Benson Amps Preamp Pedal Review and Demo

From one of the most popular amp makers of the 21st century comes a versatile and genre-bending gain stage.

Cost: $249.00 from Bensonamps.com, Reverb.com, and Amazon.com!

It’s almost impossible to exist in online guitar circles without being hyper aware of the excellent work that Chris Benson of Benson Amps has been doing. Amps like the Monarch and Vincent are staples of tone icons and gigging musicians alike. On the pedal side, his Germanium Fuzz and Germanium Boost were received with equally impressive responses from the guitar playing community. I thought it was pretty obvious I’d have to check out some of his work at some point in time, but thankfully my entrance into Gear Fever’s fundraiser for the Testicular Cancer Society (go donate btw) resulted in me winning the Benson Preamp Pedal in a giveaway!

So while it might not be a review and demo I was commissioned to do, I thought it would be cool to put the Guitars For Idiots take on the Preamp Pedal out into the world. This wonderfully rectangular stomp box is the preamp section of the Benson Chimera amp, with the tubes being replaced by FET transistors. Master volume, treble, bass, and gain provide all the sculpting tools you need for the surprisingly wide range of sounds within the Preamp Pedal.

Review & Opinion:

What has really impressed me about this pedal is how unlike other drive pedals it is. First of all, the range of gain in this pedal is huge, from subtle boost to sweet distortion and fuzz. But what makes it so different is how it doesn’t just color your sound with a fizzy, harsh gain coating. It is the most amp-like gain pedal I have ever tried, hands down. It reacts to touch, pick attack, and remains hypersensitive through both my tube amp and amp/cab sim modeling pedals.

The trick to the Preamp seems to be in the treble and bass controls, which have a lot more of an impact on the type of gain you’re creating than other pedals’ EQ section typically does. For example, you can coax out a fuzz tone with the bass cranked and some treble rolled off. But reverse the EQ positions I just mentioned and it is distinctly NOT fuzzy but rather this tube amp breakup distortion. Each control knob is playing a big role in the sound creation, at least it feels like they are doing more than several high end gain stages I’ve reviewed to date.

Conclusion & Final Rating: 9 out of 10

Benson’s Preamp Pedal actually lives up to the hype in my mind, with a ton of cool amplifier gain sounds keep me very entertained. I love how easy it is to dial in this wide a variety of sounds using only four knobs, none of which are hard to figure out. And it really gets bonus points for not sounding like other gain pedals, it isn’t a Tube Screamer, a Klon, a Rat, or anything like that. If you want amp-like drive, why not take the gain section out of an actual amplifier? It’s so obvious, but so genius in execution. It’s the exact type of gain pedal so many of us are clamoring to find, without any of the fancy buzz words, magic diodes, or marketing BS that can drive us mad.

Caline Brigade: A TS9 and Timmy In One

Caline’s affordable dual gain stage brings transparency and a mid boost to a flexible form factor.

Cost: $69.99 from Amazon.com

Overview:

Despite relying on many sub-$100 pedals for my personal rig, it isn’t often that many Caline pedals pass through my hands. However, once I saw the Brigade, which was released sometime last year, I knew I had to try one. The Brigade is a dual overdrive pedal, with Caline’s Timmy clone (the Pure Sky) on the right, and their Tube Screamer circuit clone on the left. In the middle, a third footswitch lets you control which pedal comes first in the signal chain. I.e., TS9 on top of a Timmy, or vice versa.

That is an impressive 4 distinct tones in one $70 box. All while saving you an extra 9v and patch cable. On the Timmy side, you do sacrifice the toggle switch on higher end Timmy’s, like the Lyla Drive, but the standard bass and treble controls are still present. The Tube Screamer side is as expected, with a mid-hump flavored OD that is easy to dial in.

