MXR M-101 Phase 90 Pedal Review

A classic re-issue that does not disappoint

Cost: $79.99 new, purchase your own!

This pedal was purchased for review and personal use after learning my idolt, Mick Jones of The Clash, was an avid user.

How It Works and Final Score: 9.0

The Phase 90 is one of the simplest and most popular pedals of all time. Found on the pedal board of countless icons, it features only one knob which controls the speed of the phaser effect. While some tone heads may be upset by the lack of other controls, it is pretty clear many famous guitarists are willing to deal with having only one knob. It also comes with a removable sleeve for the control knob, which can be used to protect it while making adjustments with your feet.

Sound: 9

Similar to Ibanez’s TS9, it is hard to find faults in the classic sounds of the Phase 90, even though you do sacrifice controllable parameters found on other phasers. Overall though, you can go from subtle to bubbly to full on warble. This reissue stays incredibly true to the original that can be heard on famous tracks by Van Halen, The Clash, and Pink Floyd. The four stage phaser is really just so simple and reliable that you can’t go wrong with it for most applications.

Durability: 10

Another classic pedal that has stood the test of time, you really can’t have any durability issues with the Phase 90. Especially with the extra sleeve that will protect the knob from wear and tear that would otherwise be experienced at the expense of your foot. I’ve had this for years now and can also report absolutely zero issues. This review may seem shorter or less detailed than most, but really, this pedal is that simple and reliable and the review should serve as a great example of how we judge pedals here at Guitars For Idiots.

Value: 8

While the $79.99 makes it one of the cheaper pedals we’ve reviewed to date here, you’re paying for the sound and brand name here. It’s such as simple pedal from a tonal and construction standpoint that I have to imagine it costs them barely anything to produce them at this point. Furthermore, other alternatives like the Phase 100, Helix, or PH-3 phaser all have multiple knobs allowing you to dial in a greater variety of sonic options. But should you buy this pedal anyway? Hell yes!

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Pedal Review

One of the most basic and popular overdrives of all time

Cost: $99.99 new, find your own on Reverb.com or Amazon.com!

This pedal was purchased to be my main overdrive pedal and it hasn’t left my board since.

How It Works and Final Score: 9.2

Maybe the most well known overdrive of all time, the Tube Screamer has stood the test of time due to its reliability and straight-up-great tone. It’s hard to even really criticize this pedal, as even this reissue version is truly fantastic. It features a simple 3 control knob format, with Drive, Tone, and Level and even the original sea sick green color scheme. Drive controls the level of gain, tone controls the amount of treble, and output simply controls the volume of the pedal. Nothing crazy to see here.

Sound: 9.5

The sound is just dead on original, maybe because it is made in the same factory and with the same parts as the original TS9. This is one of the rare cases where a reissue is made exactly the same as the predecessor, but doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars or come from a boutique maker. The pedal board friendly dimensions make it a must have for blues, classic rock, or even country guitarists. Through a tube amp, it pushes the tubes to output that warm, full, sizzling overdrive tone that hundreds of guitarists have used.

When you crank the drive, you begin to move towards distortion territory, while still retaining great clarity and touch sensitivity. One of the best parts of the design, is that it is built to always retain a small amount of your original signal, which creates a more textured, dynamic tone. Even on a solid state amp’s clean channel, the TS9 still retains that tube amp feel and tone, especially that “sizzle” drive. It works great as a boost for already distorted amps too, which makes it a great option for players who switch between two or more amp channels.

Durability: 10

I have owned this pedal for years without any issues what so ever, and so much of that is because of the original design. When they began building these, they just got it right from the start. They’ve lasted for decades and I have no doubt this one will too, pedals with this track record should really raise no concerns in the durability department.

Value: 8

While the tones are superb, and the $99.99 isn’t outlandish, it takes a few knocks because of the sheer volume of great drive and distortion pedals on the market for less. You will not regret spending money on this pedal whatsoever, but if unless you’re going for that vintage TS9 tone, there are likely cheaper, and still impressive drives available like the Boss SD-1, or pedals with extra features such as the Dr. J Emerald Drive and it’s built in boost feature.

