Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster Review

Will Fender’s Acoustic modeler meets Stratocaster be the next in a long line of amazing reviews?

Cost: $1999.99 from Fender.com, Reverb.com, or Amazon.com!

Overview & Final Score: 9.4 out of 10

I have put off this review for a long time, mostly because I wanted to make sure I could truly convey why I love this guitar so much. Count me as one of the early skeptics of the Fender Acoustasonic series, who by now has been fully convinced of their musical potential and convenience. Unveiled just a year or so ago, the Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster brings the voicing and comfort of a steel-string acoustic into the electric guitar world. It’s a full scale length Stratocaster, with a Mahogany neck and Ebony fretboard. 22 frets, a Graph Tech TUSQ nut, and satin urethane finish provide a smooth, stable playing experience. The body is also Mahogany, with a Sitka Spruce top, and a number of killer finish options (like this limited edition American Flag one).

Understanding the diverse electronics can seem intimidating, but the Acoustasonic Stratocaster aims to deliver massive versatility thanks to three built-in pickups. There’s the surface mounted magnetic pickup, an N4 Strat pickup for the electric tones, an under-saddle piezo pickup, and an internal body sensor acoustic pickup. Between these 3 options, you can pull out almost any sound you could want for a live or studio setting. There is a traditional 5-way selector switch, a volume knob, and a “mod” knob. The “mod” control knob controls additional voicing of the 5 selections, blending between an A & B phase. The options include

Position 1: Electric tones, both clean and dirty Fender Strat sounds.

Position 2: Acoustic & Electric blend between a clean Fender Strat and Dreadnought acoustic.

Position 3: Percussive and enhanced harmonic acoustic tones, blend between an auditorium-style acoustic and a boosted percussive acoustic.

Position 4: Alternative acoustics that can blend from a small body, short scale guitar to a Mahogany American dreadnought.

Position 5: Core acoustic tones that blend from a dreadnought to a concert acoustic.

Sound: 9.5

It’s hard to find a fault in the sonic capabilities of this Stratocaster, it’s versatile but more importantly, it is fun. All of those options listed above from the pickup selector are high quality, responsive to touch, and very useable. It’s not like there’s only one or two modes on this guitar that are the “money” sound, and the rest are just kind of there. Fender packed the Acoustasonic Stratocaster with their take on popular and proven acoustic and electric sounds that make this is an optimal choice for the working guitarist. Let’s start with the electric tones, which are shockingly clear and genuine. In the 1st position, it’s a Strat bridge pickup through and through, percussive, rhythmic, a bit chimy, it’s all there. Roll on the dirt and you’ll have great time though don’t expect big distortion tones, just warm overdriven Strat tones that fill space. The blended acoustic/electric position 2 is one of my favorites, it’s almost like the blended piezo option on the PRS I played awhile back. You can roll all the way to an electric clean tone or all the way to the dreadnought tone plus everything in between.

The acoustic options exactly what you expect: classic acoustic-electric tones. I do think they miss a bit of the subtle, full bodied tones of a classic Gibson acoustic, so it isn’t a complete replacement for EVERY acoustic tone. Though it does almost everything else, and it does it quite well. It’s snappy, percussive, harmonic, all the words you love to use to describe acoustics. The 3 acoustic-only settings are perfect for replacing a collection you might take to a studio or to a gig.

Playability: 10

I’m a Strat player through and through. My first and favorite guitar is a MIM Strat, so this guitar instantly feels comfortable and familiar. Fender has really made the first acoustic guitar that is genuinely meant for electric players. As much as I love acoustic, I’m just not at home on one, they always feel a bit clumsy to me. The Acoustasonic though is a full on American Strat that just doesn’t sound like one. The fretwork was superb, the neck is ultra smooth and has a gorgeous wood grain. When I get home from work, this is the first guitar I pick up to play. It’s nearly flawless in terms of tuning stability, playability, and overall quality. Even if you hate the idea of this guitar, you will love the feel of it in your hands, no doubt in my mind. Part of what makes it such an inspiring guitar to play is this high quality feel up and down the neck. I think part of what justifies the price of this Acoustasonic is that it will play so well and it will be incredibly inviting to you. One of the best features any guitar can have is comfort and that is not lacking in this stunning Stratocaster.

Finish & Construction: 10

I’m sure people will be watching how these hold up for years to come but so far, I see zero signs of poor construction or quality control. The finish is gorgeous, with a satin feel up the neck and a slightly glossy yet rugged layer over the American flag finish on mine. For me, the MVP of this guitar might just be the wood grain of the Mahogany. It’s stunning, with big open pores, deep color changes, all while still being lightweight to hold and play. The fretwork, playability, and tonal quality all speak for themselves, it’s just a well built instrument. Now, I can see a world where the acoustic engine in this guitar becomes outdated as the technology advances, but I don’t think that is a fair criticism of this very cutting edge guitar. At the end of the day, it is arguably the most user-friendly solution to acoustic-electric performance.

