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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The second of two Vintage guitars I was lent for review, this one will be taking part in my Affordable Jazzmaster face-off for Ultimate-Guitar. In a stunning Gloss Black finish, this V65 from their Icon Series has a Maple body, Mahogany neck, and Lignum Rosa fretboard. A traditional 10″ radius alongside 22 Medium Jumbo frets gives the neck a familiar feel. So too does the soft-C profile and smooth gloss finish. A Graphtech NuBone nut provides a smooth, friction free contact point for each of the strings, greatly helping the tremolo system maintain use-ability. Moving on to the hardware, their vintage offset tremolo looks and feels right at home for a Jazzmaster-style guitar. Wilkinson’s WJ44 tuning machines look the part as well, and offer solid stability. While there isn’t the typical Jazzmaster wiring schematic you may no and love, you do get master volume, tone, and a 3-way selector to shape the tone of your dual soapbar pickups.
True to Jazzmaster form, these pickups seem fairly low output but definitely sweet sounding. Unlike a typical JM-style guitar, there is no rhythm circuit to add some depth or beef it up. Despite the quiet soapbars, these P90 pickups are fairly snappy and are great for chords, rhythm work, and atmospheric/ambient guitar playing. They took gain far better than I anticipated, which seemed to breathe some life into this Vintage V65. Even better, the pickups did retain some clarity with a heavy does of Pro Co Rat distortion layered on top. However, the clean sounds really do sound a bit on the thin side when compared to similar style guitars. They aren’t nearly as muddy as the Wilkinson P90 in their V120 I recently reviewed (and really liked) but they also don’t have any balls…To me, this Vintage V65 guitar only thrived when my amp was cranked and my pedal board was adding tons of texture. Overall, it grades out slightly above average in the tone department, because I really loved the distorted tones I got out of it, as seen in the sound demo below. But to be fair, most people turn to a Jazzmaster for clean sounds, which left me wanting a bit more here.
I was very impressed with how smooth the gloss finish was on the Maple neck, which featured some nice wood grain underneath. It supplied a real nice experience up and down the fretboard, especially with the soft-C shaped neck feeling a little thin, which I prefer. Wrapping my thumb around the top was a breeze, which isn’t always the case on some of these JM-influenced guitars. The tuning stability was ultimately solid to above average, but once you start working the tremolo system, you’ll likely have to tune up every few songs. For live playing, it wouldn’t be a huge issue, as long as you are someone who is comfortable tuning up mid show. Overall, the fretwork was solid too, with only a few spots showing signs of any sort of buzz. For the price, I wasn’t expecting perfect playability but if you were to invest in a pro setup for you new V65, I think you’d be surprised how buttery and smooth the neck would feel going forward!
Finish & Construction: 8
Where this Vintage V65 does shine is the fit and finish. I absolutely love the look of the Gloss Black finish, which feels and looks premium even under close inspection. There were barely any signs of quality control issues, aside from dust accumulation (could be from transit) all over the guitar. Likewise, the hardware was really nicely installed and only one of the pickups needed the slightest adjustment to be truly level. So outside of a few truly minor tweaks out of the box, you can expect your V65 Icon Series guitar to be pretty much ready to go. It’s certainly an inspiring guitar to look at, and I found myself picking it up pretty much anytime my eyes caught the reflection off the glossy finish.
At the end of the day, I think this is really solid value for the price tag. It’s only marginally more expensive than the popular Tagima JM copies and is a bit below a Squier Classic Vibe Jazzmaster. I’m fairly confident it also sits somewhere in between them in terms of quality as well. The Tagima may sound a bit sweeter, but this guitar feels and looks a lot more like a high end instrument, which really makes me think this is a few quick modifications away from being a beast of a guitar. Vintage also did a great job making this V65 work as a good introduction to offsets or Jazzmasters for players who may be hesitant to leap into a more expensive take on this design. If you’re looking for your first offset, or want a guitar that has potential to grow with you as a player, this Vintage Icon Series V65 is a great option for around $350!
Good for:Rhythm Guitar Players, Shoegaze, Alternative/Indie Rock, DIY Mods for Offset Guitars, Garage Rock, Introduction to Jazzmasters
Some thoughts on the recent pedal craze that was punctuated by the Chase Bliss/ZVEX Bliss Factory ordeal.
