Thursday, February 26, 2015
That's not what net neutrality is, and it's certainly not what the government regulations promulgated by the FCC today are, in this case "Common Carrier Rules".
People who don't know any better are celebrating todays faux "net neutrality" FCC action as a victory for freedom and free speech on the internet, when in fact, it's exactly the opposite.
I've written extensively about net neutrality and this is very much NOT it.
All the FCC has done today, is impose common carrier regulation on every ISP (oh and by the way, lots of other organizations as well who "provide internet access". No-one has any idea how the regulations are going to be finalized, what the language will mean, who will be impacted and how... except everyone knows it's going to cost a lot), instead of just the telephone companies it was already imposed on. Verizon for example, who was already one of the worst violators of net neutrality, even with common carrier regulation already in place for them.
Thus it makes competition and breaking of existing monopolies even harder, while not actually doing a damn thing to secure or improve neutrality... oh and it gives the FCC more control over the internet.
Absolutely none of those are good things.
Common carrier regulation is a big part of what made the current near monopolies on Internet access happy in the first place, because small independent companies couldn't compete with the giant Telcom conglomerates under those regulations. So, they all got swallowed up.
I've been working with telecommunications companies, and common carrier regulations, for more than 20 years. I'm an expert in governance and regulatory compliance, and I can tell you right now, NOBODY understands these regulations, because they are not capable of being understood.
These regulations and the rulings and case law associated with them go back to 1930s... and in some particulars all the way back to the 1870s. And of course, rather than replace them with something clear when they wanted to make new regulations, congress and the FCC just amended and added on and countermanded and...
I've flowcharted them before to try to see what applied how and where and when... the only thing I could come up with was "nobody knows for sure, it all depends what a regulator or judge says at the time".
This wasn't a blow for freedom and free speech... This was a giveaway to big corporate donors in the telecommunications industry.
The big telcos have been trying to get their primary competition, non-telco ISPs, burdened with the same regulatory load they labor under, for DECADES. Now, in one stroke, the FCC at the personal direction of the president, has given it to them.
Oh and guess what else common carrier regulation includes... SURVEILLANCE. All common carriers are required to provide the government and law enforcement "reasonable access" for surveillance, as well as to give up records, usage details, and other subscriber and user data, WITHOUT A WARRANT.
What does "reasonable access" mean? Whatever the government says it means... and if you think I'm exaggerating, I'm not. I've dealt with the FBI on this issue, and that's a direct quote.
Yes, this is not only a massive corporate crony handout, it's also a huge gimme to the FBI and the NSA, who have wanted all ISPs stuck under common carrier for years as well.
Stop calling government regulation of the internet "net neutrality". Letting the liars control the language helps them lie to you.
Net neutrality is not government regulation, and these regulations are certainly not net neutrality, nor anything like it. Don't be taken in by fraud, cronyism, and statism, masquerading as freedom.
I don't know about anyone else, but I can tell you the exact moment I decided I had to learn to play guitar: July 3rd 1985, at about 3:45 in the afternoon.
It was a particular song, played in a particular way, in a particular context. I'd heard the song many times before, but this was different. This was... powerful.
It hit me in the gut, grabbed me by the balls, and said "YOU WILL DO THIS".
Unfortunately, my mother didnt think I was old enough for my own guitar yet (I had been taking vocal, piano, and music theory lessons for several years already by then). She made me wait...
Maybe she was hoping I would change my mind, since my dad played guitar and she had some bad memories and associations there. She aways wanted me to play sax, which I started learning as a kid, but the reeds gave me mouth sores so I had to stop, and I had the same problem when I tried to learn trumpet (in retrospect, we were pretty poor that year, and the next couple years, and you could rent used band instruments for a few dollars a month but not guitars and amplifiers).
So I spent the next four years and five months messing about with other people's acoustic guitars, in my music classes, and family friends and friends, and anything I could get my hands on... before my mother finally bought me my own electric guitar.
Those years of messing with other people acoustics, and never knowing what tuning they'd be in, or whether theyd be in tune, or what the strings would feel like; imprinted on my so much, that every time I pick up a guitar, I automatically finger and play an augmented open G chord.
I play the augmented open G, because it let's you hear the relative tuning and intonation of every string clearly and immediately, and highlights any defects in the guitar and it's setup. It also sounds good arpeggiated, and several songs can be played within the arpeggiation.
Still today, my fingers just automatically reset to that position by default, whenever I'm not specifically playing anything else... and it's almost always the last thing I play before I put the guitar down, just by reflex.
My first guitar was a bright red Epiphone Stratocopy (an sm-3), purchased Christmas of '89 from Daddy's Junky Music, in Boston Massachusetts.
I very much wanted a Strat', very specifically because of two other songs, and two other players... again both of which grabbed me and said "you will will do this".
Those two songs ended up being the first rock songs I ever learned to play... That first song, that grabbed me back in 1985, was quite a lot harder, and took a lot longer to learn... and hell, I still can't play it "right" more than 25 years later... I don't think anybody can play it quite right, except for the true original.
So, I guess I can credit five... well, really six... people (all but one were guitarists), and three songs, with making me absolutely need to play electric guitar.
If you're a guitarist, or a music nerd, I'm sure you know what those three songs are and who three of those guitarists are, without even thinking about it.
The other three people (two guitarists) in question might be a surprise, but the answer is in that date above.
Anybody want to guess who those people are, and what the songs are?
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Unfortunately, that's a very harmful idea.
There is no such thing as "just a red dot"
Yeah, sure, you absolutely can save money going with a red dot type sight over a scope... A top quality Red Dot is a LOT cheaper than a top quality scope.
And frankly, for most of the rifle shooting that most people do (plinking and casual target shooting, possibly some short range competition shooting; even hunting at 100 yards or less... which in most of the country, is most hunting), a 1x red dot (or holosight or similar), or even a 2x or 4x red dot, would be better for their needs than a traditional scope anyway.
That's another piece for another day... but I really do think that most of the shooting missions, most people are buying most scopes for; would be better served, for less money, with a quality 1x-4x dot sight (either in tube, or with a magnifier).
So how much exactly is "a lot cheaper"?
All these numbers are current as of February 2015. I may update this later on,"acceptable" and "good" price points have fallen significantly over the last 20ish years, and particularly in the last 5, as higher precision higher quality manufacturing has become more widely available and less expensive).
