Summer School Electronics hit the ground running in 2021 behind their phenomenal Gus Drive, an updated take on the DOD 250 circuit. Now, 2022 has already brought 3 new pedals to their lineup, 2 of which I happen to have here for review. The Bootster Booster is a versatile boost that uses the “twang” knob to boost mids and some high frequencies to help cut through the mix. Pair it with a transparent overdrive for better EQ sculpting, or use it as a treble booster, a light drive, or a clean volume boost in your signal chain. Speaking of transparent overdrives, the Gladys is Summer School’s take on the Bluesbreaker overdrive circuit. With your standard overdrive controls, this low to mid gain pedal is further improved by adding a toggle for adding some compression into the mix, making it less transparent but smoother and crisp.
Review & Opinion
I really enjoyed these two pedals independently, but together they were ever better. Thus the dual review article presented here. The Bootster Booster is definitely not a must have pedal for many players, but if you’re someone who relies on a boost pedal, this is one of the most flexible options I’ve tried. It can do a little bit of everything. It’s not a pure treble booster (like the Tombstone was), but it also can thicken any sound, push clean volume, or act as a standalone light drive. The range in the volume knob is quite impressive, giving you lots of control for kicking up an overdrive (like the relatively quiet Gladys) or it can also tame a very loud pedal, like my Lyla Drive. It seems to be a real swiss army knife for gain stages and complex pedalboards.
The Gladys on the other hand is true to form, providing low to mid gain options that can be tweaked, but not too far one way or the other. It is relatively quiet in volume, missing some of that bass boosting that has been popular in other clones like the Local 2609 I reviewed. It does make up for this with the convenient compression knob. This helps give the pedal a much more unique feel, that tracks really well and stays hum or buzz free. In fact, if you flip on the compression and stack the Bootster with the twang knob up, you get a very convincing TS808 sound out of this Bluesbreaker! It can get a little rowdy as well, with the compression off and the gain maxed, though it isn’t as wild as the Gus Drive was. You certainly would have every gain sound you need with all three of these Summer School pedals stacked though!
Conclusions & Final Scores
Bootster Booster: 8.3 out of 10
Gladys Overdrive: 8 out of 10
Overall, these pedals are both incredibly impressive. They are solidly above average and most importantly, fun to play. I knocked a couple points off the Gladys because I’d like to see it be a little louder, though pairing it with the Bootster brought it to life. I just don’t know how many players will be buying these as a set obviously. The Bootster grades out a bit higher, because I do think it can solve a lot of problems for live musicians. It can probably replace both boost pedals I’ve previously used, and doesn’t totally break the bank at $130. Summer School is putting out some really good stuff for a new, young company. But I’m excited to see them branch out with some more interesting concepts, the Bootster is a first good look at a non-clone from them and will set a high bar!
Added to the Electromatic lineup in 2021, the G5230T is bigsby-loaded take on the popular Gretsch Jet design. Featuring a chambered Mahogany body, two blacktop Filter’tron Gretsch pickups power this vintage-style single cut. Master tone and volume knobs are joined by a treble bleed circuit with individual volume knobs for each pickup. A standard 3-way selector switch wraps up the electronic feature set.
The Bigsby unit is a B50, with an adjusto-matic bridge that holds the strings opposite the bound headstock and closed back tuners. 22 medium-jumbo frets sit on the 12″ radius neck with a 24.6″ scale length. A thin “U” neck is finished with gloss poly on top of the Mahogany neck and Black Walnut fretboard as well.
If classic Gretsch tone is what you wish for, you will not be disappointed one bit by the G5230T. The blacktop Filter’trons are full of that chime that we all expect from a guitar like this. While of course the rockabilly and classic rock riffs sounded great, I was surprised by the versatility of this Electromatic Jet. From punk to shoegaze, I could really sculpt these pickups to suit a variety of styles, through both a traditional tube amplifier and my go-to amp/cab sims. The ability to control the volume of both pickups when using the middle position of the three way selector is a great tool, something I wish was far more common on guitars.