I love guitar pedals, in fact I think pretty much anyone who plays guitar or bass probably does. Yes we may argue over how many pedals you need, or which pedal has that vintage tone, but we all love them all the same. So quite frankly, it makes sense that when two rad pedal companies work together on a custom built collaboration, people are going to want that pedal!
But what no one talks about until after the fact is how the want for exciting new pedals, especially limited releases like the Bliss Factory, soon turns to a wave of vitriol online once the pedal has sold out. I actually first started writing this after the Ayahuasca debacle, where the poor owner of Chase Bliss was roasted alive by some so called fans for only making a limited batch of these fuzz pedals. But why do builders only make a limited number of something? Is it corporate greed gone boutique to drive up prices? To drive up demand? To create a sense of elitism? Well usually it is because they either ran out of the components they need to me more. Or it is because the pedal sucks to build and they choose not to do it anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure Joel from Chase Bliss came right out and said “yeah, I don’t really like the Ayahuasca as a pedal” (paraphrasing). Not everything is a global conspiracy these days. You know what turns these limited releases into a huge problem though, it’s probably you, the consumer.
Are These Pedals Under Priced?
This is a question that gets thrown around forums, YouTube comment sections, and the like anytime a pedal is listed at $400 by the manufacturer and then is bought up by re-sellers who will list it for $1000 on Reverb.com the next day. Sure, in some senses the pedal may be under priced. You could make the argument that if someone is willing to pay $1000 for a Chase Bliss/ZVEX Bliss Factory than it is indeed worth $1000.
But what is in it for those two companies if they only charge $400 for it? When it is re-sold online for a grand, they don’t see a cent of that sale. It doesn’t do anything aside from (maybe) give them the marketing boost of saying hey, our pedals are really great. So great in fact, people will pay anything for them. But is that worth missing out on the $600 in sales? Hell no it isn’t. And look at how it backfires so to speak, if that was their goal (it wasn’t)! People are now sending searing emails saying it is the pedal makers’ fault for making a limited release and that they should have known better that this would happen. They priced it at whatever they thought it was worth, and whatever made sense for their businesses, and then we all inflated the price ourselves.
Re-sellers Only Re-sell Because You’re Buying
Let’s be very clear about one thing. People only buy these pedals with the intention of re-selling them for more money, because they know people will pay anything for the pedal. They are fully aware that despite all the flack they may get online, if they list the $400 Bliss Factory, they will get $1000 from someone. And that same person who spent $1000 may even be running to their computer to post on thegearpage.com about how it is such a shame they had to spend $1000 just to get the pedal they so wanted.
It is not the job of the pedal maker to make sure no one exploits the popularity of their product. Limited releases are 9 times out of 10 not a marketing ploy, and result from limited supply of necessary components. If you can only source about a thousand special transistors you need, you can only make about a thousand pedals.
So instead, maybe we as a guitar pedal community need to stop putting these pedals on a pedestal. If you didn’t get a Bliss Factory, so be it, go get an equally as functional and inspiring Fuzz Factory. Don’t immediately go online and look for a re-seller, only to bemoan the practice later. If you stop buying them from re-sellers, then no one will buy them with the intent to try to re-sell them for profit. We need to self regulate here and let limited releases be limited releases where not everyone was meant to have one. And quite honestly, why do we all need more $400 pedals? That’s not a criticism of Chase Bliss or ZVEX, but I’ll take a $400 guitar over a $400 pedal any day, these pedals probably aren’t even going to be the “secret weapon” that changes your tone, gets your band famous, or makes you a better player. It’s just a pedal. A damn cool pedal. But just another pedal in a sea of hundreds of awesome pedals.
It blows my mind that a simple guitar pedal has people running to their computers to lay abuse on some pedal makers. They don’t profit off of this madness, they don’t do it to cause controversy, they just wanted to make a cool pedal idea come to life. Pedals are one part of a much larger guitar rig which is one part of a much larger life lead by an individual. Your time is much better spent voting, enacting change in your community, or just practicing the guitar!
But Matt, You’re Just Jealous
And to anyone saying I’m just writing this because I’m upset that I can’t afford one, you’re half right I guess? Yeah, I can’t afford any of these pedals even before they were hitting reverb for over $700. But I’m happy with my board of $100 Boss and MXR pedals! They do a lot for me and the way I play guitar, and while I may not own any “expensive” pedals, it doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in the them, it just means that right now, I know they aren’t an essential part of my guitar playing life. Pedals are tools, they can be used in all different kinds of ways, by all different kinds of players. I’d love to try an Ayahuasca, Bliss Factory, King of Tone, whatever the craze is. I bet they are awesome pedals! That doesn’t mean we need to turn ZVEX and Chase Bliss’ email inboxes into a war zone….
