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Posts Tagged ‘guitar reviews’





The Rock Lock

Summary: After a year-long wait, the Rock Lock has finally hit the market! What started out as an ingenious idea to provide some gig security for your guitar is not finally a reality.

Pros: Rubberized (or what appears to be rubberized) material around an obviously sturdy, metal locking “C” and attached to a 1/4″ steel braid rope, provide ample security for when you’re gigging, or even in a studio where you want to provide a level of deterrence as well as security.

Cons: None

Features (from the web site):

-Core Constructed from Cutting Edge Metal Replacement Technology

-Heavy-Duty Braided Steel Cable

-1 Year Full Warranty with Registration

-2 Keys Included, with optional Key Registration

-Fits almost all standard 6 string Guitars.
This excludes: 12 String Instuments, Flamenco/Spanish Guitars, and Bass Guitars.

Price: $49.95

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’ve been waiting for this to come out since Chris Goulet originally contacted me a year ago. For the gigging musician, this is a must-have.

To me, having a Rock Lock is like putting strap-locks on your guitar. The funny thing about strap locks is that you never think you need them until your guitar comes off your strap button and crashes unceremoniously to the floor. Once that happens, you heed the warnings. But it shouldn’t take having your guitar stolen at a gig to make you buy a Rock Lock. At least for me, even the prospect of having my guitar stolen is enough to make sure I always have good security  for my axes at gigs. But I almost had to learn the hard way.

From late spring to early fall, I play on the patio area outside of the restaurant where I do my Friday gigs. Where I play is a major thoroughfare into the shopping center, so it gets lots of traffic – it’s a great way for me to entertain lots of folks. But the high traffic also presents a much greater danger of my gear being tampered with or stolen. While there are plenty of staff and customers at hand to watch my gear when I take breaks, the position of the “stage” is such that if someone wanted to make a running grab at my guitar, they could do it and get away pretty easily.

Last summer, there was a kid who was watching me play. He was what you might call an “emo,” with long hair swept across his face and a brooding expression underneath. He paid me a couple of compliments on my playing which was pretty cool, then after awhile, he asked if he could play my guitar while I was on break. I nicely told him no as I didn’t have a backup guitar with me, and he walked away, though I saw him a few times walk by eying my guitar. About an hour later, I took a break, and left my guitar out. Lo and behold, there was the kid. He was just about to grab my guitar!

I rushed over and said, “What part of ‘No you can’t play my guitar while I’m on break did you not understand?'”

“I thought it would be cool with you, dude,” he responded.

I said, “No. It’s not cool. Please leave.”

He did, and didn’t return. But in hindsight, if he took my guitar, it would’ve been my fault for not making it secure. And while I assumed that my gear would be safe because so much staff and people were around, the mere fact that that kid could just walk up to my guitar and pick it up made me think that I needed some sort of security.

For awhile after that, I resorted to packing my guitar during breaks and putting it my car or in the restaurant. But either of those options was a bit of a pain. However, with the Rock Lock, I no longer have to do that. I just lock up my guitar and it’s safe!

So how does it work? Well, it works very much like a computer laptop tether in that it has a loop at the end of the metal rope that you use to secure to a fixed object. The other end of the rope has a metal stud that gets inserted into the locking mechanism that is essentially a “C” clamp that goes around the neck of your guitar. The locking mechanism has one of those unpickable cylindrical keys. So talk about security! Look at the picture sequence below:

1. First, attach the cable to a fixed object like a pole:

2. Next, attach the cable to the locking mechanism (the stud end slides into an opening at the joint of the lock:

3. Finally, lock your guitar:

How much easier can it be? As I said, this is a must-have like strap locks for security-conscious guitar player. I’ll probably be getting a couple of more of these pretty soon!

For more information on the Rock Lock and to purchase one, visit The Rock Lock Company!

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Jensen Jet Electric Lightning JC10-50EL 10″ Speaker

Summary: A single 10″ speaker is NOT supposed to sound this big! Sure, Jensen may be marketing as a real “rocker” but this speaker will absolutely KILL with any style.

Pros: Big, ferrite magnet produces a fat, bottom end that is absolutely to die for! No loss of definition, no muddiness. This speaker absolutely KILLS!

Cons: None.

Features – It would be best to check out the link above to see the specs.

Price: ~ $69.00 street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 I’ve been using this speaker for a couple of weeks now in a little, 6-watt amp, and I’m simply loving the sound that this speaker produces.

I hate cliches. But sometimes a cliche is the only way to describe something. The cliche I’m thinking about regarding the JC10-50EL is “Big things come in small packages.” In this case, it’s a big sound that comes in a small, 10″ speaker. Every time I play through this speaker, no matter what guitar I use, I’m floored by the big sound (I know, I used that term before) that this speaker produces; not to mention the clarity. I’m so impressed with it that I’m going to put together a 2 X 10 or a 3 X 10 cabinet with these speakers in it.

