Spector Performer 4 Bass Review

A classic, stripped down bass with great playability

Cost: $399.99 new or find it cheaper on Reverb

Generously lent for review by Jennifer and Corey from the Korg and Spector companies!

Overview and Final Score: 7.5

The Spector Performer 4 combines the companies the company’s intelligent design plans and ultra playability with a more traditional PJ tonal palette to create a lightweight, gig worthy bass. Featuring a 3-piece maple neck paired with an Amara fingerboard, this 34″ scale length bass features stellar intonation. The nato wood body helps keeps it lightweight, while the Spector designed J- and P-bass pickups give it familiar tonal options controlled by dedicated volume and tone knobs for each pickup. Coming in as their cheapest option, Spector’s Performer is a reliable option for players who need playability but don’t want to own just another Squier P bass.

Sound: 7

When played side by side with its Legend series big brother, the Performer stands up for itself in the tone department, but lacks in output and clarity. The good news here is that this bass is punchy, and has a ton of tonal options. With volume and tone knobs for each pickup, you can get a variety of familiar bass sounds thanks to the Spector J-and P-style pickups. The spread on the tone knobs wasn’t perfect, and it sometimes muddied up the neck pickup well before the bridge.

The best sounds came with both pickups activated and with just the bridge activated. The bridge pickup was bright and had a lot of slap and spank to it, something that really came out when the bass was played with fingerstyle and slap techniques. Mixing and matching the output of both pickups together allowed for incredible control over the tone and the pickups responded well above their price tag.

Playability: 8.5

The neck on this guitar was just phenomenal, it was fast, comfortable, and the 24 medium-jumbo frets were all easy to reach. The 3-piece maple neck was very responsive to different techniques, touch, and seemed to come out of the box almost perfectly in tune despite my humid climate. The action was also great out of the box, actually better than the Legend’s was, even though that neck was also superb. The bass held tune the whole time me and my roommate played it and really impressed in this department when compared to its tonal score.

Finish & Construction: 7.5

The white finish that came on this bass was strong and had no noticeable dings or scratches, but might be too bland of a finish option for some. Especially considering the finish options on Spector’s higher priced options, some players may be uninspired by the simple, white-blue-red-black options. The construction was great overall, with the 5 bolt neck really catching my eye and providing an extra layer of stability and security. The bridge and tuners feel cheap, something furthered by the low quality spread of the tone knobs, but everything did work without any issues. With the quality of the pickups and neck in this bass, I would highly consider swapping out the hardware to really upgrade it. My main concern was that I feel you could get better hardware on other similarly priced basses like MIM-Fender’s, high priced Squier’s, or Yamaha’s.

Value: 7

The Performer 4 is an excellent bass capable of producing a wide range of familiar tones while sporting ultra-playability. However, I’m not settled on it being the best $400 bass out there. Especially because it sports J- and P-bass replicating pickups, this bass really just appeals to players who want those tones in an unfamiliar package. Its saving grace is the comfortable and stable neck, which makes this a great option for players who are looking for a gigging bass in the price range. I would have no issue trusting this bass to perform night after night on stage. If you need a comfortable, reliable gigging bass in a slightly more unique package, go with the Spector Performer 4!

Orangewood Oliver Mahogany Live Acoustic Guitar Review

An affordable, gig-ready acoustic with classic good looks

Cost: $275 new from Reverb

This guitar was generously lent for review by Alex from Orangewood Guitars.

Overview and Final Score: 8.0

The Oliver Mahogany Live is one of many fantastic and affordable acoustics from Orangewood Guitars. The grand concert sized body features a mahogany top, back, and sides and Fishman Sonitone pickups. The neck is also mahogany but with an Ovangkol fretboard and 20 comfortable frets. The Natural Satin finish is very eye catching, especially to fans of that aged, wooden look. Each guitar even comes with a pickguard that you can put on, just like a sticker, if you so choose. Overall, there is quite a bit to like about this guitar, especially for the price!