Review & Opinion:

I am really pleasantly surprised by the Caline Brigade pedal so far. It is very easy to pull awesome sounds of either side, and it doesn’t sound “cheap” in any regard. The TS side is compressed and rich, with nice sustain and balance. Is it a premier take on the TS808/TS9 circuit? No, but it is faithful and useable circuit design. What the Caline Brigade may lack in novelty or experimentation, it makes up for in value. These overdrives sound great alone, or stacked on top of each other, and can give you everything from subtle boost to searing distortion when cranked. The Brigade is a prime example of a gigging pedal that can take a beating, provide classic tones, but will never be too dear that you’ll fear losing or breaking it. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it actually looks pretty freakin cool for a “cheap” pedal. But I’ll let the demo speak for itself, as there aren’t any unique attempts at circuit bending or creating new sounds to discuss in depth.

Conclusion & Final Score: 8 out of 10

The strong score you see above is a reflection of the great value and functionality that the Brigade brings to the table. Caline has seemingly done the best job of creating cheap but great pedals that won’t quit on you after a few months. You get exactly what you expect, a transparent Timmy overdrive that is a bit lighter, open, and boost-like while the TS9 is compressed and gritty with higher gain. It’s not the best pedal out there, but is incredibly fun and affordable. Those two features alone deserve celebration and I can highly recommend this to beginners, gigging musicians, or dual drive aficionados.

PRS and John Mayer Unveil The SE Silver Sky: Review & Demo

The affordable take on one of my highest rated guitars does not disappoint in any way, shape, or form.

Cost: $849 from PRSguitars.com or Reverb.com

Overview & Final Score: 8 out of 10

Today, January 11th, PRS Guitars and John Mayer are announcing their newest model, the SE Silver Sky. This affordable take on their beloved S-style features a Poplar body, Maple neck, and Rosewood fretboard. 22 frets sit on the 25.5″ scale length body, a more traditional length than the PRS Standard of 25″. The Silver Sky SE is powered by three 635JM “S” pickups, which are the import version of the 635JM proprietary single coils they first introduced in 2018. Four finishes are currently available; Dragon Fruit, Ever Green, Stone Blue, and Moon White. A two-point tremolo is matched to nickel hardware with PRS’s vintage-style tuners holding the strings on the other end.

Sound: 9

PRS may have loaded the Silver Sky SE with an import version of their 635JM pickups, given an “S” designation, but they sound wonderfully similar to the proprietary USA-made pickups. Exact clones? No, but they provide a very smooth experience without any of the ice pick high frequencies as promised. And that isn’t just a tagline, even in the bridge position you can hear how smooth and focused the SE Silver Sky sounds. In the video, I think this is especially exhibited when you hear the Big Muff fuzz layered on top. Another fantastic observation is how touch sensitive this guitar is. With just the slightest boost from a BD-2, the pickups respond very differently depending on the pick attack. Slight plucks result in clean and beautiful sounds, until you dig in and are greeted with grit and sustain. The Silver Sky SE is an incredibly musical guitar, on par with its predecessor in many ways sonically.

Playability: 8

I’ve been very impressed with the feel and performance of the SE Silver Sky since I first got it. The guitar has retained great tuning stability, only beginning to change if I really abuse that two-point trem arm. The neck is fast, smooth, and feels familiar to me as a long time Strat player. It offers no signs of major compromise, with great fretwork up and down the neck and a very smooth but minimal finish on the Maple neck. I personally prefer this, when well done as it is here, to a shinier (but thicker and slower) poly finish. PRS’s work with the Silver Sky SE checks in as well above average, and gig ready out of the box after my three weeks or so with the instrument.

Finish & Construction: 7

Of course PRS has to find some area to save money when designing an SE guitar. Aside from the obvious labor savings, I do think that the PRS SE Silver Sky is beautiful and well built, it just doesn’t have the same shine. Which is to be expected. This is not to say there is anything wrong with the SE Silver Sky, as the finish on the model I played was beautiful. But the finish options are more limited, a bit more matte in appearance, and cosmetic options will be limited compared to the original Silver Sky. However, the hardware is sturdy and the guitar is built rock solid. From fretwork to string height to comfortability, it checks a ton of boxes for me.

