Vox MV-50 AC 50-Watt Tube Head Review

The MV 50 packs a lot of AC30 tone into a small amp head!

Cost: $219.99, new but look for a deal on a new or used one on Reverb.com HERE.

How it Works and Final Score: 7.8

The Vox MV50 is an interesting and unique take on the classic Vox AC30’s chime and jangle. The 50 watt head fits in the palm of your head, but provides maximum volume thanks to the use of a Nutube in the preamp that emulates that classic tube performance. On the AC version of the MV50 you’ll find gain, master volume, and tone controls all on the front panel.

The back gets a bit more interesting, an “eco” mode switch sets the amp to automatically turn off when not used for 15 minutes. A normal standby switch is next to an interesting EQ control that has two settings, deep and flat. Deep lets you get a little extra low end when played through a smaller cabinet while flat is a more traditional signal path. You can also alternate between 50, 25, and 12.5 watts thanks to an attenuator switch on the back. Tones are in no shortage here on this solid state meets Nutube hybrid amp, plus the power supply is included! Also, there is a very convenient headphone/line jack on the back as well.

Sound: 7.5

Right off the bat, I’m surprised at how nice it sounds for such a small, almost toy-like amplifier. It does a really nice job getting that classic AC30 chime and harmonic richness, especially with the gain and volume around the 12 o’clock. This is a really good emulation of the sound for a real fraction of the price. Single coils and P90s definitely sound the best through this head, no matter what cab I used, as they really bring out the top end and brightness that the MV50 AC sets out to achieve.

Humbuckers pushed the clean tone into a pretty nicely overdriven, crunchy sound that I really liked. However, with these high output pickups I felt like the MV50 AC lost some of the chime and note to note definition you want from a Vox AC30. Regardless of pickup choice, the gain produced by that Nutube simulation just doesn’t quite get the touch sensitivity and fizzle that I love from my Vox AC15. It’s not a bad tone at all, in fact it comes far closer to tube driven crunch than most solid state amps do, it’s just not quite at the level of the Vox AC30. Therefore, I recommend it to players who absolutely can’t afford to go out and get a real deal AC15 or AC30.

Durability: 9

This is always hard to judge in the short time frame that I have gear for review, but I can’t find any type flaw or construction issue so far. The wiring seems good and the mirrored front plate material seems to be sturdy itself. However, I’m not overly familiar with Korg’s Nutube and how it holds up over time or on the road. It certainly sounds good, but Korg is known for producing pretty tough stuff, so I’m not too worried about taking this 50 watt head out on the road so far.

Value: 7

In terms of the $200 or so price tag, it’s definitely a great value. The MV50 AC sounds great, seems built to last, and supplies a ton of sound and tone in a micro package. With any head though, you have to spend money on a decent set of cabinets so you want to factor those expenses into the equation. Part of the reason I can’t give it a higher score is that I feel it really only emulates the cleaner Vox tones well, not so much the dirty, overdriven tones. And I know they make an MV50 that’s specifically for crunchier tones that is labeled the “Rock” model, but you want versatility in any amp that you’re going to rely on for live use. If this is limited to your practice amp then you might as well spend the same money and get a nice little combo like the Orange Crush 20W. Overall, the MV50 AC sounds great and costs next to nothing, but you’ll be boxed into clean chime and extra expenditures for the cabs.

New Guitar To Know: Frank Stallone’s Tiger

The man himself with the beautiful Tiger model available for pre-order now from Frank Stallone Guitars!

If you’ve been following along with guitar news, you’ve likely heard that musician (and Sylvester’s brother) Frank Stallone has launched a new guitar company. Frank Stallone Guitars and their first instrument, the Tiger, aim to bring high quality guitars to players at a much more affordable price. The Tiger is sold direct over the internet, allowing for the company to cut out the middlemen aka retailers like Guitar Center.

The Tiger brings familiar aesthetics and high quality craftsmanship down to a sub-$700 price, aiming to compete with the higher end American-made offerings from Gibson, Fender, or PRS.

