New For 2021: PRS SE Custom 24-08 Review

With up to 8 pickup combinations and stunning finishes, PRS adds a truly versatile guitar to their affordable SE line.

Credit: PRS

Cost: $TBD from PRSguitars.com and Reverb.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.6 out of 10

That’s right, this review is going live the same day this guitar was unveiled to the world thanks to the wonderful people at PRS guitars. They absolutely started 2021 off with a bang, packing 8 distinct pickup configurations into this dual humbucking SE Custom 24. You get a Maple body with a Flame Maple veneer in this gorgeous Eriza Verde (a new finish for 2021) alongside their beloved Vintage Sunburst finish as well. It’s a 25″ scale length guitar, in typical PRS tradition, with 24 frets on the Maple “wide-thin” neck with a Rosewood fingerboard. The body carve is their gorgeous and comfortable shallow violin carve design, that lets some gorgeous Maple peak through the cut outs. A PRS-designed tremolo system is paired with their TCI “S” pickups to power this new SE Custom 24-09. So where does the -08 come from in the name? Thanks to individual coil splits switches for each pickup, you have 8 pickup configurations when using the 3-way selector switch. It’s an impressive amount of features packed into a stunning guitar.

Sound: 8.5

Obviously, you’re going to love the versatility of this PRS SE Custom 24-08. I mean, it has 8 pickup combinations, with coil split and full humbucker tones. But don’t let the sheer volume of tones distract you from how good the pickups actually sound on their own. This isn’t a guitar that does a little bit of everything well but nothing great. It does great things, especially when hit with a little bit of drive and put through my Vox tube amp. The neck pickup never gets muddy, giving you some awesome lead tones to mess around with. My personal favorite, the bridge pickup, is all sorts of warm and rich while staying pretty clear through chords and aggressive picking. No, you’re not getting perfect pickups, they certainly aren’t the loudest or most touch sensitive, but they’re really good for the price of the guitar and the tonal flexability. The coil split is also a big winner here because it isn’t just some lazy volume cut that thins out your tone. It actually adds some spank and sparkle, which contrasts the bigger sounds of the humbuckers nicely.

Playability: 8

PRS’s “wide-thin” neck did not disappoint at all, providing a fluid and fast experience up and down all 24 frets. I’m not much of a shredder, so I’m not best equipped to take advantage of the extra few frets. However, it was way more comfortable and easy to reach those frets than it is to reach the 22nd fret on some guitars, so props to them again. The SE Custom 24-08 was really ready to go out of the box, with good action, a properly cut nut, and solid tuning performance. It needs a tweak every now and then if you really work that tremolo but otherwise it’s pretty impressive. Most importantly, it’s not a glaring issue that would keep this guitar off the stage. PRS seems to have a stock, higher end overseas tuner that they use here and on other nice SE’s I’ve played. They work well, don’t slip often, and shouldn’t need to be replaced unless you require true 24/7 locking tuner stability. Overall, it’s a joy to play this guitar from the minute you pick it up!

Finish & Construction: 9

Hard to not give them a perfect score here, but the Flamed Maple veneer is just a bit too thin for me to dub this a 10/10. However, this new Eriza Verde finish option is stunning and matches up wonderful with the flaming of the Maple and the natural beauty of the back body wood. The way the natural finish pokes out of the carve at the cutaways really gets me. Attention to detail is evident up and down this guitar, with the hardware well installed, killer fretwork, and a straight neck that is well set up. When you look over the guitar with a fine tooth comb, you’re not really going to find anything else to complain about either. Finish work was practically flawless, and I am not excited to take this down from hanging on my wall. It’s like a work of art, except it’s also a cutting edge instrument that is highly user friendly.

Value: 9

Not hard to figure out, this guitar is a great value through and through. At this price point, this is basically the PRS for someone who wants all these features but knows that they can’t afford what would likely be double or triple the cost of this for a USA-made variant. It’s a great way to get an ultra playable, versatile, and sweet looking instrument without selling an arm and a leg. Furthermore, PRS did such a good job with this SE Custom 24-08 I do think it would prevent me from ever buying a more expensive model in the future. This could literally do everything I want from a PRS guitar and I wish I could have this long term for some serious gigs and recording sessions. With guitar prices generally rising across the market, I think you get a lot of guitar for the price with this newest addition to the SE line.

Good for: Classic Rock, Pop, Jazz, Studio Musicians, Gigging Musicians, Versatile/Genre-bending Players, PRS Fans On A Budget, R&B

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Black Beauty Les Paul Review

Will Epiphone’s latest collaboration with the popular blues man impress or leave me turning back to the sea of LPs out there?

Cost: $799.00 from Reverb.com

Overview & Final Score: 8 out of 10

Another year, another Joe Bonamassa and Epiphone collaboration! While this partnership may not be on the cutting edge of things, they did churn out a wonderfully high quality here. Their take on the Black Beauty Les Paul features 3 ProBucker humbuckers, standard LP volume and tone pots, and a 3-way selector switch. What separates it from a normal wiring harness is that the middle position is the neck and middle humbucker, out of phase with each other. Turning to the hardware side of things, a Locktone bridge and tailpiece pair nicely with Epiphone’s Historic tuners and a dual action truss rod. Sporting a Mahogany body and neck, the fretboard is Ebony, with 22 medium jumbo frets, ivory binding, and a Graphtech NuBone nut. Overall, it’s a pretty impressive spec sheet and stunning looks with the gold binding and hardware accenting the dark black body, neck, and headstock. I’m a big fan of the pearloid block inlays.