Sound: 7.5

The regular acoustic sound on this guitar is great, definitely a step above other similarly priced acoustics, like my Yamaha F325D. The guitar’s grand concert design creates a full, balanced tone that easily fills small rooms and attracts ears. The mahogany wood also adds a certain bass-like quality to your playing, allowing for the snap of the high strings to nicely contrast the warmth and roundness of the low strings. Even without being plugged in, the guitar easily fills the room with rich harmonics that most guitars in this price range just can’t. To be fair, it is no Gibson Hummingbird in terms of creating a rich, full sound, but it is the best you can get sub-$300.

Once plugged in, the guitar starts to show just a bit more of its affordability. The Fishman Sonitone is a great, trusty pickup, but it just isn’t capable of capturing all that acoustic fullness due to its under-saddle position. The tone and volume knobs are also somewhat hard to reach, being located in the sound hole, making it more a chore to try to change them mid-song. Under-saddle, or piezo pickups, tend to pickup a bit more of the string’s vibrational energy, creating great output and sparkling cleans, but some of that lovely bass tone I mentioned above is cut off. Overall, it’s still phenomenal for the value and would be an excellent gigging instrument for any guitarist. But be warned, this guitar has A LOT of feedback when plugged in.

Playability: 8

The playability was a lot better than I expected out of the box to be honest. The guitar came set up perfectly, and pretty much in tune even after transportation through a variety of climate conditions. Some of the frets were a bit rough, but the action was superb. Being that it’s a concert guitar, and not a cut-away style acoustic, many of the upper frets are a bit hard to reach. While this may be an issue for some guitarists, I would highly recommend this guitar to players who mainly stay between frets 0 and 15. For those who need more, there is also a cut-out Mahogany Live model named the “Morgan”.

Finish & Construction: 8

The construction on the guitar seems rock solid to me, the Fishman electronics didn’t create a lot of buzz or hum, just a ton of feedback when plugged into a variety of solid state and tube amplifiers. The input was in there pretty solidly, and I didn’t notice any cracking or noise when I tried to shake the wire and input housing around. Furthermore, the Natural Satin finish is fantastic, it feels strong and reliable, and gives the guitar a great looking, shiny wood finish. Some things have to be cheap on this guitar though, of course, and the tuners and frets needs some work. The tuners are a bit hard to turn, and generally seem to be cheap and prone to damage, but they do keep tune well!

Value: 8.5

A quick look at the snug fit inside the padded case

This guitar is one of the best acoustic-electric guitars on the market for the money, hands down. For $275 you get a gig-ready guitar that is capable of beautiful sounds both plugged and un-plugged. Furthermore, the stunning finish helps the guitar stick out a bit from the crowd of cheap Yamaha, Epiphone, and Mitchell models. Even better, the guitar comes with a hefty, padded gig bag that seemingly kept the guitar in great shape through its transit to me. If you want a distinct acoustic-electric on a budget, this is the guitar for you.

How Easy are the GFS Kwik-Plug Pickups to Install?

My very beat up Les Paul Special is now a very beat up Les Paul Junior

If you’ve ever bought after market pickups, you’ve likely heard of GFS, or Guitarfetish.com’s name brand pickups. These have been a bit of a controversial pickup option in the sense that you either love them or hate them. Many guitar modification gurus claim they are the best pickups dollar for dollar, as they are incredibly cheap, usually coming in around $20-40 per pickup. Furthermore, you can usually buy pre-wired harnesses for a variety of pickup options making guitar modification extremely easy.

If soldering is really a no-go for you however, they have recently introduced their Kwikplug products, that allow you to install brand new pickups and wiring controls in minutes without soldering. Curious to see how easy they were AND how they sounded, I decided to mod my beloved (but not often used) 2011 Gibson Les Paul Special. While I’ve loved the design and playability of this double P90 LP, I often felt the pickups didn’t have the output or tone I was looking for. So can these kwikplugs be the cure? Let’s find out.

How Does Kwikplug Work?

Kwikplug is an option you can choose to add to any GFS pickups from their site. It doesn’t cost any more or less to add the kwikplug adaptability to your pickups, but if your wiring harness isn’t already kwikplug enabled, you can affordably get a new harness from them for an additional $30 or so. Overall, you can re-wire your whole guitar for well under $100.

With the new harness, simply remove all the wiring from your guitar, in this case a Les Paul Junior, and screw in your new pots and and input jack, no soldering required. Then, simply plug in your new pickup, after screwing it into place, making sure the headphone jack-style connection is in snuggly. The connection can be found running from the volume pot and fits into the input on the back of the pickup.

