Silvertone Model 1449 Reissue Review and Demo

I’ve wanted access to these reissues for years now, will they live up to my garage rock expectations?

Cost: $399.00 from Silvertoneclassic.com, Amazon.com, or Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.8 out of 10

The Silvertone 1449 may be best known as the guitar that came with the amp-in-case purchased from old Sears catalogs back in the day. It really come on my radar thanks to Beck and Cage The Elephant’s Brad Shultz who both heavily used these guitars in the Alt-rock scene I grew up in. Featuring dual lipstick pickups, you might recognize the stacked tone and control knobs, which are a Danelectro calling card. And this is a very Danelectro-adjacent guitar, even though I actually have no idea if this Silvertone predated the Danelectro company at all. The lipstick pickups are controlled via a 3-way pickup selector plus the aforementioned stacked control knobs.

Like the 1478, the Model 1449 features a Mahogany body with a bolt-on Mahogany neck and Rosewood fretboard. This C-shaped neck features 21 frets, pearl dot inlays, and a very interesting through-body bridge. Your eyes are always drawn to the unique paddle headstock that features all the sealed, die-cast tuners on the top side that creates a very painful looking break angle out of the nut.

Sound: 8.5

Lipstick pickups on a non-Danelectro guitar? Silvertone makes a mean lipstick pickup that sounds glassy, bright, and surprisingly rich. Even clean, the fingerpicked tones filled out nicely and had a real twang to them. It surprisingly even approaching Telecaster-like performance when plugged into a Vox-voiced amp simulator. It actually feels a fair bit more versatile than I anticipated, and that was an impressive discovery for me. My criticism of the last Silvertone was that it felt very narrow in the scope of sounds it could cover, and I don’t really feel that applies to this reissue at all. Country, Indie, even Jazz music are all within the realm of possibility here. But there is no denying this 1449 rocks.

Overdriven tones retain such a nice sparkle, giving them a bit more dimension than you might expect for a guitar associated with alternative and garage rock. In fact, I can see why this fits so nicely in Cage The Elephants musical style, it fills a ton of space and brings a punchy body despite no apparent mid-heavy quality. It cuts through the mix nicely, and is very sensitive to how you dial in the amp or pedal EQ. I appreciate this because with such a nice sounding clean guitar, I want to be able to preserve that tone without pedals, but then use it as sort of a clean platform to build off of. If the guitar’s tone overpowers all else, you’re sort of locked into that sound.

Playability: 6.5

Fret buzz strikes again, and this time it is made a bit worse by the wider neck shape of the Model 1449. Silvertone guitars should definitely get a once over and professional set up upon purchase, though that is not unfair considering this is only a $400 guitar. I do find this neck to be very comfortable, but the fret edges were not as keenly taken care of. Again, you’re going to expect some sort of quality issues at this price point, but I can’t ignore them all the same. Tuning stability was pretty solid however, and the guitar took a bit of a beating during downstrokes and heavy punk abuse. If you can get it setup, the rest of the playability will be up to snuff to take on stage or in the studio.

Finish & Construction: 8

The finish is stunning, and spotless, shining almost as bright as my old Schecter Ultra III’s bright blue. The construction also felt really solid, with a great bridge, good tuning stability, and significantly more premium feeling hardware than I expected. The one hugely annoying design choice here is the location of the strap button on the top of the guitar. It’s where the neck meets the body, on this little ledge, that is near impossible to get a strap on. Huge issue? Nope. Once again though, you think someone who plays guitar would have picked this up and said “nah”. Otherwise though, I was really impressed from top to bottom with the Model 1449, and would be tempted to keep this and use it regularly going forward to a variety of applications.

Value: 8

It’s hard for me to not give this a high value rating, as it feels like the better of the two Silvertones I tried. It also costs $100 less, while feeling that much better. The Model 1449 is also a good bit more versatile, and feels like it could settle in as someone’s go-to instrument. It’s part Danelectro, part Telecaster, and will turn heads on a stage for sure. It’s also a unique option on the sub-$500 market, that isn’t just another Strat, Tele, Les Paul copy that has been retread. Lipstick pickups, a design you’re not going to get anywhere else, there’s a lot to like about Silvertone’s stab at the old 1449.

Good for: Garage Rock, Surf, Indie/Alternative Rock, Retro Pawnshop Guitar Fans, Budget Minded Players, Danelectro Fans/Players, Telecaster Fans/Players

Donner DJC-1000S Guitar Review & Demo

Donner’s newest addition is their take on a thinline Telecaster with dual humbuckers, for only $174.

Cost: $173.99 from Donnerdeal.com

Overview & Final Score: 6.5 out of 10

It’s been a good while since a Donner product strolled through this website, but I’m quite excited to see them return. My first experience with a Donner was a pleasant surprise, and this DJC-1000S guitar seems poised to continue that trend. A relatively new addition to Donner’s lineup, the DJC is basically a copy of a Fender ’70s Tele Thinline, complete with the fancy F-hole and dual humbucking pickups. Those pickups are controlled via the standard Tele set-up, a 3-way switch alongside volume/tone knobs.

