DeMarini grabs top softball share

The Demarini line of high-end softball bats is considered the most popular brand among sporting goods dealers, based on a dealers’ survey. However, other brands such as Easton Red Line and Louisville Spring Steel are also performing well in the market. In fact, both brands are already highly priced to match that of the Demarini line. In line with this development, some dealers expressed concern that these price increases might result in sales slowdowns.

An exclusive SGB survey of a dozen team dealers has found that DeMarini may have snagged the top market share among high-end softball bat manufacturers, at least among dealers who carry the brand.

Although not all dealers surveyed were stocking the high-priced DeMarini, those who were almost unanimously reported the brand to be their top dollar-generator. For some, this is a relatively new phenomenon, while others said the bats first started flying last year.

“We thought it would slow up some, but it really hasn’t,” said Stan Nill, general manager of Nill Bros. Sporting Goods in Kansas City, KS. “DeMarini still has the hammer in this area.”

But dealers also reported strong sell throughs for the Easton Red Line, in softball as well as baseball – a market DeMarini will enter later this year. The Louisville Spring Steel softball bat was also reported to be selling well among dealers who’d received their shipments, although many noted that its later delivery date probably pushed sales toward the Easton Red Line.

“Our shipment of Red Line (baseball bats) sold through immediately,” said Dale Whitman, president of El Cajon, CA-based Sportland. “We sold a few of the composite softball bats too, but the main thing was the baseball. People have been primed to know that as soon as the College World Series happens, something new is coming out.”

Most dealers surveyed said that in terms of top-to-bottom volume, Easton remains the dominant player in baseball, while Louisville is still the leader in softball.

The perception among dealers was that both were directly going after DeMarini with their new higher price points (The Red Line retails for around $250, while Louisville’s Spring Steel clocks in at $240).

“Last year I thought things stabilized. Even high-end bats were well under $200. But [the success of] DeMarini drove things right back up again,” noted Nill.

Some dealers expressed fear that bat prices would hit a breaking point. One, in fact, said he is projecting a drop in sales next year for that reason.

But most reported that their overall bat business for ’97 – the second fall year in which C405 bats were on the market – was up, and that early signs indicated that key mid-season launches were a hit, boding well for Spring ’98.

Meanwhile, the Cryogenic series from Worth did not seem to be having the impact of the leading brands, although one dealer noted that many players are still loyal to Worth products. The Dudley Fusion softball bat remains mostly below the radar screen, with only a smattering of dealers planning to carry the product, and one who had it in stock reporting poor reviews from players.

Showboom!

It used to be that all a pair of sneakers had to do was help you run faster and jump higher. Now they’ve got to make you fly . . . or at least make you look good while you try.

Sneakers have come a long way from canvas tops and gum rubber soles. Aspiring athletes are now tantalized by technological features like inflated air, encapsulated gas and energy return systems. Advertising and marketing strategies have gotten more sophisticated, too, as budgets swell and top athletes (a long list, including Bo Jackson for Nike, Joe Montana for L.A. Gear and Pat Riley for Reebok) lend their names.

Not only are the athletic-shoe companies in a foot race to sign up athletic stars, but entertainers are getting into the act. Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul are reinforcing a fashion image for L.A. Gear and Reebok, respectively. And at press time, Reebok was reported to be negotiating with Madonna to replace Abdul.

The athletic-shoe market offers a shoe for almost every occasion. New Balance and Asics have carved out niches with activity-specific shoes such as running, aerobics and cross-training. Even a licensed brand such as Voit has its niche in the mass merchandiser arena selling polyurethane “athleisure” shoes for around $20.

Add it all up, and you get a $5.5 billion market last year (wholesale shipments of branded footwear), a 19.6% jump from $4.6 billion in 1988. That’s a lot of bucks to fight over, and the main event is between Nike, with 26% market share, and Reebok, with 23%, based on 1989 estimates. They’re followed by L.A. Gear with 13%, Converse with 5% and Avia with 4.2%.

In 1986 and 1987, Reebok had a big lead, with 30% and 31% shares versus Nike’s 21% in ’86 and 18% in ’87. But Nike held a steady course of performance positioning, while Reebok tripped itself up with mixed messages of function and fashion.

While Nike and Reebok are now running neck-and-neck, L.A. Gear has been gaining ground through its strength in the men’s performance market, which contributes about 35% to the company’s volume. Originally a women’s fashion line, L.A. Gear’s sales jumped from $30 million in ’86 to $70 million in ’87, when men’s shoes were introduced. Sales in ’88 soared to $223 million and last year cracked $600 million. Projections for this year have the company hitting the $1 billion mark.

In 1989, the top three brands accounted for 87% of the top five’s $93.7 million total ad spending in the nine measured media tracked by Leading National Advertisers. Spending in 1990 will be less skewed to the top three, however, as Converse plans to spend $40 million on advertising and promotion.

The general target audience is 18-34-year-old males and females, and marketers reach them with a mix of sports and lifestyle tv programing and magazine titles. Sport-specific shoes are advertised on related media, as when Nike buys PGA Tour golf tv time and Golf Digest ad space for its line of golf shoes. Late-night tv is used to tackle the younger male portion of the target.

The female target is more diffuse and therefore harder to hit. Marketers rely heavily on print, using a mix of women’s magazines ranging from American Health to Vogue. Some tv is used, including daytime and sports events like women’s tennis.

Deciding whether to use a fashion or performance strategy, or both, is where the marketing path gets a little treacherous. While Nike, Converse and Avia have built strong followings in the performance shoe business, Reebok and L.A. Gear have a fashion image. The latter two realize that in order to grow, they have to make an effort in men’s performance shoes. So they have signed up some big-name athletes and developed performance-enhancing technologies, such as air-inflatable shoes.