Red dots are generally somewhat less complex designs than scopes of equivalent quality; requiring less, and less expensive, materials and manufacturing technologies and processes. This generally results in a lower price for a given quality of optic.
You're talking about $150-600 for a decent, tough, reliable, precise, and repeatable Red Dot (Something like Vortex StrikeFire to Aimpoint or Trijicons mid range sights); up to around $1,000-$1400 at the top end (with some outliers up to around $3,000).
With traditional multi-lens reticle in tube optics (scopes), you're looking at around $300-400 for the lower end of decent, tough, reliable, precise, and repeatable; moderate to high magnifications scopes. Possibly a bit cheaper ($200ish) for acceptable lower magnification, less precise, less "tough" applications, and climbing up to around $2500-$3,000 on the high end, with some outliers in the $3500 to $6,000 range (Schmidt & Bender or U.S. Optics for example).
That list of qualifications... decent (meaning reasonable quality design, materials, manufacturing finish etc...), tough, reliable, precise, and repeatable... is rather important. Critical in fact.
Those are the basic properties you need from any sighting device in order for it to be useful, and provide value, no matter what the purpose or mission you're trying to fulfill.
A sighting device that isn't decent, tough, reliable, precise, and repeatable, is actually HARMFUL to whatever you are doing. You're better off without it, than with it, no matter how little it costs, and what capability it seems to provide.
Of course, that's rather a broad price range, but still, with both scopes and red dot sights "you get what you pay for" generally applies (there are some exceptions of course).
While there are times you do pay a premium for "name" or reputation to an extent**, if you need the capabilities the better brands or product lines provide, they really are worth the money.
** Yes...Some manufacturers in particular charge premium prices for midrange product, or too high a premium for high end; thus you can get better optics with other brands for the same money, or as good for less. And of course, the reverse is true. There are some brands well known for giving you much more for your money than other brands at the same price point, or the same capability and quality at a much lower pricepoint.
Which are which? That's another piece for another day.
Hit the floor...
Most importantly regarding price, there are very definite price floors for acceptable quality optical sights.
Most people with even a bit of knowledge and experience, understand this price floor applies to scopes. They don't expect a scope you buy in a blister pack at Wal Mart to be very good, or even "acceptable".
Unfortunately, many people (even many of the same people who seem to understand the concept of a price floor for scopes) don't seem to understand that price floors apply just as much to red dots as to scopes.
No-one with any knowledge or experience in firearms optics, expects a $50 or even $100 scope to be much good... and generally $150-$200 is just into the "acceptable" range (Redfield, low end Vortex, low end Nikon etc....).
So why do they expect any better out of a $50 or $100 red dot? A red dot you can buy in a blister pack, isn't going to be any better than a scope you can buy in a blister pack.
Red dot optics are every bit as much precision optical instruments as scopes are... They're just somewhat simpler designs, using less of the most expensive components and manufacturing processes.
Simpler and less, not "simple" and "inexpensive".
There is just a minimum level of materials and design quality, labor, manufacturing, and quality control, to produce an acceptable optical sight of any type. These don't change, no matter how simple the optic is, how short a range it's intended for, how big a dot or tube etc...
Specifically, there are very definite minimums for quality of adjustment mechanisms, sight barrel/tube/body materials and machining, lenses (even in a 1x optic), lens mounting, adhesives coatings and finishes, skill and precision of assembly, tolerances and clearances, and quality inspection and testing.
These are real minimums, that apply to ANY optic of any type or design.
One flat plate of glass with no magnification, and an adjustment mechanism that's repeatable to under 1 moa (and preferably under 1/4 moa); that will take a slight knock on the sight, being adjusted a few hundred times, and getting lightly rained on, and which will still stay precise and repeatable for years (a c-more sight isn't much more than that really); is going to cost nearly as much as a 40mm 2-6x zoom that can meet those same criteria and standards.
The expensive part isn't the materials, it's the manufacturing processes, labor, and quality control. That's probably more than 80% of the cost of ANY optic, no matter what its design, or where it's made.
These minimums go up... sometimes WAY up... with more difficult mission requirements, but they never go below that absolute floor. You can't go below those minimums, and still be decent, tough, reliable, precise, and repeatable.
Right now, that floor is pretty clear, and it's around $150-$200 for "acceptable" in a lower magnification scope, or not quite so tough red dot; and $300 to $400 for "good" in a lower to medium magnification scope, or somewhat tougher red dot.
What do you get for your money?
More money tends to add more precision in the optics and adjustment mechanisms, more toughness, and higher quality materials, coatings, and finishes.
Less money on the other hand, generally results in an optic that won't hold zero, won't have consistent and precise adjustments, won't return to zero after adjusting, and won't take any rough handling without breaking... Or even just breaking on its own for no reason.
Really... Just don't do it. It's a waste of money. You'll end up buying and breaking 3 or 4 of the things and hating it the entire time; while spending far more than an acceptable or even a very good optic would have cost in the first place.
So who makes "acceptable" or "good" optics at a low price?
The least expensive optics that I have generally found acceptable or better, are:
- Nikon: Monarch or higher are good to excellent, limited lifetime warranty
- Redfield: Great quality, low price high value, some USA made, and a 100% lifetime warranty
- Burris: Excellent quality, great value, some USA made, and a 100% lifetime warranty
- Vortex: Diamondback or higher are good to excellent quality, good to great price and always great value, some US made, and all have a 100% lifetime warranty
- Leupold: Good to excellent quality, good to terrible price leading to anywhere from great to poor value, sometimes erratic but generally excellent customer service, all USA made, and a 100% lifetime warranty (they also own Redfield)
- Nightforce: Higher priced line ($800 to $3,000), but also among the best quality in the world, and among the lowest price for the quality and capability they offer. As good as optics costing 50% to 200% more. All USA made, with excellent customer service, and a 100% lifetime warranty.
IN GENERAL... and this is a big generalization with exceptions... Regardless of the brand name an optic is sold under, if that optic is manufactured in the U.S., western Europe, or Japan, it's going to be "good" or better. Frankly, with the cost of manufacturing products in those places, it doesn't make sense not to.
