Yamaha FG3 Acoustic Guitar Review

Check out this new Acoustic from Yamaha, the FG3

Cost: $799.99, new

Thanks to Stephanie from Yamaha for lending me this great acoustic! Shop for a good deal on one of your own on Reverb.com!

Overview and Final Score: 8.5

One of Yamaha’s newest acoustic guitars, the FG3 is a mix of top tier features packaged together at a price more suitable for the modern performing guitarists. The back and sides are solid Mahogany, with a solid Sitka Spruce top. The neck is made from African Mahogany overlaid with an Ebony fretboard and 20 well manicured frets. The gloss finish on the natural wood looks great and feels ready to hit the stage, as this guitar is really aimed at being the go-to Acoustic guitar of choice for up and coming singer/songwriters. The 25″ scale length has dot inlays, and the neck meets the body at the 15th fret. Gotoh Open-gear tuners, scalloped body bracing, and a luxurious soft case round out the other features to know on this dreadnought.

Sound: 8.5

This guitar sounded great from the minute I first tuned it up. The dreadnought has amazing clarity and volume, and the stock strings that came on it had impressive thump and snap when played fingerstyle. With a pick, the FG3 sounds more bright, with chords chiming and ringing out. While this acoustic doesn’t come with a pickup, it provides enough volume to play alongside a singer or another acoustic guitar with ease. The FG3 is definitely more suited for songwriters, but if you added a high quality pickup to this guitar it would stage ready with ease. This guitar sparkles, thumps, and sings far better than I expected at this price tag. It just plays and feels like a premier guitar with great note to note clarity and plenty of natural sustain and warmth.

Playability: 9

I tuned this thing up when I first got it out of the box and haven’t had to touch it in the days since. The Gotoh tuners seem to be really high quality and turned with ease with no signs or sounds of string slipping. The neck was incredibly comfortable, finely finished and perfectly in the middle of thin and thick acoustic neck profiles. This guitar is definitely built to fit in any player’s hands which may turn off customers looking for a top shelf acoustic fit to certain vintage specs. But overall, the tuning stability was superb, the neck was comfortable, and the action was great right out of the box. There was a small amount of fret buzz at certain spots, but that’s the only thing keeping this from a perfect score in the playability department.

Finish & Construction: 9

Like with the playability, the finish and construction is almost spotless on the FG3. It looks and feels like it should cost twice the price. The natural finish has a shiny gloss cover that was flawless on the guitar I was lent. It feels a bit thin, which some may prefer or dislike depending on tastes, but it seems strong and durable enough for a guitar that I would mostly use to write songs around the house or studio. While it certainly could be a gig-able guitar, I feel the lightweight dreadnought body is meant to take a beating around a climate controlled and safe house instead of a sweaty, hot stage. Overall, I found no construction flaws, no finish flaws, and the FG3 seems incredibly well put together.

Value: 7.5

The FG3’s only drawback is that despite looking and sounding like a higher priced guitar, it still only felt a tick or two better than the Orangewood I reviewed a while ago, which was 1/3 of the cost. Perspective is everything and you may find this guitar to be astronomically better than the last, but to me it was only slightly better, meaning that I can’t give it a 9 or 10 for value’s sake. Overall, I still think it plays above the price tag, giving it a net positive value. This is an ideal guitar for the modern day singer songwriter and once you try one of these, I’m not sure you’ll care about the price tag or my value score anyway, it’s just a great all-around instrument!

Donner Upgraded Digital Wireless Guitar Transmitter-Receiver Review

For live players on a budget, there is finally a reliable wireless system on the market!

Cost: $88.99, new from Amazon

Thanks to the Donner Vine program, I was able to review this awesome wireless setup!

How it Works & Final Score: 7.5

The Donner Wireless system is a straightforward and accessible way to make your live guitar or bass rig wireless. With about 200 feet of reported range, the farthest I could physically get from mine was 50 feet and it still worked great (any further and I’d be outside across the street). The lithium battery in each boasts a 4.5 hour lifespan but can easily be recharged via a USB port. The set of transmitters come with a charger and durable carrying case that won’t take up a lot of space. With four channels, it can support up to four devices at once with one to one, one to two, or one to three transmission.