Value: 8

Another PRS SE comes across this website, and another PRS SE is highlighted as a superb value. This is a very satisfying alternative to forking over $2500 for a US PRS Silver Sky. I loved the domestic Silver Sky, and felt it was worth every penny. However, this SE Silver Sky will provide so much of what you could want, without requiring as heavy an investment. It’s gig or studio worthy as is, and is a treat to play. The most important thing a guitar can do is to be fun, which the SE Silver Sky nails with ease. For under $1000, PRS made another great guitar that will no doubt be considered a success. Despite all the flack the Silver Sky may have gotten, it has sold like crazy and held up for three years now without signs of slowing. The SE version will be a welcome addition to the market and will no doubt be favored by young players who will get their own signatures in years to come.

Good for: Stratocaster Players, Blues, Rock, Pop, John Mayer Fans On A Budget, Gigging Musicians

Keep Track Of All Our Pedal Reviews And Their Statistics

Check our live google sheet to see the complete rankings, prices, and more for all pedals we have reviewed!

Click HERE to follow along with every pedal reviewed, dating back to 2019, and updated with each new pedal we review and demo! You’ll find interesting facts like the average score we give out, plus the median and standard deviation for all the nerds out there like me. The same will be true for the prices, and the amount of data and analysis will continue to grow through the year!

What brands, effect categories, or price points do you want to see get reviewed and demoed more often?

As of the time of this posting, the average and median scores handed out are both 7.7 out of 10. Certainly representative of the strong showing by the market and pedal building community in 2021. The average price of any pedal reviewed on Guitars For Idiots currently sits at $140. High, but that is increasingly becoming commonplace. It is certainly influenced by some heavy hitters from Strymon, Walrus Audio, and Chase Bliss as well.

Here’s a breakdown by effect type as well!

You can also check out the average price and score per effect type, which will help add further context to future reviews. How does this pedal compare to all the others in its effects type on average? In terms of price, score, or whatever categories we deem important!

So far, overdrive pedals reviewed on Guitars For Idiots average a price of $112 and a score of 7.7 out of 10. Amp and cab sim pedals have the highest scores and prices by far, with an average of 8.1 out of 10 and $292 per pedal.

If you were going to make a pedalboard with the best pedals from each major category (sorry boost and utility pedals), it would look something like this:

Now that is a pretty impressive board if I say so myself…

Hopefully this living google sheet will become a valuable tool for exploring all the gear we review!

Latitude Guitars SE-1819 Review & Demo

The new company, launched by the founder of the EART brand, gets off the ground with an affordable ES-style copy.

Cost: $379.99 from Amazon.com

Overview & Final Score: 6.1 out of 10

I first got turned onto Latitude Guitars by a Facebook group I stumbled upon one day. I was really quite interested in a brand that would launch an ES-335 clone as their flagship model, so I quickly worked out how to get one in my hands. The spec sheet is quite impressive, with a Roasted Maple semi-hollow body and a Roasted Mahogany neck that holds 22 stainless steel frets, an Indian Rosewood fretboard, and a bone nut as well. Latitude loades the SE-1819 with Alnico V pickups spec’d out to replicate ’59 Gibson tones, with standard controls of volume/tone for each pickup. A 3-way selector switch rounds out the electronic controls. Another unique feature is their C+U neck shape, which feels slim compared to the baseball necks of most Gibson-influenced hollow bodies. A tune-o-matic bridge holds roller saddles, a nice touch for tuning stability (at least on paper), and a feature you don’t often see on import guitars at this price point.