Glarry GST3 Electric Guitar Review

For only $60, what kind of guitar are you getting??

Cost: $56.99 new from Glarrymusic.com or Amazon.com!

Thanks to Glarry Music for sending this beautiful, affordable instrument over for review!

Overview and Final Score: 3.9

Glarry Music’s GST3 is an affordable, Strat-style guitar meant to be an alternative to the thousands of Squier and Yamaha copies sold every year. While the guitar has an unbeatable price, there are several features that require major improvement or work to match the quality of a Fender-backed Squier. However, thanks to this low price, there is also a lot of value you can extract from this model, especially with the nice, unique finish options.

The guitar comes with three Strat-style single coil pickups, a huge maple neck with a 22 fret fingerboard they refer to as maple (but it seems to be Indian Laurel or something cheaper). Even better, with each guitar you get a strap, cord, pick, thin gig bag, whammy bar, and Allen wrench. While it is a very basic guitar, it does have some surprisingly decent features for the price.

Sound: 3

The pickups actually sounded better than I expected, though each was essentially one dimensional. The bridge pickup and nearby out of phase mode was all treble, and was very tinny and thin. The neck and nearby out of phase mode was all bass, and really was mostly unplayable except for a few lead lines. The middle pickup was kind of a mix of the two and actually was okay, as it had the best EQ mix between mids, highs, and lows.

Something that really struck me though was how the guitar took drive or distortion pedals. When I played this back to back with Affinity Tele I reviewed earlier, I realized how thin the Glarry truly sounds. Even with an Ibanez TS9 or Boss DS-1, the guitar simply couldn’t produce a rich, full sound at any of the 5-way positions. Some reasons for hope though include the fact that the pickups were surprisingly quiet and didn’t buzz much through either the Orange Crush 20 or my Vox AC15. Furthermore, for $60, I don’t think you’ll find a better sounding guitar that works and is playable.

Playability: 3.5

Right off the bat, the fret work was much better than I anticipated and the neck came with a thin finish, even though I was told the necks came raw. Aside from these two pleasant surprises, one thing that shocked me was how thick the neck was. I mean in all honesty, this was the largest guitar neck I have ever played. It was necessarily uncomfortable for me, and my bass playing roommate loved it for a guitar, but I feel beginners would really struggle with learning on this instrument.

Tuning stability was not bad, after arriving completely out of tune in all directions, it took a few minutes to get it to stay in tune. It lasted about 30ish minutes of playing before any more adjustments needed to be made, but it seemed like the bridge, tuners, and nut all could use an upgrade to improve tuning stability. The neck was not bowed and the action out of the box was actually fantastic! Unfortunately the whammy bar is almost useless as it threw the guitar out of tune every time.

Finish & Construction: 3.5

The blue finish on the GST3 was actually gorgeous, especially when paired with the sunset pearl pick-guard. The finish seems a little more on the thing, Polyurethane side, but shows no signs of chips, scratches, or dents during travel delivery so I will be keen to keep my eye on how it holds up through more and more tests in my very humid home climate.

The overall construction is a mixed bag, the wiring seems to be done very well, and the pots had great spread and no noticeable buzz came from the pickups. On the other hand, the nut is poorly cut, the tuners are hard to turn, the guitar has subpar tuning stability, but the frets are very level and smooth. At the end of the day, I would say I’m more impressed than disappointed because of how truly cheap the guitar is.

Value: 6

This is where the guitar really shines, it is easily the best $60 guitar I have ever played or ever expect to play. And that fact is really important to understanding how to grade this guitar. Is it a good beginner guitar? Not at all, beginners are better off spending double for a decent Squier, Epiphone, or whatever and actually getting an instrument that stays in tune or sounds like a classic guitar. But should you, as an experienced player, buy it? Absolutely, it’s an excellent guitar for you to practice guitar tech work on, such as re-wiring pickups, setting up a neck, intonating a guitar, changing tuners, etc. And while doing that, you can build a great throw around guitar or backup instrument, by just changing a few small things. Even throwing a Squier neck on this bad boy would greatly improve things. I really don’t think anyone would regret purchasing this instrument at the end of the day.