Let’s dig into 3 mini pedals from the up and coming affordable guitar gear warehouse!
For a lot of these non-guitar gear reviews we’ll be changing up the review format to make them a little more easily accessible, especially with gear that isn’t particularly expensive. Starting us off in the pedal realm will be these brand new, micro pedals from Musiclily.com.
A color coded system will be used: Green = good purchase, can recommend strongly Yellow = some hesitation but good for some Gray = average, can do better can do worse, Red = avoid
Coming in at an incredibly reasonable $27 (or so, prices seem to be shifting between $23 and $27 USD), these are a great entry level option for beginners or player’s building their first pedal board. Specifically, we’ll be looking at the 3 effects that are very essential to my sound: chorus, delay, and drive. Each pedal is powered by a typical 9 volt power supply and have very simple, straightforward controls. Truth be told, I’m not sure who makes these pedals, as in the OEM status, but they seem to be similar to Kmise pedals from what I can tell.
Ultimate Drive: A “Plexi-style” drive pedal with gain, tone, and level controls alongside a high/low switch. This high/low switch seems to control a the tone, with low switch creating a bass-heavy, chug ready sound. The high option, is much more bright and in your face, like a cranked Plexi.
Overall, I’m impressed with the tones from all 3 pedals when you consider the price point. As you’ll hear in the demo video, they certainly provide useable sounds, both home recordings or live gigs. Right off the bat, the Analog Chorus won me over and would be the only one out of this selection that could live on my pedalboard. The controls have great sweep, which let you really dial in a viareity of chorus tones even with only two knobs. It has some Super Chorus flavors, but can also approach Neo Clone sounds as well. This is a strong choice for chorus lovers, beginners, or players building an affordaboard.
The Analog Delay was similar in the sense that there are many useable sounds, that certainly could fit into any player’s rig regardless of experience or budget. However, this pedal lacks two key things that would excite me: a weirdness factor, and a naturally warmth. Now, this is to be expected and shouldn’t prevent you from purchasing one. It’s a $27 delay pedal that works, if you are new to guitar or delay, this is a phenomenal place to start! It doesn’t do any crazy self oscillation stuff, there are no built-in modulations like we see in many popular delays. It’s just a straight forward, nice little analog delay that misses some of that vintage warmth, but will fit nicely on any pedalboard.
Last but not least, well kind of least, I would rank the Ultimate Drive towards the bottom of the ranking. I found the low setting to be fine, but it cuts out a lot of the Marshall-sound that I feel like makes this pedal attractive. At that point, it’s just a lower quality DS-1. But the high setting gives that Plexi tone that is quite fun and useful. If you don’t move the tone off of noon too much, this is a gigable pedal! And for $25+ that is quite an accomplishment and something worth highlighting. Another downside was that I found this drive to be quite noisy when plugged into my amp through several guitars. Nothing that wasn’t useable, but this remains a beginner-only option in my mind, while the Analog Chorus and Delay could possibly get the job done for a wide variety of players.
Final Conclusions and Ratings
Analog Chorus: 7/10 “Great Option, Buy It”
Not a bad chorus, even if tones are limited by the two knob set up. If you need a chorus and don’t expect a ton from your chorus (aka you’re not the guitarist in a “The Cult” cover band) this is perfectly great, affordable option to sit on your pedalboard, for beginners and pros.
Analog Delay: 6/10 “Do Some Research But A Good Option”
In terms of sound it may be a bit lower or closer to average (a 5 out of 10 score) but the value is off the charts for a $27 pedal. Great introduction to delay or a great second option (that you can afford), if you like having two delay pedals on your board for two different speeds.
Ultimate Drive:4.5/10 “Better For Beginners Or Curious Players, Don’t Rely On”
A fine pedal, certainly in the average range or maybe better when you consider the price. I love the Plexi-like sounds of the high settings but find the low setting to be not worth the time to tweak. If you’re playing through a clean amp, or one with limited settings, this is a nice way to spice up your dirt sound. Otherwise, spend a bit more on a DS-1 or tube screamer clone.