Sound: 6.5

The pickups in the Latitude SE-1819 are pretty impressive, with a chime and top end sparkle that isn’t always common on affordable humbuckers. They are allegedly designed after the ’59 Gibson humbucker sound that is favored by many guitarists, but they have a distinctly modern sound in my opinion. It is true that they are closer in output to the lower end, like vintage buckers would be. But Latitude’s SE-1819 has a very “indie rock”-like quality to the tonal fingerprint, with great clean tones and a very smooth neck pickup for rhythm patterns. It certainly sounds better than I anticipated it would, though I still feel like I can’t get a 100% read on it due to the playability issues. Perhaps it will come alive a bit more when I can actually use the first 3 frets to kick out some AC/DC riffs. Overall, the SE-1819 seems to sound a bit above average and is impressive to me in how quiet the pickups are (in terms of buzz or hum) and how sensitive the control knobs seem to be.

Playability: 4

While there are a lot of things to like about Latitude Guitar’s inaugural product, the truth is the set-up is just awful. The neck is way over adjusted, making the first 3 frets unplayable. Even after trying to correct this with the truss rod, the guitar showed serious evidence of high frets. The buzz is simply not going away with my easy at-home hacks. It’s a shame too, because the neck looks and feels really good in many other ways, with a slimmer feel than most Gibson or Epiphone-style copies. Even the hardware on the Latitude feels a bit more impressive than expected, meaning this guitar definitely has some real potential if you can sort out the fret buzz and dead notes in a timely manner. With these issues, it is a bit hard for me to get a good read on the tuning stability of the SE-1819.

Finish & Construction: 7

I would have easily given this category a much higher rating if the set-up wasn’t so poor. The overall fit, finish, and hardware installation is quite impressive for the cost. Latitude definitely makes the SE-1819 feel and look more on par with a high end Epiphone product, and I appreciate the detail in the sunburst finish and wood grain. The decision to use roasted Maple and Mahogany is really interesting, and quite nice. Latitude also delivers on the lightweight but comfortable reputation of this semi-hollow guitar design. It feels solid and like a real tool of the trade that can serve beginners or pros alike if properly dialed in.

Value: 7

One reason for the relatively high value score is that many of the fatal flaws here could be corrected by spending $50 on a professional set-up. If the pickups, wiring, or finish were equally disappointing it would be a different story. Those issues are especially hard to correct on a semi- or hollowbody instrument and thankfully check out very good on the SE-1819. You can turn this Latitude product into a very competent and solid ES-335 alternative with just a proper set-up. And the guitar isn’t too expensive that this extra $50 is too much of a burden. It is disappointing and frustrating, but not a death sentence on an otherwise nice feeling and sounding guitar for the sub-$400 price tag.

Good for: Players Who Want To Learn How To Set-Up A Guitar, ES-335 On A Budget, Modification Platform

Caline Devilfish Dual Chorus and Delay Review

Caline continues to dominate the affordable pedal marketplace with this functional and fun dual pedal.

Cost: $69.99 from Amazon.com

Overview:

In the world of affordable effects pedals there are few companies with a better reputation than Caline. They tend to have better enclosures, cleaner sounding circuits, and only slightly more expensive price tags than most budget pedal options. The Caline Devilfish is no different and houses both Caline Wave Machine Chorus and Caline Blue Ocean Delay circuits in one box. Having both in one box does save you a few patch cables, a power supply, and maybe even some board space. Both circuits have standard controls for their classic effects. Delay sports controls over the length and frequency of delay, while the “echo” control serves as a master volume. On the chorus side of things, you have your standard rate and depth controls with an overall master volume control as well. Manipulating the master volume can engage the vibrato portion of the chorus pedal as well.

Review & Opinion:

While the sounds of the Devilfish aren’t extraordinary, they are perfectly useable and cover a good bit of ground. Players who are looking for expansive and creative delay tones should not consider this an alternative to modern echos like the Mood or Meltdown. But for beginners or musicians who only require classic delay and chorus tones, this is a perfectly suitable tool for the stage or studio. The chorus side of things can go from warbly vibrato to very subtle shimmer and shine. I was impressed by the delay time, which is usually very short on affordable delay pedals like this. I wouldn’t describe it as too long or adventurous, but you can cover a lot of ground and induce some cool self-oscillations. The Devilfish is a great example of working musician’s pedal.

