Fender Vintera Road Worn ’50s Telecaster Review

I think I just found my favorite Telecaster of all time. I don’t want to send it back to Fender…

Credit: Fender

Cost: $1099.99 new, find one from Fender.com, Reverb.com, Thomannmusic.com, or Amazon.com! (Some affiliate links).

Overview & Final Score: 9.4

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).

Sound: 9

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.

Playability: 9.5

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.

Value: 9

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

Fender American Professional II Telecaster Review

Will Fender’s new, shiny take on the Tele live up the high standards we expect in 2020?

Credit: Fender

Cost: $1499.99, find your own from Fender.com, Reverb.com, or Amazon.com! (Affiliate links highlighted)

Check out my “60 Second Guitar Review” for Ultimate-Guitar.com

Overview & Final Score: 9.1

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!

Sound: 9.5

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.

Playability: 9

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.

Value: 9

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!

Vintage V120 ICON Electric Guitar Review

As an avid fan of Les Paul Junior-style guitars, will this budget friendly Vintage exceed expectations?

Cost: $329.00 from Vintageguitarsus.com but find your own on Reverb.com or Amazon.com! (Affiliate links)

Check out my “60 Second Guitar Review” for Ultimate-Guitar.com!

Overview & Final Score: 6.9 of of 10

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.

Sound: 7

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.

Playability: 6

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!

Value: 7.5

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,

Fano Omnis Series JM6 Guitar Review

Will Fano’s affordable take on the Jazzmaster meet the lofty standard set by their Mustang-style from earlier this year?

Cost: $849.00, find out more on Fanoguitars.com!

Get your own through one of our affiliate links, like Reverb.com, to support our reviews!

Check out my 60 Second Guitar Review and full article for Ultimate-Guitar.com too!

Overview & Final Score: 8.0

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.

Sound: 9

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.

Playability: 8

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.

Value: 8

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,

Musiclily Dual Hot Rail High Output Loaded Pickguard Review

How will this budget friendly loaded pickguard sound when loaded into my experimental Squier Strat?

I’m going to be trying something new with review articles for specific after market guitar products, starting with this loaded pickguard from Musiclily.com which you can also find on Amazon.com!

Grab your own through our affiliate link: HERE

Cost: $27.70 from Musiclily.com!

I first found Musiclily after I stumbled into a few facebook groups that they host and run, mostly centered around guitar modifications. To be honest, the prices of their products is what got my attention more so than anything else, so I’ve been pretty anxious to see if the quality matches the attractive price. Musiclily was kind enough to send me this pickguard to install and review, though just like my guitar and pedal reviews, I don’t accept any payment for the article or advertising. So with all that out of the way, let’s dig into how loaded pickguard stacks up to stuff I’ve tried from Guitar Fetish or 920D!

Ease of Installation: High

It probably took me like 15 minutes to get this new pickguard into my Strat, which is super convenient. I am not exactly great at soldering, with plenty of mistakes made on my previous partscasters, so if I could do this quickly you definitely can too. All you have to do is solder hot and cold wires to your guitars output jack, and then solder the ground wire to back of the bridge as you would on any strat. That’s a total of 3 total soldering points, none of which are within the nest of pots/pickups that often intimidates novice guitar modders. Take note, this pre-loaded pickguard didn’t actually come with its own output jack, so I grabbed one I had laying around in my parts jar. One thing that really made me happy is how Musiclily cut this to the exact Fender/Squier measurements. It fit perfectly on my Strat with 9 out of the 11 screw holes perfectly lining up. This should be an easy install for even the most nervous guitar modder!

Sound Quality: Medium

You’ll find a short clip below of some clean and dirty sounds at all 5 pickup selections. Overall, I’m not disappointed in how these hot rails sound, especially for the price. But do I think they sound so good that I’d have to use them over my favorite GFS stuff? Not really. They’re certainly an upgrade on the normal Squier Affinity pickups and I think they are an excellent option if you have a bare bones budget guitar and need to take it to the next level. But if I had a Squier Classic Vibe, Mexican Fender, or something similar, you are better off keeping the stock pickups or investing in something higher quality. My specific criticism is that these pickups just don’t have that much body to them for hot rails. The first loaded pickguard I was sent was defective so this is the second of the two, and while it is certainly working, it isn’t has “hot” as I would have hoped. Musiclily did do a nice job in terms of how clear they are, with good note to note definition. But for me, these Musiclily pickups sound closer to normal Strat pickups than hot rails.

