Archive for the ‘new gear’ Category

4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite


Fender Stratacoustic Deluxe

Summary: An extremely pleasant surprise from Fender with both electric and acoustic properties. Shaped like a Strat and a sporting a Strat neck, for any Strat player, it’s immediately familiar!

Pros: Amazing tones. First electric acoustic I’ve played through an amp that didn’t sound like an acoustic guitar plugged into an amp. Very natural acoustic tones, and Strat-like electric tones.

Cons: This guitar was obviously designed to be plugged in. Unplugged, it really doesn’t sound all that good. But that’s okay, because my particular application of this guitar is always plugged in.


  • Body Style: Stratocaster
  • Top: Spruce
  • Back: Solid Mahogany
  • Sides: Laminated mahogany
  • Neck: Maple
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • No. of frets: 21
  • Scale Length: 25-1/2″ (647.7 mm)
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Inlays:
  • Finish: Gloss
  • Electronics: Fishman Classic IV MT (with tuner and blend controls) and Fender Mexico Telecaster pickup
  • Controls: Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, Blend, Tuner on/off
  • Machine Heads: Vintage Fender style

Price: ~$629 street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – Talk about versatility! If the Stratacoustic sounded good unplugged, it would get a 5.0.

Sometimes It Takes an Accident…

As I shared in a previous article, my Ovation Celebrity had a bit of an accident that made me look for a new acoustic in a hurry. What I ended up with was a guitar that simply blew me away! The moment I plugged it in, I was completely sold. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It sounded like a miked acoustic! Now granted, I was playing through an acoustic amplifier when I was evaluating the guitar. But nothing would prepare me for the same, natural tone through a regular tube amp! I’ll have a clip in a little bit, but let me tell you, it’s nothing short of amazing. First I’ll talk about the guitar.

Fit and Finish

For Strat players, this guitar will be instantly familiar. The Stratacoustic has a bolt-on maple Strat neck with rosewood fretboard. The body is shaped like a Strat, though of course, with a wider body for the resonance chamber. I’ve got the black model as shown in the picture above. This is a gorgeous guitar! One would think that as it is made in China, the build quality might not be very good. But amazingly enough, this is a really well-made and well-constructed guitar. If I only had one complaint, it would be the 2nd string’s saddle peg, which turned out to be a little loose on my guitar, and required really pressing it in. That could be problematic later on, but I could probably rectify, so it’s just a little nit.

The neck on this guitar is absolutely perfect – at least to me. It’s a classic Strat C-shaped neck in all its maple glory. I love it! And the cool thing is that even though this guitar is technically an acoustic guitar, it takes electric strings, so not only is the neck a Strat neck, with the electric strings, it plays EXACTLY like a Strat, with a nice, low action.

The tuners are totally cool! They’re vintage-style Fender tuners, where you measure and cut the string first, then insert the tip into a hole on the top of the tuner. You bend the string down into the slot then start winding. The result is a nice, smooth finish, with no string stubs that can poke you. They also look cool with their slightly relicked, tarnished chrome finish. It’s a nice retro touch!

Did I mention that this guitar is light? I haven’t weighed the guitar, but it can’t weight much more than seven pounds! I gigged with it twice over the weekend, and it is absolutely comfortable to play! It’s a winner!

How It Sounds

This is the really special part of the guitar. It features a Fishman Classic IV MT acoustic pickup under the saddle and a Fender Mexico Tele single coil at the base of the neck. The Fishman comes with a tuner with individual controls for bass, mids, and treble, and a blend control to blend the Tele and Fishman. In full acoustic, the guitar sounds just like a miked acoustic guitar. With the Tele pickup isolated, the guitar sounds just like a Strat, but with a slightly hollow, acoustic tone. It’s gorgeous! When I play it for acoustic voicing, I’ve actually never gone fully acoustic. In fact, I lean more towards the Tele pickup. The reason is that the Tele pickup adds a nice chime and top-end shimmer to the tone with subtle harmonics and overtones. But don’t take my word for it, here’s a short song that demonstrates what this guitar is capable of:

