Guild Guitars Starfire I SC Review

This company seriously impressed me with their superb Jetstar, will their newest hollowbody do the same?

Credit: Guild Guitars

Cost: $599.00, find out more on Guildguitar.com!

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Check out my “60 Second Guitar Review” of this wonderful Guild for Ultimate-Guitar.com!

Overview & Final Score: 7.8

Guild Guitars has made quite the comeback in recent years, thanks mainly to their Newark St line of guitars. The brand new Starfire I series of guitars slots right into the Newark St line, adding some exciting hollowbody options like the Starfire I SC in Seafoam Green I was sent on loan. This is a single cut, hollowbody guitar with a small solid black underneath the bridge. The Arched Maple back, sides, and top sport classy Ivory binding along the top and bottom of the guitar. A Maple neck holds an Indian Rosewood fretboard with 20 narrow tall frets, and a 24.75″ scale length. Guild’s Starfire I SC has a unique, “modern U” neck, that feels super fast and comfy, despite the vintage appearance. Two of Guild’s phenomenal HB-2 humbuckers each hold their own master volume and tone controls, as well as a push-pull coil split. Rounding out the nice feature list is Guild’s own take on the Bigsby, their Aluminum Vibrato Tailpiece that holds the strings opposite their Vintage 18 Open Gear Tuners.

Sound: 8

Even though the Starfire I SC is sporting my absolute favorite pair of Guild pickups, the sound doesn’s stack up to the Jetstar’s tone. And that’s okay, as they are vastly different instruments after all. On this hollowbody single cut, the pickups have a lot more sparkle and snap to them, but it comes at the cost of resonance in my opinion. The versatility was still pretty impressive, and I enjoyed jumping around the 3-way selector switch. The middle position gave a glassy, snappy, beautiful tone for fingerpicking songs in the jazz/pop/singer-songwriter area of the musical realm. With my Pro Co Rat layered on top, the bridge really opened up into that Green Day and Rancid territory of punk rock where many single cut hollowbodies have shined.

If you really crank up the distortion and volume, you do start to get that feedback and buzz you’d expect from a hollowbody. However, it was never unusable or offensive, making it a solid option for live gigging or recording nonetheless. The neck also had a quite nice, bluesy flavor to it, with warm, full tones pouring out that had me playing all sort of Frusciante-style riffs and chords. Versatility is the name of the game here with above average tones that are closer to really good “jack of all trades, master of none” territory.

Playability: 7

My biggest knock on the wonderful Guild Starfire I SC is the tuning stability. It’s just not great and the tuners feel a bit cheap. I’m not sure if it is the exact same hardware as on my Jetstar, but it seems to be missing that rock solid tuning stability, even when I don’t use the Bigsby. It’s not too bad, and is definitively useable for gigging musicians, I just think I was expecting more from it. However, this Starfire I’s neck is very comfortable, with solid finish work that never feels too sticky. Fretwork was fairly impressive as well, with the narrow tall frets actually feeling much better than their name implies. That’s usually how people describe old Mosrite-style guitars which weren’t exactly loved for their style of frets. However, this is a player’s guitars through and through. While the lack of a 22nd or 24th fret may bother some more adventurous players, I honestly didn’t notice that it only had 20 frets. This Guild Starfire I SC fits right into the wheelhouse of players looking for more rhythm-guitar type performance and will be incredibly reliable in that role.

Finish & Construction: 8

Seafoam green is one of my favorite colors for guitars, and Guild nailed it here just as they did on the Jetstar. The finish was well done, with no major flaws or errors. All I could really notice was some tooling marks or some type of small cuts along the finish in the interior of the f holes. Construction and overall build quality also felt sturdy and reliable, especially for the price. It certainly doesn’t feel like a premium instrument, based on the thicker finish with a little bit of stickiness. But the hardware is all well adjusted and feels solid, certainly gig ready. Guild’s own take on the Bigsby, the Aluminum Vibrato Tailpiece also seems like a very well made alternative to the always pricey brand name wiggle stick. Personally, this would be a great gigging instrument in my opinion thanks to the price, unique looks, and above average performance across all fields.

Value: 8

Overall, Guild has really done a great job in the value department once again. I’ve also seen these go for about $499 despite these being marked by Guild as $599, but either price is worth every penny. Especially considering this is approaching a beginner-level price point, you get a ton of guitar with enough quirks to inspire you as your playing evolves. Single cut hollowbodies also aren’t as prevalent at this price point either, which makes this an extra enticing option! It feels above average, sounds above average, and makes me want to pick it up and play. That all equates to great value in my book, and I’m very sad to see this guitar go back home.

Fender Player Series Mustang 90 Guitar Review

Surprisingly, this soapbar-loaded Mustang has completely filled the role of my Les Paul Junior and become a heavy favorite.

Credit: Fender

Cost: $599.99, find out more on Fender.com

Find your own using our Affiliate Links from Thomann.com, Reverb.com, and Musiciansfriend.com!

Check out my 60 Second Guitar Review for Ultimate-Guitar.com! A separate review for UG is coming soon!