The double cutaway body is made of Mahogany with a Flamed Maple veneer and Mahogany C-shaped neck. The Ebony fingerboard features 24 medium frets, a 25 inch scale length, and 16 inch radius. Many of these premium features are hard to find on a guitar that costs under $1000. A stop tail and tune-o-matic style bridge sit beneath two proprietary humbuckers, made in the South Korean factory that blend classic electric guitar tones. A standard volume-tone wiring harness and 3-way selector switch round out the features on this beautiful guitar!

For more information on the Tiger, check out the video below curtesy of FrankStalloneGuitars.com.

Mooer Acoustikar Acoustic Simulator Pedal Review

Small size and price define the Mooer Acoustikar’s appeal for many pedal heads.

Cost: $88.00 new but search HERE for a deal on Reverb.com

How it Works and Final Score: 8.2

The Mooer Acoustikar is a fun pedal that’s small in both size and price. Sure to please most pedal heads, an acoustic simulator is far from a pedalboard staple, but provides some unexpected tonal fun. The Acoustikar has three modes, Piezo, Standard, and Jumbo, which model three common acoustic sounds. Jumbo has the louder, fuller Gibson Jumbo acoustic guitar while Standard is a fairly straightforward Dreadnought sound. The true bypass Acoustikar gives you three controllable parameters, including the “Top” knob which gives you supreme control over the high frequencies in your tone. The “Level” setting pretty obviously cover the output, and the “Body” control gives nice control over the resonance of the simulated acoustic tone.

Sound: 8.5

The Acoustikar is a really fun pedal to mess around with, especially because it gives your electric a very clean and snappy tone even when it doesn’t quite get that acoustic tone you may want. I felt the Jumbo setting with the “Top” rolled all the way up gave the most rich, realistic acoustic tone. All three settings felt closer to a true acoustic tone when played fingerstyle, it really amplifies that percussive, bass response well. At some points it did make the guitar’s tone sound too thin or organic to really replicate the sound, and I would generally avoid the “Standard” setting if you’re trying to sound like an acoustic. What the “Standard” setting can do though is provide really interesting texture to your tone, that sounds really good mixed into backing tracks as a rhythm tone. The “Piezo” setting is the most responsive to mixing and matching the parameter settings, and to be fair does an excellent job of getting to that bright, metallic piezo tone.

Durability: 9

The all metal case seems incredibly sturdy, and the small size makes it incredibly easy to pack and travel without worrying about damage. While the Boss Acoustic Simulator may have the brand name and legacy of rugged performance, this Mooer pedal seems well constructed and gig ready. One issue for me was the amount of noise produced by the pedal, which was far and away worse with my single coil Telecaster than with my humbucker laden guitars. For me, that’s not a durability concern, but for some players it may require them to have some sort of noise reduction pedal on their board.

Value: 7

The Boss Acoustic Simulator is probably the biggest competition here, and the Acoustikar is a good bit cheaper. However, in my opinion it doesn’t quite provide the same level of acoustic simulation as the Boss alternative. While I don’t have a review up of the AC-3, I have used it extensively and really enjoy it. The Acoustikar’s Jumbo and Piezo settings get really close to a nice, acoustic simulation, but just not close enough to justify purchase over the AC-3. It’s a phenomenal little pedal, but it is more fun if you’re just looking for a cool pedal to use live. It’ll add some snappy, percussive textures, and as long as you aren’t expecting pristine acoustic tone, it may make you re-think taking an acoustic on stage.

Fender Ultra Stratocaster Review

Credit: Fender.com

Cost: $1999.99 new, find your own on Reverb.com

Huge thanks to Heather from Fender for sending this over for review!

Overview and Final Score: 9.5

Fender’s new Ultra Stratocaster right out of the box.

Sound: 9.5

The addition of the S1 switch adds a ton of versatility to the Ultra Stratocaster, as it cuts some of the highs on the 1 and 2 positions. You end up with a warm, more rounded tone that sounded great for rhythm sections or bluesy lead lines. The only complaint was that I felt a minor drop off in volume when switching between these two settings. Otherwise the Ultra Stratocaster went from blues to rock to country with ease and it was pretty inspiring to have those classic Strat tones in a more playable, comfortable package.