The DJC-1000S features a Poplar body paired to a Maple neck and fretboard in a fan favorite finish, Fender’s three tone sunburst. The gloss finish on the neck is shockingly smooth, providing a glossy contrast to the classic and familiar look of the body. Fairly standard hardware rounds out the spec sheet, with the hardtail bridge, tuners, and knobs being pretty much replacement level in quality. Though I will note the string through body aspect of the bridge is quite nice on a guitar of this price.

Sound: 5.5

The most jarring feature of this guitar is the difference between the clean tones and the overdriven/distorted tones. These pickups actually have some life as long as there is plenty of overdrive or gain on top. The DJC-1000S won’t set the world on fire as a clean guitar, but it is certainly useable. It grades out as roughly average (5-6) and is commensurate with some Affinity Tele products you might be more familiar with. Based on sound alone, this is a guitar that can and will work for you, but will never wow you or prevent you from investing in an upgrade.

The clean tones in all three positions are a bit lower output than anticipated for a humbucker, but do have some warmth in there when fingerpicked. It’s very much a blank canvas, even through a relatively nice tube amp or modeler. And I think there is a noticeable disparity between the clean sounds and the effect-laden tones I conjured up for the demo.

Playability: 6

The neck on this Donner Tele copy was surprisingly impressive in terms of feel and craftsmanship. It is glossy, but never sticky or slow, and closer to a Classic Vibe Squier than I anticipated for the sub-$200 price. There was some noticeable fret buzz, probably thanks to the action being lower than most guitars I’ve picked up recently. There was even one or two dead note spots on the neck, which really betrays how premium the neck looks and feels in terms of the lower score here. Donner’s DJC still grades out around average though, as a quick set-up would turn this into a very good player. And while requiring a set-up is enough to knock points off, it is not enough to sink the score past “average”.

Finish & Construction: 7

While there were some clear corners cut with the set-up and pickup choices, the finish and construction of this Donner actually merit some high marks. It feels and looks a lot more expensive than $174, and blows the Donner Strat I previously reviewed out of the water in terms of cool factor. Finish-wise, there were really no signs of sloppy work or damage, though it is fairly obviously a cheap poly finish that doesn’t have a ton of depth or body in the wood grain below. But for a partscaster, beginner guitar, or gigging instrument it looks, feels, and operates at a high enough level to get a pass. Donner’s choice of hardware also seemed pretty solid, with the bridge providing solid tuning stability and adjustability.

Value: 7.5

The highest score of all falls in the value consideration, which is pretty self explanatory. It’s a $175 guitar that has more in common with $300-$400 products. You can spend $60 on a good set-up and still be under the cost of many competitors, outside of a Harley Benton guitar. It’s very beginner friendly despite a few flaws because it looks inspiring, isn’t just another LP/Strat copy, and does have some cool sounds hidden in there if you’ll stack a pedal or modeling amp on top. It’s lightweight and ready for modifications as well, which can’t help but buffer the score here as well. Plus you get a strap, a gig bag, and a cable included with the guitar. Overall it seems like a real step in the right direction for Donner and has me very interested in what else they’ll be releasing in the coming year!

Good for: DIY Mod Enthusiasts, Beginners, Tele Fans, Gigging Musicians, Les Paul Fans, Classic Rock

Check out Donner’s Halloween giveaway to win free gear!

Silvertone Model 1478 Reissue Review and Demo

A reissue of the classic, small scale offset is finally out in the world, with vintage tremolo arm and all!

Cost: $499.00 from Silvertoneclassic.com, Amazon.com, and Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.3 out of 10

I have had my eye on these Silvertone reissues for years now, even though most people only become aware of them during Summer NAMM this year. Silvertone has boasted these models for years on their website, that would alternative between being active and deleted, with zero contact points or marketing behind it. So their re-emergence this year isn’t without some context.

The Model 1478 is perhaps best known to some as the Harmony Bobkat guitar that St. Vincent played early in her career. It was actually first available in 1963, making part of the original offset craze that followed the Jazzmaster and Jaguar releases. This reissue features a Mahogany body and neck, with a Rosewood fingerboard and 20 frets on the 24.5″ scale length guitar. Two Silvertone single coil pickups each feature their own volume and tone control, a 3-way toggle, and a 5-layer tort pickguard. It’s a C-shaped neck, with a nickel silver frets, and gorgeous pearl block inlays. The bridge is a Tune-O-matic paired with a Bigsby tremolo arm. Other specs of note include chrome hardware, sealed tuners, and a unique Red Sunburst finish.

Sound: 8

There is no denying the unique, vintage tone of these single coil pickups. They have a lot more body than your standard Fender-style single coil, as they almost sound P90-ish. Silvertone’s 1478 reissue really comes to life with various gain stages layered on top. It’s a bit cliche to just plug this into a fuzz and play The Black Keys, but honestly, that is what this is made for. Blues, garage rock, anything in that vein is within easy reach. Specifically, the single coils get a good bit of sustain which really lets lead lines, be it slide or finger-style guitar even as long as distortion is present.