Final Conclusions & Score: 7.0 out of 10

Overall, Caline’s Devilfish is a perfectly serviceable and nice sounding pedal. It is unspectacular but the value for the money is impressive. It is never noisey, feels far more premium than it is, and covers a lot of ground. The market for the Devilfish should mostly center around beginners and guitar players who rarely use these effects as the basis of their rig. I also really like the idea of throwing this pedal on my live board, as it will save some real estate in terms of cables and provide me with a solid option for chorus/delay. It seems Caline has cracked the code on making affordable pedals that work great for many musicians.

Munnyman Pedals Panchito: A Small Batch RAT Clone To Know

Featuring the legendary LM308 chip, how will this take on the RAT circuit stand up to my beloved clones?

Cost: $200 from Munnymanpedals.com

Overview

Munnyman Pedals is a small pedal company who, funnily enough, was one of the first contacts I ever made on Instagram. Based out of Dallas, Texas, Munnyman has mostly dealt in fuzzes, overdrives, and distortion pedals, like this Panchito LM308. Unlike the more hyped Rat pedals to hit the market (Ratsbane, DRV, and Packrat) the Panchito is not looking to add flexibility or versatility to the circuit. It is instead a true recreation, with everything from overdrive to fuzz onboard as most Rat fans know. What I’ll be looking for here is how versatile the gain section is, and how it sounds in comparison to the other Rat pedals in my collection. Specifically, for the $200 price tag I would hope it compares favorably to my Pro Co Rat2 or Wampler Ratsbane.

Review & Opinion

The Panchito LM308 is a nice sounding pedal any way you slice it. With classic RAT distortion tones that are not hard to coax out of the pedal. I will say, it didn’t feel quite as versatile as a Pro Co RAT2 or the Wampler Ratsbane in terms of the gain control. It didn’t get quite as fuzzy with my Stanford Crossroad as I might have wanted. Likewise, the overdriven tones don’t go quite as low gain either. So while I do miss the flexibility, I take solace in how good the more straight up the middle distortion tones are. Munnyman Pedals definitely nailed the raw, uncompressed feeling of the RAT circuit.

As it stands now, I think this pedal is best suited for players who want a high quality distortion pedal but won’t be asking it to do too much else. It has very sensitive volume and filter controls which help widen the tonal spectrum you can reach, but it won’t be much more than what it sounds like in my demo.

Conclusion & Final Score: 7 out of 10

Overall I’m very pleased with the sounds that come out of the Munnyman Pedals Panchito LM308. It’s very much worthy of the space it occupies on any pedal board. The distortion tones are rich, open sounding, and have a ton of texture. It does feel a little bit like you are paying for the scarcity of the LM308 chip, which very well may be worth it for some guitar players. However for me, I would probably stick with the RAT options I already own. It earns its above average score for the quality of sound it does posses, the small footprint it takes up on a pedalboard, and the user friendliness.

The Panchito even got some time to hang out on my band board!

2021 Guitar Ranks: Everything We Reviewed This Year

While 2021 had a few less guitar reviews than we hoped, it did not lack in quality at all!

All I can say about 2021 is; you could really feel the long term impacts of the pandemic’s impact on the supply chain. Despite being a moderately well known reviewer at best (and that is generous), the number of guitars reviewed this year dropped to 19 from last year’s 41. However, the overall viewership and support for my work has increased in ways I never expected so there is much to be thankful for as well!

And while this year didn’t feature quite the vast number of brands and guitars, it had some incredible quality up and down the list. Some of my biggest surprises this year included how impressive the Sterling by Music Man guitars were as well as how far Fender has taken the Squier products. Vox’s Bobcat S66 was arguably the quirkiest guitar I’ve played in years as well, though it was flanked by some great reissues from Silvertone in 2021 as well.

