Ernie Ball Music Man Sabre Electric Guitar Review

Ernie Ball Music Man does it again, with one of the prettiest guitars I’ve ever held.

Credit: Ernie Ball Music Man

Cost: $3,199.00 USD, find out all you need to know here!

Watch my Ultimate-Guitar.com demo of the Sabre HERE

Overview & Final Score: 9.4/10

When it comes to 2020 guitar perfection, the all new Sabre from Ernie Ball Music Man might take the cake. This “Bougie Burst” model features an Okoume body, thick maple top (with plenty of figuring), and a stunning Roasted Maple neck with Rosewood fretboard. Custom Music Man Humbuckers can be controlled by a 5-way switch, yes you read that right.

Credit: Ernie Ball Music Man

This helpful graphic from their website explains all five positions, giving you incredibly versatility. Standard HH settings included the neck by itself, bridge by itself, and both in parallel. Then, you get two in-between settings that pair the outer and inner coils of each pickup together in parallel. All these positions are controlled by standard volume and tone knobs.

22 frets high profile, medium width frets sit between Schaller M6-IND locking tuners and Ernie Ball’s Modern tremolo system with a beautiful crescent cover. The 25.5″ scale length neck has a 10″ radius and black dot inlays. Wrap it all up in binding and you have one beautiful looking guitar.

Sound: 9.5

The Sabre is crazy versatile, as the 5-way selector switch should obviously indicate. But what made it so much fun was that those inner and outer coil pairings sound way more like a single coil Strat pickup than I expected. They were articulate, just a bit quieter than the humbucker tones, and had a really percussive sound that made them super responsive to picking and strumming for rhythm parts. When I picked the Sabre up out of the case, the last thing I thought I’d be playing on it was John Mayer and John Frusciante licks. But these “inbetween” settings really had me convinced I had a Fender in my hands.

But then you flip to the neck or bridge humbucker and you instantly know it’s a Music Man guitar. I mean, the Sabre is certainly not cheap, but those custom humbuckers are crystal clear, even with a Pro Co Rat on top of them. Each note in the chords rang out, and it even felt like it had some chime to it when you rolled the gain off just a bit. Having played this right after I played my Tele I was also struck at how much these pickups drove my Vox AC15 into overdrive. With the same settings I just played the Tele on, you would have thought I clicked a tube screamer on. I personally like the stripped down controls with just one volume and tone knob, as I don’t mess with them much. I think it’s also far easier to flip around the 5-way switch mid song to change tones than mess with knobs, and this guitar encapsulates that idea perfectly.

It’s really just a straight up awesome sounding guitar, it’s punchy, loud, and vibrant. This will be an end of the year highlight for sure.

Hell yeah

Playability: 9.0

Sooooo close to perfection. The only thing keeping this Sabre away from a 10 is that I personally felt the locking tuners didn’t do such a great job locking. I mean, that’s a really picky criticism, but it still makes it hard to give it a 10/10. The guitar was never egregiously out of tune, but even after just a few hours back in its case I found each string had slipped just a bit out of whack.

Otherwise, the Sabre really justifies that major price tag. The neck is super slim and fast, with the gunstock oil and wax mix on the back of the neck feeling amazing. I also really love the patented Music Man headstock design, the 4 and 2 on a side design really improves tuning stability and the feel of the strings in my opinion. It helps keep the strings attack angle through the nut completely straight, as opposed to classic Fender or Gibson designs. The neck, fretwork, and feel is just impeccable. The tuning stability is still far above average even if I dinged a point off for the (kinda) locking tuners.

Finish & Construction: 10

The thing that caught my eyes when I first opened the box was definitely the look of the Sabre. I’ve always been so captivated by the look of roasted Maple necks, and it just looked so good underneath the Rosewood fretboard (another feature I love). Music Man’s have always had a distinct look to them that feels both familiar and modern, and I think the Sabre really displays that sentiment. The Strat-like body feels heavy but still extremely comfortable and the binding and flamed Maple top certainly don’t hurt either.

The construction was similarly impressive with everything perfectly installed as far as I could see. That’s definitely to be expected with a guitar of this quality and the California production plant for EBMM should be plenty proud. It’s harder to go on about amazing build quality when discussing a $3000 guitar than it is when discussing a $300 guitar, because any customer would be pissed if it didn’t meet these standards. That being said, you should have zero concerns about the product you’re getting when you buy a Sabre.

Once again, hell yeah

Value: 9

Man, the Sabre is another guitar I went back and forth on when it came to the price tag. I’m notoriously biased towards more affordable guitars because I think there are so many amazing guitars out there for under $500. So how could I say you get an amazing value with these $2000-$4000 guitars I’ve started to review? The thing is, the Sabre offers up a lot of things that just aren’t completely commonplace. These pickups are so freakin versatile and fun. You’re not gonna find any old HH Strat-style guitar that feels, looks, and sound like the Sabre. For that reason, I still think that’s a real excess of value here, especially if you play multiple styles from shred to blues to pop. The Sabre can really do it all and should be a working man or woman’s go-to instrument for many decades.

