Z-TONE Buffer Boost Pedal Review from IK Multimedia

Who ever thought a boost pedal would become an essential part of my signal chain?

Credit: IK Multimedia

Cost: $169.99. Find your own through our affiliate links on, Thomann.com, Amazon.com, Reverb.com, or Musiciansfriend.com! Or get more info from IKmultimedia.com!

How It Works & Final Score: 9.2

When I first cracked the Z-TONE Buffer Boost out of the box my first thought was eh, how am I going to make a boost pedal sound exciting. But I was so wrong it wasn’t even funny, this is so much more than a boost. Really, this is a swiss army knife for your pedal board, helping preserve and shape your tone. First off, the Z-TONE Buffer Boost has a built-in buffer to help preserve your tone through long signal chains and complicated pedal wiring schematics. Meant to go at the front of your board, you can then also choose between a plethora of boost sounds that make this a versatile preamp in a box.

You can choose between a pure clean boost tone or a warmer, JFET-inspired boost to add a bit more gain and dirt. Both of these options are shaped by pretty straightforward level and gain controls as well. Where it starts to get interesting is that you can set the preamp pedal to work with either active or passive pickups, meaning you simply flip a switch for either option going into your rig. For active pickups, this switch cuts out any unnecessary gain stages that would cloud your already boosted signal. Lastly, you get a flexible Z-TONE knob, which controls the impedance running into your amp, especially useful if you change guitars often during a setlist. Turn it to one side for a sharper, more defined and precise signal or crank it the other way for a rounder, fatter, and bolder tone.

Sound: 9

There is a ton of tone packed into this little pedal, as you’ll see in my quick and dirty demo below featuring the stunning Howl Sirena 3! Just from switching the buffer on, my signal got a little boost and was instantly clearer and brighter than before. However when you mess with the two boost voicing options you can really have some fun. The “PURE” setting can really act as a clean signal boost when you roll the gain knob all the way back, but can also take on an almost overdrive or rangemaster-type sound with the gain cranked into this humbucker.

The “JFET” setting is all over the place, in a good way. From a slight dirty boost that just makes your guitar cut through the mix, to a full on overdrive sound with the level and gain cranked. Adding the Z-TONE knob turned all the way towards the sharp end also helped clean up some muddiness in the humbucker. The buffer itself is now going to be an always-on effect for me, but the two boosts are fun, and I think I’m going to be using the “JFET” sounds a lot going forward. I’m not always looking for a clean boost so the added dirt and crunch really appeals to me. At the end, you can really hearing it pushing my amp into all natural tube overdrive that is not too saturated but very gritty.

Durability: 9

I really love the way this Z-TONE Buffer Boost was built and designed. It is pedal board friendly for what is basically two pedals in one and has some cool connectivity features. There are alternate outs for mixers and PA system on the Buffer Boost, meaning you can really use it as preamp for recording or direct in playing. When you add all these functions and uses into a tough as nails enclosure, it makes me feel like the Z-TONE is a pedal board mainstay. There are no signs of buzzing and it just feels rock solid even when I slam my weight down on it. This is no cheap, plastic import copy of a JFET circuit. Overall, I have no concerns about the durability of this Z-TONE Buffer Boost and plan to use it quite a bit.

Value: 9.5

$169.99 feels pretty fair to me for how versatile this pedal is. It isn’t the sexiest pedal, in appearance or brand name, but it is workhorse that will not leave my board. I could certainly see more boutique brands making a pedal like this and charging $300+ for one. The sound quality is there, the functionality is there, I’m just delighted with how this Z-TONE pedal fits my needs. Certainly, this isn’t a pedal for everyone. If you don’t have a long signal chain to suck tone, if you don’t care for boosts in general, this just isn’t a pedal you’ll be excited about. But if you love to mess around with a big pedalboard like I do, and like to have a “lead tone” to instantly switch on for solos, this is a tone shaping monster. As of now, this is probably the most used pedal of all the ones I have reviewed this year, as in I never will take this out of my signal chain for something else. IK Multimedia’s Z-TONE is just killer and worth a long look for gigging and recording musicians.

Good for: Gigging Musicians, Players With A Busy Pedal Board, Players Looking For A Flexible Boost Pedal, Tone Shapers

Sterling By Music Man St. Vincent Signature Guitar Review

One of the most exciting guitars of the last few years, will the St. Vincent be worth the hype?

Cost: $599.99 from Reverb.com or learn from Sterling by Music Man!

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Get your own from Thomann.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.0

One of the first articles I ever wrote for Ultimate-Guitar.com was about how influential this guitar has been since its release. I mean, even Jack White picked up this guitar and loved it! And what’s not to love with this quirky, versatile signature guitar? Featuring a 25.5″ scale length, this affordable take on the St. Vincent sports a Mahogany body with a Hard Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard. 22 narrow frets are held between locking tuners and a Music Man vintage-style tremolo. This (barely) sub-$600 guitar is available in Vincent Blue or Stealth Black, two killer finish options.

The electronics on the St. Vincent are straight up fun, with 3 mini humbuckers that provide a ton of bite and volume. A 5-way selector switch controls the pickups the same way a Strat wiring harness works, and then there is a master volume and tone knob as well. There is a lot to like once you throw in how freakin cool this guitar looks!

