Chapman’s ML1 Modern V2 is an awesome take on the superstrat design, featuring a familiar body and neck profile with huge output from the Sonorous humbuckers. While the ML1 may seem and play like a metal-style guitar, it really shined in a variety of uses for me including covering The Black Keys and playing clean, fast leads over indie rock tracks from Life in Film and Walk the Moon. While this guitar will no doubt serve all your shredding needs, I think a more diverse cast of guitarists would feel right at home on the Modern V2, and for the price, you can’t beat it!
This guitar is loud, it blew away my other humbucker equipped guitars (Guild Jetstar and kit-assembled ES-335) while still retaining solid tone and clarity. Even with additional gain or drive engaged via pedals, individual notes could be heard in most chord positions on both the neck and bridge pickup. This guitar was unique in the fact that I really enjoyed the neck pickup tones even though I’m a noted hater of using the warmer, bassier sounds from that position on all my guitars. The pickups were well balanced in output as well, which made it easy to switch between the two positions while playing. The clean tones left just a little bit to be desired, as I felt the pickups were lacking a little in the mid section but that could just be my ear and I invite others to try out this awesome instrument for themselves. One great feature was the coil split function on the tone pot and I had a great time messing around with it, using the split as a rhythm tone before pushing it back in and using the humbuckers as a boost setting for big choruses or solos.
The playability is almost perfect on this guitar, with the only issue being the reverse headstock taking some getting used to. Because the tuners are upside and down and in reverse order compared to a normal strat or tele headstock, I often found myself turning the wrong peg but that quickly become normal. The only real issue is I believe the reverse headstock makes tuners slightly less accessible but overall that’s me just being picky. Otherwise, the neck was smooth and played wonderfully up and down the standard C shape. All 24 frets were incredibly easy to access thanks to a nifty contoured neck heel, and I really like the addition of jumbo frets that featured no sharp edges or build issues. The guitar has yet to go out of tune more than once at the time of writing (after a week of playing) and the tuning stability is borderline unheard of at this price.
Finish and Construction: 10
This guitar is built to last and looks phenomenal. The lunar finish on the one I received is top notch and drew plenty of compliments from friends and band members. The body is thin and comfortable to play thanks to a strat style body contour, and it feels just heavy enough to be sturdy but light enough to comfortably play for hours standing up or sitting down. The bolt on neck and Fender-style build really makes this guitar a great option for players looking to modify, upgrade, or repair potential damage themselves as a soldering iron and screwdriver will get you where you need to go.
For under $500, this is one of the best guitars you can get. Some people may find the humbuckers a little too one dimensional or metal-focused, but with an easy to access body cavity, you can swap them out no problem, and I personally found their high output to be inspiring. Thanks to elite playability and tuning stability, you cannot go wrong purchasing the ML1 Modern V2 and I think Chapman has staked their claim as being a major guitar brand worth everyone’s attention. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this guitar, as I went in thinking the price would indicate a cheaper, lower quality guitar from a smaller company. I was wrong, the Modern V2 should be on everyone’s short list of budget guitars to try out.
For all the arguments about whether the guitar is dead or not, one topic people don’t often discuss is the death of analog gear and rigs, even among veteran musicians. Just like when Pro Tools was introduced to recording decades ago, we stand at a cross roads in guitar technology that has many people choosing between the old way versus the new way. Guitar bodies are being produced with new shapes, and new substances such as carbon fiber, metal, acrylic, and recycled skateboards. While good old fashioned wood Strats and LPs will always have a home in our heart, will this recent aluminum guitar craze carry on? Let’s dive into some questions like this and take a measured approach at what’s fact versus fiction.
Profiling Amps Will Replace Tube Amps
Every day it seems like a new article comes out claiming more and more touring musicians or guitar idols are turning to profiling amps. Mark Knopfler, Steve Morse, and Matt Heafy all use the Kemper system. The AXE FX system has an ever greater list featuring Misha Mansoor, Steve Vai, The Edge, John Petrucci, Alex Lifeson, and many more guitar superstars. These products essentially replace your amps, pedalboard, pre-amps, and anything else you use in your rig. Once they are programmed they can be directly hooked up the PA speakers, a venue’s sound system, or can go directly into a recording board.