Good for: Versatile Players, Gigging Musicians, Shredders, Studio Musicians

The review format is changing a little bit! I’ll now be featuring “shots” on Ultimate-Guitar.com where I go over my favorite features and quickly demo all these awesome guitars I’ll be reviewing. One should be up the same day (or close) that this article goes live! For an example of the “shots” I’ll be doing, check out this one I did for the Fender Lead III I reviewed!

Meet RWM Guitars: A Company Putting It’s Own Touch On Classic Designs

Credit: RWM Guitars

One of my favorite aspects about guitar reviews and journalism is discovering new guitar companies, luthiers, and designs. Randomly scrolling through Instagram brought me to RWM Guitars and they’ve been stuck in my mind ever since.

RWM Guitars is the work of Ron Mason, a talented luthier who mainly focuses on putting his personal touch on classic Fender designs. What caught my eye most of all was his work building double cut Telecasters. As a huge fan of both the Tele and Les Paul Junior Double Cut, this guitar is somewhat of a dream come true for me.

Fortunately, Ron was able to conduct a short interview with us, allowing you to get to know him and his amazing guitar builds!

GFI: Hi Ron, thanks so much for your time! How long have you been building your own guitars? How did the first guitar you ever built come out, was it a disaster or did you get it right from the start?

Ron:

My path to guitar building came gradually as my skills developed. First, I started to hot rod my own guitars by changing out pickups, bridge saddles, doing small upgrades that didn’t require any specialized tools.  Then I moved up to building kit guitars, my first was a Carvin Strat style guitar, which only needed finish work and assembly.  These and other experiences were full of learning opportunities, such as: taping up your pick guard before making mods so not to scratch it, putting wax on screws to make them go in easier, preventing them from breaking, and testing my wiring work before closing up the controls, etc.

In 2017, I took a guitar building class with master luthier Jamie Boss and built a Stewmac Triple 0 acoustic guitar kit, which took 40 hours to complete.  I quickly gained the confidence to build my own line of electric guitars, both right-handed and left-handed.  Three months later, I filed my LLC and RWM Guitars was born.

My first build was the Butcher Block Tele, which can be seen on my website (rwmguitars.com).  It took me about eight months to complete, partly because I juggle a full-time job, but mostly because I was taking my time double checking each step.  I did experience some bumps, like not getting the neck pocket correct and breaking a screw when installing the strap buttons – but nothing that couldn’t be corrected!  I am very proud of the finished product.

GFI: You’re clearly very inspired by classic Fender shapes and designs, what inspired you to make the double cut Telecaster such a prominent part of your offerings? Do you feel you’ve improved on any of those classic designs?

Ron:

I have always been a big fan of Fender guitars, the telecaster being my ultimate favorite.  My first electric guitar was a MIM 1994 Fender telecaster, which I still own.  I love the telecaster for its straightforward, simple design, two pickups, one volume, one tone and a three-way switch.  The double cut tele came one day when I was flipping my template around and I saw the double cutaway.  I had never seen one before and just thought it was unique.  I created my double cut template, by simply taking a single cut template, tracing the right side, then flipping the template to trace the left side to create the double cutaway.

I’m also improving the basic tele design by adding the belly and stomach contours.  Also, I am making the body a little thinner.  The typical tele body is 1 ¾ inch thick, but I started making my bodies 1 ½ inches thick, such as my 2019 left-handed Paisley Tele.  Another interesting feature to my guitars is the material – all the bodies are made with reclaimed or locally sourced wood.  For example, the body to my double cut semi hollow tele is made from pine trees by the reservoir on route 66 in Middletown, CT.  The top is made from pine panels out of an Estey’s 1889 pump organ.  So, not only do my guitars use unique wood but they also have a little back story. 

GFI: If you could build a custom guitar for any famous or professional musician, who would you most want to see playing one of your builds?

Ron:

The one person I most want to see playing one of my builds, is also one of the best players of the telecaster: G.E. Smith.  I’ve seen Mr. Smith perform many times and admired his talents while he led the Saturday Night Live band, when he toured with Hot Tuna, and of course his Masters of the Telecasters shows.  It’s also incredible the number of musicians he’s not only performed with but backed.  And let’s not forget his own outstanding music!  Yes, G.E. Smith would be the highlight of my career.

New Guitar Roundup: What New Model Just Got Announced?

Credit: Guild, Dean, and Godin Guitars

Despite most of the world shutting down it seems many guitar makers are hell bent on continuing to release exciting new models, and I’m here for it. Let’s dig into a few new releases from the past few weeks that have caught my eye and should definitely be on your radar if you’re looking to pump some cash back into the economy!

Hit the headline for each guitar to learn more from the maker!

