Wampler Ratsbane Pedal Review: A Mini, Modern RAT?

My favorite gain pedal of all time but shrunk down and with additional features? Word.

Overview & Cost: $149.00 from Wamplerpedals.com, Amazon.com, or Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

I’ve already written several articles about my love of RAT pedals, their clones, knockoffs, and variants. While the Mosky Black Rat wasn’t a big winner for me, the Wampler Ratsbane has actually kicked my Pro Co RAT2 off of my pedalboard. Now, that is partially because it is way smaller and more convenient, but it also because this little box sounds so freaking good. They also missed a major opportunity to give the pedal a Star War’s themed named and go with the “WAMPRAT”….

This is Brian Wampler’s take on the classic Pro Co RAT circuit, without the classic LM308 op amp. You won’t miss it. The right toggle switch controls the voicings, of which there are 2. The left is your standard classic RAT, which is my favorite, while the right is a more compressed and a little bit less fuzzy when you crank the gain. Think of it as a more modern distortion sound. The other toggle switch (on the left side of the filter knob) controls 3 gain control options. All the way to left produces a smoother, turbo charged distortion sort of in the Turbo RAT neck of the woods. Flip to the middle for a stock RAT setting. One more over, all the way to the right, and you got a creamier, vintage-style distortion with some RAT-like fuzziness still there, but dialed down a bit. Standard filter (tone), volume, and gain controls round out this lovely little 9-18v powered Wampler pedal.

Sound & Opinion:

Yup, it sounds just like a RAT, but with much more control over the frequencies and gain. It’s not too dissimilar to my beloved $70 RAT2 pedal, which is a major plus for those sticking to their affordable, time tested gain box. However, the Ratsbane packs in a ton of features, new voicing options, and tighter controls which is what really separates it from the pack. It just sounds huge, with a ton of top end and bottom end snarl. The turbo-charged mode is definitely encroaching on fuzz territory, which I love about the RAT-style distortions. However, the ability to dial in smoother, creamier distortions is quite a nice feature. Now you could conceivably replace both a RAT and high gain overdrive on your board with the flip of these little toggle switches. It really took my clean Vox AC15 signal, chewed it up, and gave it this huge, stadium filling sound for Oasis, Green Day, and Arctic Monkeys’ style riffs and chords. Dialing in some of the compressed tones was more useful for when I wanted to tighten up my playing and signal chain, which I don’t do often. But I really think this makes it more appealing to those seeking very 21st century guitar tones with a semblance of RAT madness. But Wampler’s Ratsbane really shined when I cranked lazy, sloppy power chords and pentatonic riffs through it as I tend to do.

Conclusion & Final Score: 9.0 out of 10

This is how you do a unique take on a RAT in my humble opinion. I have had this on my board for months now and see no end to its reign as my go-to distortion sound. It is flexible enough for most any distortion fan to find a sound they like, but it is also just a plain good RAT in its own right. While I think the $70 RAT2 is wonderful and one of the best pedals out there, this gets good value ratings because I think it wasn’t necessarily designed to replace or compete with my RAT2 pedal. This is the RAT for people who need more from a distortion section or need multiple RAT-like tones for a recording or gigging project. If your RAT pedal is already doing 100% of what you need, this isn’t for you. But for me, this did everything I already had and loved, in addition to more that I wasn’t able to pull out of my rig. All that in a small, pedalboard friendly enclosure feels right for about $150. Especially at a time when pedal prices are out of control, this feels responsible and reasonable. I’m delighted with Brian’s take on the RAT, and I think most people who try the Ratsbane will be too.

Introducing The Grez Guitars Mendocino Junior: An Old Growth Redwood LP Junior You Want To Know

With premium build quality, attention to detail, and stripped down specs, this is a garage rocker’s dream guitar.

Cost: $2700 USD from GrezGuitars.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.9 out of 10

Brand new from Grez Guitars, the Mendocino Junior is a LP Junior inspired take on their Mendocino model. Sporting a single WolfTone Meaner Dog Ear P90 and wood-capped volume and tone controls, there’s not much to distract from the natural tone and sound of this instrument. Made from old growth Redwood, the body weighs a feathery 5.5 pounds and has a nitro finish that feels great and will age wonderfully, with natural wear and relic’ing accumulated over time. The neck has Honduran Mahogany, jumbo nickel silver frets, and a soft V-shape down the 24.75″ scale length profile. A very snappy wrap around bridge from MojoAxe holds the strings opposite the tuners, providing simple but very effective tuning stability and touch response. As a huge Junior-style guitar lover, this Mendocino Junior checks so many boxes for me despite a relatively short spec sheet.