However, even the "premium" brands sometimes have factories in eastern Europe (particularly Poland and the Czech republic), the Philippines, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, Sri Lanka, and increasingly mainland China.
These are sometimes owned and operated directly by the companies in question, and sometimes they are very high quality, usually long term, subcontracting deals with excellent third party manufacturers.
So... fortunately for lower prices, higher quality and more competition... but unfortunately for figuring out what to buy (or what not to)... While where it's made, is often a positive indicator of quality, it isn't necessarily an indicator of a lack of quality.
Don't discount something just because it's made in China (or anywhere else). Process, technology, materials, and quality control are all more important than nation of origin. Some excellent optics are coming out of China (and everywhere else), at very attractive prices.
Sadly, brand name isn't always an indicator of quality either, because some major brands with excellent quality product lines, also produce lower priced lower quality product lines (or worse... more on that later).
Some companies may even subcontract out their lower cost product lines to lower quality OEMs (more on that below). For example, some Nikon ProStaff, and I believe all Vortex Crossfire line optics, are not actually made by Nikon or Vortex (other companies do this as well, I'm just using these two as an example).
As of 2014, I believe those product lines are subcontracted out to a Chinese company, who also make optics for NCstar, Barska, Bushnell, Tasco, and other low end brands (and sometimes including what seem to be the same or similar designs... Or at least visible external design).
The optics manufactured for Nikon and Vortex are definitely manufactured to higher quality standards than those for low end brands, but not to the same standard as Nikon or Vortex's in house manufactured product lines.
What about other brands?
Here's the thing... You never know. Sometimes you're going to get a great piece for a great price, sometimes not so much.
I have seen some of the Mueller, Millet, Weaver, Leatherwood, Tasco, Bushnell etc... (name brands which are licensed and OEM contracted out to offshore manufacturers) scopes be good or even excellent... and I've seen another scope from the same "brand", at the same price point... even at higher price points, be unacceptable.
In fact I've seen two examples of the same model vary from "pretty good" to "total junk.
And these aren't all low end, low price models. Millet scopes run from $150 to $500. Some Weaver models run as high as $1,500 etc...
In my experience, and those of many I know and trust; some of those $500 to $1500 models have been excellent... Unfortunately, some have been just OK, and some have been entirely unacceptable.
The problem, is that Millet, Mueller etc... aren't actually made by Millet and Mueller. Either they contract production out to offshore factories (usually on a per production run basis, but sometimes on a long term year to year or multi-year basis, which usually results in higher quality), or an offshore manufacture pays the name owners for the right to make scopes with that name.
It can work both ways, sometimes simultaneously, and through multiple levels of naming rights licensing, subcontracting, or both.
Land of confusion
Bushnell is a prime example of the confusion this can create.
First, Bushnell is the parent company of Simmons, Millet, Tasco, Browning and Bausch and Lomb (for rifle scopes and binoculars only).
Their lower end lines generally run from junk, to just barely "acceptable". Their "elite" line theoretically their top of the line best quality optics. However, the elite line consists of 40 someodd models with different features and specifications, and spanning a price range from $200 to $2,000.
The biggest issue is however, that all Bushnell scopes (and any of their other brands) "Elite" or otherwise, are contracted out to different manufacturers on a model to model basis, and sometimes even a production run to production run basis. The same model may be manufactured by three different companies in three different years, in three different countries, and with three different resulting quality levels.
As a result, the "Elite" line end up ranging in quality from "acceptable" (I haven't seen one yet that wasn't at least acceptable), to truly excellent. Bushnell's higher end Elite models are generally made in Japan, by two of the worlds best optics manufacturers, to the highest standards; or in Philippines Sometimes, if one of those manufacturers has excess capacity, they'll also make some of the lower end models, or they'll have extra top quality components, which they'll send out to be put into lower level product lines.
It's the system man...
This system of contract manufacture and licensing, is how the EXACT same design can be sold under a dozen different brand names from NCstar and Barska, to TruGlo, Tasco, and Bushnell, at price points from $29 to $89.
Sometimes... sadly, frequently... those widely divergent price points are for the exact same product, with the same materials and quality control, just a different brand name stamped on them.
Sometimes, for a higher price you actually get the same design, but with better materials and quality control.
Sometimes for a higher price you get the same external design, but with better designed internals, and higher quality of materials and manufacturing.
Worst of all, sometimes the same brand name and model number, sold at the same price, will start off very high quality, and over time, be reduced in quality, without reducing in price.
So, you might get a great example from one of these contracted brands, or you might get junk. You won't know until you actually get it into your hands, and test it (by shooting the square repeatedly to test for return to zero, and ability to maintain zero with recoil for example). If they have a great warranty and return policy... great. If not... Who knows.
Personally, unless I can inspect them beforehand, and test them without penalty, I choose to stick with the major brands who keep manufacture in house, or to top quality subcontractors only.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Ten years ago today, I wrote this:
Monday, February 14, 2005First Post!!!!!
Ok folks, people have been telling me to write my own blog for two years now, so finally, here it is.
Yeah I said I'd get around to it before, but I'm lazy, what can I say.
The initial content is mostly going to be stuff I've written for other peoples blogs, and fora etc...
Suggestions, praise, worship, and deification are all welcome.
Yes, today is my fifth blogiversary.
It's amazing how much has changed in my life in the last five years. I'm married, with children... wow... damn...
I mean, at 16, I thought it'd be a miracle if I lived past 30... and if I'd gone on the way I was going, it would've been.
Now I'm looking hard at "middle age"; having achieved nearly half of everything I've ever really wanted... and another 30 or so years... maybe 40 if I'm lucky... to achieve or acquire the other half before my ability to achieve is significantly diminished.
Not that I don't have troubles, and trials, and difficulties and issues... perhaps more than my share... but I always have had, and I'm sure always will have them. It's the human condition.
Moments like this, I just look around me and I can't help but think how lucky I am. How hard I've worked, how much I've sacrificed, how many people I've helped or hurt, or loved, or fought with along the way... but most of all how lucky I've been.
I simply cannot believe where I am, where I might soon be, and just how lucky I am for that.
Thank you all for reading this stuff that spills out of my brain. It humbles me that so many people want to listen. I don't do this for you, I do it for my own sanity; but believe me, I appreciate you.In those ten years, my words have been read at least 5 million times, by at least hundreds of thousands.