How Easy Is It?

Having done this myself, it literally took me more time to remove all the old wiring from guitar than it did to install the new kwikplug system and wiring. It was so easy, it all fit like a charm, and the quality of the GFS pre-wired harness was great. The wires are well insulated and the connections were well soldered and strong. It’s just as simple as putting headphones into an iphone!

So How Does It Sound?

While you’ll have to be patient and wait for a video demo, the dog ear P90 pickup I installed actually sounds great! I went for one with more output and bite than the soapbar’s that came stock on my Les Paul Special. The P90 is clear, punchy, and gets me way closer to the sounds of The Clash that inspired my love of Les Paul Juniors. While my guitar is certainly beat up, and now covered in holes from where electronics were, I can’t put it down and have been re-inspired by it every time I look at it and plug it in. This was easily the best $49 (total price I paid) I have spent in awhile.

Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 10W 1x12W Review

An American-inspired amp powered by a 6L6 output tube for bright, clear tones.

Cost: $549.99 new, find yours HERE

Generously sent for review by Blackstar, huge thanks to Jennifer for the help!

How it Works and Final Score: 8.7

The Studio 10 6L6 from Blackstar is a fairly stripped down, affordable tube amp that is the perfect size for bedroom players and small stage players alike. The amp features a 1×12 Celestion 70/80 speaker, with 10 watts of output and a built in overdrive channel controllable by the included foot switch or by a button on the control panel.

Controllable parameters include gain, tone, reverb, and master volume, allowing you to dial in a fairly diverse array of tones, even without a typical 3 band EQ. For an amp at this price point, there is quite a bit of features built into the back of the amp as well such as effects loop and three speaker outputs.

Sound: 8.5

Inspired by many of the classic American amps from Fender that predate the Studio 6L6, it follows through on its promise of bright, clear tones. If you crank the gain and volume enough, you get that classic overdriven Fender tweed sound but in a much smaller package, allowing for more comfortable in doors playing. The amp really sparkles with single coils but loses a bit of the natural drive and output I got with humbuckers via a Dean Modern 24 and Guild Jetstar.

The built in reverb in fine, nothing to write home about, but it does lack some of the depth of that Fender or Vox spring reverb tank I’m accustomed to. My amp arrived with a footswitch for the drive channel, but there are also aftermarket ones from Blackstar that can control both drive and reverb. It seems like this would allow great sound shaping without any pedals or cheap sounding, built-in FX.

Personally, I found the drive channel to be a bit muddy, especially with any neck pickups or the tone knob rolled off on the guitar or amp. I think having a 3 band EQ would really help this drive shine a bit more, but for the price you can’t get everything. Besides a bit of muddiness, I enjoyed how raunchy and noisy the overdriven channel was, as it really mimics the touch sensitivity of a vintage cranked tube amp.

Construction & Reliability: 9

Nothing to be concerned about here, it seems to be solid as rock thanks to its heavy casing and hefty 32 pound weight. All the wiring seems to be correct and sturdy after cracking it open to inspect, the only issue (and it’s so minor), it seems like some of the washers around the input jack and power switches were a bit loose.

Value: 8.5

This single valve amp really mixes the best of solid state and tube amps together into one affordable package. The 6L6 output drives your lead tones but preserves that Fender-sparkle at lower, clean volumes. For $550, I think it is a bit of an amplifier “tweener” in the sense that it is probably too expensive or low volume to be someone’s amp for their first band, but is probably a bit below some of the other standard tube practice amps that veteran players may have in their house. Overall, it’s really a great fit for players like myself, who have expensive tastes but can’t afford expensive gear, as it mimics the sounds of vintage Fender combo’s at a much more palatable price. But based on quality alone, you are getting more than you pay for with the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6!

Dean Modern 24 Review

A stunning, stripped down superstrat for modern, high gain players

Cost: $649.00 new, check Reverb for even lower prices!

Generously lent for review thanks to John from Armadillo Enterprises, Dean’s parent company!

