Vox Bobcat S66 Guitar Review and Demo

A revived electric featuring a semi-hollow body and three single coils highlights Vox’s 2021 lineup.

Cost: $1399.99 from Voxamps.com, Reverb.com, and Amazon.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

The Vox Bobcat S66 has been one of my favorite guitars on the market ever since its inception at NAMM a few winters back. The S66 is all vintage inspired, with three S66 single coil pickups that are each controlled by their own volume knob. Throw in a master tone control and a 3-way pickup selector, and you can get up to 7 different pickup combinations out of this guitar. The trapeze tailpiece and tune-o-matic bridge bring some classy, vintage vibes into the mix. Sporting a Maple Plywood body with a weight relieved-Spruce center block, this guitar is a comfortable 6.8 pounds. A Mahogany neck pairs with an Ebony fretboard to hold 22 frets, plus Grover open gear tuners hold the strings opposite that beautiful bridge.

Sound: 10

This is, without a doubt, the most unique sounding guitar I have reviewed so far in 2021. These three single coils are so quirky, filled with chime, brightness, and some snarl. At some points, they get a Fender Jaguar-like tone almost. At others, it’s this lo-fi Jack White/Dan Auerbach dream tone. For me, the S66 really thrives with gain and fuzz, nailing those dirty garage rock tones. Chords ring full and single note riffs have plenty of sustain and body to them. The real winner here is that you can just pull so many cool sounds out of this guitar. In the middle position you can turn on all three pickups, any combo of the two, or only the middle pickup. And the thing is, the S66 just really does not sound anything like what I’ve been reviewing. It is so far from a Strat/LP/ES335/Tele branch of the guitar family tree in terms of how it sounds. I love it. The quirks and squeals of these single coils are definitely best suited for fuzzed out garage rock or delta blues, but I do think any sort of indie or alternative rock would thrive with the chime this guitar provides, especially when paired with a Vox amp.

Playability: 8

While I ranted and raved about the sound of this Vox Bobcat, the rest of the features are nothing to bat an eye at. The playability is solidly above average, even if a bit unspectacular. The guitar held tune generally well, but might need a new set of strings out of the box to really dial in your own feel and performance. Vox did do a great job with the neck feel and shape, which is neither too slim or too chunky, so comfortably in the middle. While this guitar may sound unique, it doesn’t feel exceptionally different from anything I picked up before and after, which is a good thing to me. I don’t want a guitar to feel like such an abrupt shift from the others that I so dearly love, and this should feel familiar to most.

Finish & Construction: 8

The sunburst finish on the Bobcat I was sent is pretty awesome if you’re a vintage guitar fan. It has a feel and look almost like an old Casino, which is one of my favorite guitars of all time. Finish and fret work all look and feel great, so high marks for the quality control team there. But really, the Bobcat S66 is a great mix of vintage feel with modern updates, which is where the bulk of this high score comes from. It doesn’t have those narrow, tall frets that were hard to play and it never feels flimsy even if the Maple plywood description isn’t totally endearing to you (or me). But, this is another example of a guitar that is better than the sum of its parts. And with the high quality, quirky tones, there is nothing objectively wrong with the finish, construction, or design choices made by the Vox/Korg team. It’s lightweight, comfortable to play, and comes with a nice hard case, need I say more?

Value: 8

My first reaction was to suggest this guitar was slightly overpriced. And it might be when you look at the unscrupulous spec sheet. But this Bobcat just sounds so freakin good. It’s hard to be harsh on it once you plug it in. It can do so many things, many of which none of my other guitars can really come near sonically. Maybe most importantly, it is also just fun. That used to be something I feel like I prioritized in more of my guitar reviews; how much fun did I have with that gear in my hands, through my rig? And the Vox Bobcat S66 totally aces that test, at a price that isn’t unreasonable by any means. So yes, more high marks here and this guitar is suddenly creeping towards the top of the rankings.

Good for: Garage Rock, Blues, Indie/Alternative Rock, Fender Fans, Vintage Guitar Fans, Fuzzed Out Riffs

Interchange Noise Works On Air Fuzz-stortion Review: How One Pedal Can Replace Three

Well after I truly fell in love with the Element 119, I needed to see how their other offering held up!