The last four of those years have been... pretty hard honestly. The cancer, the pain, the brain fog, the... everything...
Hell, it's been more than... 18 months I think, since I've been out shooting. But every day I wake up on the right side of the ground, is a good day.
I know I don't write here very much anymore (an explanation of that here). Most of what I'm writing is on facebook, and please feel free to friend or follow me there. I save the blog for the longer pieces, more personal or more details... But I'm still here. Still writing, still reading, still getting pissed off and writing a few thousand words, for whoever is still reading.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Ayup, really, a high quality full range PA speaker, of the appropriate size, and properly set up; will always be more accurate, and often sound better, than all but the best guitar or bass cabinets; while being lighter, more durable, and MUCH cheaper.
What do you mean by "High Quality and Full Range" ?
By high quality, and full range, I mean a speaker that:
1. Is sturdily constructed, with no rattles, undamped harmonics etc
2. Has proper enclosure volume for its drivers
3. Is properly designed for its drivers
4. Has high sensitivity (minimum of 96db to 101db or so)
5. Has a broad flat frequency response (+/- less than 3db, preferably +/- 1db) in the frequency range of your instrument, and it's harmonic overtones to the 12th multiple of the fundamental.
That frequency range would be 31hz to 524hz (B0 to C5) for a 24 fret 6 string bass, with overtones to 6.3khz; and 82hz to 1.3khz (e2 to e6) for a 24 fret guitar, with overtones to 15.6khz.
The overtones are important, but they damp out very rapidly with each harmonic doubling. The first four multiples above the fundamental are called the "presence", and they can be heard and felt, inside ones head (particularly when amplifying acoustic stringed instruments). Generally because of harmonic attenuation, it's impossible to hear or feel anything above the 8th multiple of any fundamental (and above the fourth it's essentially inaudible) but you want the extra headroom, because even the best speakers attenuate towards the ends of their response curves, and harmonic attenuation mostly damps out the quieter harmonics above the second to fourth multiple already (I'm speaking in terms of multiples of the fundamental, instead of first through 16th harmonic, because I don't want to get into the variability of harmonics with scale, tuning, time and periodicity, resonating chambers, free air space etc...).
Speaking of that, you'll note that the lowest frequency on a five and six string bass is 31hz (it's 41hz on a 4 string). Unfortunately, almost no speakers have decent, clear, uncolored response below 45-50hz, even those in high quality bass cabinets. A good full range PA speaker will generally go down to between 45hz and 55hz, a will a good bass cab (classic Ampeg SVT cabs only go down to 58hz
This is deliberate, because unless you use a giant 15" or 18" subwoofer, (or use special very expensive 10" or 12" drivers) you just can't do 40hz or below and still sound good. Even with the giant subwoofer, the bass can sound muddy and rumbly.
Better PA speakers and bass cabinets still respond at frequencies under 455-55hz, they just roll off more than 3db (better speakers might have something like -3-6db at 5hz under nominal, and -6-10db at 10hz under nominal, with around 1-1.5db/hz attenuation for the next 10hz under nominal). This actually has the effect of making the bass sound "cleaner" and clearer; though at 31hz, it's still more felt than heard.
There are a few bass cabinets that have good response in those sub-bass ranges, like the Markbass standard 4x10 (response down to 35hz), and Ampeg Pro-Neo series (28hz in the 15" and 38hz in the 4x10,), but they're very expensive (they run about $900 to $1500).
Ok... so why is a PA speaker more accurate and "better"?
Frankly, most guitar cabs flat out suck. They're inefficient, heavy, expensive, and don't sound very good.
Generally, only the very best (and often most expensive) guitar caps sound great (or often, even good), and even then only in specific situations, for specific tones, with specific amps (because they have a strongly colored and biased voicing).
Even just a mid quality PA speaker, is generally better at reproducing sound accurately, than a very high quality guitar cab. The frequency response will be flatter and the sound will be clearer, with neutral coloration and voicing.
This is because a guitar cabs are deliberately designed, and their drivers are deliberately biased, to emphasize certain tones and attenuate certain tones (mostly attenuating very high and very low frequencies, with a curved response on the mids and mid-highs). When the speakers significantly alter the sound coming to them from the amp, this is called strong coloration, or strong voicing.
In general, it's very difficult (and expensive) for an 8", 10", or 12" driver to have desirable tonal characteristics across the full range of guitar frequencies and overtones, and most cabinets don't include high frequency horns (and the ones that do, generally don't voicematch them very well, blend them very well, or use good quality crossover networks, so they often sound harsh, thin, and "squeal" or "crackle").
Again, only the very highest quality (and most expensive) guitar cabs do so well (or at all); whereas even lower end PA speakers are specifically designed to use multiple drivers (a 12" or 15" full range will typically be a 3 way speaker, and may be as much as a dual woofer 5 way) to produce pleasing and even frequency response across the entire range of instrumental and vocal frequencies and their audible and "presence" overtones.
A single high quality high performance driver for a guitar cab, might cost as much as $450, and even midrange drivers can run $90 to $150. You can see how in a cheaper 2x12 cabinet retailing for $300, or combo retailing for $600, they've got to be buying lower end drivers, that just aren't that good.
At last with a combo amp, the manufacturer should have chosen drivers that match well with the amplifier. It's nearly impossible for a strongly voiced cabinet to sound good with a lot of different amplifiers. Manufacturers have to either try to make it as neutral as possible, in which case guitarists don't want it ("it sounds dead" or "it sounds cold"... it doesn't, it sounds neutral you just don't know how to use your gear to get the sound you want instead of having it done for you by the "strongly voiced" drivers), or give it a strong voice that sounds good for the amp they think most customers will want to use with it, for the style of music they think most customers will play with it.
This is one reason why you see many artists in certain styles of music or with certain play styles, all seem to have a strong preference for the same amps and cabs. It's not just fashion (though in part it is), it's because the manufacturer specifically voices those amps and cabs, to sound good for that style of music and play style.
Ok, forget about "voice" and "color", what about the rest of "better" ?
Decent PA speakers are also generally much more efficient than guitar cabs of equivalent quality, volume, and tone; because all but the very best guitar cabs have quite low sensitivity (some as low as 82db, and 86-92db are not uncommon for cheaper cabs and speakers, as opposed to 96-101db for the best of both PA speakers and cabs).