A Detailed Look Into Inexpensive Instruments Used by the Pros

Zac Carper of FIDLAR, one of my favorite bands, and his Costco spider web guitar.

As much as you may convince yourself that it takes perfect skill matched with perfect gear to achieve professional level performance, that’s not the whole story. More often than not, the guitar heroes you idolize today practiced, played, or wrote their hits on cheap instruments. In fact, many of today’s modern musicians still rely on off-the-shelf or super inexpensive guitars. Let’s take an in depth look at some of the coolest cheap guitars used by today’s rock stars.

Zac Carper – Costco RG-80-SW Partscaster

As seen in the title image, Zac Carper is one half of the singer and songwriter duo that fronts FIDLAR, a California-based punk group. Rising to fame in the last decade behind three DIY punk albums that could double as drunk confessions of a millennial, FIDLAR features quite a bit more musicianship than the punk bands they likely grew up listening to.

The original Rocker RG-80-SW model

But what’s really unique is Carper’s use of an unbranded spider web Strat during their most recent tours and album cycle. What many people may have suspected is some kind of custom made instrument is really just a re-purposed Rocker RG-80-SW guitar that historically was sold by Costco, the giant wholesale chain. According to a Premier Guitar Rig Rundown, Carper found it laying in a California guitar shop, was attracted to the light weight, and took it home after 15 years of neglect in the store. Zac replaced the low-quality pickup with a Tone Zone humbucker and recently learned it has a push-pull volume knob for coil splitting.

Apparently the guitar can be found for around $75 at Canadian Costcos and this guitar had the upgraded Strat-replacement neck on it before Zac got his hands on it. While the pickup upgrade and new neck definitely cost him and the original owner a bit of money, this is a shockingly cheap guitar to see a popular musician using.

Van McCann – Squier Jim Root Telecaster

Van McCann of Catfish and the Bottlemen

While Van McCann falls more into the singer-songwriter end of the guitar playing spectrum, the Catfish and the Bottlemen frontman is the engine that drives one of the UK’s best rock acts. While he has admittedly moved on to a custom model from Fender for the last album and tour, Van wrote and recorded the band’s breakthrough debut album on a Squier Jim Root Telecaster that usually retails for around $400.

Nicknamed “Bullet Tooth Tony”, McCann claims to have bought it for around 150 Pounds despite not knowing much about the metal guitarist who inspired it. In his own words:

“I don’t even know him. Doesn’t he have a mask on sometimes? I use that guitar because it’s matt black and it’s got a volume knob, and that’s it. It was like £150 and I’ve swapped the scratchplates over and I’ve smashed it up, but it just doesn’t break or go out of tune.”

Bullet Tooth Tony can be seen here at the BBC Music Awards in 2014 performing their hit single “Kathleen”

Besides the pick-guard change, the only visible modification he seems to have made is a piece of tape that says “WHY?” across the Squier logo on the headstock. Ironically, the past and present lead guitarists have played foil to Van’s rhythm playing with expensive Gibson models such as Les Paul Customs and Fender Jazzmasters. This Squier model features basic Squier passive humbuckers with a matte black cover and only a volume knob.

Gary Clark Jr – 2007 Epiphone Casino & 1981 Ibanez Blazer

Photo by K. Alize Tran – sweetestalize@gmail.com from Flickr.com

Probably one of the best, pure guitarists and songwriters to come from my generation, Gary Clark Jr rose to fame on the back of a humble guitar. As detailed through many other publications, Gary uses a stock 2007 Chinese-made Epiphone Casino. These generally retail from around $500 to $600 and are considered great a great guitar value. Even so, nothing shows that 99% of tone comes from a players hands quite like his use of this completely off the shelf instrument.

Clark Jr putting that Ibanez Blazer to good use with one lucky fan.

According to his tech, Clark Jr always wanted his fans to be able to afford the guitar he uses they could get his sound if they liked the way he plays. The guitar features high output P90’s and a bigsby that apparently came stock on 2007 models, though no one seems to be able to confirm that. Even better, you know what his second guitar is? An Ibanez Blazer from the ’80s that is near and dear to his heart after his mom gifted it to him as a child. While it likely is a little more costly (atleast at the time) than his current Casino, it is far from a Custom Shop monster.

