Donner Upgraded Digital Wireless Guitar Transmitter-Receiver Review

For live players on a budget, there is finally a reliable wireless system on the market!

Cost: $88.99, new from Amazon

Thanks to the Donner Vine program, I was able to review this awesome wireless setup!

How it Works & Final Score: 7.5

The Donner Wireless system is a straightforward and accessible way to make your live guitar or bass rig wireless. With about 200 feet of reported range, the farthest I could physically get from mine was 50 feet and it still worked great (any further and I’d be outside across the street). The lithium battery in each boasts a 4.5 hour lifespan but can easily be recharged via a USB port. The set of transmitters come with a charger and durable carrying case that won’t take up a lot of space. With four channels, it can support up to four devices at once with one to one, one to two, or one to three transmission.

Sound: 7

The sound quality overall was pretty true to the tone I get with wires, but it lost a noticeable amount of bass frequency. The volume, mids, and highs all seemed to be there, with volume being the most important for a live show. I was slightly discouraged by the lack of definition as I moved farther and farther away, but ultimately I felt I could rely on the sounds and just adjust my guitar or pedal’s control knobs as needed. I think for most players who would be interested in this price range for the product, it’s perfectly suitable and the best option on the market. With single coil pickups, I found a slight hum or buzz was emitted that was only noticeable when I wasn’t playing. If you don’t already, you may want to roll off all your guitar volume when you’re not playing when using this system.

Reliability: 7.5

Reliability gets a slightly higher score than sound for one reason, whatever the problems were, at least they were consistent. The hum and buzz only happened with my single coil guitars, and didn’t change based on distance from the amp. While the overall definition did change with distance, it took about 15+ feet for me to really hear a change, and I imagine most players who use this will not be rocking the main stage at Lollapalooza, meaning they likely won’t be much farther than that anyway. The reality is that this is a budget friendly model for amateur or young performing musicians. It’s absolutely consistent and reliable enough for open mic nights, small venues, or basement parties and I never had any signal loss.

Value: 8

While it isn’t a product on everyone’s wish list, it’s really nice to see a quality wireless system that is under $100. You may find many cheaper that have far more issues, and there are definitely way more expensive and high quality options, but the Donner System is the best for players who are new to live performances and need a reliable and affordable option. I look forward to testing it out in a variety of gigging situations and can already tell it will help clear some wires from the stage when needed. I think it’s absolutely worth checking out if you play live often and have been considering going wireless.

Joyo Bantamp Firebrand Amp Head Review

An affordable amp head that rips through the mix and looks killer!

Cost: $169.00, new

Huge thanks to Ed from Osiamo for lending me the new Bantamp Firebrand to try out! Get one here!

How it Works and Final Score: 7.7

The Firebrand is super simple and straightforward, making it an ideal option for players who need a practice amp or reliable live option for smaller venues. The three control knobs are pretty straightforward, with gain, tone, and volume as well as a clean and OD channel switch. The preamp is made up of a 12AX7 tube paired with a solid state power amp, making this an affordable two channel amplifier option. You can connect a phone or other device to the amp via the bluetooth switch, allowing you to use the head as a speaker or letting you play along to your favorite songs. In the back, you’ll find an FX loop, as well as an aux input jack. As the Firebrand name might suggest, this is a fire breathing amp that is built for distortion and gain sounds. Just like how each other BanTamP product is meant to model a popular amp tone, this bad boy is meant for cranked, Marshall-like metal sounds.

Sound: 7

The clean channel takes effect pedals very well, with little buzz or or noise, but it sounds fairly sterile and simulated. Some players may like the reliability and clarity of the solid state clean tone, but I prefer to be able to dial in a little bit of chime or shimmer, and that’s not really an option here. On the other hand, the OD channel is great and the amp really shines when used for its original intention of high gain playing. While this limits the versatility, it still is a great overall sound, you just have to be willing to use it for only a handful of tonal options.