Sound: 9

The unquestioned highlight of this guitar is the sound. Epiphone knocked it out of the park with these ProBucker pickups, which are sweet and rich sounding. I really like the middle position, which is the Black Beauty mod, providing a bit more aggressive, almost cranked single coil-like sound. Despite being not as thick of a sound as the humbucker neck tones, it still really cuts through the mix well when soloing over some chords or a riffs. When it comes to the more traditional neck and bridge settings, you get exactly what you want. It sounds so close to real deal Gibson Les Paul and is just incredibly satisfying to play when plugged into a cranked amp. Truth be told, this was a lot like the Epiphone Les Paul Modern I played in that it sounds a lot better than some Gibson’s I’ve tried. It’s full of sustain and natural projection and the pickups are noise free. I think the demo really speaks for itself, the guitar just sounds amazing under all sorts of gain and effects or just clean into a sparkling Vox amp.

Playability: 8

The action was phenomenal out of the box, which really impressed me considering Epiphone has recently had spotty set ups. On the same topic, there were no high frets, no fret buzz, and the neck was smooth up and down the fretboard. As always, the tuning stability wasn’t perfect, it really never is on any Les Pauls, but it was certainly stage ready. I’m sure someone would argue for locking tuners to be added, but the nut was well cut and the neck was straight which means the tuning problems aren’t from lack of build quality. Epiphone’s Joe Bonamassa Black Beauty is comfortable to play though, and doesn’t even feel all too heavy when strapped and played standing up. It’s definitely a beast of a guitar, but it’s an easy beast to tame.

Finish & Construction: 8

Similar to the playability, there’s a lot to like here. It’s not only gorgeous, with the gold and black aesthetic making look like something out of the Gibson Custom Shop. You really don’t sacrifice any of the fit, feel, or finish with this Epiphone and it’s more than quenching my vintage Gibson thirst. Make no mistake, this is a premium guitar for a sub-$1000 price. Epiphone’s haven’t always been this high quality, and this one feels likely to take a beating in the studio or on stage. I’m afraid a lot of the audience who would want this guitar will keep it more for wall art/collection purposes, but the Black Beauty is a player’s guitar at a very appealing price point. Digging in deeper, the finish was spotless and so was the binding, with real attention to detail and no signs of poorly routed wood or cut binding.

Value: 7

Part of me is a big fan of the price point and quality, because this is something that’s really been missing from the Gibson family of brands. It hits that MIM Fender-area where you can get everything you could ever want from a domestic, high end guitar but under $1000. On the other hand, as great as this guitar is, it isn’t necessarily all that exciting and it’s not nearly as 21st century player-friendly as the Les Paul Modern was.

I miss this Les Paul Modern every day!

It’s a step back in time, which is great. Obviously that’s Joe Bonamassa’s schtick, so it just loses a point or two in my opinion because Epiphone/Gibson weren’t already lacking guitars that were a step back in time. But you are getting a phenomenal guitar at the end of the day with this Black Beauty, which could go toe to toe with any Gibson LP Studio for way less money. Plus, you do get an absolutely killer hard case! There’s a lot to like and I certainly would love to add this to my quiver,

Good for: Blues, Classic Rock, Collectors, Cash Strapped-Gibson Fans, High Gain/Metal Players

Dunable DE Series Cyclops Review

The first review of 2021 is an absolute killer guitar that is far more versatile than you may expect.

Cost: $1099.00 from Dunable-de.com or find your own on Reverb.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.8 out of 10

New for spring of 2021, Dunable has unveiled their new affordable line of overseas instruments, the Dunable DE series. These guitars set out to take Dunable’s classic boutique and modern designs and bring them to a more accessible price point. The DE Cyclops, pictured above, is a pretty sweet design, with an almost offset meets LP meets SG-type aesthetic that is genuinely unique. The Cyclops features a Mahogany body and neck, with an Ebony fretboard that is wrapped in classy white binding. Jumbo nickel silver frets, a Graphtech Tusq nut, a 25.5″ scale length and open back tuners provide a great playability and feel. Available in two gloss finishes, Gloss Black and Tobacco Burst, the guitar turned up looking and feeling a lot more like a premium USA-made Dunable. Two Dunable Cthulhu pickups power the Cyclops, with a push-pull coil split on the tone control, and a master volume and 3-way selector rounding out the controls. When it comes to hardware, the trapeze bridge and tune-o-matic provide look and work great in tandem.

Sound: 8

I was super impressed with the clarity and punch of these Cthulhu pickups, especially once I layered on some gain pedals and cranked my amp. Truth be told, their clean sounds were very clear but surprisingly low output. But with gain, they really come alive, while retaining a ton of clarity which makes them pretty versatile in my opinion. The pickups, especially the bridge on the DE Cyclops, have a tight focused sound that I think a lot of modern, high gain players will appreciate. On the other hand, it felt absolutely at home in the mix with Strats and Les Pauls when playing punk, classic rock, or even some atmospheric stuff that I like. It isn’t the warmest sounding, meaning that I’m sure a blues lawyer would pick it up and be disappointed, but the right kind of pedals can definitely shape this guitar to be whatever you want. Sometimes creating an instrument that is a bit of blank palette is a great thing. While this guitar is not lacking on personality as is, it is a real testament to the build quality when anyone can pickup a guitar and make it work for them! Otherwise, there’s no extraneous buzz or hum from the pickups and wiring, though it didn’t seem like the Cyclops I was sent had a coil split as the website indicates. It’s also entirely possible I was sent a prototype but pretty much everything else sonically is great on this Dunable DE Cyclops.