Sound: 9

While you are somewhat limited by one pickup guitars in terms of onboard sounds, this guitar should really be viewed as a blank canvas. It’s very responsive, resonant, and open sounding to my ears. This means that it can very easily be shaped to be anything you need, but still sounds amazing when you plug straight into an amp and crank the volume. Punk and garage rock tones obviously pour out of this guitar, which is why I personally love it so much. But it took reverbs, delays, and choruses with ease, providing a snappy, clean signal that was great for soloing over chords or trying to write and create new melodies. If you like P90s, it won’t matter what style you play, you’ll be able to use this guitar. There’s all that mid-rich honk, some good bite when you crank the volume, it ticks all the boxes you would want from a Gibson or Heritage or Eastman. I do think it could fit into Pop, R&B, or Blues with incredible ease, as the guitar has that wonderful “full” feeling when you play it. But really, just plug into an overdrive and a tube amp and you’re going to have some of the most fun you could ever possibly have with a guitar thanks to the Mendocino Junior.

Playability: 9

The soft V-shaped neck is smooth as butter, likely thanks to the nitro lacquer finish which I always prefer on a neck. But the jumbo nickel frets are a nice touch and feel superb up and down the neck. While it isn’t a high performance guitar, it is markedly better than most Gibson-style necks I’ve played over the 3 years I’ve been reviewing guitars. And while a Music Man may also get a 9 for playability, this is a very different 9 in that it is a very stripped down to the basics kind of set up. Fret edges are smooth, action is great, but there’s no flashy features like locking tuners or stainless steel frets. Instead, the tuning stability and comfort is really derived from the build quality, the solid hardware choices, and the simplicity of the Mendocino Junior’s design.

Finish & Construction: 9

This is one of the lightest, most comfortable guitars I have ever had the opportunity to play. I don’t really know much about Redwood, though Barry Grzebik does an amazing job informing us all in this video below. Whatever magic and physical properties it possesses, the old growth Redwood in this Mendocino Junior is gorgeous, light as a feather, and resonant as hell. The best way to describe the construction is that this is a resonant plank of wood with a magnet strapped on the front. And I mean that as a true compliment. There’s real attention to the little design details, like the wooden control knobs, the pattern of the pickguard, and the beautiful natural wood grain. It all comes together for a very complete feeling instrument. I also want to give a shout out to the simplicity of this guitar and how much that often helps in the upkeep and longevity department. There isn’t much to go wrong and if something does, I’m sure anyone could fix it relatively easily. I find that very important in an instrument I’m going to be investing in and relying on.

Value: 8.5

While it may be easy to look at such a simple guitar and say “$2700 is far too much”, things don’t exist in a vacuum. Gibson is charging far more for their own re-issue of a Les Paul Junior that won’t have nearly as much character or individuality as this Grez Guitar. The thing for me is that it feels like a very special instrument, and I connected with it in a very short time. So while the price is a bit high compared to what I usually review, this would be a guitar that I could buy and then never need another one, so to speak. Compared to other high end LP Junior builds, I think I much prefer this one. So for that alone, the Mendocino Junior deserves high praise. Factor in the shear quality of the instrument and the story behind the old growth Redwood (Grez Guitars are actively helping to re-plant trees), and you’ve got something that is offering lots of surplus value in my humble opinion.

Good for: Punk Rock, Garage Rock, Classic Rock, Players With Back Problems, Fans Of Lightweight Guitars, Fans Of Stripped Down/Simple Gear

Mid-Year Update On Guitar And Pedal Rankings

With 6 months of guitar and gear reviews down, what are the most impressive to date?

The rest of 2021 will feature some big reviews from brands like Gibson, Fender, Squier Supro, D’Angelico, and many more that I’m pumped to talk about. But before we get there, and to the end of the year rankings, let’s do a quick update on how the current review rankings stand. Despite some slow downs, delays, and issues related to gear reviews during the Covid-19 era, we still have a pretty large selection of guitar reviews to discuss as well as far more pedals than I could have expected. So this year, in addition to our ultra-detailed guitar review rankings, we’ll be doing the same thing for guitar pedals!

To date, 10 guitar reviews have been published, with 3 more on the way in the coming weeks before it is time to get the next shipment in. The top 5 sports a mix of expensive, affordable, and mid-priced guitars from some familiar brands. There’s going to be a lot of new brands appearing on the site soon, but so far I will admit the reviews have featured heavily covered companies like Fender, PRS, Gibson, etc..

