Is The Squier Classic Vibe Starcaster Worth All The Hype It Received?

I finally get my hands on a Starcaster, a guitar I’ve wanted since Squier and Fender re-launched it in 2019.

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I’ve wanted a Starcaster for years. Actually, it’s essentially been since I watched the recorded performance of The Killers at Royal Albert Hall in my teens. Dave Keuning’s mastery of the Starcaster always impressed me. The Starcaster is the perfect mix between a Fender and Gibson, at least in my eyes. With the dual humbuckers and volume/tone control of a Gibson ES-335, but the Fender aesthetic, build quality, and bright top end.

Allegedly, these Classic Vibe Starcasters are just the same Modern Player Starcasters they released back in the 2010s, but re-branded as Squier. That makes sense, as those Fender ones were also made overseas, as opposed to Mexico or California. In fact, I suspect they were made in the very same Indonesian Squier factory. So I’m basically getting the same guitar, but for sub-$500 I could have had years ago for closer to $700+.

But now that I have the guitar in my hands, after a very impulsive Black Friday purchase, does it live up to all the hype? And trust me, there has been lots of hype about these guitars since their release.

Well, yeah. It’s actually a great guitar.

I will say, the pickups leave a little bit to be desired, but at the price point, they sound fantastic and the Classic Vibe Starcaster feels like a steal. The playing experience is fantastic, with a fast, quality neck that so far has no buzz, high frets, or action issues at all. Tuning stability is also sort of impressive, definitely better than lots of higher end Gibson’s I’ve played. The Squier wide range humbuckers are perfectly fine, full of jangle and chime, and capable of taking distortion really well. I can imagine myself upgrading them to maybe the new Fender CuNiFe wide range pickups and then never needing to change a thing on this guitar again. I think with that change, you’d have a life-time player here. It’s that good otherwise out of the box.

This Starcaster is a great example of the value of the Classic Vibe series. They are good products, good enough to rely on for gigging or studio recording, without breaking the bank. Do they have all the high end bells and whistles? Nope, that’s why they are less than $500, but they are highly functional, generally look fantastic in terms of the classic Fender aesthetic, and are easily repaired or modified to your liking. It’s not perfect, but this Starcaster was worth every penny and then some.

So in this highly subjective, non-technical review, I can confirm these guitars deserve a lot of the hype they got since 2019. It’s affordable enough to add on a whim as a quirky guitar unlike any others you own. But it’s also fantastic enough and reliable enough to use everyday as player’s instrument.

Check out my quick and simple demo below to hear how the Starcaster sounded running into my rig, featuring the Universal Audio Ruby and Volt2 Audio Interface.

A Crisp, Crunch Box For Your Bass From Summer School Electronics

Summer School Electronics updates their beloved Gus Drive for bass players.

Fresh off the madness of Black Friday, Summer School Electronics announced and released their newest pedal, the Gus Plus.

The Gus Plus is their Gus Drive pedal, but with a clean blend knob added to it. This makes it ideal for bass players, who can mix in the right amount of clean, unaffected signal to maintain clarity, presence, and proper bass EQ.

The Gus circuitry is inspired by the DOD250 and MXR Distortion+, a pedal archetype that’s had a bit of a renaissance recently. Dual pedal formats were released by Gear Ant and Pelican Noise Works, while JHS gave the pedal a major makeover and publicity boost as well. For what it is worth, the Gus Drive is not only a favorite of mine but was also a highly rated review from 2021.

Check out my demo of the Gus Plus below, as it sits between my Squier CV Precision Bass and Fender Rumble Bass Amp. Nothing too fancy, but you can hear a good amount of versatility and how touch sensitive the Gus circuitry is.

And when I rolled off the tone knob on my bass, this crazy sub-synth tone popped out of nowhere as well. Thanks to Mark from Summer School for the tip on that application, it was a blast.

This pedal is perfect for the type of music I generally play on bass, ranging from punk to alternative rock. In the clip I shared on Instagram, I was working through one of the best bass progressions out there, a song called Fake Tales Of San Francisco by the Arctic Monkeys.

