Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Exploring the Other End of the Scale

(Good lord, he's talking about pedals again...)

I've mentioned this before, but my pedal passion in recent years has been following two separate courses.  While I've mainly been interested in handmade boutique pedals (especially ones that are more reasonably priced), I've also enjoyed looking at brands that are cheap but good.  I intended to halt my pedal purchasing after last year's massive haul, but once again my curiosity has been piqued, this time by a couple of inexpensive, new Chinese brands.

For some time now, German budget gear-maker Behringer has had quite a bit of popularity thanks to its line of ultra-cheap guitar pedals that are clones of well-known Boss, MXR, EHX, and Line 6 models.  More or less the same electronics are built into toy-like, all-plastic enclosures with very crude controls.  One look will tell you that they're not made to last, or to take much punishment, but they sound pretty much as good as the real thing.  I've bought a few Behringer pedals to try them out, and they don't sound anywhere as cheap as they look.  In fact, the RV600 Reverb Machine, modeled after a famous Line 6 pedal, has become one of my most used boxes!  Despite all the inevitable controversy (and snobbery), Behringer pedals have still proved to be popular among guitarists on a budget.  Now, however, they've been given a new challenge.

JOYO appeared a little over a year ago.  Their pedals are low-cost knock-offs of famous boutique boxes.  You can tell what they are modeled after just by looking at them; even their appearance is an emulation, though much simpler than the originals.  The sound, however, can be very close; indeed, certain models are virtually indistinguishable from their much more expensive counterparts in blind comparisons.  There are obvious differences in build quality, and at least one maker of a famous boutique pedal cloned by JOYO has gone on record saying it is a "close approximation" rather than an actual copy.  That hasn't prevented some American online shops from banning JOYO pedals for perceived copyright violations even though no charges are known to have been brought.  As for me, I don't own any JOYO pedals (yet), but I'm seriously thinking of getting one or more to try out just for the heck of it.  (And why not?  The price is very low!)

Mooer Audio is even more recent.  Their nifty line of ultra-compact pedals started appearing around last summer and has quickly expanded.  Now there are at least a couple of dozen models in their catalog.  Again, each one is modeled after either a famous boutique pedal, a classic vintage pedal, or an off-the-shelf model with a famous modification.  However, though the colors and graphics on the Mooer pedals echo the models they emulate, the enclosures are uniquely different; indeed, they have come up with their own, clever, little enclosure design with a really cool, miniaturized control layout.  That is really a selling point of the Mooers!  They are not quite as cheap as Behringer or JOYO, but they combine the emulation of famous pedals with a very convenient and useful design.  The build quality seems reasonably good, too.  If I have any complaint about the Mooer pedals, it is that their digital models have a huge current draw that is too much for most powered pedalboards or power distributors.  And since they are too small to use batteries, you pretty much have to plug each into its own AC adapter.  Overall, I think the Mooer line is really cool, so I grabbed a few of their analog models (which go into a powered board just fine).  I have the Black Secret (which emulates the RAT and TurboRAT distortion pedals), the Hustle Drive (apparently modeled on the famous Fulltone OCD overdrive/distortion), the Cruncher (modeled on the MI Audio Crunch Box distortion pedal) and the Orange Ninety (built on the MXR Phase 90 phaser, both modern and vintage).  They are REALLY cool, and blast to play with!  As inexpensive as they are, I'm liable to get a few more before I'm done.

Yes, I've heard the arguments about these cheap knock-offs stealing business (if not intellectual property) from the original brands.  I don't really agree.  For one thing, as I quoted above from one famous pedalmaker who got "JOYOed", these pedals are more approximations than copies.  There are definitely reasons to buy the original models.  And on that note, would I even buy the original models?  Considering I'm not a performing guitarist (though I am a recording one), would there be any reason for me to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for an OCD or a Crunch Box?  Actually, if I come to like these Mooer clones enough, I just might!  ;-)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Delivery Doldrums