Yamaha built a superb ES-335 style guitar without anyone seeming to take notice. Just like with the Revstar I reviewed over a year ago, we need to pay more attention to Yamaha guitars. This SA-2200 is a semi-hollow electric guitar with two powerful Alnico V humbuckers that are each coil split enabled. Thanks to push/pull tone pots for each pickup, a volume pot for each pickup, and a 3-way selector switch, there is a huge variety of tones waiting to be dialed in. Coming in at a very Gibson-esque 24 3/4″ scale length, the SA-2200 sports a Laminated Sycamore body, Soft Maple center block, and Mahogany neck. An Ebony fretboard holds 22 medium jumbo frets, double block inlays, and a real bone nut. Some impressive hardware helps round out the spec sheet with Gotoh SG30 tuners, GE101Z tailpiece, and GE103B bridge. A gloss polyurethane finish gives this guitar some shine and a very scratch resistant finish.
There is no shortage of excellent sounds hidden in this Yamaha SA-2200, especially with the addition of the coil splits. A what really impressed me is just how useable these coil splits are. Even on many fairly pricey guitars, like the Gibson Les Paul Studio from this year, the coil splits are just volume cuts that really thin out the sound. Yamaha has graced the SA-2200 with much brighter, more articulate single coil sounds hidden in both the neck and bridge. A known hater when it comes to neck pickups, I was very happy to find this neck pickup didn’t get too muddy too quickly, with above average sweep in the tone and volume knobs to actually manipulate the tone. The humbucker tones are even a bit sharper, with some real chime, when compared to your typical PAF-type pickup. While they are high output and great for classic rock, blues, and pop music you definitely lose just a little bit of that muscle you get in a more traditional ES-335 style guitar. But you gain so much more, you can tweak this guitar to sound all sorts of wonderful. Especially if you have some versatile pedals and a high quality amplifier. Hopefully you can hear it in the sound clips below from my YouTube channel, because I loved playing this guitar and it was one of the best sounding review units from 2020.
More praise is due here for the SA-2200, which came almost perfectly set up out of the box. Tuning stability was top notch, and this could anyone’s main gigging instrument without any issues. Action was similarly wonderful, and smooth up and down the neck. It feels a bit thinner than a lot of the baseball bat style necks on this style of guitar, but still thick and round enough to feel familiar in your hands. That’s sort of the theme with this Yamaha SA-2200, it’s just a bit different from what you expect, but it’s all great quirks and tweaks that make it feel like a more modern, vintage semi-hollow. It’s hard not to love playing this guitar when you consider the great fretwork, tuning stability, and the killer looks. It’s a great strummer even when it is unplugged, and it feels built to take a lot of mileage.
Finish & Construction: 9
I’m a huge fan of the burst-style finish on this SA-2200, which featured some superb flaming and wood grain on the back. I can’t say I’ve ever played a guitar that featured a Laminated Sycamore, but it feels, sounds, and looks just as good as more familiar options like Mahogany. The build quality was top of the line here, absolutely living up to the Japanese-origin of these high end Yamaha’s. Hardware was well adjusted, and felt super sturdy and reliable. Likewise, there wasn’t a single spot or mark on the finish to complain about. This guitar is definitely built to last, and feels really well put together. Clearly, quality control shouldn’t be a concern, and the gloss finish feels reliable as hell, even if it won’t naturally relic as nicely as a nitro finish. Everything checks out as top end here, and this guitar will be ranking highly across all boards in the final, year round rating of the guitars we’ve reviewed in 2020.
High marks again, especially when compared to more traditional models of this guitar. Gibson ES-335’s from this year seem to start around $2500 and go up from there, especially for ones that will likely feel as premium as this guitar does. And if we’re being honest, I trust the quality control so much more from Yamaha than Gibson at this point (though Gibson is on the way up for sure). The pure versatility of this guitar also makes it a steal at around $2000, as it can be perfect for both gigging and studio musicians, covering a wide range of sounds and taking a beating in the meantime. Working coil splits, tuning stability, and fun factor are the highlights here, equating to a really inspiring and reliable guitar that is just expensive enough to raise expectations, but not expensive enough to prohibit many from owning their own SA-2200 one day. I’d pick this over a Gibson or Epiphone any day, and honestly, more people should know about this guitar.