Sound: 8

I’ve never really spent a lot of time with mini humbuckers, but these really won me over quick. They are much brighter and clearer than traditional humbuckers in my opinion. While they certainly don’t have the heft of something like a PAF, they also don’t get nearly as muddy. This gave the St. Vincent far more versatility, letting me jump from clean chime to classic dirt tones with ease. I feel like I got some Strat tones out of this thing and then could instantly flip down to sustaining lead lines that are rich and warm. Even better, because these pickups are pretty bright, the tone knob actually had a little life in it before getting really muddy and useless. For me, the tone knob is pretty much useless on humbucker guitars as they get so thick and useless quickly, but I really enjoyed the extra few sounds I could pull out of here. Sterling by Music Man seem to have distilled all the best aspects of the premium St. Vincent guitar into their take on the quirky design, and I’m very happy the result.

Playability: 8

St. Vincent certainly built a fun guitar to play. The neck is smooth and actually feels kind of small, which I love for wrapping my thumb around the top edge. The thin feel is also due to the nice finish job on the back of the neck, it never feels thick or sticky. Locking tuners are always a good thing, and really help keep the tremolo arm useable here. It doesn’t feel like a cheap trem by any means, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the Crescent trem I played on the Sabre and Majesty from Ernie Ball. However, tuning stability was really not an issue, making this is a particularly fun lead guitar. I dived bombed a bit with the whammy bar and really stretched some bends all without losing tuning, at least not til awhile later. Fret work was killer, everything felt well above average here!

Finish & Construction: 7

I originally wanted to take more points off. The first St. Vincent they sent me showed up with the neck pickup hanging by only one screw, half into the body. When they sent it back, the middle pickup had the same problem. On the third try they got it right and I was impressed with the finished product. If the last one wasn’t so near perfect, I would have been harsher, but minus 3 is enough because really it wasn’t a huge issue. Honestly, I wish they had just let me fix the issue myself and avoid all the shipping costs. But the final product was superb and I’m ultra impressed with the finish, feel, and look of this guitar. All the other hardware was well installed, and performed well past the price point. I assume most guitars don’t these pickup issues because these Sterling St. Vincents have been selling like hot cakes. You’ll certainly end up with a sick guitar in your hands at the end of the day.

Value: 9

I’m really high on the value factor with this guitar. If honestly felt closer to the $2000+ dollar Ernie Ball Music Man guitars I reviewed this year than not. Once I had the guitar in my hands, fully functional I couldn’t put it down. Even more importantly, it is just inspiring to see it on my guitar rack. Every time I walk by I have to pick it up. It’s an exciting guitar from an exciting company and exciting guitar player. These Sterling signature models like the Majesty, Valentine, and St. Vincent are really popular and starting to make serious inroads on Gibson/Fender territory. I would highly recommend this guitar for the price and seriously hope they don’t ask for one of these back!

Good for: Almost Everything, Live Players, Versatile Players Who Blend Genres, Alternative Music, Experimental Music, Indie Rock

Glarry GTL Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar Review

Will Glarry’s newest addition to their ultra-affordable line impress me more than past products?

Credit: Glarry

Cost: $119.99 from Glarrymusic.com

Affiliate links: Find your next guitar like this one on Musiciansfriend.com or Amazon.com!

Overview & Final Score: 5.4

Glarry has quickly become a well known name in the guitar world thanks to their unbelievably affordable guitars. Having previously reviewed their $60 Strat copy and their $75 P Bass, this $120 Tele is one of their top of the line options. A Basswood body is paired to a Maple neck with Rosewood fingerboard. In traditional style, it’s a 25.5″ scale length guitar with 22 white copper frets, and brass bridge saddles. The humbucker in the neck provides a Keith Richards’ “Micawber” feel that helps separate it from being just another cheap Tele copy. A more traditional Tele pickup in the chrome bridge with brass saddles provides a familiar feel. Pickups are controlled by a 3-way switch along with a master volume and tone. The white pearl pickguard over the blue-green finish also gave the guitar a bit of a classy look, giving me all sorts of guitar modification aspirations.

Sound: 5.5

I was fairly surprised at how much better this Glarry sounded than the GST-3 Strat I had, but it still isn’t necessarily impressive. For about double the price of that guitar, this was more of an average sounding guitar, not too far off from a Squier Affinity Tele. The neck humbucker added some fun versatility and high output for smooth lead lines but was really muddy sounding. You absolutely can’t roll any tone off without it being completely un-usable. The middle configuration was a nice mix between the muddy neck and ice pick piercing bridge pickup. With some overdrive and distortion, it opened up quite nicely and would be very useable. Bright is one way to describe the bridge, but I would say it was too bright and a little thin. There are some fun sounds, especially for the price, but new pickups would go a long way in improving this guitar.

Playability: 4

Much like past Glarry guitars I have played, this GTL Semi-hollow has an absolute tree trunk for a neck. It really makes it unattractive for beginners even though the price may suggest otherwise. It is simply too big for many players to learn on, unless you have monster hands. Fretwork wasn’t horrible, but for twice the price of their other guitars I don’t feel it really improved on much in the playability department. The tuning stability is poor, the strings that come are incredibly cheap, and there was quite a bit of fret buzz. I’m usually not this harsh or picky with guitars, but I feel like if you spent an extra $50 on a Squier or Epiphone you would have to deal with so many of these issues. The bridge actually seemed pretty nice however, with easily adjustable string height, which makes me think that some locking tuners would easily fix the tuning issues. Again, this is looking like a phenomenal DIY mod project in the making. A huge neck, buzzing frets, and below average tuning stability make this the worst feature of the Glarry GTL Semi-hollow.

