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Posts Tagged ‘gear reviews’

Vangoa Ghost Fire Aluminum Pedal Board

Summary: If you’re looking for a reasonably-priced, lightweight pedal board, look no further. This is a sturdy board that should do well in any venue.

Pros: Very lightweight, yet super-sturdy. Board height seems specifically made for a Voodoo Labs power supply, but there’s plenty of room to mount one under the board (just don’t get one too wide). Included with the board are two rolls of velcro, cable ties, and stick-on cable mounts. Padded carrying bag includes backpack straps – very convenient.

Cons: The ONLY nit I have is for the carrying bag material. Though the bag is quite roomy and has a netted pocket for cables and other paraphernalia, it’s made of fairly thin nylon, so you’d have to be careful with the bag if you’re going to gig with it often.

Features:

  • Aluminum alloy construction
  • Dimensions: 22” x 12.6” x 2.36”
  • Includes everything you need to mount pedals and a power supply underneath the board.

If the carrying case was made of more durable material, I’d give this 5 Tone Bones. It’ll be fine for the weekly performer – which I am right now – but I could see it not withstanding the rigors of more frequent gigging. Other than that, I love it and recommend checking it out.

To be completely honest, I received this as a review unit from a fairly new Chinese distributor and manufacturer of music equipment – Vangoa. They had pointed me to their products on Amazon and I agreed to review their boards with the proviso that if I didn’t like their product(s), I wouldn’t write a review, but I would give them feedback on what I found wrong. That’s the deal I make of any manufacturer who reaches out to me directly. The board I’m reviewing here is the first of two of their Ghost Fire-brand pedal boards.

That out of the way, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much in the way of quality or accouterments. I am SO glad that they blew my expectations away! I’ve been increasingly impressed over the years of the quality Chinese-made gear, and this pedal is really a testament to the care and quality that Chinese manufacturers put into their products.

Fit and Finish

Here’s a little gallery of pictures I took of the board:

Though the welds underneath aren’t totally clean, they’re not cracked, and hold well. Besides, it’s the top of the board that matters and it’s totally clean. The crossbeams are nice and wide and the strips of velcro are cut to the perfect width. There’s enough velcro to cover the entire board! Very cool!

The pedals I mounted on the board are not ones I’m actually using right now, except for my wah-wah pedal. Those are on another board, and I didn’t feel like transferring pedals, so I pulled a few out of my pedal drawers to see how well the pedalboard accommodates different size pedals.

This pedalboard would work great as a fly rig! It’s lightweight and could easily be stowed in an overhead compartment on a plane. And the shoulder straps – which can also be stowed in a zip-up pocket – make it convenient to carry on your back.

Though probably not intended for this use, the inner pocket is big enough to hold a laptop plus my audio interface, so if I have to travel remotely and need to lay down tracks, I could load all my gear recording gear into the bag. Nice!

Overall Impression

Obviously, I can’t write about how it sounds and plays, but I will definitely use the board at my church gig this weekend (yes, I will transfer my pedals and run the wires). I use a 1-Spot, so it’s not going to be an issue making the transfer.

In a nutshell, I love this board! It’s nice and lightweight and super sturdy. The angling and the silicon feet elevate the board nicely, so if I was playing in a bar gig or a backyard party, I wouldn’t have to worry about spills near my board. It’s obvious the designer had the working musician in mind when they designed this board!

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Summary: This has all the classic, balanced mojo of a J-45, but in a thinner, “jumbo” body. And though some might consider it heresy that it’s a cutaway, having reasonably easy access to the upper frets makes it so nice for playing solos.

Pros: Fantastic, classic J-45 tone that’s expectedly just a little brighter than the original Dreadnought – more midrange. This guitar has a full, articulate voice that the Sitka Spruce top projects in a BIG way.

Cons: The ONLY con I have is for the LR Baggs Element piezo pickup that comes installed in the guitar. But I would give negative marks to any guitar that has just a piezo. But that said, the guitar sounds okay plugged into an amp. But as with any piezo, plugged directly into a board or into an interface, the sound is lifeless.