Electric Guitars

ModelRating (1-10)Grab Your Own
Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster9.4Reverb.com
Dunable DE Cyclops8.8Reverb.com
PRS SE Custom 24-088.6Reverb.com
Fender Noventa Series Telecaster8.3Reverb.com
Sterling by Music Man Cutlass CT50HSS8.3Reverb.com

The Acoustasonic Stratocaster is far and away one of the best instruments I have ever played. It’s very musical and incredibly comfortable, there’s no denying it even if you’re skeptical. But after that work of art, there is a real competition brewing between this amazing Dunable DE Cyclops, which was much more than just a metal guitar, and the PRS SE Custom 24-08 which is just so damn versatile. I’ve played a lot of guitars in the $800-$1000 range and been pretty impressed, many of these are absolutely ready for a tour or gig right out of the box. The Cutlass, on paper, should have been a “boring” guitar and yet I found it absolutely wonderful to play and I’ll take it to a gig tomorrow instead of my own HSS Strat.

Effects and Pedals

ModelRating (1-10)Grab Your Own
Shotmaker Instruments Heroine (Gain)10Reverb.com
Danelectro 3699 fUZZ (Fuzz)9.0Reverb.com
Interchange Noise Works Element 119 (Gain)8.75Reverb.com
Thirty7fx Fat Guy Little Coat (Fuzz)8.5Reverb.com
JHS 3 Series Delay (Delay) 8.0Reverb.com

No surprises here, the Heroine from Shotmaker Instruments is one of the best gain pedals I have ever played hands down. It’s an amp in a box, but it is also so much more than that thanks to the ability to dial in 2-gain stages to craft everything from boost to overdrive to mid-scooped metal tones. I don’t usually like boutique pedals, so my appreciation for this pedal should be taken seriously. Interchange Noise Works should also get major props for what is a beautiful mix of distortion and fuzz with the Element 119. Lastly, that JHS 3 Series Delay is way better than 99% of $99 pedals.

Sterling By Music Man Cutlass CT50 HSS Guitar Review

I think I just found my new favorite HSS Strat-style guitar in a very unexpected place.

Cost: $499.99 from Reverb.com or Amazon.com, or learn more at Sterlingbymusicman.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 8.3 out of 10

As a longtime HSS Stratocaster player, I’m not sure there is a more versatile guitar design on the market. While this Sterling Cutlass CT50 isn’t technically your run of the mill HSS Strat, it really feels like a more upgraded, perfected take on the design. Packing Sterling designed pickups, with master tone and volume knobs (none of that useless 3-knob Strat nonsense), a standard 5-way switch makes you feel right at home on this Cutlass CT50HSS guitar. Sterling’s beloved vintage-style tremolo makes another appearance here, providing the same smooth performance as it did on the St. Vincent and Mariposa guitars. A lightweight Poplar body features a Roasted Maple neck and fretboard, and comes in some rad finishes including the Dropped Copper pictured above, and Rose Gold or Firemist Silver. Locking tuners, 22 medium jumbo frets, and a full 25.5″ scale length round out the impressive feature set on this budget guitar and help make it feel much closer to an Ernie Ball than you might expect.

Sound: 8

My first reaction to this guitar was “why do these pickups sound so good?”. For a $500 guitar, they just sound out this world compared to some of the lower end Fender MIM Strats I’ve played. The single coils are super crips, clear, and articulate. Perfect for tight rhythm playing and clean lead lines. The humbucker really brings the guitar to life too, providing a surprisingly balanced output that sounds big and fills space, but doesn’t get too shrill or blow the single coils out of the water. I’m not trying to exaggerate and suggest this is on par with a $3000 guitar, but the Cutlass CT50 sounds far closer to a premium guitar than anticipated. High marks for me come from the versatility of the HSS design, the pristine cleans, and the ability to handle multiple stages of gain pedals well. Sonically, the Sterling Cutlass is cut out to gig relentlessly no matter what genre or style you throw at it.

Playability: 8

There’s really a good bit to like in terms of action and set up here. The roasted Maple neck is a huge winner in my book. It looks great, feels smooth (and fancy), and is going to hold up better to changing weather and climate than most other necks out there. Sterling also clearly hit a lot of the key points here, as there is nothing that stands out as bad or below average. Likewise though, nothing aside from the roasted Maple screams out to me as a premium feature. So the strong rating here is a reflection of this guitar being comfortable, reliable, and in tune after taking a power chord beating from me. Locking tuners help make string changes quicker and more convenient, and do help prevent string slippage as well, which improves tuning. But the 4:2 headstock design of Sterling/EBMM is unbeatable and really just improves the action, feel, and tuning stability of a guitar no matter the quality or price point.

Finish & Construction: 8

Again, high marks here because of the overall sturdiness and reliability that the Cutlass possesses. The finish was not only gorgeous, but showed little to no signs of error/damage/lazy QAQC. Likewise, the set up, fret ends, and hardware adjustments all were fine out of the box. I think you can certainly tweak a few things to be more to your specific liking, but there isn’t anything preventing you from taking this on stage right out of the box. It’s also a time tested body shape and general guitar design that really prioritizes user friendliness over anything else. That will always get a big boost in the score from me, as I like guitars that are tools, not just works of art. As a huge fan of the HSS Strat design, this fits right in as a modern update to a rugged, flexible design. With a killer finish, that has a slight sparkle to it, this is a well built and good looking option for the budget-minded player. I mean, getting a roasted Maple neck on a $500 guitar is borderline criminal.