Silvertone also surprised me with how quiet these single coils are. Even with my Ratsbane pedal or Element 119 on top, there isn’t too much hiss or squeal when I’m not hitting the strings. The clean sounds weren’t quite as impressive, though still above average and useable. There is a bit of chime and a very metallic, razor-like body that is inline with what you get from a vintage Silvertone. But it is fairly low output without any amp or pedal gain, which is a bit disappointing. You’re definitely limited in the scope of what you can accomplish, clean jazz is arguably going to be a tough sell, and the pickups aren’t defined enough for metal or precise playing. It’s definitely meant for a more imprecise, soulful performance, but that is what most people want from this type of guitar anyway!

Playability: 7

I was a bit less enthused with the fret buzz on the Model 1478, but Silvertone is on to something with the neck here. It’s very small, and smooth, with a comfy C-shaped neck that feels very Jaguar or Mustang-like to me. It’s also a pretty fast player, though you’re probably not going to be shredding with only the 20 frets and tight fretboard. You can see why older blues players and fuzzed out alternative rockers favor this style of vintage guitar. The 1478 feels very friendly, almost toy-like, with the smooth polish on the neck and thin width. Thin frets, when executed well as they are here, actually feel very favorable even though we tend to drool over jumbo frets on spec sheets. But as I opened with, the fret buzz is a bit a problem for me. Tuning stability isn’t actually a problem, even after I worked the Bigsby a good bit, so I’m not sure it needs a full setup, probably just some frets filed.

Finish & Construction: 7

Overall, I’m very impressed with the look and feel of this $500 Silvertone reissue. It feels and look high end enough to convince you to invest in one. The fret buzz issues are a QA/QC failure for sure, and I’m not crazy about all the hardware, as some of it feels cheap. Another point is knocked off for the fact that you can’t use the Bigsby and access the control knobs at the same time. You have to move it pretty far out of the way if you want to adjust any of the knobs. While I love trem arms, and having a multitude of controls, you have to tell me know one noticed this in the design phase at all??? This poor choice does not tank the overall impressive finish & construction that Silvertone and their parent company, Samick, have achieved at this price.

Value: 7

The bulk of the value score comes from the fact that there isn’t a ton of vintage, “pawnshop” style reissues laying around for $500. Harmony makes really nice, modern versions of vintage guitars. Tiesco isn’t popping back on the radar, and Guyatone is existing in this semi-alive state. So if you want something that screams Jack White/Hound Dog Taylor/Dan Auerbach or early St. Vincent, this is the most affordable option you have, by a good margin. So high marks are deserved, though the fret buzz and odd design options are what keeps this from being a true budget killer.

Good for: The Black Keys, Garage Rock, Slide Guitar, Lo-Fi Blues, Alternative Rock, Vintage Offset Fans, Short-scale Fans, Distorted Guitar Tones

October Audio NVMBR: An Octave Fuzz, Punk Distortion, and Green Ringer In One?

Based around a classic octave fuzz design, the NVMBR Fuzz is so much more than it seems.

Cost: $145.00 from Octoberaudio.com or Reverb.com

Overview:

There are few things that get my attention more than single knob pedals. I’m a huge fan of any pedal that can pack multiple sounds and uses into limited control form factors. I would say I even live for finding great one knob pedals. So with that in mind, this October Audio NVMBR Fuzz may be the most versatile single knob pedal I have ever spent time with. The basic idea here is that you have an octave fuzz on one side of the toggle switch (bolt mode) and a ’70s punk-style distortion on the other (wave mode).

The ’70s punk distortion is worthy of being a pedal itself if I’m being honest, providing a rich, raucous sound that plays shockingly nice with single coil pickups. The single knob on this pedal serves as a master gain/level control, almost like how an amp’s master volume does more than just change the volume level. NVMBR also makes up for the bigger enclosure size with convenient top mounted jacks that help with your pedalboard management. October Audio has many other killer sounding one knob pedals, I’d highly recommend checking out the Richmond, VA-based company if you’re into treble boosters, fuzzes, and garage rock gain stages.

Review & Opinion:

The minute you plug the NVMBR in you’re going to have fun. Its best characteristic is just how smooth both the fuzz and punk distortion tones are. They really worked to remove some of those higher, sharp frequencies that can create those ear shattering fuzz tones. Instead, the octave fuzz is exceptionally rich in the mids. This really was apparent in the recorded sound of the pedal when I was looping it over rhythm tracks. There is a super fuzz-like signature in the sound, but far more controlled and warm to my ears.

As I said before, the punk distortion is something so special. And I’m really surprised at how much better it sounds on my P90-loaded guitars and my Telecaster than any humbucker-laden instruments. It has little to no hum or buzz that you wouldn’t already have, and it just creates this wall of sound that is very amp-like. Any gain stage that sounds like a cranked amp will always be a high scorer on this site, as it doesn’t feature that studio compression or EQ manipulation you get from more “traditional” gain circuits.

Having the ability to flip between these two, beautiful sounding gain stages is well worth the pedalboard space and the price of the pedal. In fact, the $145 price tag is quite affordable in the boutique fuzz world. Where the pedal really won me over though was the cranked octave-fuzz setting but with your guitar’s volume knob rolled down. You get a Green Ringer-style ring mod sound and it is awesome! Roll off your volume and it literally takes you to a whole new world that is highly useable and unique. So with basically one toggle switch, you get access to three pedals. How can you beat that?