The Blazer is an HSH-instrument featuring a push-pull tone and stock pickups from back in the day. Similar to the Casino, it’s pretty much entirely stock with a Strat-style body. Again according to his tech, this guitar is thinner sounding than his Casino, but is likely the only guitar he really needs due to their long history together. Info generally seems scarce on these guitars but they seemed to have been made around ’81 by the Greco factory but sold under the Ibanez brand name.

St. Vincent – Harmony Bobkat & Silvertone 1488

Annie Clark a.k.a St. Vincent and her Harmony Bobkat

While St. Vincent has recently made her wildly successful Ernie Ball Music Man signature model her main instrument, you can still occasionally she her using a Harmony or Silvertone. Before that signature model, they were two of her main guitars that she favored for the vibrato arm. According to her she could divebomb as hard as she wanted and they would still in tune. That kind of tuning stability is not common on most cheap guitars and she certainly put it to good use as she built up her resume as one of today’s premier guitar players.

The lovely Harmony Bobkat pictured above features two DeArmond gold foil single coil pickups and can be found used for anywhere from $300-$700 on sites like Reverb.com. The Silvertone on the other hand featured 3 DeArmond single coils with an equally impressive tremolo arm. The Silvertone is bit more expensive, thanks to it being a bit rarer and the unique tonal options. With “rocker” switches and dedicated tone knobs for each pickup, a multitude of sounds are controlled via the master volume. Both of these offset style import guitars are classic examples of “pawnshop” guitars and St. Vincent certainly has had no small part in the re-popularization of these instruments.

Check out that Harmony Bobkat in action on Letterman

Traditionally, these guitars were created as surf and jazz alternatives to the high end Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters of the time. While they’ve been given a bad rap in the past because of playability issues, St. Vincent has shown that with a little bit of love, you can coax some amazing performances out of these guitars.

Don’t Buy An Expensive Guitar, Just Practice

While you certainly do need to spend enough money on a guitar that you get something reliable and inspiring, it doesn’t take a ’50s or ’60s Stratocaster to shine. All of these guitarists cover a wide range of technical proficiency and musical styles, showing you can play anything with affordable gear. As long as a guitar brings the best playing out of you, it should be good enough to be your main instrument, regardless of price. Some times an outside-the-box choice leads you down a new, unexpected path.

Dr. J D-55 Aerolite Compressor Pedal Review

An affordable compressor that can add sustain and boost to your tone with ease.

Cost: $99.00 new, find one of these awesome pedals HERE

How it Works and Final Score: 8.3

The Dr. J Aerolite Compressor pedal offers great compression while adding a few new dimensions to your tone such as sustain or boost when used correctly. With 4 knobs and one switch, there are plenty of parameters to get to know before using this true bypass compressor. The “Mix” control blends the compressed and original signals, and when turned all the way counter clock wise, can provide a small signal boost to your guitar tone, giving it a second potential use on your board. The “Attack” control can be used to adjust the dynamic attack and touch-sensitivity of the compressor. “Comp”, as expected, allows you to set the level of compression and sustain applied to the original guitar tone. Lastly, the “Output” functions as a volume control, setting the output volume. The three way switch allows the user to choose between high, middle, and low input adjustment that can help compensate for the output differences between high output active pickups or low output single coils for example.

Sound: 9

This compressor has some awesome features not seen on other compressors such as the 3 way input switch which made a huge difference in tone and volume preservation when switching between single coils, humbuckers, and active pickups. Even better, the mix control lets you dial in awesome sounds with an even mix of your original signal and compressed signal, and every other combo. The slight boost it provides when you turn the mix down was also nice because it really retains that true, original signal without any added gain or distortion. I was constantly impressed with the impact the pedal made on my clean tones and would highly recommend playing around with all the knobs to see how you can best use the pedal. While the comp and attack options are pretty standard on compressor pedals, the other two settings add a ton of excess variety that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy so much.