Good for: ES-335 Fans, Versatile Guitar Players, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Pop, Players Looking For Gibson Alternatives, Fans Of Bright Humbuckers
A recent addition to Fender’s Vintera line, the new Road Worn series bring a slightly less egregious form of relic’ing to the table for vintage Tele fans. This Vintera Road Worn ’50s Telecaster is all the right sorts of broken in, with a warm, comfortable U-shaped neck, vintage tall frets, and just the slightest amount of checking, buckle rash, and paint chips. Featuring a Nitrocellulose Vintage Blonde finish, this Alder Mexican-made Telecaster is by far the most genuine take on a vintage Fender I have ever played. The Maple neck and fretboard hold 21 frets, with simple black dot markers, and a synthetic bone nut as well. Classic Tele wiring and controls power the Vintage Single-Coil Hot Tele pickups that Fender has crafted, and they are certainly hot indeed. A 3-saddle vintage bridge holds the strings through the body on one end, as they meet typical Fender Vintage-style tuners on the other. There’s not much to dig into here, Fender just made another awesome vintage spec’d Tele, except so far the only difference I can tell is that this one really feels and sounds 70 years old (and that’s a good thing).
This is straight up the sweetest sounding Telecaster I’ve ever played. Yes, I loved the Professional II Tele I recently reviewed, but this is better at a being a real, classic Tele than that one was. Fender made this just a carbon copy of a ’50s Tele and it works wonderfully for me. The pickups are true to their name, and very warm with high output but not “modern” sounding whatsoever. When I plugged this Road Worn ’50s Tele into my cranked Vox AC15, it came alive and really displayed why Tele’s are the most versatile guitar out there. Obviously it does Jimmy Page stuff, but it was a joy to go from “Whole Lotta Love” to The Clash’s “London Calling” or U2’s “A Sort Of Homecoming”. For me, I want my guitars to cover all the music I love with just a few pedals or volume/tone knob tweaks. I’m so enthusiastic about this beat up MIM Telecaster because it does all of that with ease and sounds so close to a far more expensive American model than I expected. Each pickup option is totally useable, with the neck never getting too muddy and the middle position never sounding too thin. Sure, there are some of those ice pick highs that old Fender’s get (and the Pro II Tele removed), but for my musical tastes, those just work.
Normally, I find the playability to be the one big issue that Mexican-made Fender’s have. The Player Series Mustang 90 needed a few tweaks, and so did the Lead III. Surprisingly enough, this Telecaster did not have any of the issues I had with other 2020 MIM products. This Vintera Road Worn Telecaster even has the same single, low string tree as the others, which has always been a source of playability issues in my eyes. Sure, maybe I just got lucky and they sent me a diamond in the rough, but the Fender Telecaster that I unboxed and reviewed exhibited almost perfect playability, much to my surprise. Fretwork was impeccable and what really won me over was the broken in feeling of this guitar, it was never sticky up or down the neck, and the frets felt like they just fit my hand wonderfully. Likewise, the action was great and the tuning stability was shockingly great as well even with the sharper break angle over the nut due to that low string tree. I don’t know, something just feels magic about this guitar and I’m very impressed with this high end work from Fender’s Mexican plant. Simply put, this feels like an American Fender from long ago and you cannot tell it is MIM in origin.
Finish & Construction: 10
This is arguably the most subjective part of this review, as I’m a huge fan of the lightly relic’d finish job done by Fender. I know relic guitars are in right now, so some may be extremely sick of seeing them, but this is not a heavy relic or highly distressed guitar. Relic job aside, it is really hard to not love a blonde Tele with black pickguard, it’s just such a classic guitar design, especially with the Maple neck. Everything about this Vintera Road Worn ’50s Telecaster reminds me of the things I look for in other guitar brands. Or to better explain, I feel like this guitar is what I would compare all other Telecaster-style guitars to when I’m reviewing them. Rock solid construction, reliable tuning and hardware, everything is here to make this a reliable Telecaster. If I was to keep this guitar, it would be an essential part of my rig without a doubt, and #2 to only my beloved MIM HSS Stratocaster. Make no mistake, I would prefer this to most, if not all, $2000+ guitars I’ve reviewed.
There is two ways to look at the price tag on this Vintera Road Worn ’50s Tele. Some will say it is too much for a Mexican Fender, and others will pick up the guitar, plug it in, see how amazing it is, and then realize it is far closer to a USA-made product than your standard MIM guitar. I fall into that second category, and think that paying a premium for this MIM Fender would prevent me from ever having to shell out more to get a “real” Tele. That’s because this is a “real” Tele, in feel and tone. With guitar prices rising, I’d take this over a new Professional II Telecaster or Ultra Telecaster, because this is the classic, simple electric guitar that I prefer to more modern spec’d options. Those guitars may have better spec sheets, and work better for a more modern player, but I’m a punk rock guy through and through, and this guitar will continue to get high praise from me. This is great value for the price and could be someone’s main guitar for decades and decades.