How It Sounds

This afternoon, I quickly recorded a couple of demo clips this afternoon. All clips were recorded using my American Deluxe Strat, straight into my VHT Special 6 combo where the speaker resides. Note that I close-miked the amp and had it cranked! No attenuation, no sound dampening. What you hear in these clips is pretty much the raw sound with just a touch of reverb with the dirty clips (<10% wet). But I did no mastering or EQ. You’re getting the full range of sound in all the clips.

Clean (Neck pickup)

Dirty (Bridge pickup)

Dirty (Neck pickup)

Overall Impression

Like I said above, a single 10″ speaker is NOT supposed to sound this big. You normally need at last a couple of 10″ speakers to get a decently rich sound. But just one of these can move some serious air! I can’t wait to get my new cab put together!

The VHT Special 6 and JC10-50 combination is a match made in heaven, as far as I’m concerned. I mentioned in my previous gig report that I used this with my church band. That combo held its own throughout the service! Admittedly, I had to set the amp on a chair, but it worked out great!

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Barron Wesley Guitars Alpha #7

Summary: Similar to the Alpha that I recently reviewed, this guitar sports Honduran mahogany, and the tonal difference is HUGE. I really liked the last edition (#5), but this rendition of the Alpha has it all going on. Ringing clean tones and lots of muscle. Nice.

Pros: Again, all hand-made, and the cleans – oh, the cleans – have a gorgeous bell-like tone. The body and neck resonate beautifully.

Cons: None.

Features

  • Scale length: 25″
  • Frets: 22 (medium)
  • Color: Natural
  • Top Wood: Quilted Maple
  • Back/Neck Wood: Honduran Mahogany
  • Finish: Hand-rubbed Tung Oil
  • Fingerboard Cocobolo Rosewood
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Bridget TonePros AVT II
  • Pickups: Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+
  • Controls: RS Super Volume/Bourns Push-Pull Tone/Switchcraft 3-way Toggle
  • Tuners: Gotoh Magnum Locking
  • Weight: ~7.5 lbs.
  • Build Completion: July 2011

Price: $1800 – Yes, you read that right. This guitar is for sale, and I would buy it myself if I had the cash on hand; this is a KILLER guitar!

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ From the moment I plugged it in, I fell in love with the tone and feel of this guitar!

It’s great to be close to local gear builders; especially when they make super-high-quality gear for a freakin’ fantastic price. Aracom was the first local builder whose gear I just had to have, and now it’s Barron Wesley Guitars. Russell at BWG, though a relative newcomer to the luthier scene is insanely talented. The workmanship of his guitars is on par with guitars that cost three to four times more, but more importantly, his guitars play and sound absolutely killer.

Last night, Russell dropped off Alpha #7 at my gig at Max’s Opera Cafe in Palo Alto, CA. When I took it out of its case, I just had to play it right away, so I plugged it in and was rewarded with such a natural, musical tone that I ended up finishing my last set playing that guitar. The clean tone was absolutely mesmerizing to me, and the fretboard made playing so effortless – it was scary easy to play. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…

Fit and Finish

There’s not much else to say that I didn’t say in my previous review of Alpha #5. Russell’s work is flawless. However, there are some differences in the finish that Russell explained to me last night. For instance, he put on fewer coats of Tung oil on the cocobolo fretboard as he wanted a much more “natural” feel to the fretboard. To me, the result was spectacular! Right out of the box, that fretboard had just about the best feel that I’ve ever experienced. The finish is silky-smooth.

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous article was that I absolutely love Gotoh hardware, and I love wraparound bridges as well. With a single point of contact, the string energy transfers almost directly to the body.

Finishing my last set with Alpha #7

Playability

Again, in a word just like last review: Awesome. The neck on #7 is absolutely perfect! Not sure what extra or even less shaping Russell did on the guitar, but to me, this neck feels just right, and moving around on it is a dream!

How It Sounds

Alpha #7, with the Honduran mahogany gives the guitar a real Les Paul-like quality when playing with lots of crunch. The resonance in the wood is such that like an LP, you feel the string vibrations as they course through the body and neck. When I first picked it up just to feel how it plays, I immediately took notice of how the body and neck resonate, which is why I had to play it right away. As I mentioned above, I played it clean, but the cleans were so delicious, I finished my last set playing the guitar.

This evening, I spent some time with the guitar – actually, several hours – and have not been able to put it down, save to write this article. I put together some quick clips to demonstrate the sound of this guitar (all clips were played through my beloved Aracom PLX18 “plexi” clone):

First, we’ve got the riff to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”

Amp was cranked, and I played it through the bridge pickup. Next, we’ve got the riff to the Doobie Brothers “Listen to the Music” to demonstrate the neck pickup played clean:

Next, I just started playing some random stuff fingerstyle in the neck pickup:

Then I played a riff to one of my own tunes in the middle position with both humbuckers coil tapped:

Finally, I quickly played a lead over a song idea I’m working on. The first part is played in the neck pickup, then I switch to the bridge to show the difference. VERY Les Paul-like in both response and dynamics:

By the way, those Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+ pickups are absolutely KILLER! Russell made a great choice in these, as they complement the guitar perfectly!