Overview & Cost: $175 from InterchangeNoiseWorks.com or Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

There are few fuzz pedals out there that are more user-friendly and flexible than the On Air from Interchange Noise Works. With dual fuzz bias options controlled via the toggle switch, you can choose from a more distortion-style fuzz (FM) to a thicker, “bazz fuzz” influenced sound (the AM channel). The signal knob controls the output of the fuzz circuit, and the gain level of this fuzz circuit is controlled by the static knob. Bass and treble controls give a much more versatile 2-band EQ than you’ll find on your average fuzz as well. Lastly, there is a volume knob to control the overall output of the boost switch, the right hand footswitch on the pedal. Oh, and did I mention there is a built-in boost circuit to really help you cut through the mix or open up for a solo and lead line. Top mounted jacks are also a nice touch on this unique looking, and sturdy stomp box. I will never get tired of those wood burned tops on these pedals. While it may seem like a tone-tweaker, the controls are user friendly and relatively simple to understand. A volume for the fuzz and boost, a gain, and then 2-band EQ. Plus, you can dial in a pretty impressive spectrum of fuzz and distortion sounds.

Review & Opinion:

Versatility is the name of the game with this pedal. It doesn’t hit you in the face the same way the Element 119 does, but it really can do almost anything you might need out of a fuzz pedal. The boost footswitch is also a huge addition, as it really makes this feel like a two in one pedal. You can set a nice smooth, rhythm fuzz or distortion sound to build your song or performance around, and then push it into orbit for a solo, breakdown, or lead line with ease. When you use the more distorted, less fuzzy “FM” channel, there is really incredible clarity when playing chords. It is a very musical fuzz in that sense, as you’ll find you can use it a fair bit more than you might want to use a fuzz face or big muff. Single lead lines will obviously be warm, sustaining, and fizzy, but I love that I can use this for punk, classic rock, and anytime that I need to make my amp sound like it is naturally distorted and blown out. The 2-band EQ is actually super helpful as well, because with different guitars I like to be able to adjust the bass and treble on the fly. My Strat never gets to ice pick-y, my Howl Sirena (think LP) never gets too bass-y or muddy. I’m a big fan, and this is likely to wind up on my live board, because that is where the boost function and flexibility will be most useful in my opinion.

Final Conclusion & Rating: 8.0 out 10

While I have loved one knob fuzzes and more stripped down pedals, the On Air is still deserving of such high marks. In my opinion, it is so great because the controls are so easy to understand and use. It seems like a complete tone tweaker, but it really isn’t, it is just built to let you figure out how you want to use it. And by that I mean that it can sound great out of the box with everything at noon, or you can dial in dual fuzz/distortion settings to boost as you wish. I love when fuzzes have a distortion-like feel, because it makes them so much more functional when playing chords or sitting lower in the mix. And that is why I’m harping on that point so much with this pedal. The On Air can get as crazy as some of the other velcro and sizzle fuzzes I’ve reviewed, but it can also do this cranked amp in a box thing that I love so much. It’s creative engineering and a nice idea for a fuzz that doesn’t feel too derivative, done to death, or repetitive.

Supro Analog Chorus and Vibrato Pedal Review

A vintage inspired modulation pedal with unique looks, warm tones, and a hefty price.

Overview & Cost: $249 from Suprousa.com, Reverb.com, or Amazon.com! (some affiliate links)

Announced at Winter NAMM 2021, the Supro Analog Chorus was released alongside drive, tremolo, and delay pedals as part of Supro’s new effects lineup. All sporting convenient top jacks, heavy duty enclosures, and $200+ price tags. The Analog Chorus features a small toggle to switch between chorus and vibrato functions, alongside your standard depth and speed knobs. Where this gets a bit more interesting is the two lower knobs. A time control on the Analog Chorus allows for you to adjust the delay time between the two chorus channels within this stomp box. You can further tweak the rich modulation sounds by using the dimension knob to mix the two signals together, using them in tandem or mixing one above the other. These provide some tonal flexibility you won’t find on just any pedal, but also don’t make too much of a difference if you’re looking for very standard, warm chorus tones with a vintage voice.