The Firebrand provides plenty of layers of thick distortion tones, great for hard rock and metal tones. The amp sounded best through my humbucker-outfitted ES-335 copy and Guild Jetstar. Drop tunings sounded great, with Drop D riffs retaining definition while still cutting through the mix with mid- and bass-heavy punchiness. Once you crank the tone, you can get more of a lead guitar sound with more note to note clarity perfect for sweep picking or tapping. The only drawback on the distorted sound settings was that the single preamp tube starts to lose that clarity and definition when it really is cranked past 4 o’clock making the amp sound a little bit muddy.

Construction & Reliability: 8

This lunchbox amp head seems really well built, and the small size makes it easy to pack, store, or use live. It’s really light as well, and I couldn’t find any noticeable flaws or factory damage. Even better, the amp didn’t have a lot of hiss or extra noise, thanks to a combination of quality wiring and decent parts. You can’t expect much more from a $170 amp that features a preamp tube, it really doesn’t feel like they cut many corners or cheaped out on anything to keep costs down.

Value: 8

As stated above, this is a great amp for the price that features two adjustable channels, solid construction, an FX loop, and bluetooth connect-ability. With plenty of perks and extras, this head is a perfect option for players on a budget who need tube-driven distortion that can from the practice room to the stage with ease. At a $169.00, it’s a great alternative to the Orange Crush 20W combo amp if you’re looking for the same quality distortion sound but in a head/tube powered configuration. For the money, I’m not sure there is an amp head out there that can beat it!

I Tried Out One of 920D’s Pre-Wired Harnesses and My Guitar Sounds Great Now

Link to purchase HERE

After highlighting 920D as one of the 5 best aftermarket products for guitar modification, they kindly reached out to me and sent me this great pre-wired harness to test out in one of my Thinline builds! The Thinline is going to be used for a very interesting build and article soon, but in the meantime I’ve been using it as a test guitar for parts, pickups, and wiring practice. The wiring harness that was previously here was a cheap, low-quality set up that came with a previously assembled guitar kit, the tone and volume knobs had poor spread, the pickups were noisey, etc…

The pickups themselves are some no-name humbuckers made overseas, but they sounded decent enough and I wanted to hear how a premium wiring harness could really impact the tone. It’s safe to say I was blown away by the improvements this wiring harness made. The pickups and guitar instantly had less extraneous buzz and noise and the tone and volume pots worked to perfection. Cheap guitars are often associated with pots and controls that don’t work well or provide good sweep or spread. That issue was completely resolved here as I can hear and totally control the different tonal expressions of my guitar. Even the pickup selector feels high quality with a very satisfying (and easy to adjust) switch.

My new pick guard is loaded up and ready to go!

I’m holding off on doing any video demos until the finished article comes out for Ultimate-Guitar.com, as it will be one of my most detailed and enjoyable ones to date! But once you hear the difference these 920D products can make in your guitar, you’ll be convinced. The pre-wired harnesses are affordable, incredibly easy to install, and can even be customized to your specific needs. These are a must try for any guitar mod or building projects!

Check Out This New Andy Summers Signature Strat From Fender

credit: Fender

Combining Summers’ love for guitar playing and photography, Fender’s latest signature model is finished with a collection of monochrome photos taken by The Police guitarist himself. Built by Dennis Galuszka in the Fender Custom Shop, this Stratocaster’s two piece alder body has a NOS urethane coating over the images, and a maple neck and fretboard. Other highlights include a red camera dot on the 15th fret, Summer’s signature engraved on the neck plate, and a C-shaped neck based on the ’63 Strat design.

Not so good news, this guitar is going for $12,500. That’s insane, and even though I am a huge Summers (and The Police) fan, I think this guitar will end up being wall art on some guitar collector’s studio instead of in the hands of an avid player or fan. Still, it certainly caught my eye, and it is worth a quick look!

Nobels ODR-1 Overdrive Pedal Review

A reliable overdrive with some nice, extra features such as a remote jack for complicated rig setups. Find yours here!

Cost: $99.00, new

Huge thanks to Ed for making all these great Osiamo product reviews happen!