Features:

  • Body Style: J-45
  • Back: Walnut
  • Top: Sitka Spruce
  • Bracing: Traditional Hand-Scalloped X-Bracing
  • Binding: Multi-Ply Top, Single-Ply Back
  • Neck: Two-Piece Maple
  • Neck Profile: Advanced Response
  • Nut Width: 1.725”
  • Neckjoint: Compound Dovetail Neck-To-Body Joint
  • Fingerboard: Richlite
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Nut: Tusq
  • Inlay: Mother-Of-Pearl Dots
  • Bridge: Traditional Belly Up, Richlite
  • Tuners: Mini Grover Rotomatics
  • Plating: Nickel
  • Pickup: LR Baggs Element
  • Controls: 1 Volume  
  • Case: Gibson Hardshell

I have to be completely honest here. If this guitar had no pickup, I’d give it a 5 on its natural voice alone. But I have to be fair and take down marks for the pickup. It’s serviceable in a live situation and plugged into an amp, but directly into a board or interface, you know you’re using a piezo.

Getting a J-45 has literally been a dream come true. Ever since I played one a few years ago, I have had a goal of someday owning a J-45. As I mentioned in a previous post, the J-45 represents the archetype of acoustic tone for me. And to finally have one and play it, well, it’s rather awe-inspiring.

So to address the purists, no, it’s not a traditional J-45. It has a cutaway. The body is made of walnut, not rosewood. The fretboard is Richlite (which feels like ebony). The nut is Tusq, not bone. I DON’T CARE. This is a great guitar regardless of its build materials. Others have brought up that it couldn’t really be a J-45, but I beg to differ. It has the same profile as the J-45. But more importantly, all the tonal balance that I expect out of the J-45 is there, and how it sounds is incredible!

Fit and Finish

I posted these pictures previously, but I’ll post them again:

I snapped those pictures right after I unboxed the guitar. There were no flaws or scratches. No gaps. The walnut back is freaking incredible! It looks like a piece of ultra-fine furniture.

How It Sounds

Again, I posted these previously, but I’ll post them again:

I had to back off the mic for the percussive strumming, so it turned out a little thin on the recording. But in a live situation, this guitar is LOUD! I played it at church over the weekend, and in that volume challenging environment, when I was really strumming hard, I could barely hear my amp! That’s how well the guitar projects. How naturally loud it is is a bit mind-blowing.

And compared to my Simon & Patrick PRO, which is a dreadnought, to my ears at least, it’s easily twice as loud when comparing them both with a light strum.

How It Plays and Feels

It actually took me a few days of regular playing to get used to the neck. The “Advanced Response” neck is both thicker and a touch wider than all my other acoustics. And with my small hands, wrapping my hand around the neck to use my thumb took a little while to figure out. But to be honest, in order for me to do that, I have to put my arm in the correct playing position with my elbow out away from my body. Once I’m in the correct position, I have zero issues playing the guitar.

As for the Richlite fretboard, this is the first time I’ve played a guitar with a fretboard made of this material. I once thought that it would take away from the guitar. But truth be told, it’s as smooth as ebony and makes the guitar an absolute dream to play. I played several solos yesterday and the fretboard felt like butter. Combine that with the absolutely perfect action and I was in solo heaven!

Overall Impression

What can I say? I love this guitar! And because I didn’t dig the piezo pickup, I just installed my Seymour Duncan MagMic into the guitar. Now I have no issues. With that pickup, the Tone Bone score automatically goes to 5.

A Word on Sustainability

No, I’m not a tree-hugger, but one thing that Gibson bills about this guitar is that it’s made from sustainable material. Walnut is absolutely plentiful and Richlite is made from resin-infused paper. The Sitka Spruce is started to get a little less plentiful, but from what I understand, Gibson is part of a coalition to help harvest Sitka in a sustainable way. So while I’m not a tree-hugger, I do appreciate Gibson’s efforts.

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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!

Heil Sound PR-22 UT (Utility) Dynamic Microphone

Summary: The “utility” version of the PR-22, this is the same mic, but with a single mesh (the regular PR-22 comes with three), and comes with a leatherette bag instead of a nice box; hence, the “utility.” Heil cut down on the packaging to provide an affordable tier for their popular PR-22 stage mic.

Pros: Wide frequency response, incredible rear rejection, and tons of overload protection make this an ideal stage mic. Plus, using this mic is much like removing a blanket over other mics. It’s not that the mic is tuned to higher frequencies; there’s just so much more sonic content that this mic picks up! Other mics may claim to have as wide a frequency response, but you actually hear the highs that you normally wouldn’t with mics in this price range and a little higher.