Overall Impression

OMG! I’m freaking out by how incredible this guitar is! If I had the money, I wouldn’t be giving it back to Russell. That’s just how damn good it is. But as I mentioned above, the guitar is for sale. The price is a VERY reasonable $1800, and from how it looks, plays, and sounds, you’d be hard-pressed to get a guitar this good for that kind of price. If you get it now, you’ll be one of the lucky few who get one before he raises prices. Right now, you can take advantage of Russell wanting to get his instruments out and his name known. Once he’s established, the prices will go up as I imagine he’s selling these for just a little over his cost right now.

For more information, check out the Barron Wesley Guitars web site!

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Barron Wesley Guitars Alpha Summary: From new luthier Russell comes an amazingly affordable custom guitar that’s a joy to play, and has a unique sound without losing that classic tone that you’d expect from a PAF-equipped guitar.

Pros: All hand-made. I’ll estimate its weight to be around 8 lbs, so it’s easy on the shoulder. Position of the neck is perfect, making it easy to get into the high frets. Tung Oil finish is wonderful, giving the wood a real natural feel.

Cons: This is just a nit, but it would’ve been great to have independent volume controls for each pickup.

Features

  • Scale length: 25″
  • Frets: 22 (medium)
  • Color: Natural
  • Top Wood: Quilted Maple
  • Back/Neck Wood: African Mahogany
  • Finish: Hand-rubbed Tung Oil
  • Fingerboard Cocobolo Rosewood
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Bridget TonePros AVT II
  • Pickups: Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+
  • Controls: Master Volume / Push-pull Master Tone for coil splitting / 3-way Toggle
  • Tuners: Gotoh Magnum Locking
  • Build Completion: April 2011

Price: < $2000 (Yup, that’s right. A handmade guitar for less then 2 large)

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ I’ve been testing out the guitar for the past couple of days, and it is a player, that’s for sure. This is just a super-comfortable instrument, and I could see myself logging several hours with it!

There’s always room in this world for someone who’s good…

About 25 years ago, I got kicked out of college for a year to get my act together. It wasn’t that my grades were bad, it was that I had three consecutive quarters of minimal progress, so my dean told me to take a break. When I was ready to come back, the dean was reluctant to let me back in. I was dumbstruck. “Why won’t you let me back in?” I asked him.

He replied, “Because as you know, I see you perform all over town. I’m not sure that the sciences are right for someone with your passion and talent in the arts. My son was in the same boat you’re in now and I told him, ‘There’s always room in the world for someone who’s good.’ He left his major, went with music and he’s now playing his horn in Les Brown’s Band of Reknown.” Long story short, I ended up getting back in and completing my coursework in Biology; didn’t do me much good as I’m now almost 20 years into my software engineering career. But those words have stuck with me since, and I’ve used them as a battle cry for both myself and others who may have doubts in their abilities.

Enter Russell LaRoche of Barron Wesley Guitars. He’s a newcomer to the luthier scene, and has only formally been in business since the beginning of this year. He’s the epitome of the saying that there’s always room in the world for someone who’s good, and I think he’s onto something with his guitars. If the model I played is any indication, I have no doubts that he should see some success.

Fit and Finish

There’s really nothing like a handmade instrument. Even though I don’t play my own handmade “Goldie” any longer, there’s a certain “mojo” in the look and feel of a handmade instrument, and the Barron Wesley Alpha has tons of mojo on tap. The quilted maple top is to die for! And though finished with oil and not lacquer, it still retains that three dimensional quality. Personally, that Tung oil finish is sexy as hell!

For those unfamiliar with Tung oil, it is the oil that comes from the nut of the tung tree, and is what is generally called a “drying oil” in that it cures and hardens upon contact with air. It also ages very well, and doesn’t darken over time, making it a perfect finish for fine woods. It is also used as a sealant for marble to protect the stone. For wood, it gives it that satiny, wet wood look. I love it! I imagine that the finish will wear, and unlike lacquer, will be susceptible to scratching, but the cool thing is that the finish can be re-applied (not sure how often, but I don’t anticipate that it would need it that often).

Russell’s attention to detail in the finish of this guitar was spot on. No crooked or uneven joints; everything fits well together. The guitar also “feels” sturdy, though it’s probably only about 8 lbs. in weight. This is a guitar that could be gigged with on a regular basis.

Playability

In a word: Awesome. The neck shape is much like a 50’s Les Paul neck, so I was right at home with it. Mind you, if you don’t like that deep C, then Russell can probably shape it to your specifications.

The cocobolo rosewood fretboard is a dream. Though harder than Brazilian and Indian rosewood, to me, it feels like ebony as it has a lot of oil content, but with a rosewood texture. This makes it VERY easy to move around the fretboard.

The body shape is also perfect, and it is super-easy to get into the high frets. I like the 25″ scale length as well. It’s very close to a Les Paul, so again, I felt right at home playing this guitar.

