The Stage Works Mat is a simple non-slip pedal mat, which was originally designed for keyboard pedals with the input of pianist/ producer Andy Murray, who was looking for an alternative and more flexible way to stabilise his keyboard pedal, as ‘gaffa tape’ is not only very restrictive, but also very expensive.

Stage Works and Murray came up with a triple layer solution, that has the top layer absorbing the initial jolt, while the middle layer cushions the impact, with the base layer giving maximum grip. The resulting ‘triple layer technology’ mats not only fit under the keyboard, bass drum or high hat pedal but also act as a foot rest and are lightweight, flexible and small enough to be packed into a keyboard bag or a cymbal case.

The marketing blurb tells us that they are designed to work on ‘the most challenging surfaces’ – so we took that literally. We tested the twin pack on a laminate floor under a Tama Cobra hi-hat stand and a Tama Cobra bass drum pedal linked to a Yamaha electronic kit kick drum. Smooth laminate flooring has always proved to be one of the toughest of challenges, particularly with a bass drum pedal attached to a lightweight kick pad. However, with the Stage Gear mats in place, the whole setup remains stable. There’s no movement whatsoever – it does what it says on the tin.

Not only do these Stage Works mats make a good alternative to the old drum rug, but we also reckon that they would also be ideal for use in the studio allowing a kit to ‘speak’, as a drum rug invariably deadens and muffles any ambient sound. At under £12 a pair, they are every drummer, guitarist and keyboard player’s essential accessory.

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LaBella have been somewhat eclipsed by D’Addario in recent years, and in many ways for good reason. D’Addario have expanded and promoted their extensive range through a roster of top endorsees who all cite tuning stability and longevity as the main reasons behind their choice. Pretty convincing if you’re just a work-a-day player on the circuit. Of course, none of us would deny that invariably we’ll string up our axes with D’Addarios, but I recently decided that I was going to look outside the box (that is full of D’Addarios – particularly flat wound 12s!) and try something that would give me more edge to my sound, more bite and more character.

Having played LaBellas in the past, I checked out the strings that were new to their range and that I thought might give me the sound and feel that I was looking for and came up with the Super Alloy 52 (11-52). These strings have a high iron content (48 per cent) – which means more signal power to your pickup, while the other 52 per cent is Nickel, to prevent tarnishing.

Being a ‘thumb’ player, smooth strings and tension are all important and the 52s are, for round wounds, as smooth and as slick as they come and there’s just enough flex and feel off the string to get a great response. OK, you might be thinking that these 52s sound like a perfect fit for a Strat, but strung up on my ‘semi’, they delivered just that sort of clear, clean sound with a rich, round full tone together with the edge and bite that we were looking for.

I’ve had them on for a month now and there’re no pitch problems. In fact, they’re still as sweet as the day I put them on. Needless to say, I’ve since added a few more sets of the SA52s to our string box.

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Effects pedals have become a part of almost every electric guitarist’s arsenal – few play with a totally ‘dry’ sound. Pedal boards can add instant volume, change tone, timbre and the colour of the sound, all with a tap of the toe. We took delivery of a couple of the latest digital toe tappers from the Chinese manufacturer Mooer and a new all-American built reverb unit from Van Amps – the Sole-mate.

The great thing about the Mooer micro series units is that they can be easily slipped into a jacket pocket. Not having a battery inside the casing has made the unit extra small at 9cmx3cmx3.5cm, with two staggered quarter-inch jacks to either side and the controls set to the top plate. The metal casing has rounded corners and a thin rubber foot to the base to stop the unit slipping. By contrast the Van Amps Sole-Mate is a unit that at 25cmx15cmx5cm definitely looks as though it means business. Solidly built (although not at all heavy), it comes with ‘reverb’ and ‘direct’ quarter-inch output jacks to the back of the unit and ‘input’ and ‘auxiliary’ 1/4 inch jacks to the front. The top panel carries a ‘reverb in/out’ switch and an ‘auxiliary’ switch together with ‘output level’ and ‘dwell’ dials that sport classic ‘chicken head’ knobs.

Blue mic’s new en.CORE 100i dynamic mic is a clean and well designed unit with a domed metal mesh cap that attaches to a sleek black steel body via a solid steel screw thread with the usual 3 pin XLR connection to the base. Utilising a newly developed capsule with a diaphragm that has been specifically designed to provide a tighter polar pattern, the 100i is purpose built for mic’ing up instruments and other sources needing high isolation. It has also been designed to handle very high SPLs, so even the very loudest instrument doesn’t present a problem.

We tested the en.CORE100i in the studio up against the industry standard Shure SM57. The en.CORE100i was very lively by comparison with a bright, almost ‘zingy’ top end – much like an ‘open’ mic. The bottom however, although producing a very effective response, didn’t quite capture the renowned definition and clarity of the Shure product. Looking at the en.CORE’s overall performance and robust design, we feel that the 100i could potentially be the perfect partner for mic’ing up ‘cabs’ and ‘toms’ for live gigs. And given that the en.CORE100i can be purchased for about half the price of an SM57, it undoubtedly represents excellent value for money.

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The latest addition to Focusrite’s highly acclaimed audio interface range the Scarlett 18i6 offers massive functionality in a sleek, durable unit that exudes quality while also looking and feeling like it’s built to last. Launched at this year’s Frankfurt MusikMesse the 18i6 and 8i6 live up to their name offering 18 or 8 possible audio connections, be they analogue, MIDI or virtual, allowing this sturdy interface to track an entire band in one go. Our review model is the extended 18i6 version with eight line inputs – six on the back, and more importantly two on the front that go direct into two of Focusrite’s award-winning preamps – that offer astonishingly clear sound quality.

Indeed this is the defining quality of this unit, as it is USB 2.0 instead of Firewire all the connections are as near on silent as you can get, with none of the background hum or buzz, that can sometimes occur at even low monitoring levels. The neat front panel also features two channel gain controls, and requisite number of 8 LED level monitors (for each available channel), next to these are control room speaker volume and dedicated headphone volume and socket. The killer USP here though is exceptional audio quality at a very reasonable price – this unit retails at £249 – yet it also comes with its own dedicated virtual mixer – for creating individual monitor mixes for each band member, as well as Focusrite’s four dedicated FX audio plugins that work in any DAW (digital audio workstation) such as Logic or Pro Tools. To cap all that off you also get Ableton Live Lite software, the cool retro Bass Station plugin, plus over a 1GB of free Loopmasters samples that will have you up and running in no time. In short a hugely desirable and extremely usable pro interface, for an affordable price.

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