While the sound of these pickups is obviously not quite as crisp as the real deal TV Jones versions, they are about 70-80% of the way there and come at a much more affordable price point. It’s a perfectly suitable guitar for pros, beginners, or anyone looking for the classic Gretsch sound. It’s a pick up swap away from being a near 10/10 if you’re really picky.
The feel of this neck is superb with surprisingly good tuning stability after some bigsby abuse. The binding on the neck is comfortable, not just flashy. It’s a slimmer neck than I expected (in terms of width) but makes for a very easy player. It took a few days for the guitar to settle in, but it is definitely built to feel far more premium than it is. Which I appreciate because it is far easier to upgrade electronics or pickups in most cases than it is to add a Bigsby or do a thorough set up.
Finish & Construction: 9
I kept the playability section short and sweet because everything is very nice, nothing to complain about. But I want to expand on how premium the G5230T looks and feels in this section. The finish, hardware, and overall quality control was very impressive. While it isn’t a distinctly “cheap” guitar, it feels far more expensive than what it is. Gretsch has really gotten this Electromatic line down to a science and I have a lot of confidence in this G5230T standing the test of time. It’s well built, well equipped, and is a true player’s guitar.
This Electromatic G5230T is probably my go-to choice for a budget Gretsch right now. So major points are in order in the value section. It’s got a loaded spec sheet, beautiful appearance and appointments, and sounds just as good as you want it to. Gretsch has just made an overall solid guitar that crosses a lot of genres, sounds killer, and could be easily upgraded if necessary. Especially when you consider how inflated many guitars’ prices have become, this still felt like indistinguishable from some $1000+ models I’ve reviewed and demo’d.
Good for:Punk Rock, Rockabilly, Country, Garage Rock, Pop
Despite being absent from the pedal market for decades, Gibson has owned the rights to the legendary pedal brand Maestro for the better part of 60 years. 2022 has seen the long awaited revival, with the release of 6 pedals that are highlighted by the legendary FZ Fuzz unit. Dubbed the new FZ-M, this is a remake of the classic FZ-1 fuzz that so many of us learned about from Keef’s “Satisfaction” riff.
It’s a simple pedal attack, level, and tone knobs that do about what you’d expect and a toggle to go from the classic mode to a smoother, thicker modern fuzz tone. The top mounted jacks help make up for the larger enclosure size. But the Fuzz Tone FZ-M is definitely one of the prettier pedals you’ll see me review all year. With great graphics, 3 trumpet LED’s, and the original slanted design. Maestro’s pedals are currently built in China, which we’ll discuss in depth later.
Review & Opinion
There’s a lot to unpack here for sure. I want to start by saying that the classic fuzz tone in this pedal is phenomenal. Gibson and Maestro absolutely nailed the vibe that many guitar players are expecting to get out of this pedal. That horn-like, sustaining fuzz that is wild and sputtery is in no short supply. It has that great tendency to sometimes sound “broken” as your guitar’s signal is chewed up. The control knobs are relatively sensitive too, giving you some nice tone shaping opportunities within a range. I will say that the pedal isn’t really great with the attack knob rolled any lower than 9 or 10 o’clock. Likewise, the modern fuzz setting is rounder and smooth, but lifeless compared to the classic mode and kind of a disappointment.
It adds nice versatility to your board to have a two voice fuzz like this, but I can’t imagine using that modern setting for much more than a slight change of pace. The physical construction is top notch, with a solid and heavy frame and heavy duty knobs and footswitch. Alas, the Maestro fuzz is just so noisy though. There is a high pitch squeal that is apparent in my demo but just never goes away in real life. I suppose the noisy circuit is probably how the original Maestro Fuzz Tones were as well, so I can’t ding them too much for that. But it something to be prepared for.