Finish & Construction: 6

Props to Glarry for upping the build quality a bit with this guitar. The finish was generally really well done, with this interesting peacock-like color. The f-hole showed significant tooling marks but the visible finish on the front and back was smooth. One annoying flaw was fibers of some kind sticking out from the fret ends. It almost looked like someone had ripped the fibers off a rag when polishing the neck or frets or something. That should have been an easy catch at QA/QC to make sure the guitar is clean. Otherwise though, the construction was pretty solid with well installed pickups and hardware. The GTL Semi-hollow was also fairly quiet, with no buzz at 2 of the 3 pickup settings. Glarry also made a crazy lightweight guitar, that should be comfortable to play live sitting down or standing up for hours on end. Just above average, but impressive build quality for a bottom barrel guitar option.

Value: 6

Had this guitar cost the $60 that their Strat copy cost, I would have given it a far higher value rating. I feel it is overall a big upgrade from everything I’ve played in the past, but it comes at a cost. Glarry’s big appeal is that their guitars are so unbelievably cheap, so as the costs climb my enthusiasm sinks. This guitar is far more beginner ready than anything else they’ve made, but I still think this should be a guitar mod project. Experienced players who are cash strapped, want to practice guitar tech skills, or need a backup instrument should take notice and give this Glarry a real shot. However, there is real value in having guitars available at this price that are fully functional. It isn’t a luxurious guitar by any means, but if you absolutely can’t afford anything else, it is a fine option. I want guitars to be more accessible to more people and if a company can make a $100-$120 guitar that gets the people playing, I’m really happy.

Good for: DIY Mod Projects, Telecaster Players, Budget Players

RWM Guitars Semi-Hollow Tele

I turn my attention to the second of four custom built guitars from Connecticut-based RWM Guitars

Cost: $1500.00 from rwmguitars.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.4

Reviewing these custom builds from RWM Guitars has been real fun considering I have 4 crazy unique, different builds sitting in my office waiting to get played. While the semi-hollow double cut was probably my favorite overall, this take on the Tele-design was a close second. This RWM Guitar features the same Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard common on all of their current builds. 21 frets, Grover Original Locking Rotomatic tuners, and a traditional Tele bridge hold the strings and tuning very stable. Classic Tele-style electronics, volume, tone, and 3-way switch, control two GFS Dream 180 humbucker pickups. The construction gets very interesting after that however. Just like the previous semi-hollow Tele, the top of this guitar comes from an 1889 Estey Pump Organ and sits on top of a 3-piece body that is locally sourced Walnut sandwiched between locally sourced Maple. This provides a stunning look on the back of the guitar that is simple but elegant.

Sound: 8

These pickups have bite! High output and high treble really helped this guitar cut through the mix in my opinion. Personally, they are a little too bright for me and I really had to dial the tone down a bit. While the semi-hollow double cut was light and full sounding, with acoustic-like properties, this feels way closer to a Les Paul. That Walnut and Maple in the body gives it some more heft than the Pine guitars from RWM. On the other hand, this guitar gives off some more natural sustain even if it is misses that full, chime of most thinline Tele-style guitars. Clean tones are ultra clear and articulate, but like I said, very bright and snappy. It makes a great guitar for some of those indie and alternative rock lead lines that seem to cut through waves of synths and bass.

Once I layered some distortion on top, this guitar came alive. The pickups already naturally pushed my tube amp, but this really got wonderful crunch tones with just a tube screamer. It also had that broken up, natural distortion feel where the harder you picked the strings or chords, the more violent the guitar sounded. You end up with a Tele that feels way more like a Les Paul, which gives this RWM creation some unique properties and cross over appeal. However, I prefer the more traditional thinline voicing myself.

Playability: 8.5

The fret work on this guitar was great, leading to smooth playing experience up and down the neck of the guitar. The light finish also prevents the Maple neck from ever feeling sticky. The Grover locking tuners didn’t hold up quite as well as some other models I’ve tried, but still got the job done. Much like an actual Les Paul, the G string just didn’t want to stay in tune for me. Otherwise, the tuning stability and reliability felt comfortably above average. With these RWM Guitars, I feel like the neck kind of takes a back seat to the tone woods and interesting pickup configurations. But to RWM’s credit, the action was excellent out of the box and I see no reason why this wouldn’t be a gig ready guitar in a matter of seconds.

Finish & Construction: 9

The reclaimed and locally sourced tone woods win the day again for RWM guitars. The same stunning, vintage wood from an 1889 Estey Organ sits on top of a chambered Maple/Walnut body. As you can see below, the Walnut sits between the Maple, giving the back an awesome aesthetic. The Maple is sourced from New Haven Connecticut, the pizza capitol of America for you uneducated folks out there. The Walnut comes from historic Main Street in Westport, Connecticut which is a rather gorgeous seaside town itself. Historical wood with character and a story is the main selling point here, and something that makes RWM Guitars stick out. Hardware, electronics, and finish all came out wonderfully as well. A thin gloss covers the old wood, letting the natural grain shine, so if that is something you look for in a guitar, look no further.

Value: 8

I’m a little bit torn with going into the value scores for these guitars. The construction, appearance, and feel is very much up to boutique standards, which makes $1500 seem on the cheap side for a non-mass produced, superb guitar. On the other hand, the pickups sound amazing but don’t do a ton to justify the price. I still think it grades out as a well above average value if you, the buyer, are going into it for the right reasons. If you want a guitar with character, unique pickup options, and a historical story to tell, RWM is probably making the cheapest guitars out there for you. Should you go into this expecting some type of master luthier boutique product you may be disappointed by not getting brand name pickups. As a Fender fanboy, I would generally see this is a solid investment for myself to get Les Paul tones in a package that fits my style and preferences. So ultimately, I’m giving it a major thumbs up!