Guild Starfire I DC Pelham Blue

A new edition to Guild’s retro inspired Newark St. Collection, this stunning semi hollow checks in at a very budget friendly price of $599.00. Also available in Cherry Red, I think the Pelham Blue finish looks best, mixing classic Gibson aesthetics with plenty of vintage weirdness. Better yet it features Guild’s HB-2 humbuckers, the same that were in that amazing Guild Jetstar I reviewed and fell in love with last year. These toaster top looking pickups have a ton of top end sparkle that will definitely reverberate throughout that semi hollow body with plenty of warmth.

Godin Stadium HT

Check out this nuts new take on a Tele from Canada’s Godin Guitars. A classic Tele pickup and electronic configuration graces a small, almost Strat-Tele hybride shaped body. What really caught my eye was the Hard Rock Maple neck that just looks stunning. The string through body is made of super lightweight Canadian Laurentian Basswood and comes in finishes like Trans White (see above), Havana Brown, and Matte Black.

Dean NashVegas Select Series

New for 2020 from Dean comes their NashVegas Select take on the classic Tele design. Featuring a heavy dose of Dean individuality, this dual humbucking Tele features a Floyd Rose system, and updated wiring configuration. The volume and tone knob are located somewhat nearby where a normal Tele would be but the 3-way selector switch is located on the lower horn of the guitar. Some guitarists prefer that, but I usually like my controls as close the pickups as possible so I can mess with them while playing quicker. Two Seymour Duncan humbuckers grace the front, an APH1 Custom Zebra in the neck and a TB5 Custom Zebra in the bridge.

6 Easy DIY Guitar Projects To Work On While You’re Stuck Home

Credit; The Fretwire

If you’re like me, you’re probably starting to go a little stir crazy being stuck in your house. So while plenty of people will use this time to get in shape, learn how to cook, or drink, let’s focus on some easy/fun guitar related tasks to take your mind off of the quarantine! Pretty much all the tasks listed below require a fairly small time or financial commitment but will definitely keep you occupied and productive while hopefully learning some new tricks.

Assemble A Guitar Kit

I’ve written about this at length before a bunch for this site and Ultimate-Guitar.com and I won’t stop anytime soon. Guitar kits are basically how I learned everything I know about guitars. The first kit I ever assembled also directly lead to me being hired by UG and set off this whole career in guitar journalism. So who knows what putting a guitar together will do for you!

Really all you’re gonna need is probably a $15 soldering iron you got off Amazon and an electric drill. Finishing the guitar is up to you, as I do a really simple Polyurethane finish that I just sand in, but you can always go as hard as you want and try to a Nitro spray on finish. My recommendation, get a kit from The Fretwire, they have a ton of options, good prices, and on the off chance something is wrong with your kit they will be responsive to messages and compensate you.

Install New Pickups

Whether you have soldering experience or not, there are now more aftermarket options available than ever before. Try Guitar Fetish’s Kwik-plug system that takes no soldering and has crazy pickup options from Lipstick to Filter’Tron to EMG-style pickups. Want a really premium setup that will last a lifetime? Shell out a few more bucks to 920D for a custom, hand-wired harness with premium brand name pickups or boutique works of art and then just drop the pre-wired pickguard into your guitar! Or do what I do and endlessly search Reverb for cheap used pickups that you want to wire into something crazy. Again, get a $15 Amazon soldering iron, watch a few YouTube videos, and get off to the races.

Set Up Your Guitar

Hearing fret buzz? Is the action too high or low? Now is a great time to dig into some of the basic guitar tech skills needed to set up your guitar. Easier things like adjusting the truss rod to correct a forward or backwards bow can solve some action or fret buzz issues. While adjusting the string height at the bridge is another simple action adjustment. Feeling more adventurous? Look into how to properly level and dress frets and sand down those annoying fret edges you’ve been complaining about. All these skills are easier to master than you may be expecting and while you’re working on the neck, don’t forget to condition those dark wood fretboards with over the counter conditioner or an oil finish such as tung or lemon!

Refinish Your Guitar

Admittedly, I’ve always been hesitant to jump into the world of finishing guitars with anything more than some sand on Poly. But if I’m gonna be stuck home then it may be time to invest in some clear coat, spray cans, and study up. Likewise, if you’re in the same boat why not jump into guitar finishing while stuck at home, especially with the crazy amount of resources I’ve found on YouTube to set us all in the right direction.

Record That EP or Mixtape or Demo You Always Wanted To

No, this isn’t a guitar tech project, but it is just as important. If you have an audio interface, recording gear, or even just a smartphone with a decent mic, take the time to finally get those riffs and melodies down. Even if you don’t record formal versions of your songs, having as nice a demo around as possible can save you endless hassle in the future. Plus, once you have your ideas down I always found it easier to add new parts or really finish the song. It’s a great feeling hearing your favorite riffs and ideas played back to you, so take all that time you’d spend at the bar and make a record!

Try Your Hand At A DIY Pedal Kit

This is something I’ve wanted to try ever since I saw Var Guitar try one of the Korg Nu:Tekt kits. It doesn’t seem all that much harder than soldering in some pickups. Plus it may give you some excellent insight into taking better care of and repairing your beloved pedals when they suddenly stop working. Maybe this will be the next project I work on after the partscasters and bigsby install video…

Stadium NY Strat Electric Guitar Review

An affordable and decent Strat-style guitar that may be better suited as base for DIY modders or up and coming guitar techs.