How it Works and Final Score: 8.7

I have to start this review out by saying that this pedal should not sound different than the ODR-mini logically, but honestly, the ODR-1 sounds SOOO much better than the mini. It features the same three, simple controls: drive, spectrum (tone), and level. The pedal is German engineered, Chinese made, and covers a wide range of tones from thick distortion to more touch sensitive, natural overdrive. Furthermore, the remote control jack switching systems means you can control the pedal remotely, via something such as a footswitch or control board, for players who route all their pedals into racks, and then control from the stage. Or, if your guitar tech controls your effects, but you still want the pedal onstage, this input makes that possible.

Sound: 8.5

The sound is great, I’m impressed that the pedal earned the distinction as Nashville Guitarist’s #1 overdrive pedal, but I’m sure it has something to do with the mix of sound quality and durability. The spectrum knob works much better on this pedal than the mini, I don’t know, maybe I got a dud of a mini, but you could really dial in humbucker tones, single coil tones, and incredibly levels of clarity using the knob. The drive control goes from searing distortion, similar to some of the more tame Boss DS-1 tones, to cranked tube amp simulations favored by blues, pop, and country players. It certainly sounds versatile, and I would love to have this on my board.

Durability: 9

I’m a huge fan of pedals that have this type of build design, with one large, flat pedal instead of a single footswitch. I feel it makes the pedal more durable, something Boss has shown to great effect, and I feel I have more control over it, aka, there is no threat of me missing the footswitch in a dark club or basement (or while drunk). If that many of the music capital’s guitarists trust this pedal, than I am sold as I’ve seen nothing that would contradict that on my end. I have put a bit of a beating on it so far, and it just keeps coming back for more. I trust it.

Value: 8.5

For $99, you really can’t get much better unless you want to just use a run of a mill distortion pedal. Many of my comments on the ODR-mini are just not true for this pedal, it feels sturdy, it sounds almost boutique, and it actually is a great value here. It has way more bite than a Boss Blues Driver or Tube Screamer, but it isn’t quite a distortion pedal either. I like it a lot, and hope one of these finds it way back into my hands soon.

Nobels ODR-mini Pedal Review

The ODR-mini takes up little space while providing lots of sound

Cost: $79.00, new. Want your own? Check HERE for the best prices!

Huge thanks to Ed from Osiamo for sending this for review!

How it Works and Final Score: 7.7

The ODR-mini is the smaller, more pedal board friendly version of its big brother, the Nobels ODR-1. Capable of going from overdriven tube amp to crushing distortion, the ODR-mini is a versatile, if unspectacular overdrive option for your pedalboard. Three control knobs allow for tone shaping with fairly simple parameters. Drive controls the level of the gain, while level controls the output volume of the mini pedal. The true bypass pedal also features tone control that is labeled as “spectrum” but is essentially normal bright/dark contour.

Sound: 7.5

The ODR-mini’s best feature is that it is a strong sounding overdrive in a compact package. Before I get into everything I love about this pedal, I have to say that for the price, it is basically just an average overdrive that isn’t any cheaper than more trusted pedals such as the Tube Screamer. However, it sounds straight up good through a clean tube amp, especially with the spectrum knob at the 12 o’clock position. The drive is able to provide a great range from subtle dirty tones for country and pop to searing leads for rock and blues. I found the spectrum control to be a bit too bright for single pickup guitars when cranked, but otherwise all other control parameters were great and easy to adjust. The output was especially useful for breaking up my Vox AC15 when the gain was turned down for a real touch sensitive, and natural tube sound.

Durability: 8

I’m always a bit more skeptical of mini pedals when it comes to lifetime, but this one seems to be an exception to the rule as it feels really solid and well put together. Furthermore, because it takes up so little space on the pedalboard and is affordable, I wouldn’t have any concerns about using it live or taking it on the road. Lastly, the pedal was quiet through my pedal chain, no buzz or hiss, except for at really high volumes, which is understandable. I have very few concerns about slapping this on my pedal board long term, and would trust it for live shows. While it doesn’t have the track record of my tube screamer, I’ll be watching these pedals closely going forward.