Overview & Final Score: 8.4

I have been obsessed with this guitar since it was first announced earlier this year, so this is one of my most anticipated reviews, personally, from 2020. Fender’s newest addition to their Player Series, the new Mexican-made guitar line that focuses on more modern specs and designs, the Mustang 90 is quite the sight. The Aged Natural finish, pictured above, and the Seafoam Green are just out of this world Fender colors. I choose to go Aged Natural, with a Pau Ferro fretboard atop the 24″ scale length, Maple neck with C-shape. 22 medium jumbo frets are easy and comfortable to play on the short scale monster, with a hardtail Strat bridge and standard MIM Fender tuners. The MP-90 pickups provide killer looks and versatile tones, even with the simple master volume and tone controls plus 3-way selector switch. The lightweight body is made of Alder, with a gloss Polyester finish that is not lacking in shine.

Sound: 9

My love of Fender guitars is well known by this point, but even that bias rarely helps me find a Fender that perfectly captures the vibe and sound of my Gibson LP Junior. So when I say I’m thrilled and surprised at how these MP-90’s sound, I mean it. These pickups are mid-rich, and pack quite a bit of bark and bite. They can go from that vintage honk that Kieth Richards’ pulls from his Les Paul Junior to that biting, hissing punk sound from Johnny Thunders or Mick Jones. Better yet, when I plugged in overdrives and distortions, the neck pickup genuinely sang a lot clearer and with more sustain, than most neck pickups I’ve reviewed this year. You know I hate neck pickups, so if I’m impressed, it must sound really good.

The tones of this Mustang 90 are just so easy to shape with a good tube amp and a few overdrives, which gives it superb versatility in the right rock-centric rig. While I’m sure the Gibson P90 in my Les Paul Junior may be a tad clearer, this guitar does everything that guitar does and more for me. Better yet, it does it in what feels like a much better built package too. I’ll embed a ton of the clips I recorded with this guitar, but the sound to me is best described as fun and inspiring. It makes me want to pickup the guitar and rip through some punk power chords or solo over some improv loop.

Playability: 7

Fender’s Player Series has been plagued by a few setup issues and this Mustang 90 is not exempt. It’s nothing major, but tuning stability took a bit of time to dial in, thanks to a questionable string tree decision. The string tree comes really low, without the normal metal expander that raises the height of your strings. This makes the last two strings sit far lower, and approach the nut at a steeper angle than the others. Bends and big downstrokes on those chords quickly put the Mustang 90 out of tune. However, this was instantly rectified by adding that metal ring to raise the strings and lubricating the nut. It’s not ideal that you have to do that to a $600 guitar out of the box, but I will say it was the only real flaw on this guitar.

Fender did a great job with the neck on this Mustang 90, with a smooth, well-finished feel up and down the fretboard. The fretwork was very solid too, with no sharp edges or fret buzz to report. Once the string tree was dealt with the tuning stability improved from average-ish to above average too.

Finish & Construction: 9

The looks are pretty hard to argue with here. Fender’s Mustang 90 is just gorgeous, especially with this aged natural finish and tortoise shell pickguard. Even if this doesn’t do it for you, the Burgundy Mist Metallic or Seafoam Green should be pretty eye catching. The finish came out great on this Player Series guitar, with no chips, cracks, or signs of laziness in the factory. I was really impressed with the Satin finish on the neck and the overall glossiness of the body. The hardware was also really well installed, with no signs of tooling marks or improperly aligned features. Sure, the decision with the string tree was weird, but I ragged on that enough already and the fact of the matter is that every other part of this guitar feels closer to a USA-made Fender than not. The Fender Mustang 90 is just a well built guitar.

Value: 8.5

For awhile now, Fender’s Mexican-made guitars have been one of the best values on the market. This Mustang 90 doesn’t break that trend at all, providing awesome looks and sounds for a price that is starting to look a lot more entry level than it did when I was a kid. As guitar prices rise, the $500-600 level of MIM Fender stuff continues to be a great value and stands the test of time. Now I’m obviously stating more opinion than fact here, but this gets extra value points because it is the affordable LP Junior I always wanted. It’s a resonant hunk of wood with a buzzsaw-sounding P90 in the bridge. The shorter scale feels great too, and is now something I personally think I’m going to be looking for more and more. Fender killed it with this one, something they’ve been doing all year with through the Player and Paranormal series guitars. I’d argue this is probably my favorite Fender of 2020, even if it isn’t a picture perfect guitar out of the box.

Good for: Punk Rock, Classic Rock, Players With Small Hands, Les Paul Junior Fans, Versatile Players, Any Mustang/Shortscale Fender Fan

Guitar Lesson Review: Jon MacLennan Essential Blues Guitar System

I go back and try to learn the blues basics I should have learned almost 10 years ago as a beginner.

You don’t often see my writing about online guitars lessons here, but that’s not without reason. In fact, I actually cover the best online guitar lessons in great detail over at Guitarniche.com. In addition to individually reviewing each website, I also compiled my findings to rank each site and tell you where the best guitar lessons are on in the internet! However, recently I decided to dig into something that I actually wanted to try out for myself and got introduced to Jon MacLennan along the way.

Jon has just released his own lesson site, focusing on intensive blues training course that teaches you everything from the basic chord shapes to turnarounds and scales. Growing up playing punk rock it would be generous to say that my blues technique and skills are passable. So I decided to do a bit of a more unique, personal review as I learn along from Jon’s new Essential Blues Guitar System.