The move has been somewhat of a Catch 22 for Reebok. Some consider its marketing a schizophrenic mix of fashion and athletic statements. Reebok counters that it needs to cover both areas since it’s making high arch support shoes for everybody. Most recently, Reebok caused offense with its bungee jumping ad in which a Nike wearer apparently leaps to his death. After Chiat/Day/Mojo’s re-editing failed to quell the criticism, the ad was pulled. Before that it was the surrealistic and ill-fated U.B.U. campaign that bounced right over the heads of most consumers.

“From an advertising point of view, Nike has clearly been superior and has a really well-thought out strategy,” says Heidi Steinberg, an analyst at Salomon Brothers. “It seems that Reebok is struggling a bit and has to develop a consistent image.”

Gary Patrick, senior vice president at Vitt Media, the buying and planning agency for L.A. Gear, says: “Reebok has been off track the last couple of years. They can’t get their advertising message or image together. The media buys are scattered and not well focused.”

Reebok’s Steve Race, general manager of athletic footwear, defends the company’s tack and the bungee ad. “We need to get through the advertising clutter in a very dramatic and impactful way and demonstrate the unique selling proposition of the product — that we give customized fit and support.” The target for the performance shoe is a “real hard-core player, generally 18 or older.” Reebok’s air-inflatable Pump is its latest effort to concentrate on performance.

But 80% of the athletic shoes purchased are not used for the activity they’re designed for, so the shoes’ look apparently counts. And Race thinks one shoe can have both fashion and performance. “Fashion is a very important function of our performance shoes. And in fashion shoes, performance in terms of comfort is a very important element.”

The industry has been under fire for creating very expensive shoes that, partly through the use of popular black role models in the ads, have become status symbols to black inner-city youths. Reports that kids have been killed for shoes, jackets and jewelry, or that kids choose drug dealing as a way to make money, have the media pointing the finger at marketers and spokesmen.

The two leaders in the athletic-shoe market vehemently deny that they are targeting inner-city youth. “We buy sports media almost exclusively,” says Nike spokesperson Liz Dolan. “We make high-performance basketball shoes for high-performance basketball players. We use those players in our ads, which we primarily run on basketball programming. To me, that seems pretty logical.” While Nike has a high image in the black community, it does not buy any minority media, she says.

“To suggest somehow that it’s wrong to use black athletes because black kids are this unruly mob that won’t be able to stop itself from stealing shoes is a racist position,” she says. “To say that it’s wrong for Michael Jordan to do this, but it’s not wrong for Joe Montana is ludicrous.”

In a move that may ease some tensions, Nike will be spending about $5 million of this year’s media budget on ads featuring its stable of stars telling kids to stay in school.

Reebok’s Race adds, “We are not more expensive than a Nintendo game and a couple of cartridges. The research to date suggests that people buying the product are in the target group it’s designed for — the aspirational and performance athlete.”

At 28% share of market, basketball shoes are the biggest segment of the athletic-shoe business, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. The top-of-the-line air-inflatables currently have about 5% of the basketball shoe market.

Following is a closer look at how the leading brands are taking the ball and running through the athletic-shoe market.

Nike

Market leader Nike is sticking to the positioning it knows best — performance. “We think what differentiates Nike from Reebok is performance positioning and the technology of our products compared with theirs,” says Bill Zeitz, sport advertising manager for Nike. The company offers a shoe for just about any athletic endeavor, including javelin throwing.

Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign has been created to appeal to the athletic, ranging from someone looking to take another minute off her marathon time to a recreational jogger looking to stay fit. The ads are inspirational and tell the stories of the famous and not so famous as they just go out and do it. (Meet 80-year-old Walt Stack, who runs 17 miles every morning.) The “Bo Knows” tv flights illustrate the company’s range of athletic shoes (for more than 20 different sports categories) as Bo Jackson jams a basketball, slams a baseball and pumps the iron, among other activities. Most of the advertising from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., centers around sports programming and sports publications, although there are some general-interest titles used.

Nike was the top spender in 1989, with $33.3 million in the nine media measured by LNA. Most of the spending went to tv last year, with $19.1 million in that medium, according to Broadcast Advertisers Reports. Of that, $12.4 million went into network programing that included professional and college basketball, football, tennis, and prime time shows such as Dear John, Who’s the Boss and L.A. Law.

“We use prime time to reach a broad base of adults and late night for a younger audience,” says Zeitz. “Television acts as a brand umbrella at key strategic times of the year, such as back-to-school.”

Cable spending totaled $2.2 million and supported almost every type of sporting event, including high-school basketball on ESPN. Syndicated tv got $3.4 million of the budget on shows that included D.C. Follies, Arsenio Hall and Life’s Most Embarrassing Moments, according to Vitt Media International.

Below the tv campaign lies an enormous print effort that hit $13.2 million last year, according to LNA, and ran in a wide range of special-interest books, including Glamour, Self, Tennis, Money, Bicycling and Weight Watchers. Currently an ad for running shoes is running in Sports Illustrated and People, in addition to Runner’s World, where the emotional satisfaction of the activity is highlighted in a series of spreads.

No advertising was done for Nike’s Air Pressure, an air-inflatable basketball shoe, during the year, according to Zeitz, because “there’s such a special nature to it, and we don’t see it for really broad use.” There are plans for another shoe using the same technology but at a price below Air Pressure’s $175 price tag.