Good for: Country, Blues Rock, Garage Rock, Pop, Gigging Musicians, Light Relic Fans, Any Telecaster Fan, Funk, Versatility
The Fender Professional II series has long been speculated as an upcoming announcement ever since the American Professional line was stripped from the interweb. Sweeping changes were coming, with new Pine bodies, replacing Ash, and some catchy new finishes. The “Dark Knight” finish I was sent for review was by far my favorite, and nicely contrasted the Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard. Fender’s Pro II guitar features 22 narrow-tall frets, a Deep-C neck, alongside a sculpted neck heel. Even better, the neck has rolled edges for premium playability and comfort. Staggered Fender tuners and a vintage 3-saddle bridge are pretty much the only familiar features you’ll find here. Upgraded pickups, Fender’s new V Mod II Tele pickups, add a bit of sweetness with less harsh highs. Another new tweak, the tone control is push-push for parallel/series switching in that middle position with both pickups on. For such a timeless and well known guitar, there are some interesting changes in this Professional II line!
The Pro II Telecaster’s calling card is the sonic possibilities and sound quality. It’s made to be a gigging warrior, providing modern and vintage sounds to suit whomever picks up this wonderful Tele. Personally, I don’t think there is any sound change with the switch in tone woods, with all the classic Telecaster tones pouring out of this guitar. Snappy chords and arpeggios in the bridge, smooth country twang in the neck, it’s all there. Instead, it’s nice to highlight what isn’t there, which is some of the ice pick highs of Fender bridge single coils. They definitely warmed up the new V Mod II pickups, giving them a bit more of full tone while still sounding distinctly Fender. I was a big fan of the series/parallel push-push pot because they really thickened up the two pickups in series, which provided a much more humbucker-like tone than you’ll find in any other Fender Tele. Overall, it’s incredibly diverse and all the changes they made to the classic Telecaster sounds are for the better. With the Fender Telecaster having had a million words written about it, let’s just dive into the sounds I did get out of this killer new guitar.
While the sounds that come out of this guitar are probably my favorite feature, the upgraded playability is a close second. The rolled edges make a very noticeable difference compared to other Tele’s I had just played. For me, Tele’s always have thicker necks than Strats, which has me favor them for more rhythm work or garage rock-style playing. On the other hand, I always think of the Strat as perfect for more technical work like John Mayer or John Frusciante, but this Tele firmly felt like it could fill both needs. The sculpted neck heel is subtle, but does help get a few more high frets into an easier position. Action and tuning stability were just great out of the box, even without locking tuners. This Fender Professional II guitar showed up from across the country fully in tune, just madness. When you put it all together, there were pretty much no red flags, making this a supreme option for live musicians.
Finish & Construction: 9
Really the only controversial feature is the Pine wood bodies on this new flagship series from Fender. Pine is simply not as durable or strong a wood as Ash, however Ash is getting harder to responsibly source. And to be fair, the first Telecasters designed by Leo Fender were made of Pine. So these guitars may take a bit more of a beating, as in get an extra scratch or dent, but really shouldn’t have too many serious concerns about build quality. The finish on the other hand was killer, so many of the new colors in the Fender Professional II line are worth the price of admission. “Dark Knight” was and still is my favorite, looking like a reverse burst with the darker blue moving into the body. Likewise, the finish work was perfectly done with no marks or errors. Hardware, quality control, everything was up to the standard I would expect from American Fender guitars.
The more guitars I review, the more I realize that a lot of these American Fender guitars aren’t priced all that high. $1500 sure isn’t affordable, but it’s honestly pretty fair for a guitar of this quality, especially with more and more guitars in this quality range costing $2000+ in today’s market. Gibson, Ibanez, and pretty much all the boutique companies that are trending right now will set you back more than this Fender for a similar product. Fender has tweaked the Tele to be uniquely modern, especially in the playability department. I’m going with my gut that this is a lot of guitar for the money, and will squarely fit into almost any player’s rig. New finishes, upgraded pickups, there are a lot of cool changes Fender made and all they did was raise the price by about $50? Yeah, no price raise would have been nice, but guitar prices are skyrocketing at the moment so context is everything. Overall, if all the Pro II line guitars are like this Tele, then Fender’s new flagship line is a big winner in my book.
