Fishman SoloAmp & Tech 21 Blonde Reviews

fishman_soloampI recently purchased a new Fishman SoloAmp and was going to write a review, but I don’t know that I have a whole lot to add to the many great reviews that are already available online. Here’s the latest stellar review to hit the web, this one from Premier Guitar Magazine. They also have a pretty well-done demo video at the bottom of the second page you’d do well to check out if you’re considering a SoloAmp.

What I will do here is update this post with my experiences using the amp. I’ve only had it for a few days and have yet to use it on a gig but here are my first impressions:

So far, the SoloAmp sounds great and it’s definitely going to be loud enough to cover all of the gigs I play. It’s got a bit warmth to the sound that many PA and powered monitor-type setups lack and all of the reverb settings are very natural-sounding. The only problem I’ve experienced so far is that the speaker grille sometimes rattled when I played certain notes, but after tightening the allen screws that hold it in place the problem has since disappeared. And my single design gripe is that I wish there was a pair of RCA inputs on the back for mp3 players. I have dozens of mini to stereo RCA cables lying around but no mini to ¼-inchers. Does anyone have those?

tech21_blondeAlong with the SoloAmp, I also purchased a Tech 21 Blonde pedal, one of the new Tech 21 new character series of pedals. I’ve owned some of Tech 21’s products in the past including the SansAmp GT2 and The Para Driver DI units. While both did a decent job of letting me go direct when playing electric, I was never entirely pleased with those pedals. In particular, I was disappointed with the limited amount of volume available from the clean tones on the GT2, and while the Para Driver is better, I felt that the simulated amp sound lacked character and the EQ knobs weren’t very well-suited to guitar tones. In my opinion the highs were too high and the lows were too low to really tweak a guitar signal into the tone I really wanted.

Well, the Tech 21 Blonde pedal changes all of that. Its got a ton of gain at both clean and dirty settings and really sounds like a Fender amp. Actually, a bunch of fender amps- the character knob lets you dial in a variety of blackface, blonde, and tweed tones, and the EQ settings are much more to my liking than those of the Para Driver DI with the lows being set at 125Hz and the highs at 3.2kHz. The mid frequencies are set at 1kHz on the Blonde (the specific mid frequency varies depending on which of the character pedals you have.)

There’s a good demo video of the pedal in action on YouTube that will give you an idea of what types of tones are available from this little box and if you prefer the tones of Marshall, Boogie, or Vox amp check out the other pedals in the character series. They all sound pretty darn impressive. The only criticism I can offer is that like all of the Tech 21 products, the controls are extremely sensitive and it’s probably going to be difficult to get a perfectly consistent tone from gig to gig.

Wednesday March 25, 2009
So this morning I rehearsed with a valve trombonist for an upcoming duo gig and used my Ibanez archtop into the Tech 21 Blonde running into the Soloamp. The sound was great and he complimented me on it without my having to explain that the pedal was emulating a traditional amp sound and that the SoloAmp was something new. It was especially nice to have my sound at ear-level rater than ankle-level, and I think we achieved a nice blend even without micing the trombone, which may happen in performance.

With the success of the new gear in rehearsal, I’m now looking forward to trying out the SoloAmp in a varietiy of settings including with my jazz quintet. I’ll add to this post as I use the amp out and I encourage others to leave their questions or comments here as well. If I can answer a question for you I certainly will.

Update: Sunday April 26, 2009
Since the initial posting I have used the SoloAmp on three different gigs. Here’s how they went down:

The first gig was a wedding ceremony in which I played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” for the bride’s walk down the aisle and “The Gift of Love” for the lighting of the unity candle. I used my Taylor GS7 that’s outfitted with a Baggs M1A pickup and I really was pleased with the results. I set up the amp about six feet behind me and slightly to the side. The only thing that I was slightly troubled by was that the high-end frequencies seemed a little harsher and more present than I’m used to hearing. Of course, the tweeter is at ear level which probably contributed to that perception so I didn’t reduce the highs or the tweeter level too much. The church where the wedding was held has the largest sanctuary in town and when I asked about volume during rehearsal I was told that the volume in the rear of the room was adequate. I received no other comments about the volume – which as far as I’m concerned is great.

The next gig was playing background music for an Easter Brunch. I usually take my Ibanez archtop and a combo to this type of gig so I tried the Blonde/SoloAmp combination. The combination worked well and it was nice to have the amp up off of the floor instead of shooting into the tablecloths, but I don’t know that it was a major difference. I could have done the gig with my regular equipment just as easily.

Finally, I decided to try the Blonde/SoloAmp combination with the jazz quintet I perform with. Using the SoloAmp with The Jazztet felt like a bit a bit of a risk. If it didn’t allow me to blend well with the rest of the quintet or if for some reason my band mates didn’t like the tone I’d be in hot water! As the other members of the band arrived, the amp received some pretty strange looks. But once again, I received no negative comments and best of all I could hear myself better than ever. Afterward, I asked if anyone had any issues with my having used the SoloAmp and no one seemed to have much to say about it other than that the guitar seemed somewhat more present than usual. No complaints though, so I’ll probably use it again at our next quintet job on May 12th.

Update: Sunday May 3, 2009
I used the SoloAmp at an outdoor solo gig last night. I plugged in an iPod for break music and walked around to assess the volume and coverage. The music carried well to the far side of the courtyard and was the perfect volume for background music. I doubt that the SoloAmp would be powerful enough to crank out tunes at DJ volume in an outdoor setting, but for this application it was perfect. Since I was alone on this gig I wasn’t able to assess the volume of the guitars from out front. However I played slightly louder during my sets and received lots of compliments from staff and patrons alike, so the volume must have been just about perfect!

Update: Sunday May 17, 2009
Used at my studio recital…more details soon.

2 thoughts to “Fishman SoloAmp & Tech 21 Blonde Reviews”

  1. Came here to read your SoloAmp review (sure would like to get one to replace the heavy Acoustaxonic Jr.) and ended up listening to your “Lucy and Linus” on the AGM page. Just wonderful and so fun! Makes we want to work harder even at my advanced age!

  2. Paul,

    Thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoyed the music!

    If you have any specific questions about the SoloAmp please let me know and I’ll be glad to address them.

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