Reebok

After running in place for several years, Reebok is trying to get its advertising message on track with the help of new agency, Hill, Holiday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston. Chiat/Day/Mojo had the account for three years and will continue to handle Reebok’s international advertising from London. The new brand campaign is currently in the works, and Reebok’s general manager Steve Race says the first ads to break from Hill, Holiday will be in late June or early July.

Reebok recently reorganized its Reebok brand business in the U.S. into two units — performance and lifestyle. The charter for the lifestyle division is to come up with fashion statement shoes for females and teens. This allows the performance unit to concentrate on just that. Jocks including Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins, Lakers’ coach Pat Riley, tennis champs Michael Chang and Arantxa Sanchez, and the PGA pro tour’s Greg Norman have teamed up with Reebok.

Another big step was budgeting $70 million for a promotion and “advertising explosion that’s going to rock the footwear market all across the country.” It began in February on the NBA All Star Game, followed by 90 days of commercials on network shows (Roseanne, Growing Pains and 20/20), other sporting events, and cable network such as Nickelodeon, MTV, BET and ESPN. Part of the tv strategy is to go beyond sports-specific programing, according to Race. Last year’s total media investments tracked by LNA were $33 million.

With the pulling of the “Bungee” commercial, no tv spots are running. Shooting for its new campaign from Hill, Holiday is currently underway.

Two eight-page inserts, one for men and one for women, titled “Welcome to the ’90s,” ran in a variety of sport-oriented magazines, providing a high performance umbrella for the brand. The insert highlights the company’s best comfortable shoes for bunions, focusing on performance enhancing features such as the Pump, Energy Return System, Hexalite and Energaire.

While tv ads for the Pump help develop an umbrella image of performance for the company, print gives Reebok the opportunity to target its 18-34-year-old athletic-oriented male and female. “In Tennis magazine, we can go to a hardcore tennis player,” says Race. “With the electronics, we can get a brand image and a minimal message across. In print, we can do a lot more with the product, talk about features, benefits, technologies and differentiation between our product and competitive products.”

To reach runners, Reebok will be buying space in Track & Field News, Runner’s World, Running USA and Women’s Sports & Fitness. Tennis enthusiasts will be targeted through World Tennis, Esquire, Tennis, U.S. Open Program Guide and Sports Illustrated.

Although tv will represent more than half of its ad budget, it’s getting expensive and Reebok is exploring a variety of media that includes cinema advertising. “This is one that we’ve looked at and looked at very hard,” states Race. “At this juncture there are some impediments, as people still boo the advertisers.”

He also points out that the advertisers can’t pick movies. “You buy screens and [get] whatever they’re running for that time period. In that format it’s not for us. We want to be able to target the audience a little more finely,” he says.

L.A. Gear

L.A. Gear is sprinting its way through the athletic-shoe market. Four years ago the company wasn’t even on the map, and it now holds a 13% share.

L.A. Gear broke into the market with women’s fashion athletic footwear and has grown by chipping away at Reebok’s share. But the company realizes that to maintain growth, it has to jump into the men’s performance arena with both feet.

“At this juncture we are planning our attack,” says Gary Patrick, senior vice president at Vitt Media International, L.A. Gear’s media-buying agency. “If we go into the sports area, we’re going to be outspent by Nike. So it’s a matter of doing it [media buying] a little more creatively.”

L.A. Gear spent $21.5 million on athletic-shoe advertising last year, with $13.2 million going to spot tv and $4.6 million on network tv. Spots air on some sports programing, but most of the effort is in younger skewing programing during late night and prime time, including Letterman, Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons.

Patrick tries to stretch the client’s dollar as far as he can and has gotten skits to revolve around the L.A. Gear commercial spot on shows such as Letterman and Saturday Night Live. “We don’t dictate the content of any shows–the producers have that call,” he says. “You scratch someone’s back, you twist their arm, you throw money at them, and things get done. It’s a matter of exploiting the media on behalf of the client.”

To help get its performance message across, San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe Montana has been drafted for the company’s “Unstoppable” campaign. L.A. Gear’s in-house agency, L.A. Ad, produced 15- and 30-second motivational spots with Montana cross training mixed with three-quarter speed footage of him playing football.

Patrick realizes that Montana is going to have to throw quite a few passes before consumers receive the message of performance. “The industry perception is that we’re developing performance-oriented shoes, but the consumer hasn’t caught up yet,” he explains. “To the consumer, they’re comfortable shoes. They’re stylish shoes.” Other athletes in the company’s stable include the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, the Houston Rockets’ Akeem Alajuwan and Utah Jazz’ Karl Malone.

The company’s “Unstoppable” campaign targets not only performance-oriented consumers, but fashion-oriented women and kids. After all, it’s still the fashion end that generates the big bucks. Even with performance shoes, only one in five are used for their intended sport. So L.A. Gear scored some points for fashion when it hooked up with Michael Jackson, who will go beyond being a spokesperson. “He’s designing the shoes and is going to be breaking this June for back-to-school,” says Patrick. “He’s also going to get involved in apparel design as the company expands its base from a footwear company.

Jackson will bring big-name recognition to L.A. Gear across U.S. borders. Sandy Saeman, executive vice president of L.A. Gear, says, “He goes places that Joe Montana would never reach. He’s [known] not only here but also abroad.”

Print was heavily used last year at a cost of $3.5 million, according to Vitt Media, and encompassed both the fashion and the performance angles for men and women in major magazines, including Playboy, GQ, Sports Illustrated, Mademoiselle and Cosmopolitan.

Converse

At one time Converse was the only player in the basketball arena with its All Star. Now it’s ranked number four.