Playability: 9

This Cyclops really shines when it comes to the fit and feel of the guitar. The fretwork is great, with a real premium feel that is matched by the killer looks. Playing was comfortable up and down the neck and this Dunable was a bit more lead-player friendly than I anticipated. While it certainly could serve you well for soloing and shredding, the playability is definitely set up with riffs and chugging in mind. It’s a fine lead guitar but an AMAZING rhythm guitar that had me writing some awesome riffs and chord sequences in our time together. The tuning stability was not disappointing either, with the bridge, Tusq nut, and tuners all seeming to work in concert. While the spec sheet isn’t particularly loaded with locking tuners or hardcore hardware, the attention payed to set up and intonation clearly goes a long way in creating a user friendly instrument. You should be more than impressed when you pick up a Dunable DE for the first time.

Finish & Construction: 9

The trapeze bridge is a nice touch on this guitar, giving it a classic, almost vintage, feel to an otherwise modern guitar. Plus, anytime I get to try a guitar that isn’t just another Strat, LP, Flying V derivative is a plus. Dunable is doing some great original stuff, like this Cyclops, and the build quality is really on point with what you’d expect from a $1000+ guitar. While this is the “affordable” line of Dunable guitars, it doesn’t look or feel anything like a cheap guitar. These Cthulhu pickups were well installed and the intonation and set up was highlighted by great fretwork and a smooth gloss finish over the back of the neck. Big points here for the cool looks the Cyclops packs, with amp-like control knobs, a unique pickguard and body shape, and a spotless finish. I’d definitely like to see some more finish options added to the line, but the Tobacco Sunburst shouldn’t offend anyone here.

Value: 9

Dunable’s USA guitars seem to generally start north of $2000, meaning you are cutting that price in half with the DE series. While I’ve never played a US-made Dunable, this DE Cyclops feels nothing short of premium and boutique, so I think this is an insane value. Quite frankly, this may be the only way for some people to get to experience Dunable and I think it will deliver on all the hopes and wishes you could ask for, except for maybe some wild finish options. The price is right up there with some of the best overseas guitars I’ve played from Howl and PRS SE and so is the quality. Overall, there is very little to complain about on this DE Cyclops from Dunable, in terms of build quality, sound, and price. I think this would be a sound investment and a reliable instrument for years to come and I’m delighted I got to start 2021 off on such a positive note.

Good for: Modern High Gain, Metal, Punk, Garage Rock, Players Looking For A High End Affordable Guitar, Overdriven Classic Rock, Fuzz Tones

Upgraded Glarry GP II Bass Review: Is It Better Than The First One?

Will Glarry’s updates to their P-Bass copy be an improvement, or more of the same buzzy, thin, mod platform variety like the first?

Grab your own from Glarry!

When I first reviewed the Glarry GP Bass I didn’t realize that it would become one of my highest viewed articles of all time on this site. I also wasn’t expecting Glarry to issue a new and improved version only one year later. But here we are, and I’m happy to say I’ve gotten to plug this new bass in and put it through the ringer (plus a Big Muff) and see how it stacks up.

The original Glarry GP Bass cost only $75, which was a great price for a working bass, but scored a measly 4.3 out of 10 on our ratings scale. While the value element and some nice aesthetic features were all there, the GP Bass was riddled with fret buzz, had a HUGE neck that was uncomfortable to play, and decent tuning stability. Even worse, mine showed up with the pickups hanging out of the body, and once they were installed, they sounded pretty lifeless.

With redemption clearly on their mind, Glarry’s new version of the GP Bass, the GP II, is roughly double the price of the original, but also sports a more impressive spec sheet. As such, let’s do a shorter review to update the status of the Glarry GP model, by comparing the two versions side by side.

As you can hopefully hear in the video above, this GP II bass already packs far more output and tone than the original, which sounded very thin in this ultra-quick Instagram clip I posted.

How Did The Sound Change?

The pickups have been upgraded, as the new bass sports a Wilkinson split-coil set. These do more closely resemble a true P-bass pickup, with more bite and output that are about on par with a solid Squier bass. I’m very happy with the upgrade, which made the bass much more useable, regardless of your skill level. These two basses are played through the same amp in both clips and you can hear a pretty stout difference in tone. Aside from the nice tweak with the pickups, the rest of the electronics looks, feel, and sound the same to me. No upgraded pots as far as I can visual and sonically tell. Volume and tone pots are useable, but not ultra sensitive, or even very sensitive, meaning you can go from loud to silent quickly, and clear to muddy quickly. The new Wilkinson split coils make a big difference in terms of punch, volume, and clarity, but still put this only on par with a Squier, Harley Benton, or similar level instrument.

Verdict: Overall tone is improved, but on par for the increased price.

Improvements To Playability & Feel?

The neck on the upgraded GP II Bass is still big and round, but it definitely feels slimmed down from the original model I was sent. Tuning is definitely better, as I can go more than a few minutes of down picking without having to adjust it. Hardware like the tuners and bridge both look and feel much better than the original, even if they are only marginal upgrades. It gives the appearance and feel of a quality instrument, something the original GP Bass was starkly lacking. Unfortunately, the GP II Bass is still riddled with fret buzz, likely due to the high frets because the action feels and looks really good to my eyes.