Sound: 7

The sound quality overall was pretty true to the tone I get with wires, but it lost a noticeable amount of bass frequency. The volume, mids, and highs all seemed to be there, with volume being the most important for a live show. I was slightly discouraged by the lack of definition as I moved farther and farther away, but ultimately I felt I could rely on the sounds and just adjust my guitar or pedal’s control knobs as needed. I think for most players who would be interested in this price range for the product, it’s perfectly suitable and the best option on the market. With single coil pickups, I found a slight hum or buzz was emitted that was only noticeable when I wasn’t playing. If you don’t already, you may want to roll off all your guitar volume when you’re not playing when using this system.

Reliability: 7.5

Reliability gets a slightly higher score than sound for one reason, whatever the problems were, at least they were consistent. The hum and buzz only happened with my single coil guitars, and didn’t change based on distance from the amp. While the overall definition did change with distance, it took about 15+ feet for me to really hear a change, and I imagine most players who use this will not be rocking the main stage at Lollapalooza, meaning they likely won’t be much farther than that anyway. The reality is that this is a budget friendly model for amateur or young performing musicians. It’s absolutely consistent and reliable enough for open mic nights, small venues, or basement parties and I never had any signal loss.

Value: 8

While it isn’t a product on everyone’s wish list, it’s really nice to see a quality wireless system that is under $100. You may find many cheaper that have far more issues, and there are definitely way more expensive and high quality options, but the Donner System is the best for players who are new to live performances and need a reliable and affordable option. I look forward to testing it out in a variety of gigging situations and can already tell it will help clear some wires from the stage when needed. I think it’s absolutely worth checking out if you play live often and have been considering going wireless.

Joyo Bantamp Firebrand Amp Head Review

An affordable amp head that rips through the mix and looks killer!

Cost: $169.00, new

Huge thanks to Ed from Osiamo for lending me the new Bantamp Firebrand to try out! Get one here!

How it Works and Final Score: 7.7

The Firebrand is super simple and straightforward, making it an ideal option for players who need a practice amp or reliable live option for smaller venues. The three control knobs are pretty straightforward, with gain, tone, and volume as well as a clean and OD channel switch. The preamp is made up of a 12AX7 tube paired with a solid state power amp, making this an affordable two channel amplifier option. You can connect a phone or other device to the amp via the bluetooth switch, allowing you to use the head as a speaker or letting you play along to your favorite songs. In the back, you’ll find an FX loop, as well as an aux input jack. As the Firebrand name might suggest, this is a fire breathing amp that is built for distortion and gain sounds. Just like how each other BanTamP product is meant to model a popular amp tone, this bad boy is meant for cranked, Marshall-like metal sounds.

Sound: 7

The clean channel takes effect pedals very well, with little buzz or or noise, but it sounds fairly sterile and simulated. Some players may like the reliability and clarity of the solid state clean tone, but I prefer to be able to dial in a little bit of chime or shimmer, and that’s not really an option here. On the other hand, the OD channel is great and the amp really shines when used for its original intention of high gain playing. While this limits the versatility, it still is a great overall sound, you just have to be willing to use it for only a handful of tonal options.

The Firebrand provides plenty of layers of thick distortion tones, great for hard rock and metal tones. The amp sounded best through my humbucker-outfitted ES-335 copy and Guild Jetstar. Drop tunings sounded great, with Drop D riffs retaining definition while still cutting through the mix with mid- and bass-heavy punchiness. Once you crank the tone, you can get more of a lead guitar sound with more note to note clarity perfect for sweep picking or tapping. The only drawback on the distorted sound settings was that the single preamp tube starts to lose that clarity and definition when it really is cranked past 4 o’clock making the amp sound a little bit muddy.

Construction & Reliability: 8

This lunchbox amp head seems really well built, and the small size makes it easy to pack, store, or use live. It’s really light as well, and I couldn’t find any noticeable flaws or factory damage. Even better, the amp didn’t have a lot of hiss or extra noise, thanks to a combination of quality wiring and decent parts. You can’t expect much more from a $170 amp that features a preamp tube, it really doesn’t feel like they cut many corners or cheaped out on anything to keep costs down.