Conclusion & Final Rating: 9.2 out of 10

When calculating the final score, I had to consider that this pedal has absolutely replaced the Danelectro 3699 fUZZ in my rig. It does the octave fuzz thing just as well, if not better, and the punk distortion and ring mod sounds just add so much flexibility at a lower price point. Plus, I feel that it sacrificed zero quality in build, sound, or aesthetics. So as amazing as the 3699 was and is, this is just a higher ranked pedal when all is said and done. October Audio absolutely impressed me with the NVMBR Fuzz in many categories I consider essential in my scoring rubric, including value for price, versatility, and ease of use. There is a slight amount of curation that goes into single knob pedals, meaning you are leaving lots of sonic choices up to the builder instead of dialing them in yourself. But here, they made all the right choices, leaving nothing more for me to do besides plug in a good guitar and run it into a good amp. This is probably my favorite octave-fuzz at the moment and is a phenomenal addition to any pedalboard!

Chase Bliss Audio MOOD Review and Demo

How will my simple punk music mix with these granular looper, delay, and overall noisemaker?

Cost: $349.00 from Chaseblissaudio.com, Amazon.com, or Reverb.com!

Overview:

I’m not sure there is a more hyped pedal company than Chase Bliss Audio. And unfortunately, I think I have let that cloud my judgement at times. The MOOD is just the latest in a long line of audio achievements by the Chase Bliss team, and while the expensive price points scared me away for awhile, I am seriously attached to this noise generator now.

The MOOD is arguably too complicated for me to explain in one article, but I do want to give my personal opinion on what this beautiful delay/reverb/pitch shifter/granular looper does. The MOOD is built around two sides, a WET channel and a looping channel. The WET channel features a spread of amazing reverb, delay, and pitch shifting effects that can devolve into madness when needed or stay crystal clear as well. The control knobs basically all change depending on what mode you have the WET and looping channels set to. Specifically, the Reverb channel is best described as a group of smearable delay taps, while the Delay channel is a looping delay, that is heavily influenced by the clock control, which allows for you to record different looping delays over each other. Slip, which is still a bit confusing to me, is an adjustable playback head, with a controllable length of the buffer via the time knob as well control over playback speed and direction, allowing for interesting pitching effects.

Moving over to the looping side quickly, there are three looping modes titled ENV, TAPE, and STRETCH. ENV features a dynamic looping structure that allows for freezing a note, stuttering a loop, or time stretching via the length and modify controls. TAPE works to give you control over the speed and direction of the loop, like manipulating a tape reel. You can slice up the loop with the length control, with it swelling in and out with the knob turned counter clockwise. Modify sets the speed/direction on top as well. Lastly, STRETCH will time stretch the loop, with control over the amount of the loop stretched and the amount of stretching.

Not to diminish the many other amazing functions, but definitely turn to their incredible manual as well. Though the best feature may be the variable ramping control provided by the suite of dipswitches and the blend control knob that sits about the clock knob. Using your own creativity or their recommended presets, you can have a wide range of ramping features moving in and out of your sonically generated madness.

Review & Opinion:

There is little more that can be said about the genius of this pedal, especially from someone like myself who is barely qualified to use it to its full potential. However, I think the highest praise I can give it is that the MOOD is equally as fun as it is inspiring. I was really shocked and a bit turned off by these $300+ price points for a pedal. I’ve even stated before that I choose to avoid such things.

However the minute I heard the cascade of musical delay taps from this pedal, I knew they were on to something. Even without all the ramping and micro looping features, this pedal could stand on just the Reverb and Delay settings housed within the WET channel. With smearable, lo-fi tones easily generated, I found myself right at home trying to make my punk meets “The Unforgettable Fire” textures. But at the same time, the delay and reverb modes can get incredibly clean and precise which creates some beautiful contrast with the looping capabilities.

Once I dove into the loops, I could slice up and modify my loops at will. And while there was no shortage of musical possibilities with this feature, the highlight was the production of so many synth-like soundscapes that I could play clean, delay-laden phrases over. While it may seem simplistic to say “I love just making noises with the MOOD”, that is really the truth. There is an endless pool of opportunities when you mix a clean guitar line over a smeared loop, or a sliced up micro looping delay over a clean granular looped arpeggio.

I set out to record this stuttering, punk breakdown loop, and before I knew it I was having too much fun just hunting for sounds throughout the 13 minute demo. In fact, I’m going to need to do a part 2 and 3 just to further explore the ramping functionality and ability to run the loop into the delay and back.

But really what I want to emphasize here is that the Chase Bliss MOOD makes me want to play guitar a lot more than my other pedals do. And that is something to be celebrated.

Conclusion & Final Score: 9.25 out of 10

The big reason this isn’t a second 10/10 in 2021 is simply the price. It is a fair price for one of the most unique and exciting pedals on the market, but it is just not a pedal that everyone will need, want, or be able to even acquire. And no one really needs a $350 pedal to be a good guitarist anyway, so I do see the MOOD as kind of a luxury item. However, that is where my negative feedback ends.