Interestingly enough, signature models seemed to get a lot of attention this year, both from manufacturers and the media. In a year when it was hard to source loaner guitars to review, I got to try Epiphone’s Joe Bonamassa LP, Sterling’s take on the Mariposa, and Manson’s affordable Matt Bellamy signature.

Some disappointments included the Gibson Explorer, my dream guitar that showed up damaged, and it wasn’t from shipping. On a more positive, two single-P90 guitars absolutely had me drooling from Grez Guitars and Fender, and I’m determined to one day own both of them. In terms of highlights, it is also impossible to put into words how fun the Acoustasonic Stratocaster has been. It is easily the most inspiring and musical instrument I own.

Superlatives:

Best Sub-$500 Guitar: Sterling By Music Man Cutlass CTH50 – read full review

Best Overall: Rubato Guitars Lassie – read full review

Best Import Guitar: Dunable DE Cyclops – read full review

Best Candidate For Mod Project: Squier Affinity Telecaster Deluxe – read full review

Most Versatile: PRS SE Custom 24-08 – read full review

Best Reissue: Vox Bobcat S66 – read full review

ModelRating (1-10)CostGrab Your Own
Rubato Guitars Lassie9.5 out of 10$4300.00rubato.guitars
Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster 9.4 out of 10$1999.99reverb.com
Grez Guitars Mendocino Junior8.9 out of 10$2700.00reverb.com
Dunable DE Cyclops8.8 out of 10$1099.00reverb.com
PRS SE Custom 24-088.6 out of 10$899.00reverb.com
Vox Bobcat S668.5 out of 10$1399reverb.com
Fender Noventa Series Telecaster 8.3 out of 10$949.99reverb.com
Sterling by Music Man Cutlass CT50HSS 8.3 out of 10$499.99reverb.com
Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Black Beauty Les Paul8.0 out of 10$799.00reverb.com
Sterling by Music Man Mariposa 7.9 out of 10$549.99reverb.com
Silvertone Model 14497.8 out of 10$399.00reverb.com
Gibson Explorer Antique Natural 20217.8 out of 10$1699.00reverb.com
D’Angelico Premier Atlantic7.8 out of 10$699.99reverb.com
Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special7.4 out of 10$449.99reverb.com
Manson Guitar Works Meta MBM-1 7.4 out of 10$599.99reverb.com
Squier Affinity Telecaster Deluxe7.4 out of 10$279.99reverb.com
RWM Guitars Offset T-Style7.3 out of 10$1300.00rwmguitars.com
Silvertone Model 14787.3 out of 10$499.00reverb.com
Donner DJC-1000S6.5 out of 10$173.99donnerdeal

A Look Back In Time

2019’s Highest Rated Sub-$1000 Guitar: Guild Jetstar (9.7 out of 10, $599)

2019’s Highest Rated $1000+ Guitar: Fender Ultra Stratocaster (9.5 out of 10, $1999)

2020’s Highest Rated Sub-$1000 Guitar: Schecter Ultra III (9.4 out of 10, $949)

2020’s Highest Rated $1000+ Guitar: PRS Silver Sky (9.8 out of 10, $2299)

2021’s Highest Rated Sub-$1000 Guitar: PRS SE Custom 24-08 (8.6 out of 10, $899)

2021’s Highest Rated $1000+ Guitar: Rubato Guitars Lassie

Rubato Guitars Lassie Takes A Bold Step Into The Future

A one piece carbon fibre instrument with premium features and more durability than any guitar on the market.

Cost: $4300 for base package, from Rubato.guitars

Overview & Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

The spec sheet of the Rubato Lassie is unlike one I’ve ever reviewed before. The Lassie sports a one piece body and neck, made from a carbon fibre monocoque that weighs in at a whopping 5.5 pounds. More familiar, but premium guitar specs round out the instrument including a zero fret string guide, mini rotomatic locking tuners, and medium jumbo stainless steel frets. Sporting a 25.5″ scale length, the Lassie should feel more familiar than foreign.