But it’s hoping to make a comeback. With the price of high-performance basketball shoes hovering around $100 (excluding higher priced air inflatables), Converse’s new $80 Magic line offers all that’s needed, according to Kathy Button, director of marketing communications. “We have an all-you-need type strategy. Anything more than that is excessive and the nightmare of every parent’s life. Pretty soon people aren’t going to be spending $175 for a pair of plantar fasciitis sandals. The moment is over.”

The Magic line, named after L.A. Laker all-star guard Magic Johnson, is Converse’s answer to Nike’s Air Jordan. “Magic wears the shoes in his games, and if they’re good enough for him to play in, they’re great for any kid to play basketball in,” Button says.

Converse also opened up the year with a barrage of advertising and promotion to introduce Magic. Last year, LNA tracked Converse’s nine-media spending for athletic shoes at $4.3 million. This year, about $15 million has already been spent on prime-time tv alone on top-rated shows such as Roseanne and The Wonder Years. Other tv includes MTV and basketball, particularly Lakers games. The agency is Ingalls, Quinn & Johnson in Boston.

Currently, print is running in several books, the titles of which depend on what line is being advertised. Sports Illustrated is carrying Magic ads, while Evolo, a women’s line with Chris Everet as spokesperson, is running in Self, Glamour and Cosmopolitan. With the classic black All Stars now considered fashionable, Rolling Stone is a good buy. There’s even a promotional ad planned to run in the magazine. All Star buyers will receive a cassette of David Bowie’s song Fame free.

Although the current print buys are mostly mainstream titles, Button is looking to get into more sport-specific magazines. “In the future, we’ll do more sport-specific magazines. We’ve been going to cable with things like tennis, but I think you’ll see us try to go a little more into detail, particularly on performance lines” in sport-specific books.

Converse is the official shoe of the National Basketball Association, and makes a line of NBA shoes that sport team names and logos. It can also use the NBA logo in its advertising. Converse is also trying to build its corporate identity by restoring its logo prominently to ads.

Avia

Avia, a wholly-owned and autonomously operated subsidiary of Reebok, is a performance shoe company. Its ads read “For athletic use only,” so no one’s confused about it.

Targeting serious exercise enthusiasts 18-34, male and female, the brand isn’t looking to be the official shoe of the Couch Potato Beer Drinking team. Seattle Sea Hawks linebacker Brian Bosworth and a host of other high profile athletes including Martina Navratilova and Robert Parish appear in the ads.

Magazine advertising took most of the budget, with $4.1 million going into health-and-fitness-oriented titles such as Self, Sports Illustrated and Idea Today, as well as People’s fitness issue. The budget is too small to go into general-interest publications, says Michael hoffman, senior vice president, director of client services at Borders Perrin & Norrander, Portland, Ore.

However, the company did deviate from its athletic-use-only strategy with a promotion with MTV and Carnival Cruise Lines that targeted college kids with a spring break fitness cruise contest. The contest offered 50 winners and their companions a cruise to the Bahamas and an appearance on MTV’s spring break programing. Patrick Kipisz, vice president of advertising and promotions for Avia, said the promotion worked beyond expectations. There were more than 750,000 entrants. “It’s the biggest promotion that MTV ever did,” he says. “We’ll do something like it again, but we don’t want to repeat this. It won’t be as good the second time around.”

Last year, tv programing included sports on cable and spot buys on shows such as The Wonder Years and Cosby. Tennis tv programing was used primarily to target women. Total broadcast expenditures last year were $3.3 million.

But Avia is backing off from its use of television. None is expected to be used for the rest of this year and possibly next year, according to Kipisz. The emphasis will be in print.

Avia is going after the athletically oriented in sports and fitness books with a softer approach. Recently, an eight-page insert for its cross trainers ran in Sports Illustrated and People. It opens with the line, “It’s nice to see people who enjoy their work,” and depicts a professional man and women going through a variety of exercise routines. The closing line describes the cross trainers as “. . . The official shoe of the working class.”

Avia’s current ad campaign is softer than its predecessor, which told sedentary people not to buy the shoes. That rubbed some little more out of that campaign than there was,” says Kipisz. “We said there are was,” says Kipisz. “We said that there are certain people who are totally unconcerned about their health, and exercise is not a part of their lives. Those are the people who should not be buying Avia because they’ll be buying more shoe than they need.”

The campaign did get some extra milage, however. By picking on smokers in one ad, they got negative responses from the tobacco industry and positive reaction from lung and cancer associations. “I would guess we got a 50% premium from the reaction of the tobacco industry defending itself, because they kept the issue alive,” says Kipisz. “Our media dollars would have never stretched that far.”

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Zaim Audio Pedals

Mark Zaim is several galaxies distant from the VauxFlores concept. Zaim’s goal appears to be getting his overdrive pedals to sound as natural and organic as a tube amp as possible. Nothing shocking or bizarre, and no pedals “playing themselves”–just warm grit and a stout punch. Well, with one exception. His Obscene Fuzz actually flies quite close to something VauxFlores’ Travis Johns might dig: It just goes to show that there are few absolutes in the realm of musical artistry and engineering.

At this early stage in his pedal-producing career, Zaim makes every stompbox by himself in the USA, and definitely goes for the “DIY boutique” vibe. With fairly standard powder-coated chassis and knobs (although the Marshall-like controls on the Tubelicious OD and Hot Rod Metal Tubelicious OD are pretty trick), and the look of hand-lettered text on the front panels, the Zaim line could have been produced in my grandpa’s tinkerer’s shack. This is not a criticism, by the way. I dig homegrown pedals just as much as I appreciate the fantastic industrial design of the Ogre line. Both options can look cool and stunning on your pedalboard.