While these are definitely for the more technologically savvy player, plenty of younger players are turning to these for consistent tone night after night and lighter carrying cases to take on tour. While I’ll always prefer playing through combo amps or stacks, it is much easier and cheaper to transport a couple of speakers, a foot controller, and these small super computers. Whether you like it or not, I believe these things are here to stay, and will only continue to win over more and more musicians. While traditionalists like Dan Auerbach or Jack White will always stick to amps, I wouldn’t be shocked if the trending, futuristic indie and metal guitarists leave them behind.
What Will Future Guitars Look Like?
Dating back to the ’60s, companies were messing around with alternate materials to make electric guitars. Most famous is the JB Hutto Res-O-Glass guitar that has been made famous by Jack White in the past decade or two. Recently, carbon fiber acoustics have been produced but have achieved only limited success, while higher end luthiers have pursued other, more unique attempts. We’ve seen a Swedish technological group 3D print an all metal, indestructible guitar, we’ve seen an instagram artist create guitars out of epoxy resin, and finally a huge spike in aluminum bodied instruments.
While many of us agree nothing can beat a good, handmade wooden Stratocaster, in an era of unprecedented technological advancement I would be surprised if many attempts along these lines are not made with commercial retail in mind. Furthermore, thanks to social media and the internet, the need to be unique, stick out, or get noticed is becoming a bigger and bigger part of any musician’s arsenal of tools. Realistically, it is probably too soon to worry about guitar construction or designs changing any more than the addition of extra strings, new pickups, or oddball shapes. But be prepared, it’s likely coming at some point in a millennial’s life time.
Huge thanks to Michael from Eastwood Guitars for lending this retro reissue for review!
Overview and Final Score: 7.0
Eastwood’s Airline series seeks to recreate instruments forgotten in pawn shops and attics across the US. Re-popularized by revivalist garage rockers like Jack White (White Strips, Solo) and Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), these instruments are suddenly back in demand and make an individualistic option for musicians seeking something outside the box. The Airline Jetsons JR bass is no different, offering an affordable P bass alternative with familiar pickup and tone knob setup. Available in red or black finishes, this bass is sure to delight based on looks alone, while offering all the basic tones you need.
This bass guitar in no way sounds bad, it just doesn’t sound extraordinary or special compared to many comparably priced basses from Epiphone, Fender, or Gretsch. The P-bass style pickups sound more fit for a Squier model, retaining the punchiness and output but lacking in clarity. The pickups are also fairly noisy, despite the split-coil design. The guitar is certainly designed to fit in the hands of an anti-establishment punk or garage rock bassist, but tonally, may be limited to exactly those settings. Fret buzz and a bass-heavy, muddy sound especially impacted the lower strings, and notes felt blended together in one big, bass heavy haze.
Aside from the fret buzz, which I already addressed as more a tonal issue, the maple neck and Blackwood fretboard actually play very nice and shouldn’t encourage you to put the bass down. The frets felt level, smooth, and the finish made it easy to move up and down the neck. The quality playability and tuning stability make this bass an excellent candidate for upgraded electronics and pickups. The bass has a 30.5″ scale length, which makes it a comfortable to play short scale option for players with smaller hands or a preference for smaller necks.
Finish & Construction: 9
The guitar is made from a solid basswood body, which helps keep it super affordable despite its unique body shape and design. While the basswood is not a high quality tone wood option, it is lightweight and sturdy making the bass feel reliable. Easy to play sitting down or standing up, the Jetson JR is a fantastic option for both larger and smaller sized bass players. The real highlight here is the finish and design of the guitar. The stunning white headstock really sticks out compared to the red, black, or seafoam green body finishes, and the red one I was generously sent had no visible scratches, dents, or quality control issues what so ever.
While the guitar is not expensive and has great playability, the value rating is really held back by the quality of the pickups. In my opinion, I feel the Jetson JR is slightly up charged because the unique design and Airline brand name have started to become trendy, especially with indie rock musicians. While the pickups and electronics could easily be swapped out, giving you one hell of a hot rodded bass, I think many cheaper Squier’s could compete with the Jetson JR tonally. Overall, I think it’s a great option for bassists who want to stick out from the pack but are heavily budget restricted. I wouldn’t recommend against buying it, but I would caution that you should buy it for aesthetic purposes or small scale preferences instead of buying it for the tone.