Durability: 8

Just like with the last Dr. J pedal, the Emerald Overdrive, I’m not totally sold on the durability long term but have yet to have any issues with it myself so I am trying to reserve judgement. Essentially, the metal casing feels hollow, leaving a lot of room for wires and circuits to bounce around inside, especially after a ton of usage and wear and tear. But until I actually have an issue, I can’t give it any worse of a score.

Value: 8

While it isn’t the cheapest compressor out there, it certainly mixes in a ton of features you probably won’t get on similarly priced models. The only thing holding it back is that some people may find it unnecessary to have so many controls on a compressor and will opt for a cheaper, more streamlined option like the MXR Dyna Comp. While I personally prefer as many tone parameters as possible on my pedals, I must acknowledge that viewpoint, considering MXR or Boss have longer history of effect pedal excellence and comparably prices. Overall though, for about $100, I think this is an excellent pedal for players who often switch between many guitars or pickup types, or really like to spend time messing around with their tone.

DR J Emerald Overdriver Pedal Review

A new drive pedal with built in boost from Dr. J Effects

Cost: $99.00 new, find one on Reverb.com

How it Works and Final Score: 7.7

For a $99 pedal, this thing sure has a lot of controls, helping give your overdriven tone an injection of variety not normally seen. First off, the two foot switches activate the overdrive itself and then an additional boost feature that can be used as a lead or solo tone. Which foot switch is which is controlled by the OD-Boost Switch located between the “More” and “Tone” knobs and allows you to choose if you want to engage the boost or drive first in the series. The “More” knob control the level of the boost effect, “Tone” adjusts tone in the same treble/bass configuration most drive or distortion pedals have, while “Output” controls the level of the pedals volume. Lastly, “Drive” controls the level of gain applied to the drive effect, as expected. The second small switch, labeled “clip”, controls the type of clipping the pedal will use to produce the drive tones, though no further specification is given.

Sound: 7

The Emerald Overdrive pedal from Dr. J provides a large palette of tonal options in one affordable package. Personally, I felt the pedal provided tones closer to distortion than drive, and struggled at low drive settings. That being said, the tones it did produce were pretty great, even if the gain spread was poor. The ability to switch on a boost, with level controlled by the “more” switch was super useful and something I put a high value on for live situations. Having two pedals in one in that regard was fantastic, and more then made up for the mediocre overdrive sounds.

The pedal really thrived with the tone turned up to combat some of the bass-heavy features of the pedal, and the drive control sounded quite good from the 12 o’clock position and up. I heard very little difference when adjusting the clip setting and changing the OD to boost settings, making me feel they were somewhat unnecessary bells and whistles.

Durability: 8

The metal casing feels very sturdy itself, though the pedal is very light and almost feels hollow. This would slightly concern me only in the sense that there may be excess room for wires and circuits to move or bump around in the housing during travel. However, I have yet to have any problems with it, and even through it around a bit to see if I could hear any rattling or movement inside and got nothing. However, I’m still somewhat skeptical of it long term, thus the 8 out of 10 rating.

Value: 8

Just the addition of the boost option makes this pedal an excellent value already, as you basically have two pedals in one. Especially for younger musicians on a budget, this is a crazy valuable tool for your live performances. Even though the tones aren’t perfect, I think this pedal still gives you plenty of options for a simple, reliable overdriven tone that is best suited for noisy garage rock and classic rock, but not blues or fusion. You lose a bit of note clarity, but you won’t be disappointed overall! Demo coming soon, be sure to check it out!

Orange Amplifiers Crush 20 Review

Is the Orange Crush 20 the best sub-$200 amp ever?

Cost: $139.00 new, find yours on Reverb.com or Amazon.com!

How it Works and Final Score: 8.6

The Orange Crush 20 is a stripped down and straightforward solid state combo amp. While solid state amps often get a bad rap, most gear snobs will be impressed by the bruising crunch of the dirty channel that really captures that signature Orange tone. While this amp doesn’t feature the suite of onboard effects other budgets modeling amps do, it has the overall best tone of any sub-$200 amp I’ve ever tried and makes a perfect practice or backup amp with 20 watts of output thanks to it’s 1×8 Orange Voice of the World speaker. Featuring a clean and dirty channel, that can alternated with an affordable Orange foot switch, a 3 band EQ, and gain control, there are plenty of great tonal options at the tip of your fingers.