About The Instructor

Jon MacLennan has no shortage of guitar teaching skills and expertise thanks to his current gig as a Fender Play instructor. And if I may so, Fender Play was the 2nd highest ranked lesson site in my roundup for Guitarniche.com, so you know his lessons are going to be good! Aside from that huge resume booster, Jon has over 20 years of guitar experience, songwriting, producing, and instruction in the Los Angeles area.

Who Is The Essential Blues Guitar System For?

Spoiler alert: I know how to play the guitar. So usually when I’m reviewing guitar lesson sites I’m approaching it as if I was 13 again and learning how to play Green Day and The Clash songs. But what struck me so positively about the Essential Blues Guitar System was how enjoyable it was to follow along as an 11 year guitar playing vet. Of course it was super beginner friendly, with detailed descriptions, definitions, and instruction of each chord shape, finger placement, and musical note. But I sat down to do a few lessons the other day and got sucked into an hour and a half of following along. I even finally had the discipline to finally learn chord shapes I had spent years modifying into lazy variations (looking at you B7 chord). Jon really did a good job making this appeal to a wide variety of guitarists, ranging from true beginner to undisciplined young adult punk guitarists like. I would say that this isn’t a true “beginner’s” course, because the Essential Blues Guitar System sets out to teach you the blues, not necessarily the guitar. If expects you to have the bare minimum skill to hold a few chords together and play a few pentatonic scales, so maybe start on Fender Play and then move your way over here if Blues guitar is your true passion.

What I Love About These Online Blues Guitar Lessons

There are many great features to highlight within this system, but perhaps my favorite is the lesson topics. You learn not only the essential blues “toolbox” so to speak, such as turnarounds, shuffles, bass lines, etc…But you also learn how some of the greatest blues players of all time actually play their instruments and developed their styles. Eric Clapton chord shapes, Jimmy Page triplets, Robert Johnson turnarounds, it’s all there. Even though I know so many of these riffs or styles, it serves as a sort of blues and guitar history lesson that is super entertaining and helpful. Much like some of the best guitar lessons on the internet, the Essential Blues Guitar System really entraps you into the culture, legacy, and story telling aspect of the blues, all without long winded rants by the teacher. When you’re watching the videos, it’s almost entirely playing and demonstrations while Jon speeds up or slows down the lesson, with helpful close ups of finger positions or picking attack.

Checking Out The User Interface

Because these lessons aren’t designed with true, new beginners in mind, there aren’t all of the features you’d find in Fender Play or Justin Guitar that make learning so easy for someone who hasn’t picked up a guitar before. The tab and notation doesn’t automatically stream across your stream along to the video, but personally I didn’t mind the lack of tab. You can of course download the notation and tablature as a separate pdf or get just the audio of the lesson if you want to take it on the go and listen to an MP3 version. All of this comes included with your one-time purchase too. What you do get is a sort of stripped down, no frills lesson that I personally prefer. Some may say that they demand a built in tuner or metronome or ear interval training for a subscription service, but the Essential Blues Guitar System isn’t here to teach you guitar, it is here to teach you how to be a proper blues man or woman. Overall, I’m a huge fan of the lesson-video interface and layout that Jon has created!

Essential Blues Guitar System

Final Thoughts On The Essential Blues Guitar System

The Essential Blues Guitar System costs a hefty $79.99 one time fee, but I will say I think you get a ton of value and included content, all with unlimited access over time. The 4 chapters contain over 43 lessons that culminates with you putting it all together and building a solid skill set from which to write songs, improvise solos, and hit a stage (after quarantine ends of course!). I would honestly say the $80 is more than worth it if you have a really solid base of guitar skills and really want to hone in on blues playing, which in my experience took far more dedication than just diving into the modern rock/metal scene as a young student. I’m avoiding putting any sort of quantifiable rating values here yet because I have a big online blues guitar lesson roundup coming down the pipe, but Jon MacLennan’s Essential Blues Guitar System is a very worthy competitor to say the least. The lessons are awesome and plenty detailed and Jon clearly knows what he is doing, these are no doubt some of the best guitar lessons on the internet right now.

Reverend Rick Vito Signature Soulshaker Electric Guitar Review

Will my first experience with a Reverend guitar leave me wanting more?

Credit: Reverend Guitars

Cost: $1599.00, find the Reverend of your dreams on Reverb! Or visit Reverendguitars.com for more!

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

Overview & Final Score: 9.1

I have waited forever for a Reverend guitar to make its way to me and it turns out it was well worth the wait. Their signature model for Rick Vito, the Soulshaker was just released in a new finish, Chronic Blue, that I have the honor of showing off. What you have here is a singlecut guitar with a Korina body and neck that provides a light, comfortable feel. The body of the Reverend Soulshaker boasts two proprietary humbuckers with the custom pickup covers as well as a Bigsby and rolling bridge pairing. Master volume and tone are located next to a 3-way switch that is in such a better position than the standard location. The body also features crazy nice checkerboard binding around the chambered Korina construction.

Moving to the neck side of things you’ll find an Ebony fingerboard with a 12″ radius. Reverend’s pin-lock tuners provide superb tuning control across the 22 medium-jumbo frets. This Reverend Soulshaker is a a 24.75″ scale length guitar with a medium oval neck shape that sits nicely in your hands.