Value: 9

This category is the reason that this guitar gets a higher score here than on my Ultimate-Guitar.com review. I don’t often get to grade for value using that scale, but I care very much about the guitar per dollar here. Simply put, the Cutlass CT50HSS is better than the sum of its parts. It feels much more on par with a $900 Mexican Fender from the Vintera line than it would with another $500 guitar. Especially with $500 quickly becoming the lower end of the market, whereas it used to be solidly in the middle. It’s a lot of guitar for the money and I would take this is my main #1 instrument with no hesitation. It’s fairly easy to modify as well, just like all Leo Fender-designed guitars are, so you can really tweak it and shape it to your liking throughout your guitar playing career or growth arc. Arguably, the Cutlass would be a phenomenal first guitar for a beginner or a superb gigging instrument for a 20 year vet. That’s a great value.

Good for: Stratocaster Players, Versatile Players, Studio and Recording Artists, Garage Rock, Blues, Jazz, Pop

Supro Delta King 10 Amp Review: Is It A Great Pedal Platform?

How will this 5 watt tube amp stack up to the needs of an apartment player who mainly records and jams at lower volumes?

Overview & Cost: $549.00 from Supro.com, Reverb.com, and Amazon.com (Some Affiliate Links)

Supro’s Delta King 10 has been on my mind since it was announced during the virtual NAMM madness earlier this year. Boasting 5 watts of power, two channels (one clean, one dirty), and built-in boost and reverb controls, it feels like perfect apartment-playing tube bliss. There’s a 12AX7 tube pre-amp, and then a vintage Supro-voiced 6V6 tube power amp to provide plenty of headroom and just a touch of compression. The boost switch engages a FET-style boosted tone that adds just a slight amount of dirt, but retains a nice clean, bell-like signature. Right next to that is the drive switch, which engages a Pigtronix FAT gain channel that adds a ton of natural body and overdrive. The rest of the control knobs include a channel volume, master volume, treble, bass, and reverb knob for some user friendly but still versatile tone shifting.

Sound & Opinion:

I really ended up loving the Supro Delta King 10 as a pedal platform amp. It’s clean, compressed, and generally creates a very flexible palette that you can alter via your pickup, pedal, and signal chain setup. I mainly played through my hollow-body Stanford Crossroad Thinline 30, as the P90s paired well with the amp to create a room filling sound at lower volumes. There was little to no buzz or hum, except for when I hit a fuzz pedal on, which made it a joy to record with. With only 5 watts of power, it was also really easy to dial in all sorts of amp tones from cranked amp breakup to more sterile, treble-rich cleans. With higher treble, I did feel the Supro started to thin out a bit and become sort of ice-picky. So I do think it is really limited by having only a 2-band EQ, but the use of pedals rectified most unpleasant sounds that arose when trying to demo it and record some tracks for my own records. The built-in FET boost sounds great though, and that soon became an always-on sound when paired with the compressed, clean channel. Moving over to the overdriven channel was fun, and I really liked the sound of the overdriven channel when I opened up the master volume a bit. At the lowest volumes it just felt way too compressed. It’s pretty fun for open chords, single note riffs and arpeggios, though it didn’t nail the punk wall of sound you know I love. Not that I really expected it to…

Conclusion & Final Score: 7.3 out of 10

Overall, I felt that the Supro Delta King 10 does exactly what it sets out to do: create a flexible pedal platform for at-home recording. It is missing some of the “oomph” I’d want in a small combo amp that I’d mic up for live shows, but it really comes alive with pedals and tone tweaking in a studio setting. The built-in FET boost, reverb, and drive channel are highlights for me in terms of versatility, but you’d definitely want to invest in a footswitch to get the most out of these specs. If you’re looking for a clean, crisp pedal platform on a budget, this has to be a top tube amp contender. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it looks great, either in the black or tan tolex with the racing stripes. This Delta King 10 is a great option for singer-songwriters, guitarists stuck in a cramped dorm or apartment, or players who like to shape their signal chain from the pedalboard.

Sterling by Music Man Mariposa Review

Will this affordable signature model from Sterling hold up when compared to the great St. Vincent model?