Sound: 7

While it’s hard to capture the touch sensitivity of traditional tube amps, this solid state amp comes the closest to replicating a classic Orange tone. Like most solid state clean tones, you can turn down the gain and get crystal clear notes, however, most players outside of the Jazz world are not big fans of that perfect clean tone. What’s nice about this clean channel though is the ability to dial in just a little crunch and drive by turning up the gain and using a humbucker equipped guitar. However without an effects loop, I would only recommend running minimal pedals such as a drive, fuzz, or delay into the amp to reduce potential noise.

From left to right: Head phone input, channel switch, dirty channel volume, treble, middle, bass, gain, clean channel volume, and input.

The amp really shines once you engage the the dirty channel and produces spectacular, though one dimensional, sounds. The 3 band EQ and gain knob help you replicate a number of Orange tube amp tones for a fraction of the price, and the amp even produces some of that typical tube sizzle. This is by far the best overdrive or dirty sound I’ve ever heard come from a solid state or affordable amp. From Nirvana to The Clash to Led Zeppelin, I got every sound I could imagine out this amp with a cheap Telecaster, Guild Jetstar, and an ES-335 style guitar. Ultimately, the only thing really holding this amp back is that you can’t use it for much outside of these fantastic dirty and overdriven tones without a full pedalboard. And if you’re gonna spend hundreds or thousands on a full pedalboard, you can probably afford even the cheapest tube amp.

Construction & Reliability: 10

Orange is no small time amp company and has a history of reliability and customer satisfaction. In general I think most customers, including myself, should feel comfortable in trusting an Orange Amplifier to last a long time, especially if cared for properly. Solid states also have don’t have tubes to wear out and replace, meaning you should be able to preserve that classic orange grit for years to come via the Orange Crush 20. So far, I’ve had zero issues with it and expect to zero issues with it.

Value: 9

This is definitely one of the best affordable amps I’ve ever played and I will certainly be putting it to good use as a practice amp and small gig amp in the future. The fact of the matter is that it just sounds so good and costs so little and you can’t find better value than that. It lacks on-board effects, a common feature on most budget solid state amps, but I actually think that may be a good thing. Ultimately, it’s super simple to use with no effect knobs to get in the way, and delivers a straightforward, ballsy rock sound. It’s definitely not a good beginner amp for a want to be shoegazer, but if adding a few external pedals is something you can do, this is a phenomenal beginner or bedroom amp. Check back soon for a full demo video and to see how I’ve been using it to play live or in the studio!

5 Reasons You Should Assemble a DIY Guitar Kit

A highly rated Thinline Tele kit from Thefretwire.com I put together as part of a review for Ultimate-Guitar.com

As someone who always wanted to learn to build guitars, I naturally started by trying to assemble a kit. My first kit ever came from thefretwire.com, and was the ES-335/Trini Lopez model pictured in the About page.

My Dave Grohl-inspired build in all its glory.

That guitar proved to be incredibly challenging and trying to wire a semi-hollow body guitar as my first ever attempt was a bit naive. After the months of mistakes and lessons learned, it led me to write this article for Ultimate-Guitar.com. My goal was to come at kit building from an inexperienced point of view, after all, if I could do it than so could my readers. What followed was the incredibly fun and educational process of building four Tele kits one after the other where I learned a lot of great things about guitar assembly and guitar kits.

You’ll Mess Up

Doesn’t seem like an appealing reason? Truth be told, we could all use a humbling experience now and then, and you learn more from mistakes than you do from success. The key point here though is that kits are both inexpensive and often easy to modify/fix, making them much better options for you to practice wiring, neck setting, or finishing on. No matter how motivated you may be, it’s always scary taking apart a cherished main instrument or expensive dream guitar. Messing up your Gibson or Fender is going to hurt your wallet and soul a lot more than it would if you screw up these kits.