Value For Money: High

At the end of the day, this whole pickguard retails for about $30 or less, depending on if you go with a white, pearl, or black pickguard color. I really think this would be the best way to cheaply upgrade an Affinity series Strat from Squier or another cheap Strat copy from a smaller brand. They aren’t bad sounding pickups by any means, they just lack the punch of my go-to alternatives. The cheaper your guitar, the more value for money you’ll get from Musiclily’s dual hot rail loaded pickguard. Plus, at this price, why not experiment with them? For most people, they can afford to grab this product and still go back and upgrade again if they’re not satisfied. With that reasoning, I can overall recommend these to most guitar mod enthusiasts, as long as you don’t expect too much!

Final Verdict: Worth A Look If You’re On A Tight Budget, But More Strat Than Hot Rail Tone

Z-TONE Buffer Boost Pedal Review from IK Multimedia

Who ever thought a boost pedal would become an essential part of my signal chain?

Credit: IK Multimedia

Cost: $169.99. Find your own through our affiliate links on, Thomann.com, Amazon.com, Reverb.com, or Musiciansfriend.com! Or get more info from IKmultimedia.com!

How It Works & Final Score: 9.2

When I first cracked the Z-TONE Buffer Boost out of the box my first thought was eh, how am I going to make a boost pedal sound exciting. But I was so wrong it wasn’t even funny, this is so much more than a boost. Really, this is a swiss army knife for your pedal board, helping preserve and shape your tone. First off, the Z-TONE Buffer Boost has a built-in buffer to help preserve your tone through long signal chains and complicated pedal wiring schematics. Meant to go at the front of your board, you can then also choose between a plethora of boost sounds that make this a versatile preamp in a box.

You can choose between a pure clean boost tone or a warmer, JFET-inspired boost to add a bit more gain and dirt. Both of these options are shaped by pretty straightforward level and gain controls as well. Where it starts to get interesting is that you can set the preamp pedal to work with either active or passive pickups, meaning you simply flip a switch for either option going into your rig. For active pickups, this switch cuts out any unnecessary gain stages that would cloud your already boosted signal. Lastly, you get a flexible Z-TONE knob, which controls the impedance running into your amp, especially useful if you change guitars often during a setlist. Turn it to one side for a sharper, more defined and precise signal or crank it the other way for a rounder, fatter, and bolder tone.

Sound: 9

There is a ton of tone packed into this little pedal, as you’ll see in my quick and dirty demo below featuring the stunning Howl Sirena 3! Just from switching the buffer on, my signal got a little boost and was instantly clearer and brighter than before. However when you mess with the two boost voicing options you can really have some fun. The “PURE” setting can really act as a clean signal boost when you roll the gain knob all the way back, but can also take on an almost overdrive or rangemaster-type sound with the gain cranked into this humbucker.

The “JFET” setting is all over the place, in a good way. From a slight dirty boost that just makes your guitar cut through the mix, to a full on overdrive sound with the level and gain cranked. Adding the Z-TONE knob turned all the way towards the sharp end also helped clean up some muddiness in the humbucker. The buffer itself is now going to be an always-on effect for me, but the two boosts are fun, and I think I’m going to be using the “JFET” sounds a lot going forward. I’m not always looking for a clean boost so the added dirt and crunch really appeals to me. At the end, you can really hearing it pushing my amp into all natural tube overdrive that is not too saturated but very gritty.

Durability: 9

I really love the way this Z-TONE Buffer Boost was built and designed. It is pedal board friendly for what is basically two pedals in one and has some cool connectivity features. There are alternate outs for mixers and PA system on the Buffer Boost, meaning you can really use it as preamp for recording or direct in playing. When you add all these functions and uses into a tough as nails enclosure, it makes me feel like the Z-TONE is a pedal board mainstay. There are no signs of buzzing and it just feels rock solid even when I slam my weight down on it. This is no cheap, plastic import copy of a JFET circuit. Overall, I have no concerns about the durability of this Z-TONE Buffer Boost and plan to use it quite a bit.

Value: 9.5

$169.99 feels pretty fair to me for how versatile this pedal is. It isn’t the sexiest pedal, in appearance or brand name, but it is workhorse that will not leave my board. I could certainly see more boutique brands making a pedal like this and charging $300+ for one. The sound quality is there, the functionality is there, I’m just delighted with how this Z-TONE pedal fits my needs. Certainly, this isn’t a pedal for everyone. If you don’t have a long signal chain to suck tone, if you don’t care for boosts in general, this just isn’t a pedal you’ll be excited about. But if you love to mess around with a big pedalboard like I do, and like to have a “lead tone” to instantly switch on for solos, this is a tone shaping monster. As of now, this is probably the most used pedal of all the ones I have reviewed this year, as in I never will take this out of my signal chain for something else. IK Multimedia’s Z-TONE is just killer and worth a long look for gigging and recording musicians.