Value: 8

I understand that some people may write this off as a high priced gimmick, but really, $2000 isn’t a lot for what you’re getting. It’s a premium instrument in both looks and feel that can serve a wide variety of purposes. I’ve already written more songs and riffs on this guitar in 6 months than I did in the prior 2 years combined. Every single original piece of music you hear in one of my demos or videos was written on this, and I’m not sure you can put a price on creativity and self expression. I think it should still rank high on the value chart for how functionally diverse the Acoustasonic Stratocaster is, giving you a wide range of uses on stage. You could easily make this your main gigging guitar, assuming you don’t play too much overdriven or distorted music. I’d be curious to see them make something that is just as functional, but less pretty/spec’d out to keep the price down in the future. However, Fender’s made the most musical instrument I have ever owned, and that is the basis of the high ratings here. If something inspires you to play or write better, it is going to get high marks regardless of price, brand, or design.

Good for: Gigging Musicians, Solo Performers, Electric Guitar Players, Country, Pop, Improvisation, Loopers, Recording Artists

Introducing Fiesta Hot Hush Puppies, Noiseless Strat Pickups

A new brand of pickups that strive to provide premium tone at a more mid-market price range.

Cost: $119.99 from Fiestapickups.com or from Reverb.com!

Starting with my recent roundup of the best pre-wired Stratocaster pickup options on the market, I’ve started really digging into different pickups, wiring configurations, and tone controls. With a huge Strat wiring harness project on the horizon, I wanted to highlight the sweet sounding pickups that will be featured in all the videos and articles. I’ll be using this Fiesta Pickups Hot Hush Puppies Strat set, in my trusted, beat up, sticker covered Squier Affinity Stratocaster. And trust me, these aren’t just any pickups, you’ll want to know them. That’s precisely why I’m reviewing them, and letting you know why they’ll be staying in this guitar for the foreseeable future.

Fiesta Pickups is a relatively new company that sets out to hit that middle-market area, where prices aren’t exorbitant but the quality is really on par with more boutique options. I have my set wired up by 920D Custom, great friends of the website, with some cool wiring schematics to explore soon!

Breaking Down The Tone

Now I’m going to release some follow up content displaying all the classic Strat tones you can pull out of this guitar, but before I do that I wanted to emphasize that these pickups perfectly nailed MY Strat tone. They can do an SRV thing with a Tube Screamer, you can plug in your Memory Man and be The Edge. You can also get your Mark Knopfler sounds with ease, they do all those amazing Stratocaster things you want to see in a demo. But what these really do well is create a clear, snappy blank canvas for you as the guitar player to create around. The original Fender Stratocaster was designed to be ultra-versatile, an every man’s guitar, and these Hot Hush Puppies stay true to that idea without requiring you pay an arm and a leg.

For a player who likes to go from punk to melodic atmospheric music in seconds, these pickups are an excellent choice for me. They are a tad bit hotter than your average Strat-style pickups, with some bite in the bridge and neck especially. With the dirt rolled on, you’ll have a great time playing almost any style or genre. And to be fair, these really are noiseless, so far I’ve had little to no 60 cycle hum or annoying buzz with a full pedalboard and plenty of electronics nearby. Simply put, these are rock solid Strat pickups that are a lot higher quality than the budget pickups I often rely on, while still being firmly in my budget. I pulled what I consider to be my “signature” tone out of these in seconds, and will be playing them for months to come as part of several projects!

The Verdict

These Fiesta Hot Hush Puppies are well worth a look, providing true noiseless tone and genuine Stratocaster fun for a mid-market price. These would be a solid upgrade on any Squier or Mexican Fender-like guitars, or would be perfectly suited to replace some weaker, vintage style pups on a high end six string.

Orange Terror Stamp Pedalboard Amplifer Review

How will this Micro Terror in a box fit on my pedalboard and will it simply my home recording setup?

Overview & Cost: $199.00 from Amazon.com or Reverb.com

The Orange Terror Stamp was unveiled at Winter NAMM 2020 and while it took awhile to get one, it has not disappointed at all. This is a hybrid tube-solid state amp head in a box, essentially their popular Micro Terror head but it fits on your pedalboard. It has two switchable channels that each have independent volume knobs, perfect for creating a rhythm/lead dichotomy for your rig. You can adjust the mid scoop via the shape knob, with a full scoop in the clockwise direction and mid saturation on the other end. The gain knob controls the amount of distortion and drive as well. What’s really exciting is all the abilities of the Terror Stamp, despite its limited tone tweaking. You can run it direct into an audio interface or PA system but also have an output for a regular guitar speaker cab. This means you can plug into a backline cab and essentially replace an amp in your to-go rig. There’s also headphone capabilities thanks to the built-in cab sim, so you can practice quality all night long without annoying any neighbors or roommates. Add in a buffered FX loop, and a 12AX7 pre-amp tube and you have quite the amp for about $200 all while getting that classic Orange Amps gain tone.