The Gus Plus can provide a nice little punch of volume and grit, or go full on distortion with the turn of just one knob. I usually played with a nearly 50% balance of overdriven and clean signal, as I think that best preserved the bass tone I’m going to often emulate. Punchy, dirty, and in your face. Anyway you are partial to, the Gus Plus can help get you there! Another pedal worth a long look from Summer School Electronics!

Go grab a Gus Plus from their website while their sale is still going on!

Fox River Devices Autumn Drive Is Their First In A Line Of Seasonal Gain Stages

A new brand, a new pedal, and four seasonal takes on drive pedals start now with Autumn.

One of my favorite aspects of running this blog is that I can cover new and upcoming brands that most of you probably wouldn’t otherwise find. Sure, I do review Fender, PRS, Walrus, Strymon, and other big name brands too. But helping to get pedals from Summer School Electronics, Fish Circuits, and others out into the world is always a joy. Up next in that series of new companies we have Fox River Devices, who are currently running a kickstarter for their seasonal overdrive series.

This line of pedals focuses on taking some familiar drive circuits, but putting their own spin on them to match each seasonal weather change, and how it might affect your playing. For example, the Autumn pedal we will discuss here has the most versatility in terms of overdrive “color”. Based on the changing colors, weather, and temperatures of the fall, it does a little bit of everything. Meanwhile, the gain stage that will launch for spring will be transparent, crisp, and light to match the weather themes. See what Fox River Devices is going for here?

My initial reaction upon plugging it in was that it doesn’t work quite like other overdrives/distortions I’ve played before. It didn’t immediately smack me in the face, as there wasn’t this huge volume or gain increase, even with the knobs near noon. Instead, it took a lot of carefully setting the knobs to coax out different sounds.

The Autumn drive is versatile for sure, but just not in the way you think. You really need to crank both the gain and volume knobs to attain those high gain sounds. Otherwise, you get a pedal that adds more color and depth to your tone, without volume or overdrive really breaking through the mix. Essentially, I found that I couldn’t rely on this as a sort of boost or traditional low drive pedal that adds sparkle. It will add sparkle, but only once you move that volume knob all the way up. The darkness knob adds a nice bass presence and is almost RAT-like in its ability to filter high end. Using it in conjunction with the volume knob opens up a lot of possibilities for adding that shine and shimmer back to your drive sound.

The reason I harp on this unique gain and volume structure is because I think people will plug it in expecting it to be like another RAT, Tube Screamer, or other pedals. And it isn’t quite that simple. You gotta dig around a bit, but there are some awesome sounds hidden in this box!

Because this is a kickstarter campaign, it appears you can’t just scroll to a website and hit the purchase button. So pricing is a bit vague, however it seems it if you support the endeavor at $100 or more, you end up with at least one of the seasonal drive series. If you donate $300 though, you get all four pedals, which seems like a steal to me. Anyway you slice it, it seems more affordable now than ever to grab one of these handmade drive pedals or secure a future seasonal flavor that is more to your liking.

Overall, I enjoy the Autumn, but feel it takes a bit of time to dial in without quite as much of the versatility I’d like to see. Perhaps I’m also just not as attuned to dialing in asymmetrical clipping overdrives like this. I’m curious to see what the winter shapes up as, hopefully crushing and brutal and dark, before a lighter, more transparent spring? Still, for just over $100 per donation, this is no doubt an incredible value to get your hands on a Fox River Devices pedal.

Pedals For A Cause: Electric Love Pedals Fund Breast Cancer Research

100% of proceeds from this pedal brand will go directly to help combat breast cancer.

When we talk about guitar pedals, and guitar gear in general, we’re often worked up in a frenzy of aggressive comments, stubborn opinions, and subjective views. All of those minor arguments of importance are dwarfed by the ever present importance of cancer, and in this case, specifically breast cancer. Well, Ben Carlin and his new brand, Electric Love Pedals are doing something about breast cancer.