Cost: $225.99 from Pelican Beach Music LLC!

This guitar review is sponsored by Pelican Beach Music LLC, genuinely one of my favorite new online guitar retailers. I’ve been screwed over left and right by bigger names like Guitar Center (which you can read about in an article real soon!) that I’ve gone to extreme lengths to find smaller luthiers, builders, retailers, and companies to work with. The treatment you get, whether it is responsiveness to emails or set up of the guitars, is far and away great at Pelican Beach Music!

And if you want one of these gorgeous Stadium NY Strats you can now get them 25% off via a coupon from the owner directly, just reach out over email, twitter, facebook, instagram, or call +1 877-377-1285!

Overview & Final Score: 6.6

The Stadium NY Strat-style guitar is an overseas copy of Fender’s iconic Stratocaster design. These off-brand Strats feature Alder bodies with a gloss finish and come in a variety of finish colors. A bolt-on Maple neck is fitted with a Rosewood fretboard featuring 22 medium-jumbo frets. Dot inlays guide your hands along the 25.5″ scale length, all pretty standard for a Stratocaster guitar. Three single coil pickups, a 5-way selector switch, master volume, and two tones allow for control of your Stadium NY’s sounds. Chrome hardware, like the vintage style tremolo and die cast tuners sit atop the body, which has standard string-through-body construction. Like most affordable guitars, the only extras you get with the Stadium NY are Allen wrenches and a guitar cable.

Sound: 7.5

Wow, I’m impressed with the sound, especially because I was not impressed with anything besides the finish before I plugged it in. The sound of this Stadium NY Strat actually feels better than any Squier Affinity Strat I’ve played before, much to my surprise. It’s got all those classic Strat sounds, from the in-between neck and middle position that John Mayer loves to searing Jimi Hendrix leads and even The Edge’s delay and chime. Now, it’s definitely not as responsive or rich sounding as a MIM Fender, but it certainly comes maybe 75% of the way there?

The bridge pickup impressed me the most, as it didn’t really have that much of an ice pick, super high treble tone that many of these cheap Strat copies have. It had a more rounded, full tone that sounded decent when clean but much better when layered with a Tube Screamer or Pro Co Rat2 on top. One other thing I noticed, aside from the bridge side of the controls, this guitar lacks a lot of the top end sparkle of Strats, even if most other great elements on there. Now I’m not talking about that ice pick tone I said before, this would be that warm, bright, bell-like treble just a few notches down. Overall, it feels very Strat-like for a way lot less money, I’m pleasantly surprised and think some of you will be even in just short Instagram clips.

Playability: 6

Well now that my (relative) gushing is over, the playability of the Stadium NY Strat is not great and barely good. It’s still above average in my opinion, as it’s way ahead of that old Glarry Strat I tore apart. The fret edges are really rough, and some are even sharp. The neck isn’t uncomfortable and has a nice classic Strat-shape to it, but it’s barely finished and feels raw. Still, it isn’t too bad moving up and down the fretboard and the medium-jumbo frets are a nice touch.

The guitar came horribly out of tune, with the low E string not even fully installed on the guitar, and the tuning stability has been spotty throughout my time with it. Not awful as down stroked chords don’t really push it out of tone, but plenty of bends and even a little bit of whammy bar usage does. Again, it’s probably still above average compared to some really brutal Squier Bullet Strats, Glarry’s, or no-name Amazon Strat’s out there.

Finish & Construction: 6

This was a hard call on the Stadium NY Strat because I really love the metallic red finish, it looks so good and is going to make this a really fun guitar to mod and hot rod. On the other hand, the neck is in questionable shape with rough/sharp fret edges and a raw finish on the back. Also, the pickups were not well installed as they are really high out of the body and super loose. You can see them shake a little bit when you really move around with the guitar. The finish is superb in look and quality though, with a nice feel and no visible dings or scratches. The hardware is pretty cheap, but really well installed otherwise with everything lining up nice and tightly.

Value: 7

Overall, I’d say the Stadium NY Strat is a nice alternative to a Squier Affinity Strat, especially because it’s about $70 cheaper than that guitar. It’s also still far more playable and useable than any $100 or $60 guitar you’ll find on Amazon or Alibaba. It has some big flaws, like poor fret work and loose pickups, but also has a stunning finish, surprisingly strong Stat tones, and is very affordable. It’s a mixed bag for sure, but I think the Stadium NY Strat deserves a look, especially for DIY Modders who may be stuck indoors for the foreseeable future, but beginners may want to pony up for a Squier if they prefer playability over tone. I’d say you can even look forward to me doing something nuts to this guitar…

Good for: DIY Modders, Players Who Need A Backup Strat, Beginners Who Want More Tone Than Comfort

Pelican Beach Music LLC is an authorized dealer of brands like Danelectro, Aria, Stadium, Revival, and Verano guitars, more more brands being added every day! Rumor has it even some Morifone guitars may pop up on there shortly!