To make a pedal that is actually an extension of a musician and their guitar is a huge accomplishment. The MOOD is equal parts instrument and pedal, providing a really fun live tool or at-home inspiration piece. It’s no doubt one of the coolest, and most intimidating, pedals I’ve tried and I’m looking forward to following up on this content as I dive deeper and deeper into it. I anticipate its score may even move up a notch prior to my end of the year ranking. But at least for the MOOD, Chase Bliss Audio is doing something that literally no one else seems to be able to do.

Walrus Audio Mako Series ACS-1 Amp and Cab Sim Review: A Cleaner Dream Come True?

With superb cleans, increased functionality, and stereo sounds will the Walrus Audio ACS-1 be my ideal pedal platform?

Cost & Overview: $399 from WalrusAudio.com, Amazon.com, or Reverb.com (some affiliate links)

With my month long trip to Chicago underway, I’ve had to fully commit to going without my Vox AC15. One of the pedals I brought along for the ride was the Walrus Audio ACS-1, a part of their Mako series that was unveiled in early 2021. Now the Strymon Iridium is obviously a big point of comparison here, but the ACS-1 is a unique take on this format that has surprised me quite a bit.

Most importantly is the ability to dial in stereo amp sounds using the L-R toggle switch. You can dial in a single amp when the switch is in the middle, the “+” setting, but you can set the left and right side of your headphones or signal to each be a different amp. So while I’m not a big user of stereo rigs, it is a really cool feature. In fact, I’ve been having a blast mixing dirty and clean Vox AC30 sounds on top of each other for my pedal demos and song scratch tracks. Don’t forget the mono and stereo output jacks as well.

Your standard 3-band EQ is a wonderful touch, as is the room reverb setting which really helps add a dimension of reality into your dialed-in amp sounds. You get three amp voices to choose from including Fullerton (Fender Deluxe Reverb), London (1962 Marshall Bluesbreaker), and Dartford (’60s Vox AC30). The choice of the cleaner Bluesbreaker Marshall amp instead of a higher gain Plexi is quite interesting to me, and furthers the slight limitations of the onboard gain on this pedal.

A built-in boost footswitch someone rectifies this, allowing you to keep your same tonal footprint but with the volume and gain increased to your liking. It also comes stock with 6 cab IR’s which are controlled via the ABC toggle, simply hold down the bypass switch while toggling them to go from the first 3 to the second 3 options. You can even save up to three presets as well!

Review & Opinion:

As you can see, there is quite the impressive spec sheet attached to this Walrus Audio product. The ACS-1 clearly set out to impress the tone tweaking side of the guitar world a bit more than comparable products have. For me, a lot of these features are not necessarily useful though I appreciate the detail put into this product. What really struck me though is how fun and natural these amp sounds are, particularly the Vox AC30 settings. While the onboard gain could use a little bit of tweaking, it still nails those edge of breakup tones and light overdrives. Activating the boost function does kick the amp into overdrive a good bit, and it stacks surprisingly well with other drives and distortions.

Fuzz pedals seem to be a little more touchy and require an extra minute to dial in. But I loved how the Blues Driver and Klon Klone I have interacted with the ACS-1. And the ability to dial in two amps on each side is quite frankly, awesome. Tracking song ideas and pedal demos was sick with both a clean and dirty Vox AC30 running side by side. You can hear a good bit of dynamics too, not quite as touch sensitive as the real deal, but way closer than I expected.

The true sonic highlight here though might be the pristine and rich clean sounds. With the room reverb control employed, this Walrus ACS-1 is a pedal platform dream come true. While the lack of onboard gain is disappointing, the fact that this takes pedals so well makes me think it would be a killer studio or gigging amp solution. The Fender and Marshall amps also sounded good, though I’m not as familiar with those amp models as I am with the Vox. So if the Vox was this well done, it is safe to assume the others are fairly true to form. When using the Bluesbreaker mode, it did have a really subtle but sustaining overdrive characteristic that was awesome for fingerpicking and lead lines too. Overall, I have no doubts this pedal could do anything I would need in a live or recording setting.

Final Conclusion & Rating: 9.3 out of 10

While my review may seem relatively short for such a complicated pedal, that is more a reflection of how easy it is to pull great sounds out of this Mako Series stomp box. While there might be a bit of options paralysis if you’re like me and prefer a stripped down amplifier, many of these features are not required to get your money’s worth out of the pedal. It’s been cool to mess around with running two amp voices, but mostly I’m just delighted to get high quality tube amp tones out of a pedal. Think of this as a $400 tube amp with multiple channels instead of a $400 pedal. Because personally, $400 for a pedal is something that would lose major points in my book.

This can no doubt replace my Vox amp and it already has for the pedal demos I’ve done while in my temporary apartment. If anything, I think this may sound better in the pedal demos than my mic’d up Vox AC15. While the Vox amp wins in the room while pushing air, this is quite transformative for late night practicing and quick recording.

My genuine first reaction to this pedal was “huh, Walrus is ripping off Strymon”. Really, I can see that they instead wanted to improve on that idea and make it a little more appealing for a different section of the guitar market. And most importantly, they executed these ideas really well. I think I would prefer the more simple Iridium for my personal needs, but objectively this is probably the slightly better product on the market.