Good for:Country, Classic Rock, Gigging Musicians, Pop, Versatile Players, R&B, Pretty Much Anything!
New for 2020, UK-based Vintage Guitars has released a wonderful take on a distressed Les Paul Junior at a very palatable price. The V120MRGHB is a single cut guitar made with a Mahogany body and neck, not unlike the very guitar that inspired this model. A Lignum Rosa fretboard has 22 medium jumbo frets and plenty of solid Wilkinson hardware and Graphtech NuBone nut. Wilkinson’s Deluxe WJ15 tuners hold the strings opposed a Wilkinson GTBCR wrap around bridge, with their own W90SK dog ear P90 pickup providing the growl. Pictured above is the “Gun Hill Blue over Sunburst” distressed finish I was sent, which is really killer in picture and person. Looking a lot like a nice Pelham Blue finish, I’m a big fan of the relic’d style appearance, even though that is sure to turn some off from this guitar right away. The single dog ear is controlled by standard master volume and tone, providing for a super straightforward instrument that won’t break the bank.
While single P90 guitars are right up my alley, I did have a few qualms with the Vintage V120 ICON’s tones. The P90 has great growl, bite, and mid-range punch but was actually a bit muddier than I was expecting. Note to note clarity seemed to get a bit lost once you dialed in higher volumes and more gain. However, I was actually able to get it back to a very clear, bell-like sound with some tweaks to my Vox AC15’s top boost channel that helped cut more treble through. Ultimately, it’s not a huge deal and it’s exciting to see you can uncover awesome sounds from this V120 ICON, but it took a bit more work than some comparably priced guitars have in the past. When I did get it dialed in, I loved the punchy tones of this guitar! It cuts through a mix and does all the classic rock and garage rock things I want in a slab guitar. It was rather resonant too, which helped give the amplified tone and nice sense of roundness, that fills quite a bit of space, even if the Wilkinson P90 was a bit muddy for my liking. Check out some clips below where I surprised myself with some almost Country-like clean tones.
While I was able to eventually dial in some awesome tones, I had a much harder time with the tuning stability. It was honestly just not reliable enough for me to take on stage in the current state. I assume it isn’t the nut, as I’ve heard good things about the NuBone from Graphtech before, plus it seems to be properly cut. My best guess is that throwing locking tuners on would make a big difference. But realistically I had like 15 minutes of playing before I had to stop and retune a string or two. Other than that, they did do an excellent job with the fret work and action right out of the box! It was comfortable, with a “soft C” shape that made it feel faster than I expected when moving up and down the fretboard. I think some players may be thrown off by the distressed finish, which leaves parts of the neck feeling like they are missing a chunk of finish, but I honestly loved the feel. Even better, with the blue finish covering the neck and headstock it never felt sticky or poorly finished.
Finish & Construction: 7
Overall it’s a beautiful guitar to look at and a ton of fun to play. The V120 ICON is ultra lightweight making it a real contender for some heavy stage usage if you can get the tuning dialed in correctly. As I said before, I’m sure some will have an issue with Vintage’s take on the distressed look, but if you love aged/beat up guitars, this is one of the best affordable LP Junior-style takes on the market! The fret work, finish job, and pickup adjustment was all great, making up for some other construction issues that would have otherwise lowered the score. There are a lot things working really well here, so if you are willing and able to tweak the guitar to really fit your amp/rig and maybe swap out the tuners or nut, you have a super fun guitar. Vintage really killed it on the finish, I can’t emphasize enough how rad it was to come home and see this on my guitar rack or hanging on my wall. It’s smooth, there were no signs of damage or lazy QA/QC, I’d be delighted if I got this out of the box as a consumer!
Vintage’s V120 ICON gets a few bonus points here because a quality Les Paul Junior-copy isn’t as easy to find as a Strat, LP, or Tele copy these days. Harley Benton and Epiphone have recently given this model more love, but for awhile you really had to get a questionable Firefly guitar off Amazon unless you wanted to drop $500+. That being said, I think there are some quirks that Vintage needs to iron out here with the tuning/pickup choice (unless of course mine just wasn’t the best of the bunch) to really compete with my favorite affordable guitars from 2020 so far. Huge improvements in oversea’s guitar production has made it possible for $250+ dollar guitars to be insanely reliable, which makes us all winners. Vintage put out an awesome guitar with the V120 ICON, but it is still a few points shy of being the best budget guitar of the year.