Higher sensitivity, means that for a given power level output to the speaker, the volume output will be louder. A 3db difference in sensitivity, means DOUBLE or HALF the power is required to produce the same volume.
An aside on speaker sensitivity, volume, and solid state vs tube amps: Sensitivity ratings are given as db of sound energy output 1 watt, at 1 meter away from the speaker.
We don't hear 3db as a doubling of volume. 3db sounds roughly 10% louder to our ears, but it is a doubling of sound energy, and a doubling of input power.
It takes a 10db change for our ears to hear a doubling in volume, as well as taking 10 times the power (to double volume at the same frequency, impedance, and sensitivity).
However, because both our hearing, and the power requirements for sound energy are logarithmic, a 3db more sensitive speaker, will sound about twice as loud, if it's given 5 times the power as the less sensitive speaker, instead of 10 times the power. The difference gets even starker at 6db, or 9db and so on.
The most efficient speaker cabinet I've ever heard of was 103db. The least, 82db. Cheap combo amps will often have 86db or 89db speakers, while more expensive combos and cabs will generally 96db or 99db sensitivity. Let's see how that works out:
An 82db speaker will output 82db at 1 watt, 85db at 2 watts, 88db at 4 watts, 91db at 8 watts, 92db at 10 watts, 95db at 10 watts, 98db at 40 watts, 101db at 80 watts, and about 104db at 100 watts.
An 86db speaker will output 86db at 1 watt, 89db at 2 watts, 92db at 4 watts, 95db at 8 watts, 96db at 10 watts, 99db at 20 watts, 102db at 40 watts, 105db at 80 watts, and about 106db at 100 watts.
A 96db speaker will output 96db at 1 watt, 99db at 2 watts, 102db at 4 watts, 105db at 8 watts, 106db at 10 watts, 109db at 20 watts, 112db at 40 watts, 115db at 80 watts, and about 116db at 100 watts.
A 99db speaker will output 99db at 1 watt, 102db at 2 watts, 105db at 4 watts, 108db at 8 watts, 109db at 10 watts, 112db at 20 watts, 115db at 40 watts, 118db at 80 watts, and about 119db at 100 watts.
A 101db speaker will output 101db at 1 watt, 103db at 2 watts, 106db at 4 watts, 109db at 8 watts, 111db at 10 watts, 114db at 20 watts, 117db at 40 watts, 120db at 80 watts, and about 121db at 100 watts.
A 103db speaker will output 103db at 1 watt, 106db at 2 watts, 109db at 4 watts, 112db at 8 watts, 113db at 10 watts, 116db at 20 watts, 119db at 40 watts, 122db at 80 watts, and about 123db at 100 watts.
You'll note the 103db speaker is essentially as loud with one watt, as the 82db speaker is with 100 watts. It's also louder with 40 watts, than the 99db speaker is with 100; or louder at 20 watts, than the 96db speaker is at 100.
This efficiency factor by the way, combined with much higher gain in the preamp stages (which makes things sound louder at lower overall volume levels); is why cheap "100 watt" solid state amps, sound much quieter than very expensive 15 watt tube amps. The cheap solid state amp might have even cheaper 86db drivers in it. The tube amps have expensive 99db or even 101db sensitivity drivers.
That tube amp can get about 50% louder with 99db speakers at 15 watts, than the cheap solid state can with 86db speakers at 100 watts. With 101db speakers, it can get about 70% louder, and with 103db speakers it can get almost double the volume.
Tube amps used expensive high efficiency speakers, because they had to, because otherwise they didn't have enough power to get loud, or they would badly overheat. Solid state amps are much easier and cheaper to crank up the power on, and so they could afford to use cheaper, less efficient drivers.
Higher sensitivity also means allows a given sound at a given level, to be reproduced using less power, more accurately, with less tonal coloration or distortion (this is called headroom).
PA speakers are also generally much lighter, and often much better built and tougher than guitar cabs, even though they are much cheaper.
For some reason, many guitar cabs are surprisingly fragile. In part because they are meant to be prettier (they're often covered in decorative and relatively expensive this textured vinyl for example, vs throwaway dark grey or black industrial carpetlike material). In part it's because decent guitar drivers are VERY heavy, and can do damage to themselves and the cabs structure, if bumped about too much.
Whereas PA speakers are built to be knocked around. They're lighter, because the drivers they use weigh much less, and aren't as deep, so they can fit in smaller enclosures. These factors allow PA speakers to weigh as little as half the weight of an equivalent guitar cab, while still being built tougher.
These by the way, are several of the reason why I'm using a PA speaker for testing amps and guitars, and I'm not using my Ampeg 2x10 bass cab (I don't have a guitar cab right now). The cab is voiced specifically for bass, and in particular for the Ampeg PF500 and PF800 amplifiers (the other reason is I don't want to blow my good cab, if an amp malfunctions).
Guitars actually sound great played through bass amps and cabs by the way, particularly if you have a full range cab with a high frequency horn and good crossover (my Ampeg 2x10 PF-210he has +/-2b or less from 53hz to 17khz, at 98db, covering the full range of guitar harmonics with plenty of headroom).
Guitarists have been using bass amps for more power and a deeper "growl" tone, since Leo Fender invented the modern electric solidbody bass, and the first dedicated bass amp (in 1951 and 1952 respectively); particularly after they introduced the 50 watt 4x10 model in 1956 (setting the pattern for both bass and guitar speaker cabinets ever since).
In fact, the first "stacks" were Fender Bassman amp heads, with 4x10 bass cabinets; from way back in '60, when the loudest guitar amps you could get were Vox AC30s (30 watt 2x12. Still used by many artists today, including Brian May and the Edge. They mic them up on stage for the PA). Guitarists loved them, and bought every one that Fender could make. Even today, they are among the most prized vintage amps, easily costing $5,000 to $10,000.
In fact, guitarists loved them so much, and they were so rare and expensive, that Jim Marshall modified one to make his famous Marshall JTM45 (the first Marshall amp), deciding to use 4x12 cabinets with celestion speakers... And the Marshall legend was born.That said, the bass amps and cabs are distinctly biased for bass, and definitely do color the tone.