Cost: $549.99 from Sterlingbymusicman.com, Amazon.com, and Reverb.com! (Some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.9 out of 10

It’s hard not to like the Sterling by Music Man Mariposa just based off the looks alone. It’s another in a long line of stunningly unique signature models from the two brands, and this one is particularly comfortable to play. Featuring a lightweight Nyatoh wood body, this signature guitar for The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez sports a Roasted Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard for a real premium feel and playing experience. Despite looking small (at least to my eyes), the Mariposa is a full 25.5″ scale length, with gorgeous block inlays, 22 frets, and locking tuners on the classic 4:2 Music Man headstock. Dual Sterling designed humbuckers each have their own volume control knob, so no tone knob, letting you blend in all sorts of pickup combos when you’re in the middle position of the 3-way selector. Available in a Vintage White finish as well, the Dorado Green was too good for me to pass up on and it does not disappoint in person. Rounding out the features is the standard Sterling By Music Man vintage tremolo system, which has been reliable and solid on all the Sterlings I’ve played to date.

Sound: 8

The Mariposa can go from cranked brutality to subtle crunch and cleans with ease. I think my favorite aspect of it sonically is how it nails the “quiet loud” tones. Specifically, when you turn the pickup or amp volume down, I don’t feel like I lose any body or richness, just volume. The distortion and overdriven tones are still rich and feel “big” in the room, just quieter. This made it a joy to play in my tiny apartment office, where I can’t always just dime my amps and pedals as I please. Having the ability to blend in different mixtures of the neck and bridge is a really useful addition to this guitar, that also doesn’t infringe on your ability to just plug in and play if you’re not a tone tweaker. Sterling has definitely captured the high quality tones of the more expensive Ernie Ball Music Man Mariposa, and it doesn’t sound far off from higher priced instruments I’ve reviewed. These humbuckers are especially nice to my ears, though they don’t really specify much about their make and model. With warm, full sounds, they can even get super chimey when you mess around with rolling off some of the neck volume but keep the bridge on. It’s just a great sounding guitar through and through.

Playability: 8

Another big selling point for the Mariposa is just how comfortable it is to play. The neck is smooth and fast, but not unfamiliar to a more traditional player like myself who prefers Strats and Teles. It feels about right, with a 12″ radius, for most players who are looking to pick this up and perform a wide variety of musical genres with it. The tuning stability has been great so far, firmly above average compared to many $500 guitars I’ve played. I was equally impressed with the fretwork, action, and set up out of the box. While it isn’t the most wonderful playing experience of the year, it is quite good when you consider the cost and feels ready to be a reliable stage or studio guitar. With no big issues to point out, and no real critique, I think you should expect this to be a player’s guitar. Taking it out of your home studio or bedroom should definitely be in the cards when gigs and the world return back to normal.

Finish & Construction: 7.5

Again, more good scores and pleasant performances from the Mariposa here. There’s plus points for the unique body shape, and lightweight/comfortable feel of playing it sitting or standing up. It’s a very stripped down guitar, especially without the tone knob, which I personally prefer. However, I kept it just out of the 8 range because I do think guitars should have a bit heavier spec sheet to reach that “superb” level of 8 or higher. But a strong 7.5 is deserved thanks to the Roasted Maple neck which looks and feels amazing alongside the Dorado Green finish. The finish was also pretty much flawless, and looks great hanging on the wall or sitting alongside my other guitars. You can tell the build quality and quality assurance is on par with the reputation Sterling has amassed in recent years.

Value: 8

I’ve said it a few times already, but this feels far closer to $1000 than $500. Especially with guitar and gear prices ballooning out of control, this is a superb value. The Sterling Mariposa plays well, looks great, and sounds just as good. It feels far superior to a nice CV Squier, which is shockingly close in price, and I would have no reservations about taking it on stage. You can cover a lot of ground with the Mariposa, as I switched from Clash-like punk, to delay drenched U2, and then into fuzzed out doom riffs with ease. The real endorsement here is that I’m not a particularly big fan of At The Drive-In or The Mars Volta, Rodriguez-Lopez’s most well known projects, and yet I am still head over heels in love with this guitar. That’s the sign of a perfectly executed signature model, and the Sterling variant takes that formula down to a much more accessible price point.

Good for: Genre-Bending Players, Dual Humbucker Guitar Fans, Modern Fusion, Metal, Punk, Versatile Players

What Reverb’s “The Pedal Movie” Got So Right

Most movies that are hyped up this much tend to follow predictable, sales boosting story arcs, but not this one.

Credit: Reverb.com

Learn more and watch The Pedal Movie

Guitar pedal culture has gotten out of hand. In fact, I’ve already written about how crazy the world of boutique and limited release pedals has become. Despite all the forum trash talk, the pedal re-sellers, and the never ending online window shopping I do, I still found myself incredibly excited for Reverb’s The Pedal Movie. Would they dig into the Klon craziness? Would they glorify the best, affordable pedals that we all started out on? Or would it just be a spoken word version of JHS’s Pedals: The Musical?