You’ll Learn How to Fix Your Own Guitars

Wiring new pickups into the Squier Affinity Telecaster I reviewed.

While some big fixes may still require a trained or certified guitar tech, you’ll be far more comfortable with the internal and external features of electric guitars after assembling a kit. Hear a new buzzing sound? You’ll know what connections to check within your internal wiring. Feel something jiggling around loose? Hopefully you’ll feel more confident knowing what can be tightened via screwdriver. Anytime you gain more knowledge about fixing your own gear, you’re saving yourself money you’d have to spend on a guitar tech.

You’ll Get Away From the Screen

Ironically I write this on a screen that I so badly want you all to look at. But realistically, we all need some time to check out from email, text, Instagram, or Netflix. Assembling a guitar (and playing the guitar) is a great way for you to keep yourself occupied in the dark, cold winter months, or sweltering summer heat, while learning new skills and traversing the rewarding path of building something by hand. While elitists may argue you are not truly building a guitar, you still are taking pieces of wood and metal, and turning it into a working instrument. That process in itself can be quite valuable.

You’ll Learn How to Value Guitars

From Flickr.com

This one is bit more opened ended but for me, it was eye opening to understand these expensive guitar I lust after are just wood, strings, and metal. I could go out and buy the same after market parts, put them on a Squier, and get 90% or more of the same sound. A lot of guitar purists will push back on that, but I strongly believe most of your tone comes from your hands and your playing style, and you shouldn’t have to buy a $2000+ guitar to sound professional. Next time you try out a new guitar at a store ask yourself, is there something in this guitar that I cannot add to my current guitar or a modified cheap guitar? Sometimes the answer is yes, and then you know that the guitar is worth spending your money on. But sometimes, you’re spending hundreds of extra dollars for a brand name on the headstock or a color.

You’ll Have a Unique, Custom Instrument

Sometimes if you want certain features on a guitar you just have to build them in yourself. Especially if you have to stick to a budget, it can really limit the number of models with certain specs you can own. For example, I’m in the middle of making my dream Telecaster (you’ll see more on this project soon!) because I realized to get the pickup combination I wanted in that specific Tele body shape would cost me thousands or would be too cheap and unreliable. So, I’m retrofitting the Fretwire thinline kit above into something truly special with my exact specifications and preferences.

The Coolest Gear from SNAMM ’19

While I didn’t get to be there this year, I kept my out on every last piece of gear announced and marketed and collected a few of my favorites below. These are products I desperately want to get my hands on for reviews and personal use!

Fender Announces Squier Starcaster

Image credit: Fender

A cult classic, the Fender Starcaster has slowly grown in popularity in the past decade thanks to affordable re-issues from Fender’s Modern Player line and usage by modern day guitar giants such as Dave Keuning from The Killers. To budget minded guitarist’s delight, Fender surprisingly announced a new Squier series of these wonderfully weird instruments. The f-hole free but chambered Contemporary Active model features two of Squier’s active humbuckers and a sealed semi-hollow body. The Classic Series represents the nicest of the bunch with Fender designed wide-range humbuckers, tone and volume controls for each, and a vintage-style gloss neck. Lastly, the affordable Affinity Series also gets a look with Squier humbuckers, one tone and volume control, and a variety of great colors.

Ciari Guitars Ascender: A Gig-able Travel Guitar

Marketed as the first premium, stage worth travel guitar, the Ciari Guitars Ascender features Seymour Duncan ’59 humbuckers, coil taps for each pickup, and locking tones. That’s a ton of great features you wouldn’t imagine finding on a travel guitar, but the real impressive thing about this guitar is how quickly it folds up. Check out the demo above to see how easily you can remove tension from the string thanks to a locking hinge and spring loaded bridge!

Pedal Legends Electro Harmonix Debut New Amp “Dirt Road Special”

Electric Harmonix may be best known for their pedals but they’ve crossed over into solid state amp territory with a great combo amp called the Dirt Road Special. Loosely based off the Mike Matthews Dirt Road Special from the ’70s, this amp features a streamlined control panel that even has their famous Holy Grail reverb built into it. Tone is a treble to bass booster while bite covers the upper harmonics, and obviously the volume controls output. The reverb knob has further controls such as time and swell allowing you to really dig in and create lush, room filling tones.