When I'm testing, repairing, or reconditioning an amp or guitar, I want to hear as close to an accurate, uncolored, unshaped, neutral voiced tone as possible. A decent PA speaker is the best way to do that, without spending a massive amount of money.
I would love to have a top quality 2x10, 2x12, 4x10, or 4x12 guitar cab. Unfortunately, they're VERY expensive ($600 to $2000), as well as heavy and huge. Guitar cabs smaller than 2x10, generally sound like crap, and are still VERY expensive ($200 to $600 for good ones. The cheapest are 1x8", still cost $100 to $400, and they mostly sound like crap until you're past the midpoint of that price range).
Even just a half decent 10" or 12", two or three way, PA speaker ($100 to $300), set up properly, will sound as good or better, than all but the very best guitar cabinets.
Don't think so? I'll prove it.
Guess what... Any live show you've been to bigger than a coffee house or pub (and probably a lot of those gigs too), most of the guitar sound you heard wasn't coming from a Marshall stack. It was probably coming from that Marshalls preamp or DI output (or even directly off the pedalboard into a DI box), on a direct patch to the mixer, and out to the PA system.
The amp may or may not have also had the cabinets miked up and mixed in, but stage miking is difficult and inconsistent, and you need a wide variety of mics and rigs for different situations. It's hard enough with a single smaller amp and cab, never mind a big stack, or multiples. Some artists always mic their cabs, some never do, and some vary depending on the acoustics of the venue.
Either way though, the PA system has to sound pleasing while reproducing those guitar sounds. Which means they CAN reproduce those same sounds, and if they can reproduce those sounds when sent them from the PA amp, they can be made to make them in the first place.
The dirty little secret of rock and roll?
It's really hard to get good natural sound, filling even a medium sized room, out of just a big amp and cab on stage. Most of the time, most performers (and importantly, most sound engineers), in most venues, don't even try.
On stage, amp stacks aren't for sound... They're for the show... the spectacle.
In a bigger venue, most of the time the artists don't even use ONE of the stacks for their OWN audio, using floor monitors or in ear monitors (like very high end earbuds, hooked into their wireless system, and letting them hear their tone evenly no matter where they are on the stage, as well as hearing the other band members, and crew communications).
At most, they'll have one stack miked up.
To get proper sound out of a full stack, you need to use EIGHT mikes (which are damn near impossible to set up, and even harder to mix and EQ properly), and a big acoustic shield to protect the mikes from excess reverb, echo, delay, and phase effects, and from spill sound from the house and the rest of the band; which screws up the visual look they're going for.
Here's another "secret" for you... A lot of the time, if you see an artist with big stacks out there on stage, and they want that "real stack sound"; the stacks you see on stage will actually all be unpowered dummies. Their REAL amp and cab will actually be back stage, behind noise insulation, properly miked up, mixed with the DI and turned way down, using only a few watts of power so as to not overload the mics.
This is also how Brian May, The Edge, and other guitarists that like to use lower powered classic amps, particularly combo amps like the Vox AC30; get their preferred tone, while filling a huge concert venue with sound.
If the artist wants a heavy feedback sound, they'll use a feedback or screamer effect. Either that, or they'll have a single amp with the gain turned all the way up, and a 2x12 floor monitor, or a single 4x12 cab on a riser to bring it to guitar height, that they'll walk up to for natural feedback. Even then, it will be miked, and mixed in the board, to go out to the in ears and PA.
Often, their sound guy will be watching for cues, and when they want the feedback, they'll turn that one amps mix up on the PA, and then turn it down afterwards so they don't get unwanted feedback, noise, and distortion.
Now, that doesn't mean the guitar cab doesn't sound good, and may in fact sound much better than a direct clean and "dry" signal from a preamp or DI box (if it's a good amp and cab, it almost certainly will). The guitar cab will be specifically tuned to accentuate the pleasing sounds and dampen the displeasing sounds, that a guitar and amp can make.
That however, is why most guitar specific DI boxes, modelers and the like, have something called "cab emulation", and many have "amp emulation" of specific amp types (and of course the whole point of modelers is that they do this).
These are circuits (or digital models) that when played through a clean and neutral speaker (or directly into a mixer or recording interface), emulate the way a well known amp and/or cabinet (like a marshall JCM800 through a 4x12, vox AC30, or Fender 2x12 combo... those are the most common emulations by far), will shape the tone of the guitar.
This is also why you have equalizers in any preamp, amp (and most amps with a DI can switch between equalized "wet" sound, and unequalized "dry" sound), modeler, mixer, and PA rig.
But using a PA speaker as a cab, you don't have to worry about that. We're not talking about playing wet or dry through a PA. What we're talking about is playing through your full sound chain, right up to the final drive stage.
In fact... give me $300 to get a half decent 2x12" 3 way PA speaker, and I guarantee I'll blow your $600 2x12" Fender cab, clean off the stage.
I know where I can get a 30hz 101db 2x15 4 way pa speaker for $300 (with eminence drivers even). That's stackable with a 101db 2x12 4 way in the same form factor also for $300. That's $600, in two cabs that collectively weigh in, and size up, just a bit bigger than Marshall 4x12. But sonically they would just blow the $1200 Marshall away. In fact, I'm certain they'd absolutely kill a full dual 4x12 stack costing $2500. Same amp, just two PA speakers instead of two cabs.
Between your pre-amp and amp (all guitar amps have a pre-amp. It's what makes them guitar amps rather than just power amps), amp and cab modeling or emulation, and proper equalization; you can get a good PA speaker to sound as good or better than an actual guitar cab of the same size, price, and quality (though not necessarily exactly the same as a specific amp and cab); and generally better than all but the very best cabs.
My house was always full of music, as was my grandparents house (where I lived from 2 to 5, and then summers until I was 16).
My mother and grandfather both prefered to work with music on when they could, and my aunts and uncles were all music nuts.
Papa loved music from classical, to 30s through 60s swing and jazz and pop standards, to Elvis, to show tunes (he and my grandmother both loved the classic musicals), to classic country, and even outlaw country (I first heard Waylon Jennings in my grandfathers home office). Of course, he also liked "beautiful music"... but nobody's perfect.
My mother loved classic rock, jazz vocals, R&B and soul. I heard Nina Simone, and Santana, and 70's Michael Jackson from my mother. She would play tapes of her favorites over and over, learning the vocals.