Review & Opinion:

I sometimes find chorus and vibrato pedals a bit difficult to demo and review. It’s because personally, I don’t tweak them much when I use them. I love to have them thicken up my sound or cut through a mix, but they are not the pedals that I craft my tone around. To be fair, there are a ton of really interesting sonic capabilities with this Supro Analog Chorus, so I could easily see someone building a whole new wave or alternative sound around this blue box. I found the controls to be both intuitive and really fun. The time control allows for some pretty textural sounds, perfect for more atmospheric playing, whether it is in the vein of jazz, rock, or alternative/indie. This Supro Chorus can absolutely nail the classic chorus tones from bands like The Police, The Clash, The Cult, all the people that made me want a chorus pedal. So I think it should get high marks sonically for doing everything you want, plus some new stuff. Similar to the time knob, the dimension knob opens up a bit more with the vibrato channel selected instead of the chorus. Compared to recent views like the EHX Eddy, I do think I prefer the Supro’s vintage voicings.

Conclusion & Final Rating: 7.7 out of 10

While I’ve ranted and raved about the sonic footprint of this pedal, I have to knock a few points off for something very important: value. This pedal is $250, and is really good, but only marginally better than the $99 EHX Eddy chorus/vibrato. And honestly, it did not come close to kicking my beloved Boss CH-2 off the board either. If you’re looking for premium modulation, this pedal is a great option, but I can’t really justify spending $250 on it. So the ceiling of the rating is limited by that. I do think it was a blast to improvise lead lines with this pedal at my side though. The vibrato settings are incredibly fun, and came to life with the dimension and time controls to make some trippy, shoegaze-loving music pour out of my Fano guitar. Any modulation lover should have no problem pulling fun sounds out it, something that is greatly appreciated by me.

D’Angelico Premier Atlantic Electric Guitar Review

How will this ornate single cut stack up to the dual humbucking guitars I’ve reviewed so far?

Cost: $699.99 from D’Angelico Guitars, Reverb.com, and Amazon.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.8 out of 10

Not too long ago I had my first run in with a D’Angelico guitar and was left wanting more time with these ornate instruments. Alas, I am lucky enough to get my hands on something new from Winter NAMM 2021, the Premier Atlantic, a single cut style build with dual Duncan-Designed humbuckers. Each is coil split enabled, with volume and tone knobs, plus a 3-way switch as is normal on most guitars of this ilk. A Basswood body features 3-ply binding, chrome hardware, and D’Angelico’s F-hole style pickguard. A stop-bar tailpiece and tune-o-matic bridge hold the strings opposite of the Grover Stairstep Rotomatic tuners. The neck is Maple, with Ovangkol fingerboard that holds 22 medium frets with a natural C-shape and a satin finish. While the guitar I was sent on loan is in the vintage white finish, currently only the Oxblood, Black Flake, and Sky Blue finishes are available for purchase. To wrap it up, the guitar does come with a pretty sweet D’Angelico gig bag!

Sound: 8

I was really most impressed with the sound of the Premier Atlantic instead of the feel, or value. These pickups are unbelievably smooth, in both a clean and distorted setting. There was some hum and buzz, even when playing clean, but otherwise you would have no idea these weren’t top of the line pickups. In my opinion, the cleans were rich and sustaining, with a bell-like chime that is not too common on humbuckers.

Both fingerpicked and with a plectrum, I had a blast on every pickup setting. The full bodied pickups sit really nicely in-between that single coil/PAF space, not leaning too far into mud or metal territory. Chords really opened up with some light drive, perfect for music in the rock/pop spectrum. It even took fuzz like a champ, holding good clarity and cutting right through the mix of my loops when I was experimenting with the Premier Atlantic. It’s hard not to really like to the sounds you can pull out of this instrument.

Playability: 8

Overall, the playability was really great. Especially when you consider the price. There were some slight times where I had to wrangle the G and B string into tune more than I’d like. But there were no obvious flaws or issues that would prevent me from taking the Premier Atlantic on stage. The C-shaped neck was really smooth, and I love a satin finish on almost any guitar. Fretwork was great, and this D’Angelico was pretty broadly comfortable up and down the neck. It definitely could have benefited from some higher quality strings in my opinion, but that’s probably where some of the wonky tuning came into play. Even so, it only went out of tune after a good bit of bashing down on power chords and sloppy punk double-stops, so a more refined player than myself might not even notice.