Conclusion & Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10
The takeaway is that this is a really fun take on the classic Maestro fuzz. It will sound exactly how you want it to and scratch that British invasion itch. Some of my concerns are about the other features and their relation to the price tag. It’s an awesome pedal, but the modern fuzz sound is remarkably bland and the pedal is buzzy and hissy as hell. And it is made in China, which doesn’t bother me for any reason other than the fact that the pedal is $150. In a time when brands are making awesome $99 pedals here in the US, this feels to me like Gibson and Maestro are upcharging you for the fancy enclosure and brand name on the box. I think that overall, this was worth the money that I spent to buy it but it won’t be a pedal I look back on and say “wow that was a steal”. It’s fun, it is worth checking out, but I’m not sure this will be the next great fuzz pedal that everyone needs to own.
Despite loving chorus pedals I have almost never been satisfied by the various ones that have cycled through my rig. The Boss Super Chorus didn’t shimmer enough, and affordable pedals like the Ammoon Nano Chorus or Musiclily Chorus just never quite fit well enough with the rest of my rig. Enter the Boss CE-2w, which has not only been a revelation for me personally, but is extremely impressive from an objective review opinion.
The CE-2w Waza Craft is handmade in Japan and features an updated CE-2 circuit as well as the chorus and vibrato modes from the original CE-1. The CE-1 mode is a little more subtle in chorus mode than the CE-2 circuitry. Despite the limited controls, there is only rate and depth control, there is no shortage of tones hidden in this stereo chorus unit.
Review & Opinion
Right off the bat I was impressed with the sheer versatility this simple pedal possesses. The two individual CE-1 modes are great fun, with the vibrato setting be far more usable than any vibrato I’ve ever played. CE-1’s chorus mode is a little bit more mellow than modern choruses tend to sound, but perfectly captures that vintage “London Calling”-era Clash tone I’ve longed for. Think that thick power chord sound from “Death Or Glory” or “Clampdown” that you could never quite get with other chorus pedals who modulated too much of the signal.
Flipping over to the CE-2’s stock mode, you get far more lush, shimmer chorus that has a somewhat reverb-like quality to it. It’s a stark contrast to the CE-1 chorus sound, but equally pleasing to the ear and guitar. The controls are sensitive, but also don’t get too jumpy, giving you lots of wiggle room to go from a slight flutter to full on trem-like waves of chorus and vibrato. And to me, the simple control layout is very freeing, making it easy to find a good sound and stay there. It’s likely true that there isn’t a bad sound in the CE-2w at all, making it a punk guitarist’s dream come true.
Conclusion & Final Rating: 8.6 out of 10
Overall, it is hard to find many flaws with the CE-2w. I do think the price is a bit prohibitive for a lot of players, but the build quality and sound quality is no doubt on par with any boutique pedal maker out there right now. And it’s Boss, so you know it is going to last forever. At the same time, I can’t be too harsh on them for the $200 price tag because there isn’t an abundance of CE-2’s on the market, and the CE-1 is far too unwieldy for most pedalboards. So you’re paying for something you can’t just go out and find anywhere. I know there’s a few clones of the CE-2 floating around, but I have yet to find a ton of them aside from the aforementioned Musiclily chorus which didn’t last long on my board. The Boss CE-2w is a lot of fun, easy to use, and sounds amazing, hard to top that in today’s marketplace!
It’s almost impossible to exist in online guitar circles without being hyper aware of the excellent work that Chris Benson of Benson Amps has been doing. Amps like the Monarch and Vincent are staples of tone icons and gigging musicians alike. On the pedal side, his Germanium Fuzz and Germanium Boost were received with equally impressive responses from the guitar playing community. I thought it was pretty obvious I’d have to check out some of his work at some point in time, but thankfully my entrance into Gear Fever’s fundraiser for the Testicular Cancer Society (go donate btw) resulted in me winning the Benson Preamp Pedal in a giveaway!
So while it might not be a review and demo I was commissioned to do, I thought it would be cool to put the Guitars For Idiots take on the Preamp Pedal out into the world. This wonderfully rectangular stomp box is the preamp section of the Benson Chimera amp, with the tubes being replaced by FET transistors. Master volume, treble, bass, and gain provide all the sculpting tools you need for the surprisingly wide range of sounds within the Preamp Pedal.