Good for: Les Paul Fans, Indie and Alternative Rock Musicians, Telecaster Fans Tired Of The Same Old Thing, High Output Players

RWM Guitars Semi-Hollow Double Cutaway Review

A guitar build local to me crafts Fender-inspired gems from reclaimed wood

Cost: $1500.00 from rwmguitars.com

Check out my “60 Second Guitar Review”, exclusively for Ultimate-Guitar.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.6

RWM Guitars has been one of my favorite small builders since I came across their Instagram profile. Not only are these phenomenal guitars made local to me, in New England, but they are often made from reclaimed local woods. Each guitar looks and feels unique, with signs of aging not corrected. That means wormholes, historical damage, and knots are not filled in, but rather glossed over. This particular double cut take on the Thinline Tele features a Pine Wood body, made from trees along the Middletown, CT reservoir and a top that comes from a 1889 Estey’s pump organ. A Maple neck holds a Rosewood fretboard along the 24.75″ scale length guitar. The Pine body is dyed with an Orange tint, to beautifully contrast the natural finish on top. Gold GFS Sperzel-style locking tuners hold the strings wonderfully in tune, with some compensation to prevent the need for string trees. The pickups are also GFS, with a Retrotron Liverpool in the neck and a Lil Puncher XL in the bridge, giving a unique HH-type configuration. A 3-way selector switch, master volume and tone, and all gold hardware wrap up this unique, stunning guitar.

Sound: 8.5

I’m certainly biased because I love GFS pickups, but this guitar flat out sounds wonderful. I’m sure some would make a very valid argument that this guitar should have a higher priced pickup to justify the $1500 price tag. However, in my opinion I don’t feel this guitar’s tone is missing anything. The thinline body is very resonant, and provides a naturally warm and rich voice to each of the pickups. I’m actually shocked at how nice the clean tones are, with crystal clear note definition and a ton of that slap and sparkle that you’d expect from a Tele. The bridge pickup in particular sounded way closer to a Fender Tele than I expected from the GFS hot rail-style model. You could easily go from chick’n’pickin to Led Zeppelin with this lovely, unique take on the Telecaster.

Once some dirt was layered on I felt right at home. This guitar screamed with some Rat and Tube Screamer flavors added to the mix, and didn’t even feedback much unlike some thinlines I’ve played. I will say that a coil-split option would have been greatly appreciated on this guitar, especially to get some more atmospheric, indie-type sounds of the neck and middle positions. The sustain was pretty fun too with a big distortion pedal on top, as I really felt like this Tele could be a lead guitarists secret weapon. Overall, RWM has filled this ancient wooden guitar with a ton of fun and inspiring sounds that should feel right at home in a vintage Fender lover’s hands.

Playability: 9

One thing that really won me over with the RWM Semi-Hollow Double Cut is how comfortable it is to play. It’s got a vintage Fender-style neck that is smooth but never sticky, and surprisingly user friendly with that shorter scale length. I’m not sure why RWM opted to go with a Gibson-like 24.75″ scale length (maybe a nod to the Coronet??) but I’m a bigger fan of it than I thought I’d be. The tuning stability has been outright impressive and these GFS Sperzel-style locking tuners are the real deal. I know they might not be as expensive as other options, but they don’t feel or look cheap to me. This is a smooth playing instrument that also feels incredibly worn in, hats off to RWM Guitars for this one. For me, this is the kind of guitar you can tune at the beginning of the week and then pick up any day to play.

Finish & Construction: 9

I’m a sucker for the whole reclaimed wood thing. The Carmine Street Guitars documentary came out right as I was getting into the guitar modding/writing/reviewing world and I ate it up. Even if there is more fiction than fact to the whole “magic tone in the wood” mantra, I’m still a big fan. To me it adds a lot of artistic and intrinsic value. Recycling old wood into something new is an idea I will always support and RWM Guitars has done it wonderfully here. The decision not to fill the worm holes or scratches from the natural wood is actually something I appreciate. You end up with a guitar that isn’t relic’d but does have some dings and marks that give it character while still preserving killer build quality. Finish work and fret work and all the important stuff is excellent, just with some history preserved in there.

Value: 8

I think that pricing these at $1500 is a really good sweet spot, making them far more affordable than most other custom build, boutique guitars. Truth be told, I think brand name pickups from Lollar, or Seymour Duncan would definitely get a few of the more elitist buyers in but for a regularly gigging musician like myself, I use and trust GFS stuff regularly. However, the build quality, attention to detail, and tone woods more than justify the price. Overall, I feel there is a lot of character and back story to this guitar without an exorbitant price tag. It sounds great but feels and looks even better. If you’re looking for a custom built guitar with eye catching features and reclaimed woods, RWM Guitars is worth a strong look. I would have no reservations about ordering my own dream Telecaster from them.

Good for: Blues, Classic Rock, Fans of Carmine Street Guitars/Rick Kelly, Fans of Vintage Fenders

Epiphone Masterbilt Texan Acoustic Guitar Review

The acoustic guitar used by legendary musicians gets a modern electric-acoustic makeover

Cost: $699.00, for more details check out Epiphone.com.

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Musiciansfriend.com

Check out my 60 Second Guitar Review for Ultimate-Guitar.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.1

The acoustic guitar made famous by Paul McCartney and Peter Frampton, Epiphone’s Texan acoustic guitar isn’t just a cheap knockoff of a Gibson. It is one of Epiphone’s own designs that has been popular for some time, and was once a serious competitor to Gibson’s own models. The newest Texan is an acoustic-electric guitar, sporting a Fishman Sonicore pickup with Sonitone preamp system. You can plug right into the strap lock at the base of the guitar and rip through as many coffee house sets as you need to get a free coffee!