Review & Opinion

This Orange Terror Stamp should sound wholly familiar to everyone who has ever heard a Micro Terror or Micro Terror Dark amp head before. The cleans are unimpressive but fine, the crunch is really where the fun is and you can produce some super useable tones. In defense of the clean tone though, I found it took effects, especially drive pedals, pretty well which helps thicken it up a bit and make it more useable in my opinion. With the limited set of controls, your tone is going to have to shaped by pedals if you’re planning on using this live or for home recording and want more than just rich, crunch. What it does do, it does really well, and I love plugging in and practicing like I would to my Orange Crush 20 or Micro Terror. What really wins me over is just how much function they build into this little guy, the FX loop, the cab sim, it all comes together really nicely to provide good bang for the buck. You’re not getting a Strymon Iridium alternative, but this isn’t mean to be that and you shouldn’t purchase it with that in mind. Instead, Orange has crafted a perfectly user friendly overdriven amp in a box, that will help make your rig and playing more flexible. For fans of punk music like myself, the mid scoop will get you into a nice early Green Day-era sound. When you twist it back to mid saturation, it’s rich and shapeable to cover more rock-adjacent ground, though this certainly isn’t for jazz or country players to say the least. I mean, there’s basically a built-in boost when you set the channels to two different volumes too, so that’s one less pedal to need.

Final Conclusions & Rating: 8 out of 10

What you see is what you get, this is an incredibly accessible pedalboard amp for someone who isn’t asking a lot from it. If you’re looking to take your fusion-jazz-metal rig down into a pedal, this isn’t for you. If you’re looking to practice and record quietly at home with reliable, quality sound this is for you. If you have a micro terror stack and don’t want to haul it around, this is for you. The reason the score is so high on such a straightforward product is because it has that fun factor. Once this was on my board, it was never coming off, and I pulled it out all the time to play. Orange’s Terror Stamp is also a phenomenal intro into pedalboard amps and traditional amp alternatives. I for one found it to be a bit intimidating to dive into the world of modelers and cab sims and what not, this was a great starting point for me. Any way you slice it, you will never be disappointed by this thing, especially for the price and convenience. I’m really digging the Terror Stamp and I’m going to see how much more I can get out of it in 2021.

Nux FX Verdugo Series Duotime Delay and Fireman Distortion Review

How will these versatile & somewhat whacky dual pedals stack up to the beloved pedals already on my board.

Overview & Cost: $119.99 for the Fireman and $149.99 for the Duotime

New from Nux at the tail end of 2020, their Verdugo Series pedals offer modern flexibility and versatility at a much lower price point than most dual pedals. I got my hands on the Fireman Dual Distortion and Duotime Delay Engine, and have not been disappointed. The Fireman is a dual “Brown Sound” distortion that is meant to sound like a saturated, cranked Marshall in the vein of EVH. It’s best features, aside from the tones, might be the switchable true bypass/buffer circuitry and the ability to switch between 9v/18v for more sensitive tonal controls at the higher power. The controls for each individual channel are your standard volume and gain pots, with the second channel having a bit of a volume boost built in. Then, where it gets really interesting is the global shaping features below. You can control the treble and bass (straightforward) but the presence and tight knobs make things interesting. These two knobs control a much smaller span of frequencies, the very top high (presence) and very low (tight) frequencies. Meaning you have more specific control over the tip of the normal bass/treble controls. These are great for dialing in subtle tones or really focusing your sound at higher gain settings.

Switching over the Duotime dual delay engine, there’s even more versatility to be found. You can switch between 5 classic delay types: verb, mod, digi, tape, and analog. Verb is a delay drenched in shimmer and plate reverb, that gives a 3-dimensional feel. Mod is a classic modulated delay, like the Ibanez DML algorithm. Digi is a modern digital delay sound with clarity and precision. Tape provides that classic analog tape delay that distorts and saturates with each feedback. Last but not least, analog is a classic bucket bridge-style delay with infinite feedback and warm response. All of these variations on delay can be further tweaked by the parameter knob, which will adjust the modulation of the mod and analog delays, the compression on the digital delay, the saturation of the tape delay, and the shimmery reverb of the verb delay. On top of all that, you get two sets of delay time and repeat controls. There’s even a built-in looper function in this never ending dual delay and you can control the tap tempo, in either bpm or milliseconds, using the second footswitch.

Review & Opinion

Diving into the Fireman first because it was an easier manual and control set to master. I really do like how pedalboard friendly this dual distortion is, it’s flexible, tweakable, and is capable of either covering two distinct dirt sounds or a rhythm and lead sounds in one reliable housing. It does take up the space of two pedals on your board, but it very nicely replaces two of them as well. The controls are incredibly useable too, which is nice because I usually can’t find any useful tones with the bass turned down past 11:00 in most dirt boxes. However, the ability to sculpt the very low end leads to some really cool sounds with the bass rolled off but the tight knob rolled up. For high gain players, this is incredibly useful for dialing in precise, distorted tones that don’t lose too much clarity as you shred or chug chords. The tone of the Fireman really colors your amp and guitar signal, turning even the quietest Jazzmaster into a beast, which some may like but I do prefer a distortion to more accentuate a guitar’s character than paint over it. Overall though, the cranked Marshall “Brown Sound” is fun, useable, and shapeable, perfect for a gigging musician or cash-strapped EVH enthusiast.