How It Sounds

Of course looks and playability mean nothing if the guitar doesn’t sound good, and this is where the guitar absolutely shines. The Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+ pickups are a bit more aggressive than traditional PAF-style pups, but that’s okay. It’s clear that this guitar was meant to rock. But being that they are PAF-style pups, they have that honk and a bit of bite to them that’s absolutely pleasing to the ears. In fact, the tone reminded me of my ’59 Les Paul re-issue, but with a deeper tone.

Here’s a clip I recorded of it. The rhythm riff was played in the neck pickup, and I played the lead in the bridge pickup with the ‘bucker tapped to get a slightly spanky single-coil tone. My Timmy pedal provides the drive for the lead, and both tracks were played through my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe in the clean channel – completely clean, mind you. I added a bit of spring reverb from the amp to each track.

Man! What a sweet sound! In fact, I had been playing the guitar over two hours before I decided to record that track. In fact, the main riff has inspired me to write a new song. You gotta love how a great instrument can sprout the seeds of creativity!

Overall Impression

Fantastic guitar from a new, talented luthier. It’s a great combination!

For more information, check out the Barron Wesley Guitars web site!

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Click to enlarge. Sorry, phone pic


1987 Gibson ES-335 Custom St (St = Standard? Studio?) Summary: A rare beauty with a natural blonde finish with classic ES-335 tone!Pros: Absolutely tip-top shape for a guitar of this age. No major dings, but has been well-played. Sounds amazing!Cons: None.Features:

  • Mahogany neck
  • Bound carved flame maple top and maple sides and back
  • Bound ebony fretboard
  • Medium jumbo frets
  • Bone nut
  • Original chrome hardware (look like Tone Pros)
  • Original chrome pickup covers
  • 60’s-style lower profile neck
  • 50’s-style pickup wiring (either volume knob acts as a master, but the tone controls have a different cap value that doesn’t throw a blanket over your tone when you turn it down – this is crucial for playing in the bridge pickup).

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ This guitar sounds and plays like a dream! While the action is a just a tad higher than I like it, the guitar still plays ultra-smooth.

I already talked about how I happened to get this guitar, so I won’t bother rehashing the details. Suffice it to say that I got this guitar for an absolute steal. In a way, this guitar is sort of redemption for me having sold my original ES-335 a couple of years ago when times were tough. So getting this guitar is a real milestone for me.

Fit and Finish

For a 23 year old guitar, it is in absolutely amazing shape. The body has some very minuscule dings in it that fortunately don’t penetrate the finish. I didn’t notice any checking in the gloss either, though that may occur after a few more years if the finish Gibson used was a nitro lacquer. The hardware is aged as to be expected, though there’s a little oxidation in the brass stop tailpiece that can easily be removed. The pick guard has pick marks on it, but no scratches and all the joints are perfect. There’s some fret wear, but nothing major where the frets would have to be replaced. As for the fretboard itself, it’s gorgeous. I love ebony fretboards as they’re so smooth to the touch, and it makes bending a breeze. The back of the guitar has a few nicks that don’t penetrate the finish – and no buckle rash. All in all, for as much as this guitar has been played, I’m just amazed at its overall condition.

Here are some pictures I took with my cell phone. Sorry if the quality is low. I’ll have better ones later…

How It Sounds

This guitar has all the tone I was expecting out of an ES-335, but as it has been broken in and the wood aged, the tone is A LOT richer than what I remember with my original ‘335. As far as pickup positions go, there are three as usual, though I understand that some models did have coil-tapped humbuckers; not this model, though.

I’ve always loved the gorgeous, deep tones of the neck pickup on an ES-335 and this guitar doesn’t disappoint in that department. This is where the ES-335 gets very close to the deep, rich tones of an archtop, but it’s well, different…

Kicking in the bridge pickup in the middle position gives the ES-335 its distinctive “hollow” tone. It’s really hard to describe, but that I’m a firm believer that that middle pickup selector position is what draws people to this guitar. It certainly is one of the main things tonally that originally drew me to the ES-335 in the first place! With the bridge dimed and adding more or less neck pickup, you can get tons of great tones!

The bridge pickup is bright as to be expected – perhaps a bit too bright – but the wonderful tone knob nicely takes the edge off the brightness. I did notice that the bridge pickup is not significantly louder than the neck pickup, which leads me to believe that the original owner lowered the height of that pickup. When I get home from vacation, I’m going to raise it a bit because I prefer to have that dramatic change in volume.

In any case, here are some clips:

Neck pickup, clean

I love the haunting character of the neck pickup on and ES-335. The wonderful thing about this pickup is that it produces a very deep tone, without sounding like an acoustic. Adding a little reverb “grease” only accentuates the haunting effect.

Middle position, with some grind for rhythm; bridge pickup for lead.

In this, I have the bridge dimed, and the neck about halfway for the rhythm part. The lead is just the wide-open bridge pickup. Notice that it’s bright and almost twangy.