Electric Love Pedals will be donating 100% of the profits from their sales to the Play For P.I.N.K foundation, which is dedicated to giving people with breast cancer longer lives and better life outcomes through fundraising for breast cancer research. This is a topic near and dear to Carlin’s heart, as his own wife was previously diagnosed.

These pedals don’t just do good for the world, but they also sound great, as my friend Ryan from Gear Fever recently showed.

The three pedals are a Triangle Big Muff-based fuzz, a Bluesbreaker-influenced overdrive, and a delay pedal inspired by the Puzzle Sounds Deep Blue. Grab them via Electric Love’s Reverb page ASAP as there are a limited number of these handbuilt effect pedals. And for the record, that is NOT a Reverb affiliate link, we’ll let all the potential income stay with Electric Love!

Now here are some great demos for you to enjoy!

Is This The Frankenstein Of Gain Pedals? Check Out This Half Tube Screamer, Half Rat

An idea that popped into my head has turned into a crazy cool pedal from Summer School Electronics.

I know what you’re thinking, another Summer School Electronics review on this website? Well too bad, because this one is basically as close to getting a signature pedal as I’ll get. What started off as a sort of crazy idea in my head has turned into a crazy cool pedal in real life. The Science Fair is half Tube Screamer, half Rat distortion, with a blend knob that lets you mix and match the two circuits.

Both of them are running parallel to each other, with independent gain and tone on each side. You can blend them in different combinations, creating all sorts of mid-boosted distortion, or adding some real bite and fizz to overdrive. Turn the blend knob all the way to one side or the other to use the pedal as just a great sounding Rat or Tube Screamer.

To me, this pedal is incredibly convenient for my studio purposes. I not only can generate and experiment with a ton of cool new parallel drive sounds, but I also now have both a Rat and Tube Screamer at my feet anytime I need them. All without taking up two pedals spaces on my board too.

Grab your own Science Fair from Summer School Electronics!

The Science Fair has really exceeded my expectations too, as this is definitely one of Summer School’s finest builds. Paired with the Snow Day Delay, they’ve now released two ambitious, and creative projects within barely over a year of existence really?

A lot of the tonal changes in the Science Fair are subtle, sure it absolutely nails the classic Tube Screamer or Rat applications. But you can really use the two parallel EQ sections to flavor your sound in not so obvious ways. One thing I’ve done a lot is use more brightness on the TS side of things, while rolling tone down on the Rat side. This lessens the harshness of the distortion treble (a common issue with Rats), but still sharpens the overall sound up a bunch thanks to the mids and highs of the TS.

These are two of my favorite and most used pedals, and I’m so thrilled they brought this idea to life. It’s a creative, flexible gain stage that will definitely inspire a lot of tone tweaking and some really cool guitar tones too. Even better, it’s still under $200, with a $164.99 price tag that isn’t cheap, but is certainly affordable in the boutique, small batch pedal world. Quite frankly, it’s just not overpriced or inflated like a lot of the other trendy pedals I’ve checked out in the past.

Check the demo below and let me know what you think, because I think this is a must try pedal from 2022!

Check out our other reviews of the Summer School lineup!

Meet Fish Circuits And Their Model One Overdrive

Check out this new Orange-inspired gain stage hand built in Montreal, Quebec.

Learn more or grab your own from Fish Circuits website!

Fish Circuits is the newest kid on the block when it comes to boutique overdrives, though their offering is quite a bit more eye catching than most Instagram fodder I scroll through. But after digging a little deeper, I was quickly impressed with the specs and tonal fingerprint of the Model One, Fish Circuits’ inaugural pedal.

Based on the popular “citrus-colored amp” tone, this is a fuzzstortion pedal that can go from light breakup to nearly full on fuzz, thanks to flexible controls. You have standard gain and volume controls, plus a control knob for the high end EQ. Two toggles enhance control, one goes from a lower gain mode with lots of volume (n) to a more distorted, compressed, cranked-amp like side (b).

Lastly, the Body toggle switch gives you three options for how much low end cuts through the mix. A lot, medium, and a little is basically how I thought about it. All that is packed into an enclosure reminiscent of a early pedal designs with a bright orange coloring that catches the eyes. Not bad for a first pedal!