This review would not have been possible without Stephanie from Yamaha generously lending me this for review!
Overview and Final Score: 9.2
The Yamaha Revstar RS420 is a pure garage rock monster. The guitar features a stripped down design with vintage vibes while still retaining some Gibson similarities that will attract less adventurous buyers. This version of the Revstar is the on the lower end of the series, making it an excellent candidate to become someone’s second guitar or trusty (but not too dear) stage guitar. While not as popular in the electric guitar field as they are in their other pursuits, Yamaha once agains shows off their quality control, craftsmanship, and design skills with the RS420.
The Revstar RS420 has something for almost anyone thanks to its high quality tonal controls, pickups, and features not often found in this price range. Both pickups are nicely balanced and sound clear, even as you increase the gain. The bridge especially sounded great as the humbuckers drove my Vox AC15 nicely without any outside boost or distortion beside rolling up the guitar’s volume knob. To me, the guitar sounded best when used in a punk or garage rock setting. The Clash, The Black Keys, The Ramones, and The Strokes all poured out of this guitar and I felt very inspired bashing out power chords on it. Huge bonus feature was the “dry switch”, which is a pull-push function on the tone knob, which creates more a single coil sound without cutting out any of the output or noise removal that sometimes happens with normal coil tapping or coil splitting. The switch essentially increases the treble, while slightly cutting lows, taking away the full, warm PAF-like humbucker sound. And honestly, it sounded spectacular, I almost bought the guitar on the spot after playing it, there is so much potential for getting a variety of sounds out of it live or in the studio.
I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the guitar was and how great the setup was out of the box. At this price range, it is always a mixed bag on what you’ll get, as some companies give up quality control in favor of electronics or vice versa, to keep costs down. But Yamaha did not do that here, this guitar plays smoothly. My only critique would be that only the G string would go out of tune really easily, which is obviously a common complaint of guitar players at all budget/experience levels. The guitar also features a bit of a neck contour on the heel which makes the higher frets super accessible. Otherwise, the guitar is super light and well balanced when playing sitting down or standing up.
Finish and Construction: 9
I was generously sent a model with a “Fire Red” finish and it was stunning, it drew tons of compliments from roommates and friends when they walked by and saw it. The finish was almost flawless, except for a few dings and dents, but that could be because I was sent a well-traveled demo guitar. It is hard to tell how scratch resistant or road worthy the finish would be because of this, but the guitar felt structurally solid and tough, and the low price makes it easy to take it out on the road without fear of ruining a cherished, vintage instrument.
The RS420’s best feature is absolutely the value. For under $500 you’re getting a ton of tonal options, a beautiful instrument, and reliable performance every time. I would kill to take this thing out for a gig and see what kind of stripped-down rock goodness I could coax out of it. While I’m sure you will build up a strong emotional attachment to it, the cost makes it easy to replace, modify, or beat up without fear of being bankrupt should it break, get stolen, or falls out of favor in your rig.
Cost: $1099.00 new but look for savings HERE from Reverb
Can’t thank Michael from Eastwood Guitars enough for also sending this surf rock meets punk rock monster!
Overview and Final Score: 8.2
Inspired by the Mosrite guitars made famous by Johnny Ramone, Eastwood’s Sidejack Pro JM is marketed as an exciting alternative to Fender Jazzmaster guitars. Much like all of Eastwood’s vintage, pawnshop inspired offerings, this guitar mixes modern playability with historical design and aesthetics. With some familiar features such as a Jazzmaster-style bridge and 25.5 scale length, the Sidejack is sure to feel less foreign than it looks.
Featuring two Eastwood designed M90 pickups, the large single coils do sound like a lovely mix of Jazzmaster pickups and more traditional P90’s. However, Ramone fans should take notice this is not just a copy of Johnny’s guitar, which featured a Tele-style bridge pickup and a neck mini humbucker. Overall, the guitar is capable of producing some great tones, including treble-rich surf tones via the bridge and middle positions on the 3-way selector. However, as you creep up in gain, the guitar begins to sound a bit thin. This should be expected as they aren’t overwound P90’s or even the Gibson-style ones that helped create punk rock. However, once boosted with pedals such as a Tube Screamer or DS-1, the guitar’s overdriven tone started to improve. At the end of the day, don’t expect to push the tubes on your amp hard with just this guitar. The neck pickup was incredibly muddy, something I was surprised about in this price range, making most of the tone knob settings useless.