The electronics are stripped down and simple, highlighted by two Porter mini humbucking pickups that are controlled by a 3-way selector alongside single volume and tone knobs. The simple electronics are not lacking in quality either, with Orange drop capacitors, Bourns potentiometers, and a Switchcraft switch. A hipshot fixed bridge joins grover strap-locks in the quality hardware department as well.

Sound: 9

The Lassie is a surprisingly flexible beast, despite having only a 3-way selector to control the Porter mini humbucker pickups. These pickups were a great choice, as they balance that single coil top end with the thickness and body of humbuckers nicely. So while it doesn’t have fancy switching or coil splits to create diverse sounds, it is a very open sounding instrument that can easily be shaped by your amp or pedals.

Perhaps most importantly is just how great the guitar sounds. It doesn’t sound “non-guitar-like” in any major sense of the phrase despite such unique construction. This might not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it is. Rubato have completely reworked how an electric guitar can be made yet it feels no different in terms of playing experience. If anything, it just feels and sounds slightly better.

You can further tweak the sonic capabilities of the Lassie by ordering different pickup combinations from Rubato during construction as well. But overall, it is tough to argue with the clean, lush sounds of these minihumbuckers. It’s just a great sounding guitar, through and through.

Playability: 10

I cannot emphasize enough how comfortable this carbon fibre neck is. It feels far more rigid than any guitar neck I’ve played but it’s still smooth, fast, and thin across the whole fretboard. The rigidity is actually somewhat comfortable, as I feel like I have complete control over the neck, with no chance of it fighting back. And of course, the tuning stability is supreme. So far, the Lassie has lived up to the hype of having a perfectly intonated neck that will never shift. With no moisture or temperature impacts on the carbon fibre, the guitar did arrive almost perfectly in tune and has stayed that way for about a month now. Other highlights include the great upper fret access and the quality fretwork, which is to be expected on a guitar of this price.

Finish & Construction: 10

Rubato guitars has considered every aspect of guitar construction with the Lassie. And even if some of it is overkill, it all combines to create a really thoughtful instrument. The one piece construction is solid as can be and all the hardware is premium in origin and feel. Even the pickup installation is innovative thanks to spring mounts on the bottom of the pickup that hold it secure to the body, preventing any wobble or drift over time. Mini-rotomatic locking tuners and a borderline too-heavy duty aluminium flight case wrap up the impressive construction and storage feature list.

It is interesting to have a guitar without a true “finish”. Though that isn’t to say that the symmetrical carbon fibre body isn’t gorgeous. It has this amazing pattern and sleek shine to it. The Lassie is also shockingly lightweight and comfortable, with a full scale length making sure it never feels foreign.

Value: 9

Yes, this is an incredibly expensive guitar. And that is something I normally have railed against in my career. However, this is one of the few instruments that is unique in more than just aesthetics or a neat wiring trick. It’s a one piece guitar that will be set up for life while accumulating far less scratches, dings, or dents than any other $4000+ instrument. So while I do acknowledge the ridiculous price compared to the $500-$1200 guitars I normally review, this is really the closest thing to a structurally “perfect” guitar on the market. It’s similar to the Morifone Quarzo in the sense that I appreciate when people bring an actual engineering and sustainability point of view to guitar building. The Lassie is an incredible instrument that will fail you far less than other guitars on the boutique market, and for that it deserves high value marks.

Good for: Rock, Pop, Blues, Jazz, Gigging Musicians, Musicians Who Travel Frequently, Players Who Want To Replace 10 Guitars With One

Squier Affinity Telecaster Deluxe: The Best Cheap Tele Yet?

Fender and Squier’s latest foray into affordable guitars is seemingly another rousing success despite some muddy pickups.

Cost: $279.99 from Fender.com, Amazon.com, and Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.4 out of 10

Announced earlier this summer, Squier’s Affinity range has been rapidly expanding to include more and more classic models at budget prices. While the Affinity Jazzmaster took the offset world by storm, I was more interested in the double humbucker set up of the Affinity Telecaster Deluxe.