Finish & Construction: 7

I had to subtract a point or two here for the buzz and hum that is sort of always in the background. I isolated that it was truly from this guitar, not from my amp or pedals. It’s nothing crazy, as long as you aren’t playing super quiet and clean, but it was an imperfection. The finish is stunning, I’m not sure why they don’t sell these in Vintage White anymore. But really, most of the build quality and construction choices are well above average here. And this is really another example of a guitar that is better than the sum of its parts. The Premier Atlantic is really something that would go toe to toe with a single cut from Eastman, Gibson/Epiphone, or Harmony no problem. There’s also no brazen QA/QC issues, which is refreshing because that is ultimately where most guitars have problems. Especially in the sub-$1000 range. But this guitar is not short on looks, with a stunning pickguard and just a classy feel and look to it. I’ll never get tired of that way too ornate D’Angelico headstock.

Value: 8

It’s hard not to be excited about this guitar when I think about the $700 USD price tag. None of the flaws are really worth not buying the guitar over. It feels a lot nicer than $700, something that is becoming more and more common in these $500+ guitars I review. D’Angelico and other companies are really learning to prioritize the feel, playability, and aesthetics of these guitars over the brand name of the pickups or hardware. Which helps keep the costs down but also leads to a more comfortable and user friendly product. You could gig, tour, or record with this single cut, no problem. I think this is sort of the sweet spot of affordable-ish guitars, in terms of price point. This is also where I would be shopping, so I feel very confident in my connection and opinion of the guitar as someone who might actually buy this after picking it up off the guitar rack.

Good for: Jazz, Pop, Classic Rock, Rich Clean Tones, Versatile Players, Gibson Converts

Thirty7fx Tombstone Treble Boost Review

I have never used a treble boost before, but now I want more of them.

Overview & Cost: $135.00 USD from Thirty7fx.com or Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

As far as treble boost pedals go, I am pretty solidly an amateur. I have heard people rave about them as a gain stage or secret weapon for solos, but never really felt I needed one playing through treble-rich Fenders and Vox amps. It seems like I picked a really good place to start with this Tombstone Treble Booster, as I was quickly captivated by the tones I dialed in. Featuring one giant boost knob that works as a sort of overall signal level control, you also get 3 different modes to switch between. The “Daisy If Ya Do” option in the middle is a standard Treble Boost, while the other two “Smoke Wagon” and “Street Howitzer” are fat modes, that add different amounts of bass back into the mix to thicken up the sound. Used on its own to liven up a dark amp tone, the Tombstone oozes vintage sounds and vibes akin to an AC/DC or even Brian May-like treble boosted tone. But it also stacks incredibly well with other gain stages, meaning it can serve a wide variety of roles on your pedalboards, as either a standalone gain stage, an always on pedal, or a true boost function.

Review & Opinion

Despite not really knowing how to use a Treble Booster, it took me only a matter of seconds to find some awesome tones with the Tombstone. And really, it shouldn’t be hard for anyone with just one huge knob and a few voicings to chose from. My favorite sounds were using the “Smoke Wagon” fat mode on the bridge of my Explorer and the “Daisy If Ya Do” standard treble boost on the neck pickup. Both of these settings produced such a lo-fi, warm overdrive that I genuinely have never find using other pedals. To me, it doesn’t add gain so much as it just emulates pushing my Vox amp to the edge of breakup. This is real, tube amp tone when used in conjunction with my rig. I definitely see how people could use this for solos, as I kicked it on over dense loops to cut through the mix. But honestly, it works way better for me as a standalone gain stage. Almost like an “always on” pedal. It’s a very crispy, light type of drive, but it works so well for the garage rock/alt rock music I play. And if I can make a sound that I can actually use, then the pedal is going to get major points from me.

