The Trash Panda is not too far off from a Big Muff, think of the rich sustaining distortion, but it never quite reaches full on fuzz like a traditional Muff does. It may be referred to as a drive pedal, but it’s a distortion through and through in my book. Standard controls (volume, tone, drive) do exactly what you think, making this a lean, easy to use gain stage for your guitar or bass. The circuitry is also quite simple, made from excess parts while Summer School’s owner Mark was waiting for new components to ship.
How It Sounds:
Sustaining and distorted, what more could you need? It definitely does exactly what you think/expect it to do, and I was generally impressed. For such a simple circuit, it is a load of fun, and far more pedalboard friendly than my Big Muff Pi. I found the pedal was really special when the drive knob was basically cranked past noon. I wasn’t really a big fan of the “low gain” sounds it produced on the other end of the spectrum. They weren’t bad, simply just not really useable/unique from other pedals on my board. But man, when you punch the distortion this thing rips!
It also sounded even better when stacked with a more sparkly drive in front. Specifically, it’s Summer School sibling, the Gus Drive, sounded just fantastic adding some high end that I couldn’t quite pull out of the Trash Panda. Lead lines were big, loud, and filled a ton of space, while chords had a presence all their own. Good sounding pedal, very useable, solid alternative to a Muff, RAT, or DS-1 type pedal.
Checking in at $150, it doesn’t offer quite the versatility of another $150 distortion I just reviewed. That’s not a major issue, as I still love this pedal and will likely use it extensively with my P-Bass. I do love it as a Muff-style pedal, and would recommend checking it out for sure if that’s what you’re into/looking for. Out of all the Summer School pedals, I don’t think it is my favorite. As the Gus Drive and Snow Day Delay are still firmly my most used pedals. But it sounds good, and should be cranked, and I definitely see myself using it for some punk rock riffs soon!
What we’re talking about here is essentially an excellent starter pack for anyone interested in acoustic guitar. With a case, strap, picks, clip-on tuner, capo, and even a pickup for electrifying the acoustic guitar, you have everything you need in one, affordable package. Furthermore, the DAJ-110 CD features a nice cutaway, for easier access to the higher frets. A huge plus for either the beginner or pro guitarist. Currently, you can get this DAJ-110CD package on Amazon or Donner’s own website for around $125, making it one of the most affordable acoustic options on the market.
So What Did I Think?
I’d be lying if I said I was terribly happy with the guitar I recieved. Out of the box, it was nearly unplayable with low action that had the first 5 frets buzzing out and basically useless. I decided that before I adjust anything myself (they do give you an Allen wrench to adjust the truss rod), I’d let it sit for a few weeks to acclimate to my local climate. This improved things, but only slightly, and I’d still call the guitar unplayable.
The good news? A simple adjustment using the wrench and the guitar was good as new. Not a big deal if you’re comfortable adjusting your instrument like I am, but certainly something that would be problematic for a beginner. In fact, I know I would not have been able to diagnose or fix that when I was 14 and just picked up the instrument.
After a few months of playing it, testing it out, and beating it up I am generally pretty happy with the guitar for the price. I mean, $125 got me a useable guitar, a ton of accessories, and it doesn’t look half bad either! I decided not to do a demo of it, partly because of how unplayable it was for awhile but also because I’m not properly outfitted for acoustic demos. I’m obviously more of an electric guy. But it sounds like a reasonable acoustic, and while it isn’t one I’d rely one for the rest of my life, it’s a complete steal at $125.
This is a fantastic option for experienced guitarists who want a backup or travel acoustic. If you are comfortable adjusting it a bit, swapping the strings, and giving it a once over, you will be pretty happy with the DAJ-110CD. If you’re not comfortable or familiar with general guitar setups or care, it may be a bit problematic, and you’ll likely have to invest a few extra dollars into have a local tech look it over for you. But the inclusion of many great accessories and a case is still a big win, and you can get playing guitar faster than ever before with options like this on the market.
The Handy FX Muskrat is a undeniably fun pedal, packing lots of cool features and user friendliness into a tidy package. There are three clipping options, including an LED mode that provides that classic Turbo Rat-style distortion, in addition to more standard takes (Toggle = I) and heavier takes (Toggle = II). There’s also a Rangemaster-style treble boost on the right side. You have three tone shaping options via another toggle, to push your mid, lo, or high frequencies. This helps make the pedal much more flexible with different pickup or rig configurations than most treble boosters.