But What Does It Actually Sound Like?

This pedal absolutely exceeded expectations for me. It’s a bit clunky for some people who want a neat, tidy board, thanks to the large, heavy duty enclosure. But I love it, it feels like it can take a beating and has a total vintage vibe to it. I had endless fun dialing in tones, and barely even needed to touch the 3 control knobs to stay entertained. The two modes are both very different and very useful, think a Vox AC30 on steroids, in the same vein as some of the Orange amplifiers. It has that big saturated, high gain tone that could go toe to toe with a Marshall or Rockerverb, but cleans up into a chime-rich, jangle machine like an AC30 or ADH30.

You can use the body toggle switch to go from bass rich tones, to a more even round sound, all the way up to treble rich heaven. You get real differences in sounds, not just slight tweaks. There’s a good range of sweep on the control knobs as well, though they definitely are for more fine tuning of the sound you land on. This pedal can serve as a serious Orange-in-a-box option for those with low wattage, quiet amps or clean pedal platforms.

Simply put, the Model One can solve a lot of problems for you, and seems to play equally nice with digital amps and real live tube amps in my experience. It covers a ton of ground, and will stick out in a very positive way from the crowd of overdrive pedals. I’m very impressed with how Fish Circuits went about constructing the controls (a mix of toggles and knobs), not something you see in a lot of inaugural pedal releases.

Would I Recommend It?

Yeah, I really would. It’s got some quirk, cool controls, and a wide range of good sounds. I’m not going to lie and say it is revolutionary, because it isn’t. But it serves a good purpose and can bring a lot of gain versatility to your board.

It’s also not particularly expensive considering the quality and feature set. It’s $250 CAD, which roughly converts to $187 USD based on current exchange rates. That’s still expensive for sure, but it is not far from the norm for boutique gain stages. Take for example the $200+ USD price tag of many popular and well regarded pedals like the 1981 DRV.

Fish Circuits and the Model One should definitely be on your radar for high gain tones and amp-like chime that will nail most classic British guitar sounds. I’m digging it, and think it serves a great purpose, even if it isn’t revolutionary and groundbreaking.

What The Heck Is This Guitar From Might Be Famous?

This affordable Strat-Tele hybrid certainly sticks out of a crowd, but is it any good?

Visit the Might Be Famous website for more details, specs, and purchasing.

Very rarely are there guitar brands (or shapes) that I’ve never heard of before. In this case, both the brand and design were very new to me, but nonetheless intriguing. Meet the Might Be Famous guitar, it’s a guitar I would probably have given a name to, but currently it is described on their website as a “white electric guitar”.

What it actually is is a Fender-style guitar that has the top horn of a Stratocaster as the lower horn, and the top side of a Telecaster. Otherwise, you have a Strat-like bridge, input jack, control layout, and HSS configuration of Alnico pickups.

Pawlownia wood makes up the body, with a Maple neck and fretboard holding 22 frets attached. The nut is a bone nut, with a 25.5″ scale length as well. I kind of actually dig the quirky headstock too, which is almost reminiscent of something you’d see on a Japanese import from the ’60s (think Harmony, Tiesco, etc…).

So Is It Any Good?

Overall, this is a fine guitar for $200. It is playable, there’s no major issues that prevent you from actually enjoying the guitar thankfully. So the good news is, you’re definitely getting a functional, usable instrument, unlike many ultra-affordable guitars I’ve reviewed.

The neck and middle pickup were surprisingly smooth and articulate. It felt very natural and Strat-like, not too dissimilar from a Classic Vibe Squier Strat of significantly higher price. The bridge humbucker and the 2nd position (bridge + middle pickup) were a different story. Whatever humbucker they selected for the bridge here is far too muddy, and feels kind of out of place compared to how nice the neck/middle sounds were. Likewise, that in-between position is so thin and tinny, not at all like the normal chime you’d hear. So sonically, it was a mixed bag. I will say, a new set of pickups would do wonders for this guitar.