Sound: 9

These proprietary pickups can sing! I’m so impressed with the clean tones from this Rick Vito signature, it goes from bluesy to jazzy and I could get super atmospheric with it once I layered delay and reverb and chorus on top. This Soulshaker can just really sing, with crystal clear note definition and wonderfully balanced pickups. I’m always surprised how few singlecut guitars actually come with well balanced volume between the neck and bridge, but Reverend nailed it here for sure.

While this guitar doesn’t feel designed for super high gain playing, the distortion tones were very pleasant and fun. For classic punk and alt-rock tones that I love, I had no trouble using this where I may use a Les Paul. In fact, many of the tones were superior to the Les Pauls I recently reviewed. As you crank up the gain it doesn’t keep up quite enough to be someone’s metal guitar, but neither me, Rick Vito, or anyone buying this are probably looking for it to do that. Reverend and Vito absolutely nailed the classic rock and pop tones from these humbuckers, as they feel like they are missing the frequencies I always roll off of a LP. But for someone who played in Fleetwood Mac, I would hope the guitar could get those sounds!

Playability: 9

I was really blown away by how comfortable this guitar was to play. The neck sits so nicely in your hand with the medium oval shape that feels a little slimmer to me than I expected. It never gets too chunky or slow, with a well built, smooth feel up and down the fretboard. The fret work was also all great, as it should be at this price point. This Soulshaker perfectly encapsulates how far overseas guitar production has come, it feels far superior to some USA-made instruments I’ve reviewed this year. The tuning stability was also great, with the roller bridge and locking tuners letting you really work the bigsby arm with ease. It stays in tune and has a super soft touch, letting you add vibrato or really swell into dives without worrying about tuning. Overall, it’s ultra playable in my book.

Finish & Construction: 9.5

Probably the best part of this whole Soulshaker is the feel, look, and build quality. As I said, it sets a high bar for overseas made guitars and would easily cost double the price for the same quality to be made in the US. The new Chronic Blue finish is light and fun, while the checkerboard binding got many comments across all the clips and pics I posted of it. There really isn’t any flaw I can point out, with solid finish work and great setup on the neck. While this is the higher end of Reverend’s price points, it seems they have build quality and quality control down super well. I have no reservations about taking this into the studio or onto the stage, especially with such well balanced pickups and reliable tuning stability.

Value: 9

At first I was tempted to think this was overpriced for an import guitar, but then I realized that this feels better, plays better, and sounds better than the other $1500 singlecut I just reviewed. Not naming names of course but you know who. It has more features, better tuning stability, and really sensitive pickups. This even comes with a stylish, white hard case to the other options nicely padded gig bag. I’m very impressed and if I had this for my previous LP roundup, we definitely would have had a different winner. This Rick Vito Soulshaker is fun, ultra functional, and just a little bit quirky. I’d say it’s worth almost every penny all things considered.

Good for: Blues, Jazz, Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Low Gain Players, Singlecut Fans & Players

Knaggs Shootout: Keya J Versus Kenai J

I compare two Knaggs flat top guitars against each other in my search for the ultimate punk rock guitar.

Credit: Knaggs

Getting to review these two guitars from Knaggs was a blast, especially because they are both so similar yet different. Obviously, these boutique flat tops are heavily influenced by the Les Paul Junior family. That just happens to be one of my favorite guitar models, so you can imagine I was pretty pumped when someone recommended I compare these two side by side. So without any more unnecessary text, let’s take these two guitars apart, compare them, and go over some pros and cons!

Kenai J H2 Semi Gloss Overview Find It On Knaggsguitars.com

The variation of the Kenai J I was sent had a semi-gloss, Ferrari Red finish and two Seymour Duncan humbuckers, the SH4 and SH2N. The Mahogany neck and body give it a familiar design and tone, especially with the Rosewood fretboard. The wrap around tailpiece is a nice touch, especially on a two pickup flat top, and it gave the strings a real slinky feel. Typical controls lie within, including a 3-way selector and just one master tone and one master volume. Personally, I don’t miss the 4 pot setup you find on more traditional versions of this design, simplicity goes a long way here.

While I did get a dual humbucker model, you can get the Kenai J in pretty much any configuration. Single dog ear P90? Yup! Two P90s? Of course! Even just one humbucker in the bridge. Don’t be fooled by the flat top construction though, this thing doesn’t lack sustain. In fact, this was far more rich, clear, and sustaining than the Gibson Les Paul I recently reviewed (sorry Gibson!). This thing is definitely for the Les Paul lover that wants something with more top end and chime. Plus, it will set you back about $2800 based on the finish option you choose. But, with some of the quality controls issues we’ve seen at Gibson, that may be a sound investment. There were pretty much no flaws on this thing, as I said in my review.

Read the Kenai J review: Click Here

Keya J Dog Ear P90 Semi-Gloss Relic OverviewFind It On Knaggsguitars.com

Now let’s turn our attention to the double cut side of things. I’m biased but the relic’ing and TV yellow color really won me over with the Keya J I reviewed. I mean, this is the LP double cut of my dreams. It shares the same construction and basic features as the Kenai J, down to the wiring options, pickup configurations, and tone woods. Where it gets interesting though is Knaggs’ new bridge system.