The song was recorded with three overlayed parts. The base rhythm track is played fingerstyle with the guitar set dead center in the blend, and the tone controls centered as well. The strummed rhythm leans just a bit towards the Tele side, and I bled off a little of the base. The result was that strummed chords sounded like a piano! Very cool! The lead track was recorded with the blend at about 90% Tele, and just a tad bit of the Fishman. For the lead, I also ran it through my wonderful KASHA Overdrive pedal. The result was a gorgeous, dirty Strat tone!

I almost forgot to mention. All the parts were played through my trusty Aracom VRX22! It’s an electric guitar amp, for goodness’ sake! Acoustic amp? We don’t need no stinkin’ acoustic amp.

Overall Impressions

As you can tell, I love this guitar! It is so incredibly versatile, giving me acoustic and electric tones with a touch of a slider. Interestingly enough, I wouldn’t call this a hybrid guitar, though it is technically a hybrid. I’ve played several hybrids, and this guitar really has a voice all its own. It really is an electric acoustic, and for the most part, it sounds like an acoustic. But it’s easy to configure it to sound just like an electric as the song above proves out.

But despite being able to configure it as an electric guitar, the most amazing thing about the Stratacoustic is how natural and organic – acoustic – it sounds when plugged in! Unlike a lot of acoustic guitars I’ve played and heard plugged into an amp, which isn’t at all very pleasing, the Stratacoustic sounds like it’s supposed to; like an acoustic guitar. I have a feeling that the body has a lot to do with this. Yeah, it doesn’t sound all that good unplugged, but it’s evident that the designer had this guitar pegged for being plugged in and was willing to sacrifice its unplugged tone for simply gorgeous plugged in tone.

Before I got it, I had actually never heard of the Stratacoustic. I just saw it on the rack, thought it was cool, and picked it out as one of the guitars I was evaluating. As soon as I plugged it in, I was sold. It’s quite simply a great guitar. It’s funny that the unplugged tone is really uninspiring, and it might turn away lots of players. But once you plug it in, it’s a completely different story. I thought I was done with buying Fender equipment, especially after they upped their prices significantly a few months ago – I just didn’t see the value. But this guitar sells at a great price. I got it for a deal, but at $629, it’s still a great value. I highly recommend this guitar!

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blackie Fridays are solo gig days for me where I play at a restaurant doing a variety of tunes on both piano and guitar from the Beatles to Puccini (opera, that is). My shtick has been the ability to perform a variety of styles and genres of music, and for the classic rock, folk and country stuff I do, the guitar has been an integral part of my act.

As you might now, if you’ve been to my rig page, you’ll see that my acoustic has been an Ovation Celebrity Elite. I’ve been playing that guitar pretty much continuously for the past 16 years. That guitar’s been on the road with me and in the studio, and has always had a special place in my heart… until yesterday…

I won’t go into the particular details about exactly what happened to “Sunset,” but suffice it to say that she got a crack somewhere under her top that didn’t have a bad effect with her unplugged, but became very magnified once I plugged her in. Not good. I found her in this state yesterday morning (Friday), and while I didn’t freak, I knew I had to solve the problem! So I called the wife to explain the situation, and since I had to own up to putting the guitar in a place where she could get a crack – however inadvertently – I shared that I’d pay half for a new guitar out of my gig money.

I wasn’t too hopeful about finding a new guitar yesterday, considering the acoustic guitar store that I was originally going to go to mainly dealt with high-end acoustics; right, big money. But a chance call to B Street Music in San Mateo, CA where I work as I was leaving changed all that. I called them up to see if they carried Ovations, thinking that I’d just replace Sunset with another Ovation, and they said they carried them! Yippee!