All jokes aside, kind of curious timing to release a pedals musical right before the ever-hyped Reverb movie that heavily featured Josh Scott drops, but we will take our tin foil hats off now and get back to the task at hand.

I think one of my biggest fears was going to be that this movie would unintentionally rile up the masses to put even higher premiums on historical pedals. It would create a groundswell of “boutique is best” amongst guitar players. Simply put, people who watched it would focus more on the concept of owning the pedals they highlighted, instead of just appreciating them. I trusted fully that this was not the director’s intentions, or Reverb’s intentions, but I didn’t trust the machine that is online pedal culture, algorithms, and market demand.

Well I am pleasantly shocked.

The Pedal Movie so nicely focuses on the story of the music we all know and love, and how pedals were an important part of that journey through time. After watching the movie, I had zero urge to go online and buy up a Tone Bender and Fuzz Face. Instead, I wanted to pick up my guitar and play, and make noise, and experiment. Directors Michael Lux and Dan Orkin (and everyone else involved) absolutely nailed the execution of a movie that was meant to highlight how pedals are a tool of the trade and how they spark creativity. There was rarely, if any, mention of collectors or of stockpiling valuable pedals. Even when they briefly mentioned the Klon, they did so in a way that highlighted how great the pedal sounds, not just how mythical and valuable it is.

With almost 100 interviews with artists, pedal builders, and other icons the whole focus is on why we love pedals, what they can actually do for us as players. When they do bring up controversial topics such as cloning circuits, it is done in short bursts, with concise, clear takes from people who know far more about it than you or me. The absolute quote of the YEAR as far as I’m concerned comes from Dweezil Zappa himself when he decries online forum arguments. It’s so good, the price of the movie is worth that 20 seconds or so alone.

Lastly, they cover important aspects of the pedal industry that we often do not discuss enough. How women have been vital to the development of the pedal world, but remain underrepresented despite their growing presence in the guitar and music spaces we all know and love. They highlight historical figures that I’ve never heard of who made all this wonderful music possible. It’s a high level look into the electric guitar’s history, and it so satisfyingly highlights why you should love pedals in the first place.

If it sounds good, it is good.

Manson Guitar Works Meta Series MBM-1 Guitar Review

As a huge Muse fan, the creation of an affordable signature model for Matt Bellamy has been on my wishlist for years.

Credit: Manson Guitar Works

Cost: $599.99 from Mansonguitarworks.com, Reverb.com, or Amazon.com! (Some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.4 out of 10

When it comes to 21st century guitar heroes, Muse’s Matt Bellamy is firmly at the top of any list. His operatic vocals, punishing riffs, and penchant for precise solos are amazing, especially in concert with the pure thunderous performance of their bassist Chris Wolstenholme. While I won’t let my Muse fandom influence my review, I have long been looking forward to trying one of these Manson products. The Meta Series MBM-1 is the more affordable option, made overseas by famed guitar makers at the Cort factory. What you get is a light Basswood body with a bolt-on Hard Maple neck and Indian Laurel fingerboard. There’s a compound radius on the soft V neck, which has a satin finish. Two humbucker pickups provide good balance, with the neck having a warmer, vintage tone and the bridge being much hotter and modern sounding. Standard 3-way controls, master volume and tone, and a kill switch (for stutter effects) round out the electronics. All the hardware is chrome finished, including the staggered locking tuners, and the Meta MBM-1 comes in Starlight Silver or Dry Satin Black finish options. With an offset T-style influenced original Manson shape, it is especially nice to see another Signature guitar that isn’t just a complete retread of a Strat or LP.

Sound: 7

I’m not going to lie, this guitar sounds good. It isn’t the most versatile beast I’ve reviewed but it does cover quite a bit of ground. The neck is warm, smooth, and does all of that warm blues-y stuff you could want out of a neck humbucker. While it isn’t inherently Gibson-like, I found myself feeling just as comfortable sonically on that setting as I was on the Epiphone Black Beauty neck pickup. It really came to life some ambient tones, with reverb, chorus, and delay all layered on top, and it never got too muddy until I rolled the tone knob down. A sort of jack of all trades, master of none neck pickup scenario that is sure to please. Flipping to the bridge, the guitar comes alive and you can instantly see where the Matt Bellamy/Muse influence is hidden in this guitar. It’s thick, cuts through the mix, and feels huge when you kick on the right gain pedal or turn up your amp. Single note lines pour out of the MBM-1 with ease, never feeling too thin or small. The clarity is really what earns it high marks though, as all three settings retained a musical feel and note to note punch, even when playing dense chords. It’s a real workhorse, with the neck and bridge both doing very different things.