The tone and volume knobs were also super sensitive, providing another easy way to tweak tone here and there. I went from John Mayer’s tone to Buddy Holly sounds in no time. I feel like the real sweet spot on this Ultra Stratocaster is the classic Strat in-between sounds, the 2nd and 4th positions. Which for me is perfect because if I’m going to spend a lot of money on a premium Strat with “modern” features, I still want that classic Stratocaster tone, I’m not buying a Suhr or Ibanez for a reason.

Playability: 10

As expected, the action and set up was perfect out of the box, which it should be at this price point. The guitar is also well balanced between the neck and body, and very comfortable thanks to the classic body contour. It’s just as comfortable and familiar as any classic Fender Strat, which should put some skeptics at ease. The neck is slim for a Strat and comfortable, both thanks to the satin finish and rounded fingerboard. As someone who plays with their thumb, access to the low E string was noticeably easier and more comfortable. It’s a lot of fun moving up and down the fretboard, and the Ultra Stratocaster makes you want to play it. 

Finish & Construction: 10

The Red Plasma Burst finish was stunning and was a nice change up from the classic Strat colors I usually go for like Sunburst or Candy Apple Red. Better yet, the finish seemed really strong and they were absolutely no flaws evident on the guitar, indicating good quality control and fit. It’s hard to find any flaws on this guitar and I wouldn’t hesitate to take it out on the road.

The neck is incredibly comfortable, especially with that new neck contour making higher fret reach a bit easier on the hands and wrists. Tuning stability was superb as well, as the locking tuners and 2-point synchronized trem system work well together. Even after a whammy bar bends, the tuning didn’t seem to move much, it at all. In fact, the guitar came out of the box, after travelling cross country, in perfect tune. The included hard case is about as sturdy and protective as they come and certainly makes the $2000 price tag a bit more appealing.

Value: 8.5

At first glance, I wanted to give this a lower score in the value department because I usually find guitars in the $400-$700 range to be the best bang for your buck. But after playing this premium Strat, I think the Ultra Stratocaster is one of the few high priced guitars worth it. It’s definitely a perfect fit for players who can only afford to own one premium guitar. It’s incredibly versatile in terms of how many tones it can provide, plus it’s a classic guitar design and brand that you can rely on. It still may be a bit too overpriced, you have to pay for that Fender brand name, but it’s a hell of a guitar to play and I’m really not excited to give it back to Fender. Overall, Fender’s Ultra Stratocaster is worth the hype to me, don’t let the negative YouTubers and journalists tell you otherwise, this is a fantastic Strat!

You Can Finally Order Harmony’s 8418 Amplifier Reissue

Credit: Harmony Guitars

Harmony continues its year of strong releases with a classic reissue of the 8418 combo tube amp. Check Reverb.com to find your own before they are gone, as these are exclusively available in the US.

The 8418 has a hand-wired construction with a 6″ Jensen speaker, all original circuitry, and a vacuum tubes built to ’50s specifications. This 5 watt combo amp will be an ideal practice or studio amp for players who crave vintage tone. Retailing for $399 (plus shipping charges), it’s a surprisingly affordable reissue!

Check out more on the 8418 from Harmony’s website and keep an eye out for more exciting amps from Harmony, coming soon!

Ranking Four DIY Telecaster Kits From Best to Worst

3 of these awesome kits mid-build!

I love guitar kits, they are pretty much the primary way I learned how to assemble, build, and modify guitars. Kits give you a low-risk way of developing your finishing, wiring, and modification skills without having to rip apart the gear you rely on or spent your money on. Even the highest quality kits are far and away so much cheaper than a pre-assembled guitar. Usually, you can spend around $150 to get a pretty decent kit that you can turn into a unique, customized guitar or bass.

For those who are looking for their first kit or just another fun project for the winter, here are four kits I put together myself. I’ve ranked them 1-4 and while all of them left me a very satisfied customer, there are a few differences in price, labor, and options to note.