How It Compares:
I loved the Wampler Ratsbane, giving it one of the highest scores of last year, but over time I started to get some options paralysis with it. This Muskrat provides similar versatility and tweakability, but with a lot less of an overwhelming feeling. I have no good reason for why this is, it just is how I feel. And these reviews are going to start being a lot more subjective, to counter my very objective approach to UG reviews. It definitely out classes the Panchito or Black Rat, both in terms of versatility and sound.
The $150 price tag feels great to me, it’s two nice circuits it one box, that work well individually, and absolutely come alive when stacked together (see demo). Especially has pedal prices soar to untenable levels. I have this on my main studio board right now, we’ll see how long it lasts, though I did opt to keep this over the Ratsbane and Panchito. I’m impressed and would really like to try some more pedals from Handy FX, because this one seems to be a keeper!
Howl Guitars released one of my all time favorite guitars and then disappeared.
The Howl Sirena 3 was an all time great killer. Made in Korea, this was a high end import guitar that felt and played like a boutique instrument, but cost under $1000. My reviews of the instrument were glowing, and it has been featured in a handful of pedal demos since I got it. I still have it to this day even, and use it regularly for recording original music and gear demos.
Featuring a Korina body, Roasted Maple neck, and a single humbucker (that had a coil split), it was a punk rocker’s dream guitar. There was some real hype growing too, with the guitar even featured on one of my favorite YouTube channels, Agufish. Not to mention my own article on the guitar getting over 25,000 clicks on UG. Not too bad for a new guitar company! But then everything went silent.
Their instagram page was gutted, as was the website. You couldn’t buy the guitars, find them anywhere, or get any information on what happened. Thankfully, it wasn’t a situation where they were ripping people off or going off the grid to get away (like a certain brand I once did a review for). Instead, rumors circulated that a rather large guitar brand was ahem, unhappy with their products? More on that later…
Shortly after that the pandemic also hit, which definitely put a huge pause on any manufacturing they may or may not have had going on or planned. However, the owner of Howl Guitars did confirm to me recently that they are very much alive. So stay tuned, because I will 100% be pumped to see more of their guitars in the world, and certainly hope I get to review another one someday!
For now, I guess I’ll just stay glued to their website to see what happens next!
Before we dive back into reviews and demos, let’s look back at what I still actually like.
When you review guitar gear, no matter how famous, successful, or popular you are, you’re going to have a lot of gear pass through your hands. It doesn’t matter if you get to keep it, it was just loaner product, or if you bought and sold it, you develop opinions as part of your job and hope you can properly represent the product.
So what happens when a year or two passes by and your opinions start to change? Maybe you thought you would miss a guitar or pedal that was loaned out to you, but you never actually end up thinking about. Maybe a pedal you loved suddenly becomes boring and predictable. Or vice versa, something that scored an “ehhh” grade is now a vital part of your rig years later.
As this website and blog moves forward, expect less traditional reviews and far more personal, opinionated, and transparent discussions on gear. Nothing unfair or unjust, but certainly far more subjective than my very objective Ultimate-Guitar articles.
So to kick things off, here are some pedals that I love a lot more now and use all the time compared to when I first reviewed them.
This pedal was affordable, unique, and so incredibly awesome when I reviewed it. However, I didn’t give it all the credit it deserves. It has become an essential part of my recording rig, specifically because of A) how good it sounds and B) the stereo delays ping ponging off each other is such a useful and cool sound. I use this in tandem with the Boss RE-2 Space Echo, which is a far more expensive pedal, and I don’t think I could live without both. This is easily one of the top 10 best pedals I’ve ever reviewed, and it should have gotten a 9+ out of 10 in retrospect.
I know that I gave this a glowing review already, but it is almost completely replaced my beloved Vox AC15 amp in terms of hours used. I record my original music, my gear demos, and generally just noodle around through this now. I still wish it had better onboard gain, though the updates to the firmware definitely improved this. But it just takes gain pedals so well, that it doesn’t really matter. This pedal is one of the best values on the market, plain and simple. Once I paired it with the Canvas Stereo DI box, PERFECTION.
I’m not sure if I ever even gave this a proper review or demo, but I have used this pedal on countless demos and boards through the years. It was like $40 on Amazon, and packs a ton of useful and fun modulation sounds. Even better, they all sound average to above average in quality. This takes the spot of like 3-4 pedals that I use on my main board and has taken a beating through the years, tough to find any real complaints!