Earthquaker Devices Astral Destiny Reverb Review and Demo

How will this shimmery, octave, celestial reverb fit into my rig and pedalboard?

Grab your own via Reverb.com, Earthquakerdevices.com, and Amazon.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Cost: $199.00

My first ever Earthquaker Devices experience could not have been more cool. I was shopping around Chicago Music Exchange when I decided I was going to try out some real weird pedals. At home, none of the stores have a particularly exciting collection of pedals, so I figured this might be my only shot to try some EQD, Walrus, or crazy boutique stuff.

Well, I plugged into this and quickly knew I had to buy it. The Astral Destiny is not only incredibly versatile, packing 8 reverb types into the pedal, but it just sounds like The Unforgettable Fire in a box. Shimmery, octave reverbs with flexible modulation and an awesome stretch feature, how could anyone not like this? The second footswitch, the aforementioned stretch, doubles the tail of the reverb, providing an echo-like aura of sound around your guitar signal. Depth, rate, and tone work a lot like they would on any modulation pedal you know and love, with mix controlling the volume of the effect relative to your dry signal. There’s even an area to save multiple presets next to the reverb’s length control and the rotary of options.

Sound & Opinion:

It’s stupid how fun this pedal is. And trust me, I feel like I was a bit prejudice against it when it was released earlier in 2021. It seemed like just another boutique reverb for the P&W crew to swoon over that was no different than a Boss RV-6.

I was so wrong. My disdain for most boutique “trendy” guitar pedals is well known, but so far, I’ve been way more impressed by the Strymon, Walurs, Earthquaker, and Chase Bliss stuff than I ever expected to be. The Astral Destiny is no different. With a plethora of cool reverb options, I was able to dial in a more “normal” cathedral reverb that I like with the Abyss setting. Shimmer does everything you could want from a shimmer reverb and way more when you dial in the speed and depth controls to modulate it. But the other octave settings are where this really shined.

The Sub Shimmer (both upper and lower octave on reverb tail), and the Sub (lower octave on reverb tail) produce such unique but useable sounds. Dial in a subtle, barely modulated Sub reverb and you’ve got an amazing punk lead tone. Crank the Sub Shimmer mode for lush sounding chords and arpeggios that would make an indie guitarist blush. Considering there are even more, save-able options like a regenerating fifth (Cosmos), downward pitch bend (Descend), upward pitch bend (Ascend), and a regenerating dual octave (Astral) you will never need another reverb again.

Now this will NOT do your spring/plate, sort of more vintage reverb tones. But it will do just above everything else. So for me, the best thing would be to pair this with an amp with onboard reverb, like an old Vox or Fender-style combo. Or go crazy and pair it with another reverb, that would probably be awesome!

Conclusions & Final Ratings: 9.5 out of 10

When I first tried this at CME, right before I bought it, I was shocked to learn it was $199. I genuinely was expecting it to be $250+. This pedal is a phenomenal value in the sense that it can do so much, it can do so much well, and it plays really nicely with other pedals. In fact, one of my favorite applications for it is pairing it with a gritty overdrive to produce this synth-like sound that I came up with at the end of the demo video above.

It’s going to be all over my music in the future. This Astral Destiny replaced the RV-6 on my board, and has offered me inspiration for some new lo-fi, soundscapes that I like to incorporate into punk breakdowns and solos. For something a little different, but entirely useful and musical, the Earthquaker Devices Astral Destiny is a must-try pedal from 2021.

Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special Review and Demo

Combining unique pickup configurations with top of the line specs, the Contemporary Strat Special is a keeper.

Cost: $449.99 from Fender.com, Amazon.com, and Reverb.com (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.4 out of 10

Announced earlier this year, Squier and Fender have drastically expanded their popular Contemporary Series of guitars. And it has gotten even weirder than it was before, to the delight of many. The Contemporary Stratocaster Special is a unique twist on the 3-pickup guitar that has dominated the market since its inception. While there are many noteworthy features on this sub-$500 Strat, the coolest might be the new pickup configuration that places the middle “SQR” single coil right up against the bridge pup, with all three slanted. The 5 way switching works like this:

Position 5: Neck

Position 4: Bridge + Middle + Neck

Position 3: Middle + Neck in parallel

Position 2: Middle

Position 1: Bridge + Middle in series

Other premium features of note include the inclusion of a C-shaped Roasted Maple neck with 22 Jumbo frets. For $450, that’s a pretty impressive spec. The Modern 2 point tremolo feels a long way from cheap Squier guitars I grew up with, adding a good bit of user friendliness. And if that hasn’t won you over yet, there is a sculpted neck heel for easy access to those higher frets. For those keeping track at home, the other specs of note include a poplar body with a gloss polyurethane finish, and 12″ fretboard radius.

Sound: 7

There are very few guitars in this price range that squeeze so many unique sounds into one package. This is not a Strat in the way that you know it, but it is still a phenomenal instrument any way you cut it. The middle pickup, by itself, is such a cool sound. It’s jangly and bright, but has a bit more body than you would ever get out of another Strat middle pickup position. It sounds great with some light gain for this punk/garage rock/garage pop sound that has always been a favorite of mine. All three pickups engaged is also a strange, but useful combination that yielded some truly interesting rhythm guitar tones. I’m really anxious to record this in a mix and follow up on how it tracked alongside my other Strats.