The Duotime dual delay engine is nothing short of inspiring in terms of tonal flexibility. I love having so many flavors of delay in one pedal without it sounding like a wash of lo-fi modeling amp delay settings. These really do sound good, each in their own independent way, and while you’re limiting in the tweaking and tone shaping by a single parameter knob, this is great for people who need a little bit of everything. The built-in looper on the Duotime is perfectly serviceable, but not super long, so don’t anticipate endless loops on this aquamarine box. Having a tap tempo function is awesome, but what really separates this pedal is whacky and weird sounds you can pull from two delays in tandem. You can delay your delay at all different speeds, creating some cool atmospherics. It can still function perfectly like a normal, single delay, but you can push it into something new and rhythmic with ease. Overall, it’s a fun pedal to play around with and I can see it being part of the songwriting process, even though it well suited for gigging too.

Final Conclusion & Ratings: Fireman & Duotime Dual Pedals Both Earn 7.5 out of 10

Originating from the same series, these pedals are designed to be very similar in terms of what they bring to the table. They are ultra versatile, well made, and capture iconic guitar tones at a nice price point. These aren’t just cheap, mini pedals like some previous Nux products, they are bonafide gig and studio ready. Likewise, they both earn the same score here because their best qualities and worst qualities are similar. The Fireman is a wonderful “Brown Sound” in a box, but it lacks some of the warmth and clarity of a real deal saturated Marshall. What it does offer is superb versatility and tone shaping, plus user friendly tech specs like a true bypass/buffer switch. The Duotime delay engine can also do so much for your tone, with a half dozen or so classic delay modes and parameters plus a built in looper. But like the Fireman it does a lot of things good but nothing great. Good enough to earn a high score and a place on lots of pedalboards thanks to functionality and value. Both are a lot of fun and deserve your time, in fact I think both would be wonderful for gigging guitarists when shows resume, as their tough as nails enclosures seem built to take a beating.

Danelectro 3699 fUZZ Pedal Review

Will this re-issue of the original Danelectro Octave Fuzz beat out the recent Thirty7fx Fat Guy Little Coat and my beloved EHX Muff for space on my board?

Overview & Cost: $199.00 from Reverb.com & Amazon.com

With a revamped pedal lineup in 2020, Danelectro is back in the effects game. They made a strong impression with these premium releases, which are all different remakes of classic Danelectro ciruits, though the best may be this 3699 fUZZ which boasts an octave effect as well. Based on the ’70s FOXX Tone Machine, the 3699 fUZZ has volume, tone, and fuzz controls in addition to a mid-boost toggle switch and octave footswitch. When engaged, the mid boost helps create a punchier, fuller sound that cuts through the mix of a band or recording track nicely. The octave effect is an octave up only, so Jack White/down tuning fans might want to look elsewhere right off the bat. With the $199 price tag, it is certainly pricier than a lot of the fuzz pedal competition, though it is the most affordable way to get your hands on the recreated FOXX Tone Machine circuit that is upwards of $600 now.

The pedal isn’t short on looks however, with a stunning yellow on red casing and almost cartoonish text on the logo. It’s a pretty pedal and it looks absolutely great on any pedal board. A few things to notice, it is a lot thicker than most standard sized pedals, in terms of the height of the pedal off the ground. Though it is standard in terms of width and length thankfully. Likewise, the two footswitches are bit close together, though not too close to be useable for most.

Review & Opinion

Right off the bat, the 3699 hits you with volume and a surprising amount of static clarity. It’s both crispy and fizzy yet articulate, meaning you don’t lose a lot of notes in your playing until you really crank the levels of volume and fuzz. Likewise, the mid-boost switch really helps push your guitar tone into a nice lead tone, that won’t let you be lost in the mix. It’s a vintage fuzz through and through, with warm and rich sounds that do get crazy but not nearly as crazy as some of these wild new modern fuzzes out there. So if you’re looking for something in the Fuzz Factory direction, this is not for you. When you hit on the high octave, it actually thickens up the sound quite a bit more than I anticipated, which I love. It’s not as crystal clear, as in you don’t hear two clear signals. It’s a lot more of a blend and I don’t think it’ll satisfy most octave fan’s needs. But if you’re like me and just want something to nudge your tone a bit closer to onstage madness, it’s perfect. That’s really the whole appeal of this wonderful 3699 fUZZ, it’s a versatile, but time octave fuzz. For players more grounded in classic rock, punk, or older styles of music, this is a superb fuzz option for your pedalboard.

Final Conclusion & Rating: 9.0 out of 10

There’s a lot to like here, even with the high price tag in my opinion. Danelectro did a lot little things right here that make this a really fun pedal. It’s warm sounding, vintage inspired, and gorgeous to see when you look down at your pedalboard. Overall, it just sounds flat out good, and has some fun tones you can coax out of it with the mid-boost and octave. It’s one of those pedals that is almost under the radar when it comes to versatility. So as long as you’re shopping for a vintage-style fuzz instead of a more modern circuitry, this is a top contender any way you slice it.

My pedal in action below, it sits between my distortion (RAT) and Phaser (Phase 90), and it sounds great though my Fano Omnis JM6!

Best Of Virtual NAMM 2021

Despite an entirely digital footprint, new gear releases are rolling out and many builders don’t seem to have missed a beat.