Orangewood Oliver Jr Bass Live Acoustic Bass Review

An unexpected and exciting new addition to Orangewood’s line that makes practicing much easier.

Credit: Orangewood Guitars

Cost: $345.00 new from Orangewoodguitars.com!

Overview & Final Score: 7.6

Acoustic bass guitars have long been something I found incredibly fun. The Orangewood Oliver Jr Live takes that idea and brings it down to a more compact and affordable package. This acoustic-electric bass has a 23.5″ scale length, Fishman Sonitone EQ, and a C-shaped neck that feels almost guitar-like. This miniature 4 string is controlled by tone and volume dials that sit inside the top of the sound hole, not easy but not hard to reach while playing. The Oliver Jr Bass Live features layered Mahogany back and sides with a solid Mahogany top. The Mahogany neck is covered in an Ovangkol fretboard, that pairs with the Ovangkol bridge. Plus all these features come delivered to you inside a plush gig bag as well.

Feels right at home amongst all my gear!

Sound: 7.5

The acoustic sound from the Oliver Jr Bass Live is good if unspectacular. The small body size and shorter bass scale does it make hard to get the huge, rich acoustic bass tones that a full size would offer. It’s not too loud and a bit muddy, but still perfectly fine as the practice instrument it was intended to be. Where the real extra points come from are the electric tones, which are surprisingly huge. I was shocked when I plugged this in and felt like I had a much more expensive, high output acoustic bass. If you really crank the volume, you almost get a hollowbody electric feel that easily goes back to a snappy acoustic once you roll down the volume and tone and controls just a bit. When cranked, I even layered on some distortion and had a ton of fun of with this little Oliver Jr bass.

But back to the clean tones, which were surprisingly snappy, responsive, and percussive when played through a cheap Fender Rumble. The Oliver Jr Bass Live is definitely great for couch players or musicians looking for a bass that’s easier to take around their house, hometown, or region.

Playability: 8

Right out of the box the action was excellent, as was the fretwork which featured smooth edges and no fret buzz. The C-shaped neck was really fast and easy to slide up and down the neck. The only real complaint had to be that the smaller neck and frets take some real getting used to. Both me (a guitar player) and my roommate (a bass player) still took awhile to get used to the really small frets and neck. There was also this really strange rough patch between the 3rd and 5th frets, but everything else was incredibly smooth and fun to play.

Finish & Construction: 9

While the Oliver Jr Bass Live has to lose a point for the rough patch on the neck, everything else was in tip top shape on this acoustic bass. The action was great, the finish was spotless and gorgeous with a dark natural satin look that felt a bit “harder” than most acoustics . I was especially impressed with the tuning stability and impressive neck. The small size makes it super easy to transport, especially with the padded case. It’s gig ready in the sense that it feels reliable and comfortable when plugged into an amp, but certainly isn’t meant to be anyone’s main gigging instrument. Overall, it doesn’t feel like it will let me or anyone else down in anyway.

Value: 6

This score may seem harsh, but for me it seems hard to justify paying $350 for a travel bass guitar. As fun as it is, it isn’t perfect, and if this was a $300 electric guitar was a rough patch on the neck or a certain lackluster tonal quality, I may have been harsher. It’s a really great little bass that would be super convenient to have laying around the house or take on the road, but $350 is starting to move towards gigging instrument level. I do love the Oliver Jr Bass Live overall and will definitely be enjoying my time demoing it and playing it, but this is one of those instruments that I’m not begging the company to give me or sell me. If you’ve got the money to burn, you won’t be disappointed at all, I’m just not sure many budget minded players will be jumping on this bandwagon.

A perfect couch guitar!

Good for: Beginners, Musicians Who Need A Compact Practice Bass, Acoustic Fans

Demos and UG reviews on the way, hopefully even faster than ever because of this lovely lockdown!

Fender Player Series Lead III Electric Guitar Review

This guitar won me over the minute I saw it, and it still exceeded expectations.

Credit: Fender

Cost: $599.99, find your own Lead III on Reverb.com!

Check out my official UG shot review of the Fender Player Series Lead III! https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/shot/UltimateGuitar/400730062

Overview & Final Score: 8.5

One of Fender’s best reveals at Winter NAMM 2020 had to be the metallic purple Player Series Lead III. A remake of the original Lead Series that was produced from 1979 until 1982, Fender unveiled only the II and III versions, the dual single coil and dual humbucker designs. This stunning HH model features a smaller, double cut take on the Strat shape. A more modern C-shaped profile is a paired to a 9.5″ fingerboard radius to give the neck a real 21st century feel despite the vintage origins. A hard tail bridge replaces the classic Strat-style tremolo, and 22 medium-jumbo frets grace the neck.