Value: 7.5

The pedal is fairly affordable as a sub-$100 option on a crowded market, which limits its ceiling a bit here. With so many great options out there, it is hard to stick out, even if it is a great pedal. Overall, I think the pedal would be incredibly popular if it was more well known, as many pedal buyers tend to trust tried and tested brands or truly boutique (and overpriced) pedals. But if you’re looking for something small, compact, and reliable, the ODR-mini is a phenomenal option, worth every cent.

Aria Retro-1532 Electric Guitar Review

A wonderfully unique offset that will delight vintage and modern fans alike!

Cost: $299.00, new

Huge thanks to Kazu and the Arai & Co company for sending this great guitar, it is one of the coolest ones I’ve ever reviewed!

Overview and Final Score: 8.3

The Aria Retro-1532 is by far one of the most unique and visually inspiring guitars I’ve ever reviewed. Despite the humble price point, it actually sounds delightful. The guitar features a 3-tone sunburst finish over a basswood body with a maple neck and Techwood fretboard. 21 frets grace this 24.75″ scale length guitar, giving it a comfortable, shorter feel, almost like a souped up Fender Jaguar. Two VLS, half covered single coil pickups provide not just a unique look but a unique sound that recalls those classic ’60s big single coils found in Tiesco or Supro instruments. The slanted neck pickup is a great touch too, both visually and sonically.

The pickups are controlled by a familiar volume, tone, and 3-way selector switch, making this a fairly straight forward rock machine. A tune-o-matic bridge leads to a Jazzmaster-style tremolo system, adding further sonic options. The offset body will likely attract many Fender fans looking for a Jazzmaster or Jaguar body, but the smaller scale length should also appeal to Gibson-style players looking for an outside the box addition.

Sound: 7

Most of the sounds that come out of this thing are really unique, much more than the more traditional single coil sound Aria’s DM-01 provided. The VLS pickups have a bit more output and crack then traditional single coils, because of their huge size, which gives all three settings a great distorted tone. At lower volumes, the cleans still shimmer and chime, especially out of the bridge and middle position, while the neck takes on an almost humbucker-like sound that is great for blues, jazz, or even atmospheric sections.

The addition of the tremolo arm especially helps make this guitar sound great for more modern indie and pop sounds where guitars may go from shimmering ambience to full bodied chords in seconds. The bridge pickup is your best bet for more of these bright sounds, while also sounding great for overdriven, tube amp garage rock with the tone just slightly rolled off. Overall, vintage single coil sounds abound in this fine guitar, and I think it adds a really quirky option to my rig for the studio or live performances.

Playability: 8.5

This guitar’s playability far outperforms both the sound and price of this guitar. First off, the heavy gloss finish on the neck feels great, to my hands it makes the guitar’s neck much faster to move around on and more comfortable to play for long periods of time. It’s almost like a high end lacquer finish, and greatly out competes the DM-01’s raw-feeling neck. From there, the tuning stability is really great and the guitar has yet to move more than a bit out of tune, even after a few hours of going at it. The frets are comfortable, and while not specified, feel like medium-jumbo, and none of the edges were sharp or poorly cut.

Finish & Construction: 8.5

The finish on this guitar is beautiful and really well done, and there was no damage from shipping. Overall, the finish just doesn’t feel cheap, which is not a very specific definition, but sometimes you just know it when you feel it. So much of a guitar’s appeal to each individual is feel anyway, so I have to give the Retro-1532 props for feeling great, sounding, great, and being an overall inspiring instrument. I already raved about the neck finish and the whole neck and headstock are really the highlight of this guitar. There were no apparent flaws in any of the construction, the 3-way selector worked, the pots worked, though the tone didn’t have great spread, but that’s expected in this price range. It is both stunning and well built for a Chinese-made guitar that retails for $300.

Value: 9

Aria’s Retro-1532 is not just one of the most affordable guitars out there but it is probably the most affordable AND interesting guitar I’ve ever played. Often when I see instruments like this, I say to myself, wow I’d love to have one but I can’t justify spending the $500-$1000 for an Eastwood or Danelectro I’ll only use for a few songs. With this guitar being this nice at this price, it makes it incredibly accessible for those who want something sonically and visually different. I’m a big fan and can’t wait to work this guitar into my rig.