Verdict: It’s an improvement, but not as large as you may want for double the price.

Finish & Construction

I think what’s most impressive about the newly improved Glarry GP II Bass is the new finish. It looks much nicer, with a smoother, glossier look over light wood compared to the darker, grainier wood used originally. The Canadian Maple looks and feels much improved on the fretboard as well, with a cleaner look that contrasts the striping along the neck. It’s certainly a prettier bass guitar and it feels far more complete, like one solid unit. Again, there is a nice upgrade here that squarely brings it into the realm of a nice Squier or Harley Benton product, without dipping into the higher end territory. At the end of the day, it is still inferior to my Classic Vibe Squier.

Final Thoughts

Glarry did a great job correcting the laundry list of issues I had with the original GP Bass. However, the price nearly doubled, meaning that this bass is now firmly in used Squier Affinity Series territory. I do think this is a more solid instrument than some Affinity Basses, but not all. It’s like a high floor, low ceiling situation where the Glarry feels rock solid and won’t disappoint, but it is missing some of the magic that players may find in cheap gear. With the Wilkinson pickup they have really succeeded in the most important department, improving the tone of the instrument, making this a solid instrument for beginners and pros alike. In fact, DIY modders may not even want to really upgrade the electronics much. Instead, a solid set up, new strings, and new tuners would have this thing 100% professional grade ready. Overall, I think Glarry did a great job improving some glaring issues and has presented a much more user friendly and enjoyable bass guitar. If you’re on a strict budget, the upgraded GP II Bass should 100% be on your radar!

Original Score: 4.3 out of 10

Revised Score: 5.5 out of 10

Thirty7fx Fat Guy Little Coat Fuzz Pedal Review

A $100 mini fuzz from a local builder has utterly captured my attention despite only having one knob.

Overview & Cost: $99.00 from Instagram or Reverb.com

Thirty7fx is the creation of fellow New Englander Doug Christ who aspires to make simple but highly useable effects pedals. The Fat Guy Little Coat is the first pedal, of many exciting ones to come, that packs a ton of fuzz tone into a compact, one knob mini pedal. As the labels suggest, this pedal goes from fuzz to fuzzier to fuzziest with ease, giving you a bit of a volume boost but a real increase in sizzle as you turn it clockwise. The pricing for these wonderful fuzz boxes starts at about $99 and increases just a bit if you order a custom finish. In fact, the custom finish options are pretty amazing.

The Fat Guy Little Coat I got came in a wonderful brushed metal finish and encasing that is rock solid, with some nice blue accents and an incredibly bright LED. I’m sure that’s going to make this pedal a treat to use on stage, and I’ve already got it wired into my gigging board. Powered by your standard 9v power supply, the straightforward Fat Guy Little Coat is built to last and tough to break.

Review & Opinion

In a world filled with derivate pedals and clones, there’s just something unique about the Thirty7fx Fat Guy Little Coat. The fuzz tones are amazing, with a crispy yet clear signal that doesn’t lose too many notes while still filling a ton of space. The circuit and general idea of this classic fuzz isn’t groundbreaking, as it draws inspiration from a vintage “colorsound”-style fuzz. But the small, tough as nails enclosure, single knob, and custom colors make it feel special. However, the price is what really puts it over the top. I mean, it’s a $100 boutique fuzz pedal, at a time when boutique, handmade pedals are $200, $300, or more. When it comes to the tones, you won’t be disappointed at all, with a very touch sensitive fuzz effect that responds wonderfully to your guitar’s volume and tone controls. It ends up more flexible than the single knob would have you think, especially when you cycle through pickup options on a Strat or LP-style guitar. As you can hear, it sounds great with all pickup styles too, especially the Tele single coils which fatten up nicely. The stronger my pick attack became, the more I could push the pedal into a warm, natural fuzz that was working with my overdriven tube amp to cut through the mix. At the same time, if you soften up a bit with the tone on your guitar rolled off, you get a wonderfully sustaining blues tone with some punch. Full tone on plus the bridge pickup takes it back to a real hot, buzzsaw like fuzz that is perfect for garage rock madness.

Final Conclusion & Rating: 8.5 out of 10

It’s hard to find any faults in this pedalboard-friendly fuzz. A vintage, smooth fuzz circuit housed in a beautiful brushed metal box that can squeeze into small spaces checks a lot of boxes for me. I think it will check a lot of boxes for you too, with a $100 price tag that makes it very accessible. I’m particularly interested in using it live, with the dark stage making the bright LED super useful and the small size fitting on my smaller pedal train board. Plus, I generally trust simple pedals more than complicated, 5 knob monstrosities, there is just less in there to break or wear down. But really, the high score here is more about the sound of the Fat Guy Little Coat. It’s just wonderful across the board, with the agility to fit in with any guitar pickup or signal chain. It also took a boost pedal really well, which opened up some cool rhythm/lead opportunities without losing any clarity or overdriving the signal too much that it changes the character. This is a highly recommended buy for fuzz lovers and pedal lovers alike, plus it is still way cheaper than your average small brand, high quality pedal even after you get a custom enclosure!