Middle position, clean; both rhythm and lead

I had to do a bit of a tribute to the great Andy Summers with this last clip… :) I added a touch of reverb and chorus to get that “Every Breath You Take” vibe.

For all the clips, since I’m on vacation, I don’t have an amp, but I always carry around an IK Multimedia StealthPlug to facilitate my songwriting or, in this case, create clips. I used AmpliTube Fender. For the clean clips, I used a ’65 Twin Reverb model, and for the crunchy clip, I used a ’59 Bassman.

Cool Funk Lead

There are two parts to this next clip. In the first part, I play in the neck position, then switch over to the bridge in the second part plus attack a lot more. Unlike a Les Paul, the 335 doesn’t sustain as much, but that’s not a bad thing. The net result is that overdrive tones tend to be much more tight and focused. BTW, the amp used here was an Aracom PLX18BB in its drive channel.

Overall Impression

This guitar really moves me. She plays so sweet and sounds so good that I truly am inspired. Of course, the price I happened to pay for it didn’t hurt at all, but irrespective of my price, I’d still give this guitar 5 Tone Bones. It’s really an incredible guitar! I can’t wait to get it home and to a luthier for a professional setup. The shop owner did a pretty good job of setting the guitar up, but he strung it with 11-53’s which, while certainly playable, aren’t really my cup of tea. I’ll have the shop put on a set of pure nickel 10’s.

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When I first talked to a guy at a shop about this guitar (it’s someone whose word I’ve learned to trust over the years) about the Squier Classic Vibe Tele, one of the first things he said was, “For the guys who know tone, this is one of the best kept secrets in the industry.” That, from a guy who pedals high-end Fender custom shop axes. His only nit about the guitar was the same as mine: The frets seemed a little small. But other than that, the guitar was a player in his opinion; and so it was with my own estimation of this wonderful little guitar.

Squier is supposed to be the budget line for Fender, and traditionally have been tagged as beginner guitars. But the way this guitar looks, feels, plays and sounds, there’s nothing beginner or budget about it. The build quality is excellent. There are no split or jagged joints or uneven painting. This guitar looks and feels solid. And it’s light, weighing no more than 7 pounds with its pine body and maple neck.

I was excited about this guitar when I first played it, as evidenced by the high marks it got on my original review. I couldn’t believe that a guitar with a street price of $349 could actually be this good. But the one thing that struck me about it was not just its looks, but its tone. This ain’t your typical, thin Tele twang machine. This guitar has balls. The pine body resonates – a lot – and that adds a fatness to the tone that is completely unexpected! Even in the bridge pickup that really brings out the twang, the Classic Vibe Tele sounds like a bridge humbucker with just a touch of twang!

Since I was able to bring one into my studio, I decided to record a couple of clips to demonstrate how fat this guitar sounds…

The first clip features the Tele clean in the neck pickup for both rhythm and lead, though I dirtied up the lead part just a tad.

This next clip demonstrates how the guitar sounds through a fully cranked up amp (Aracom VRX22 with 6V6’s). The three parts feature the neck, middle, and bridge positions of the same chord progression, respectively:

Finally, here’s my new song Strutter again with the Tele played in the bridge position through my Aracom VRX22:

As you can tell from the clips, “thin” is just not part of this guitar’s modus operandi. It’s actually unsettling at first because when I’ve played Tele’s in the past, they were pretty bright and thin. But this guitar just sings and resonates all day long! Must be the pine body. But who cares! It’s a player, and for the money, you just can’t go wrong.

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

cb_tele

Squier By Fender Classic Vibe Telecaster 50’s

Summary: Finally! An inexpensive guitar that isn’t just a pretty face like many cheapo guitars. This guitar backs up its great looks with great sound and playability!

Pros: Spectacular, lush cleans from the neck pickup. Nothing twangy about this guitar. The bridge pickup is nicely “trebly,” but not piercing at all! The thin, 50’s-style C-shape neck is to die for!

Cons: This is just a minor nit, and nothing to give points off, but the frets are a little small, and with heavy use, they’ll wear down. But hell! At this price, you can buy two and be way ahead of the game!

Features:

  • Body: Pine (very cool)
  • Neck: 9.5″ Radius, Solid Maple
  • 21 Frets
  • Pickups: 2 Custom-Style Vintage Tele Pickups with Alnico 3 magnets
  • Controls: Volume and Tone
  • Tuners: Vintage-style tuners

Price: ~$349 street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 – Not sure if I’ve ever rated a Fender product my highest rating, but that’s how good this guitar is!

Being the eternal optimist, I’m always looking for ways to turn a negative into a positive. As I’ve gotten older, my back has started to get a bit sensitive, and gigging with heavy guitars can sometimes be – literally – a real pain!  So I’ve been looking for a lighter alternative that would give me a good range of sounds, from great cleans to hot grind when I need it, and something that I could comfortably gig with and not worry about throwing out my back. I’ve found the guitar: It’s the Squier Classic Vibe Tele! If you don’t look at the headstock, you could swear you’re playing a regular Fender Tele! But this one has a great sound all its own. After last year’s price hike, I had lost hope that Fender would be able to produce anything that was inexpensive that had decent quality and sound, but I stand completely corrected, especially after the price drop of the Champ 600 down to $149, and now, this little secret, the Squier Classic Vibe Tele.