Every Zaim pedal features true-bypass switching, and can operate with either AC or DC power supplies, as well as 9-volt batteries. Each pedal is also shielded against RF noise, protected against incorrect power-supply polarity, and offers battery cable strain relief. Test guitars included a Les Paul, Stratocaster, Telecaster, and a Danelectro with lipstick tube pickups, and the amps were a Vox AC30, a Marshall JCM 900, and an Orange Tiny Terror.

HARMONIC PUMP

The Harmonic Pump ($199 direct) is an excellent “more better” pedal. I’d also call it a “boost with benefits,” as it does double duty as a near transparent signal booster and an organic yet gritty overdrive. It’s rather amazing how much the Harmonic Pump lets you be you, until you decide you want a ruder you. What I mean is, the boost feature maintains the tonal character of your setup– as well as the dynamics of your fingers and pick against the strings–but clarifies them, as if you could afford a superstar guitar tech to mod your gear until it delivers every ounce of glorious sound available within. And then, you demand more growl and funkiness and raunch from that tech because you’ve turned into some power-mad guitar demon, and, voila, there it is. Except, in this instance, all you have to do is peg the Drive knob.

Of course, to accomplish this trick, the Harmonic Pump can’t overly compress input signals or get spiky at higher settings, and it doesn’t. It’s full-bandwidth boost and crunch here with no frequencies that appear to be hyped to goose attack or increase/decrease low end. The Harmonic Pump is also a very quiet pedal. Everything sounds as natural as you please, so this isn’t an appropriate choice for transforming your guitar tone. But, hey, if you really dig what ya got, but would love a touch more bliss, the Harmonic Pump will make you very happy indeed.

HOT ROD “METAL” TUBELICIOUS OD

We’re in alphabetical order here, so the Hot Rod “Metal” ($209 direct) comes before the Zaim pedal that it is based on, which is the Tubelicious OD. I’m pretty sure we’ll all be able to keep things straight, but, if you’re nervous about it in any way, please feel free to skip down to the Tubelicious OD review and then pop back to this evaluation. Okay?

Basically, Mark Zaim decided to mod his own pedal, and punch up the character of the Tubelicious OD by incorporating three stages of complex clipping to offer more extreme, high-gain distortion tones. One of the trade-offs of his mod is a little less output than what is offered by the TOD, but you still get enough of a level boost to help solos cut through the band when playing onstage. Thanks to Mark’s organic nature, however, we’re still a few miles from Recto territory, and traveling in the land of “Old School Metal.” This is not a complaint, as the thick and soaring distortion tones are very amp-like and natural. It’s as if you just cranked up a vintage, non-master-volume Marshall to get that thrilling power and near-endless sustain, but didn’t have to blow out all the windows of your house to get there.

I didn’t so much drop a category on this pedal, as much as I simply enjoyed the un-hyped, organic distortion that made it tons of fun to play aggressive solos and bombastic riffs. The excitement factor always upped itself a notch or two when I kicked in the Hot Rod “Metal,” and, somehow, this box always snuck onto my pedalboard for gigs and sessions. Funny, huh?

OBSCENE FUZZ

Sometimes, I guess even “Mr. Organic” Mark Zaim has to go a little nutty, and the Obscene Fuzz ($179 direct) is his wild hair. But although his fuzz produces all the buzzes, sizzles, and searing sustain one would expect from a good fuzz pedal, he also managed to keep the tone very articulate and grounded. Go figure. So while the Obscene Fuzz certainly does not sound amplike, it also doesn’t totally obliterate note definition. You get all that cool, nasty, in-your-face fizzle, but when you play complex chords and arpeggios, you can hear exactly what you’re fingering. Along with the Volume and Fuzz controls, there’s also an Obscene switch that is supposed to unleash all manner of horrific nastiness, and, after playing with the VauxFlores fuzzes, I wondered how Zaim interpreted “nasty.” Well, flipping that switch does bring on a little more burn, sizzle, and compression, but again, you can still hear your note choices loud and clear. The Obscene Fuzz is a fabulous choice for when you want a part to get a little weird and buzzy, but can’t abide the spitting, sputtering, and dying-battery death throes produced by more feral fuzzes.

TUBELICIOUS OD

The Tubelicious OD ($199 direct) is kind of like Zaim’s “epic tone poem” of his commitment to delivering accurate amp sounds in a best overdrive pedal. It is brilliantly organic and transparent with no hyped mids or any sense of brittleness. When I did some punk-like muted downstrokes, the chunk was solid and punchy–no midrange pings, overly bright note attacks, or annoying string noises made the scene at all. It was as if I had plugged my guitar right into my Marshall or Vox AC30. Sexy! Note definition is excellent, even when you crank the Dirt knob. The Girth (or tone) control is very amp-like, as well, and sounds very natural across its spectrum. There’s just enough mids and low mids to refine your drive without sounding as if some over-exuberant recording engineer got obsessed with EQ tweaks in the studio. Like all four Zaim pedals, operation is fairly quiet. Audible hiss was never anywhere near objectionable.

Vox StompLab IG

No bigger than many single-effect stompboxes, the StompLab is a full-fledged processor with a sound engine equivalent to that featured on Vox‘s VT+ series modeling amps and ToneLab series multi-effect units. A study in minimalism, the StompLab‘s interface puts 103 effects and 100 preset sounds at your fingertips with an 11-position Category knob that has settings for Ballad, Jazz Fusion, Pop, Blues, Rock & Roll, Rock, Hard Rock, Metal, Hardcore, and Other (weird sounds). The last position, User, is where you click to for writing custom presets. There are also Gain and Level knobs that operate on any active preset, and also double as Value 1 and Value 2 controls (respectively) for adjusting parameters when in Edit mode (selected by a small button on the left side). Individual effect and amp models are selected with a pair of up/down buttons on the right side. Effect types include amps (44), drives (18), cabinets (12), pedals (8), modulations (9), delays (8), reverbs (3), and noise reduction. A maximum of eight effects can be used simultaneously when noise-reduction is active. All info is displayed in a 2-segment LED screen.