Value: 8

As stated above, this is a great amp for the price that features two adjustable channels, solid construction, an FX loop, and bluetooth connect-ability. With plenty of perks and extras, this head is a perfect option for players on a budget who need tube-driven distortion that can from the practice room to the stage with ease. At a $169.00, it’s a great alternative to the Orange Crush 20W combo amp if you’re looking for the same quality distortion sound but in a head/tube powered configuration. For the money, I’m not sure there is an amp head out there that can beat it!

Nobels ODR-1 Overdrive Pedal Review

A reliable overdrive with some nice, extra features such as a remote jack for complicated rig setups. Find yours here!

Cost: $99.00, new

Huge thanks to Ed for making all these great Osiamo product reviews happen!

How it Works and Final Score: 8.7

I have to start this review out by saying that this pedal should not sound different than the ODR-mini logically, but honestly, the ODR-1 sounds SOOO much better than the mini. It features the same three, simple controls: drive, spectrum (tone), and level. The pedal is German engineered, Chinese made, and covers a wide range of tones from thick distortion to more touch sensitive, natural overdrive. Furthermore, the remote control jack switching systems means you can control the pedal remotely, via something such as a footswitch or control board, for players who route all their pedals into racks, and then control from the stage. Or, if your guitar tech controls your effects, but you still want the pedal onstage, this input makes that possible.

Sound: 8.5

The sound is great, I’m impressed that the pedal earned the distinction as Nashville Guitarist’s #1 overdrive pedal, but I’m sure it has something to do with the mix of sound quality and durability. The spectrum knob works much better on this pedal than the mini, I don’t know, maybe I got a dud of a mini, but you could really dial in humbucker tones, single coil tones, and incredibly levels of clarity using the knob. The drive control goes from searing distortion, similar to some of the more tame Boss DS-1 tones, to cranked tube amp simulations favored by blues, pop, and country players. It certainly sounds versatile, and I would love to have this on my board.

Durability: 9

I’m a huge fan of pedals that have this type of build design, with one large, flat pedal instead of a single footswitch. I feel it makes the pedal more durable, something Boss has shown to great effect, and I feel I have more control over it, aka, there is no threat of me missing the footswitch in a dark club or basement (or while drunk). If that many of the music capital’s guitarists trust this pedal, than I am sold as I’ve seen nothing that would contradict that on my end. I have put a bit of a beating on it so far, and it just keeps coming back for more. I trust it.

Value: 8.5

For $99, you really can’t get much better unless you want to just use a run of a mill distortion pedal. Many of my comments on the ODR-mini are just not true for this pedal, it feels sturdy, it sounds almost boutique, and it actually is a great value here. It has way more bite than a Boss Blues Driver or Tube Screamer, but it isn’t quite a distortion pedal either. I like it a lot, and hope one of these finds it way back into my hands soon.

Nobels ODR-mini Pedal Review

The ODR-mini takes up little space while providing lots of sound

Cost: $79.00, new. Want your own? Check HERE for the best prices!

Huge thanks to Ed from Osiamo for sending this for review!

How it Works and Final Score: 7.7

The ODR-mini is the smaller, more pedal board friendly version of its big brother, the Nobels ODR-1. Capable of going from overdriven tube amp to crushing distortion, the ODR-mini is a versatile, if unspectacular overdrive option for your pedalboard. Three control knobs allow for tone shaping with fairly simple parameters. Drive controls the level of the gain, while level controls the output volume of the mini pedal. The true bypass pedal also features tone control that is labeled as “spectrum” but is essentially normal bright/dark contour.

Sound: 7.5

The ODR-mini’s best feature is that it is a strong sounding overdrive in a compact package. Before I get into everything I love about this pedal, I have to say that for the price, it is basically just an average overdrive that isn’t any cheaper than more trusted pedals such as the Tube Screamer. However, it sounds straight up good through a clean tube amp, especially with the spectrum knob at the 12 o’clock position. The drive is able to provide a great range from subtle dirty tones for country and pop to searing leads for rock and blues. I found the spectrum control to be a bit too bright for single pickup guitars when cranked, but otherwise all other control parameters were great and easy to adjust. The output was especially useful for breaking up my Vox AC15 when the gain was turned down for a real touch sensitive, and natural tube sound.