Cons: It is a nit, but not an issue for me as I always have my mic mounted on a stand, but as with other Heil mics, this is pretty sensitive to handling. But this is such a minor issue, I’m reluctant to mention it.

Price: $99.00 – $117.00 Street

Features:

  • Output Connection: 3-pin XLR
  • Element Type: Dynamic
  • Frequency Response: 50 Hz – 18 kHz
  • Polar Pattern: Cardiod
  • Rear Rejection @ 180 deg off-axis: -30 dB
  • Impedance: 600 ohms balanced
  • Output Level: -55 dB @ 1kHz
  • Weight: 14 oz.
  • Max SPL:  145 dB

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ I’ve been wanting this particular microphone for a long time, but already had a decent stage mic, so the will to get a new one just wasn’t there. But after my trusty Sennheiser e835 that has probably seen at least a thousand gigs and started to easily overload, it was time to replace it. I’m never going back to Sennheiser or Shure again!

As an active, gigging musician that relies on vocals, having a good mic is crucial to me. For more than a decade, I’ve relied on Sennheiser mics; specifically, the e835 as my main stage mic. It has served me well. But a couple of years ago, I did a gig where the sound guy asked if I wanted to try out a Heil PR-35. Being game for anything, I let him set it up. I didn’t know my voice actually sounded like it did.

From that point on, I resolved to get one. But it didn’t come cheap, as the PR-35 costs $265. However, I did a bit of research on other Heil mics and came across the PR-20, which has since been updated to the PR-22. And after listening to lots of comparisons, I decided to pull the trigger on the PR-22.

Wow! What a difference a mic makes! When I first plugged the mic in, the first thing I noticed was the much fuller sound of the PR-22. At the time, I had nothing to compare it to, but based on experience, there just seemed to be a lot more sonic content present in the Heil compared to my Sennheiser. And from what I could tell with the frequency analyzer in GarageBand, there really was a lot of stuff coming through.

But the proof is in the pudding, so I did a direct comparison between the two. In the following clip, I speak the same testing sequence with both mics. You’ll first hear the Sennheiser, then followed by the Heil, then back to the Sennheiser, then ending with the Heil. I positioned both about an inch from my mouth.

 

Both mics actually sound pretty good. But there’s definitely more going on with the Heil, especially in the lower frequency ranges. It sounds much fuller than the Sennheiser, though the Sennheiser sounds pretty good as well.

As you can see, from the picture of the tracks, while both are generally being picked up at the same level, there are more defined peaks in the Heil, plus some sharp peaks not present on the Sennheiser track. What this amounts to sonically is a lot more content.

The problem with the clip I provided is that GarageBand does a bit of compression despite the fact that I exported it to SoundCloud uncompressed. But irrespective of that, there is definitely more going on with the Heil than with the Sennheiser. The difference between the two mics with my headphones on through my audio interface is marked. The Sennheiser sounds thin, while the Heil sounds rich and full.

Frequency Response 

Take a look at the frequency response chart for each mic:

Heil PR-22

heil_pr22_frequency

Sennheiser e835

e-835-frequency-response

Just looking at the graph, it’s clear to see that overall sensitivity of the PR-22 is slightly higher than the e835. It’s not a significant difference as far as the numbers are concerned; however, especially when comparing the 1 kHz to 10 kHz range of both mics, this is where the PR-22 picks up much more content.

What first attracted me to the e835 years ago was its presence boost: That hump around 4 kHz. Sennheiser specifically called that out in its marketing. To me in actual usage, it made the mic sound so much clearer than the Shure SM-58, which sounded muddy in comparison. But with the Heil, the upper-mid to high-frequency sensitivity provide even more presence. And looking at the overall chart, there’s a lot more being picked up by the Heil in the same conditions.

In the Studio

What this means for recording is that I do a lot less EQ manipulation with the Heil than I do with the Sennheiser. In fact, re-recording a song with the Heil, the only EQ adjustments I made were to roll off the extreme highs (sizzle) and lows (muffles) and reduce a peak at around 220 Hz (it’s a trick I learned to make my vocals sound clearer). Contrast that with the Sennheiser where I actually have to roll off the extreme highs and lows, add a few dB of both lows (around 100Hz) and upper-mids and highs especially highs above 7 kHz because the mic records a bit muddy.

The net result is that I can produce a good vocal track with either mic. It just takes a lot more twiddling and tweaking when doing the EQ for the e835.