Credit: Fender & Sterling by Music man

While it may not be quite as exciting as the biannual mecca to convention centers in Anaheim and Nashville, the NAMM show is still buzzing as builders roll out new gear in early 2021. Some are partaking in NAMM’s “Believe In Music” week which starts this week, while others are rolling out their own live launch parties. Major companies like Fender, Gibson, PRS, and Ibanez have already unveiled a slate of new features and more announcements from big and small gear builders are just around the corner. We’ll be updating this article as new rolls out, but let’s start highlight the new gear releases you need to know.

Squier’s Updated Contemporary Series Find Your Own Here

Let’s start with this eye popping new Contemporary Stratocaster Special which boats some premium features for under $500. A flame Maple neck, a contoured heal, and unique pickup configurations and wiring make this far different from the Strat we all know and love. The middle and bridge single coil are incredibly close together, giving you some additional chime and high end in your tone. A 5-position blade switch gives you the following crazy pickup options:

Position 1: Bridge + Middle in Series/Hum Cancelling (think Humbucker)

Position 2: Middle Pickup only

Position 3: Middle + Neck in Parallel

Position 4: Bridge + Middle + Neck

Position 5: Neck Pickup only

Oh and the new finish options don’t look so bad either huh? You can choose from Sky Burst Metallic and Black.

PRS SE Custom 24-08Find Your Own Here

I was fortunate enough to be part of the release and announcement of this guitar, with a full review & demo already up HERE. But it is still without a doubt, one of the coolest guitars that has been announced so far and I wanted to highlight it again here. The real big feature of this PRS is the 8 different pickup configurations you can create using the individual coil split toggle switches for each humbucker. But in addition to that versatility, it is a stunning, well made guitar that is under $1000 and is ready to be someone’s main instrument for decades.

Sterling By Music Man Artist Series MariposaFind Your Own Here

Sterling is the officially licensed overseas builder of affordable Ernie Ball Music Man guitars, though it is not actually owned by Ernie Ball itself. As such, they are beloved by guitarists for distilling down the best of EBMM to much more budget friendly prices while still delivering massive quality in each instrument. Their newest addition to the artist series is the recent and highly popular Mariposa, the signature guitar for none other than Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Sporting a roasted Maple neck, locking tuners, and Ernie Ball Music Man’s trademark original body design, there is so much to love here. It’s engineered to be an ultra high performance guitar from top to bottom and makes the Mariposa far more accessible for many broke musicians like myself.

New For 2021: PRS SE Custom 24-08 Review

With up to 8 pickup combinations and stunning finishes, PRS adds a truly versatile guitar to their affordable SE line.

Credit: PRS

Cost: $899.00 from PRSguitars.com and Reverb.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.6 out of 10

That’s right, this review is going live the same day this guitar was unveiled to the world thanks to the wonderful people at PRS guitars. They absolutely started 2021 off with a bang, packing 8 distinct pickup configurations into this dual humbucking SE Custom 24. You get a Maple body with a Flame Maple veneer in this gorgeous Eriza Verde (a new finish for 2021) alongside their beloved Vintage Sunburst finish as well. It’s a 25″ scale length guitar, in typical PRS tradition, with 24 frets on the Maple “wide-thin” neck with a Rosewood fingerboard. The body carve is their gorgeous and comfortable shallow violin carve design, that lets some gorgeous Maple peak through the cut outs. A PRS-designed tremolo system is paired with their TCI “S” pickups to power this new SE Custom 24-09. So where does the -08 come from in the name? Thanks to individual coil splits switches for each pickup, you have 8 pickup configurations when using the 3-way selector switch. It’s an impressive amount of features packed into a stunning guitar.

Sound: 8.5

Obviously, you’re going to love the versatility of this PRS SE Custom 24-08. I mean, it has 8 pickup combinations, with coil split and full humbucker tones. But don’t let the sheer volume of tones distract you from how good the pickups actually sound on their own. This isn’t a guitar that does a little bit of everything well but nothing great. It does great things, especially when hit with a little bit of drive and put through my Vox tube amp. The neck pickup never gets muddy, giving you some awesome lead tones to mess around with. My personal favorite, the bridge pickup, is all sorts of warm and rich while staying pretty clear through chords and aggressive picking. No, you’re not getting perfect pickups, they certainly aren’t the loudest or most touch sensitive, but they’re really good for the price of the guitar and the tonal flexability. The coil split is also a big winner here because it isn’t just some lazy volume cut that thins out your tone. It actually adds some spank and sparkle, which contrasts the bigger sounds of the humbuckers nicely.

Playability: 8

PRS’s “wide-thin” neck did not disappoint at all, providing a fluid and fast experience up and down all 24 frets. I’m not much of a shredder, so I’m not best equipped to take advantage of the extra few frets. However, it was way more comfortable and easy to reach those frets than it is to reach the 22nd fret on some guitars, so props to them again. The SE Custom 24-08 was really ready to go out of the box, with good action, a properly cut nut, and solid tuning performance. It needs a tweak every now and then if you really work that tremolo but otherwise it’s pretty impressive. Most importantly, it’s not a glaring issue that would keep this guitar off the stage. PRS seems to have a stock, higher end overseas tuner that they use here and on other nice SE’s I’ve played. They work well, don’t slip often, and shouldn’t need to be replaced unless you require true 24/7 locking tuner stability. Overall, it’s a joy to play this guitar from the minute you pick it up!