Best of 2020: Ranking All The Guitars We’ve Reviewed $1000 and Under

2020 held so many guitar reviews that we had to split our end of the year roundup into two separate articles! This will show all our rankings for guitars $1000 USD and under, with the following article to rank all guitars over $1000. If you need a reminder, here is how we review guitars, and here is a important note on how to differentiate between the ever crowding guitar market.

Some other reminders:

  • Each review was hands on, which means the guitar arrived at my house, in my hands, plugged into my rig each time
  • I get paid exactly zero dollars to do these reviews, so no financial bias on my end
  • Sometimes I am fortunate enough to get to keep a guitar, but 95% of the time these guitars all go back to their original manufacturers
  • All the guitars reviewed here are new, and currently available
  • And lastly, to go read the individual review just click on the highlighted name of each guitar in the table!

Superlatives

Best Overall: Schecter Ultra III – Buy Here Read Full Review

Best Mod Project Platform: Squier Paranormal Super-Sonic – Buy HereRead Full Review

Most Versatile: Sterling by Music Man St. Vincent – Buy HereRead Full Review

Best Guitar For The Price: Glarry GTL Semi-Hollow – Buy HereRead Full Review

The Top 10:

#1 Schecter Ultra III

#2 Fano Omnis MG6

#3 Epiphone Les Paul Modern

#4 CMG Guitars Mark

#5 Goldfinch Guitars The Painted Lady 2020

#6 Fender Player Series Lead III

#7 Fender Player Series Mustang 90

#8 Howl Guitars Sirena 3

#9 D’Angelico Premier Mini DC

#10 Gretsch G5622T Electromatic

Model Rating Cost Find Your Own
Schecter Ultra III 9.4$699.00Reverb.com
Fano Omnis Series MG68.9$849.00Reverb.com
Epiphone Les Paul Modern8.8$649.00Reverb.com
CMG Guitars Mark8.6$799.00cmgguitars.com
Goldfinch Guitars The Painted Lady 20208.6$399.00Goldfinchgeetars.com
Fender Player Series Lead III8.5$599.99Reverb.com
Fender Player Series Mustang 908.4$599.99Reverb.com
Howl Guitars Sirena 3 8.4 $879.00Reverb.com
D’Angelico Premier Mini DC 8.4$799.99Reverb.com
Gretsch G5622T Electromatic 8.3$799.99Reverb.com
Sterling by Music Man St. Vincent8.0$599.99Reverb.com
Fano Omnis JM68.0$849.00Reverb.com
Kramer The ’848.0$799.00Reverb.com
Guild Starfire I SC7.8$599.00Reverb.com
Squier Paranormal Super-Sonic 7.6$349.99Reverb.com
Squier Classic Vibe Jazzmaster 7.5$399.99Reverb.com
Vintage V65 ICON7.1$349.00Reverb.com
Vintage V120 ICON6.9$329.00Reverb.com
Stadium NY Strat 6.6 $225.99Pelicanbeachmusic.com
Grote GT-150 6.5$149.00Amazon.com
Harley Benton TE-90QM HH 6.3$171.00 Reverb.com
Glarry GTL Semi-Hollow5.4$119.99Glarrymusic.com

As expected, the spread is far more linear than the premium guitars ($1000+) which indicates you get what you pay for in this sub-$1k category. However, you may notice a huge cluster in the $400-800 category, which for about 2 years now seems like the best spot to get value for your money.

Is This The Most Affordable American-Made Tele? CMG Guitars Mark Review

Coming in under $1000 could this be the most affordable, and surprisingly sweet sounding, domestic take on a T-style guitar?

Credit: CMG Guitars

Cost: $799.00 USD from CMGguitars.com or find your own on Reverb.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.6 out of 10

My first experience with a CMG guitar was pretty inspiring, as I found their Ashlee LP derivative to not only be gorgeous looking (killer construction) but also smooth as hell to play. CMG’s reputation as shockingly affordable USA-made guitars shouldn’t overshadow how great the final products are, regardless of price. The Mark is no different, supplying premium Tele tones with a few CMG tweaks on a vintage Tele owned by the owner’s brother back in the day. Perhaps the easiest tweak to notice is the handy “E bend cut” which makes that lower horn smaller thanks to a deeper cut. This provides some pretty impressive access to the higher frets and is a common feature on CMG guitars.

Moving into the spec sheet you’ll find the body made of Mahogany or Natural Ash (the one I got was Ash), a Maple neck, and Rosewood fretboard. The masked binding around the body is a phenomenal touch, that really lets the natural beauty of the wood shine through. Somewhat surprising, this T-style is actually a 24.75″ scale length beast, so much more Gibson than Fender in that regard. Alongside the impressive Nitrocellulose lacquer, you’ll find Frog Dog pickups, a Wilkinson bridge with brass saddles, Grover 18:1 tuners, and standard Tele controls.

Sound: 8

CMG did a great job giving this “Mark” T-style a familiar yet versatile sonic quality. Just like your standard Fender Telecaster, this guitar can do a little bit of everything. You can jump to country from pop and then back into Jimmy Page-inspired riffs with a just a few clicks of the pickup selector and a gain pedal. The cleans are clear, responsive, and snappy, though they have a bit of a jangly sound that I imagine comes from the lower tension on the strings due to the shorter scale length. However, it doesn’t not sound like a Tele, and this little feature really comes out when plugged into a chimey amp like a Vox, and I loved it! The Frog Dog pickups are smooth in the neck, twangy in the bridge, and surprisingly full in the middle. Conveniently enough, there wasn’t any extraneous buzz or 60 cycle hum, which is always nice. CMG Guitars has put together something that can do a little bit of everything, making it feel and sound like a real workhorse for gigging or studio musicians.