On Stage

But because there’s so much content that the Heil picks up, I have to adjust my mic technique and pull back just a bit. Proximity effect with the Heil is actually not as pronounced as I’ve experienced with other mics – especially the Shure SM-58 – but though Heil claims it’s not prone to proximity effect, all mics are prone to it. By pulling back ever so slightly, I allow the mic to pick up more mids, without sacrificing the lows.

Rear Rejection

Probably the best selling point of the mic is its rear sound rejection. While I was recording a test clip earlier, my daughter asked me a question. I had to stop recording, but after listening to what I recorded, I could hardly hear her voice, which means that the sound I was actually hearing from her voice was what bounced off the wall behind me. This makes the mic excellent for stage work and will be much less prone to feedback issues when placed close to a monitor.

Off-Axis

This is a very directional mic. While off-axis pickup is not bad, it’s not advised to stray over an inch from the capsule in any direction. I’ve been playing with the mic for the last couple of days, and for stage positioning. I found that pointing the mic a few degrees up, and placing the top edge the capsule level with my lower lip is the optimal position for me. And though I have good technique controlling my plosives (“b” and “p” sounds), positioning the mic there helps even more, and I don’t sacrifice any content.

But that said, the mic comes with a very nice foam capsule screen. I could sing straight on into the capsule with the screen on, and it protects quite a bit from plosives. It doesn’t eliminate them – nor should any screen do that – but it does help quite a bit.

Overall Impression

All that said, this mic is not for everyone. Because it picks up a lot more, it may not please everyone when they hear their voice through the mic the first time. I remember when I tried out the PR-35. I was blown away! I really didn’t know there was so much more in my voice. The PR-22 is not nearly as sensitive as the PR-35, but it’s pretty sensitive in its own right.

As far as I’m concerned, I’ve just had a defining moment with this mic. Mind you, it’s not really a super, high-end mic. But the sound quality rivals much more expensive mics. I’m a happy camper!

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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!

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-12-19,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

Aroma AGS8 Instrument Stand

Summary: For me, this is a gigging musician’s wet dream as far as guitar stands go. Not only is it sturdy, well-designed and well-built, it is light AF!

Pros: Did I mention that this stand is light? It doesn’t seem to weigh much more than a pound if that. But don’t be fooled by the lightweight. The aircraft-grade aluminum is tough!

Cons: None.

Price: $16.99 – $17.99 (Amazon, depending on color)

Features (from Amazon, and I assume Aroma):

  • THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FOLDING STAND LASTS LONG. Top aircraft grade aluminum tubes used, with high strength ABS joints, ensure a long lifetime usage. A frame structure, when unfolded, is the most stable design to support your instruments.
  • THE MOST PRACTICAL STAND FOR FRET AND STRING INSTRUMENTS. The ladder designed base arms, length adjustable, let the stand suitable for different thickness instruments. The vertical arms opening degrees adjustable for different sizes of instruments. The rotatable contact surface on the stand top for different instruments leaning angles. (NOT for V-shape or other special shapes instruments)
  • ALL THE WAY ROUND PROTECTING YOUR INSTRUMENT. All contact points where touching your instruments are covered with soft silicone material, which is dull to any chemical reaction with your instrument surface. The 4 landing points are also covered with slip-resistance silicone material.
  • USE YOUR STAND ANYTIME ANYWHERE. The smart adjustable and collapsible design is to fold your stand into one piece. Lightweight. Easy to carry along with your instrument anywhere anytime.
  • SHARE YOUR CREATIVITY. Join Aroma Facebook account, post your using tips, your fun with this stand. Jam your thoughts with others.

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ Sometimes, even the mundane can get me excited, especially when that mundane thing makes my life so much easier.

It’s a guitar stand for goodness sake! Who the hell cares?

I do, for one. With the number of gigs I do per year, gear weight is a factor, so is compactness when you don’t have the luxury of a road crew. And when I can get those two things plus a great design that’ll protect my investment, well, I flip out!

One of my bandmates purchased one a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was cool with its compact design and adjustable base arms. But I was most impressed with how light it was. I resolved then that I’d get one. I am not disappointed in the slightest!