Durability: 8

I’m always a bit more skeptical of mini pedals when it comes to lifetime, but this one seems to be an exception to the rule as it feels really solid and well put together. Furthermore, because it takes up so little space on the pedalboard and is affordable, I wouldn’t have any concerns about using it live or taking it on the road. Lastly, the pedal was quiet through my pedal chain, no buzz or hiss, except for at really high volumes, which is understandable. I have very few concerns about slapping this on my pedal board long term, and would trust it for live shows. While it doesn’t have the track record of my tube screamer, I’ll be watching these pedals closely going forward.

Value: 7.5

The pedal is fairly affordable as a sub-$100 option on a crowded market, which limits its ceiling a bit here. With so many great options out there, it is hard to stick out, even if it is a great pedal. Overall, I think the pedal would be incredibly popular if it was more well known, as many pedal buyers tend to trust tried and tested brands or truly boutique (and overpriced) pedals. But if you’re looking for something small, compact, and reliable, the ODR-mini is a phenomenal option, worth every cent.

Aria Retro-1532 Electric Guitar Review

A wonderfully unique offset that will delight vintage and modern fans alike!

Cost: $299.00, new

Huge thanks to Kazu and the Arai & Co company for sending this great guitar, it is one of the coolest ones I’ve ever reviewed!

Overview and Final Score: 8.3

The Aria Retro-1532 is by far one of the most unique and visually inspiring guitars I’ve ever reviewed. Despite the humble price point, it actually sounds delightful. The guitar features a 3-tone sunburst finish over a basswood body with a maple neck and Techwood fretboard. 21 frets grace this 24.75″ scale length guitar, giving it a comfortable, shorter feel, almost like a souped up Fender Jaguar. Two VLS, half covered single coil pickups provide not just a unique look but a unique sound that recalls those classic ’60s big single coils found in Tiesco or Supro instruments. The slanted neck pickup is a great touch too, both visually and sonically.

The pickups are controlled by a familiar volume, tone, and 3-way selector switch, making this a fairly straight forward rock machine. A tune-o-matic bridge leads to a Jazzmaster-style tremolo system, adding further sonic options. The offset body will likely attract many Fender fans looking for a Jazzmaster or Jaguar body, but the smaller scale length should also appeal to Gibson-style players looking for an outside the box addition.

Sound: 7

Most of the sounds that come out of this thing are really unique, much more than the more traditional single coil sound Aria’s DM-01 provided. The VLS pickups have a bit more output and crack then traditional single coils, because of their huge size, which gives all three settings a great distorted tone. At lower volumes, the cleans still shimmer and chime, especially out of the bridge and middle position, while the neck takes on an almost humbucker-like sound that is great for blues, jazz, or even atmospheric sections.

The addition of the tremolo arm especially helps make this guitar sound great for more modern indie and pop sounds where guitars may go from shimmering ambience to full bodied chords in seconds. The bridge pickup is your best bet for more of these bright sounds, while also sounding great for overdriven, tube amp garage rock with the tone just slightly rolled off. Overall, vintage single coil sounds abound in this fine guitar, and I think it adds a really quirky option to my rig for the studio or live performances.

Playability: 8.5

This guitar’s playability far outperforms both the sound and price of this guitar. First off, the heavy gloss finish on the neck feels great, to my hands it makes the guitar’s neck much faster to move around on and more comfortable to play for long periods of time. It’s almost like a high end lacquer finish, and greatly out competes the DM-01’s raw-feeling neck. From there, the tuning stability is really great and the guitar has yet to move more than a bit out of tune, even after a few hours of going at it. The frets are comfortable, and while not specified, feel like medium-jumbo, and none of the edges were sharp or poorly cut.

Finish & Construction: 8.5

The finish on this guitar is beautiful and really well done, and there was no damage from shipping. Overall, the finish just doesn’t feel cheap, which is not a very specific definition, but sometimes you just know it when you feel it. So much of a guitar’s appeal to each individual is feel anyway, so I have to give the Retro-1532 props for feeling great, sounding, great, and being an overall inspiring instrument. I already raved about the neck finish and the whole neck and headstock are really the highlight of this guitar. There were no apparent flaws in any of the construction, the 3-way selector worked, the pots worked, though the tone didn’t have great spread, but that’s expected in this price range. It is both stunning and well built for a Chinese-made guitar that retails for $300.