The Keya J is rocking Knaggs’ Influence 2 in 1 bridge which beautifully mixes a tune-o-matic style with my preferred wrap around style bridge. While it doesn’t have that snappy, slinky feel of strings wrapped over the metal bridge, it added plenty of sustain to the equation to make up for it. The relic’d finish came out great, but came at a bit of an added cost. While I’m going to directly compare the Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90 to the humbuckers, there were some slight differences in tone thanks to the bridge choices.

The Keya J definitely had more sustain, something I think is due to the difference in bridges. The wrap around is great for adding some harmonic frequencies you don’t normally get on a dual humbucker LP, but I got way more sustain from the double cut Knaggs. Now if you wanted to customize a guitar to feature either bridge, I’m sure Knaggs would oblige, but I’m just working with what I got sent.

Read the Keya J review: Click Here

Key Differences

The biggest difference between these Knaggs is the two bridge designs. You can easily get the same pickup configurations as well as the same finish options on either guitar. So it really comes down to comparing the body shapes and bridge systems. I think the Influence 2 in 1 system on the Keya J had a bit more sustain than the wrap around tail piece, but the Kenai J had a bit more chime and top end that surprised me considering the bass-heavy, beefy humbuckers installed. I also prefer the feel of strings that are wrapped around, so maybe I’m a bit biased?

Now to the body shapes. The necks felt very similar, both phenomenal and smooth, with the relic’d Keya J feeling more broken in. However, I’m sure a relic’d Kenai J would have felt the same. Personally, I think their take on the double cut is far more unique and eye catching than their take on the single cut. The Keya J just pops out of the screen to me, and I love the de-emphasized horns and slim top. Because so many of the specs are the same, and the prices are as well, I have to pick the Keya J because of how much better it suits me.

Visit Knaggs Guitars To Learn More

Final Thoughts

Both of these guitars were my first experience with Knaggs, and I was totally blown away. The Kenai J placed really strongly in my Les Paul roundup for Ultimate-Guitar. That being said, the Keya J is in the “dream guitar” territory for me, as someone who has always wanted a real LP Junior Double Cut like Mick Jones of The Clash. Knaggs’ construction and built quality was absurd, with pretty much no flaws on the guitars. True, the guitars are a bit pricey, and are out of my price range, but they don’t feel upcharged or overpriced. They have a real luthier feel to them, and play like carefully crafted instruments. Overall, if you’re looking for a Knaggs, I’d say go with one of the flat tops, especially the Keya J!

Fender Would Be Dominating Summer NAMM With 5 New Offsets

Wish we were seeing this at Summer NAMM but oh well, they are still sick!

Credit: Fender

Well it’s that time of the summer again, when new gear releases dominate the headlines. While those of us in the guitar world are surely sad that Summer NAMM was cancelled, let’s all stay home, wear our masks, and get through this. Despite the lack of NAMM action, Fender has dominated headlines with their new gear announcements. Not far after the hugely successful launch of the Paranormal Squiers, Fender is adding 5 new offsets to their Mexican-made Player’s Series.

My personal favorite, checking in at a budget friendly $599.99, is this Mustang 90 in this natural color. Apparently one of these is on the way to me and I couldn’t be more excited!

I mean look at that thing? The specs for this, as well as the more traditional Mustang, include a 24″ scale length, hardtail Strat bridge, and a C-shaped Maple neck. This MP-90 equipped version seems like the perfect punk rock guitar, while the single coil version should scratch your vintage Mustang itch if you watched Nirvana or The 1975 rock with one. Master tone and volume, 3-way selector switch, and killer colors make this a must-have guitar for me and likely, most Fender fans.

Credit: Fender

The Duo-Sonic also is making one hell of a return for summer 2020 with one especially killer finish. Check out this Desert Sand-finished single coil model with a gold pickguard. It shares pretty much the same specs with the Mustang besides different finish options, Duo-Sonic pickups, and some pickup arrangement options. For example, there is also an HS version with a humbucker in the bridge. The smaller profile, vintage headstock is also different from the FAT headstock on the Mustang, as well as some other cosmetic differences.

Credit: Fender

Bassists aren’t left out either with a brand new Mustang PJ bass that checks in around $650. Versatile pickups inside a smaller bass body? There is actually a huge market for that and this is a bass I would love to own as a guitar player. Another C-shaped Maple neck, a 30″ scale length, and both P and J bass pickup options with a 3-way selector (that’s a pretty cool feature to be honest) have really gotten my attention.

Credit: Fender

For more info on all these products, check out Fender.com!

Squier Paranormal Super-Sonic Guitar Review

One of the most anticipated guitar lines of 2020, did my pick of the Paranormal series meet expectations?

Cost: $349.99, find your own Reverb.com, Thomann.com, or Amazon.com!

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

Overview & Final Score: 7.6

It feels like forever ago that I wrote this article about how excited I was for the Paranormal Squier’s to hit the market. Finally, they were released and I was able to order one from Fender.com, opting for the Graphitic Grey Super-Sonic after watching Nick Reinhart rock one for years on YouTube. This reverse offset guitar body also sports a reverse headstock in the classic, large Strat design. A super fast, narrow C-shaped neck features a surprisingly smooth and glossy finish with vintage-style Fender tuners. A poplar body sits below the Maple neck, with two Squier Atomic Humbucking pickups with an interesting wiring diagram. Instead of a master tone and volume, the two knobs are volume pots for each pickup. This lets you blend them in different ways in the middle position of the 3-way switch or even do the Tom Morello stutter effect when rolling off one of the two positions. The vintage synchronize tremolo seems to have a surprisingly large block as well, with a classic Fender Strat wiggle stick.