Two overwound alnico humbuckers can each be split by the second of two 3-way switches. The first is a traditional 3-way selector that lets you go between the neck, bridge, and both configurations. The 1st and 3rd positions of the coil split switch give you either the neck or bridge split, with the middle selection turning the split off. A black pickguard contrasts the low-key sparkling purple gloss polyester finish incredibly well. An Alder body sits beneath the Maple neck and Pau Ferro fretboard giving you a lightweight, and familiar feeling six string.

A simple but effective headstock

Sound: 8.5

I think the best part of the Lead III has to be the tonal versatility. The dual humbuckers are overwound and incredibly crunchy. Plugged right into my Vox AC15 it took a matter of seconds to find huge, overdriven tones without any pedals involved. The bridge is hot, but never felt too hot or icepick-like despite boasting some big treble. The neck had an almost Les Paul neck pickup feel to it, just with less sustain, but all the volume and richness. The Lead III is definitely better suited for players in the rock spectrum, with punk/garage/low-fi sounds just pouring out of this purple beast. In a lot of ways, this is a very non-Fender guitar, as it works better as a fuzzed out electric guitar than a chiming, crystal clear Strat/Tele.

The coil splits add an interesting dimension. They lead to a drop off in volume fairly noticeably, which made me knock a few points off. On the other hand, it completely changes the dual humbucking guitar into a far more Fender-like guitar. While it doesn’t have the clear bell tones like I mentioned above, it really captures that great percussive, snappy single coil tone. Despite having less definition, it was really easy to go from buzz saw riffs to atmospheric rhythm tones in seconds. The versatility is really impressive, and just fun to play with. It’s certainly not going to give you the crystal clear tones you may expect from a Fender, but it will be a lot more fun than your average Tele.

Playability: 7.5

The back of the neck on the Lead III is very comfortable, no doubt about that. Where it lost me was the fret edges were a lot rougher than I expected. It felt a lot more like a Squier Affinity Series fret job than a Player Series fret job, which was pretty disappointing. On the other hand, pretty much every other feature was excellent to Fender’s credit. The tuning stability was awesome, and the hardtail bridge looks and works great. The tuning machines on these Mexican Fenders have always impressed me, with my longtime go-to HSS Strat barely ever needing a retune. The modern neck is sleek, thin, and fast giving the Lead III a very inviting presence on my guitar rack. While the fretwork may need a touch up either by you or a professional, everything else should be set to impress you.

Finish & Construction: 9

When it comes to looks, the Lead III is not lacking in any departments. The metallic purple finish is just stunning and definitely has gotten the attention of everyone who has walked past it. The smaller body shape is both familiar and just quirky enough to make you want one. Aside from the fret edges, which was annoying, it seems everything else was really well put together and constructed. I loved the look of the hardtail bridge, and the decision to place the two toggle switches where they are was genius, as it makes them super easy to access while playing. I would say the Lead III is certainly gig ready right now as is, though I will definitely be doing some fretwork before taking it out of the house.

Value: 9

For about $600, the Fender Lead III is a nice balance between affordable enough to buy on a whim but expensive enough to retain reliable quality. That’s a tough line to walk, with a lot of these vintage reissues either priced too high to be enjoyed by the mass public or too poorly made to really be fun. The Lead III is incredibly versatile, lightweight, comfortable, and a little weird, which are some of the best features you can find in a production run guitar. I also have to give Fender credit for making this part of their Player (MIM) Series, as those Mexican guitars have a long history of high quality, low prices, and loyal fans. As one of those fans myself, I’m super impressed with the Lead III and cannot wait to make it a permanent part of my rig in the future.

Good for: Indie Rock, Garage Rock, Players Looking For A Versatile Guitar, Vintage Guitar Lovers

When Are We Going To See Those New Squier Paranormal Guitars Announced?

Credit: Gearnews.com & Offsetguitar

While this isn’t breaking news to some, as it was first pointed out around NAMM, Fender seems to be cooking up some interesting Squier models. Dubbed the Squier Paranormal series after a Guitar Center leak, it seems some of Fender’s Alternate Reality/Parallel Universe guitar madness will come down to a more affordable price point.

First off, as a broke guitar player this is incredibly exciting. Even if the pickups or set up are no good, these are going to be crazy partscaster bases. And if they do come out great, like the Starcaster did, then we all get access to electric’s that were out of our price range. Let’s dig into a few of my favorites highlighted below as we await Fender’s announcement about these whack jobs.

Credit: Gearnews.com

Yeah, how can you not like that? Telecaster fans rejoice as it looks like Fender’s coming out with a thinline Cabronita with Jazzmaster pickups and a baritone Cabronita with P90s. They’re both just so weird, it’s like Fender just started picking features out of a hat and mixing them onto a Tele body. I’m here for it, especially that thinline (@ Fender).

Credit: Gearnews.com

WOAH. I have wanted a Meteora since they came out but couldn’t drop $1000 on one (or convince Fender to send me one). Listed on Guitar Center as an Offset Tele, this is basically a rounder, less offset Meteora, but it still has that crazy vibe that really catches my eyes. Classic Tele wiring and tones should make this familiar, versatile, and inspiring electric.

