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Fender G-DEC Modeling Amp

Gdec_1 
With all of what Line 6 has done to promote amp and effects modeling, it's no surprise that the big guys are taking note.  A while back, Fender launched a low-end practice amp called the Fender G-DEC (you don't want to know what it stands for) and followed up with a lower-end G-DEC Junior and a slightly more powerful G-DEC 30. 

The standard G-DEC is a 15 watt practice amp with about 50 built-in tones, ranging from Lefty-Haze (Jimi Hendrix) to Hammer-of-the-Gods (quazi-zeppelin). (Aside: Why do the modelled amps and guitars always have these quaint innuendos instead of just coming right out and saying what they are modeling?).  There's a nice range of sounds from a slightly overdriven Chicago Blues sound to insanely distorted nu-metal settings with a few oddballs (Reggae-wah?) thrown in to boot.

G-dec-panel

With each built-in setting you get pre-set amp modeling, effects and so on, as well as an optional backing track of bass and drums.  These built-in jam tracks are a great way to improve your playing.  You can select the standard Rockin in G-DEC track, for example, and get a distorted rock guitar through a VOX style British amp sound with a steady 4/4 beat at 120 beats per minute in the key of E.  There are backing tracks in various Blues, Classic Rock, Pop, Country, Jazz and Heavy Metal styles.  While the sounds is good, they are MIDI loops and they do get a bit repetitious after a while.  Still, you can easily change the tempo or the key, or change up the amp and effects settings, making practicing Pentatonic scales a whole lot more fun than just using a metronome.  Because the tracks are MIDI, they play perfectly in any key or at any tempo; there's no distorted sounds from speeding up or slowing down.  Best of all you can wail away doing solos for hours without anyone else in the band missing a beat or drinking your beer!

If you want to lay down a short rhythm guitar looop, you can record that and then play it back with the backing track and then improvise your heart out playing lead guitar. The G-DEC makes it as easy as its gonna be to try out different musical styles without having to spend hours futzing to get the exact tone you want. In fact the manual is barely a dozen pages and the controls are all easy to use.

Of course, you can futz around for hours if you want to customize any of the built-in presets. You can change the effects, the amp model parameters, the drum track and save it as one of your own 50 custom settings. The user interface is quite easy once you learn it. Just press a button (Amp, Fx, Drums) and rotate the big knob known as the "Data Wheel". (Ok, I must admit, I had to read the manual before I totally figured this out.)

You can also plug in directly to a midi-based PC or pull in tracks directly from a CD player or MP3 player. In fact the amp has a flat top making it convenient to put a CD Player (or beer) on top. Instead of the traditional built-in handle, there's a carrying strap.
As a practice amp, its got a decent sound, but you're never gonna mistake it for a tube amp. The G-DEC puts more emphasis on heavily distorted metal tones than on clean ones and while its unlikely you're going to be thrilled with all of the tones, there's still plenty to choose from.  For the price and size, it's quite a good value, especially if you estimate the cost of a typical practice amp and one or two effects pedals or a Line 6 Pocket PodKORG Pandora PX5D or similar amp modeling device. Since it's all built-in, its very easy to use and there's no weird distortion of the backing track when you apply guitar effects. It's also got a great one-button electronic tuner that makes tuning up a snap.

G-dec_jr

However, at 15 watts, the G-DEC is definitely underpowered. It sounds like and feels like a beginner's amp, which of course it is.  If you're looking for an amp that will get you practicing more, the G-DEC series is worth investigating.  The G-DEC 30 gives you a bit more power with 30 watts, a bigger speaker, and more jam tracks. The G-DEC Junior (shown to the right) cuts out some of the bells and whistles in favor of simpler user interface with fewer tones and backing tracks.  

Street price for the G-DEC is around $260 in the US, slightly higher elsewhere.  The G-DEC 30 costs around $310 and the G-DEC Junior around $160, providing a range of choices depending on your budget and needs.  One other thing to keep in mind, there is a big community of G-DEC users out there with all kinds of resources ranging from forums, mods, more backing tracks, etc.  Below is a short video showing some of the features, tones and backing tracks of the Fender G-DEC.