Playability: 9

The most impressive thing about the CMG Mark is the feel and playability. That E Bend Cut makes a huge difference, for me at least, when it comes to playing down the neck. I feel a sense of control over those high frets that I don’t always have on my more traditional T-style guitars. Merge that with the nice fret work and really high quality set up, and you get a wonderfully high score. It’s a player for sure, and something that I would trust on stage night in and night out. Despite the shorter scale length, it didn’t feel foreign at all, in the sense that I still felt like I was playing a Tele. However, I’m sure that shorter scale paired with the E Bend Cut is what made soloing and improvising so comfortable up and down the neck. Tuning stability was pretty impressive too if I’m being honest. I think I tuned it maybe once the whole time I had it? Obviously I let it acclimate to my apartment for a few days before playing so that likely helped, but I’m finding it crazy how much tuning stability varies between guitars. Th CMG Mark was great, a guitar twice the cost sometimes sucks, it’s all a bit odd.

Finish & Construction: 8.5

With a slim price tag, you might be expecting this area to be where costs are cut on a domestic made guitar. But you’d be wrong, it seems the costs are low because the CMG Guitars Mark prioritizes functionality over frills. The guitar I was lent came in a nice “Bubba Blue” color, but the finish is pretty standard, normal, and really makes you focus on the experience of playing the guitar. I’ve seen some impressive finish colors on their site, but what you should focus on is how good this guitar feels to play. CMG is going to get high grades here despite not having the flashiest spec sheet because the end product is better than the sum of its parts. The hardware was well adjusted, the Mark was ready to go out of the nice padded CMG gig bag, and the emphasis is put on making this feel like a tool of the trade, not wall art. To me, that’s the sign of a good luthier/builder, when you craft a guitar that is not meant for the rock stars but is meant for the guy or girl playing in a bar.

Value: 9

It blows my mind that you can get a USA-made Tele for about $800. And you’re not sacrificing really anything to get it, sure maybe it won’t have the finish options or fancy wiring of a Fender Pro II Tele, but it will sound great, play great, and support small builders without breaking the bank. The CMG Mark is ready to be someone’s workhorse on tour or when jumping between studio sessions. And if you’re like me (and most of us during the pandemic), it’s a real joy to just sit down and play into a little amp around the house. I think the target audience here is hard working musicians who want to support a local builder, but can’t always afford to. At the same time, they can’t rely on just any guitar, and the superior performance and reliability of this CMG Mark T-style fills that niche perfectly for me.

Good for: Classic Rock, Country, Blues, Pop, Gigging Musicians, Versatile Session Players, Songwriters, Tele Fans

Squier Classic Vibe Jazzmaster Review

Will my first experience with plugging a spec-correct Jazzmaster into my rig inspire me to embrace the instrument or go back to my Strat?

Credit: Fender

Cost: $399.99, find your own from Fender.com, Amazon.com, or on Reverb.com!

Overview & Final Score: 7.5 out of 10

When I set out to do my Jazzmaster face-off I really had next to no experience with any Jazzmaster-style guitars. Fast forward to a few months later and I cannot put this Squier Classic Vibe JM down! This vintage spec’d and affordable Jazzmaster has a Poplar body with a gloss polyurethane finish in the classic Sunburst variety. The neck is made of Maple, with a classic C shape and Indian Laurel fretboard. 21 frets grace the neck with narrow tall frets that are pretty smooth playing up and down the neck. Classic vintage-style tuning pegs hold the strings through a bone nut as they run down to the classic (and somewhat flawed) offset floating tremolo and Jazzmaster bridge. True to its name, this is designed to replicate the famed ’60s Jazzmasters through and through.

Moving over to the electronics it gets pretty fun for someone new to the Jazzmaster like myself. Two Fender-designed Alnico Jazzmaster pickups have pretty standard 3-way switching and master volume and tone. And then the JM rhythm circuit kicks in. There are two thumbwheels for the neck volume and tone when in the rhythm position, which is the up switch. In my opinion, this circuit seems to add some meat to the neck pickup sound, giving it more volume and body to really cut through the mix.

Sound: 7

While I’ve never played a vintage or premium Fender Jazzmaster to compare this to, I think the guitar sounds well above average on its own. It’s a steal for the $400 price tag, providing real versatility and something different that not many other guitars can do. The rhythm circuit was the big winner for me here and I love that you can get this classic Fender sound in an affordable guitar, especially because most Jazzmaster clones don’t even feature anything like it. Clarity was one of the prevailing themes of this guitar, no matter how many effects I threw at it, it just stays crystal clear. Which made me realize two things: 1) no wonder shoegaze/indie rock players use this guitar under a bevy of effects and 2) this guitar is great for recording in a studio or home studio setting. The standard pickup settings, without the rhythm circuit are a bit on the low output end of the spectrum, and they certainly lack a certain richness that I prefer in Fender single coils (Tele, Strat). However, I can see how these unique qualities aren’t necessarily a bad thing if you are looking to use this in specific instances. As someone who switches guitars frequently (different tunings is the main reason) it is a bit annoying to see a steep drop off in volume and body, but maybe I just need a compressor! Overall, it is a clean and clear sounding guitar that seems like it represents all that classic Jazzmaster goodness well, and the rhythm circuit is a real winner!