And here are some who unfortunately, sort of fell out of favor. I want to clarify that none of these are objectively bad pedals (unless I specifically say so), but they just didn’t wind up outcompeting their peers as much as I hoped or predicted.
This pedal is still objectively really good, really fun, and worth every penny. I just had a realization that I don’t need a more versatile Rat, I just need a Rat. The Pro Co RAT2 made its way back on to my board and I realized that while some people can get so much out of the Ratsbane, I’m just not one of them. Still deserves all the accolades it received, but ultimately it’s just not for me.
This is eerily similar to the Ratsbane in the sense that I just can’t be the one to make full use of this pedal. I realized quickly I was just using it as a more tweakable Boss RV6 to get some shimmer delays, and that if I wanted modulated reverb, I could just engaged one of the four modulation pedals on my board (TR2, CE-2w, Spaceman Aurora, or Phase 100). Really cool, really fun, good idea for a pedal, but better off being used by atmospheric composers than me.
When I first got this pedal I was absolutely was obsessed and had it strapped to my board for months. The octave fuzz tones were just killer, aside from the fact that it was way too loud at almost all settings for my apartment. But that certainly wasn’t Danelectro’s fault. But as more and more fuzz pedals came into my life, I realized that this one wasn’t quite as unique as I believed it was. And quite frankly, was probably a bit overpriced. Considering the size of the Danelectro company, $200 was a bit stiff. Would I pay a boutique pedal maker that much? Certainly more likely as I knew the money was probably supporting a smaller business, or local builder and their family. But in the wake of great reviews for the Thirty7fx FGLC, October Audio NVMBR, Maestro FZ-M, and Interchange pedals, it just didn’t compete in my opinion.
Oh and for the record, here’s the pedals I’ve reviewed & demo that I actively use on a board (guitar, bass, or studio board).
Summer School Electronics Stone Thrower Fuzz, Gus Drive, Snow Day Delay (bass, studio board, & main board)
Boss RE-2 Space Echo & CE-2w (studio & main board)
Heather Brown Electronicals Blessed Mother Overdrive (main board)
Summer School Electronics hit the ground running in 2021 behind their phenomenal Gus Drive, an updated take on the DOD 250 circuit. Now, 2022 has already brought 3 new pedals to their lineup, 2 of which I happen to have here for review. The Bootster Booster is a versatile boost that uses the “twang” knob to boost mids and some high frequencies to help cut through the mix. Pair it with a transparent overdrive for better EQ sculpting, or use it as a treble booster, a light drive, or a clean volume boost in your signal chain. Speaking of transparent overdrives, the Gladys is Summer School’s take on the Bluesbreaker overdrive circuit. With your standard overdrive controls, this low to mid gain pedal is further improved by adding a toggle for adding some compression into the mix, making it less transparent but smoother and crisp.
Review & Opinion
I really enjoyed these two pedals independently, but together they were ever better. Thus the dual review article presented here. The Bootster Booster is definitely not a must have pedal for many players, but if you’re someone who relies on a boost pedal, this is one of the most flexible options I’ve tried. It can do a little bit of everything. It’s not a pure treble booster (like the Tombstone was), but it also can thicken any sound, push clean volume, or act as a standalone light drive. The range in the volume knob is quite impressive, giving you lots of control for kicking up an overdrive (like the relatively quiet Gladys) or it can also tame a very loud pedal, like my Lyla Drive. It seems to be a real swiss army knife for gain stages and complex pedalboards.
The Gladys on the other hand is true to form, providing low to mid gain options that can be tweaked, but not too far one way or the other. It is relatively quiet in volume, missing some of that bass boosting that has been popular in other clones like the Local 2609 I reviewed. It does make up for this with the convenient compression knob. This helps give the pedal a much more unique feel, that tracks really well and stays hum or buzz free. In fact, if you flip on the compression and stack the Bootster with the twang knob up, you get a very convincing TS808 sound out of this Bluesbreaker! It can get a little rowdy as well, with the compression off and the gain maxed, though it isn’t as wild as the Gus Drive was. You certainly would have every gain sound you need with all three of these Summer School pedals stacked though!