This model is the Antique Natural Aged finish, and it looks and feel like a broken in classic. Solid Mahogany back and sides hold a Solid Sitka Spruce top. A Mahogany neck and Indian Laurel fretboard give the guitar a 25.5″ scale length with 20 medium jumbo frets. Graph Tech’s NuBone nut and mother of pearl parallelogram inlays add a few more top notch features to the spec sheet. 3 on a side Wilkinson tuners lead the strings to a bone saddle and advanced jumbo belly bridge.

Sound: 8

I was incredibly impressed with the unplugged, traditional acoustic tones from the Texan. I prefer my acoustics to be pretty snappy and responsive, especially because I tend to dig into them pretty hard. The Texan did not let me down in that regard, with some real sparkle and resonance depending on how I picked/strummed the strings. Epiphone did a great job capturing that classic Dreadnought tone as well, creating a very full sound that is far richer than budget and entry-level acoustics. At the same time, this Texan doesn’t have quite the “magic” of a more expensive Gibson or Martin acoustic. However, in Epiphone’s defense, it’s really close for the money and likely due to the differences in tone woods selected to build with.

Once plugged in, the Texan quickly shows off one of its highlights. This thing is just a workhorse. It’s super comfortable and responsive to playing, making it great for live gigs or coffeehouse sessions. I’ve played the Sonitone pre-amp system on just about every acoustic-electric I’ve reviewed, but the Sonicore pickup is a first for me and I’m very impressed. This Epiphone Texan and its Sonicore pickup did a killer job amplifying in the natural tone of the guitar, not just electrifying it. A lot of the annoying buzzing I often find in this price range of acoustic-electrics was gone, which really got me excited about this as a live instrument. Overall, it’s a well above average sounding acoustic, and a good bargain for the price!

Playability: 9

I think the best thing about the Texan was just how fun it was to pick up and play. The fretwork was excellent, as was the finish on the back of the neck, which helped me glide around the fretboard with ease. It was also really well balanced in terms of neck to body weight ratio, meaning I never had to fight with the neck while playing it sitting down or standing up. Tuning stability was not a problem either, something I was very pleased with considering my own go-to acoustic’s issues. This is certainly a very gig-friendly acoustic-electric, and I get the sense it would feel right at home in a rock or blues setting. It would certainly be hard for this to disappoint anyone though, thanks to superb feel and action right out of the box.

Finish & Construction: 8

Overall, the Masterbilt Texan was an impressive specimen. There were really no flaws or issues that I could find on the model sent to me. The only construction criticism was that they didn’t use true top of the line tonewoods, like Rosewood instead of Indian Laurel. However, that’s also what keeps this really great sounding, reliable guitar under $1000. I’m also a big fan of the Aged Natural finish job here, it felt and looked like a worn in, well loved acoustic. That’s actually one of the major themes across all categories here: it feels worn in and reliable, like your favorite old acoustic guitar. Not much more I can say, I’m very happy with the guitar I held in my hands!

Value: 7.5

The $700 price tag is not exorbitant, and overall is an above average value. The Mahogany wood used and phenomenal set up are major highlights. But the Sonitone pre-amp system is commonly found in many acoustic-electrics that are far more affordable. I’m not sure if the Sonicore is a huge upgrade in of itself, but the same Sonitone system was in the far more affordable Orangewood acoustic-electrics I reviewed. So while the feel and natural sound of the guitar are a big improvement, I feel like I want better electronics on the spec sheet. On the other hand, this feels like acoustic really suited for electric guitar players, providing more classic rock feel than singer-songwriter vibe. Any Epiphone/Gibson electric guitar player should be quick to turn to the Masterbilt Texan if they’re looking for their first quality acoustic guitar.

Good for: Electric Guitar Players, Rock Players, Blues Players, Gigging Musicians, Fans Of Pricey Gibson Acoustic Guitars

Guild Guitars Starfire I SC Review

This company seriously impressed me with their superb Jetstar, will their newest hollowbody do the same?

Credit: Guild Guitars

Cost: $599.00, find out more on Guildguitar.com!

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Check out my “60 Second Guitar Review” of this wonderful Guild for Ultimate-Guitar.com!

Overview & Final Score: 7.8

Guild Guitars has made quite the comeback in recent years, thanks mainly to their Newark St line of guitars. The brand new Starfire I series of guitars slots right into the Newark St line, adding some exciting hollowbody options like the Starfire I SC in Seafoam Green I was sent on loan. This is a single cut, hollowbody guitar with a small solid black underneath the bridge. The Arched Maple back, sides, and top sport classy Ivory binding along the top and bottom of the guitar. A Maple neck holds an Indian Rosewood fretboard with 20 narrow tall frets, and a 24.75″ scale length. Guild’s Starfire I SC has a unique, “modern U” neck, that feels super fast and comfy, despite the vintage appearance. Two of Guild’s phenomenal HB-2 humbuckers each hold their own master volume and tone controls, as well as a push-pull coil split. Rounding out the nice feature list is Guild’s own take on the Bigsby, their Aluminum Vibrato Tailpiece that holds the strings opposite their Vintage 18 Open Gear Tuners.

Sound: 8

Even though the Starfire I SC is sporting my absolute favorite pair of Guild pickups, the sound doesn’s stack up to the Jetstar’s tone. And that’s okay, as they are vastly different instruments after all. On this hollowbody single cut, the pickups have a lot more sparkle and snap to them, but it comes at the cost of resonance in my opinion. The versatility was still pretty impressive, and I enjoyed jumping around the 3-way selector switch. The middle position gave a glassy, snappy, beautiful tone for fingerpicking songs in the jazz/pop/singer-songwriter area of the musical realm. With my Pro Co Rat layered on top, the bridge really opened up into that Green Day and Rancid territory of punk rock where many single cut hollowbodies have shined.