The two metal footswitches toggle you up or down through the ten presets available for each Category setting. Pressing both switches down momentarily activates the easy-to-read tuner, which uses three LEDs to indicate flat, sharp, and in-tune. This is also the StompLab‘s bypass mode.

StompLab‘s presets offer lots of ways to roll, from sparkling clean and beautifully chorused tones to shimmering tremolos to some very eerie sounds that explore the reaches of the rich modulations, juicy delays, and pristine reverbs. The amp sounds are rich and dynamic in feel, and along the way, there are plenty of happening tones for jazz, blues, and rock (many with well implemented distortion like top distortion pedal, delay, and reverb) and that’s all before you get to the Metal and Hardcore presets, which offer ten flavors each of grinding tones–some extremely sinister–that are fun to play and sound great for heavy standard-or drop-tuned rifting.

The StompLab offers an insane amount of bang for the buck, it stashes easily in a gig bag (just be mindful not to switch it on when stuffing cords, etc. around it), and is an ideal solution for players who want lots of sounds but don’t want to tote a full-sized multi-effector.

3 Tips to Help You Buy the Best Waist Cincher for Gifting Purposes

At one time, corsets were used for narrowing down the waist area and shaping the overall body. The last decade has seen the growing use of the hourglass waist trainer, as busy women without the time or energy to focus on long exercise sessions and diet regimen find them to be ideal. These types of outfits come in various styles, shapes and designs. Other than trimming the waist, they also provide support to the body, hold the body straight and offer an hourglass shape to the figure. Wearing corsets beneath your casual dress can make you appear very shapely, and shape you well over a period of time. These days, many women gift corsets to their friends and family members. If you are looking for a waist cincher for gifting purposes, read waist cincher reviews via this link first and remember the following tips to get the best corset and make a great gift for a loved one.

Select one which is not too tight-fitting

In most cases, you can get cinchers consisting of plastic and metal strips referred to as boning. These outfits make use of the science of compression in order to narrow down the waist and improve the female body shape, making the bust line and the hips more prominent. However, chafing is one of the major disadvantages of these dresses. Cinchers which are very tight fitting can sit tight on the skin and cause irritation. Chafing problems can arise even due to the use of cinchers that are constructed of the softest types of material. Wearing a camisole or a thin shirt can make it act like a barrier between your skin and the waist cincher and you can easily avoid chafing problems. It is best to buy a cincher that does not fit too tightly.

Choose one with proper support

One of the greatest benefits provided by these dresses is postural support. It can significantly limit your range of movement but you can get great support from the metal bones of these dresses. You will find that you cannot slouch at any time. It is in fact impossible to have a bad posture with these dresses. Those who use them each and every day swear by the amount of support that these outfits offer to them. The additional support can lower the risk of back problems and provide adequate assistance while walking or carrying out everyday activities. So look for a cincher that offers enough support.

Choose high quality material

If you wish to purchase tight lacing corsets, go for one that is constructed of a high quality material. The first thing that you should look for in the outfit that you buy should be the boning. A lot of corsets to be found in the market are made of plastic which can break easily and go out of shape after a few uses. You should preferably go for ones that consist of steel boning, which can withstand folding when a wearer moves and bends. These do not snap back or twist out of shape as you bend. Naturally, these are ideal cinchers to go for.

MC Systems Pedals

The modern effects pedal market is awash with a multitude of clever devices doing a multitude of clever things in a multitude of clever ways. And just when I thought I’d heard and seen it all, along comes a relatively new player from the land down under. MC Systems refers to their new Apollo line as “Dynamic Response” pedals, and although the suggestion that these pedals will change the way you play guitar is perhaps hyperbolic, they will surely make you re-think the limits of what effects pedals can do for your playing.

All MC Systems pedals are true bypass, can be powered by 9-volt batteries or external power supplies, come in cool black slip-case packaging, and are styled with a rugged, militaristic look. What really sets the Dynamic Response line of pedals apart is its patent-pending V-Switch located on the control face of each pedal. When the V-Switch is engaged, the amount of pressure used to enable the effect (basically how hard you stomp on the footswitch) changes the intensity of a given parameter. For instance, if you want more overdrive for the next song on your set list, simply stomp on your new NKM Dynamic Drive harder.

The sensitivity of the V-switch on each pedal can even be adjusted to “suit your shoe size” via a small access port on the bottom of each pedal. To top It off, each of the pedals Include a second footswitch labeled “Alternate,” which gives you Immediate access to a different preset parameter you might want to access quickly–such as a volume boost with a little extra sizzle for solos. Honestly, If this isn’t one of those “Why didn’t / think of that” situations, I don’t know what is.

To test these three MC Systems pedals, I used a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul plugged into a Vox AC30 and an Epiphone Valve Jr. head with a cabinet loaded with two Eminence P10R speakers.

NKM DYNAMIC DRIVE

With both single-coll and humbucker pickups the Dynamic Drive ($TBA) elicits warm and pleasing, medium to heavy overdrive, There was definitely more bite with the single-coils, but plenty of high end was evident with the humbuckers, too. Despite the pedal’s name, I felt that its dynamic qualities were not as responsive as they could have been. The pedal does produce a big tonal difference between light and heavy pick attacks-plenty of black vs. white, so to speak-but the shades of grey in between were slightly less obvious. However, that very trait also makes it a forgiving pedal for those with an Inclination to bash at the guitar, rather than caress it.