Finish & Construction: 9

Hard to not give them a perfect score here, but the Flamed Maple veneer is just a bit too thin for me to dub this a 10/10. However, this new Eriza Verde finish option is stunning and matches up wonderful with the flaming of the Maple and the natural beauty of the back body wood. The way the natural finish pokes out of the carve at the cutaways really gets me. Attention to detail is evident up and down this guitar, with the hardware well installed, killer fretwork, and a straight neck that is well set up. When you look over the guitar with a fine tooth comb, you’re not really going to find anything else to complain about either. Finish work was practically flawless, and I am not excited to take this down from hanging on my wall. It’s like a work of art, except it’s also a cutting edge instrument that is highly user friendly.

Value: 9

Not hard to figure out, this guitar is a great value through and through. At this price point, this is basically the PRS for someone who wants all these features but knows that they can’t afford what would likely be double or triple the cost of this for a USA-made variant. It’s a great way to get an ultra playable, versatile, and sweet looking instrument without selling an arm and a leg. Furthermore, PRS did such a good job with this SE Custom 24-08 I do think it would prevent me from ever buying a more expensive model in the future. This could literally do everything I want from a PRS guitar and I wish I could have this long term for some serious gigs and recording sessions. With guitar prices generally rising across the market, I think you get a lot of guitar for the price with this newest addition to the SE line.

Good for: Classic Rock, Pop, Jazz, Studio Musicians, Gigging Musicians, Versatile/Genre-bending Players, PRS Fans On A Budget, R&B

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Black Beauty Les Paul Review

Will Epiphone’s latest collaboration with the popular blues man impress or leave me turning back to the sea of LPs out there?

Cost: $799.00 from Reverb.com

Overview & Final Score: 8 out of 10

Another year, another Joe Bonamassa and Epiphone collaboration! While this partnership may not be on the cutting edge of things, they did churn out a wonderfully high quality here. Their take on the Black Beauty Les Paul features 3 ProBucker humbuckers, standard LP volume and tone pots, and a 3-way selector switch. What separates it from a normal wiring harness is that the middle position is the neck and middle humbucker, out of phase with each other. Turning to the hardware side of things, a Locktone bridge and tailpiece pair nicely with Epiphone’s Historic tuners and a dual action truss rod. Sporting a Mahogany body and neck, the fretboard is Ebony, with 22 medium jumbo frets, ivory binding, and a Graphtech NuBone nut. Overall, it’s a pretty impressive spec sheet and stunning looks with the gold binding and hardware accenting the dark black body, neck, and headstock. I’m a big fan of the pearloid block inlays.

Sound: 9

The unquestioned highlight of this guitar is the sound. Epiphone knocked it out of the park with these ProBucker pickups, which are sweet and rich sounding. I really like the middle position, which is the Black Beauty mod, providing a bit more aggressive, almost cranked single coil-like sound. Despite being not as thick of a sound as the humbucker neck tones, it still really cuts through the mix well when soloing over some chords or a riffs. When it comes to the more traditional neck and bridge settings, you get exactly what you want. It sounds so close to real deal Gibson Les Paul and is just incredibly satisfying to play when plugged into a cranked amp. Truth be told, this was a lot like the Epiphone Les Paul Modern I played in that it sounds a lot better than some Gibson’s I’ve tried. It’s full of sustain and natural projection and the pickups are noise free. I think the demo really speaks for itself, the guitar just sounds amazing under all sorts of gain and effects or just clean into a sparkling Vox amp.

Playability: 8

The action was phenomenal out of the box, which really impressed me considering Epiphone has recently had spotty set ups. On the same topic, there were no high frets, no fret buzz, and the neck was smooth up and down the fretboard. As always, the tuning stability wasn’t perfect, it really never is on any Les Pauls, but it was certainly stage ready. I’m sure someone would argue for locking tuners to be added, but the nut was well cut and the neck was straight which means the tuning problems aren’t from lack of build quality. Epiphone’s Joe Bonamassa Black Beauty is comfortable to play though, and doesn’t even feel all too heavy when strapped and played standing up. It’s definitely a beast of a guitar, but it’s an easy beast to tame.

Finish & Construction: 8

Similar to the playability, there’s a lot to like here. It’s not only gorgeous, with the gold and black aesthetic making look like something out of the Gibson Custom Shop. You really don’t sacrifice any of the fit, feel, or finish with this Epiphone and it’s more than quenching my vintage Gibson thirst. Make no mistake, this is a premium guitar for a sub-$1000 price. Epiphone’s haven’t always been this high quality, and this one feels likely to take a beating in the studio or on stage. I’m afraid a lot of the audience who would want this guitar will keep it more for wall art/collection purposes, but the Black Beauty is a player’s guitar at a very appealing price point. Digging in deeper, the finish was spotless and so was the binding, with real attention to detail and no signs of poorly routed wood or cut binding.