Review & Opinion:
What has really impressed me about this pedal is how unlike other drive pedals it is. First of all, the range of gain in this pedal is huge, from subtle boost to sweet distortion and fuzz. But what makes it so different is how it doesn’t just color your sound with a fizzy, harsh gain coating. It is the most amp-like gain pedal I have ever tried, hands down. It reacts to touch, pick attack, and remains hypersensitive through both my tube amp and amp/cab sim modeling pedals.
The trick to the Preamp seems to be in the treble and bass controls, which have a lot more of an impact on the type of gain you’re creating than other pedals’ EQ section typically does. For example, you can coax out a fuzz tone with the bass cranked and some treble rolled off. But reverse the EQ positions I just mentioned and it is distinctly NOT fuzzy but rather this tube amp breakup distortion. Each control knob is playing a big role in the sound creation, at least it feels like they are doing more than several high end gain stages I’ve reviewed to date.
Conclusion & Final Rating: 9 out of 10
Benson’s Preamp Pedal actually lives up to the hype in my mind, with a ton of cool amplifier gain sounds keep me very entertained. I love how easy it is to dial in this wide a variety of sounds using only four knobs, none of which are hard to figure out. And it really gets bonus points for not sounding like other gain pedals, it isn’t a Tube Screamer, a Klon, a Rat, or anything like that. If you want amp-like drive, why not take the gain section out of an actual amplifier? It’s so obvious, but so genius in execution. It’s the exact type of gain pedal so many of us are clamoring to find, without any of the fancy buzz words, magic diodes, or marketing BS that can drive us mad.
Despite relying on many sub-$100 pedals for my personal rig, it isn’t often that many Caline pedals pass through my hands. However, once I saw the Brigade, which was released sometime last year, I knew I had to try one. The Brigade is a dual overdrive pedal, with Caline’s Timmy clone (the Pure Sky) on the right, and their Tube Screamer circuit clone on the left. In the middle, a third footswitch lets you control which pedal comes first in the signal chain. I.e., TS9 on top of a Timmy, or vice versa.
That is an impressive 4 distinct tones in one $70 box. All while saving you an extra 9v and patch cable. On the Timmy side, you do sacrifice the toggle switch on higher end Timmy’s, like the Lyla Drive, but the standard bass and treble controls are still present. The Tube Screamer side is as expected, with a mid-hump flavored OD that is easy to dial in.
Review & Opinion:
I am really pleasantly surprised by the Caline Brigade pedal so far. It is very easy to pull awesome sounds of either side, and it doesn’t sound “cheap” in any regard. The TS side is compressed and rich, with nice sustain and balance. Is it a premier take on the TS808/TS9 circuit? No, but it is faithful and useable circuit design. What the Caline Brigade may lack in novelty or experimentation, it makes up for in value. These overdrives sound great alone, or stacked on top of each other, and can give you everything from subtle boost to searing distortion when cranked. The Brigade is a prime example of a gigging pedal that can take a beating, provide classic tones, but will never be too dear that you’ll fear losing or breaking it. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it actually looks pretty freakin cool for a “cheap” pedal. But I’ll let the demo speak for itself, as there aren’t any unique attempts at circuit bending or creating new sounds to discuss in depth.
Conclusion & Final Score: 8 out of 10
The strong score you see above is a reflection of the great value and functionality that the Brigade brings to the table. Caline has seemingly done the best job of creating cheap but great pedals that won’t quit on you after a few months. You get exactly what you expect, a transparent Timmy overdrive that is a bit lighter, open, and boost-like while the TS9 is compressed and gritty with higher gain. It’s not the best pedal out there, but is incredibly fun and affordable. Those two features alone deserve celebration and I can highly recommend this to beginners, gigging musicians, or dual drive aficionados.
Today, January 11th, PRS Guitars and John Mayer are announcing their newest model, the SE Silver Sky. This affordable take on their beloved S-style features a Poplar body, Maple neck, and Rosewood fretboard. 22 frets sit on the 25.5″ scale length body, a more traditional length than the PRS Standard of 25″. The Silver Sky SE is powered by three 635JM “S” pickups, which are the import version of the 635JM proprietary single coils they first introduced in 2018. Four finishes are currently available; Dragon Fruit, Ever Green, Stone Blue, and Moon White. A two-point tremolo is matched to nickel hardware with PRS’s vintage-style tuners holding the strings on the other end.