Sound: 8

This is my first encounter with Squier’s Atomic Humbuckers but I’m actually pretty impressed! Squier’s Super-Sonic boasts a surprisingly well above average sound, with hot, high output pickups. It reminds me a little bit of the Fender Lead III, with a glassy, crunchy tone out of the bridge position. The neck gets muddy pretty quickly, but if you mess around with the treble on an overdrive pedal you can cancel a lot of it out. It’s actually great that there is no tone knob because rolling it off would make these pickups super muddy and thick.

The bridge is meant for alternative rock sounds through and through. Playing Nirvana, Harvey Danger, and early Foo Fighters is both easy and a complete joy on this thing. Personally, I even had real fun using it for punk stuff from The Clash, Iggy Pop, and similar bands. It isn’t the most crystal clear pickup, but it takes drive really well and pushed my Vox into some nice crunch tones. Overall, it’s one of those guitars that is just really fun to plug in and play, even if it lacks some premium features. Plus, the two volume knobs makes the middle position so versatile, there is a lot to like here for $350!

Playability: 6.5

I knew there had to be one catch. Squier’s Paranormal Super-Sonic will just not stay in tune. I haven’t even tried the whammy bar because this thing is slipping out of tune so quick without it. It’s a real shame too because the neck feels way more Fender than Squier. I think slapping another spring in the bridge and changing strings will cure it, but it loses a big chunk of points for that instability and it is just not gig ready as is. The gloss finish on the neck with the narrow radius makes it such a player though, really with some work this guitar would be a world tour ready. Fret work was also surprisingly well done, and this guitar really feels far more like a nice MIM Fender than any Squier I grew up playing. Certainly in the vein of the really nice Classic Vibe Squier guitars.

Finish & Construction: 8

Aside from the tuning issues, everything on this guitar seems airtight. The finish on the body is gorgeous and relatively spotless, and I’m absolutely in love with the way they built this neck. The pickups are well adjusted and the pots actually feel way more sensitive than expected. It really is a guitar that feels more suited for the $500-$700 range in all around build quality, I’m really happy with it. The quirky looks and design certainly don’t hurt either and this checks so many boxes for me when it comes to a budget guitar. This would have been a near perfect designed guitar if I didn’t have to address the tuning stability.

Value: 8

Squier’s Super-Sonic gets even more praise when it comes to value. It’s a cool looking, unique, eye catching guitar that fits in almost any budget. It can definitely be a great second or third guitar for a more experienced player, especially with a price that makes “impulse buy” territory. To be someone’s main guitar, especially a beginner’s, it needs some TLC to address the tuning from either yourself or pro. But it sounds great, looks great, and feels like a far more expensive guitar which is 8/10ths of the fight for me. While I really love the guitar as is, I’m also super interested in what could be done to modify this guitar. Higher quality pickups? Locking tuners? There are some really attractive options here. Overall the Paranormal Super-Sonic is an inspiring guitar that makes me pick it up every time I walk by.

Good for: Garage Rock, ’90s Alternative Rock, Grunge, Players Looking For Something Different, Vintage Oddball Fender Fans

Kramer The 84 Electric Guitar Review

Will Kramer’s shred friendly ode to hair metal stand up to modern standards?

Cost: $799.00, learn more at Kramer.com and find one on Reverb.com!

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

Overview & Final Score: 8.0

Wow, hair metal is alive and well at Kramer and I’m here for it. A tribute to one of the most legendary guitar designs from the original Kramer company, this guitar is loaded with impressive specs. A Seymour Duncan JB pickup holds down the fort with a push-pull volume pot that lets you series/parallel tap the legendary humbucker. A Floyd Rose 1000 series “double locking” trem system is paired to their own “doubling locking” nut system for all you dive bomb ready Satchel wannabes. Rounding out the hardware on this stripped down guitar are Kramer 14:1 tuners and sadly, they are not also “doubling locking”.

On the construction end you’ve got an Alder body with a Hard Maple neck that’s bolted on. That Hard Maple neck features a nice Walnut skunk stripe and a Hard Maple fretboard as well. I was sent a model in the Metallic Blue finish, one of five eye grabbing and ’80s influenced colors. This 25.5″ scale length guitar has 22 medium jumbo frets with classic dot inlays.

Sound: 7

The single Seymour Duncan JB humbucker is a ton fun, providing classic high gain and high output tones left and right. I was able to get way more than just an ’80s rock tone with the ’84, as pretty much any crunchy tube amp tone sounds great with this pickup. Where it loses a few points for me is the versatility. And yes I know it was designed this way on purpose, I know there is a reason it only has limited electronics. That being said, a coil cut seems like a better option than the phase switch, especially because it cut the volume off so much when I used it. It was still useable and I found some cool uses for it in the indie rock realm of my rig, as long as I was quick to engage a boost.

The sounds that you can pull from that JB are phenomenal however, and I found it hard to identify any other sonic flaws. The ’84 was full of sustain as well, making it an excellent guitar for both traditional lead players and more experimental musicians. I really found some cool, drawn out shoe-gaze style stuff when I layered chorus, delay, and a uni-vibe on top. Surprisingly versatile in terms of inspiration, but certainly sonically limited and built for the ’80s guitar sound.