My dad was a guitar player and singer too, still is... Classic rock and blues. He even played at their wedding. Though I didn't see him from the age of 5 'til I was 20... the influence was still there (and he and I sing a lot a like).
Growing up, my mothers sisters and brothers were more like my older sisters and brothers. From them I learned to love hard rock, and punk, and folk, and "alternative" before it was labeled alternative. Husker Du, the Afghan Whigs, the Hoodoo Gurus, Stiff Little Fingers, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, the Lemonheads, the Pixies, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones...
We had family friends who were in the music business, concert promoters, managers, music producers. My grandfather's law firm had a lot of musicians and bands as clients.
I started vocal instruction at age 5. Was in a childrens performing chorus at age 8, and in choral competitions from age 13 through high school. I started music theory and appreciation classes at 12, learning piano and drums. I got my first guitar at 13, and my first bass a couple years later.
I have had a life completely full of music. I can't really imagine being otherwise. I've been a very lucky man.
Friday, February 06, 2015
He had been out of prison a couple years, and was now off of parole and a free man... And he wanted to know... Would I please come and visit him, because he loved me, and missed me, and wanted to be a part of my life again.
So that Christmas, I packed up and flew back to Boston... And suddenly, I had a father again.
That was... Well... I can't exactly put it into words... I can just tell you that family is extremely important to me.
After reconnecting, one of the first things my father and I bonded over.. and very deeply so... was our love of music. In particular our mutual love of the blues, soul, classic and hard rock, and great guitar work. After all, we both played guitar and sang (he even played and sang at my parents wedding).
At that point though, I didn't have any guitars (my guitars had all burned in my mothers house, when my brother burned the top two floors down, on my 19th birthday).
He did though...
One particular guitar, and amp, that he had wanted since they'd been introduced.
It was a 1994 Fender Stratocaster Ultra (40th anniversary). It had a maple neck, ebony fingerboard, lace sensors, and a custom fit gold tweed hard case, which matched the tweed of the Blues Deluxe amp wanted to go with it.
So he searched, and called in favors, and pestered friends and shopkeepers, and drove a couple hundred miles... and finally he found them, and bought them as a present to himself.
The one he found was in a special color, a deep metallic pearl blue (they had to stop using it because of changes in environmental regulation. They only ever made 400 guitars in that color), that looked great with the Ultra neck, pickguard, and hardware.
Unfortunately this isn't the guitar, I don't have any pics, but it's similar:
He loved that guitar, and he played the hell out of it...His fingers bled on that guitar... It was the guitar he wanted to keep for the rest of his life; his single most prized possession.
Until his guitar playing son came back to him... and didn't have a guitar to play.
So... to celebrate our first Christmas together since I was a little kid, he gave me a special Christmas gift: His guitar.
His fingers had bled on that guitar... the guitar he wanted more than any other... and he wanted me to have it.
It was the best Christmas present I'd ever had... Both the guitar, and the meaning of it.. Having a father again... getting my family back...
Again... I can't put into words...
I truly loved that guitar. It was one of the few possessions I actually gave a damn about. My fingers bled on that guitar.
Unfortunately, I left it in storage in the U.S. (along with most of what I owned) when I moved to Ireland (originally I was going to send for them later, but my first marriage split, and I decided to leave the stuff in storage a while... which ended up being 3 years). I say unfortunately, because while I was in Ireland, even though I prepaid a year at a time; the storage company was purchased, and the new owners mistakenly auctioned all of my possessions, without notifying me.
It was the second time I'd lost all my guitars. I was so devastated, that it was actually years before I picked up a guitar again. Not until my wife bought me one in fact, for our first Christmas together as a family.
15 years later... 15 years with my father, after 15 years without him; I was looking to get my father a rather special Christmas present, to celebrate that.
I knew what it had to be of course: A guitar... But not just any guitar, it had to be exactly the right guitar.
I wasn't just trying to be cute and clever... It was important.
So, I spent that entire year searching for exactly the right guitar. Late in the year, I found it.
Oh boy did I find it...
What I found, was an extremely rare, very limited production, 100% perfect mint unplayed condition, vintage, masterbuilt select (meaning hand built, from hand selected special woods), Strat Ultra... but something even more rare... it was a full custom shop Ultra, built outside the normal production run... and it was another 1994, 40th anniversary guitar.
Now... from here until the last bit, I'm gonna get all guitar crazy for a bit, and obsess over the tiny details of wood and metal and electricity and the like, that go into making a guitar. If that's not your thing, feel free to skip ahead to "it was a beautiful thing".
The Ultra was a limited production model to begin with, as the absolute top of Fenders Stratocaster line from 1988 to 1997. On top of that, this was a custom shop masterbuilt select guitar; hand built by one of their master luthiers (who signs the heel of neck, the underside of the pickguard, and in the trem cavity; so you know it's all the original parts as they built them).
Basically, with a masterbuilt select guitar, the luthiers see an interesting piece of wood, or they have a special idea for what might make an interesting guitar. Then they hand pick the special wood and parts (or they modify or custom fabricate parts if they need to), and hand build and finish, one or more guitars from it (usually from one to four, sometimes as much as ten, but that's very rare).
The guitar has a AAA+ flamed and quilted maple body (not just a top and back plate, the whole body), in a special hand tinted and finished custom sunburst on both top and back. It's kinda like the antique sunburst, but with a bit of dark reddish brown blending into the brown and amber, and the amber has a more neutral darker maple tone, rather than a more yellow tone. Also, it goes dark but not black or opaque on the sides. All of which is specifically to show off the figured body better (you can see the figure on the sides straight through the wood to the back).
The chatoyance of this wood, in this finish, with this figure, is just gorgeous. The guitar looks like it's on fire, and the flames are coming out at you out of the depths of the wood.
The neck is a special extra thin, compound contoured profile, in AAA+ flame figured maple, with AAA+ figured headstock plate matching the body, an inlaid abalone Fender logo, a compound radius ebony fretboard with superjumbo frets, abalone inlays and sidemarkers, roller bearing string nut, and locking tuners. The neck also has a special truss rod system (to prevent both twist and bow, and to bias the relief from bass to treble without warping the neck), and the Fender neck angle adjustment system.