Conclusions & Final Scores
Bootster Booster: 8.3 out of 10
Gladys Overdrive: 8 out of 10
Overall, these pedals are both incredibly impressive. They are solidly above average and most importantly, fun to play. I knocked a couple points off the Gladys because I’d like to see it be a little louder, though pairing it with the Bootster brought it to life. I just don’t know how many players will be buying these as a set obviously. The Bootster grades out a bit higher, because I do think it can solve a lot of problems for live musicians. It can probably replace both boost pedals I’ve previously used, and doesn’t totally break the bank at $130. Summer School is putting out some really good stuff for a new, young company. But I’m excited to see them branch out with some more interesting concepts, the Bootster is a first good look at a non-clone from them and will set a high bar!
Added to the Electromatic lineup in 2021, the G5230T is bigsby-loaded take on the popular Gretsch Jet design. Featuring a chambered Mahogany body, two blacktop Filter’tron Gretsch pickups power this vintage-style single cut. Master tone and volume knobs are joined by a treble bleed circuit with individual volume knobs for each pickup. A standard 3-way selector switch wraps up the electronic feature set.
The Bigsby unit is a B50, with an adjusto-matic bridge that holds the strings opposite the bound headstock and closed back tuners. 22 medium-jumbo frets sit on the 12″ radius neck with a 24.6″ scale length. A thin “U” neck is finished with gloss poly on top of the Mahogany neck and Black Walnut fretboard as well.
If classic Gretsch tone is what you wish for, you will not be disappointed one bit by the G5230T. The blacktop Filter’trons are full of that chime that we all expect from a guitar like this. While of course the rockabilly and classic rock riffs sounded great, I was surprised by the versatility of this Electromatic Jet. From punk to shoegaze, I could really sculpt these pickups to suit a variety of styles, through both a traditional tube amplifier and my go-to amp/cab sims. The ability to control the volume of both pickups when using the middle position of the three way selector is a great tool, something I wish was far more common on guitars.
While the sound of these pickups is obviously not quite as crisp as the real deal TV Jones versions, they are about 70-80% of the way there and come at a much more affordable price point. It’s a perfectly suitable guitar for pros, beginners, or anyone looking for the classic Gretsch sound. It’s a pick up swap away from being a near 10/10 if you’re really picky.
The feel of this neck is superb with surprisingly good tuning stability after some bigsby abuse. The binding on the neck is comfortable, not just flashy. It’s a slimmer neck than I expected (in terms of width) but makes for a very easy player. It took a few days for the guitar to settle in, but it is definitely built to feel far more premium than it is. Which I appreciate because it is far easier to upgrade electronics or pickups in most cases than it is to add a Bigsby or do a thorough set up.
Finish & Construction: 9
I kept the playability section short and sweet because everything is very nice, nothing to complain about. But I want to expand on how premium the G5230T looks and feels in this section. The finish, hardware, and overall quality control was very impressive. While it isn’t a distinctly “cheap” guitar, it feels far more expensive than what it is. Gretsch has really gotten this Electromatic line down to a science and I have a lot of confidence in this G5230T standing the test of time. It’s well built, well equipped, and is a true player’s guitar.
This Electromatic G5230T is probably my go-to choice for a budget Gretsch right now. So major points are in order in the value section. It’s got a loaded spec sheet, beautiful appearance and appointments, and sounds just as good as you want it to. Gretsch has just made an overall solid guitar that crosses a lot of genres, sounds killer, and could be easily upgraded if necessary. Especially when you consider how inflated many guitars’ prices have become, this still felt like indistinguishable from some $1000+ models I’ve reviewed and demo’d.
Good for:Punk Rock, Rockabilly, Country, Garage Rock, Pop
Despite being absent from the pedal market for decades, Gibson has owned the rights to the legendary pedal brand Maestro for the better part of 60 years. 2022 has seen the long awaited revival, with the release of 6 pedals that are highlighted by the legendary FZ Fuzz unit. Dubbed the new FZ-M, this is a remake of the classic FZ-1 fuzz that so many of us learned about from Keef’s “Satisfaction” riff.
It’s a simple pedal attack, level, and tone knobs that do about what you’d expect and a toggle to go from the classic mode to a smoother, thicker modern fuzz tone. The top mounted jacks help make up for the larger enclosure size. But the Fuzz Tone FZ-M is definitely one of the prettier pedals you’ll see me review all year. With great graphics, 3 trumpet LED’s, and the original slanted design. Maestro’s pedals are currently built in China, which we’ll discuss in depth later.