Good for: Gigging Musicians, Players With A Busy Pedal Board, Players Looking For A Flexible Boost Pedal, Tone Shapers

Sterling By Music Man St. Vincent Signature Guitar Review

One of the most exciting guitars of the last few years, will the St. Vincent be worth the hype?

Cost: $599.99 from Reverb.com or learn from Sterling by Music Man!

Affiliate links:

Get your own from Thomann.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.0

One of the first articles I ever wrote for Ultimate-Guitar.com was about how influential this guitar has been since its release. I mean, even Jack White picked up this guitar and loved it! And what’s not to love with this quirky, versatile signature guitar? Featuring a 25.5″ scale length, this affordable take on the St. Vincent sports a Mahogany body with a Hard Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard. 22 narrow frets are held between locking tuners and a Music Man vintage-style tremolo. This (barely) sub-$600 guitar is available in Vincent Blue or Stealth Black, two killer finish options.

The electronics on the St. Vincent are straight up fun, with 3 mini humbuckers that provide a ton of bite and volume. A 5-way selector switch controls the pickups the same way a Strat wiring harness works, and then there is a master volume and tone knob as well. There is a lot to like once you throw in how freakin cool this guitar looks!

Sound: 8

I’ve never really spent a lot of time with mini humbuckers, but these really won me over quick. They are much brighter and clearer than traditional humbuckers in my opinion. While they certainly don’t have the heft of something like a PAF, they also don’t get nearly as muddy. This gave the St. Vincent far more versatility, letting me jump from clean chime to classic dirt tones with ease. I feel like I got some Strat tones out of this thing and then could instantly flip down to sustaining lead lines that are rich and warm. Even better, because these pickups are pretty bright, the tone knob actually had a little life in it before getting really muddy and useless. For me, the tone knob is pretty much useless on humbucker guitars as they get so thick and useless quickly, but I really enjoyed the extra few sounds I could pull out of here. Sterling by Music Man seem to have distilled all the best aspects of the premium St. Vincent guitar into their take on the quirky design, and I’m very happy the result.

Playability: 8

St. Vincent certainly built a fun guitar to play. The neck is smooth and actually feels kind of small, which I love for wrapping my thumb around the top edge. The thin feel is also due to the nice finish job on the back of the neck, it never feels thick or sticky. Locking tuners are always a good thing, and really help keep the tremolo arm useable here. It doesn’t feel like a cheap trem by any means, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the Crescent trem I played on the Sabre and Majesty from Ernie Ball. However, tuning stability was really not an issue, making this is a particularly fun lead guitar. I dived bombed a bit with the whammy bar and really stretched some bends all without losing tuning, at least not til awhile later. Fret work was killer, everything felt well above average here!

Finish & Construction: 7

I originally wanted to take more points off. The first St. Vincent they sent me showed up with the neck pickup hanging by only one screw, half into the body. When they sent it back, the middle pickup had the same problem. On the third try they got it right and I was impressed with the finished product. If the last one wasn’t so near perfect, I would have been harsher, but minus 3 is enough because really it wasn’t a huge issue. Honestly, I wish they had just let me fix the issue myself and avoid all the shipping costs. But the final product was superb and I’m ultra impressed with the finish, feel, and look of this guitar. All the other hardware was well installed, and performed well past the price point. I assume most guitars don’t these pickup issues because these Sterling St. Vincents have been selling like hot cakes. You’ll certainly end up with a sick guitar in your hands at the end of the day.

Value: 9

I’m really high on the value factor with this guitar. If honestly felt closer to the $2000+ dollar Ernie Ball Music Man guitars I reviewed this year than not. Once I had the guitar in my hands, fully functional I couldn’t put it down. Even more importantly, it is just inspiring to see it on my guitar rack. Every time I walk by I have to pick it up. It’s an exciting guitar from an exciting company and exciting guitar player. These Sterling signature models like the Majesty, Valentine, and St. Vincent are really popular and starting to make serious inroads on Gibson/Fender territory. I would highly recommend this guitar for the price and seriously hope they don’t ask for one of these back!