The guitar has a special shielded pickguard with four special lace sensors (two of them wired together as a humbucker in the bridge position, and two different tonal spec in the neck and center), special shielded wiring and control options including the Fender super switch with S1 system (meaning you can select any combination of pickups, including any single, two, three, or all four at once,; or wiring the neck and middle together as humbuckers to get double humbucker output), built in 3 band EQ (cut and boost for bass, mid, and treble are hidden in the original tone controls), phasing, coil tapping, and midboost, It also has a special stabilized two point tremolo, with graphite impregnated saddles. It even has special strap pins (for a straplock system). Finally, there's additional matching abalone inlay in the pickguard and control knobs (nothing gaudy, just picking out the text and a couple little accents).
Oh and it has it's own custom fit special hard case, lined in blue velvet, covered in black tolex; with real leather ends, straps, and handles; and chrome hardware and fittings.
Basically, this was the finest Stratocaster Fender could make in their custom shop that year, with every possible option.
As near as I can tell, it is the only guitar Fender ever built in that exact configuration, one of only 4 in that select series, and one of only 10 guitars hand built by that master luthier that year.
A standard Strat Ultra, runs $1100 to $3500, depending on the year, finish, the options, whether the case was with it etc...
This guitar, originally would have cost about $9,500 (about $15,000 today).
Today, it's probably, conservatively, worth about $8500; priced for a quick sale to a knowledgable buyer.
The guitar would be worth a LOT more, except that the lace sensor pickups have an undeserved, and undesirable, reputation.
An aside... a rant about pickups...
For some strange reason, many people don't like how clean and "quiet" lace sensors are...
...or at least they THINK they don't, based on what they've read. Most folks have no idea what lace sensors sound like. Even when they try a guitar with them, they don't know how to get the sound they want out of them. The "collective wisdom" says they're "cold", so people think they're cold.
Lace sensors are very high output, and get very loud, with ultraclear and even response across the entire dynamic range and sweep of bass, mid, and treble frequencies, and almost no noise, distortion, or hum (unlike conventional pickups, which do have noise, distortion, hum -- even humbuckers -- and very uneven frequency response).
Critically, lace sensors don't get dirty, hum, or distort (or spike impedance, or have weird inductance or microphonic issues, or many of the other normal problems of conventional pickups), through a clean amp, even at very high volume.
You also get better sustain, better overall tonal clarity and definition (clearer chording and soloing, less "mud"), higher overall dynamic range, and higher clean output (for a given volume and tone setting, and given force on the strings) out of a lace sensor, than a conventional pickup.
This is a GOOD thing, because now YOU have total control over your tone. You decide how you want to sound, the limitations of your pickups or amplifier don't decide for you.
But... Some people think they sound "cold" or "flat", and want a "dirtier" or "crunchier" tone by default.
Lace sensors don't actually sound cold, or dead, or flat, at all by the way. How they sound, is neutral, by default. In fact, they can sound however you want them to, depending on which one you choose (there are several different versions with different base tonal qualities), which ones you switch in, how you set your tone EQ, and how you set your amp (and your effects if any).
You can get warmth, you can get heat, you can get jangle, you can get burble, you can get scream, you can get growl... But you'll never get dirty, or noisy,or distorted in way you don't want to, at times you don't want.
Of course, being able to get any tone you want from them, means that you actually have to know how to get the tone you want from them. To be aware of how your tone is created and shaped and changed, as part of your playing. Most don't want to bother.
If the guitar had been originally built with the custom shop hand wound pickups instead of the custom shop special lace sensors, it would be worth north of $12,500... between $15,000 and $20,000 to the right buyer, looking for the work of that particular master luthier (who has now retired).
I paid $1150, plus shipping.
The guy had NO CLUE what he had. He knew it was an Ultra, but he had no idea about the rest. He was the guitar guy for a pawnbroker who had bought out the inventory of a high end music store when the owner died.
I recognized what it was from the pictures and the posted details, and bid, fervently hoping that no-one else would know what they were bidding on. They didn't. There were other bidders, but no-one else bid over the reserve. I sweated it out until the auction was up, and no-one outbid me.
Now... normally, I would tell the seller if they had a much more valuable item than they knew they had, just as a matter of ethics... But this wasn't another player, this was a professional guitar seller, clearing out an estate sale. My conscience was clear.
After I got the guitar, it was clear it had never been played, or at least not enough to leave the slightest mark. It was perfect, and I was pretty sure it was as special as I was hoping.
I checked the signatures under the tremolo plate and pickguard (don't take a neck off unless you have to; too much potential for damage), and confirmed the provenance with Fender (as well as I could anyway. Fender doesn't provide a complete detailed history or build sheet for non-original purchasers. I was able to get more by internet research and the websites of some Fender fanatics).
It was what I thought it was from the description... and more. The level of detail and workmanship on this guitar is just staggering, and only half was in the auction description).
Unfortunately this isn't the guitar, I don't have any pics, but it's similar:
It was a beautiful thing...
More importantly, it PLAYED. I played it through my Fender 2x12, and it was a beautiful thing. Weight, balance, action, tone, feel... It's an amazing instrument.
I played it, and I loved it, and my fingers bled on that guitar.
Most importantly, I was able to give my dad the best Christmas present I could ever have given him.
I managed to make my father cry with happiness.
I am in no way joking, when I say I consider that a major achievement in my life, and one of the best things I have ever done.
It's not just the guitar... It's what it meant.
My dad played that guitar... that special guitar that we both spent so much time wanting, and searching for... He played it, and he loved it, and his fingers bled on it.
So here we are today...
A little while ago, I was sitting on my bed, playing my six string bass guitar, when my almost two year old son came into the room because he heard me playing.
I should mention at this point, that my father is Chris the Third, I'm Chris the fourth, and the boy is Chris the fifth.The boy smiled and ran straight over and climbed up to me, then climbed up and over my arm and wormed his way in between me and the instrument... Then reached down and started trying to play it with daddy.
And I thought about all of this... this... and I cried with happiness.
My father and I agree: The guitar stays in the family. My father played it... His blood is in it. I played it... My blood is in it. I hope to God that some day my son will play it, and his blood will be in it, and his son...
S'cuse me... It's a bit dusty in here at the moment. I think I have something in my eye.. s'a little blurry.
I think I'll go play some guitar with my son.