In terms of build quality and set up, I wasn’t really disappointed by this unnamed Might Be Famous instrument. The neck is thin, and actually is kind of comfy. I’d recommend a set up for sure to iron out a few high frets or sharp fret ends, but the action wasn’t bad, and fret buzz was limited. Overall, that’s very encouraging for beginners or gigging musicians who are looking for an affordable alternative to HSS Strats.

At this price, you have to understand you will not get a flawless guitar. Instead, you just have to judge if any of the flaws here prevent you from actually using or enjoying the instrument. Fortunately in this case, they do not. But if you’re interested in making this guitar truly reach its full potential, a pickup/wiring change is necessary, as is a bit of a touch up to the playability. Upgrading the tuners or bridge would go a long way to improve tuning stability as well, which was on the border of fine/not fine.

The Final Word

This offering from Might Be Famous is a very interesting guitar any way you slice it. It’s not perfect, with some low quality sounds from the H side of the HSS configuration, suspect tuning stability, and a few high frets. But overall, it is playable, functional, and enjoyable in other ways. I’d say it is best suited for someone who wants to take on a unique mod project, or a cash strapped beginner or who needs a functional guitar that won’t break the bank.

It’s something that is far more appealing than another Glarry Strat copy, and I’d like to see what would happen if they sunk a little bit more time into this model. No need to go out of your way to avoid it, but definitely know what you’re getting when you order this Might Be Famous guitar.

Caline’s Got A New Line Of Pedals, Are They Worth Checking Out?

Caline is usually my go-to affordable pedal brand, will the new line keep that trend going?

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Caline has been making my favorite cheap pedals on the market for some time now. The Caline Lucky 7 is a staple of many of my rigs, demos, and original music. It’s cheap, has lasted for years, and has a huge variety of quirky sounds in it. While it may not nail all classic modulation, it’s like a lo-fi vibe machine. Then I fell in love with the Caline Brigade and Devilfish as well, with the Brigade really becoming a quick favorite OD of mine for a while. So when they let me know something new was around the corner, I was pretty pumped.

Enter the G Series, a huge lineup of new pedals in durable yet smaller enclosures. Not quite mini pedals, but definitely more board-friendly than your standard size enclosure, the G Series seems set to retail for around $50 USD.

I was able to check out two of them thanks to Caline, the Barn Owl Reverb and Chamecho Delay. The Barn Owl is a big, hulking ambient reverb, that borders on shimmer at times. The Chamecho is a standard analog delay, with warm repeats and some fun self oscillating madness too. The G Series so far seems to be a lineup of all ultra essential pedal styles.

Both the Barn Owl and Chamecho proved to be just that, providing really solid and high fidelity tones, even if they were not super versatile or novel in any way. You’re not getting these to replace an Astral Destiny or Boss Space Echo. But if you need a warm, classic analog delay on a budget, this pedal can absolutely go toe to toe with something like the MXR Carbon Copy. Likewise, the Barn Owl provides haunting, swelling reverb that fits in nicely alongside pedals twice or thrice the cost. They’re really good at doing a few specific things, and if that’s all you are looking for from pedals, there’s no need to shell out for boutique, trendy alternatives.

They also seem to be built like tanks, with a good weight to them and solid enclosure construction. These are well built cheap pedals that will take far more of a beating than the plastic-like Musiclily Analog Delay I tried.

For $50, these are great pedals for a beginner or a gigging musicians who needs to stick to a budget. They cover the basics, and they do it well, even if the cartoonish aesthetic is a bit immature for some tastes. Overall, Caline continues to impress me in the budget pedal realm, and the G Series looks no different.

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Check out my Ultimate-Guitar review too

My Least Favorite Guitars I’ve Ever Reviewed

Not to be confused with the worst guitars I’ve reviewed, instead the ones that didn’t inspire me regardless of quality.

This list is a reflection of instruments I just never connected with, even if they are objectively good, well made, popular, or a great value deal. They may have flaws, they may be flawless, it doesn’t matter, they just didn’t inspire much creativity once I plugged them in.