Review & Opinion
There’s a lot to unpack here for sure. I want to start by saying that the classic fuzz tone in this pedal is phenomenal. Gibson and Maestro absolutely nailed the vibe that many guitar players are expecting to get out of this pedal. That horn-like, sustaining fuzz that is wild and sputtery is in no short supply. It has that great tendency to sometimes sound “broken” as your guitar’s signal is chewed up. The control knobs are relatively sensitive too, giving you some nice tone shaping opportunities within a range. I will say that the pedal isn’t really great with the attack knob rolled any lower than 9 or 10 o’clock. Likewise, the modern fuzz setting is rounder and smooth, but lifeless compared to the classic mode and kind of a disappointment.
It adds nice versatility to your board to have a two voice fuzz like this, but I can’t imagine using that modern setting for much more than a slight change of pace. The physical construction is top notch, with a solid and heavy frame and heavy duty knobs and footswitch. Alas, the Maestro fuzz is just so noisy though. There is a high pitch squeal that is apparent in my demo but just never goes away in real life. I suppose the noisy circuit is probably how the original Maestro Fuzz Tones were as well, so I can’t ding them too much for that. But it something to be prepared for.
Conclusion & Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10
The takeaway is that this is a really fun take on the classic Maestro fuzz. It will sound exactly how you want it to and scratch that British invasion itch. Some of my concerns are about the other features and their relation to the price tag. It’s an awesome pedal, but the modern fuzz sound is remarkably bland and the pedal is buzzy and hissy as hell. And it is made in China, which doesn’t bother me for any reason other than the fact that the pedal is $150. In a time when brands are making awesome $99 pedals here in the US, this feels to me like Gibson and Maestro are upcharging you for the fancy enclosure and brand name on the box. I think that overall, this was worth the money that I spent to buy it but it won’t be a pedal I look back on and say “wow that was a steal”. It’s fun, it is worth checking out, but I’m not sure this will be the next great fuzz pedal that everyone needs to own.
Despite loving chorus pedals I have almost never been satisfied by the various ones that have cycled through my rig. The Boss Super Chorus didn’t shimmer enough, and affordable pedals like the Ammoon Nano Chorus or Musiclily Chorus just never quite fit well enough with the rest of my rig. Enter the Boss CE-2w, which has not only been a revelation for me personally, but is extremely impressive from an objective review opinion.
The CE-2w Waza Craft is handmade in Japan and features an updated CE-2 circuit as well as the chorus and vibrato modes from the original CE-1. The CE-1 mode is a little more subtle in chorus mode than the CE-2 circuitry. Despite the limited controls, there is only rate and depth control, there is no shortage of tones hidden in this stereo chorus unit.
Review & Opinion
Right off the bat I was impressed with the sheer versatility this simple pedal possesses. The two individual CE-1 modes are great fun, with the vibrato setting be far more usable than any vibrato I’ve ever played. CE-1’s chorus mode is a little bit more mellow than modern choruses tend to sound, but perfectly captures that vintage “London Calling”-era Clash tone I’ve longed for. Think that thick power chord sound from “Death Or Glory” or “Clampdown” that you could never quite get with other chorus pedals who modulated too much of the signal.
Flipping over to the CE-2’s stock mode, you get far more lush, shimmer chorus that has a somewhat reverb-like quality to it. It’s a stark contrast to the CE-1 chorus sound, but equally pleasing to the ear and guitar. The controls are sensitive, but also don’t get too jumpy, giving you lots of wiggle room to go from a slight flutter to full on trem-like waves of chorus and vibrato. And to me, the simple control layout is very freeing, making it easy to find a good sound and stay there. It’s likely true that there isn’t a bad sound in the CE-2w at all, making it a punk guitarist’s dream come true.
Conclusion & Final Rating: 8.6 out of 10
Overall, it is hard to find many flaws with the CE-2w. I do think the price is a bit prohibitive for a lot of players, but the build quality and sound quality is no doubt on par with any boutique pedal maker out there right now. And it’s Boss, so you know it is going to last forever. At the same time, I can’t be too harsh on them for the $200 price tag because there isn’t an abundance of CE-2’s on the market, and the CE-1 is far too unwieldy for most pedalboards. So you’re paying for something you can’t just go out and find anywhere. I know there’s a few clones of the CE-2 floating around, but I have yet to find a ton of them aside from the aforementioned Musiclily chorus which didn’t last long on my board. The Boss CE-2w is a lot of fun, easy to use, and sounds amazing, hard to top that in today’s marketplace!