Playability: 8.5

The highlight for me is the neck on this Kramer ’84. It’s fast, smooth, and has a sort of thin finish that prevents it from getting sticky. It even looks and feels a little worn in, which helped me get over my fear of Floyd Rose guitars and really dig into what this thing can do. The Floyd Rose and locking nut do their job well, keeping the guitar in pretty good tune. As someone who always has their hand on the hardtail bridge of my guitar, I was so annoyed that every time I went to palm mute I was basically using the whammy bar. The bridge is just so sensitive to motion, but I think in the right hands that’s actually a plus! Out of the box, the ’84 had great action and really felt familiar in my Strat-fan boy hands. The great playability makes it a great option for shredders of all genres, especially modern technical musicians.

Finish & Construction: 8.5

It’s hard to mess up such stripped down construction, but even so I was pumped when I cracked open the box. The ’84 is a gorgeous super strat, with softer edges than some of the other ’80s competitors. It gives the Kramer ’84 enough of a classic look to appeal to a wide variety of players. The pickup and hardware was well installed, especially the double locking trem and nut. Why not double locking tuners too? Just kidding, I can see someone taking that seriously and calling me an idiot any minute…

The finish came out really well, something that Kramer will definitely need to continue to prioritize as it rebuilds. Looks aren’t everything, but this guitar’s looks make you want to pick it up when you walk by. Even non-metal or shred fans can get behind this guitar thanks to the great build quality. It’s overall just a super solid and reliable guitar. Certainly gig ready!

Value: 8

Kramer’s ’84 feels like perhaps it could be a bit cheaper based on the stripped down electronics. On the other hand, I appreciate the brand name features like Seymour Duncan JB and Floyd Rose trem and nut. Overall, I think a gigging musician in the high gain or nostalgia scene may get the most out of these guitar thanks to the great playability. A wider range of players would probably actually love this guitar, and hopefully they’ll come to embrace the re-launched Kramer. However, it certainly itches that Poison/Ratt/Warrant scratch while also dipping into the Marty Friedman and Jason Becker vibe. Hey, maybe even EVH fans will see this as a high quality option! But if you’re looking for some vintage looks and feel, this Kramer ’84 is worth every penny.

Good for: Shredders and Technical Players, ’80s Revivalists, Hair Metal Fans, Super Strat Players, High Gain Players, Gigging Musicians

Epiphone Les Paul Modern Electric Guitar Review

Will the budget version of the Les Paul Modern surprise me and outcompete a Gibson?

Credit: Epiphone

Cost: $649.00, find out more on Epiphone.com or find one on Reverb.com!

For our European friend, find your own from Thomann!

Check out my “60 Second Guitar Review” of this awesome Epiphone for Ultimate-Guitar.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.8

Honestly, this is the most beautiful Epiphone Les Paul I have ever seen or played. That Vintage Sparkling Burgundy gives this guitar a far more premium look than the Gibson Les Paul Studio. Based on the Gibson Les Paul Modern, the Epiphone variant still packs some crazy impressive features. A Mahogany body holds a plain Maple top with built-in weight relief underneath that Gloss finish. The neck is a slim taper with a modern, contoured heel where the Mahogany neck and Ebony fretboard are glued in. 22 medium jumbo frets sit atop this 24.75″ scale length Les Paul Modern with Trapezoid inlays and a NuBone nut from Graph Tech. A LockTone ABR bridge holds the strings on one end while Grover Locking Rotomatic tuners handle the other side of things.

The electronics certainly make things even more interesting if you ask me. First off, you’ve got ProBucker 2 and 3 pickups in the neck and bridge. Both of these are also coil-split enabled via the push-pull volume pots. One of the two tone pots is also push-pull which lets you run the pickups in or out of phase. That is a lot of tones in one little Les Paul. All these features at a price far below the Gibson Les Paul modern? Craziness, and a real steal as long as the build quality holds up to my high standards.

Sound: 8.5

I am not only pleasantly surprised by how rich these pickups sound but also how versatile this guitar is. Packed within those ProBucker 2 and 3 pickups is coil splits and in phase/out of phase options. The ProBucker’s probably capture like 85% of that Gibson PAF sound that we all want, which is more than acceptable for me at this price. They’re still very articulate, warm, and the neck gets creamy as hell. Better yet, that coil split works wonders, not only dropping the volume like some cheap coil splits, but providing a bit more bright, top end and slap while cutting some bass. The in and out phase settings are a bit underwhelming, as you lose a ton of volume, but once you run it through a drive its pretty fun to mess around with as a rhythm tone.

For me, the bridge pickup does everything I’d want out of a Les Paul, which is why I’m giving it such a good score here. It’s loud, bright but still bass heavy, and cuts through a mix. I feel like I can do Led Zeppelin and The Clash with ease, which is important for me as rock fan to be able to cover a lot of ground. The single coil tones were actually a bit more impressive than the Gibson I previously reviewed, though that guitar certainly got closer to that “Holy Grail” LP sound. Overall, the Epiphone Les Paul Modern really barks through a cranked tube amp.

