedal: to restore these qualities to the sound of an undersaddle pickup on an acoustic instrument. Continuing in the marketing copy, it apparently does this through “…a vast amount of pre-configured filters combined with subtle quick compression in order to bring your amplified tone back to life.” More on that later. At time of writing the full user manual (as opposed to the quick start guide) is not available on the TC Electronic website; however, I managed to track down a copy on manualslib.

Let’s start with the basics: the pedal measures (as in, I actually measured it) 44mm/1.74″ in width, 94mm/3.70″ in length and 45mm/1.77″ in height, from the base of the pedal to the top of the single control knob. It is thus quite a small pedal and readily disappears into the string pocket of a gigbag or guitar case. Here it is alongside my MXR bass preamp and one of the newish Fishman pedals:

Size Comparison: MXR Bass Preamp, TC-E BodyRez, Fishman Acoustiverb

As expected, a pedal of this size cannot accommodate an internal battery: there is a power input on the right side for any standard pedal power supply, i.e. 9-volts, center-negative, 100 milliamps minimum. A simple power supply is included with the pedal. Above the DC input is located a mini (not micro) USB connector for firmware updates. As of September 2023, TC-E have not released any for this pedal. And no, you cannot power the pedal using a USB power supply connected to the USB port; I’ve tried. The input and output sockets are on the right and left sides of the pedal respectively and are not labelled at all – this could be confusing for pedal newbies. On the plus side, the sockets are offset to allow for closer pedal spacing with other TC-E mini pedals such as the polytune mini or hypergravity. Thoughtful!

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MXR M81 Bass Preamp part deux, or Further adventures in going direct!

In October of last year I wrote a post about my experiences with the MXR M81 bass preamp pedal, in which I said that it had given me the confidence to leave my bass amp at home for the first time since I started playing bass in 2000. Since then, I’ve had a few more experiences with this amp-less setup and have more specific things to share, both as a bass player and as a sound engineer. Let’s start with a picture:

My amp-less setup with the MXR M81 Bass Preamp, Fender American Standard Precision bass, Android tablet with the SQ MixPad app and Community MX10 floor monitor.

Specific things that I like about this setup after five months of use:

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Blackstar Sonnet 60 review

As a live sound engineer I’ve encountered and used all sorts of amplification systems for acoustic instruments, from powered PA speakers to Roland keyboard amps to various dedicated ‘acoustic’ amplifiers. When I first started out in the early 2000s these usually resembled electric guitar amplifiers, but with fullrange drivers, perhaps a tweeter or two and a control panel that included a microphone input. Typical of these was the Marshall AS50D, which was good and loud but definitely on the heavy side at 16 kilos/35 pounds. As time has gone by, live sound equipment and instrument amplifiers have both become more compact and lighter in weight, and in May 2022 I decided to purchase a Blackstar Sonnet 60 to see what the state of the art was.

Blackstar Sonnet 60 (blackstaramps.com)

Coming from old-school acoustic amps, a couple of things that impressed me from the outset were the size (345mm wide x 310mm high x 250mm deep, or roughly a 1-foot cube) and the weight of 7.7 kilos/16.9 lbs. This was significantly less than the 10.5 kilos/23.1 lbs of the Boss Acoustic Singer pro, another amp I was considering. When you are carrying guitar, microphone stand, cables, power extension etc every kilo makes a difference, especially in Singapore, where load-ins often involve stairs and narrow doorways.

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MXR M81 Bass Preamp: First Impressions and an adventure in going direct.