Playability: 7

The narrow tall frets are an interesting feeling off the bat and not something I’m usually too familiar or comfortable with. Fret ends and polishing actually were very impressive and this guitar is well set up out of the box. But I guess this is another one of those things where you have to be expecting/looking for the feel of this guitar compared to just picking up a Tele or Strat and playing. The tuning stability is generally strong, even when you work the floating tremolo a little bit, which makes this a strong candidate for a gigging guitar. What really won me over though was how nicely the neck feels. It’s smooth, well finished, and gives the feel/illusion of being a much more expensive guitar. These Classic Vibes really live up to their reputation as a premium affordable guitar in terms of fit and feel. The nut seems well cut and the tuners don’t seem too cheap or anything, so I assume any tuning issues that occasionally pop up have to do with the bridge and trem system not being Fender’s greatest accomplishment. Nothing a Mastery can’t fix!

Finish & Construction: 8

I can’t say enough about the build quality and look of this Classic Vibe Jazzmaster from Squier. Simply put, it feels, plays, and looks like something far superior to most $400 on the market. It barely was beat out by the phenomenal (but $800) Fano Omnis JM6 that I reviewed in my Jazzmaster roundup. That guitar is really something, so that is saying a lot in my opinion. The finish came without any signs of issues, cracking, damage, etc…and the hardware is well installed, aligned, and feels pretty rugged. This Jazzmaster is definitely capable of taking a beating and I’m pumped to see what kind of mods it may have in its future.

Value: 8

I really like the guitar you get for the money here and this is clear example of why Squier guitars are the highest selling brand in the world. It’s a phenomenal guitar that feels and plays up there with guitars twice the price. You do lose a bit on the electronics side, as these pickups are crystal clear but not as bell-like and rich as some higher grade JM pickups might be. And of course, I’m sure the wiring inside could use a boost from nicer pots, though this will certainly get the job done. Overall, it gets such high ratings because it brings everything about the Jazzmaster down to a nice price. It’s authentic and uncompromising in the design, something that most JM copies from other brands cannot say. Bonus points for being a phenomenal mod platform are also awarded here and this thing feels like it is a Mastery bridge and Curtis Novak pickups away from being one of my go-to instruments. Classic Vibe guitars should not be underestimated and might just be one of the best values on the market for the working class musician. I’m more than pleased to say this Squier Classic Vibe Jazzmaster will be staying on my guitar rack for the foreseeable future and I cannot wait to figure out more ways to use it!

Good for: Alternative Rock, Atmospheric Playing, Garage Rock, Players Looking For Crystal Clear Clean Tones, Jazzmaster Enthusiasts, DIY Modders

Best of 2020: Ranking All The Guitars We’ve Reviewed Over $1000

2020 held so many guitar reviews that we had to split our end of the year roundup into two separate articles! This will show all our rankings for guitars over $1000, with the previous article ranking all guitars under $1000. If you need a reminder, here is how we review guitars, and here is a important note on how to differentiate between the ever crowding guitar market.

Some other reminders:

  • Each review was hands on, which means the guitar arrived at my house, in my hands, plugged into my rig each time
  • I get paid exactly zero dollars to do these reviews, so no financial bias on my end
  • Sometimes I am fortunate enough to get to keep a guitar, but 95% of the time these guitars all go back to their original manufacturers
  • All the guitars reviewed here are new, and currently available
  • And lastly, to go read the individual review just click on the highlighted name of each guitar in the table!

Superlatives

Best Overall: PRS Silver Sky – Buy Here Read Full Review

Best Value: Fender Vintera Road Worn ’50s Telecaster – Buy HereRead Full Review

Best Boutique Build: Morifone Quarzo – Buy HereRead Full Review

Most Versatile: Ernie Ball Sabre – Buy HereRead Full Review

Top 10:

#1 PRS Silver Sky

#2 Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty Ball Family Reserve

#3 Fender Vintera Road Worn ’50s Telecaster

#4 Ernie Ball Sabre

#5 Morifone Quarzo

#6 Knaggs Keya J Relic

#7 Reverend Rick Vito Signature Soulshaker

#8 Fender American Professional II Telecaster

#9 Yamaha SA-2200

#10 Stanford Crossroads Thinline 30

Full List

Model Rating (out of 10) CostFind Your Own
PRS Silver Sky 9.8$2299.00Reverb.com
Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty Ball Family Reserve9.8$5299.00Reverb.com
Fender Vintera Road Worn ’50s Telecaster9.4$1099.99Reverb.com
Ernie Ball Sabre 9.4$3199.00Reverb.com
Morifone Quarzo 9.3$3999.00Morifone.com
Knaggs Keya J Relic 9.1$3200.00Reverb.com
Reverend Rick Vito Signature Soulshaker9.1$1599.00Reverb.com
Fender American Professional II Telecaster 9.1$1499.99Reverb.com
Yamaha SA-22009.1$1999.99Reverb.com
Stanford Crossroads Thinline 309.0$1099.99Stanford-guitars.com
Eastman SB598.9$1915.00Reverb.com
PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo 8.9$1549.00Reverb.com
Gibson Les Paul Studio 20208.6$1499.00Reverb.com
Knaggs Kenai J H2 Semi Gloss 8.6$2800.00Reverb.com
RWM Guitars Semi-Hollow Double Cut 8.6$1500.00rwmguitars.com
Harmony Rebel8.6$1299.00Reverb.com
Harmony Jupiter 8.6$1299.00Reverb.com
Harmony Juno8.4$1199.00Reverb.com
RWM Guitars Semi-Hollow T-Style8.4$1500.00rwmguitars.com

While I don’t generally believe that higher price means higher quality, it is always interesting to look at the spread of scores in relation to price. Likely, this is an artifact from higher quality control associated with higher costs of guitars, especially with boutique builds. The lower side of the rankings are also skewed by the fact that all 3 Harmony guitars were phenomenal but priced the same, ranked the same, and generally played/felt the same.