Line 6 is the only other company offering a modeling amp with built-in backing tracks with their Spider Jam amp.  That definitely goes far beyond the G-DEC with more tracks, more customization (and more complexity).  But its only available in a 75 watt model with a price of around $500.


AC/DC Concert Videos & Photos

Here's a report on the 2008 AC/DC "Black Ice" tour as it made its way to Oakland Coliseum.  This has been one of my most popular posts, so I'm highlighting it for those who may have missed it.

This was a great live gig, perhaps one of the best I'd seen all year.  The band delivered a performance with the energy & enthusiasm of men half their age.  And it was L O U D !

I managed to get quite a few decent photos and videos from my smuggled Canon G9 camera.  The G9 is ideal for smaller concerts, though our seats in Section 113 were a bit far from the stage given a 6x zoom lens.  So some of the photos and footage is shot from the big screen.  But the sound is great and these videos have been viewed by more people than anything I've ever posted.  So I guess AC/DC fans are a pretty dedicated lot!  I recommend watching the videos in YouTube's high quality mode for best results.

The set list has not varied much on this tour, but here's what was played in Oakland:

  1. Rock N' Roll Train *
  2. Hell Ain't a Bad Place To Be *
  3. Back In Black *
  4. Big Jack *
  5. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
  6. Thunderstruck
  7. Black Ice
  8. The Jack
  9. Hells Bells *
  10. Shoot to Thrill
  11. War Machine *
  12. Anything Goes
  13. You Shook Me All Night Long *
  14. T.N.T. *
  15. Whole Lotta Rosie
  16. Let There Be Rock
  17. Solo *

    Encore:
  18. Highway To Hell *
  19. For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) *

* = Video posted on YouTube

It was a good mix of AC/DC's hits along with some new material.  I suppose no set list is perfect, and I would have preferred to skip "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be" or "Anything Goes" in place of "Jailbreak" or even "Decibel" from "Black Ice" but that just reflects my personal opinion.  I'm sure others would have their own quibbles.  With a catalog of 30 years, I think this was about as good as it gets and I'm really just nit picking at this point.  Bottom line: this was a great concert.  Or as many AC/DC fans have commented on Youtube it was "the best ever, man. I was there!

While some are critical of AC/DC for sticking to a formula, I think it's a pretty successful one.  If Buddy Holly were still around, I wouldn't expect him to change a whole lot either.  Of course, AC/DC's got 30 years of this formula, but the more I listen to their recent "Black Ice" CD, the more I think it's better than 90% of the new music out there today, Coldplay included. 

Singer Brian Johnson (now 61) was in great form.  I thought his voice was better than I've heard on videos from more than 10 years ago.  Perhaps by allowing a day's rest between gigs, they've found a way to keep things going until he's 71.  I sure hope so.  He's belting it out with energy to spare and can still hit the high notes.

Angus Young put on a great show dressed in his usual Aussie schoolboy outfit ripping guitar solos throughout the evening.  He's not running around on stage quite as much as he did in the past, but he's not phoning it in either.  He worked the audience into a frenzy and sweated more than many a marathon runner in this nearly 2 hour show.  Honestly, I don't know how he manages to play as well as he does while running around, spinning on the floor and never missing a beat.  It may be a bit of showmanship, but its still impressive.  Unfortunately, I ran out of memory and could not get the full version of his guitar solo on video.  Sorry 'bout that!

Overall, it was a great concert and tribute to the fact that old guys can still rock.  If you've caught AC/DC on tour or are planning to, let me what you think.


Learning the Blues with Gary Moore & LickLibrary

Gary_moore_dvd

A few weeks back, I took a look at LickLibrary's DVD series "Learn to Play Pink Floyd."  It's great, but it may be quite some time before I'm able to master some of David Gilmour's more sophisticated solos.  So in the meantime, I'm focusing on some more basic blues playing.  Luckily the folks at LickLibrary have just released a new series of DVD's highlighting Irish blues rock guitarist, Gary Moore.  While Moore is not so well-known in the US, he's one of my favorite blues players.  Gary Moore is a supreme shredder when he wants to be, but he's also excellent at slow burn blues.  And that's what I wanted to learn.