Overview and Final Score: 7.8

Dean’s Modern 24 is a mixed bag of luxury features and missing parts. While the tones you can get of the guitar are superb, and the playability is elite, I was often left wanting a few more things on the guitar such as a tone knob or whammy bar. The mahogany body features a 3-piece maple neck with an ebony fretboard and 24 jumbo frets. Two Seymour Duncan Custom Zebra humbuckers are directly mounted onto the body, an APH-1 in the neck and a TB-5 in the bridge. A tune-o-matic bridge, single volume knob, and 3-way selector round out this high quality import package.

Sound: 8

The two Duncan humbuckers are phenomenal in this guitar and create searing lead tones, bruising rhythms, and the zebra design really compliments the all black finish. One drawback however is how bright the pickups are, which could normally be dulled just a bit via the tone knob, which is missing from this guitar. I compensated by messing with the EQ onboard my distortion pedals and was able to get some really great high gain tones for hard rock or metal, especially out of the bridge pickup. Both pickups wonderfully pushed the tubes in my Blackstar Studio 10 and Vox AC15 C1 to create awesome overdriven tones at high volumes. These humbuckers were really made to be pushed into a tube amp, and I bet would sound best going through some huge Marshall stack.

The neck was smooth, but not as buttery as you would expect, again sans tone control. One thing that really knocked a few ticks off here was that the guitar wasn’t super versatile, the pickups didn’t seem to be able to produce the warmness needed for genres outside of hard rock/metal very easily. As you’ll see later in the article, I feel like players will either find this guitar perfect, or put it down for a more diverse ESP or Jackson model. At the end of the day, the sounds and tones you can get out of this guitar are superb, and it’s probably a few mods away from being a 9/10.

Playability: 8.5

Thanks to a nifty neck heel joint, all 24 jumbo frets were easy to access while messing around with scales and improvising. The frets and C-shaped neck were both comfortable and familiar, while still feeling more suited for modern playing styles. The tuning stability was great thanks to the Grover tuners and tune-o-matic bridge, and I barely had to tune up or tweak it once I got it right. At this price, many might expect locking tuners, because of the guitar’s affordable Indonesian birthplace, but they didn’t feel necessarily unless you really beat up your strings.

The neck felt chunkier then expected but the guitar balanced beautifully on the strap, with no neck or body dive to report on. The size of the neck steered me towards playing more rhythmically on this guitar even though the lead tones were great. Players with larger or smaller hands may have to try the neck out first to see how it will fit to them individually.

Finish & Construction: 7

The construction of this guitar was superb, which may surprise you when you see the score, but there are separate concerns from the quality control done by Dean. The finish was spotless and seemed very damage resistant. All wood work, hardware installation, and set up was great out of the box and the guitar tuned up quickly and was instantly playable.

My concerns are with the design and construction choices, something I will touch on more in the value section. To me, this guitar doesn’t seem versatile enough to warrant its status as kind of a stand-alone or flagship superstrat for the company, but perhaps that wasn’t their goal. $649 isn’t cheap for an imported guitar, and I would think they would add some exciting features like a coil tap, trem system, or locking tuners, in addition to a tone knob. I often felt myself going to use features that just weren’t there and it made me want to really modify this guitar into something even better than it already is.

Value: 7.5

As stated above, I think this is a case of a guitar you really have to try before you buy. Some people may love how simple and stripped down it is, some people may be looking for more bang for your buck or simply more sonic features. I keep comparing this to the Chapman ML-1 Modern V2 I reviewed awhile ago, and that guitar just felt like it had more at a lower price. It was $150 cheaper, had a thinner and faster neck, and had an awesome coil split function that I fell in love with. While this guitar is fantastic and a joy to play, I just don’t feel it sets the standard for superstrats in this price range. Definitely try it out before you buy it because you never know if it’s the one for you!

Ammoon Nano Chorus Pedal Review

One of the most underrated, affordable chorus pedals on the market.

Cost: $29.99 new but prices may vary on Reverb

Gifted to me by my brother and been on my board ever since.

How it Works & Final Score: 7.8

If you’re looking for a big sounding chorus pedal that won’t take up a lot of budget or pedalboard space, look no further! The Ammoon Chorus is a true bypass nano pedal with two modes: “Deep” and “Normal”. These two modes, controlled by a small switch, basically control the intensity of the modulation type.