The action came just a bit too high on the guitar, another surprising observations for a $1000+ instrument, but otherwise, the guitar’s playability was smooth and comfortable. The guitar featured a Fender-like C style neck which felt really familiar and easy to play. The medium jumbo frets came well polished and sanded, and played with ease all over the neck. The nice thing about this vintage Mosrite shape is the easy access to the upper frets, something that even more “shredder” or “lead”-friendly guitars sometimes lack. The guitar is deceptively large and heavy, something more slighter framed guitarists may want to avoid, but the body does not feel as bulky when played sitting down.
Finish and Construction: 9
One of the upsides of that heavy, large body is how sturdy it feels. Despite its size, which is closer to an ES-335 than to a Jazzmaster, the guitar is fairly thin, with a slightly raised top that feels great. Furthermore, a lot of the sustain, and full bodied clean tone of this guitar likely comes from the weight of the tone-chambered Alder body and German carved top. The sunburst finish was spotless, but I much prefer the look of the natural finish, and I assume they all come with similar quality. This guitar is certainly going to wow audiences with the shape and color options available.
Ultimately, this is a top notch instrument with killer looks and unique tones that will suit indie rockers or surfers best. Considering the M90’s lack some of the aggression of more traditional P90’s, punk and rock players should be aware that it will take help from boosts, drives, and distortions to really shape the guitar’s tone. With only a few small issues such as high action, and a muddy neck pickup, the guitar is arguably a little bit overpriced to not be more finely set-up out of the box, or well balanced tonally. Of course, these are more minor issues, which is why it is still a good value and should definitely be worthy of serious consideration if you’re looking for a Jazzmaster or similar alternative.
While many claim that guitars and rock music are dead, these 10 bands are fighting back and proving the naysayers wrong.
If I had a dollar for every time I hear the phrases “rock is dead” or “the guitar is dead”, I could go out and finally buy my dream guitar (a 1976 Gibson Explorer FYI). As someone who has spent most of my life trying to actively seek out new bands, new sounds, and new rock music, I never understood this claim. Sure, rock isn’t dominating the top 40 hits like it used to, but who cares? Since when have rock stars cared about popularity, in fact, most rock stars started out as the outsiders or quiet, weird kids. While many media members and twitter users were making these claims, I was attending sold out rock shows, contributing to the millions of Spotify streams these new bands accumulated, and was buying electric guitars. And I wasn’t the only one.
Despite the popular motif that rock is dead, there are plenty of awesome bands making music right now that draw their inspiration from a variety of classic rock artists. They are making guitar based music, playing guitar solos, and carrying the genre into the next decade. Let’s take a look at some of these new acts from the last 10 years or so, and briefly discuss what makes them unique.
One of many guitar based-rock bands to emerge via the American Indie scene in the last decade, Bad Flower has very quickly gained a million Spotify listeners. Their debut was only just released in 2019 after years of successful touring, promotion, and single releases. “Ok, I’m Sick” was released to both critical commercial acclaim with big, vocal hooks in songs like “Ghost” and fuzzed out, spastic soloing in “Heroin”, if the guitar riff was dead, these guys didn’t get the message. As one of the youngest tenured bands on the list, the next few years will be rife with opportunities for them to ride the rock wave being paved by Greta Van Fleet right now. Singer-guitarist Josh Katz and the rest of the band clearly are on to something mixing 70’s riffs with 90’s angst and the rock world is a better place for it.