Good for: Almost Everything, Live Players, Versatile Players Who Blend Genres, Alternative Music, Experimental Music, Indie Rock

Glarry GTL Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar Review

Will Glarry’s newest addition to their ultra-affordable line impress me more than past products?

Credit: Glarry

Cost: $119.99 from Glarrymusic.com

Affiliate links: Find your next guitar like this one on Musiciansfriend.com or Amazon.com!

Overview & Final Score: 5.4

Glarry has quickly become a well known name in the guitar world thanks to their unbelievably affordable guitars. Having previously reviewed their $60 Strat copy and their $75 P Bass, this $120 Tele is one of their top of the line options. A Basswood body is paired to a Maple neck with Rosewood fingerboard. In traditional style, it’s a 25.5″ scale length guitar with 22 white copper frets, and brass bridge saddles. The humbucker in the neck provides a Keith Richards’ “Micawber” feel that helps separate it from being just another cheap Tele copy. A more traditional Tele pickup in the chrome bridge with brass saddles provides a familiar feel. Pickups are controlled by a 3-way switch along with a master volume and tone. The white pearl pickguard over the blue-green finish also gave the guitar a bit of a classy look, giving me all sorts of guitar modification aspirations.

Sound: 5.5

I was fairly surprised at how much better this Glarry sounded than the GST-3 Strat I had, but it still isn’t necessarily impressive. For about double the price of that guitar, this was more of an average sounding guitar, not too far off from a Squier Affinity Tele. The neck humbucker added some fun versatility and high output for smooth lead lines but was really muddy sounding. You absolutely can’t roll any tone off without it being completely un-usable. The middle configuration was a nice mix between the muddy neck and ice pick piercing bridge pickup. With some overdrive and distortion, it opened up quite nicely and would be very useable. Bright is one way to describe the bridge, but I would say it was too bright and a little thin. There are some fun sounds, especially for the price, but new pickups would go a long way in improving this guitar.

Playability: 4

Much like past Glarry guitars I have played, this GTL Semi-hollow has an absolute tree trunk for a neck. It really makes it unattractive for beginners even though the price may suggest otherwise. It is simply too big for many players to learn on, unless you have monster hands. Fretwork wasn’t horrible, but for twice the price of their other guitars I don’t feel it really improved on much in the playability department. The tuning stability is poor, the strings that come are incredibly cheap, and there was quite a bit of fret buzz. I’m usually not this harsh or picky with guitars, but I feel like if you spent an extra $50 on a Squier or Epiphone you would have to deal with so many of these issues. The bridge actually seemed pretty nice however, with easily adjustable string height, which makes me think that some locking tuners would easily fix the tuning issues. Again, this is looking like a phenomenal DIY mod project in the making. A huge neck, buzzing frets, and below average tuning stability make this the worst feature of the Glarry GTL Semi-hollow.

Finish & Construction: 6

Props to Glarry for upping the build quality a bit with this guitar. The finish was generally really well done, with this interesting peacock-like color. The f-hole showed significant tooling marks but the visible finish on the front and back was smooth. One annoying flaw was fibers of some kind sticking out from the fret ends. It almost looked like someone had ripped the fibers off a rag when polishing the neck or frets or something. That should have been an easy catch at QA/QC to make sure the guitar is clean. Otherwise though, the construction was pretty solid with well installed pickups and hardware. The GTL Semi-hollow was also fairly quiet, with no buzz at 2 of the 3 pickup settings. Glarry also made a crazy lightweight guitar, that should be comfortable to play live sitting down or standing up for hours on end. Just above average, but impressive build quality for a bottom barrel guitar option.

Value: 6

Had this guitar cost the $60 that their Strat copy cost, I would have given it a far higher value rating. I feel it is overall a big upgrade from everything I’ve played in the past, but it comes at a cost. Glarry’s big appeal is that their guitars are so unbelievably cheap, so as the costs climb my enthusiasm sinks. This guitar is far more beginner ready than anything else they’ve made, but I still think this should be a guitar mod project. Experienced players who are cash strapped, want to practice guitar tech skills, or need a backup instrument should take notice and give this Glarry a real shot. However, there is real value in having guitars available at this price that are fully functional. It isn’t a luxurious guitar by any means, but if you absolutely can’t afford anything else, it is a fine option. I want guitars to be more accessible to more people and if a company can make a $100-$120 guitar that gets the people playing, I’m really happy.