Conclusion & Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

Thirty7fx’s Tombstone Treble Booster is incredibly simple, fairly affordable, and just sounds great. It’s not a pedal that everyone will need or want, but for those who crave a vintage, amp-like approach to guitar tone, I think this pedal will be a valuable addition to your rig. Just like with their Fat Guy Little Coat fuzz, this is a pedal for players who just want to plug in and go. You’re not going to be dialing in crazy settings or sound with this pedal, you’re going to use it to accentuate your rig’s tone or push your amp over the edge. $135 is a great price for a boutique pedal, so I can’t really harp too much on this being a bad value either. It’s a fun, good sounding pedal, and that is all I want it to be. For a new approach to overdrive and gain, give this a shot, and stop just buying each new version of a Tube Screamer that comes out.

2020 Gibson Explorer in Antique Natural Guitar Review

My legit, number 1 dream guitar is finally here, but will it live up to my lofty (and unfair) expectations?

Cost: $1699.00 from Gibson.com or Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.8 out of 10

As part of Gibson’s revamped lineup following the takeover of their new CEO and restructuring, the Explorer got a bit of an update and was re-released, albeit with a price increase. Seen here is the 2021 Antique Natural Explorer, featuring an all Mahogany body and neck, with a Rosewood fretboard, and nitrocellulose lacquer finish. Powered by dual BurstBucker2 and BurstBucker3 pickups, the Gibson Explorer is a far more simple and reliable instrument than the whacky shape might suggest. First released in ’58 alongside the Flying V, the Explorer has been a staple of alternative rock and metal ever since. The pickups are controlled by individual volume knobs, a 3-way selector switch, and a master tone knob as well. Hardware highlights include Grover Rotomatic tuners, Gibson’s Nashville tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tail piece, and 22 medium jumbo frets. A graphtech nut, 3-ply white pickguard, and 12″ fingerboard radius further wrap up the spec sheet nicely.

Sound: 9

Considering this was my dream guitar for the better part of 10 years, I am so relieved to say this Explorer sounds awesome. It is, in some ways, so unlike other Gibson’s that I’ve played in the sense that it has a beautiful, treble-rich sound. You can totally see why alt rock icons like The Edge uses one, because this Explorer is just full of chime and bell-like resonance. However, when you kick on some gain, it really comes alive in the more traditional Gibson sense. It’s rich, sustaining, and totally nails hard rock sounds. For me, it is nice to have a guitar that can jump from U2 to The Clash or Led Zeppelin with the click of a pedal. So the tones housed in here are definitely versatile, especially with the neck pickup having some real smooth lead tones that cut well through the mixes I laid down. So far, my Explorer is also incredibly quiet, with little to no buzz, and a smooth signal that is very responsive to the tone and volume controls on the guitar. The BurstBucker pickups sound really nice in the context of this guitar, nicer than they have sounded in other LP or ES-style Gibsons that I’ve played. Maybe that’s just in my head? Or maybe this guitar just sounds really good as a complete unit?

Playability: 8

It wouldn’t be a Gibson if it didn’t have some sort of tuning issues. It’s not bad or even close to unusable, but the higher strings just don’t stay more than hour or so in tune. Of course the G string is bad, but the others are just borderline frustrating. That is made up for though in a really smooth playing experience up and down the neck, with good fretwork, great action, and a lovely finish on the neck. It sits comfortably in my hands, which is one of the most important aspects of this whole review. If it feels good, it usually is good. So while there are some warts here, it is still an overall enjoyable guitar and neck. As long as you have some experience with Gibson guitars, their issues, and their shorter scale length, this is really not even a concern. But Fender converts, take your time to adjust accordingly.

Finish & Construction: 7

While this guitar is absolutely killer in its current form, it came to me without a functioning pickup selector switch. That’s pretty frustrating for a guitar that costs more than $1500+ and is coming from a major brand. The finish work is obviously great, and I love the look and feel of this instrument, but the solution they provided me was more of a temporary fix than a long term one and I do feel sort of nervous about replacing it again soon. Either way, there are many things to be impressed with on this guitar, most of which might be how comfortable the body is despite the futuristic, oddball shape. Opening the box for the first time, I was stunned at how impressive these look in person, having never seen one off screen. The nitrocellulose lacquer looks and feels just as I hoped it would, and I cannot wait for this to naturally age and relic on its.