If you really crank up the distortion and volume, you do start to get that feedback and buzz you’d expect from a hollowbody. However, it was never unusable or offensive, making it a solid option for live gigging or recording nonetheless. The neck also had a quite nice, bluesy flavor to it, with warm, full tones pouring out that had me playing all sort of Frusciante-style riffs and chords. Versatility is the name of the game here with above average tones that are closer to really good “jack of all trades, master of none” territory.

Playability: 7

My biggest knock on the wonderful Guild Starfire I SC is the tuning stability. It’s just not great and the tuners feel a bit cheap. I’m not sure if it is the exact same hardware as on my Jetstar, but it seems to be missing that rock solid tuning stability, even when I don’t use the Bigsby. It’s not too bad, and is definitively useable for gigging musicians, I just think I was expecting more from it. However, this Starfire I’s neck is very comfortable, with solid finish work that never feels too sticky. Fretwork was fairly impressive as well, with the narrow tall frets actually feeling much better than their name implies. That’s usually how people describe old Mosrite-style guitars which weren’t exactly loved for their style of frets. However, this is a player’s guitars through and through. While the lack of a 22nd or 24th fret may bother some more adventurous players, I honestly didn’t notice that it only had 20 frets. This Guild Starfire I SC fits right into the wheelhouse of players looking for more rhythm-guitar type performance and will be incredibly reliable in that role.

Finish & Construction: 8

Seafoam green is one of my favorite colors for guitars, and Guild nailed it here just as they did on the Jetstar. The finish was well done, with no major flaws or errors. All I could really notice was some tooling marks or some type of small cuts along the finish in the interior of the f holes. Construction and overall build quality also felt sturdy and reliable, especially for the price. It certainly doesn’t feel like a premium instrument, based on the thicker finish with a little bit of stickiness. But the hardware is all well adjusted and feels solid, certainly gig ready. Guild’s own take on the Bigsby, the Aluminum Vibrato Tailpiece also seems like a very well made alternative to the always pricey brand name wiggle stick. Personally, this would be a great gigging instrument in my opinion thanks to the price, unique looks, and above average performance across all fields.

Value: 8

Overall, Guild has really done a great job in the value department once again. I’ve also seen these go for about $499 despite these being marked by Guild as $599, but either price is worth every penny. Especially considering this is approaching a beginner-level price point, you get a ton of guitar with enough quirks to inspire you as your playing evolves. Single cut hollowbodies also aren’t as prevalent at this price point either, which makes this an extra enticing option! It feels above average, sounds above average, and makes me want to pick it up and play. That all equates to great value in my book, and I’m very sad to see this guitar go back home.

Fender Player Series Mustang 90 Guitar Review

Surprisingly, this soapbar-loaded Mustang has completely filled the role of my Les Paul Junior and become a heavy favorite.

Credit: Fender

Cost: $599.99, find out more on Fender.com

Find your own using our Affiliate Links from Thomann.com, Reverb.com, and Musiciansfriend.com!

Check out my 60 Second Guitar Review for Ultimate-Guitar.com! A separate review for UG is coming soon!

Overview & Final Score: 8.4

I have been obsessed with this guitar since it was first announced earlier this year, so this is one of my most anticipated reviews, personally, from 2020. Fender’s newest addition to their Player Series, the new Mexican-made guitar line that focuses on more modern specs and designs, the Mustang 90 is quite the sight. The Aged Natural finish, pictured above, and the Seafoam Green are just out of this world Fender colors. I choose to go Aged Natural, with a Pau Ferro fretboard atop the 24″ scale length, Maple neck with C-shape. 22 medium jumbo frets are easy and comfortable to play on the short scale monster, with a hardtail Strat bridge and standard MIM Fender tuners. The MP-90 pickups provide killer looks and versatile tones, even with the simple master volume and tone controls plus 3-way selector switch. The lightweight body is made of Alder, with a gloss Polyester finish that is not lacking in shine.

Sound: 9

My love of Fender guitars is well known by this point, but even that bias rarely helps me find a Fender that perfectly captures the vibe and sound of my Gibson LP Junior. So when I say I’m thrilled and surprised at how these MP-90’s sound, I mean it. These pickups are mid-rich, and pack quite a bit of bark and bite. They can go from that vintage honk that Kieth Richards’ pulls from his Les Paul Junior to that biting, hissing punk sound from Johnny Thunders or Mick Jones. Better yet, when I plugged in overdrives and distortions, the neck pickup genuinely sang a lot clearer and with more sustain, than most neck pickups I’ve reviewed this year. You know I hate neck pickups, so if I’m impressed, it must sound really good.

The tones of this Mustang 90 are just so easy to shape with a good tube amp and a few overdrives, which gives it superb versatility in the right rock-centric rig. While I’m sure the Gibson P90 in my Les Paul Junior may be a tad clearer, this guitar does everything that guitar does and more for me. Better yet, it does it in what feels like a much better built package too. I’ll embed a ton of the clips I recorded with this guitar, but the sound to me is best described as fun and inspiring. It makes me want to pickup the guitar and rip through some punk power chords or solo over some improv loop.

Playability: 7

Fender’s Player Series has been plagued by a few setup issues and this Mustang 90 is not exempt. It’s nothing major, but tuning stability took a bit of time to dial in, thanks to a questionable string tree decision. The string tree comes really low, without the normal metal expander that raises the height of your strings. This makes the last two strings sit far lower, and approach the nut at a steeper angle than the others. Bends and big downstrokes on those chords quickly put the Mustang 90 out of tune. However, this was instantly rectified by adding that metal ring to raise the strings and lubricating the nut. It’s not ideal that you have to do that to a $600 guitar out of the box, but I will say it was the only real flaw on this guitar.