Playability: 8

Earning the highest praise is the feel and playability of the Manson Guitar Works model. Once you pick it up, you won’t want to put it back down. And while the sounds and tones and looks are all good, it is clear this is meant to be used and abused. The satin neck finish is so smooth and thin, that you can fly around the neck with ease. Fretwork, tuning quality, and action are all squarely above average and have caused zero problems for me. The Meta Series MBM-1 has this sort of unquantifiable quality where it just feels insanely comfortable to me, a function of the light body, smooth neck, and loud sound most likely. I’m sure not everyone will have that connection with the instrument, but as a Fender-player for most of my life, this can be best described as the hot rodded T-style I always wanted, but never found. The locking tuners are convenient for string changes, and the MBM-1 has handled me constantly shifting to Drop D and back to E standard. Whatever issues you may have with this guitar, the playability should never be one.

Finish & Construction: 7

Not having dot inlays on the neck has gotten me in trouble a few times already while filming the demos, but that is the only construction choice that is borderline questionable. I like the Starlight Silver finish, but it is not nearly as bling-y or silver as the pictures online make it seem. Mine feels a bit more muted, albeit still very pleasant to look at. In terms of build quality, it checks all the boxes that I would consider “musts”. There’s no dings, dents, or signs of lazy QA/QC. Hardware and pickups were properly adjusted, and the guitar feels greater than the sum of its parts. Nothing to really lower the score here, but nothing to really shine either. I was impressed with little things like the feel of the tuners, the quality of the strings that came stock on it. The construction choices like the satin finish on the neck and the kill switch in the electronics were really wise decisions, and help make this guitar that much more fun to interact with. Lots of smart decisions here while carefully toeing the line to keep cost down.

Value: 7.5

It’s clear that the Meta Series is a good value when you consider the playability and the sounds you can pull from it. This guitar has great bones, so even if you want to swap pickups out or tweak something to your liking, the potential is always going to be there without major changes. Furthermore, it is a fairly unique option on the budget market even if you’re not a huge Bellamy or Muse fan. It has far reaching positives aside from just sounding like the guitar tone on “Psycho” or “Knights Of Cydonia”. Many non-Muse fans should take note, as should all Muse fans, because the MBM-1 is just fun, with some modern, borderline-metal sounds hidden in it. With guitar prices rising dramatically, this still feels like really good bang for the buck, and I have played guitars that feel very similar but cost $800+.

Good for: Muse Fans, Modern Guitar Players, High Gain Tones, Lead Guitarists, Single Guitar Bands, T-Style Guitar Fans

Fender Mustang Micro Headphone Amp Review

As a proud owner and user of the Mustang V1 15 watt combo, will this little guy win me over?

Overview & Cost: $99.99 from Fender.com and Reverb.com! (Some affiliate links)

I really thought this was going to be a gimmick. I really thought it would be another low quality headphone amp, holy grail “practice amp” solution. But Fender’s Mustang Micro is actually seriously fun, seriously user friendly, and it sounds great. What you’re looking at here is basically the Fender Mustang Amp series (my first amp ever) shrunken down into a little headphone amp. With 12 amp voices, 12 effects voices, and the ability to slightly modify the EQ and effects voicing, you have surprisingly versatile control over your sound. While I’ll go through each setting and effect in the demo, the effects are generally centered in the reverb-modulation-delay genre. The amp sounds range from compressed cleans to mid-scooped metal tones, and literally everything in between. But arguably the major features I want to highlight in this overview are the connect-ability options. You can connect your phone via bluetooth and play songs or albums right into your headphones alongside your guitar signal. So you can actually play along to songs to learn or practice them. The real winner might be how you can record directly into your computer using the included usb-c cable. Plus one end into the Mustang Micro and the other into your computer, and you can record real amp sounds right into any software.

Review & Opinion:

I like this Mustang Micro so much more than I could have imagined. I really thought this was a gimmick, I thought it was going to be another low quality headphone amp that will sell thousands of copies and we’ll forget about in 2 years. But honestly, this is the real deal! The amp sounds aren’t going to make you throw out your Vox or Marshall, but they sound like an actual amp in the room with you. They have a diverse selection too, with ’60s and ’70s British inspired tones, grunge-y sounds from the ’90s, and multiple high gain and crystal clean options. It sounds eerily similar to my actual Mustang V1 15 watt amp, which is a compliment because that amp served me well during many live gigs in my life. I wish that a few of the modulated effects were replaced with other gain options, but generally speaking the different flavors of reverb, chorus, delay, and tremolo are more than acceptable. All your gain will have to come out of the amp voicing you selected, but when you combine that with the effects and the guitar’s pickups, you can cook up most every basic sound you’d ever want. The sounds speak for themselves though, and simply put, they are phenomenal for a headphone amp. Headphone amps have long been plagued by thin, one-dimensional sounds. At worst, it just doesn’t even sound like a guitar with some of the ancient attempts. This gets high grades not because it is the best amp I’ve played, but because it sounds amazing at most, if not all, settings, in a headphone amp application. I know there are some competitors out there, but this is thoroughly the only headphone or practice amp that I plan to keep and use.