Fit and Finish

The guitar I played today was so well-made, I could’ve sworn that it was an American Tele. The blonde, vintage finish was luscious, and the 9.5″ radius vintage C-shape neck, with its gloss finish was perfect. No air bubbles, no uneven finish. The frets were well-dressed, if a little small, and I could detect nary a burr or sharp edge. It was obvious that despite this being a “bargain” brand, great care was put into building this instrument. Of course, only time will tell how well this instrument holds up, but from what I can tell from this brand-new specimen, it appears it’ll be be a long-lived instrument.

I also love that black pick guard that provides a very cool contrast to the blonde body finish! Nice!

How It Sounds

I’ve played a lot of guitars – especially “budget” guitars, but one thing that seems to be a common theme among the bargain guitars is that lots of them look great, but plug them in, and they’re less than – ahem – inspiring. This is where the Classic Vibe Tele stands head and shoulder above the rest. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was an American Tele based upon the quality of tones it produces. But unlike its American cousin, this Classic Vibe Tele has a slightly different tone, and that is not a bad thing at all. A lot of this can probably be attributed to the solid pine body. It’s very resonant, and it is not a bright-sounding wood, which probably accounts for the lack of “Tele” twang. It’s there, but it is definitely not as pronounced as I was expecting. Granted, I was playing through a Fender Hot Rod DeVille 2 X 12, which is known for its ample bottom, so that probably could account for the lack of twang. But hey! That is definitely not a bad thing at all!

The neck pickup, when played clean, has a very Strat-like neck pickup vibe. I love that! It’s smooth, and deep, and when slathered with some gorgeous Fender reverb, has a gorgeous, almost ethereal quality where the notes seem to just hang in the air. The bridge pickup adds top-end sparkle, as expected but surprisingly not so much that it sounds thin and tinny. It’s a slightly brighter version of the neck, which makes sense since the two pickups are the same. But quite frankly, I liked playing in the middle selector position where both pickups are engaged. The tone and gain balance between the two pickups in that position is fantastic.

“Balance” is a great way to describe the tone of the Classic Vibe Tele. It sounds and feels balanced; not bright, not deep. Balanced. And the sustain is absolutely breathtaking! I played a song where I comp chords up and down the fretboard with lots of sliding, bending and vibrato, and the sustain and ring that the guitar produced just made me close my eyes and smile. The guitar guy at the store even chided me with, “Aw Brendan, you play so sweetly!” That got a laugh out of me, but luckily he followed it up with, “That sounds so awesome. That guitar… for guys who are in the know with tone, is the one they’re getting. It’s a great guitar at any price” I’ve known this guy for years, and for him to say something like that is pretty profound.

I didn’t get a chance to really get into high gain, as I was in a store and wanted to be considerate of the other customers, but getting into the Drive channel of the DeVille was a real treat, especially with the bridge pickup engaged. I could tell that this guitar, even though it has that vintage vibe, would produce some singing overdrive. Even with the preponderance of pre-amp overdrive I was using, this guitar was a winner for me!

Overall Impressions

It is absolutely no surprise to me why Guitar Player Magazine gave this guitar an Editor’s Pick in this month’s issue. I first played the guitar at the GP offices a couple of weeks ago, and they told me it had gotten an Editor’s Pick. I didn’t get a chance to really play with it then, but based upon that conversation, I had to try one out. Looks like I’m GAS-ing again, dammit! This is one great guitar! Don’t let the price fool you; instead, let the price guide you. This is truly one of the deals of the century!

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T-52-AMy good friend Jeff recently lent me his Nash Tele – a T-52. He’s one of those guys who’s totally into that relic look. Me on the other hand? Give me a nice shiny guitar any day! And even if I found an old guitar at an estate sale, I’d have it cleaned and brightened – though to retain its value, I wouldn’t do anything other than to freshen it up). But as you can’t judge a book by its cover, so it goes with guitars. Just because a guitar looks beat up and old, in the end, it’s how it sounds and plays that really matters, and the Nash Tele I just got done playing with is a total joy to play, with very nice tones to boot!

One thing that really impresses me about the guitar is how fast the neck is. It is so easy to move around on the neck that I was making tons of mistakes at first because I was able to play with a lot of speed. A lot of that has to do with how easy it is to play a note. Just lightly press, and the guitar starts to sing! Of course, there’s not much sustain, but that’s to be expected out of a Tele or tele-like guitar.