The Dynamic Drive really blossomed when I kicked in the V-Switch and added a little more preamp distortion to my test amps. Between the Drive, the V-Drive, and the Alternate presets, you can create a variety of great fat, punchy, or saturated guitar tones for almost any type of gig. And, best of all, with three separate presets, you’ll never have to bend over during the show (or during a song) to make tonal adjustments.

BSL HYBRID CHORUS

Chorus, delay, and other types of modulation effects are where I think the V-Switch technology can–and will–really shine, Like the Dynamic Drive, the Hybrid Chorus ($TBA) can provide multiple, on-the-fly settings to a player simply by engaging the footswitch. The true-bypass pedal offers controls for Depth, V-Depth, Rate, Alternate Rate, and Level, Once I got used to manipulating the controls, the V-Switch footswitch and the Alternate footswitch enabled me to achieve everything from lush swirls to watery vibrato effects to rotary speaker sounds, and even some interesting detunes. While the overall tonal quality of the pedal can be considered warm, It also reminded me more of the brighter, digital-sounding chorus pedals of the mid ’80s–only with more flexibility, and far more control over the parameters that make a good chorus pedal a “must have” In every guitarist’s arsenal. The level of versatility makes the BSL Hybrid Chorus unique among most other current chorus pedals.

SYD STRING REVIVER

The apparently strangely named String Reviver ($TBA) is really like a cross between a Sonic Maximizer and a treble booster. First off, it actually does do exactly what its name implies–which is add clarity and brightness to guitar strings. With the String Reviver engaged, every tiny detail in my playing technique was brought Into tight focus. It also added air and zip to a dark-sounding, humbucker-equipped electric, and the single-coils on my Stratocaster suddenly had a wonderful feel of space and acoustic-like definition.

The controls include Definition, V-Definition, Slope, Level, and Alt-Level, When the V-Definition parameter is engaged everything becomes even more pronounced. The Level and Alt-Level controls can be used to match your bypassed signal, or to set up one or even two levels of boost–which is very useful for blasting solos and riffs out of a live band mix. My only concern is that the pedal produces audible hiss when either of the Definition controls are set past the 2 o’clock position.

VauxFlores Gold Standard and Platano Verde

GOLD STANDARD

Designed in collaboration with Baltimore-based composer, violist, and visual artist Liz Meredith, the Gold Standard ($119 direct) is described as a “stripped down” version of the 24. It certainly has all the untamed sizzle that the 24 is capable of–and more–and flies the flag of its buzz-saw sound proudly. There is practically no option here for anything but madness. If you want a totally jacked-up tone, this is your altar. It spits and it sputters and it sounds broken–although you can dial back the insanity to actually hear notes clearly if you start getting a bit timid. The Volume knob provides a significant increase in level (about 12dB)–which is helpful if you want the more extreme sounds of the Gold Standard to cut through a band mix–and, with everything set just right, you can get almost endless sustain. I don’t say this lightly: Take care. This pedal may have the power to destroy the world.

PLATANO VERDE

The Platano Verde ($89 direct) is perhaps the most “normal” fuzz in the VauxFlores line. You just get a Tone and a Volume control, and the basic sound is bright, buzzy, and fizzy. It’s a good fit for psychedelic ramblings, industrial noises, and just any riff that you want to scream out of a mix with an intense and unconventional frazzle. Johns says he based the Platano Verde on schematics he found in Brazilian electronics magazines from the 1970s. Another factoid is that this is one of the VauxFlores pedals with artwork actually made by a human being–the Costa Rican artist Paulina Velazquez-Solis.

VauxFlores 23 – 24

VauxFlores pedals are created by experimental composer, sound artist, and inventor Travis Johns, who states, “Conventional tools tend not to yield unconventional results.” Well, Johns isn’t going after the conventional, He admits straight out that his designs are focused on the underground.

We’re not looking for the brown, green, or blue sound, or the perfect approximation of a particular player’s aesthetics,” he says. “We have no desire to produce a compelling clone of the commonplace, What we are after Is something Just far enough off the beaten path to be sonically interesting, yet functionally useful–high quality, rugged, complex, and Just a little raunchy at heart.”

At present, Johns produces these pedals in small batches, and offers them for sale online through Etsy and Reverb. None of the pedals are battery powered, as the company is not down with the environmental impact of used 9-volters. You’ll need a 9-volt power supply, inside the casing, the hand-built pedals are wired simply and elegantly. Although the sounds of these pedals are pretty arty and extreme, VauxFlores does a great job of informing buyers about exactly what they are in for by posting several SoundCloud audio examples for each model. In other words, you can’t say you weren’t warned. For our tests, we used a Gibson Les Paul through a 50-watt Marshall DSL 2000 set to Its clean channel, and cranked up pretty loud, as well as a Reverend Reeves Gabrels Signature Spacehawk through a Vox AC30.

The VauxFlores Number 23

When I first plugged Into this pedal and nudged up the amp volume, the 23 ($179 direct) started playing itself with a series of rhythmic gurgles, spritzes, buzzes, and gronks. It was a bit of a shock at first, but given that I knew I was in wacky performance-art land, I just enjoyed the impromptu concert. Controlling the 23 is often an expression of ego, rather than practical reality. You can adjust the Blend, Volume, Tone, and Feedback knobs, and perhaps even fool yourself into thinking you know what you are doing, but beware–the highly interactive controls have a mind of their own, and sound crafting is more an act of accepting what you are given than tweaking tones to your desires. None of this was a bummer–at least to me–and I thoroughly enjoyed all the surprises that the 23 delivered.