Good for: DIY Mod Projects, Telecaster Players, Budget Players

RWM Guitars Semi-Hollow Tele

I turn my attention to the second of four custom built guitars from Connecticut-based RWM Guitars

Cost: $1500.00 from rwmguitars.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.4

Reviewing these custom builds from RWM Guitars has been real fun considering I have 4 crazy unique, different builds sitting in my office waiting to get played. While the semi-hollow double cut was probably my favorite overall, this take on the Tele-design was a close second. This RWM Guitar features the same Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard common on all of their current builds. 21 frets, Grover Original Locking Rotomatic tuners, and a traditional Tele bridge hold the strings and tuning very stable. Classic Tele-style electronics, volume, tone, and 3-way switch, control two GFS Dream 180 humbucker pickups. The construction gets very interesting after that however. Just like the previous semi-hollow Tele, the top of this guitar comes from an 1889 Estey Pump Organ and sits on top of a 3-piece body that is locally sourced Walnut sandwiched between locally sourced Maple. This provides a stunning look on the back of the guitar that is simple but elegant.

Sound: 8

These pickups have bite! High output and high treble really helped this guitar cut through the mix in my opinion. Personally, they are a little too bright for me and I really had to dial the tone down a bit. While the semi-hollow double cut was light and full sounding, with acoustic-like properties, this feels way closer to a Les Paul. That Walnut and Maple in the body gives it some more heft than the Pine guitars from RWM. On the other hand, this guitar gives off some more natural sustain even if it is misses that full, chime of most thinline Tele-style guitars. Clean tones are ultra clear and articulate, but like I said, very bright and snappy. It makes a great guitar for some of those indie and alternative rock lead lines that seem to cut through waves of synths and bass.

Once I layered some distortion on top, this guitar came alive. The pickups already naturally pushed my tube amp, but this really got wonderful crunch tones with just a tube screamer. It also had that broken up, natural distortion feel where the harder you picked the strings or chords, the more violent the guitar sounded. You end up with a Tele that feels way more like a Les Paul, which gives this RWM creation some unique properties and cross over appeal. However, I prefer the more traditional thinline voicing myself.

Playability: 8.5

The fret work on this guitar was great, leading to smooth playing experience up and down the neck of the guitar. The light finish also prevents the Maple neck from ever feeling sticky. The Grover locking tuners didn’t hold up quite as well as some other models I’ve tried, but still got the job done. Much like an actual Les Paul, the G string just didn’t want to stay in tune for me. Otherwise, the tuning stability and reliability felt comfortably above average. With these RWM Guitars, I feel like the neck kind of takes a back seat to the tone woods and interesting pickup configurations. But to RWM’s credit, the action was excellent out of the box and I see no reason why this wouldn’t be a gig ready guitar in a matter of seconds.

Finish & Construction: 9

The reclaimed and locally sourced tone woods win the day again for RWM guitars. The same stunning, vintage wood from an 1889 Estey Organ sits on top of a chambered Maple/Walnut body. As you can see below, the Walnut sits between the Maple, giving the back an awesome aesthetic. The Maple is sourced from New Haven Connecticut, the pizza capitol of America for you uneducated folks out there. The Walnut comes from historic Main Street in Westport, Connecticut which is a rather gorgeous seaside town itself. Historical wood with character and a story is the main selling point here, and something that makes RWM Guitars stick out. Hardware, electronics, and finish all came out wonderfully as well. A thin gloss covers the old wood, letting the natural grain shine, so if that is something you look for in a guitar, look no further.

Value: 8

I’m a little bit torn with going into the value scores for these guitars. The construction, appearance, and feel is very much up to boutique standards, which makes $1500 seem on the cheap side for a non-mass produced, superb guitar. On the other hand, the pickups sound amazing but don’t do a ton to justify the price. I still think it grades out as a well above average value if you, the buyer, are going into it for the right reasons. If you want a guitar with character, unique pickup options, and a historical story to tell, RWM is probably making the cheapest guitars out there for you. Should you go into this expecting some type of master luthier boutique product you may be disappointed by not getting brand name pickups. As a Fender fanboy, I would generally see this is a solid investment for myself to get Les Paul tones in a package that fits my style and preferences. So ultimately, I’m giving it a major thumbs up!