Value: 7

It hurts me to say anything negative about a guitar I’ve wanted for so long, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels a tad overpriced. This Gibson Explorer is no doubt a wonderful guitar, but it feels more manufactured than magic and sits at a price point that is above my threshold for this sort of thing. I know that is not a very scientific criticism, but so much of guitar playing, songwriting, and gear reviewing is based on feel, mojo, and the connection with the instrument. I have connected with it for personal and nostalgic reasons, but I’m not sure I would pick this up over my other guitars for a gig or songwriting session, unless I was going for that specific U2/’80s Alternative sound. It’s still a really good guitar that isn’t necessarily overpriced, just not wowing me the way others have. Gibson has probably priced it accordingly, but I would argue another few hundred could come off the price. After all, these used to go for about $1400 a couple years ago instead and it doesn’t feel like anything has really changed.

Good for: Classic Rock, Alternative & Indie Music, Gigging Musicians, Metal, U2 and Killers Fanboys Like Me

Wampler Ratsbane Pedal Review: A Mini, Modern RAT?

My favorite gain pedal of all time but shrunk down and with additional features? Word.

Overview & Cost: $149.00 from Wamplerpedals.com, Amazon.com, or Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

I’ve already written several articles about my love of RAT pedals, their clones, knockoffs, and variants. While the Mosky Black Rat wasn’t a big winner for me, the Wampler Ratsbane has actually kicked my Pro Co RAT2 off of my pedalboard. Now, that is partially because it is way smaller and more convenient, but it also because this little box sounds so freaking good. They also missed a major opportunity to give the pedal a Star War’s themed named and go with the “WAMPRAT”….

This is Brian Wampler’s take on the classic Pro Co RAT circuit, without the classic LM308 op amp. You won’t miss it. The right toggle switch controls the voicings, of which there are 2. The left is your standard classic RAT, which is my favorite, while the right is a more compressed and a little bit less fuzzy when you crank the gain. Think of it as a more modern distortion sound. The other toggle switch (on the left side of the filter knob) controls 3 gain control options. All the way to left produces a smoother, turbo charged distortion sort of in the Turbo RAT neck of the woods. Flip to the middle for a stock RAT setting. One more over, all the way to the right, and you got a creamier, vintage-style distortion with some RAT-like fuzziness still there, but dialed down a bit. Standard filter (tone), volume, and gain controls round out this lovely little 9-18v powered Wampler pedal.

Sound & Opinion:

Yup, it sounds just like a RAT, but with much more control over the frequencies and gain. It’s not too dissimilar to my beloved $70 RAT2 pedal, which is a major plus for those sticking to their affordable, time tested gain box. However, the Ratsbane packs in a ton of features, new voicing options, and tighter controls which is what really separates it from the pack. It just sounds huge, with a ton of top end and bottom end snarl. The turbo-charged mode is definitely encroaching on fuzz territory, which I love about the RAT-style distortions. However, the ability to dial in smoother, creamier distortions is quite a nice feature. Now you could conceivably replace both a RAT and high gain overdrive on your board with the flip of these little toggle switches. It really took my clean Vox AC15 signal, chewed it up, and gave it this huge, stadium filling sound for Oasis, Green Day, and Arctic Monkeys’ style riffs and chords. Dialing in some of the compressed tones was more useful for when I wanted to tighten up my playing and signal chain, which I don’t do often. But I really think this makes it more appealing to those seeking very 21st century guitar tones with a semblance of RAT madness. But Wampler’s Ratsbane really shined when I cranked lazy, sloppy power chords and pentatonic riffs through it as I tend to do.

Conclusion & Final Score: 9.0 out of 10

This is how you do a unique take on a RAT in my humble opinion. I have had this on my board for months now and see no end to its reign as my go-to distortion sound. It is flexible enough for most any distortion fan to find a sound they like, but it is also just a plain good RAT in its own right. While I think the $70 RAT2 is wonderful and one of the best pedals out there, this gets good value ratings because I think it wasn’t necessarily designed to replace or compete with my RAT2 pedal. This is the RAT for people who need more from a distortion section or need multiple RAT-like tones for a recording or gigging project. If your RAT pedal is already doing 100% of what you need, this isn’t for you. But for me, this did everything I already had and loved, in addition to more that I wasn’t able to pull out of my rig. All that in a small, pedalboard friendly enclosure feels right for about $150. Especially at a time when pedal prices are out of control, this feels responsible and reasonable. I’m delighted with Brian’s take on the RAT, and I think most people who try the Ratsbane will be too.