Credit: Gearnews.com

Another new addition, this one is a re-release of a classic forgotten Fender model. The new Squier Cyclone takes a thicker Mustang-style body and adorns it with 3 Strat-style pickups. Originally, these 1997 made electrics had Jaguar pickups, so some historical buffs may want to swap these out for aftermarket Fender models. Still, it seems to have retained some of that Mustang switching capacity.

Hopefully the wait isn’t much longer until these hit the shelves, they’ve certainly got my attention. Plus, with Epiphone’s new re-launch, the competition on the affordable guitar market will be stiff in 2020.

D’Angelico Premier Mini DC Electric Guitar Review

A smaller, more comfortable semi-hollow new for 2020 from the esteemed NY guitar makers!

Credit: D’Angelico Guitars

Cost: $799.99 find dealers from D’Angelico’s website or on Reverb.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.4

One of D’Angelico’s many new 2020 guitars, the Premier Mini DC takes their popular Premier DC and brings it down to a more compact size. Much like how a Gibson ES-339 is a shrunken ES-335, smaller profile players can now enjoy a fine D’Angelico semi-hollow. The 14″ wide body also has a smaller headstock before returning to more traditional D’Angelico specs. Multi-ply binding surrounds a laminated Maple body with a Spruce top. Tune-o-matic and stop bar tailpiece provide a reliable and familiar bridge system paired to Rotomatic Stairstep tuners. The 25″ scale length makes the Premier Mini DC an excellent in-between option for Gibson or Fender players.

On the electronic side, two Seymour-Duncan designed humbuckers, a HB-101 and HB-102 power this semi-hollow beauty. Two tone and two volume 500k pots provide tone control over the three way switch configurations that are pretty standard on most HH semi-hollow guitars. An Ovangkol fingerboard holds medium sized frets with convenient fretboard and side markers. On the side of the neck you get dot fret markers while acrylic block inlays look great right on the darkwood fretboard.

Sound: 8

Despite the smaller size, the new Premier Mini DC still packed a big punch. The Duncan-Designed humbuckers sound pretty close to the real thing, even if they didn’t quiet push the tubes in my Vox as hard as I would have liked. Once I layered drive and distortion on top, these humbuckers really howled though! On the other hand, they were incredibly clear and articulate in all configurations. Fingerpicked arpeggios and chords had a surprising amount of a chime, making the Premier Mini DC far more versatile than I expected.

I’d say everything from pop to jazz to blues would pour out of this guitar in the right player’s hands. The electronics were solid, providing sensitive control of the guitar’s volume and tone, no cheap pots with poor sweep here. The more compact body size still had a ton of that classic semi-hollow resonance. Chords ring out naturally, with strong sustain, and an impressively small amount of buzz from feedback.

D’Angelico’s new Premier DC Mini seems to have all the sounds and tones I would expect from their classic Premier DC, just making it more comfortable to play, store, and transport. It’s very versatile, has some big tones, and brings classic D’Angelico features down to a small price and package. The only downside? I still wasn’t super impressed with the guitar’s ability to naturally overdrive and push a tube amp.

Playability: 8

It took a bit longer than I would have liked for the guitar to get in tune, but once it stabilized, it proved to be fairly reliable. The stop bar tailpiece and ornate tuners certainly did their job, with the guitar only slipping out after a few too many huge bends and over aggressive downstrokes while playing some punk tunes. While the tuning stability wasn’t perfect, it did not disappoint and seems ready to hit the stage. The neck and fretwork were impressive however, with smooth playability and no fret buzz. Even the higher frets felt comfortable and easy to access, more so than some other oversea’s made ES-style guitars have felt. Even the action was great out of the box!

Finish & Construction: 9

The finish and looks of this Fiesta Red beauty was definitely my favorite feature of the Premier Mini DC. The sounds and feel were well above average, no disrespect to them, but D’Angelico’s unique headstock, pickguard and tuning machines make it such an appealing guitar. The build quality was excellent too, with only a few small cosmetic issues. Some poorly cut binding around the f holes and a loose washer on the pickup selector were the only issues. Everything else was tightly secured, properly installed and adjusted, and seems built to last on stage or in the studio.

Value: 8.5

I think for the money you spend, you do get far more than your average Epiphone HH semi-hollow. Especially when you consider the comfortable size, unique looks, and build quality. $800 certainly isn’t cheap, but as guitar prices creep higher and higher it is nice to see you will still get reliable tone quality and aesthetics for the price. The surprising versatility of this D’Angelico also makes it feel like a guitar you could purchase and rely on as your main weapon for a number of applications. Selfishly, I’m a big fan of compact semi-hollows and they certainly aren’t well represented on the affordable/overseas market. Considering the circumstances, I think you could do far worse for $800!

Good for: Blues, Jazz, Pop, Gigging Musicians, Semi-Hollow Fans

Credit: D’Angelico Guitars

PRS Silver Sky 2020 Review

Ignore the haters, believe the hype, the Silver Sky is my new favorite guitar.

Credit: PRS Guitars

I have wanted to try this guitar since it was announced so I cannot thank Jeanne from PRS enough for loaning me this for review!