Value: 9

Aria’s Retro-1532 is not just one of the most affordable guitars out there but it is probably the most affordable AND interesting guitar I’ve ever played. Often when I see instruments like this, I say to myself, wow I’d love to have one but I can’t justify spending the $500-$1000 for an Eastwood or Danelectro I’ll only use for a few songs. With this guitar being this nice at this price, it makes it incredibly accessible for those who want something sonically and visually different. I’m a big fan and can’t wait to work this guitar into my rig.

Aria DM-01 Electric Guitar Review

A stunning, Mosrite-style guitar meant for all sorts of vintage rock goodness

Cost: $379.00 new, get your own one of these ASAP

Huge thanks to Kazu from Arai & Co for sending me this awesome guitar!

Overview and Final Score: 7.1

The Aria DM-01 is a modern take on a classic vintage guitar style beloved by thousands. Based on the classic Mosrite body shape, Johnny Ramone and Ventures fans alike will rejoice at the ability to get their hands on a great playing modern update. Part of the Retro Classic series, the DM-01 features a basswood body, maple neck, and Techwood fingerboard. The 25.5″ scale length guitar also holds 20 frets alongside chrome hardware, a tune-o-matic bridge, and floating, Jazzmaster-style tremolo system.

Dual APS-9 single coils, Aria’s take on P90’s, give the guitar a distinctly killer look and tone. The two soapbars are controlled via a standard 3-way selector switch as well as a volume and tone knob. Along with the Vintage White finish I received, the guitar is also available in Black and 3 Tone Sun-burst.

Sound: 7

The choice of P90’s as opposed to the Johnny Ramone set up, mini humbucker and single coil, really make this guitar more appealing for modern guitarists in my opinion. First off, the two P90’s are capable of a bit more variety of sound, and this guitar can go from searing lead squeals on the bridge to slapping country tones once you turn down the gain. The neck pickup is a bit muddy and notes get ill-defined, as expected with cheaper P90’s pickups that don’t have quite the brightness of Fender-style pups or the output of Gibson-esque humbuckers.

The best sounds were produced with just a bit of overdrive, courtesy of my tube screamer pedal, to push my Vox AC15 over the edge. The pickups break up really nicely and the guitar felt right at home amongst these garage rock tones. I don’t know if it is just my association with Mosrites and P90s, but this guitar really just inspired me to play noisy, classic punk and garage rock sounds, and it sounded best doing it. The pickups were fairly hot enough to rely on in a live setting, but I kept feeling myself moving towards my boost pedals, even when playing cleaner tones.

Playability: 6

The playability on this thing didn’t quite match up with how good it sounded. There are no major flaws on this guitar whatsoever, I just felt it needs a proper setup especially when compared to some of the other guitars I’ve reviewed. The fret edges were just a bit rough, and the guitar stayed in tune okay, it overall felt very average in that department as the trem bar would throw it out of tune after a 10-20 minutes of playing. This makes it more of an issue for live use, not so much bedroom or practice players though. The action was great out of the box however, and it is overall not too uncomfortable to play.

Finish & Construction: 7.5

Overall, the DM-01 is very well put together and I found no major flaws, dents, scratches or other issues. Of course the guitar could use a set up as I said before, but that’s not a huge disappointment especially at this price. The finish looks great and seems very durable, especially considering the guitar wasn’t shipped in a case, and survived fine inside the cardboard box. The finish on the back of the neck is just a bit too thin and cheap feeling to me, and I much preferred the high gloss on the back of the other Aria I received, the Retro-1532. The wiring seemed well down when I cracked it open, and there isn’t any excess buzz from any components of the guitar, besides the slightly noisy single coils.

Value: 8

The DM-01 is a great guitar at a great price, coming in at just under $400. I think it fits best in the hands of garage rock fans, punk rock players, and those who like their guitars to look just a bit different. While it is a larger scale length, it might also make a great and affordable alternative to a Gibson DC Les Paul Junior. The guitar also gets extra points here because it is one of the cheapest options out there for this guitar design. Eastwood makes some great models just like this, but most are far closer to $1000 than to $400. Danelectro’s similar models also come in well north of that benchmark, like the $800 ’64 Guitar. For the money, it just plays and sounds above average and will help you stick out of the crowd, not sure you can ask for much else out of the DM-01.