Both these modes are further modified via the “level”, “depth”, and “rate” controls. “Level” is fairly straight forward, and controls the level of the modulated signal mixed over your original signal. “Depth” on this pedal essentially controls the number of signals that the pedal recreates and layers over your original, also controlling how thick or heavy the chorus effect is. Lastly, “rate”, controls the time of the delays that help thicken up that chorus sound.

Sound: 6.5

Don’t get me wrong, this chorus pedal sounds great and can get you all the famous chorus tones from EVH to Andy Summers, but it is just missing a few things. The “deep” mode is almost too modulated and can really only be used for intense atmospherics or shoe-gaze performances. While this isn’t a big deal, I felt it kind of neuters that whole feature for most players.

However, the “normal” mode is reliable and produces great sounds. One of the major criticisms that lost it some points was that the depth knob is just not capable of producing quite as rich tones as say the Boss CH-3 pedal, especially when it comes to the lower end of the control knob. Once you crank it, it really shines through however, and makes for some inspiring lead sounds. One interesting note: The “normal” mode sounds phenomenal with both the depth and rate cranked to create the sound I hoped the “deep” mode would with dense layers or rich modulation, fast delay, and a really thick sound.

Durability: 8

While it’s no Boss or MXR pedal with a rugged metal casing that could survive a nuclear blast, it has lasted several years on my board without any issues that couldn’t be fixed. After some heavy use, the washers on the in- and outputs came a bit loose but were easily tightened. While this isn’t a big deal, it still keeps it from a perfect score despite the aluminum alloy seeming pretty reliable. Plus, as a nano pedal, it’ll take up barely any space on your board and can be cheaply replaced.

Value: 9

Another piece of guitar gear that really shines in the value department, this is one of the best cheap pedals you can get. It will do 80% or more of what most chorus pedals do for a fraction of the price. I mean, it’s like $30 on Amazon, maybe cheaper elsewhere? If you have a budget to stick to, this has to outcompete $100 or even $50 chorus pedals, even if the sound isn’t totally there.

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal Review

There is a reason this is one of the most popular pedals of all time

Cost: $49.99 USD new, buy from Reverb HERE

Purchased this pedal recently after realizing I needed a simple, reliable distortion.

How it Works and Final Score: 8.7

The Boss DS-1 Distortion is one of the most straightforward and popular pedals of all time. Known best for its punchy, classic rock-style distortion, the DS-1 has been used by everyone from Kurt Cobain to Steve Vai. With 3 easy controllable parameters, “tone”, “level”, and “dist”, you can dial in a dynamic range of gain sounds. The “tone” and “level” controls are your standard output and treble/bass ratio controls, while “dist” controls the amount of gain. There’s really not much more to it, sometimes the best circuits are just the simplest ones!

Sound: 8

Start with each knob at 12 o’clock and you’re quickly in classic rock mode thanks to the big, mid-range sound that still retains note to note clarity as you bash out power chords and riffs. The “dist” knob can slowly take you from subtle overdrive tones to saturated, high gain, making it a truly diverse distortion. I even started to get some borderline fuzz sounds as I cranked the distortion but limited the level controls.

Overall, I think the best feature of the DS-1’s sound has to be the harmonic richness. It’s almost inexplainable but it just adds that missing something that can make each string vibration feel warm, full, and musical. The spread on the tone control is fantastic, meaning you really have full control over how bright or dark you make the sound.

Durability: 10

Boss pedals are built like tanks, they very rarely break on you and I trust them more than any other pedal to perform time and time again. The sturdy metal casing, the foot pedal, and the knobs all seem to last a lifetime. When buying a pedal, going with a trusted brand is always a safe bet, and Boss is arguably the safest brand possible. There is reason guitar heroes like John Frusciante, Rivers Cuomo, and Joe Satriani all use these products.

Value: 8

The DS-1 is so damn cheap, coming in around $50 at most major retailers, and probably even cheaper on the used market. At that price, you’re getting one of the most trusted and reliable distortions on the market. Some players are quick to point out that the DS-1 is not the most inspiring of all distortion pedals, and that for just tens of dollars more you can get a wider range of fantastic drives, distortions, or even fuzzes. While the TC Electronic Dark Matter or EHX Muff series may add more diversity for the price, the DS-1 is still an insane value and should be a staple on every player’s pedalboards.