Cost: $2299.00, learn more at PRS.com and find your own on Reverb.com!

Overview & Final Score: 9.8

Yeah, so before anyone accuses this of being a paid ad I received zero dollars and zero guitars from PRS for doing this, I just freakin love this guitar.

John Mayer’s signature PRS Silver Sky was a divisive guitar when it first hit the open market, as many claimed it was just a high end Fender Strat with a PRS headstock. Since then, pretty much everyone who has picked one up has fallen in love with the guitar and PRS even released new finishes and neck options at Winter NAMM 2020 to great fanfare.

The 2020 Silver Sky I was sent contains the new Maple fretboard atop a Maple neck, joined to an Alder body. 22 frets with bird inlays grace the 7.25″ radius fretboard on this 25.5″ scale length beauty. While I was told I was originally getting an Orion finish, it seems I have been playing a “Golden Mesa” model that has completely captured my heart. PRS’s tightly guarded 635JM pickups that are only found on the Silver Sky power this SSS configured electric. The key differences between these pickups and classic Strat pickups? They are noiseless (something I saw first hand) and have some of the brightness and treble suppressed as John Mayer himself shared that he wanted to “take out a lot of those frequencies that you sort of have to work to roll off”.

The rest of the wiring and controls are pretty much standard Strat layout, with the volume – tone – tone and 5-way selector switch we all know and love. A steel tremolo bridge that only works when pushed down, is paired with locking, vintage-style tuners and a bone nut for supreme tuning stability.

Sound: 10

The pickups are so subtly different from a vintage or high end American-made Strat, making it easy to morph the Silver Sky’s tones into both familiar and new directions. Chords, arpeggios, single notes, they all ring out very clear from the Silver Sky. It is just as articulate, if not more articulate, than the Fender Ultra Strat I reviewed last December. Up until this, that was the best guitar I’ve reviewed.

The neck setting is smooth as butter and obviously, I pulled a ton of John Mayer’s amazing lead tones out of it and the 4th position. However, the Silver Sky is not limited to just being John Mayer’s guitar, something that the popularity and sales record clearly displays.

Pretty much any premium Strat tone was achievable through my rig with this guitar. I went from John Frusciante to The Edge to Jimi Hendrix with ease. In many ways, the Silver Sky is just an upgraded, modern take on the Strat. This is not unlike the Ultra Series, but while the Ultra Series focused on showcasing S1 switching, neck heel contours, and fancy finishes, the Silver Sky feels like a more genuine next step for the Stratocaster.

Layers of drive and distortion produced rich, harmonic sounds that felt more vintage than modern. Of course, these single coil pickups are more percussive and chimey than thick and sustaining, like you would get with humbuckers on a heavier, slab guitar like a Les Paul. The Silver Sky is a superb sounding Strat guitar, through and through.

Playability: 10

When it comes to playability, the neck of the PRS 2020 Silver Sky did not disappoint one bit. The 22 frets are just as they should be in this price point: smooth, fret buzz free, and immaculately landscaped. The locking tuners, bone nut, and bridge had this guitar in tune from the minute I unzipped the gig bag. No exaggeration, when I crack it open after it arrived it was 99% perfectly tune, the G string just needed the slightest turn. Needless to say, it hasn’t gone out of tune yet. The neck also feels like it has ever so slightly rolled edges, making power chords feel a bit more comfortable. This also allows for players to reach their thumb around the low E string easier for that Jimi Hendrix (and John Mayer) style of playing.

Finish & Construction: 10

There wasn’t a screw out of place or a scratch on the guitar once I unboxed it. And thank god, because every time I open up one of these really expensive guitars I get nervous that today is going to be the day I get sent a dud. But PRS’s QA/QC seems to be reliable, it really is just a lightweight and well built guitar. The pickups are truly noiseless, the tuning stability is phenomenal, the finish is beautiful and feels strong without having that thick layering that can be heavy or poorly sprayed on. The “Golden Mesa” finish is gorgeous, though I definitely would have gone for a green or blue color had I purchased this guitar and had a choice. I see no reason to be concerned, the Silver Sky feels and sounds stage ready and built to last.

Value: 9

You didn’t think I’d give it a perfect 10 did you? No matter the quality, I’m always going to be hesitant about rating a $2000+ brand new guitar as a perfect value. Even the Fender Ultra Strat costs less than this, and is about 95% the guitar this is. That being said, this guitar does have the feel, sound, and soul that I would expect from a pre-CBS Fender. It’s an excellent value and no one should be disappointed when they receive and plug in their Silver Sky. I think the Silver Sky will be the best value as your main guitar, you should be purchasing this to be a heavily used and loved studio, live, or bedroom instrument as it is built to chase that one, perfect electric guitar design.

Good for: Blues, Classic Rock, Pop, Studio Musicians, Gigging Musicians, Stratocaster Fans

Per usual, expect a UG review of this about a week or so after this article and hit Instagram to hear a few sounds from the PRS Silver Sky!