If fuzzed out, garage rock madness is what you wish, then hit the play button on Rival Sons. One part White Stripes, another part Chris Stapleton, the band wrote their 2019 album “Feral Roots” was formed in legendary American studios RCA Studio A and Muscle Shoals. In their song “Do Your Worst”, you can hear their southern rock roots and soul roots underneath heavy layers of fuzzy guitar and drums. Around since their formation in Long Beach, California during the year 2009, the band sounds a long way from the dreamy, hazy beach sounds or DIY punk often associated with their home state. The band has claimed plenty of international success as well, with their top 5 Spotify listening countries featuring Paris, São Paulo, and Stockholm.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s earlier work could easily be confused with some historic 60’s psych-rock movement thanks to the low-fi recording and easy drifting vocals. If the differences between songs like “Fishing For Fishies” and “Work This Time” weren’t stark enough, take a listen to their most recent single “Self-Immolate” which moves from hazy, experimental rock towards darker, heavy metal spaces. Originating from Melbourne, Australia, the band has quickly made an impression on the rest of the world outside their home island with world tours and millions of streams. To further mix things up, it doesn’t hurt that most of the members are multi-instrumentalists who have worked flute, piano, and horns into their catalog. If you think modern rock is dead or dying because it has become too formulaic, you’ll have an especially good time digging through their albums.
Moving into indie rock territory, with growing influences from electronic and new wave music, Real Estate is best described as “chill” music. Songs feature dreamy soundscapes of chiming guitar with smooth lead lines playing counter melodies around lead singer Martin Courtney’s vocals. The band formed in New Jersey but has since been based in Brooklyn, New York and has slowly built up quite an online following thanks to alternative chart hits like “Darling” and “Had to Hear”. After opening for indie heavyweights like Kurt Vile, Real Estate has grown to show that there continues to be a commercial market for indie rock. Fairly dormant since 2017, 2019 and 2020 looks to be big years for the band to get back out there and build on the success of their 2017 record “In Mind”.
SWMRS has exploded from the revitalized Bay Area punk scene alongside successful California peers FIDLAR, The Regrettes, and The Wrecks. Fresh off their “International Newcomer” win at the Kerrang awards, SWMRS are building up to become the face of modern punk music, alongside FIDLAR. Unlike the hardcore punk and pop-punk that had taken over the genre in the 2000s, SWMRS are more in the vain of The Clash, The Ramones, and alternative rock heroes like Television. This re-introduction of musicality and song writing into the punk rock format should pay dividends for them as they continue to work towards their follow up to this years explosive “Berkeley’s On Fire” record.
Catfish and the Bottlemen
If good old English pub-rock is what you’re looking for, check out Catfish and the Bottlemen, who can be best described as a mix of Arctic Monkeys and Oasis rolled into one but with a Welsh accent. Having just released their third album, “The Balcony”, this year, the band continues to headline tours behind their mix of pop song structures with english rock bite. Their musicianship within the confines of these simple, short pop songs is what makes them stick out. Lead guitarist Johnny Bond mixes echoes and modulation effects over pentatonic melodies that would make The Edge proud, while frontman Van McCann bashes out distorted power chords over Benji Blakeway’s driving bass lines. Check out “Kathleen”, “Soundcheck”, and “Longshot” for prime examples of their take on anthems and sing-a-long rock.
Cage the Elephant
Likely the most successful and proven band on this list, Cage the Elephant has proven time and time again that they are the engine driving the Indie and Alternative rock boom. Hailing from the southern state of Kentucky, Cage was formed around the brothers Matt and Brad Shultz and drew on a variety of influences on their successful self-titled debut. All their following albums would be equally successful mixing punk, 90’s alternative, and blues influences in ever changing quantities. From early hits like the slide guitar based “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” to the Dan Auerbach produced “Trouble”, the band has shown consistent growth and momentum with each album. The dual guitar attack of Brad Shultz and Nick Bockrath has been a staple of their sound, felt all over their latest release, “Social Cues”.
Another punk band from the same scene as SWMRS, The Regrettes have a bit more anger and classic punk vitriol behind their 2-3 minute songs. The band cites a variety of influences ranging from Bikini Kill to Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, something you can hear in their garage-pop meets distorted guitar songs. One of the most unique things about this band is the success and touring miles they’ve accumulated all while lead singer, Lydia Night, is still a teenager. Having gained major exposure by touring with Twenty One Pilots and Sleigh Bells, the band has slowly seen major growth via streaming platforms and will likely have to continue to hone their craft on the road alongside up and coming punks like Beach Goons and Destroy Boys while playing tracks off their 2017 Feel Your Feelings Fool!” debut and new single “I Dare You”.