Fit and Finish

The days of “Made in China” being associated with poor quality are long gone. This stand is absolutely well-built. The aircraft-grade aluminum tubing is super-strong, and the plastic ABS joints should withstand a lot of wear and tear. I got mine in blue, but you can get the stand in black, rose gold, gold, and silver. The latter three will cost you a buck more for some reason. I guess black and blue sell the best. 🙂

The design of this stand is great. It folds up nice and compact. You can see in the pictures above where I placed a quarter next to the folded stand. Nice and small.

As for its sturdiness, I have no issues with it. But if you notice how I’ve set up my acoustic guitar, I have it so it stands fairly upright. This is to make sure that the bottom edge of the guitar abuts against the end stoppers of the base arms. Plus, it will put minimal pressure on the apex pad. With a stand this short, you don’t want a lot of weight at the top of the stand. You’re just asking for trouble.

Either the weight of the guitar will make the stand tip back (not too likely – I put my Les Paul on this stand and set it up to lean back and it stayed in place), or as someone reported on Amazon, the top pad put a slight depression into the back of his ES-335. To me, it’s just common sense to let physics work for you. When you place the guitar in a more upright position, more of the body surface will contact the pads. So stand the freakin’ guitar up! 🙂 Sheesh!

Finally, I dig the bottom footpads. They elevate the entire structure of the frame, so the chance of spilled liquid contacting my guitar is pretty much nullified.

Overall Impression

I love this stand! I’m probably going to get a couple more of these. Well-made, well-designed and lightweight. A perfect combination, even it’s just a lowly stand.

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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!

Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic

Summary: The SA-6 MagMic combines a magnetic pickup with a condenser mic to capture full tone of your acoustic guitar, but does it at a lower price point than similar pickups. But don’t let the more than $100 price difference fool you. This acoustic pickup captures the full spectrum of your sound, down to the little harmonics. And being able to dial in the amount of condenser mic signal is a boon to adjusting the pickup for whatever sound system and venue you may play. There’s no midrange, lifeless tone with this pickup. But most importantly, once you dial in the amount of condenser mic that you like, what you’re left with is a very natural sound. It’s truly amazing!

Pros: Super, super, easy to install and use right away. Very easy to dial in a great balance between magnetic pickup and condenser mic to get the sonic presentation you want. The pickup is also super-quiet, no buzz or hum at all, which is what you’d expect out of a good acoustic pickup.

Cons: None. To be fair though, dialing in the condenser mic picks up a lot of high frequency, but rolling it off a tad fixes that nicely.

Price: $179.00 – $189.00 Street

Features:

  • Magnetic Pickup:
    • DC Resistance: 3.8K Ohms
    • Resonant Frequency: 16KHz
    • Gauss Strength: 780 max (adjustable)
  • Microphone Capsule:
    • Pattern: Omni-directional
    • Sensitivity: -35dB (it’s sensitive)
    • Frequency Range: -20 to 20 KHz
    • Signal to Noise Ratio:  >62dB
    • Current Consumption: -0.5mA (you’ll get 450 hours out of a single 9V battery)
  • Onboard Electronics
    • 2 Channels, summed at ouput
    • Supply Voltage: 9V
    • Current Consumption: 1.1mA (preamp + capsule)
    • Battery Life: 450+ hours
  • Noise:
    • Pickup channel: -102dBV with 5K ohm source resistance
    • Mic channel: -96dBV with mic capsule attached

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ Once I got it installed, which took about 5 minutes, I was off to the races! I have to admit that I had my doubts about this pickup. But I’m glad I got it. It’s a keeper!

I’ve been searching for a pickup for my Simon and Patrick PRO guitar for months. I’ve evaluated and played several guitars equipped with different pickups and pickup configurations. But every review I read and every video I viewed of the Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic further convinced me that this was the pickup I should go with. Funny thing was that I broke my own rule with gear and purchased it without doing an in-person test. I had to trust my instincts on this purchase and I can confidently say that my instincts were spot on with this acoustic pickup.

Fit and Finish

The MagMic is well-made. Built with what appears to be high-velocity plastic, I have no doubt at all that it will survive the test of time; especially after I have it mounted permanently in my guitar. But I’d expect no less from Seymour Duncan. I’ve got Duncan pups installed in half of my guitars, and they’re built to last. Once installed, the controls are easily accessible and reside on either side of the pickup. The volume knob is closest, sitting on the 6th string side of the pickup, while the condenser mic level sits on the 1st string side.