PRS may have loaded the Silver Sky SE with an import version of their 635JM pickups, given an “S” designation, but they sound wonderfully similar to the proprietary USA-made pickups. Exact clones? No, but they provide a very smooth experience without any of the ice pick high frequencies as promised. And that isn’t just a tagline, even in the bridge position you can hear how smooth and focused the SE Silver Sky sounds. In the video, I think this is especially exhibited when you hear the Big Muff fuzz layered on top. Another fantastic observation is how touch sensitive this guitar is. With just the slightest boost from a BD-2, the pickups respond very differently depending on the pick attack. Slight plucks result in clean and beautiful sounds, until you dig in and are greeted with grit and sustain. The Silver Sky SE is an incredibly musical guitar, on par with its predecessor in many ways sonically.
I’ve been very impressed with the feel and performance of the SE Silver Sky since I first got it. The guitar has retained great tuning stability, only beginning to change if I really abuse that two-point trem arm. The neck is fast, smooth, and feels familiar to me as a long time Strat player. It offers no signs of major compromise, with great fretwork up and down the neck and a very smooth but minimal finish on the Maple neck. I personally prefer this, when well done as it is here, to a shinier (but thicker and slower) poly finish. PRS’s work with the Silver Sky SE checks in as well above average, and gig ready out of the box after my three weeks or so with the instrument.
Finish & Construction: 7
Of course PRS has to find some area to save money when designing an SE guitar. Aside from the obvious labor savings, I do think that the PRS SE Silver Sky is beautiful and well built, it just doesn’t have the same shine. Which is to be expected. This is not to say there is anything wrong with the SE Silver Sky, as the finish on the model I played was beautiful. But the finish options are more limited, a bit more matte in appearance, and cosmetic options will be limited compared to the original Silver Sky. However, the hardware is sturdy and the guitar is built rock solid. From fretwork to string height to comfortability, it checks a ton of boxes for me.
Another PRS SE comes across this website, and another PRS SE is highlighted as a superb value. This is a very satisfying alternative to forking over $2500 for a US PRS Silver Sky. I loved the domestic Silver Sky, and felt it was worth every penny. However, this SE Silver Sky will provide so much of what you could want, without requiring as heavy an investment. It’s gig or studio worthy as is, and is a treat to play. The most important thing a guitar can do is to be fun, which the SE Silver Sky nails with ease. For under $1000, PRS made another great guitar that will no doubt be considered a success. Despite all the flack the Silver Sky may have gotten, it has sold like crazy and held up for three years now without signs of slowing. The SE version will be a welcome addition to the market and will no doubt be favored by young players who will get their own signatures in years to come.
Good for: Stratocaster Players, Blues, Rock, Pop, John Mayer Fans On A Budget, Gigging Musicians
Check our live google sheet to see the complete rankings, prices, and more for all pedals we have reviewed!
Click HERE to follow along with every pedal reviewed, dating back to 2019, and updated with each new pedal we review and demo! You’ll find interesting facts like the average score we give out, plus the median and standard deviation for all the nerds out there like me. The same will be true for the prices, and the amount of data and analysis will continue to grow through the year!
What brands, effect categories, or price points do you want to see get reviewed and demoed more often?
As of the time of this posting, the average and median scores handed out are both 7.7 out of 10. Certainly representative of the strong showing by the market and pedal building community in 2021. The average price of any pedal reviewed on Guitars For Idiots currently sits at $140. High, but that is increasingly becoming commonplace. It is certainly influenced by some heavy hitters from Strymon, Walrus Audio, and Chase Bliss as well.
Here’s a breakdown by effect type as well!
You can also check out the average price and score per effect type, which will help add further context to future reviews. How does this pedal compare to all the others in its effects type on average? In terms of price, score, or whatever categories we deem important!