Fender did a great job with the neck on this Mustang 90, with a smooth, well-finished feel up and down the fretboard. The fretwork was very solid too, with no sharp edges or fret buzz to report. Once the string tree was dealt with the tuning stability improved from average-ish to above average too.

Finish & Construction: 9

The looks are pretty hard to argue with here. Fender’s Mustang 90 is just gorgeous, especially with this aged natural finish and tortoise shell pickguard. Even if this doesn’t do it for you, the Burgundy Mist Metallic or Seafoam Green should be pretty eye catching. The finish came out great on this Player Series guitar, with no chips, cracks, or signs of laziness in the factory. I was really impressed with the Satin finish on the neck and the overall glossiness of the body. The hardware was also really well installed, with no signs of tooling marks or improperly aligned features. Sure, the decision with the string tree was weird, but I ragged on that enough already and the fact of the matter is that every other part of this guitar feels closer to a USA-made Fender than not. The Fender Mustang 90 is just a well built guitar.

Value: 8.5

For awhile now, Fender’s Mexican-made guitars have been one of the best values on the market. This Mustang 90 doesn’t break that trend at all, providing awesome looks and sounds for a price that is starting to look a lot more entry level than it did when I was a kid. As guitar prices rise, the $500-600 level of MIM Fender stuff continues to be a great value and stands the test of time. Now I’m obviously stating more opinion than fact here, but this gets extra value points because it is the affordable LP Junior I always wanted. It’s a resonant hunk of wood with a buzzsaw-sounding P90 in the bridge. The shorter scale feels great too, and is now something I personally think I’m going to be looking for more and more. Fender killed it with this one, something they’ve been doing all year with through the Player and Paranormal series guitars. I’d argue this is probably my favorite Fender of 2020, even if it isn’t a picture perfect guitar out of the box.

Good for: Punk Rock, Classic Rock, Players With Small Hands, Les Paul Junior Fans, Versatile Players, Any Mustang/Shortscale Fender Fan

Guitar Lesson Review: Jon MacLennan Essential Blues Guitar System

I go back and try to learn the blues basics I should have learned almost 10 years ago as a beginner.

You don’t often see my writing about online guitars lessons here, but that’s not without reason. In fact, I actually cover the best online guitar lessons in great detail over at Guitarniche.com. In addition to individually reviewing each website, I also compiled my findings to rank each site and tell you where the best guitar lessons are on in the internet! However, recently I decided to dig into something that I actually wanted to try out for myself and got introduced to Jon MacLennan along the way.

Jon has just released his own lesson site, focusing on intensive blues training course that teaches you everything from the basic chord shapes to turnarounds and scales. Growing up playing punk rock it would be generous to say that my blues technique and skills are passable. So I decided to do a bit of a more unique, personal review as I learn along from Jon’s new Essential Blues Guitar System.

About The Instructor

Jon MacLennan has no shortage of guitar teaching skills and expertise thanks to his current gig as a Fender Play instructor. And if I may so, Fender Play was the 2nd highest ranked lesson site in my roundup for Guitarniche.com, so you know his lessons are going to be good! Aside from that huge resume booster, Jon has over 20 years of guitar experience, songwriting, producing, and instruction in the Los Angeles area.

Who Is The Essential Blues Guitar System For?

Spoiler alert: I know how to play the guitar. So usually when I’m reviewing guitar lesson sites I’m approaching it as if I was 13 again and learning how to play Green Day and The Clash songs. But what struck me so positively about the Essential Blues Guitar System was how enjoyable it was to follow along as an 11 year guitar playing vet. Of course it was super beginner friendly, with detailed descriptions, definitions, and instruction of each chord shape, finger placement, and musical note. But I sat down to do a few lessons the other day and got sucked into an hour and a half of following along. I even finally had the discipline to finally learn chord shapes I had spent years modifying into lazy variations (looking at you B7 chord). Jon really did a good job making this appeal to a wide variety of guitarists, ranging from true beginner to undisciplined young adult punk guitarists like. I would say that this isn’t a true “beginner’s” course, because the Essential Blues Guitar System sets out to teach you the blues, not necessarily the guitar. If expects you to have the bare minimum skill to hold a few chords together and play a few pentatonic scales, so maybe start on Fender Play and then move your way over here if Blues guitar is your true passion.

What I Love About These Online Blues Guitar Lessons

There are many great features to highlight within this system, but perhaps my favorite is the lesson topics. You learn not only the essential blues “toolbox” so to speak, such as turnarounds, shuffles, bass lines, etc…But you also learn how some of the greatest blues players of all time actually play their instruments and developed their styles. Eric Clapton chord shapes, Jimmy Page triplets, Robert Johnson turnarounds, it’s all there. Even though I know so many of these riffs or styles, it serves as a sort of blues and guitar history lesson that is super entertaining and helpful. Much like some of the best guitar lessons on the internet, the Essential Blues Guitar System really entraps you into the culture, legacy, and story telling aspect of the blues, all without long winded rants by the teacher. When you’re watching the videos, it’s almost entirely playing and demonstrations while Jon speeds up or slows down the lesson, with helpful close ups of finger positions or picking attack.