There are several different DVD's available: Learn to Play Gary Moore, The Solos and Quick Licks.  Each of these takes a different approach and you may find one more of a fit depending on what you're trying to learn.  The Quick Licks DVD is a good way to get started with some snappy licks that you can add to your own blues and rock playing. The Solos DVD is probably the most advanced, giving you note perfect instruction on several famous Gary Moore songs.   Each DVD also includes  high quality blues backing tracks in the style of Gary Moore, giving you a great way to practice your new found skills.

Quicklicks1 The Quick Licks DVD features 30 different licks in the style of Gary Moore's "Walking by Myself" song, an 8 bar blues song  in the key of E.  The instructor Danny Gill breaks things down into small steps so that you can easily follow along even if you've never played the blues before.  He takes you through the basic blues shuffle rhythm, to a simple walking bass, a turnaround and some simple fill licks in a matter of minutes.  I think there's a bit too much distortion when he covers the opening rhythm part, but you can still pick it up quite easily from his description. 

There's also just enough theory to provide a context for understanding the scales that form the basis of these licks, but not so much to keep you from having fun. And once you learn a few of these licks, you'll definitely be having fun jamming along to the backing track.  With the focus on licks, they add up to the full solo of "Walking by Myself."  And best of all, you can break at any point and feel that you've learned something that you can incorporate into your playing.

The Learn to Play Gary Moore DVD featuring Richard Barrett goes into more detail on specific Gary Moore songs, including "Still Got the Blues," "The Loner," "Out in the Fields" and also "Walking By Myself."   Each song is covered in its entirety with the intro, verse, solos, bridge etc.  However, on this DVD the pace is quite a bit faster than on Quick Licks, so you've really got to pay attention.  In this DVD, there's a greater investment required than just learning licks, but the payoff is that much greater, especially if you're a fan of Gary Moore.   Unfortunately, for most of the songs, the instructor's guitar has no visible fret markers, so you've really got to listen to closely to figure out where to play. (It begs the question: what were they thinking?)  For an intermediate player, it shouldn't take too long to adjust, but it still seems like a bad idea for an instructional DVD and it makes it impossible to recommend this DVD for a beginning player.

In The Solos DVD, the emphasis, as you might guess, is on the solos rather the rhythm parts of the song.  The instructor, Stuart Bull, is very thorough in showing the solos at full tempo and then breaking them down into smaller pieces at a slower speed.  The DVD assumes you're already familiar with the songs and will know where to place the solos.  But if you're not, there's a full disk of backing tracks (also at multiple tempos)  that makes it easy to practice to accompaniment.  The pace here is fast, but assuming you're motivated and have the time, you can chip away at these and eventually learn the whole song. 

Hendrix_chord The production on all of these DVDs is superb.  You've got multiple camera angles going so you can see both the right and left hands at all times.  Having an on-screen tablature view for longer licks as well as on-screen guitar chord diagrams for obscure chords like the so-called Hendrix chord (E7#9 --also used in The Beatle's Taxman) would have been a great convenience.  Sometimes a picture is a much easier way to learn, rather than having to listen carefully to the description and watch the instructor's fingers.

If there are two things these DVDs show, it's that anyone can learn to play the blues, but it can take many years to really become an expert.  Even beginner can pick up some basic blues rhythm and licks to jam with others.  But there's enough subtlety and complexity to the blues that you can always learn something new no matter what your skill level.  If you're just getting started, I recommend picking up the Quick Licks DVD; it's the easiest to get into and the instructor really takes his time to explain things. 

Intermediate or advanced players may want to skip Quick Licks and dive right into the other DVDs.  There's many hours of instruction in each of these.  While there's some overlap between each DVD, since they all feature Gary Moore's most famous songs, they are taught slightly differently in each case.   You can get the DVDs directly from LickLibrary, from Amazon and in many local guitar shops.  Quick Licks will set you back around $20; other titles are slightly more expensive.  Given the quality of production and how many hours of instruction you'll get from these DVDs I think they are well worth it. 

Below is a video excerpt from the "Learn  to Play Gary Moore -- The Solos" featuring instructor Stuart Bull.  If you're not familiar with Gary Moore, this is a great intro to the soulfullness of his playing, especially the portions of "Still Got the Blues."

  • LickLibrary: Main siteLearn to Play Gary MooreThe SolosQuick Licks
  • Amazon: Gary Moore, Best of the Blues. Learn To Play Gary Moore, Quick Licks