Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Ultimate Jazz Guitar Rig




In the last seven years or so, one combination of archtop guitar, amplifier and speaker cabinet has come to be regarded by many mainstream jazz guitarists as de rigeur . From the jazz joints in clubby Manhattan, New York City to the boisterous jazz scene in Miami, Florida, and even in mid-west cities like Cincinnati, Ohio this combination or 'rig' as musicians call it has found a place in the equipment collection of every professional jazz guitarist and become a standard by which other rigs are to be judged. Granted a proficient jazz guitarist can play good jazz even on a Fender Stratocaster put through a Twin Reverb, still there is no other sound that evokes the magic tone of a jazz guitar better than an archtop, fully hollow-bodied and big-bodied, out through an amplifier and speaker that faithfully reproduces the acoustic qualities of such a guitar.
In this aspect, the Acoustic Image Clarus Series 2R/ [ see http://www.acousticimg.com/ ] Raezers Edge [see http://www.raezers-edge.com/] is unrivalled. The Series III Clarus 2 R which I have above, and the Raezers Edge Stealth 12 cab, when mated with my Eastman 810CE, produces a tone that is both fat and mellow and yet not muddy. The tone is also woody and when the guitar is played with the fingers instead of a pick, gives rise to new levels of expression and sensitivity to dynamics depending on your finger pressure. In fact, I find that with this combination of guitar, amplifier and speaker, my musical tone possibilities are easily increased even with a pick. Depending on the thickness and shape of the pick, and depending on the angle of picking and how hard you pick, there are so different tones that you can generate.
We have not even come to the Clarus amp itself yet. Weighing a mere 5 lbs but packed with 400 Watts at 8 Ohms (or 250 Watts at 4 Ohms), with controls and effects which are so sensitive to manipulation, the Clarus can yield a panoply of tones. I was able to get a brighter Grant Green type of tone, as well as a woody but not so bright Joe Pass tone. Even smoldering tones like those of Jim Hall and John Scofield can be had. However more electric tones using archtops with routed-in pickups like the Gibson L5, will need something like a tube amp of the Fender Twin Reverb variety. Thus Kenny Burrell and George Benson tones are out.
The Clarus is a marvelous Amp, but the Raezers Edge is also required to bring out its potential. I have tried the Clarus through lesser speakers and also tried putting out a Fender Bassman through the Raezers Edge, but it is just not it. Another advantage of this rig is that it is light and portable. The Clarus comes with a small sling bag which you can easily hang from your shoulders. The Raezers Edge though weighing much more at about 12 pounds is still much lighter than many tube amps. Also, with 250W-400W, there is a lot of headroom, so that the output is never stressed,or broken up and retains its crystal clear attributes.
Guitarists that I have seen use this rig include: Jimmy Bruno, Pat Martino, John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli and Howard Alden. If you are a tone aficionado it is not really expensive to get such a rig. Buying used equipment should be O.K. provided you have a chance to physically inspect and try out. As for which type of archtop to use with the Acoustic Image and the Raezers Edge, all of I have to say is don't waste such a good set-up by pluggin in a cheap plywood top archtop. Of course there is no need to go overboard by buying a Gibson L5 or even a Gibson ES-175. One value-for-money choice is the made-in-China Eastman guitar that has been gaining popularity with many pros. Their level of craftsmanship, attention to detail and fine quality of materials used make them at $2000 bargain. See : http://randomthoughtsofanagingbabyboomer.blogspot.com/2006/10/china-made-eastman-jazz-archtop.html. Eastman guitars, Acoustic Image amps and Raezers Edge cabs can be found on eBay or at the better guitar shops . A used Eastman 810CE will cost about US$1200, a Raezers Edge Stealth 12 about US$450 and the Acoustic Image Clarus 2R when used costs about US$700. For the amp make sure you do not buy the Combos that Acoustic Image has, only a Head like the Clarus, and make sure there is an 'R' in the Model name, else you will not be able to color your tone with various types of reverb, delay and chorus. The Effects on the Clarus are based on the Alesis chip and are really good. Unlike many Reverb and Delay which are exaggerated and sound artificial,these effects sound soft, warm and natural.

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