Luckily the battery lasts 450+ hours because the housing sits on the neck block, and the only way to change out the battery is to loosen all the strings and remove the pickup. Mind you, this is an expected inconvenience, not a complaint, per se. It’s the price you have to pay to be minimally invasive.

How It Sounds

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and this “pudding” is freakin’ incredible! As soon as I plugged my guitar into my DAW, I knew I had something special. Playing a dreadnought, I wanted whatever electronics I installed on it to pick up the deep lows and shimmery highs of my guitar, and this pickup does hands-down. To prove it, I recorded some sound samples. The first three were recorded completely dry. No EQ, no compression. I play the same riff three times in each clip, varying the amount of condenser mic in each. The first part isolates the magnetic pickup with no condenser, the second part has the condenser opened up wide. The third part has the condenser mic set to about 50%. Here they are:

Strum

Percussive Strum

Fingerstyle

Note that with the MagMic, the magnetic pickup is always on. From what I can hear, this picks up the low- and mid-range frequencies and provides a fairly warm, almost mechanical sound. The condenser mic picks up the higher midrange and high frequencies and harmonics. It’s sensitive and provides a bit too much high-frequency content for my tasts, which is why I dial back the amount of condenser mic to about 90%. In this final clip, I again recorded the guitar with no EQ, but I added compression, some stereo spread, and reverb like I would if I was recording the guitar for a song. The sound is natural and haunting.

To me, not having to EQ my guitar is important as I want my guitars recorded with as much of their natural sound as possible.

Overall Impression

I’m really at a loss for words with this pickup. I don’t think I can utter any further superlatives that could sufficiently describe the feeling I get from it.

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fender_fa135ce

Fender FA 135 CE Concert Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Summary: Part of the Fender Classic Design series, this lower-end model is a real surprise; especially in the sound department. Nice, low action, and a great feel. If you’re looking for a starter guitar or getting your child his or her very first guitar, you can’t go wrong with the FA 135 CE.

Pros: Some reviews have questioned the build quality of this guitar, but I’m very impressed with how solid this guitar is built. The guitar stays in tune and playing it is so, so easy. And for a smaller concert size guitar, this has a very rich sound; it’s quite unexpected.

Cons: The only nit that I have – and it’s really just a nit – is that the tuners are bit fast for my tastes. Fine tuning is a little challenging at first, but it’s easy to get used to.

Price: $179 street

Features:

  • Laminated bass wood sides and back
  • Laminated spruce top with X-bracing reinforcement
  • Nato wood neck
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Compensated rosewood saddle
  • Single cutaway
  • Fishman Ion-T Preamp with built-in tuner

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ For what it is, I can’t help but give this guitar a great rating. Fender really surprised me with this guitar!

My 12-year-old son has been taking Ukelele lessons for a couple of years, and after he finished his last lesson, he came out and told me that he wanted to start playing guitar. His teacher, Michael, had accompanied him out of the lesson room and told me that he was ready. And since his birthday was coming up, I thought I’d get him a new one, as opposed to fixing up one of my old ones. My thought is that just like my dad did for me, I’d give my son a brand new guitar for his first one.

So today I went to Guitar Center and spent a couple of hours in their acoustic room evaluating all sorts of acoustic guitars. I didn’t want to spend over $200 for this guitar, but luckily, as a big-box retailer, Guitar Center has a pretty wide selection of “value” guitars. I tried guitars from Mitchell, a used “Little Martin,” several Yamaha guitars, and even a Gretsch.

The Little Martin was impressive and solidly built and was at a great price of $189, but it wouldn’t be available until Wednesday due to some city ordinance about a waiting period for used guitars. I needed a guitar today. So I sat in the acoustic room, and my gaze fell upon the Fender. I immediately thought to myself that it looked really nice. But, the thought also occurred that it was a Fender acoustic, and my previous experiences with those haven’t been all that good.

But in spite of my preconceptions, I decided to give it a try and was immediately surprised by the tone of the guitar. For a smaller-body guitar, I wasn’t expecting much sound-wise. But this had a sweet, gorgeous, rich tone. It completely took me by surprise. Then I started playing it, and thought, This couldn’t be a Fender acoustic! It sounds and plays way too nice – especially at $179!

Folks, this guitar is a sleeper, and it reminds me of the experience I had with my Squier Classic Vibe Tele. Great sound, great playability at a SUPER-affordable price!