Anyway, I got to the shop and started pulling guitars that looked pretty cool off the racks, and lining them up on guitar stands so I could do evals. Among them were a couple of Ovations Celebrities, a Godin (very nice looking), and the Fender Stratacoustic that I ended up buying. Mind you, I wasn’t at all interested in how the guitars sounded unplugged, though I love the Ovation acoustic sound. Since I use practically all my guitars in gigging situations, I really needed a guitar that sounded great plugged in.

As expected, the Ovations performed incredibly well. There’s something that Ovation has down with their electronics. After I tested the Ovations, I plugged in the Stratacoustic – it didn’t work. Luckily, it was just the battery that was out. Once I had it all set up, I took a few minutes to familiarize myself with the guitar. It really didn’t take that long because what I felt I was holding was an acoustic Strat! The Stratacoustic features a shallow acoustic body with a Strat neck, so from a feel standpoint, it felt completely familiar. I closed my eyes and felt as if I was playing my trusty “Pearl!”

The dude at the shop was helpful, and explained that the guitar was equipped with a Tele single coil, and a Fishman acoustic which you could blend with the Blend slider on the control panel; speaking of which, the control panel features independent controls for Bass, Mid, and Treble, a Volume slider, and a Blend slider. It also has a pretty decent built-in tuner. Nice features for sure!

Mind you, I was still a bit dubious of the acoustic sound of the guitar. It was flat and tinny, and was something I’d never play unplugged. Here are the sales guy’s own words, “Don’t be fooled by the acoustic, unplugged sound. It sounds like shit. Just wait till you plug it in. Fender’s done something really special with this guitar.” Yeah, right, I thought. It’s production line Fender after all! But I’ve learned to keep an open mind with respect to new gear.

Anyway, after I got familiarized with the controls, it was time to plug her in. So I plugged her in and WAS IMMEDIATELY FLOORED BY THE TONE! I had the Blend set dead in the middle, with both pickups contributing to the overall sound. Kind of hard to describe what I was hearing but it truly was a mix between an acoustic and electric; rich in mids, and not too much bass, but with a chimey, top-end finish. The Fishman provided a nice, organic acoustic tone, while the ring and chime I was hearing had to be coming from the Tele pickup. I proved that out by isolating each pickup.

I played through it for a couple of more minutes, and then turned to the guy and said, “Sold.” He just smiled… Not because he got a sale, but because he shared that as a Strat player himself, this was a total unsung hero in the shop. I commented that the guitar had a bunch of fingerprints all over it, and there was a tiny, tiny scratch on the top near the bridge, so would he give me a deal for it? And he did! I got the guitar for $499 plus a gig bag and a nice 3.5″ wide leather strap! The guitar normally retails for $629! Was I jazzed or what?

So now I am the proud and exceedingly happy owner of a very weird, but full of Strat mojo guitar, the Stratacoustic!

Gig Report

Of course, as I started today’s story, I had a gig last night. The real test for any device is playing it in a live situation. So how did it do? In a word, FANTASTIC!!! As I mentioned, each pickup contributes to the blend, and even though the guitar sports a Tele pickup, with the Tele pick isolated, the guitar still retains its acoustic qualities. So the gig for me last night was utter heaven! Plugged into my DigiTech Vocalists Live 4 then right into the PA, I was amazed at the incredible tones this guitar produces.

How It Sounds

I was going to end this article with my gig report, but I got inspired to record the guitar and provide a clip. This is a short song that I quickly put together that features the Stratacoustic. The left channel is a fingerpicked rhythm. Then in the right channel, I layer the same riff but strumming – it almost sounds like a piano! Nice. I used a light reverb effect on both rhythm parts using my Hardwire reverb. Then I do a solo dead center with the guitar in the Tele position, and playing it through my KASHA Overdrive in the Classic channel to get a real nice, slightly dirty Strat tone. Almost forgot to mention: I played all the parts through a regular amp, my Aracom VRX22! It is absolutely amazing how natural and organic this guitar sounds through a regular amp! I’m in heaven! Anyway here’s the clip:

Excuse the 60Hz hum from the single coil in the solo… 🙂 I wasn’t turned the right way to eliminate it while I played… 🙂 The guitar was recorded through a miked amp! The rhythm sounds are unlike anything I’ve ever heard plugged in! At least to me, it sounds as if I miked the guitar, then added reverb in production. But in reality the guitar was plugged into my board! I just can’t get over the plugged in tone of this guitar! And the Tele pickup is just to die for!