Overall though, this is just a fun sounding instrument with a very useful and unique sonic fingerprint. This Squier is also a little bit of a blank canvas when you need it to be. It took all sorts of effects really well and can easily be turned into a much more familiar Stratocaster with some of the classic positions still available.

Playability: 6.5

The Roasted Maple neck feels and looks great, providing a smooth experience up and down the neck. This is partially due to the inclusion of the neck contour, as well as the modern approach the C-shaped Strat neck they were going for. So why the slightly lower grade? The fret buzz was a real problem for me on this instrument. It wasn’t unplayable, especially in a live setting with high volume, but just jamming in my apartment, I expected way less. The fret work looks good and feels good, so it is likely a result of the truss rod needing a slight adjustment.

You would think that the somewhat elevated price of this Squier compared to others would allow for a better setup. Instead it seems they used the money to fill out the spec sheet but left a bit to be desired on the QA/QC side of things. Which isn’t a major ding on the playability, because a quick setup from a tech and you’re off to the races! But just something that will definitely keep this from being a superb score despite great tuning stability, a nice tremolo, and an awesome neck.

Finish & Construction: 8

Despite the annoying fret buzz, most everything else on the Contemporary Stratocaster Special is top notch. The finish seems to be close to flawless, certainly exceptional for the sub-$500 price point. And the inclusion of the painted headstock to match the finish is a big win in my book. It helps give the guitar a complete look and attitude that I really love. The choices of jumbo frets, Roasted Maple, and unique wiring are really carrying the weight here, and rightfully so. This is just one of the coolest Squier’s I’ve ever played and it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Otherwise, there’s no improperly installed hardware, no real pickup buzz or hiss that is out of the ordinary, or much else to complain about besides fret buzz.

Value: 8

All things considered, this feels like great value and a strong purchase. Squier’s Contemporary Stratocaster Special is just quirky enough that you can’t really get it anywhere else, but also effective enough that you really will want to play it in any scenario. The spec sheet also gives this a ton of amazing mod potential, as you have killer Strat bones to build around. The rest of the Contemporary line from Squier has been equally well received, so hopefully this will be expanded on further in the coming years. But if you’re looking for a Strat that is so much more than just a cheap copy, this might be the guitar for you. I think comparatively, this would outcompete a lot of Ibanez or Yamaha models in the price range in terms of feel and tone. I’d like to even through up against some of the cooler PRS SE models in the future as well. But this is getting a strong recommendation from me, Fender and Squier knocked it out of the park with this Contemporary Stratocaster Special!

Good for: Indie/Alternative Rock, Garage/Punk Rock, Pop, Stratocaster Fans, DIY Mod Projects, Players Who Want Something Quirky

Flamma Innovation FC-02 Reverb and FC-05 Modulation Pedal Reviews

Will mini pedals from an up and coming Chinese brand re-set my opinion about Amazon pedals?

Overview & Cost: $39.99 from Amazon.com (Reverb) Amazon.com (Modulation)

Flamma Innovation has recently carved out a bit of space for itself in the pedal world thanks to their larger pedals which feature an impressive amount of features for the $100 and lower price tag. However, their most recent releases make use of the mini pedal form factor while still packing in quite a few flavors of reverb and modulation. The FC-02 (reverb) and FC-05 (modulation) are $40 pedals that might look just like any old Amazon mini pedal. However, there is definitely a little bit more attention put into this little boxes.

The FC-05 holds a whopping 11 modulation effects in one pedal, with control, speed, and depth knobs for shaping each one. Classic modulations like Tremolo, Flanger, Chorus, Vibrato, Phaser, and Rotary Speaker are all present. A uni-vibe like “Liquid” voicing precedes an auto-wah (that’s kind of cool to see here), Ring Modulator, Stutter, and finally a bit crusher-type effect. Their website is exceptionally lacking in details about these pedals, though the control knob seems to work as a sort of mix or volume parameter that seems to change with the effect type. It’s a real grab bag of fun stuff that would be great for a utility role on a crowded gigging or recording board.

The FC-02 features 3 distinct reverb types by the name of Studio, Church, and Plate. Church has a sort of echo-like quality, while Studio sounds like a water down Spring reverb. The big decay knob seems to sort out how much body and echo the reverb effect will have. Mix allows for control over the blend of the reverb signal and your original clean signal, while tone seems to really sharpen or muddy up the reverberated signal.

Review & Opinion:

It’s unfortunate to say, but the FC-02 is fairly underwhelming. It is fine as a standard reverb pedal if you want to thicken up your sound or add some atmospherics. But I hear little difference between the three modes. Maybe I’m picky because I’m a bit of a reverb fanatic (Unforgettable Fire is one of my favorite albums), but it just doesn’t really do it for me. In fact, most of the sounds on this pedal aren’t really too useable. The decay knob isn’t super sensitive, though the mix knob can dial in some more precise tones. Including a tone knob seems a bit wasteful on this pedal as well? Below noon it is pretty muddy and turns your signal into a bit of a swirl of sound. If you’re into that real lo-fi sound maybe this is for you! But for most standard reverb applications, this isn’t really doing it for me.