Value: 7

Part of me is a big fan of the price point and quality, because this is something that’s really been missing from the Gibson family of brands. It hits that MIM Fender-area where you can get everything you could ever want from a domestic, high end guitar but under $1000. On the other hand, as great as this guitar is, it isn’t necessarily all that exciting and it’s not nearly as 21st century player-friendly as the Les Paul Modern was.

I miss this Les Paul Modern every day!

It’s a step back in time, which is great. Obviously that’s Joe Bonamassa’s schtick, so it just loses a point or two in my opinion because Epiphone/Gibson weren’t already lacking guitars that were a step back in time. But you are getting a phenomenal guitar at the end of the day with this Black Beauty, which could go toe to toe with any Gibson LP Studio for way less money. Plus, you do get an absolutely killer hard case! There’s a lot to like and I certainly would love to add this to my quiver,

Good for: Blues, Classic Rock, Collectors, Cash Strapped-Gibson Fans, High Gain/Metal Players

Dunable DE Series Cyclops Review

The first review of 2021 is an absolute killer guitar that is far more versatile than you may expect.

Cost: $1099.00 from Dunable-de.com or find your own on Reverb.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.8 out of 10

New for spring of 2021, Dunable has unveiled their new affordable line of overseas instruments, the Dunable DE series. These guitars set out to take Dunable’s classic boutique and modern designs and bring them to a more accessible price point. The DE Cyclops, pictured above, is a pretty sweet design, with an almost offset meets LP meets SG-type aesthetic that is genuinely unique. The Cyclops features a Mahogany body and neck, with an Ebony fretboard that is wrapped in classy white binding. Jumbo nickel silver frets, a Graphtech Tusq nut, a 25.5″ scale length and open back tuners provide a great playability and feel. Available in two gloss finishes, Gloss Black and Tobacco Burst, the guitar turned up looking and feeling a lot more like a premium USA-made Dunable. Two Dunable Cthulhu pickups power the Cyclops, with a push-pull coil split on the tone control, and a master volume and 3-way selector rounding out the controls. When it comes to hardware, the trapeze bridge and tune-o-matic provide look and work great in tandem.

Sound: 8

I was super impressed with the clarity and punch of these Cthulhu pickups, especially once I layered on some gain pedals and cranked my amp. Truth be told, their clean sounds were very clear but surprisingly low output. But with gain, they really come alive, while retaining a ton of clarity which makes them pretty versatile in my opinion. The pickups, especially the bridge on the DE Cyclops, have a tight focused sound that I think a lot of modern, high gain players will appreciate. On the other hand, it felt absolutely at home in the mix with Strats and Les Pauls when playing punk, classic rock, or even some atmospheric stuff that I like. It isn’t the warmest sounding, meaning that I’m sure a blues lawyer would pick it up and be disappointed, but the right kind of pedals can definitely shape this guitar to be whatever you want. Sometimes creating an instrument that is a bit of blank palette is a great thing. While this guitar is not lacking on personality as is, it is a real testament to the build quality when anyone can pickup a guitar and make it work for them! Otherwise, there’s no extraneous buzz or hum from the pickups and wiring, though it didn’t seem like the Cyclops I was sent had a coil split as the website indicates. It’s also entirely possible I was sent a prototype but pretty much everything else sonically is great on this Dunable DE Cyclops.

Playability: 9

This Cyclops really shines when it comes to the fit and feel of the guitar. The fretwork is great, with a real premium feel that is matched by the killer looks. Playing was comfortable up and down the neck and this Dunable was a bit more lead-player friendly than I anticipated. While it certainly could serve you well for soloing and shredding, the playability is definitely set up with riffs and chugging in mind. It’s a fine lead guitar but an AMAZING rhythm guitar that had me writing some awesome riffs and chord sequences in our time together. The tuning stability was not disappointing either, with the bridge, Tusq nut, and tuners all seeming to work in concert. While the spec sheet isn’t particularly loaded with locking tuners or hardcore hardware, the attention payed to set up and intonation clearly goes a long way in creating a user friendly instrument. You should be more than impressed when you pick up a Dunable DE for the first time.

Finish & Construction: 9

The trapeze bridge is a nice touch on this guitar, giving it a classic, almost vintage, feel to an otherwise modern guitar. Plus, anytime I get to try a guitar that isn’t just another Strat, LP, Flying V derivative is a plus. Dunable is doing some great original stuff, like this Cyclops, and the build quality is really on point with what you’d expect from a $1000+ guitar. While this is the “affordable” line of Dunable guitars, it doesn’t look or feel anything like a cheap guitar. These Cthulhu pickups were well installed and the intonation and set up was highlighted by great fretwork and a smooth gloss finish over the back of the neck. Big points here for the cool looks the Cyclops packs, with amp-like control knobs, a unique pickguard and body shape, and a spotless finish. I’d definitely like to see some more finish options added to the line, but the Tobacco Sunburst shouldn’t offend anyone here.