Fit and Finish

The build quality of this guitar is awesome, just like my CV Tele. There are no uneven paint lines, and all the seams are clean and straight. The neck is straight, and the action is set up low, though it does raise just a little bit in the higher registers; but it’s not so bad that it’s not playable. This is a great guitar for fingerstyle playing, but even strummed, there’s no buzz. But more importantly, the setup is perfect for a beginning guitarist like my little boy.

Playability

Quite frankly, the main criterium for choosing a guitar for my son was playability. I could live with a guitar that had only okay sound just as long as it was easy to play. The frets are medium wire. Not great for bending and vibrato, but hey! This is a beginner’s guitar, so that’s not a big issue. The spacing is great between the frets as this is a shorter-scale guitar. For a seasoned player, this guitar plays with ease. For a beginner and a young player at that, the short scale will help them build up confidence.

How It Sounds

For a low-priced guitar, the FA 135 CE is amazingly articulate. As expected, it has a bit brighter voice as compared to a larger body guitar. But it has some nice sustain, and the spruce soundboard resonates with a surprisingly rich tone. Projection is great with this guitar due to the X-bracing under the top to provide stability and to help with projection. What also surprised me about this guitar is that it’s louder than I expected.

Tone-wise, as for me, I prefer a brighter-sounding guitar. While I liked the Little Martin, doing an A/B with that vs. the FA 135, it was as if a blanket was put over the Martin. The sound was much warmer and a bit too subdued for my tastes. That guitar projected very loud, but it would get lost in the mix when played with other guitars. This shouldn’t happen with the FA 135 CE.

Quick Demo

Here’s a quick demo I recorded just before posting this review. Sorry for the sound quality – and background noises – as this was recorded using my MacBook’s built in microphone, my new puppy was being a little playful across the room… 🙂

Preamp Test

As mentioned above, the guitar comes equipped with a Fishman Ion-T preamp. It’s a pretty simple preamp, so I thought I would give it a whirl. It’s not a bad preamp as preamps go, but it’s nothing special. In fact, its output is only okay. In order to record, I had to peg the guitar’s volume and add a lot of gain on my audio interface. Not a big deal. What was important to me was if I could get a good enough guitar signal to use the guitar in a song.

I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the result. I didn’t have to tweak the EQ at all. Of course, I did some production processing, but that was the point of the exercise, which was to see if I could get a good, mixable acoustic guitar sound from a plugged in guitar.

Overall Impression

I love this guitar! Who cares if it was manufactured in China. I have to commend Fender for finding an overseas manufacturer that does a great job at building guitars. The build, play and sound quality of this guitar have far exceeded my expectations. I think this is a guitar that my son will enjoy for years to come!

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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!

Peterson StroboClip HDTM High Definition Clip-On Strobe Tuner

Summary: Peterson is the pioneer in strobe tuning and this new version of the highly-acclaimed StroboClip is a huge improvement over the original StroboClip which, in my opinion, just couldn’t be beaten. But add to that a larger, high-definition, and a high-contrast screen, then throw in a high degree of accuracy, then add Peterson’s unrivaled “Sweeteners,” what’s not to like?

Pros: I said pretty much everything in the summary. This thing just works and it’s accurate – very accurate. But it’s really the Sweeteners that have always sealed the deal for me.

Cons: None for me as I used the original for a long time (until some a-hole stole it at a gig), but using a strobe tuner will take a newbie a bit of time to get used to. But that shouldn’t discourage anyone.

Price: $59.99 street

Features:

  • 0.1 cent accuracy
  • 50+ Sweeteners for different kinds of instruments – thank goodness the guitar ones are first. 🙂
  • Comparatively larger, HD, backlit LCD readout.
  • Tuning Range: C0 to B6 (very wide)
  • Concert Pitch Range 390-490Hz

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ After my original StroboClip got stolen last year, I went with a cheap Snark tuner. It did the job okay, but there was always something special about the sound of a guitar tuned with my StroboClip. It just sounded better. And with this updated, upgraded version, I’m a very happy camper!

 

What could be so special about a tuner?