Just in case you missed all the excitement, I had written an article about the Fender Roadworn series awhile back. I basically said in the article that I just really don’t get the relic thing, and that I’d rather to the “relicing” myself. If that’s your thing, more power to you – what inspires us is what makes us great. But cosmetics aside, it’s also how a guitar feels and it enables you to express yourself. So even though I don’t get the relic thing, just based on playability and sound, I could easily own one of these. They are very nice guitars!

4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite

Rating Summary:Surprisingly enough, my little ding didn’t come from my not “getting it” with the relic look. The guitar I tested had a weird buzz in the second string, and it wasn’t due to fret buzzing either. It didn’t really show up when the guitar was plugged into an amp, but it was really evident. Otherwise, the guitar played and sounded great!

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Prestige Heritage - Lite Sunburst

Prestige Heritage Elite - Lite Sunburst

You gotta love Canada. You just gotta. In addition to being the country that brought us my favorite sport, hockey (Go Sharks!), Canada is now raising the attention of guitarists. The first Canadian manufacturer that caught my attention was Godin guitars. I first played a Godin at a local shop, and was really impressed by them.

But I recently caught wind of another Canadian manufacturer – Prestige Guitars - that is making me raise my eyebrows – A LOT! Granted, it took me reading about them in Guitar World mag, but that brief review article of the Prestige Heritage Hollow compelled me to do research on Prestige and see what’s so special about them.

From what I can tell, these are production guitars with TONS of boutique accoutrements. Click on the picture to the left to see what I mean. This guitar, replete with abalone binding and intricate mother of pearl inlays on the fretboard sells for CAN $1800! That is roughly US $1450!

Here are specs for the Heritage Elite:

  • 24 3/4” scale length
  • 1 11/16” nut width
  • Abalone bound mahogany body
  • Carved AAA Grade quilted maple top
  • One piece mahogany neck
  • Abalone bound rosewood fingerboard
  • Floral vine fingerboard inlay
  • Mother of pearl prestige logo & decal
  • Seymour Duncan SH1-59 (neck) SH4-JB (bridge) Humbucker pickups
  • 2 Vol. / 2 Tone / 3-way toggle controls
  • Tune-o-matic bridge & stop bar
  • Grover tuners
  • All gold hardware
  • Available in natural sunburst & ebony finishes

What a price point for these kinds of features! An equivalent boutique guitar will sell for three to four times as much, and here’s this Canadian company providing the same kinds of features for so much less! YOU GOTTA DIG IT! YOU JUST GOTTA!

I haven’t been able to find any sound bites the web, otherwise I’d list some, but I’m going to do some research, and I’m definitely going to see if I can somehow play one of these!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Saint Guitar Company Goldtop Benchmark

Saint Guitar Company Goldtop Benchmark

Saint Guitars Goldtop Benchmark

Summary: I never ceased to be amazed at the guitars Adam Hernandez builds. Here is yet another incredible tone machine but with classic looks and even better sounds.

Pros: This guitar oozes both visual and tonal bliss. The rosewood neck, mahogany body, and maple top combine to create thick but bright resonance that just stirs the inspiration juices.

Cons: None. None at all.

Price: $5000

Specs:

  • Mahogany Body
  • Maple Top
  • Brazilian Rosewood Neck
  • Rosewood Fretboard
  • Seymour Duncan SH-TB-PG1b Pearly Gates Humbucker (Neck)
  • Seymour Duncan SH-14 Custom 5 Humbucker (Bridge)
  • 25-1/4″ Scale
  • Wide, C-shape neck
  • Dual-action truss rod
  • Wide/Pyramid fret wire
  • Blind Dovetail neck joint
  • Gotoh bridge and tuners
  • Volume and Tone Control
  • Cleverly placed pickup switch

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 – There is literally nothing not to like on this guitar. It truly rocks the house!

Like a lot of folks, I love vintage and vintage-style gear. There’s a certain, je ne sais quoi, perhaps mojo (I know, it’s an overused term) about vintage gear that seems to harken back to the “good ol’ days” when things were handmade and sturdy. But when that style is expressed in a modern way, at least for me, something stirs in my soul, and I’m totally inspired. It has been this way with every Saint guitar I’ve had the priviledge to play, and that continues with the Goldtop Benchmark.

The Goldtop's Bridge

The Goldtop's Bridge

When I did my first Saint Guitars review of the Faded Blue Jeans model, I couldn’t believe how perfect the guitar was. The walnut body and neck, combined with the quilted maple top produced a bright and resonant tone that just begged to be explored to eek out all the possible tonal variations. With the Goldtop, the experience is still the same, but with that absolutely gorgeous finish, I’m experiencing a bliss that’s coming from both visual and aural sources.

Fit and Finish

The Goldtop's Body and Neck

The Goldtop's Body and Neck

I’ve come to realize that there are some things in life that you can’t avoid describing with the heavy use of grandiose phrases, and the Goldtop definitely falls within this category with respect to how it looks. It’s perfect in every way. The creamy gold finish that almost looks white under light is a wonder to behold, but that’s just part of the equation. The gloss-finished mahogany body and open-pore rosewood neck add a certain sensuousness to the look of the guitar. I love that Adam had the foresight to keep the rosewood in as natural and organic state as possible. It feels absolutely wonderful when you grip the neck.