Value: 9

Dunable’s USA guitars seem to generally start north of $2000, meaning you are cutting that price in half with the DE series. While I’ve never played a US-made Dunable, this DE Cyclops feels nothing short of premium and boutique, so I think this is an insane value. Quite frankly, this may be the only way for some people to get to experience Dunable and I think it will deliver on all the hopes and wishes you could ask for, except for maybe some wild finish options. The price is right up there with some of the best overseas guitars I’ve played from Howl and PRS SE and so is the quality. Overall, there is very little to complain about on this DE Cyclops from Dunable, in terms of build quality, sound, and price. I think this would be a sound investment and a reliable instrument for years to come and I’m delighted I got to start 2021 off on such a positive note.

Good for: Modern High Gain, Metal, Punk, Garage Rock, Players Looking For A High End Affordable Guitar, Overdriven Classic Rock, Fuzz Tones

Upgraded Glarry GP II Bass Review: Is It Better Than The First One?

Will Glarry’s updates to their P-Bass copy be an improvement, or more of the same buzzy, thin, mod platform variety like the first?

Grab your own from Glarry!

When I first reviewed the Glarry GP Bass I didn’t realize that it would become one of my highest viewed articles of all time on this site. I also wasn’t expecting Glarry to issue a new and improved version only one year later. But here we are, and I’m happy to say I’ve gotten to plug this new bass in and put it through the ringer (plus a Big Muff) and see how it stacks up.

The original Glarry GP Bass cost only $75, which was a great price for a working bass, but scored a measly 4.3 out of 10 on our ratings scale. While the value element and some nice aesthetic features were all there, the GP Bass was riddled with fret buzz, had a HUGE neck that was uncomfortable to play, and decent tuning stability. Even worse, mine showed up with the pickups hanging out of the body, and once they were installed, they sounded pretty lifeless.

With redemption clearly on their mind, Glarry’s new version of the GP Bass, the GP II, is roughly double the price of the original, but also sports a more impressive spec sheet. As such, let’s do a shorter review to update the status of the Glarry GP model, by comparing the two versions side by side.

As you can hopefully hear in the video above, this GP II bass already packs far more output and tone than the original, which sounded very thin in this ultra-quick Instagram clip I posted.

How Did The Sound Change?

The pickups have been upgraded, as the new bass sports a Wilkinson split-coil set. These do more closely resemble a true P-bass pickup, with more bite and output that are about on par with a solid Squier bass. I’m very happy with the upgrade, which made the bass much more useable, regardless of your skill level. These two basses are played through the same amp in both clips and you can hear a pretty stout difference in tone. Aside from the nice tweak with the pickups, the rest of the electronics looks, feel, and sound the same to me. No upgraded pots as far as I can visual and sonically tell. Volume and tone pots are useable, but not ultra sensitive, or even very sensitive, meaning you can go from loud to silent quickly, and clear to muddy quickly. The new Wilkinson split coils make a big difference in terms of punch, volume, and clarity, but still put this only on par with a Squier, Harley Benton, or similar level instrument.

Verdict: Overall tone is improved, but on par for the increased price.

Improvements To Playability & Feel?

The neck on the upgraded GP II Bass is still big and round, but it definitely feels slimmed down from the original model I was sent. Tuning is definitely better, as I can go more than a few minutes of down picking without having to adjust it. Hardware like the tuners and bridge both look and feel much better than the original, even if they are only marginal upgrades. It gives the appearance and feel of a quality instrument, something the original GP Bass was starkly lacking. Unfortunately, the GP II Bass is still riddled with fret buzz, likely due to the high frets because the action feels and looks really good to my eyes.

Verdict: It’s an improvement, but not as large as you may want for double the price.

Finish & Construction

I think what’s most impressive about the newly improved Glarry GP II Bass is the new finish. It looks much nicer, with a smoother, glossier look over light wood compared to the darker, grainier wood used originally. The Canadian Maple looks and feels much improved on the fretboard as well, with a cleaner look that contrasts the striping along the neck. It’s certainly a prettier bass guitar and it feels far more complete, like one solid unit. Again, there is a nice upgrade here that squarely brings it into the realm of a nice Squier or Harley Benton product, without dipping into the higher end territory. At the end of the day, it is still inferior to my Classic Vibe Squier.

Final Thoughts

Glarry did a great job correcting the laundry list of issues I had with the original GP Bass. However, the price nearly doubled, meaning that this bass is now firmly in used Squier Affinity Series territory. I do think this is a more solid instrument than some Affinity Basses, but not all. It’s like a high floor, low ceiling situation where the Glarry feels rock solid and won’t disappoint, but it is missing some of the magic that players may find in cheap gear. With the Wilkinson pickup they have really succeeded in the most important department, improving the tone of the instrument, making this a solid instrument for beginners and pros alike. In fact, DIY modders may not even want to really upgrade the electronics much. Instead, a solid set up, new strings, and new tuners would have this thing 100% professional grade ready. Overall, I think Glarry did a great job improving some glaring issues and has presented a much more user friendly and enjoyable bass guitar. If you’re on a strict budget, the upgraded GP II Bass should 100% be on your radar!

Original Score: 4.3 out of 10

Revised Score: 5.5 out of 10