The Struts are a fantastic mix of classic rock influences all poured into one revivalist outfit featuring a bombastic singer, a do-it-all guitarist, and a tight rhythm section. The Struts have recently been strutting their stuff on tour with Foo Fighters, receiving a warm welcome from crowds everywhere. Vocalist Luke Spiller delivers a sensational duet with Foo’s stickman Taylor Hawkins each night when the Dave Grohl and co. usually cover “Under Pressure”. For a mix of glam rock swagger and blues-rock riffage check out their singles “Kiss This” or “Body Talks” and then try to tell me that rock is dead. These guys certainly have the stage presence to back up their new age anthems.
Greta Van Fleet
Lastly, we come to the heavily contested band Greta Van Fleet. While many famous artists and rock community members have spoken out against or for this band, they remain a vital part of the modern day rock scene. Musical skill or commercial success aside, this band is important for one very big reason: they have created an incredibly engaged and loyal fan base. GVF has created a small, mass hysteria for modern day teenagers who grew up listening to their parents’ records. Despite all the headlines that decreed rock could no longer engage and entrance the youth, Greta Van Fleet has done just that, and has set themselves up to grow into a powerhouse of the modern rock scene. Their next album will be heavily scrutinized, as many hope or expect them to move away from the constant Led Zeppelin comparisons into their own sound.
Thanks to Keena from Cordoba Music, makers of Guild Guitars, for lending me and then selling me this gorgeous instrument!
Overview and Final Score: 9.7
This guitar has quickly become one of my main instruments, and before I dig into it, I have to make it clear I liked this instrument so much, I purchased it shortly after the review. The Guild Jetstar is a re-issue of a classic, historical model that mixes distinct design with vintage tone. Looking like something that should be found in Dan Auerbach’s arsenal of pawn shop guitars, the Jetstar has a truly original body shape, with an eye catching bite out of strat body and an awesome reverse headstock. Adding to the charm is two LB-1 humbuckers, Guild’s toaster top style dual coil pickups with plenty of output, low hum, and a Rickenbacker-esque chime.
The Jetstar sounds somewhere between a jangly, British invasion tone and a crunchy, garage rock guitar. The neck pickup is full, round, and warm, like you would expect a neck pickup to be, but retains much more top end and treble than others. This is a tone that may not be for everyone, but for me, a loyal bridge pickup obsessive, I loved being to switch up my sound without losing all that top end. The bridge pickup was spot on perfect, it shined through recording mixes and jam sessions when played clean, over driven, or with heavy distortion or fuzz on top. The guitar even pushed my Vox AC15 tube amp to breakup a bit as I cranked the volume, but the humbuckers here are still a far cry from the breakup you can achieve with PAF-style humbuckers. The only real negative is that the pickups tonal options are somewhat limited by a tone knob that doesn’t have great spread, as you have to really turn it past 5 or 6 to hear much a change.
Tuning stability has been superb so far and the 22 frets are all easy to access thanks to the friendly, large cutaways. Furthermore the Fender 25.5” scale length feels familiar and comfortable to play even though it is paired with Gibson-esque features such as a stopbar tailpiece and dual humbuckers. The guitar is also incredibly easy to play, with a “Pau Ferro” fretboard on top of a Mahogany neck and body. The distinct shape and dual body contours on either side make it comfortable to play sitting down or standing up, and even better, the guitar feels fairly light as a feather, and feels well balanced in my hands.
Finish and Construction: 10
One of the best features of this whole guitar is the awesome finish options. I was fortunate enough to be sent one in Seafoam Green, which looks stunning and has already drawn audible attention from everyone who sees it. It is also available in white and black finishes, with a beautiful tortoise shell pickguard. The guitar feels reliable too, it stays in tune, it’s lightweight enough to play comfortable for hours, and feels like one solid piece of wood. It’s important to feel that you can trust your guitar once you put it on before a gig or recording session, and this guitar certainly evokes that sense of trust quickly.
For the mid-range price of $599.00 USD, there is a lot to like for the guitar. That price is firmly in the price range of most experienced players, and wouldn’t even be outlandish for a young player’s second guitar. With oddball, vintage reissue guitars being very popular right now, especially in indie and alternative rock scenes, I fully expect these to continue to be good sellers. Even though this guitar doesn’t feature a lot of extras such as tremolo arm, coil splitting, or fancy wiring schematics, it flat out plays great and sound great for an affordable price. You can feel how just much higher quality it is in than more budget oriented options the minute you pick it up.