I definitely think there are a few great sounds hidden in here and guitarists more creative than me might have no problem pulling them out. On the other hand, the FC-05 is one of the most fun pedals I’ve had in awhile. None of the effects will wow you with sound quality, but they are all mostly passable. For me, pedals like this are super convenient because I’m often making sacrifices on a live board, demo board, or even my home studio board when it comes to modulation. I rarely feature more than 2 on a board at a time, even though I’d love to have phaser, flanger, tremolo, and chorus at the least.

Getting all of those and more in one little box is super convenient if you’re not a world touring guitarist like myself with real space and budget limitations. There are a few redundancies and disappointments, but nothing that wouldn’t make me buy this pedal. The stutter is basically a faster tremolo, the auto wah is really a bit more phaser-ish than you may want. Also, the bit crusher is just…weird? It’s not very musical, though I think I just need to spend more time with it. The ring mod was a cool feature to have thrown in with the otherwise standard modulation mix too.

Conclusions & Final Ratings:

Flamma Innovations FC-02 Reverb: 5 out of 10

Flamma Innovations FC-05 Modulation: 6.8 out of 10

The FC-02 Reverb grades out as roughly average to slightly below average. I think it is a perfectly competent reverb if you’re only looking for a few, simple sounds. For anything more than standard tones, you should look elsewhere. And it really is a bummer that it doesn’t have a good spring sound because that is becoming more and more popular, especially in the new wave punk music I prefer. The $40 price tag represents fine value, but overall the pedal is just sort of boring, though not offensive. Which is what a 5 out of 10 really feels like to me.

The higher grade for the FC-05 Modulation is due to the higher versatility and thus higher value for money score I handed out while doing my ratings. There’s some interesting choices and unpleasant sounds, but overall, the FC-05 is a ton of fun that can solve problems and save board space for the needy musician like myself. Both pedals also feel a bit more sturdy and well put together than your average $40 mini pedal. So for me, it is safe to say they grade out above your Kmise, Amazon Basics, or Mosky products. I definitely am intrigued by the larger, more complex Flamma Innovations pedals after trying these, as I think they might be on to something here with just a bit more of a refined touch.

Interchange Noise Works Unveils The Streamline Series And I Got The I Overdrive

How will the latest release my from favorite pedal company stack up to the dozens of drives I employ?

Overview & Cost: $94.99 from Interchangenoiseworks.com

Interchange Noise Works is back with a new line of pedals called the Streamline Series, which offers up three different gain stages all under $100 USD. With only a single volume knob, these pedals are curated to provide affordable, easy to use gain tones that every guitarist should love. The series consists of the I overdrive, the II transparent drive/boost, and the III distortion.

I decided to go with the Streamline I myself, as I was looking for a sort of gritty, always-on overdrive. The Streamline I is based off of an old Electra Distortion circuit with some tweaks and mods to dial in the overdriven sound. With convenient top jacks, a single knob, and an affordable price tag, this is an incredibly user friendly overdrive pedal. This is definitely an overdrive that is more of an amp sizzle, borderline distortion generator, instead of a rip off of a Klon/Tube Screamer/Timmy-style circuit.

Review & Opinion

I’m a huge fan of this Streamline I overdrive for one simple reason: it perfectly emulates the type of overdrive and distortion you only get from cranking an amp way too loud. Even though it is based around the rare Electra distortion, it really doesn’t feel as derivative as most overdrive pedals I review and demo. In fact, it kind of sounds nothing like the drive stages I usually employ. It nails the sizzle and overloaded sound that I use a treble booster to achieve.

It also gets major love from me because of how nicely it cleans up as you roll down your guitar’s volume knob. It doesn’t just get quiet, it actually really cleans up, letting you play pretty dynamically with just a slight adjustment to the output. Overall, the Streamline I does cross over into the distortion realm a good bit more than you might think. But it isn’t similar to that compressed, sort of saturated distortion tone that comes to mind from more well-known gain stages like a DS-1, RAT, etc…

Instead, it is a this very bright, crispy, sizzling gain that is quite enjoyable. I layered it with shimmery reverb from the Astral Destiny and had this killer fuzz-synth sounds emerge. Kick off all other pedals into the amp and you’re left with a gritty, punk or garage rock sounds. It’s even close to that shredded speaker sound of The Kinks or The Who. My glowing recommendation of this pedal goes out to those who want a unique sounding overdrive that will naturally blow up their amp.

Conclusion & Final Rating: 8.3 out of 10

While the Streamline I misses out on a top tier score due to a lack of flexible controls, everything else about this pedal is extremely impressive. I love the price point, how it fits on my board, and that it is not just another derivative overdrive circuit. I’d love the chance to stack this with the II and III, as they were built with that signal chain order in mind. But by now, Interchange Noise Works has established themselves as my absolute favorite pedal company when it comes to gain and distortion. Looks like this will have a long life on my main board right behind the Element 119!