The Casino I Always Wanted: Stanford Crossroad Thinline 30 Review

While the last double cut hollowbody I reviewed won me over big time, this up and coming brand has offered something that fits me like a glove!

Credit: Stanford Guitars

Cost: $1099.00 from Stanford-guitars.com or Thomannmusic.com

Overview & Final Score: 9.0 out of 10

A relatively new guitar company, Stanford is under the iMusic Network family of brands, alongside the amazing Maybach guitar company. Stanford’s main goal, as far as I can tell, is to bring high level guitar quality and design down to a much more affordable price, something they thoroughly accomplished with their Crossroad Thinline 30. This fully hollow take on the vintage Epiphone Casino design features a Maple top, back, and sides as well as a Maple neck. That Maple neck holds an Ebony fingerboard, dot inlays, and holds Kluson Supreme tuners on the simple but classy headstock. A trapeze style tail piece is paired with a tune-o-matic style bridge and there are dedicated volume and tone pots for each of the two P90 pickups.

Sound: 9

The P90s chosen by Stanford here are just superb, with all the mid-range boost you want and expect. It really cuts through mixes, all while retaining surprising clarity and body. I pin that on the fully hollow body, which in my opinion adds some extra muscle to chords and open strings. In the bridge position, it was awesome to dial in some classic P90 tones for the punk and garage rock that I love. The Clash, The Strokes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, it all poured out of this guitar when distortion and drive were introduced. Surprisingly, I haven’t had many feedback issues either despite the hollowbody, though I’m sure if I really cranked my amp to big gig levels it would make an appearance. The neck pickup proved to be smooth and buttery, perfect for lead lines, both bluesy and atmospheric. In fact, this Stanford Crossroad Thinline 30 was perfect for a lot of the diverse alternative music I’ve gotten into recently. With influences from rock, jazz, pop, and shoegaze, this guitar handled Young The Giant, Coldplay, The Police, and more. It’s always rewarding to recreate some of my favorite tones with guitars I have for review, but very few, if any, could cover as many sounds as this Stanford did through my rig. When it came to the volume and tone controls it was great to see fairly sensitive pots, which let me shape the sounds with more detail than most affordable guitars I’ve played.

Playability: 9

Once I picked up this Stanford the first thing I noticed how was how nice the neck finish was. It was super smooth, with a thin satin-like feel, but I was really struck by how thin the neck felt. I have grown to prefer thinner necks recently, as I feel I get a little more control over the fretboard. This Crossroad Thinline 30 also had really solid tuning stability, even if the G string went out of tune more frequently than the others. But on any Gibson-influenced guitar that is to be expected and I was overall impressed with how much of a beating the guitar could take from bends, and harsh downstrokes. When you pair that with the lightweight hollow body, this Stanford is a joy to play standing up and perfect for the stage in my opinion. Fretwork was similarly excellent, which is basically a great way to describe this guitar’s playability: excellent.

Finish & Construction: 9

Nothing to complete about here either as this late entry into our yearly guitar rankings is putting up a stiff fight. This Stanford just feels and looks like it should cost double the price tag. There is virtually nothing to improve, though I would have gone with a normal stop bar tailpiece so that I could have added my own Bigsby to it! The hardware and pickups are well installed and there are no signs of sloppy finish work, tooling marks, or any poorly cut binding. From top to bottom the Crossroad Thinline 30 is just a joy to play and look out. I don’t have as much experience with hollow body guitars as I do with semi-hollow, ES-335 types, so I was delighted by how lightweight and airy this guitar feels. It has a lovely acoustic tone and the Antique Vintage Sunburst finish should win over any Gibson/Epiphone purist.

Value: 9

Straight 9s here and it is well deserved even if it seems like lazy scoring. Everything on this guitar feels just a notch below perfect to me. When you add up the excellent tuning stability, the smooth feel, great tones, etc…it’s just a phenomenal end product that is about half the price of most competing models. This Stanford Crossroads Thinline 30 perfectly quenches my thirst for a Gibson-style hollowbody electric, something I’ve wanted ever since I saw U2’s Rattle and Hum documentary. This guitar really does fit me like a glove but I honestly think a lot of players will feel similarly. Stanford has put together a versatile guitar that does the original Epiphone Casino design justice, all while falling in between the two current Epiphone versions in price. While it may be closer in price to the overseas Casino vs the American-made Casino, it is surely much closer in quality to what we can expect from the new premium Epiphone. This Stanford Crossroads Thinline 30 is quickly becoming my go-to guitar, good luck getting it back from me Stanford!

Check out the Stanford in my recent fuzz pedal demo too!

Good for: Classic Rock, Pop, Beatles Sounds, U2 Sounds, Blues, Versatile Players, Gibson Fans Who Can’t Afford One, Gibson Fans Who Can Afford One But Now Don’t Need To