If I were to come up with a metaphor for how this guitar looks, it’s like admiring a beautiful woman that’s nicely dressed, but doesn’t need any makeup or other adornments to enhance her beauty. She’s self-aware and confident in how she looks, but doesn’t come across as aloof or unapproachable. In other words, this is a woman that has a purely natural and organic magnetism, and someone to whom I’d want to be close. That’s the response I have to this guitar.

Playability

I love the feel of natural grain, which is probably why I love my Strat so much with its maple neck. Again, for me there’s a certain sensousness in feeling the wood’s grain in my hand, and the Goldtop doesn’t disappoint in this department. When I first held the guitar, I was surprised and a little worried about the neck profile, which is wide by design, but add to that the C-shape, and I didn’t know if my relatively short fingers could reach all the frets, especially in the upper registers to hit the 6th string. But to my very pleasant surprise, I could get to those notes with ease.

As with all Saint’s that I’ve played, the Goldtop has a fast neck. The frets are just how I like them: Not too deep, but really lending themselves to a nice vibrato when you dig in a bit. And moving up and down the fretboard is a pure joy. The fret spacing is just right. As a guitar player himself, Adam really took great pains to get this part of the guitar right. For me, as I’ve said in the past, I’m not a really great improv guy, but I do play chords up and down the fretboard, and being able to move and nail the chords is very important. It’s as if precision was built into this guitar!

Adding to the playability is the arrangement of the neck and body. It’s very Les Paul-like, and that’s a good thing, which means that the higher frets are very easy to reach when the guitar hangs naturally from the straps. With my Strat, to get to the high frets, I have to physically shift the guitar to the left a couple of inches. Of course, part of that has to do with my gut :) and it’s not really a problem, but I don’t have to shift the Goldtop at all.

How It Sounds

This is one of the best pickup combinations I’ve ever heard. The Pearly Gates in the neck has a nice, sweet, and smooth vintage tone. I liken it to a sip of a 25 year old Scotch. It’s warm and sweet and totally comforting. The Custom 5 is bright, but with a nice, taut low-end. When you turn up the gain on this pickup, you get the expected bright bridge tone, but because of the solid bottom-end, there is absolutely no “tinniness.” It’s just brighter sounding. This is a trait I’ve become accostomed to with all Saint Guitars. They’re the only guitars I’ve ever played that at least to me, have a usable bridge pickup. Combine the two in the middle switch position, and it’s pure heavenly tone. I could keep the guitar in this setting for practically everything I play, unless I wanted to get a super-smooth tone (neck), or need a bright tone to cut through the mix for a lead (bridge).

To me, the mark of a truly great guitar is balance in the dynamic response; more pointedly, that when you play high notes, the guitars volume doesn’t suddenly dive down. I don’t know how many guitars I’ve played that when I get above the 12th fret, the first three strings’ volumes literally sink, forcing you to really dig in with your pick to make them sound louder. That makes for a much more difficult playing approach, and is one thing that bugs me about my PRS SE II Soapbar. With that guitar, the first three strings are quite a bit lower in volume than string four through six. I’ve learned to compensate with my volume knob which thankfully is in a good position for on-the-fly tweaking. But with the Goldtop, and all the Saint’s I’ve played, this is not a problem. The dynamic response is balanced through all strings. It’s a testament to the resonance of the guitar. It picks up all the frequencies!

One thing I’ve learned about testing guitars is that the really important tonal properties are exposed when you play the guitar clean. I’ve played a lot of guitars that sound great when they distort, but just sound weak and hollow when you play them clean. Remember the beautiful woman I described above? This is her speaking voice: It’s rich and sensuous, and something you can listen to and never tire of it. Here’s a clip to prove the point:

I used an Aracom Amps Custom 45R that was re-tubed with 6L6’s from the stock KT-66 tubes, and Jeff kindly installed a Jensen Alnico speaker, replacing the Governor that I was testing with it. Both served to really open up the tone quite a bit with much more midrange – it started out very low-end focused.

What was amazing about this clip was that I wrote it earlier in the day, then recorded it 15 minutes before I had to leave to take my son to his lacrosse game, and just saved the audio file. When I finally sat down to listen to it, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Mind you, the clip is not EQ’d or mastered in any way. That’s the natural sound of the guitar out of the Custom 45R. I added just a touch of reverb on the amp, but other than that, it’s just the guitar, and the tone is – at least to me – amazing! It almost gives off a chorus effect. I thought it was due to the reverb at first, but when I came home, I played the song without any effects, and that chorusy tone was still there! I was blown away!

Overall Impressions

I didn’t think you could improve upon perfection, but the Goldtop is now my standard of perfection. As I wrote in a previous article, I’ve been in a bit of rut with writing music as of late, but with the Goldtop, I’m getting inspired again. It’s a marvelous guitar!

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