Get 10% off your first purchase when you join The Fret Wire’s Mailing List!

# 1: The Fret Wire TL Thinline Style Kit $165.00

Get the kit for yourself HERE!

Full disclosure, I do have an affiliate relationship with The Fret Wire, but I do not promote their shop because of it. I promote their shop because this is my second kit from them and each time they have provided not only a great product but great customer service. I got both of my kits off of Reverb.com and can’t recommend them enough.

This kit was great for a few major reasons: it was affordable, it was easy to put together, and it creates a great base for a fun mod project. I loved this kit so much it’s the only one of the four that I kept, as I gifted the other three Telecaster’s away to my family members who play guitar.

It’s even the body used for my current project on building a superior Thinline Tele than Fender. The Mahogany body comes with a Maple top, two tonewoods I wasn’t expecting at this price, and the two humbuckers that came with the kit were surprisingly rich and loud.

Even better, every hole comes pre-drilled for you, meaning for true beginners you can just screw parts in and go. For more adventurous modders, feel free to swap out parts like I am and create a truly unique guitar.

Pros: Affordable, Easy To Assemble, Solid Tonewoods, Nice Humbuckers

Cons: Cheap Tuners, Need To Carve Headstock

# 2: StewMac T Style Kit $149.99

Get the kit HERE!

This kit is usually a lot more expensive, coming in at $259.99 but it seems to be on sale, making it a great deal right now! This kit was the most expensive of the bunch, and I felt you really saw that extra value in the quality of the pickups. They had much more of a Mexican-Fender feel than a Squier feel, despite still being a sub-$300 guitar.

Not every screw hole is pre-drilled for you, which may be a pro or a con depending on how you view guitar kits. Some people buy them with the intention of assembling them with very little labor so they can get a cheap guitar quickly, some really like to work through piece by piece and enjoy the process.

Overall, I really like this kit as I felt the Mahogany body was really comfortable and the finish came out great.

Pros: Great Tonewood, Twangy Tele Pickups, Comes With Detailed Instructions

Cons: Usually More Expensive, Need To Carve Headstock

# 3: Solo TCK-1 DIY Kit $119.99

Find the right Solo kit for you HERE!

One of the most affordable Telecaster kits on the market, the Solo TCK-1 is no slouch despite coming in third. All holes come pre-drilled, except for the string tree, which isn’t a big deal at all but like, c’mon…why not just drill that one too?

This Tele kit does have beautiful black binding around the surprisingly heavy Basswood body. The Maple neck comes with a Blackwood fingerboard, and for those that want a quick, easy Tele build, the headstock comes pre-shaped. If you’re looking to do your own customized, headstock carve, look elsewhere, but I appreciated this feature myself.

The TCK-1 pickups are a bit noisy if we’re being honest, but they also had the most sustain out of the bunch, and I did really enjoy playing this guitar. It was also the heaviest by weight of the four I assembled.

Pros: Pre-Carved Headstock, Good Sustain, Easy To Assemble, Affordable

Cons: Noisy Single Coils, Lesser Tonewood, Heavy

# 4: Bargain Musician GK-002 DIY Kit $129.99

Shop the kit HERE!

Another incredibly affordable offering, Bargain Musician’s Tele kit for sure requires the use of a drill. This one required the most labor to put together, as you’ll have to drill in guide holes for the pickguard, control cavity, bridge, and neck. Again, not a huge deal for most people, but in case it is, now you know.

This Ash body comes with a Maple neck and fretboard, and is incredibly light and comfortable. These single coil pickups were also a bit noisy as well, but I have to say they did a really good job of imitating that Tele twang and slap for such an affordable price.

They do offer a very helpful support network to new builders and they have worked with some great programs that focus on having high school student’s build their own guitars. It’s a great company, an affordable kit that won’t disappoint, it just may be for the more handy kit assemblers out there.