I know some may see this is as a hit piece, but it is not. Instead, I want to add context to my reviews, and move away from simply giving things a number that represents quality. I like almost every piece of gear I touch, and most of it objectively deserves a good score. It does what it advertised, or it comes in excellent shape, it stays in tune, so how can I give it a bad score?

So instead, here are the guitars that just didn’t make a lasting impression on me after weeks, months, or years. They’re not bad, but if you like my opinions, preferences, and approaches with gear, you might want to avoid them.

Gibson Les Paul Studio 2020

I know people will call this Gibson slander, but the truth is that their “baseline” guitar offerings are just very bland. The Studio is supposed to be the most affordable USA-made Gibson, and it just feels like a hollow shell of a Les Paul. Costing nearly the same as the superb Eastman I reviewed, it just didn’t have the premium feel, rich pickups, or attention to detail of the SB59. When Gibson is good, they are so, so good. When they try to keep prices down, it’s a firm “meh” from me.

Silvertone Model 1478 Reissue

I wanted to like this guitar so so much more. On paper, any quirky old pawnshop guitar is exactly up my alley. I do think I probably just got a lemon, and I want to clarify the guitar was NOT a disaster. It was surely average, not overpriced, and had some amazing features. I just didn’t fall in love as quickly as I should have. I suspect it was the action and fret buzz, which was a surprise to me (and the distributor who challenged/denied my claims after the fact). I bet any one of these is a fantastic guitar, just not the one that ended up in my hands, and for all I know, it could have been because of weather/climate control when shipping. Suffice to say, I’d love to give this guitar another go and see if it can re-spark my interest!

Vintage Icon Series V65

Vintage is a guitar brand I so badly want to get behind, but just couldn’t connect with. Both of the guitars I reviewed, especially the V65, just felt almost toy-ish compared to other guitars in their price range. I felt more at home on Squier, Harley Benton, or other brands. I think it is partially because of the thin, heavily lacquered necks, which is just a personal preference of mine to avoid. Again, this is not a bad guitar, it just didn’t really click for me as a true JM-alternative despite stunning good looks and a great price tag. A pickup swap would probably go a long way on improving this guitar as well with any money you saved from purchasing it.

Guitar Review Three Piece: Quick Hits On Three Guitars

Short write ups of three guitars I had the chance to review this year for Ultimate-Guitar!

And go find your next guitar on Reverb or Amazon using these links to help me continue to review gear!

Fender “Hitmaker” Stratocaster UG Review

This was a tough one to record while I was in between moving out of one house into another, but don’t let that distract you from how awesome this guitar was. I know people will argue it was overpriced or just a collector’s piece, but the neck and body on this Strat were unbelievably comfortable. This was truly one of the best paying experiences I’ve had with a guitar in a while. Pricey, self-indulgent, but a true player’s guitar that should be on stage every night This “Hitmaker” Stratocaster was truly a hit from Fender.

Learn More At Fender

Moon Guitars Moon Burn UG Review

Not to be outdone by the “Hitmaker”, Moon Guitars loaned me this absolute beast of a guitar, the Moon Burn. Part Explorer-Part RD-Part Firebird, I loved everything about this quirky but highly functional instrument. Beautiful sounding pickups (with coil splits) and superb feel, tuning stability, and action. Also, bonus points for a company who makes truly unique and innovative designs AND doesn’t charge you an arm and a leg for it. I think this guitar sold for just over $2000? Absurd value that far outclasses a similarly priced Gibson.

Visit Moon Guitars For More

PRS S2 Standard 22UG Review

While the other two guitars were superb instruments who will be featured very high up during our end of year review, this PRS checks in as very good, but not necessarily spectacular. It’s a workhorse, perfect for the punk rock music I love to play and write, and checks all the major boxes for playability, sound, and feel. Was it a work of art akin to the last two? Nope, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s well under $2000, easily accessible through most retailers, and sounds really great with overdrive and distortion. Great alternative to a Les Paul/SG/similar style of guitar. More good work from PRS and maybe their best piece of punk-ish gear yet!

Visit PRS Guitars For More