A Poplar body is covered by a gloss polyurethane finish, with Burgundy Mist and Charcoal Frost Metallic featuring Indian Laurel fretboards contrasted by the classic Black finish with a Maple fretboard. The necks are the classic Fender C-shape, with 21 medium jumbo frets and a synthetic bone nut.

Two ceramic humbuckers power this LP-killing Tele, with each pickup assigned its own tone and volume control. The three pickup switch also allows for some wonderful Morello-like stuttering if you shut the volume down on one pickup. Fender and Squier also made this guitar with a string through body construction, which is a nice feature if you plan on modding this into a higher end instrument. You can think of the bridge as your standard Fender hardtail bridge, with six adjustable saddles and a classic chrome finish.

Sound: 6.5

For an Affinity series instrument, these pickups are quite pleasant, if not a bit plain. You know exactly what you’re getting here, a loud humbucker that will only sound as good as you EQ it. I did notice that it sounds considerably better through high end amps and amp sims, compared to my cheaper practice amps. But the Tele Deluxe is a bit muddy overall, especially when playing clean.

It’s not too dissimilar from the Donner Tele copy I recently reviewed, though these pickups certainly have a touch more character than those did. On the other hand, they did come alive with overdrive and gain pedals stacked on top, so you can definitely apply this guitar in a variety of situations and still get quality sounds.

The big advantage here is the tone/volume controls for each pickup, which provides a lot of flexibility for such an affordable guitar. You can dial in some subtle yet interesting mixes of the two pickups when in the middle position. As you might expect, this guitar thrives for loud, rock music and the adjacent genres (punk, metal, pop). You shouldn’t expect such pristine cleans, though the neck pickup does have a good bit of body to it, even if it is a touch too muddy for me.

Playability: 7

The feel of that C-shaped neck was a pleasant surprise for me. It’s thick, but not too thick, sort of in that classic Telecaster way that many players have grown to love through the years. On the back of the neck, the finish is thin and smooth, a nice contrast from the thick polyurethane on the body. I found the fret edges and tuning stability to all be slightly above average and certainly useable without any major tweaks. There was barely any fret buzz, with only a few frets popping up from time to time as troublemakers. Cheaper Teles always have better tuning stability than cheap Strats because of the obvious bridge discrepancy, and this one was no different. However, the string through body does add a bit more of a premium feel to the neck, with plenty of tension and resonance, even when played acoustically.

Finish & Construction: 7

There was a slight issue with how FedEx handled this guitar, in the sake of transparency, but it was clear the massive crack in the finish was not Fender’s fault. So that blemish aside, this is a solidly built instrument! I really like the look and feel of the Affinity Telecaster Deluxe, because it sacrifices some superficial, premium specs for feel, fit, and reliability. The finish is a bit thick, but is offset by how light the body of the guitar feels. It’s not overwhelming in any which way, but it is unmistakably a great candidate for modifications or a pickup swap. It’s another case of an instrument having “great bones”, so that it can grow alongside you. No matter how “cheap” any of the hardware or electronics may feel, they get some points for being very easily replaced.

Value: 9

Squier’s Affinity Telecaster Deluxe scores off the charts here, as it is simply greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not a perfect instrument, but it lacks any sort of flaw that makes it unplayable. It’s fun, accessible, and could easily be tweaked into a gigging monster with a new set of electronics and some upgraded tuners. This gives it a broad range of potential user as well, from beginners on their first guitar to pros who need a backup instrument, gigging instrument, or a DIY project for these cold winter months. While I generally hold the Affinity series guitars to be the “average” score for guitar reviews (5-6 out of 10), this Tele Deluxe is a notch above and a great product to check out in late 2021 or early 2022!

Good for: Rock, Punk, Blues, Les Paul Fans, Budget Telecaster Fans, DIY Mod Projects, Gigging Musicians