Pros: Affordable, Pre-Carved Headstock, Great Tonewood

Cons: Cheap Tuners, Noisy Pickups, Absolutely Need An Electric Drill

Building A Live Rig On A Budget: Some Thoughts/Opinions

I have written a few articles before that try to outline the best rig for metal, punk, or live shows below a certain budget. While it is a good exercise in bargain hunting, it always feels pretty useless because each player needs something different no matter what the budget is. So instead I thought I’d provide some guidelines for shopping on a budget that will help inform where/when to save or spend money. Plus, I’ll throw in a few of my favorite budget friendly pieces of gear!

Finding A Guitar

When you’re looking for a cheap guitar there a few major things you need to consider.

  • Does it stay in tune?
  • Is it comfortable to play?
  • Does it inspire you?

I think players often prioritize the wrong features, especially on budget friendly guitars. New players either just get the cheapest guitar they can find, or they just find something (like a Strat or LP) that their idols used. Furthermore, the brand name shouldn’t matter that much. Don’t spend more to get a Fender that may be marginally better than a high end Squier just because it’s a Fender.

Prioritize function and comfort over anything else. If you can find a $300 guitar that feels great and stays in tune, that’s perfectly fine for live or even studio use if it inspires you! Especially if you can’t spend a lot of money on gear, make sure you get something versatile too. Realistically you need a guitar that can get you a lot of sounds and do what 2-3 guitars can do.

One of my favorite guitars that fits this bill is the G&L ASAT Bluesboy. It’s not necessarily a huge brand name like the Fender Telecaster that inspired it. However, it’s engineered to be a phenomenal guitar and the neck humbucker adds great versatility. All of this comes on one of the most versatile guitar models of all time, the Telecaster. It’s about $450 new, and can be even cheaper used, and is incredibly reliable. I highly recommend buying this guitar here!

Find your own HERE

Filling Out A Pedalboard

Pedal boards are often a tricky thing to make recommendations for. The biggest issue for budget minded players is that just getting a board and power supply can set you back hundreds of dollars, and those are things you really need to have for live gigs. Take a quick look on Reverb, you’ll find many great options up and down the price range, but choosing can be difficult.

Once again, go with the function over form here. Modeling amps are affordable, but are often unreliable for live use. Unless it comes with multiple foot switches (which makes less affordable) how are you gonna bend over mid-song to turn on or off the chorus? Stick to the basics here. Get pedals and effects you need, things like a boost if you’re a lead guitar player, or an overdrive so you can have clean and dirty sounds live.

I would spend the least amount of money on pedals, instead recommending you stick to trusted and affordable essentials like the Boss DS-1 or Ammoon Nano Chorus. You can build your board up over time, accumulating pedals and upgrades as you can afford it, but for now, get a reliable power supply and stick to the basics.

Invest In A Loud, Reliable Amp

I recently wrote about this for Ultimate-Guitar.com, but you really should spend more money on your amp than your guitar. I go into more detail in that article so definitely give it a read! But essentially, you need a few things out of the amp that are non-negotiable. It has to be at least 15 watts, and really should be more like 25+ watts if you are playing anything bigger than a dive bar.

Some players may be tempted to think they need a tube amp to get professional sound. Personally, I do prefer tube amps and I think there are some moderately priced ones that will do a great job. Options like the Vox AC15 might tempt those with bigger wallets, but I’d recommend the Orange Micro Terror 20 watt head paired with some affordable cabinets like the PPC112 60-watt option from Orange. For just over $300-400 depending if you buy new or used, you get quite a large amount of volume and a name-brand, dependable amp head.

Balancing The Budget

If you read this and felt like it’s hard to put together a solid rig for under $1000, you’re not wrong. It’s gotten a bit easier with options like the Boss Katana modeling amps but you still have to pony up for an expensive foot controller. A lot of this stuff just isn’t one size fits all and you really need to take the time to try out and research gear before you buy. I try to make a huge portion of my reviews affordable gear so that players can find answers to their questions here at Guitars For Idiots. Ultimately, all the gear I recommended here really is reliable and high quality enough to get you playing your best on stage. Think there are other guitars or amps that can get you to the next level? Let me know in the comments!