Since taking up bass guitar in 2000, I can trace a gradual evolution in my attitude towards the bass amp. In the beginning, I saw it as an integral part of my tone, and was reluctant to even connect to the PA system, believing that bass and drums should come directly from the stage. During this period I had some fairly massive bass rigs, including a Gallien Kreuger 700RB-II 2×10 combo which was 700 watts and about 30 kilos/66 lbs, and a truly spectacular preamp/power amp/cabinet combination consisting of an Acme Low B4, an SWR Grand Prix and a Crown CE1000 running in bridge mode for 1,100 watts. In hindsight, this was a time when I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

As time passed and I grew as both an amateur musician and a professional sound engineer, I learned the hard truth that the best way for musicians to serve their engineer and audience is to keep the stage levels reasonable, especially in small venues. I can’t remember who it was who wrote that the hardest assignments for sound guys are the loud gigs in small clubs, not the ones in stadiums! This, combined with the advances in PA systems over the past 20 years have led me to seek out smaller and smaller bass amplifiers, culminating in my recent purchase of a Hartke HD25 – just 25 watts into an 8″ speaker!

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Adventures in Bass Amplifier Buying.

So I haven’t bought a new bass amp in more than 10 years. I’ve been playing bass for a couple of decades now, and in that time I’ve owned a variety of “boom boxes”: a Peavey Microbass (which went back almost immediately due to a rattling front grill), Marshall Bass State combos (a B30 and B65), an Acoustic Image Clarus head paired with an Acme Low B1 cab, and an incredibly heavy Gallien-Krueger 2×10 combo. I’ve seen the transition from class A/B to class D, being a very early adopter of class D with the AI Clarus, and I’ve also tried many, many pedals and preamps along the way. With electric bass, as with electric guitar, the amplifier is an integral part of the voice of the instrument – even though bass is completely comfortable with being DI’ed, you still need something to hear yourself on stage, and most stage monitors just will not cut it. Even if they have the necessary frequency response, the voicing is often not suited for bass and gives a rather flat, lackluster sound. This can be remedied through using something like a Sansamp bass driver DI… or a bass amp!

As a sound engineer, I’m very conscious of the impact that loud backline has on the front of house (FOH) sound. In fact, many club setups rely on the backline to carry the majority of the instrumental sound, with the house PA being responsible mainly for vocals, acoustic guitar, and maybe keyboards. This of course, means that the sound engineer has less than complete control of the mix, and needs to work with the musicians to achieve a workable balance. This can be fine, especially if the musicians are professionals, but I have vivid memories of just how loud something like a full Marshall stack (100 watts, two 4×12 cabinets) can be – with something like that cranked in a small space, you can pretty much forget about hearing anything else. Duncan Fry, whom I regard as a mentor, wrote in one of his books that the hardest gigs are the loud shows in small clubs, not the arena or stadium shows! Loud guitar amps are a large contributor to this. Now I’m not saying that loud amps are bad… but the fact that I turn 45 this year and still have normal, undamaged hearing is a testament to me keeping a healthy distance from these devices.

My main playing out amp for the last 12 years has been a Hartke A25 – a 25-watt, solid state kickback combo built like a brick outhouse:

Hartke A25 (source)

I can’t quite remember how I ended up with this amp, but I recall that I needed something relatively light and small to act as a personal monitor, and this amp was the best-sounding one I could find at the time. I don’t play with loud drummers and put the amp as close to me as I possibly can. The A25 is noticeably heavy (11 kilos/24 pounds) for its size (8″ driver, no horn) and has never let me down, the only sonic problem with it being that the XLR output is rather noisy and as a result never gets used. It also has a number of features that I rarely use such as the bright control and adjustable limiter. I also do not like the carpet covering, which is a lint & dirt magnet and in my opinion an indication of cost-cutting – professional PA speakers, for example, are always either painted or made of moulded plastic. My single biggest gripe though, is the top strap handle: it’s so small that I can’t get my knuckles through it, which makes carrying the amp a rather painful affair. So I decided it was time for a upgrade.