If you’re looking for a stage acoustic that sounds absolutely KILLER plugged in, look no further. You get all the benefits of the feel of a Strat, but in an acoustic, but you can also use this thing as a straight electric as well by just using the Tele pickup! Simply amazing!

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I finally got some time to record a couple of clips of the absolutely wonderful KASHA Overdrive tonight, and I am just so blown away by how it sounds! This little box is like having 4 differently voiced amps in a little box! I’m not going to spend too much time praising it because I’ve already done that a couple of time here, so let’s get into the clips, shall we?

The first clip is slow, slow blues clip in Am. The chord progression is actually adapted from one of Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues With Brains” video lessons. If you’re looking to get more into the blues, I highly recommend this set of lessons. It’s the best $40 bucks you’ll ever spend! In any case, I used the chord progression to test out the KASHA Overdrive, and to practice some of the concepts I learned tonight.

Anyway, there are two parts to the clip. The rhythm part was recorded with the KASHA Overdrive in Smooth with the gain set at 12 o’clock. This acts just like a clean boost, and at 12 o’clock it’s at unity gain. The first part features the Classic “channel,” and the second part features the Hot channel. Give it a listen:

The second clip has no backing track, and features the Melt channel with a simple chord riff. Excuse the sloppy playing, but instead, focus on the articulation of the notes. I had the Gain pushed up to about 3pm, which is almost all the way up. But even at a really high gain setting, you can still hear the individual notes. THIS IS AMAZING! And man, the touch sensitivity in this channel is to die for!

By the way, both clips were played through the clean channel of my Aracom VRX22, and recorded at conversation levels using the incredible Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. To me, this is the absolute king of attenuators. Oh! Almost forgot that I used my beloved Goldie to record the clips.

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When I wrote my original announcement of the Skull Crusher, it was absolutely brand new, and not surprising at all, it was met with a mixed response. But as I mentioned in my announcement, get beyond the looks, and this pedal is a KASHA overdrive with an EQ knob, and I LOVE how that sounds. Apparently, so do the guys from Ratt, as shown in this video taken over the weekend at the Jack FM 2009 concert in southern California this past weekend:

And here’s a video of the VERY talented PhilX playing the Skull Crusher live and doing a demo in the studio:

Lots of guys panned the look of the pedal, but I think it looks incredible! And knowing that it has the absolutely wonderful KASHA overdrive guts makes this pedal a winner in my book.

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This announcement is so new that Saint Guitar Company hasn’t even put it up on their web site! I first caught wind of this new series a few months ago when Adam mentioned to me in a conversation that he was starting to work on a new style of guitar. This new series was to be a mild departure from the modern rock-inspired designs he has been building for the past several years, and roll time back just a bit to create what he was coining his new “Vintage” series, which would be chambered, have retro styling, and employ P-90 pickups. I don’t have any final build details as of yet, but his first in the series sure looks fantastic. Here are some pictures for your enjoyment!

I can’t wait to do an evaluation on one of these. It’s really exciting! I love the body style on this, with the less pronounced horns, and rounder lower bout, and I dig that flat top! Very cool!

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Wanna slam the front-end of your amp with up to 50dB of gain, then be able to add some distortion? Then look no further than the Way Huge Angry Troll. I don’t have much information on it yet, but it’s a simple two knob affair. The left-hand knob controls the variable boost, while the right-hand knob provides 6 positions of “Anger” from no anger (clean boost) to a full fist. Here’s ProGuitarShop.com’s video demo.