Good for:Country, Garage Rock, Punk Rock, Player Seeking Lightweight Guitars, Budget LP Junior Fans,
Much like the Omnis MG6 I reviewed earlier this year, the JM6 is another model from Fano’s new overseas line. This Jazzmaster-style guitar offers a very accessible product for Fano fans who can’t shell out for the $2000+ masterpieces that the company is known for. Sporting an Alder body, the JM6 has a Maple neck with Pau Ferro fretboard. 22 medium jumbo Jescar frets sit atop a 25.5″ scale length that feels far more premium than you’d expect. As you can see above, the Olympic White finish provides a classy black on white aesthetic, with two silver proprietary P90 pickups shining through. These full-sounding pickups are controlled by a 3-way selector switch, master volume, and master tone knobs. A tune-o-matic style bridge replaces the typical JM-style tremolo we all know and (maybe) love, and pairs nicely with some Fano vintage-style tuners.
These Fano-designed P90s can really scream, with loud, full output that blew another P90-loaded Jazzmaster out of the water. I was particularly struck by how much these pickups seemed to cut through the mix, with really punchy mids that were more unique than your average Gibson P90-loaded guitar. When I plugged in to my Vox AC15 for some clean tones, I actually found the guitar broke up my amp faster than expected, which I loved. Even with some dirt and warmth on top, there was really good note to note clarity, which made arpeggios and Andy Summers-style chords really fun to play. I would say for anything in the alt-rock or funk spectrum, this guitar packs a ton of articulation and would make a great choice for rhythm guitar players or a single guitar band.
Once I kicked in some dirt from pedals, I had a blast and felt like this JM6 could fit right into my rig going forward. Just like with the MG6, fuzz and distortion sounds great through both the neck and bridge pickup. As someone who often avoids the neck pickup, this one retained a great sound, with a bit of top end bite, instead of just useless mud. Lead lines are thick and feel very resonant, with sustain from the surprisingly heavy Alder body and high output pickups. Overall, I’m just very happy with how it sounds when plugged into a cranked tube amp. It really doesn’t feel or sound too derivative at all, maybe disappointing some JM-style fans, with a voice all its own thanks to these nice P90s.
The choice of a hard tail bridge may seem confusing to some Jazzmaster players, but I think it goes a long way to keep the tuning stability as good as it is. I found it slipping out after a good 30 minutes of abuse, which isn’t too bad in my book. Plus, I generally didn’t have to adjust it when I pick it up for the first time each day. The neck is smooth, but does feel a bit on the thicker side if you prefer a thinner neck feel. For me, the big neck and solid tuning stability turned this into a stellar rhythm guitar for my preferred garage rock or punk inclinations. Fano did nail the action out of the box as well, clearly displaying a high level of quality control on these overseas imports. But for almost $900, this does feel far closer to a domestic-grade instrument than not.
Finish & Construction: 7
Generally speaking the construction was top notch on this Omnis JM6. There were no major flaws, dings, or signs of lazy quality control. It loses some points because the neck pickup came installed pretty uneven, and I had to adjust it myself. Likely, this happened during shipping with a screw falling a bit loose, no big deal, but it is something to mention. On the other hand, I think they could have gotten a bit more creative with some of the hardware for the price. Everything is well installed and high functioning, but Fano is known for some unique builds and I would have liked to see more of that distilled down into the construction. The finish did arrive spotless however, and I’m a huge fan of the Olympic White finish and how nicely it contrasts the pickguard and pickups. Overall, it’s well above average, even with a pretty basic design.
I’ve brought this theme up a few times in each category, but this should not be looked down upon for its Chinese origin. This is a lot of the best parts of a premium Fano guitar distilled down into an affordable package. The pickups are the absolute highlight here for me, providing a ton of touch sensitive, punchy sounds that would fit right in on a guitar twice the cost. Plus, the guitar feels versatile enough to fit a wide variety of modern players. True, it’s on the higher end of the “affordable” spectrum and doesn’t have the most exciting spec sheet, but there is a lot to like here. With Fano stylings and sounds, it gets high value grades because you simply cannot get a Fano guitar at this price point without buying from the Omnis line of guitars.
Good for:Alternative Rock, Funk, Modern Jazz, Rhythm Guitar Players, Cash-Strapped Fano Fans,