Conclusion & Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

I know this is a product that’s been plastered around the web for a week or more now, but it really is that good. It’s incredibly convenient for practicing, learning songs, or recording quick scratch demos and tracks. Fender’s Mustang Micro can just do so much for you in a really small package and with a relatively small price tag. For about $100, I’m buying this tomorrow if mine gets stolen tonight. Quiet practicing in apartments, taking your guitar on the road, the applications are endless. And the price isn’t prohibitive to many players, be it beginners or experts. The Mustang Micro is a great accessory but really more of a tool for the modern guitarist. I use mine to mainly play along to songs while learning them by ear or looking up tabs. It’s great to plug in after a long day, not have to worry about turning my amp down or plugging in pedals, and just jam to some Muse or The Clash. I’m honestly buying the hype on this product, and if you need a practice amp or silent guitar playing solution, this deserves 100% of your attention!

SPS Pedals Local 2609: A Boosted Blues Breaker

How will this switchable, boosted Blues Breaker fit into a rig that is clearly lacking a transparent drive?

Cost & Overview: $120.00 new from SPS Pedal’s Reverb Shop! (Affiliate link)

Part of my favorite thing about Instagram is that you can discover a new gear brand every single day. Whether it is a pedal company, amp maker, or overseas guitar manufacturer, I’m constantly scouting out gear that I think is worthy of attention. That’s how this SPS Pedal’s Local 2609 pedal ended up in my hands, and I think it is a company and transparent overdrive that is well worth your time. The Local 2609 is based on the legendary Blues Breaker circuit, except with a slightly boosted bass bump and a larger volume boost to help keep the pedal at unity or higher with an amp. SPS Pedals also added a mini toggle switch that lets you choose between a more stock vintage mode, and a higher gain setting that isn’t necessarily a distortion, but takes you into a crunchier, brighter gain stage. Aside from those modifications, you have standard overdrive controls like volume, tone, and gain, and a pedalboard friendly standard enclosure size. It’ll take your standard 9v power adaptor with ease, and you’re pretty much off to the races after that! Extra points for the very convenient top mounted jacks!

Review & Opinion:

Immediately upon plugging in the Local 2609 I realized this pedal can add some serious sparkle as a sort of clean/light drive boost. It really shined on top of single coils, helping to create a more 3-dimensional sound that was a joy to play (see end of the demo). This was arguably my favorite use of the Local 2609, which isn’t far out of the realm of what most people use transparent drives for. However, the more gain-rich tones are great as well, with very sensitive controls letting you go from slight dirt to borderline distortion with the toggle switch and gain knob. While I liked the “stock” Blues Breaker mode with the gain turned up, I think the higher gain “modded” mode is far superior. To my ears, the stock mode was really just a good boost and a perfectly acceptable but uninspiring overdrive. However, the higher gain sounds totally come to life and had me excited to play with the Local 2609. To me, it thickened up the sound considerably which is arguably the most important thing a drive pedal can do for lead lines. This boosted Blues Breaker cut through the mix, added a ton of shine to my guitar signal, and was easy to dial in good sounds with. I see two types of players getting the most out of the Local 2609, those who want a light gain boost to keep always on, or those who need a transparent overdrive to push their tube amp into crunch. SPS Pedal’s Local 2609 can work wonderfully for both, and I think the versatility it provides should make it a great candidate for live/gigging pedalboards where you want your pedal to be able to do multiple things if needed.

Conclusion & Final Score: 7 out of 10

As someone who doesn’t use a lot of transparent overdrives, it was refreshing to connect with this pedal so easily. At a barely boutique price point, with versatile controls, there is a lot to really like here even if a Blues Breaker isn’t my go-to form of overdrive. And maybe most importantly, the pedal seems to be really well built, with clean wiring and soldering on the inside, and no discernible buzz or hum when engaged. I do think anyone looking for a Blues Breaker should consider this before shelling out more money for something fancier or more well known. Likewise, the subtle improvements on the original circuit make this a good choice for vintage Blues Breaker fans who have had enough of the low output and bass cut at high gain. I’m curious to see some more SPS Pedal stuff roll across my board, because I think they’ve clearly got some good ideas on how to improve classic circuits, maybe a Tube Screamer or Fuzz will be more up my alley as well. Either way, I can strongly recommend this and look forward to using it on top of Strat single coils!