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Light vs. Custom Light strings on my Takamine CP7MO TT

Takamine CP7MO TT bridge

I’ve owned this lovely guitar since February 2017 – seems like only a few months ago that I bought it. I guess the past two years have been a bit of a black hole for many of us. I was really excited to get this instrument – it’s one of the relatively few Takamine models with the 45mm (1-3/4″) nut that is relatively affordable, priced at around US$2,000 at time of writing. Since the bluegrass series was discontinued, these wider-nut guitars have been largely restricted to the very top of the pro series and limited edition guitars such as the EF75M TT, EF7M-LS etc. I like to play a combination of strumming and fingerstyle, so this combination of features: OM body style, thermal spruce top with ovangkol back and sides (a variation on rosewood), and 45mm nut is ideal.

Having said that, this guitar has always felt a bit “hard to play” with the stock light (12-53) strings. I’m not sure if this is a function of the way the guitar was set up from the factory but whenever I switch to this instrument from one of my other Taks the strings feel comparatively hard to press down, especially the two unwound strings, especially when playing barre chords. So this has always prevented me from fully enjoying the instrument. It’s not a big deal, maybe the difference between 90% and 100% satisfaction.

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Adventures in one-mic recording

Sometimes new gear can inspire! I recently decided to refresh my microphone stable and realised that I have not purchased a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) mic for almost two decades. Well, that’s not strictly true, seeing that my Audio-Technica AE5100s and AE3000s are technically LDCs, but many purists do not regard these as such since, a) the 5100s are end-address and, b) neither model is externally-biased. So in that sense the last LDC that I purchased was my Rode NT1-A, which I think I got way back in 2003 or 2004, when the then-distributor of Rode in Singapore was closing shop. I also have one of the original Rode NT1s, in its ‘hospital grey’ paint. Side note – the AE3000 is actually quite a competent side-address condenser microphone – I used it for my Breedlove Atlas Retro OM/SMe review, shot in 2017, seems like a lifetime ago now.

So after perusing the Audio-Technica catalog and getting some prices I decided to purchase an AT4040, the single-diaphragm, cardioid-only cousin of the AT4050. It was either that or the AT4047/SV, which in Singapore at least is more than twice the price of the 4040! Just goes to show how much output transformers cost… and yes it does have a different diaphragm and different circuitry. Anyway, no money right now blah, blah, blah…

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Custom speaker bag for Bose S1 Pro by Roqsolid covers

New video! This is a short review of a loudspeaker bag that I had made by UK company Roqsolid. I’ve had an S1 Pro in inventory for several months now and it’s a great speaker but the stock cover is seriously flimsy. Using the dimensions I sent to them, Roqsolid produced a fully-enclosed, padded bag for the speaker which costs about twice as much as the stock cover but easily provides ten times the protection. 

Every sound guy or musician needs a good cover-maker, and Roqsolid are amongst the best – check them out the next time you need a piece of gear protected but don’t need the weight and expense of a flight case. 

Order your own Bose S1 PowerBag: https://www.amplifiercoversonline.com/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=538_491_280&products_id=8257&zenid=igs5df1r2cedpgml9fkvfo35e0

Boss AD-2 Acoustic Preamp Review

Released in late 2016, the AD-2 is one of the more compact acoustic guitar preamps available. It follows the familiar Boss form factor, being 73mm wide, 129mm deep and 59mm tall. This means that it will fit on standard pedal boards alongside your other floor wizardry, and gives it an advantage over its numerical big brother the AD-3, which takes up significantly more space. The pedal features a notch filter, ambience and acoustic resonance effects and a balanced line out in addition to the standard unbalanced output, making it the simplest pedal of this type available from Boss.

Input impedance is 10 M ohms which means that the pedal can accept passive piezo pickups directly with no need for an additional buffer in the signal chain. This would also allow the pedal to act as a backup in the event that your onboard preamp were to go down. Of course magnetic soundhole pickups will work fine too. The pedal features a buffered bypass which means that it will not pass signal if the batteries fail completely, but in my experience the pedal knows when the juice is about to run out and stitches off the effects in order to keep the buffer alive. Nevertheless an external power supply is to be preferred if at all possible. Battery life is stated to be 6 hours of continuous use.  Continue reading