This morning, just as I was getting ready to hurry off to work, the phone rang.  The middle-aged-sounding lady on the phone identified herself as being with a parcel delivery outfit, but it was one I'd never heard of.  She said she had a package for me from Soundhouse.  That didn't surprise me, as I'd ordered something from them.  In fact, I'd asked for it to be delivered the day before (i.e. the 16th, yesterday), and it hadn't arrived.  I was going to ask about that, but then the conversation took an unexpected turn:
Her:  What should we do?
Me:  (puzzled) What should you do?
Her:  Can you come here and get it?
Me:  Um, no...I can't!  I'm working today!  I'll be out all day!  Can you please deliver it?  (After all, isn't that what a DELIVERY company is supposed to do?)
Her:  But no one will be there.
Me:  Yes, there will.  My father-in-law should be there.
Her:  We tried to deliver it yesterday, but no one was there.
Me:  Really?  What time?
Her:  Sometime around noon or so.
Me:   I was there.  In fact, I was waiting for that package.
Her:  We pushed the doorbell again and again, but no one was there.
Me:  At which house?
Her:  What?
Me:  There are two houses on the property, mine and my father-in-law's.  (Every OTHER package delivery I'd had till then had had no problem finding its way to my door...)
Her:  We just went to the one on the road, the one that says (FIL's surname).
Me:  That's my father-in-law's house.
Her:  What, you have two houses?
Me:   (Gritting my teeth and looking at the clock)  My father in law lives in one house, and I live in the other.
Her:  So what should we do?
Me:  Please deliver it.
Her:  But if you're working, you won't be in your home!
Me:  My father-in-law should be there!
Her:  Oh, really?
Me:  Yes!  As far as I know, he should be there!
Her:  So should we take it to his house?
Me:  (No, take it to a random neighbor's house and tell them it's a gift from Kim Jong Un!)  Yes, please!
Her:  But what if he's not there?  Should I return the package?
Me:  If he's not there, please contact me again, and we'll work something out.
Her:  Okay.  We'll try delivering it today, and if no one's there, we'll call you again.
Me:  Thank you!

Luckily, I somehow managed to get to work in time without getting a speeding ticket.  Also, the package was delivered to my father-in-law and (after a bit of confusion) passed to me.  All's well that ends well, I guess.  Even so, next time I want to buy something from Soundhouse, I think I'll just make the trip and pick it up at the showroom.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Changing of the Gears

It has finally happened.  The service of my BLUE RAV4 has finally come to an end, and with it another chapter in my life.  When I bought that reliable machine largely on impulse on the eve of summer in 2000, I never expected it would be a faithful companion for almost 13 years.  Indeed, it was the first car I ever owned that I kept longer than a few years, and it was the first that I bought new.  (I might add that it was only the second car out of the four I'd owned that I wasn't forced to get rid of after it died a horrible death.)  It was also the first that wasn't a tiny, 3-cylinder "kei" car.  The BLUE RAV4 wasn't just a tool to be used; in many ways, it became part of my personality, a veritable knight's steed.  I had it for a full decade before it needed any kind of major repair, and if it weren't for the fact that it was starting to nickel and dime me to death with various, small problems, I might have kept it for another decade or more.

I'm surprised that I don't feel more regret at its passing.  In fact, when I left it at the car shop and drove home in my new Blue Wish, I didn't feel anything at all.  The BLUE RAV4 just vanished from my life and from my thoughts.  I suppose I was just excited at the prospect of having a new machine after so many years, but it was almost disturbing to me how utterly dispassionate I was about the whole thing.  Now that I've had the Blue Wish for a week, however, I'm going through the inevitable comparisons.  This is how they shape up:



  1. Since it was an SUV with big, sturdy wheels, I didn't have to worry about where I drove it.  I could take it on those torn-up, little country roads, or even on places where there really wasn't a road to speak of, without a second thought.  On the other hand, the Blue Wish has a lower ground clearance and airdams, which means I have to be more careful.
  2. It had lots of little pouches and compartments all over inside, which meant I could keep a supply of handy survival gear without it getting in the way.
  3. It had two additional 12v electric sockets besides the one for the cigarette lighter.  That was convenient for using the carvac.  It also helped when I had two teens with cell phones that always seemed to need recharging.
  4. Its turn radius was the tightest of any compact SUV on the market, which still probably wasn't saying much.  Even so, its steering was very responsive, meaning it could be quite maneuverable.  The RAV4 was reported to be too top heavy and to have a high risk of rolling, but I still managed to do a sort of bootlegger reverse in it once (an extremely stupid stunt I fortunately never tried again).  I also managed to bend the hell out of the steering mechanism, which was the second major repair it needed.
  5. Because it was heavy and well armored, it earned me an insurance discount.
  6. Its metallic blue paint was MY COLOR!!!!!!!!!!
  1. Its gas mileage wasn't quite as bad as that of a full-sized truck or SUV, but...
  2. Those big tires were awfully expensive.
  3. It was kind of noisy inside.
  4. Visibility could be rather limited, especially to the rear.  Backing up was always a problem.
  5. The extra mirror in the front was handy for seeing how close I was to the edge of a road or a rail, etc., but it was often a nuisance when I had to try to give my car a quick wash at a gas station.  A lot of automated car wash machines do NOT like those extra mirrors.
  6. The brakes had some kind of flaw that would sometimes make them go "k-k-k-k-" when engaged.  When that happened, the brake response became a little sluggish.  It came and went, and mechanics could never figure out what was causing it, so it never got fixed.
  7. It was really heavy, which could be a serious problem if I had to climb a hill that had lots of rainwater or a bit of snow on it.  The fact that I hadn't gotten the 4wd version made it worse.

The Blue Wish

  1. It's a newer model with more advanced equipment.  The engine in particular is more efficient, more powerful, and cleaner.
  2. As a sport model, it's built for speed.  It has a "sport mode" that increases the engine power and changes the gear ratio to optimize acceleration.  It also has a funky "manual mode" for its automatic transmission; I can shift gears manually (though with an autoclutch) using F1-style flippers on the steering wheel.  That can give me even better acceleration...or allow me to shift down quickly in response to the environment.
  3. On the other hand, when the engine is in "eco mode", which reduces the engine power and adjusts the automatic transmission for efficiency, the gas mileage becomes even better.
  4. The steering doesn't allow the same "cut and thrust" maneuvering I could get with the RAV4, but it has an active stabilizing system which gives smoother handling.  The body and bumpers also have an aerodynamic design which uses airflow to help improve control, especially at speed.  It also has a nice, low center of gravity.  I can corner much quicker with this machine.
  5. The GPS navigation/multimedia and ETC (electronic toll collection) systems are built in rather than added on, so the whole dashboard has a much neater look and arrangement.  (Plus, the navigation monitor doesn't block the air conditioning vents like it did on my RAV4.)
  6. The GPS navigation system can interface with my smartphone via Bluetooth.  That means I can program the destination directly from an internet search.  (It has an option for direct wireless internet using Toyota's G-Book service, but that would cost extra.)  It also allows hands-free phone use while I'm driving.
  7. LOVE that back guide monitor!!!!!
  8. I have a feeling I'm going to love the pollen shield in the ventilating system, too.
  9. It has better all-around visibility.
  10. The smart key system will take a bit of getting used to, but it is nice.
  11. I have scads of cargo space plus a folding extra seat in the back, which are both very good to have when having to transport gear and students for the music club!
  1. Although it's about the same width as the RAV4, it's at least a foot longer.  Maneuvering on those twisty, narrow country roads is more difficult.  So is parking.
  2. The sharply-sloping nose and protruding airdam in the front can't be seen from the driver's seat.  That means that figuring out how much space there is between me and an object in front of me is not easy.  It is taking a bit to get myself into parking spaces properly.
  3. The ground clearance is pretty low, especially because of the front and rear airdams.
  4. The interior design is nice and roomy, but stowage space is a bit lacking, especially in the back (middle?) seat.  I've had to buy and mount a number of holders to maintain the level of equipment I'm used to.
  5. The "blue" paint is what they call "metallic satin blue", and it's actually more of a pale purple.  It's NOT my color...though it looks pretty cool.  I just wish it were a bit less pale.  I'm not a pale sort.
Well, anyway...I've come into a new chapter, and it'll be exciting to figure it all out.