So far, overdrive pedals reviewed on Guitars For Idiots average a price of $112 and a score of 7.7 out of 10. Amp and cab sim pedals have the highest scores and prices by far, with an average of 8.1 out of 10 and $292 per pedal.
If you were going to make a pedalboard with the best pedals from each major category (sorry boost and utility pedals), it would look something like this:
Now that is a pretty impressive board if I say so myself…
Hopefully this living google sheet will become a valuable tool for exploring all the gear we review!
I first got turned onto Latitude Guitars by a Facebook group I stumbled upon one day. I was really quite interested in a brand that would launch an ES-335 clone as their flagship model, so I quickly worked out how to get one in my hands. The spec sheet is quite impressive, with a Roasted Maple semi-hollow body and a Roasted Mahogany neck that holds 22 stainless steel frets, an Indian Rosewood fretboard, and a bone nut as well. Latitude loades the SE-1819 with Alnico V pickups spec’d out to replicate ’59 Gibson tones, with standard controls of volume/tone for each pickup. A 3-way selector switch rounds out the electronic controls. Another unique feature is their C+U neck shape, which feels slim compared to the baseball necks of most Gibson-influenced hollow bodies. A tune-o-matic bridge holds roller saddles, a nice touch for tuning stability (at least on paper), and a feature you don’t often see on import guitars at this price point.
The pickups in the Latitude SE-1819 are pretty impressive, with a chime and top end sparkle that isn’t always common on affordable humbuckers. They are allegedly designed after the ’59 Gibson humbucker sound that is favored by many guitarists, but they have a distinctly modern sound in my opinion. It is true that they are closer in output to the lower end, like vintage buckers would be. But Latitude’s SE-1819 has a very “indie rock”-like quality to the tonal fingerprint, with great clean tones and a very smooth neck pickup for rhythm patterns. It certainly sounds better than I anticipated it would, though I still feel like I can’t get a 100% read on it due to the playability issues. Perhaps it will come alive a bit more when I can actually use the first 3 frets to kick out some AC/DC riffs. Overall, the SE-1819 seems to sound a bit above average and is impressive to me in how quiet the pickups are (in terms of buzz or hum) and how sensitive the control knobs seem to be.
While there are a lot of things to like about Latitude Guitar’s inaugural product, the truth is the set-up is just awful. The neck is way over adjusted, making the first 3 frets unplayable. Even after trying to correct this with the truss rod, the guitar showed serious evidence of high frets. The buzz is simply not going away with my easy at-home hacks. It’s a shame too, because the neck looks and feels really good in many other ways, with a slimmer feel than most Gibson or Epiphone-style copies. Even the hardware on the Latitude feels a bit more impressive than expected, meaning this guitar definitely has some real potential if you can sort out the fret buzz and dead notes in a timely manner. With these issues, it is a bit hard for me to get a good read on the tuning stability of the SE-1819.
Finish & Construction: 7
I would have easily given this category a much higher rating if the set-up wasn’t so poor. The overall fit, finish, and hardware installation is quite impressive for the cost. Latitude definitely makes the SE-1819 feel and look more on par with a high end Epiphone product, and I appreciate the detail in the sunburst finish and wood grain. The decision to use roasted Maple and Mahogany is really interesting, and quite nice. Latitude also delivers on the lightweight but comfortable reputation of this semi-hollow guitar design. It feels solid and like a real tool of the trade that can serve beginners or pros alike if properly dialed in.
One reason for the relatively high value score is that many of the fatal flaws here could be corrected by spending $50 on a professional set-up. If the pickups, wiring, or finish were equally disappointing it would be a different story. Those issues are especially hard to correct on a semi- or hollowbody instrument and thankfully check out very good on the SE-1819. You can turn this Latitude product into a very competent and solid ES-335 alternative with just a proper set-up. And the guitar isn’t too expensive that this extra $50 is too much of a burden. It is disappointing and frustrating, but not a death sentence on an otherwise nice feeling and sounding guitar for the sub-$400 price tag.
Good for: Players Who Want To Learn How To Set-Up A Guitar, ES-335 On A Budget, Modification Platform