Playability: 8

For Les Pauls, tuning instability is a known but accepted flaw. That’s why I was happy to see the addition of locking tuners here. While I still think I would prefer the more traditional Les Paul design for my own rig, this guitar is far superior in terms of modern playability than many competitors. It held tune great, and took quite a bit of abuse from bends and hard down strokes. The neck is a slim taper that I found comfortable but did feel sort of out of place on a Les Paul. The fret work was certainly good, but not perfect as premium things like rounded edges and jumbo frets would have pushed it over the edge. To Gibson’s and Epiphone’s credit, this Les Paul Modern’s playability is a big step up from their last decade of output or so.

Finish & Construction: 9

Epiphone’s Les Paul Modern really won me over here, with awesome features and strong build quality. This guitar looks phenomenal, it just looks like a premium instrument with the binding, trapezoid inlays, and eye popping burgundy color. The finish came out really good and I appreciate the super clear, glossy look of the exposed Mahogany back. A nitrocellulose finish would have been nice but I’m not sure Epiphone has ever offered that feature. I’m sure if they did, many more Gibson lovers would (rightfully) find this guitar as a direct competitor to their USA-models, not (wrongfully) just a budget alternative. Lastly, the hardware was installed really well, completely comparable to the Gibson I was sent. No tooling marks and surprisingly no high frets even though I heard that’s a common problem on 2020 Epi’s.

Value: 9.5

Like I said, the Les Paul Modern from Epiphone isn’t a perfect guitar, or a perfect LP for ’59 Burst enthusiasts. But it is a ton of guitar for a pretty nice price. And honestly, with no “Mexican Fender” option in the Gibson line, this is the closest thing to getting a new Gibson guitar at this price point. For under $700, this guitar is gig ready and could be a monster thanks to all the push-pull pots for players who explore a little more sonic space than Joe Bonamassa (no disrespect he has killer tone, just very in-the-box). I’m not usually a fan of Gibson (or other legacy brands) trying to reinvent the wheel, but the Les Paul Modern is a tasteful attempt. I assume the Gibson one is even more fun to plug in and play!

Good for: High Gain Rockers, Les Paul Enthusiasts, Gigging Musicians, Players Looking For Versatile LP, Broke Gibson Fans

6 Incredibly Underrated Guitar Companies

When you step outside the box of mainstream brands, you’ll find new sources of inspiration.

Reverend Guitars

I have been obsessed with these unique looking guitars for years. They are one of the first companies in my lifetime that created their own shapes, headstock, and designs that are really different. Even their take on the Les Paul Junior, the Sensei Jr, is just so eye catching. Combining Joe Naylor’s amazing pickups with the leadership of the Hess family and high quality overseas production has lead to a huge spike in their popularity. They even scored signature guitars for some pretty big names like Reeves Gabrels and Billy Corgan. The best part? Most of their models are under $1000, combining superb quality with accessibility. I’ll let the pictures and videos speak for themselves.

Howl Guitars

A new company that I was fortunate enough to review for this site, Howl has been teasing even better looking guitars than the wonderful Sirena 3 I got. Based out of California, they are churning out high quality guitars with unique features at shockingly affordable prices. Made overseas in a high quality South Korean facility, these LPs feature Korina body wood and Roasted Maple necks. Plus, that single chrome covered humbucker is coil splittable. If LP Juniors (and Customs) are your thing, this is the perfect marriage of simplicity and luxury.

G&L Guitars

I’m really not sure why G&L isn’t a bigger deal. It seems like everything they put out is well liked, well built, and it all looks amazing. It was even started by arguably the greatest guitar maker of all time, Leo Fender, and makes unique, modern improvements on his classic designs. As large as the company is, including both overseas and domestic made models, shouldn’t they be much more of a household name?? I don’t know, maybe they are and I just don’t know, but look at these stunning takes on classic designs.

D’Angelico Guitars

Another wonderful brand I actually have had the pleasure of reviewing, D’Angelico should be on any semi-hollow player’s mind. I tried their smaller body, DC Premier Mini, a ES-339 style guitar with excellent looks and appointments. D’Angelico may not stay this size forever, as their recent purchase of Supro and Pigtronix could have them rising up the guitar ranks soon. Their guitars have been played by everyone from Melanie Faye to Bob Weir and will not disappoint those looking for pop, jazz, or blues-centric instruments. That’s not to say that they can’t rock out as well.

Godin Guitars

I first discovered Godin’s big hollowbody jazz box-type guitars and kind of wrote them off as the Canadian D’Angelico. However, recently I realized they have a ton of sick looking solid body guitars that would fit right in to my indie and garage rock rigs. Recently, this LP Junior style guitar has captured my attention and I’m really hoping they will lend me one to review. These are also really unique in the sense that they are built in Canada but are still really inexpensive. No boutique prices here, in fact they are closer to some Korean-made products than USA-made products in pricing.

Schecter Guitar Research

Schecter may be really well known for their more metal, shredder, and high-gain instruments. But did you know they have an absurd amount of affordable and stunning vintage inspired models. Better yet, they are just plain out bizarre in the best way possible. Take the Ultra III I reviewed earlier this year, it plays like a Les Paul Custom, but has three filter’tron-style pickups, a bigsby, and jumbo frets. They are also constantly releasing new, sick looking guitars like the PT Fastback, Corsair guitar and bass, and many more.