Believe me, not all tuners are made the same. An accurately tuned guitar can make the difference between sounding just okay and sounding incredible. So it stands to reason that the more accurate your tuning, the better you’ll sound. So tuner manufacturers have strived to get as accurate as possible, getting into the tenths of a cent (or even the hundredths of a cent). The StroboClip is super-accurate at 0.1 cent, which is pretty incredible. And that’s great – you might be thinking that at this point, there might be a “but” in there… Yes, there is…

As James Taylor puts it, because of how guitars are constructed, and how the strings vibrate, the actual sound that they produce when plucked is not actually in tune if you tune the strings to their exact tuning. According to JT, strings will ring a little sharp, so he actually tunes each string down a few cents per string – not evenly – as each different string requires a different adjustment.

And this is where Peterson tuners have always stood out. They’ve gone to great lengths studying the actual sounds that come off a stringed instrument and have come up with special tuning algorithms for different types of instruments that they call “Sweeteners.” A Peterson rep shared with me that for their acoustic Sweetener, JT’s tuning influenced their algorithm. Hey! If it’s good enough for JT…

In any case, the Sweeteners are extremely subtle, but the first time I used a sweetener for a recording, I noticed that my guitar just sounded better. The difference is like wearing a nicely shined pair of shoes. People don’t necessarily know that you’ve shined your shoes, but they notice that you look a bit sharper. That’s the best analogy I can come up with for Peterson’s Sweeteners.

I noticed it especially with recording my acoustic guitar. With standard, equivalent tuning, it sounded okay but tuned with the ACU (acoustic) Sweetener, it just seemed to ring so much better. That said, you have to get used to the sound because up close, it might sound a little off. But when I listened to the recording, wow! It was truly a revelation.

Fit and Finish

All Peterson products are built rock-solid. And even though they’ve gone with a plastic body, it doesn’t feel at all cheap.

The kicker for me is the comparatively large screen to other tuners. Damn! That thing is readable! And with the higher number of pixels, the readout is super smooth. And for my aging eyes, I love it!

The clip’s springs are pretty tight, but not so much that you can’t squeeze the clip open, and combined with the silicon pads will ensure that the clip stays put on your headstock.

Ease of Use Tuning with a Strobe Tuner

It has three buttons. The middle turns on the unit and acts as the menu selector. The + and – buttons scroll through choices. Doesn’t get much easier than this.

Tuning with a Strobe Tuner

I have to admit that the first time I used a strobe tuner, it was a little weird. I was so used to seeing a needle sweep over a gauge. With a strobe tuner, what you get is a checkerboard pattern that sweeps left and right to indicate the sharpness or flatness of your string. If it moves clockwise, the string is sharp and vice-versa if the string is flat. When the string is in tune, the checkerboard stops moving. The bigger screen really helps.

But there is a bit of a trick to tuning. You have to get used to moving in much smaller increments than what you might be used to. Also, the tuner is so sensitive that once you make an adjustment, you have to remove your hand from the tuning knob because the slightest pressure will affect the tuning. But believe me, once you get used to tuning this way, it’ll become second-nature.

One feature that I didn’t mention is the Drop/Capo setting. If you drop your tuning or use a capo, you can get into the Drop/Capo mode, set the number of semitones you’re going up or down, and then tune accordingly. That’s a really powerful feature, and as I often use a capo, knowing that my strings are all in tune with the right compensations for each string is comforting.

Overall Impression

You can probably tell based on the rating I gave and the review, I love this tuner! I know that Peterson’s marketing push is for the HD screen, but to me, this tuner has always been about the underlying technology. It’s second to none. But I do have to say that the larger screen is simply awesome!

At $59.99, it’s not a cheap tuner, especially compared to something like a Snark 2 that you can get for under $25 (I got mine for $21 on sale). And you know me, I’m not one to say that just because you pay more for something, it’s better. But in this case, it’s totally worth the extra money.

You might be wondering why I might be so excited about this. After all, it’s only a tuner. But once you tune with a Peterson tuner and hear the difference in your sound, you’ll become a believer.

What About Other Strobe Tuners?

The only one I can think of is the Turbo Tuner with an amazing .02 cent accuracy; yes, you read that right. But as I said before, while extreme accuracy is great, what makes the Peterson technology stand out to me are the Sweeteners. They really make a difference. And at some point, I’m wondering if our ears can actually hear the difference between 0.1 and .02 cent. I’m not so sure. It’s almost like a tube amp. The more gain you throw at a tube, the less effect it’ll have on volume. But to each their own. If extreme accuracy is your thing, that’s awesome. And that’s the beauty of having so many choices out in gear land. There’s bound to be something to please any taste.

For me, that taste is the Peterson Sweeteners!

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