JHS Muffuletta Fuzz Pedal Review

A pricey yet exceptional fuzz with 6 pedals in one.

Cost: $229.00 new, find one cheaper used on Reverb.com

Shout out to Zach from JHS Pedals for lending and then selling this exceptional fuzz to me!

How It Works and Final Score: 9.3 

There is a lot to unbox with this pedal, despite it being incredibly user friendly with simple controls. First off, your three basic controls of volume, sustain, and tone are fairly straightforward. Volume controls the output of the pedal and is very sensitive, providing plenty of options. Sustain, similar to vintage fuzzes, controls the amount of gain or fuzz (which also increases sustain) that is present in your tone. Tone controls the amount of treble, allowing for a brighter or darker sound as you mix and match modes. 

The mode section is where this pedal really shines, with 6 fuzz channels to choose from, JHS provides you with endless tonal options that are really fun to try out. Here is a quick rundown of the six options: 

  1. “JHS” is an original JHS fuzz circuit, great for basses or guitars, with less compression and more output. 
  2. “Rams Head” is based on a ‘73 rams head fuzz pedal popularized by David Gilmour and J. Mascis, it has a scooped mid range and less gain than the other channels. 
  3. “The Triangle” is based off of the triangle Muff from the ‘69-’70 era and has a more prominent, cut through the mix tone, with more bass. 
  4. “The Pi” is JHS’s take on the classic Pi Muff known for the huge pi symbol that adorns the housing. It has more a wilder, unwieldy fuzz tone that is more like the vintage version than the recent reissue by EHX. 
  5. “The Russian” is a more modern fuzz used by Dan Auerbach and Chris Wolstenholme and produces a loud, warm sound with less note to note clarity and some of the bass cut off. 
  6. Lastly, “The Civil War”, was one of my favorites thanks to its bright tone, less gain, and more distortion-like sound that was more vintage rock than modern. 

Despite this impressive list of options, the pedal is incredibly easy to use and tweak and “set it and forget it” players can simply pick which voicing they want and start playing. If you’re more interested in switching from song to song, or you just want to have access to new sounds after months of one signature tone, this pedal is for you. 

Sound: 10 

You get unmatched tonal variety and quality the Muffuletta and I was not let down by my high hopes for this pedal. Usually, I try to review gear that is highly recommended to me, and sometimes I’m disappointed, not this time. The two best settings in my opinion were “JHS” and “The Civil War” as both provided unique tones I wasn’t quite expecting out of the pedal. First off, the “JHS” is less compressed but really packed a lot of power and output, creating a rich sound. “The Civil War” felt more like a vintage, speaker shredding rock distortion that could have graced The Rolling Stones or The Kinks studios. Furthermore, this pedal had little to no audible noise or buzz, at least I certainly didn’t hear any, making it a great option for those of you concerned with such things. 

Durability: 10 

While it can be hard to judge this in days or weeks as opposed to years of using the pedal, there are no obvious construction concerns with the Muffuletta. It doesn’t feel cheap or like a toy, the way some cheaper, import pedals do. The metal casing is solid, sturdy, and feels like it is well engineered to perform time and time again. I also have never heard anything bad about the durability or reliability of JHS products. It’s small size fits great on my pedalboard, certainly better than having 6 distinct fuzz boxes, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take it on the road whatsoever. I also approve of the footswitch as opposed to the boss-style pedal switch, which puts less weight and pressure on the whole unit. 

Value: 8

Perhaps the only drawback to this product is the price, coming in around $229.00 at most major retailers. You certainly get a ton of tonal options but the single footswitch means you’re limited to one fuzz setting at a time. This means that while you have 6 fuzz modes available to you, you don’t quite have multiple actively able to be used live at once. $200+ dollars is certainly a lot to spend on one pedal, and even with all the options, players may be more motivated to get a cheaper classic like a Big Muff or a Fuzz Face.