Good for: Les Paul Fans, Indie and Alternative Rock Musicians, Telecaster Fans Tired Of The Same Old Thing, High Output Players

RWM Guitars Semi-Hollow Double Cutaway Review

A guitar build local to me crafts Fender-inspired gems from reclaimed wood

Cost: $1500.00 from rwmguitars.com

Check out my “60 Second Guitar Review”, exclusively for Ultimate-Guitar.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.6

RWM Guitars has been one of my favorite small builders since I came across their Instagram profile. Not only are these phenomenal guitars made local to me, in New England, but they are often made from reclaimed local woods. Each guitar looks and feels unique, with signs of aging not corrected. That means wormholes, historical damage, and knots are not filled in, but rather glossed over. This particular double cut take on the Thinline Tele features a Pine Wood body, made from trees along the Middletown, CT reservoir and a top that comes from a 1889 Estey’s pump organ. A Maple neck holds a Rosewood fretboard along the 24.75″ scale length guitar. The Pine body is dyed with an Orange tint, to beautifully contrast the natural finish on top. Gold GFS Sperzel-style locking tuners hold the strings wonderfully in tune, with some compensation to prevent the need for string trees. The pickups are also GFS, with a Retrotron Liverpool in the neck and a Lil Puncher XL in the bridge, giving a unique HH-type configuration. A 3-way selector switch, master volume and tone, and all gold hardware wrap up this unique, stunning guitar.

Sound: 8.5

I’m certainly biased because I love GFS pickups, but this guitar flat out sounds wonderful. I’m sure some would make a very valid argument that this guitar should have a higher priced pickup to justify the $1500 price tag. However, in my opinion I don’t feel this guitar’s tone is missing anything. The thinline body is very resonant, and provides a naturally warm and rich voice to each of the pickups. I’m actually shocked at how nice the clean tones are, with crystal clear note definition and a ton of that slap and sparkle that you’d expect from a Tele. The bridge pickup in particular sounded way closer to a Fender Tele than I expected from the GFS hot rail-style model. You could easily go from chick’n’pickin to Led Zeppelin with this lovely, unique take on the Telecaster.

Once some dirt was layered on I felt right at home. This guitar screamed with some Rat and Tube Screamer flavors added to the mix, and didn’t even feedback much unlike some thinlines I’ve played. I will say that a coil-split option would have been greatly appreciated on this guitar, especially to get some more atmospheric, indie-type sounds of the neck and middle positions. The sustain was pretty fun too with a big distortion pedal on top, as I really felt like this Tele could be a lead guitarists secret weapon. Overall, RWM has filled this ancient wooden guitar with a ton of fun and inspiring sounds that should feel right at home in a vintage Fender lover’s hands.

Playability: 9

One thing that really won me over with the RWM Semi-Hollow Double Cut is how comfortable it is to play. It’s got a vintage Fender-style neck that is smooth but never sticky, and surprisingly user friendly with that shorter scale length. I’m not sure why RWM opted to go with a Gibson-like 24.75″ scale length (maybe a nod to the Coronet??) but I’m a bigger fan of it than I thought I’d be. The tuning stability has been outright impressive and these GFS Sperzel-style locking tuners are the real deal. I know they might not be as expensive as other options, but they don’t feel or look cheap to me. This is a smooth playing instrument that also feels incredibly worn in, hats off to RWM Guitars for this one. For me, this is the kind of guitar you can tune at the beginning of the week and then pick up any day to play.

Finish & Construction: 9

I’m a sucker for the whole reclaimed wood thing. The Carmine Street Guitars documentary came out right as I was getting into the guitar modding/writing/reviewing world and I ate it up. Even if there is more fiction than fact to the whole “magic tone in the wood” mantra, I’m still a big fan. To me it adds a lot of artistic and intrinsic value. Recycling old wood into something new is an idea I will always support and RWM Guitars has done it wonderfully here. The decision not to fill the worm holes or scratches from the natural wood is actually something I appreciate. You end up with a guitar that isn’t relic’d but does have some dings and marks that give it character while still preserving killer build quality. Finish work and fret work and all the important stuff is excellent, just with some history preserved in there.

Value: 8

I think that pricing these at $1500 is a really good sweet spot, making them far more affordable than most other custom build, boutique guitars. Truth be told, I think brand name pickups from Lollar, or Seymour Duncan would definitely get a few of the more elitist buyers in but for a regularly gigging musician like myself, I use and trust GFS stuff regularly. However, the build quality, attention to detail, and tone woods more than justify the price. Overall, I feel there is a lot of character and back story to this guitar without an exorbitant price tag. It sounds great but feels and looks even better. If you’re looking for a custom built guitar with eye catching features and reclaimed woods, RWM Guitars is worth a strong look. I would have no reservations about ordering my own dream Telecaster from them.

Good for: Blues, Classic Rock, Fans of Carmine Street Guitars/Rick Kelly, Fans of Vintage Fenders