Checking Out The User Interface

Because these lessons aren’t designed with true, new beginners in mind, there aren’t all of the features you’d find in Fender Play or Justin Guitar that make learning so easy for someone who hasn’t picked up a guitar before. The tab and notation doesn’t automatically stream across your stream along to the video, but personally I didn’t mind the lack of tab. You can of course download the notation and tablature as a separate pdf or get just the audio of the lesson if you want to take it on the go and listen to an MP3 version. All of this comes included with your one-time purchase too. What you do get is a sort of stripped down, no frills lesson that I personally prefer. Some may say that they demand a built in tuner or metronome or ear interval training for a subscription service, but the Essential Blues Guitar System isn’t here to teach you guitar, it is here to teach you how to be a proper blues man or woman. Overall, I’m a huge fan of the lesson-video interface and layout that Jon has created!

Essential Blues Guitar System

Final Thoughts On The Essential Blues Guitar System

The Essential Blues Guitar System costs a hefty $79.99 one time fee, but I will say I think you get a ton of value and included content, all with unlimited access over time. The 4 chapters contain over 43 lessons that culminates with you putting it all together and building a solid skill set from which to write songs, improvise solos, and hit a stage (after quarantine ends of course!). I would honestly say the $80 is more than worth it if you have a really solid base of guitar skills and really want to hone in on blues playing, which in my experience took far more dedication than just diving into the modern rock/metal scene as a young student. I’m avoiding putting any sort of quantifiable rating values here yet because I have a big online blues guitar lesson roundup coming down the pipe, but Jon MacLennan’s Essential Blues Guitar System is a very worthy competitor to say the least. The lessons are awesome and plenty detailed and Jon clearly knows what he is doing, these are no doubt some of the best guitar lessons on the internet right now.

Reverend Rick Vito Signature Soulshaker Electric Guitar Review

Will my first experience with a Reverend guitar leave me wanting more?

Credit: Reverend Guitars

Cost: $1599.00, find the Reverend of your dreams on Reverb! Or visit Reverendguitars.com for more!

Check out my “60 Second Guitar Review” for Ultimate-Guitar.com!

Overview & Final Score: 9.1

I have waited forever for a Reverend guitar to make its way to me and it turns out it was well worth the wait. Their signature model for Rick Vito, the Soulshaker was just released in a new finish, Chronic Blue, that I have the honor of showing off. What you have here is a singlecut guitar with a Korina body and neck that provides a light, comfortable feel. The body of the Reverend Soulshaker boasts two proprietary humbuckers with the custom pickup covers as well as a Bigsby and rolling bridge pairing. Master volume and tone are located next to a 3-way switch that is in such a better position than the standard location. The body also features crazy nice checkerboard binding around the chambered Korina construction.

Moving to the neck side of things you’ll find an Ebony fingerboard with a 12″ radius. Reverend’s pin-lock tuners provide superb tuning control across the 22 medium-jumbo frets. This Reverend Soulshaker is a a 24.75″ scale length guitar with a medium oval neck shape that sits nicely in your hands.

Sound: 9

These proprietary pickups can sing! I’m so impressed with the clean tones from this Rick Vito signature, it goes from bluesy to jazzy and I could get super atmospheric with it once I layered delay and reverb and chorus on top. This Soulshaker can just really sing, with crystal clear note definition and wonderfully balanced pickups. I’m always surprised how few singlecut guitars actually come with well balanced volume between the neck and bridge, but Reverend nailed it here for sure.

While this guitar doesn’t feel designed for super high gain playing, the distortion tones were very pleasant and fun. For classic punk and alt-rock tones that I love, I had no trouble using this where I may use a Les Paul. In fact, many of the tones were superior to the Les Pauls I recently reviewed. As you crank up the gain it doesn’t keep up quite enough to be someone’s metal guitar, but neither me, Rick Vito, or anyone buying this are probably looking for it to do that. Reverend and Vito absolutely nailed the classic rock and pop tones from these humbuckers, as they feel like they are missing the frequencies I always roll off of a LP. But for someone who played in Fleetwood Mac, I would hope the guitar could get those sounds!

Playability: 9

I was really blown away by how comfortable this guitar was to play. The neck sits so nicely in your hand with the medium oval shape that feels a little slimmer to me than I expected. It never gets too chunky or slow, with a well built, smooth feel up and down the fretboard. The fret work was also all great, as it should be at this price point. This Soulshaker perfectly encapsulates how far overseas guitar production has come, it feels far superior to some USA-made instruments I’ve reviewed this year. The tuning stability was also great, with the roller bridge and locking tuners letting you really work the bigsby arm with ease. It stays in tune and has a super soft touch, letting you add vibrato or really swell into dives without worrying about tuning. Overall, it’s ultra playable in my book.

Finish & Construction: 9.5

Probably the best part of this whole Soulshaker is the feel, look, and build quality. As I said, it sets a high bar for overseas made guitars and would easily cost double the price for the same quality to be made in the US. The new Chronic Blue finish is light and fun, while the checkerboard binding got many comments across all the clips and pics I posted of it. There really isn’t any flaw I can point out, with solid finish work and great setup on the neck. While this is the higher end of Reverend’s price points, it seems they have build quality and quality control down super well. I have no reservations about taking this into the studio or onto the stage, especially with such well balanced pickups and reliable tuning stability.

Value: 9

At first I was tempted to think this was overpriced for an import guitar, but then I realized that this feels better, plays better, and sounds better than the other $1500 singlecut I just reviewed. Not naming names of course but you know who. It has more features, better tuning stability, and really sensitive pickups. This even comes with a stylish, white hard case to the other options nicely padded gig bag. I’m very impressed and if I had this for my previous LP roundup, we definitely would have had a different winner. This Rick Vito Soulshaker is fun, ultra functional, and just a little bit quirky. I’d say it’s worth almost every penny all things considered.

Good for: Blues, Jazz, Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Low Gain Players, Singlecut Fans & Players