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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!stagetrix_riser StageTrix Pedal Risers

Summary: Definitely one of those “why didn’t I think of that” kinds of products. Elevates pedals 1 inch and makes reaching your back row easy. Routing allows you to keep your wires out of the way!

Pros: Very well made, with convenient fuzz to attach your Velcro’d pedals.

Cons: None.


  • Raises the second row of pedals to the perfect height.
  • Front, back and side openings enable effective cable routing.
  • Premium 18-gauge steel.
  • Attaches to board via heavy duty hook-and-loop fastener on base, which holds firm up to 200°F.
  • Designed to withstand temperatures of up to 200F without melting, so leaving your pedal board in your vehicle on a summer day won’t result in a gooey mess with all the Velcro peeling off.
  • Works with most pedalboards. To be sure, check that you have an extra 1″ of clearance when case is closed. The vast majority do.

Price: $16.99

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 – I dig these things. No, they don’t improve my tone nor technique, but they sure make it easier to tap dance on my pedal board!

This will most likely be a short review because this product doesn’t do much at all – that’s not a bad thing, either… It simply elevates your pedals. But as an accessory, since I’ve installed a set of four on my board, it has proven invaluable to me! In one fell swoop, the StageTrix Pedal Risers made the back row of my board instantly accessible AND cleaned up my cable runs! Where I used to have to run my cables along the sides if my pedals, I now run them underneath the risers because of their built-in routing. My board hasn’t looked this good – EVER!

Admittedly, I was a bit dubious about their ruggedness when I first discovered them. But once I got them, that opinion changed quickly. These risers are heavy and it’s obvious a lot of attention was paid to the details in their construction. They won’t bend, and that’s a testament to their construction. I even stood on one (I’m not a small man), and the pedal riser didn’t budge!

On top of that, the Pedal Risers are set up for immediate and easy use. The entire base is covered with velcro out of the box, and the top is covered with a thin fuzz for attaching your pedals. No assembly required! I hate to attach velcro tape to stuff. It’s a pain in the ass!

Once I got my board set up, I hooked it up to my amp and started tap-dancing. I immediately started smiling because for the first time, I didn’t have to put my foot in an awkward position to engage one of my pedals in my back row for fear of messing up the settings of a pedal on my front line – or heaven forbid, engaging a pedal that I didn’t want to engage. Nothing like doing a clean solo, clicking on my vibe and simultaneously engaging an overdrive. No doubt, it’s a little unsettling. But that won’t happen any longer. The StageTrix Pedal Risers completely eliminate that possibility!

Currently, they’re sold out, so you can’t get them directly from StageTrix Products at the moment. But they should soon make it to retail stores. Check their site often, as they often update it with news!

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Pointless Picks

I got a Twitter notification today of someone now following GuitarGear, so I checked Twitter to see who it was, and was intrigued by their website URL: http://www.pointlesspicks.com. Curious, I clicked on their link and was taken to their site. Sure enough, it was a product site dedicated to picks that were – as the name implies – pointless.

These are perfectly round picks, made of a polymer called Acetal. Acetal is a thermoplastic and apparently one of the stiffest and most durable plastics in the thermoplastic family. It has a variety of uses, and often competes with nylon for the same applications, according to the Plastics Web, such as the production of plectrums.

These picks are very interesting to me at first blush. As they’re round, there’s not a “wrong” way to hold them. And if you’re the type of player that almost always rounds off their points or plays with the fat end of a standard pick, then this pick may be appealing to you. It’s certainly a novel idea, and apparently they’ve got a lot of retailers selling them. They won a “Best in Show” at Summer NAMM last year, so obviously these picks made an impact on the judging panel.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many reviews of them, and the few that I found were pretty much copies from a single review, which was fairly short. I only found one video on YouTube that mentions Pointless Picks, and it wasn’t a review, though the guitar playing was pretty good, but you can’t see the dude using the pick!

Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about these. I love big fat picks, and these come in 1mm at their thickest. But if they’re really stiff, I may just like them. But it makes me wonder how to do fast alternate picking with them. I’m not a particularly fast player, but I hold my pick at about a 45 degree angle when I’m picking individual notes. It would seem to me that at that angle, the pick would just slide over the string. Maybe there’s some inherent friction…. Guess I’ll have to try them out to see what they’re like. But hey! Best in Show at NAMM is nothing to shake a stick at, so I’m game!

Anyway, for more information, check out the the Pointless Picks web site for more information.

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stagetrix_riserOne of the things that completely pisses me off when I’m gigging is when I reach my foot out to activate a pedal in the back row of my board, and I end up also activating a pedal in the front row. Aiiiyeeee!!! This happened to me recently at a church gig. I was playing a nice, sweet, clean solo, and want to texture my sound a bit by adding some reverb.

To give some background, my reverb pedal (Hardwire RV-7) is the last pedal in my chain and it sits right above my Holy Fire overdrive. Instead of a toggle switch, the RV-7 has a switch plate, and the travel before it actually activates is enough so that I have to really point my toe so I don’t brush my Holy Fire’s knobs or accidentally activate it. Well, in this instance, I did both: I somehow completely dimed the overdrive knob AND activated the pedal. The next note I struck not only startled me, but also startled the prayerful assembly – enough so that some people actually squeaked! Yikes! No doubt, it was a bit embarrassing…

Then today, I got a Twitter alert that a new user called StageTrix was following me, so I went to Twitter to do an exchange follow, and on StageTrix’s site, I saw a Twitter reply from Premiere Guitar. Intrigued, I checked out their site, and was greeted with a solution to my problem: An 18-gauge steel pedal riser that you can use to prop up the second row of your board to make your back row of pedals more easily accessible! What a great freakin’ idea! It’s one of those ideas where you slap your forehead and say, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” 🙂

I had the opportunity to chat with one of the StageTrix guys a few minutes ago to discuss StageTrix’s invention. They’ve apparently been developing it for about a year and a half, and doing prototypes with various musicians. And their reason for building it? Exactly for what I was lamenting just above!

Here are some details from their site:

  • Raises the second row of pedals to the perfect height.
  • Front, back and side openings enable effective cable routing.
  • Premium 18-gauge steel.
  • Attaches to board via heavy duty hook-and-loop fastener on base, which holds firm up to 200°F.
  • Designed to withstand temperatures of up to 200F without melting, so leaving your pedal board in your vehicle on a summer day won’t result in a gooey mess with all the Velcro peeling off.
  • Works with most pedalboards. To be sure, check that you have an extra 1″ of clearance when case is closed. The vast majority do.

If you go to their site, they’re doing a promotion by putting several of these units up for bid on EBay, with a starting bid at a $1.00. These pedals list for $23.99 on their site, so it’s possible that if you get the winning bid, you could get one for significantly less…

Right now, they’re only available through StageTrix, but they should soon be available in stores. I will be getting a review unit within the next week or so, and will do a review.

Check out the StageTrix site now!

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Aracom Amps PRX150-Pro AttenuatorAracom Amps has just posted a page on their site which features Gene Baker – luthier of the famed Baker Guitars and now of Fine Tuned Instruments producing “B3” guitars – demonstrating the transparency of the Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator at various attenuation levels.

Gene has also provided commentary on the recording and how no EQ adjustments were made to the amp – even down to bedroom levels! This is a re-affirmation of what I’ve been saying all along about this awesome device! The PRX150-Pro simply retains the tone you work hard for – no matter how much attenuate your signal; and more importantly eliminating the need to compensate with EQ.

Check out Aracom’s Gene Baker audio page here!

Having someone like Gene Baker demonstrate the capabilities of the PRX150-Pro is huge! Gene is an incredible guitarist!

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