This is an extreme fuzz with a hint of an octave effect, and-well I can’t say this.better than the VauxFlores website–“heterodyned, atonal artifacts.” What this means for creating music is that, um, you may have to reorient your definition of “music.” I found the weird blastold undulations to be marvelous for adding strange harmonic figures under chords, and, when deployed subtly on single-note lines, you can still discern enough of the melody to utilize the part as a front-and-center hook–that is, if the hook line was performed by tipsy alien lifeforms. Again, this is a very good thing. Everything the 23 does Is abnormal, and everything you play through it will demand attention.

As a closing note, the 23’s front-panel graphic was derived from Johns’ Bioprinting I piece that used amplified earthworms to create the art. Here’s where you say, “of course …”

The VauxFlores Number 24

The 24 ($169 direct) is a high-gain, three-transistor fuzz with a good amount of tweaking options. It has knobs to control Voltage, Bias 1, Bias 2, Fuzz, and Volume, as well as a tone switch that lets you choose between a frequency spectrum best suited for guitar or one tailored for bass. The Voltage control determines the amount of spitting and sputtering, and the two Bias knobs let you dial in fuzz that ranges from mild to over-the-top grind. All controls are very interactive, and, believe it or not, experimenting with the knobs can also produce some very dynamic effects–it’s not all about tortured buzz here. The level of tweakability makes the 24 a fabulous choice if you want to buy into the VauxFlores concept, but feel that you might not always want to deploy weird and feral snarls. Here, you can actually go “subtle” with your fuzz. Imagine that.

The only complaint I have with this pedal is the position of the on/off switch. It is too close to the knobs for Fuzz and Volume, which makes it difficult to stomp on the 24 in the heat of a performance and not have my boot either slip on the knobs or change their positions. An interesting note is that the 24’s front-panel artwork is derived from data-bent imagery that included input sounds by the pedal itself–which means the 24 kind of generated its own art.

Review – Hotone Skyline Series Guitar Pedal

Honey, who shrunk the pedals?

Okay. Sorry. But it’s a challenge not making tiny teensy bitty micro mini comments when discussing the Hotones, as they are most probably the smallest stompboxes ever manufactured. It’s certainly a tribute to technology that you can offer a full line of effects in casings that take up less physical space than a kindergartener’s juice box. In addition, the extreme compactness of these pedals is a major benefit for guitarists who travel to “fly gigs,” take cabs everywhere, can’t manage heavy gear, or have simply wished for a rig that can fit into one pocket of their gig bags. Heck, I can fit a delay and a fuzz in the front pocket of my jeans and still have room for bus change.

But radical miniaturization can also have a downside, as it’s difficult to fit circuitry, control knobs, and 1/4″ jacks in such tight quarters without perhaps compromising durability. However, it was impressive just how gig tough these minis are. I tossed them like dog treats across cement floors, stomped on them like some crazed elephant, and plugged and unplugged cables and power supplies into each pedal with no ill effects. Also, although the top control knobs are mini-sized, they are surprisingly easy to turn–even with stubby fingers.

While the Hotones may look like a pack of overfed Jelly Bellies, they are certainly not sonic jokes, toys, or trinkets. Each pedal in the line is truebypass (except the Wally looper), and all have analog circuitry, with the exception of the digital delay chip in the Eko. Everything in the Skyline Series sounds very good and can stand knob-to-knob with other like pedals in the same price range–which is $79 street for everything except the $89 street Wally looper. Here’s a quick survey of the pedals currently available, hotoneaudio.com -mm

  • Blues Overdive

There’s good amp-like response and organic overdrive here. Even at higher raunch settings, the sound is very articulate without being overly bright.

  • Choir Chorus

This is a nice analog chorus with a detuning feature. It can do the job, but it doesn’t produce an especially lush or sensual shimmer.

  • Chunk Vintage Crunch

This is a ballsy distortion modeled after the Brit biggies. The Hot switch adds a mid/treble boost that increases both airiness and punch. Nice stack tones.

  • Eko Delay

Up to 500ms of delay is available within this digital delay pedal, and notes are reproduced clearly–even multiple feedback repeats. The Mod switch brings on those groovy modulated decays.

  • FuryFuzz

No shortage of Hendrix-inspired frizz and frazz here. A very ’60s-voiced fuzz that can deliver thicker and darker buzz when the Push button is active.

  • Grass Modern Overdrive

Nice “subtle” reference to stoner rock here, and this pedal definitely evokes the blistered growl of bands such as Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon.

  • Komp Opto Compressor

Unless you go for the lowest settings, this Is definitely compression that you hear. No subtle grab–it’s full-on squash with all notes ringing tough and evenly. I didn’t hear any pumping, breathing, or other artifacts.

  • Lift Up Clean Boost

There’s a good amount of level pumping here for sending solos or riffs over the band mix, and a Warm button to calm the attack if you hit the front end of your amp too hard. Very stout and articulate.

  • Trem Analog Tremolo

Inspired by the tremolo circuit on the Fender Twin, the Trem does speak vintage warble. It can also do slicer-type effects, as well as emulate the sexy swagger of the Smiths’ classic intro to “How Soon Is Now.”

  • Wally Mini Guitar Loop Station

So incredible that you can get a working looper down to this size, and keep operation very basic and functional. There’s up to 15 minutes of loop memory available, one memory slot, and unlimited overdubs. All loops are solid and clean with no signal degradation over multiple overdubs.

  • Whip Metal Distortion

Insane amounts of sustain with a high-midrange boost spoken quite loudly here. But even if you go for a massively saturated and aggro distortion tone, pushing the Edge button ensures that you’ll still hear every note you play.