Introducing The Grez Guitars Mendocino Junior: An Old Growth Redwood LP Junior You Want To Know

With premium build quality, attention to detail, and stripped down specs, this is a garage rocker’s dream guitar.

Cost: $2700 USD from GrezGuitars.com!

Overview & Final Score: 8.9 out of 10

Brand new from Grez Guitars, the Mendocino Junior is a LP Junior inspired take on their Mendocino model. Sporting a single WolfTone Meaner Dog Ear P90 and wood-capped volume and tone controls, there’s not much to distract from the natural tone and sound of this instrument. Made from old growth Redwood, the body weighs a feathery 5.5 pounds and has a nitro finish that feels great and will age wonderfully, with natural wear and relic’ing accumulated over time. The neck has Honduran Mahogany, jumbo nickel silver frets, and a soft V-shape down the 24.75″ scale length profile. A very snappy wrap around bridge from MojoAxe holds the strings opposite the tuners, providing simple but very effective tuning stability and touch response. As a huge Junior-style guitar lover, this Mendocino Junior checks so many boxes for me despite a relatively short spec sheet.

Sound: 9

While you are somewhat limited by one pickup guitars in terms of onboard sounds, this guitar should really be viewed as a blank canvas. It’s very responsive, resonant, and open sounding to my ears. This means that it can very easily be shaped to be anything you need, but still sounds amazing when you plug straight into an amp and crank the volume. Punk and garage rock tones obviously pour out of this guitar, which is why I personally love it so much. But it took reverbs, delays, and choruses with ease, providing a snappy, clean signal that was great for soloing over chords or trying to write and create new melodies. If you like P90s, it won’t matter what style you play, you’ll be able to use this guitar. There’s all that mid-rich honk, some good bite when you crank the volume, it ticks all the boxes you would want from a Gibson or Heritage or Eastman. I do think it could fit into Pop, R&B, or Blues with incredible ease, as the guitar has that wonderful “full” feeling when you play it. But really, just plug into an overdrive and a tube amp and you’re going to have some of the most fun you could ever possibly have with a guitar thanks to the Mendocino Junior.

Playability: 9

The soft V-shaped neck is smooth as butter, likely thanks to the nitro lacquer finish which I always prefer on a neck. But the jumbo nickel frets are a nice touch and feel superb up and down the neck. While it isn’t a high performance guitar, it is markedly better than most Gibson-style necks I’ve played over the 3 years I’ve been reviewing guitars. And while a Music Man may also get a 9 for playability, this is a very different 9 in that it is a very stripped down to the basics kind of set up. Fret edges are smooth, action is great, but there’s no flashy features like locking tuners or stainless steel frets. Instead, the tuning stability and comfort is really derived from the build quality, the solid hardware choices, and the simplicity of the Mendocino Junior’s design.

Finish & Construction: 9

This is one of the lightest, most comfortable guitars I have ever had the opportunity to play. I don’t really know much about Redwood, though Barry Grzebik does an amazing job informing us all in this video below. Whatever magic and physical properties it possesses, the old growth Redwood in this Mendocino Junior is gorgeous, light as a feather, and resonant as hell. The best way to describe the construction is that this is a resonant plank of wood with a magnet strapped on the front. And I mean that as a true compliment. There’s real attention to the little design details, like the wooden control knobs, the pattern of the pickguard, and the beautiful natural wood grain. It all comes together for a very complete feeling instrument. I also want to give a shout out to the simplicity of this guitar and how much that often helps in the upkeep and longevity department. There isn’t much to go wrong and if something does, I’m sure anyone could fix it relatively easily. I find that very important in an instrument I’m going to be investing in and relying on.

Value: 8.5

While it may be easy to look at such a simple guitar and say “$2700 is far too much”, things don’t exist in a vacuum. Gibson is charging far more for their own re-issue of a Les Paul Junior that won’t have nearly as much character or individuality as this Grez Guitar. The thing for me is that it feels like a very special instrument, and I connected with it in a very short time. So while the price is a bit high compared to what I usually review, this would be a guitar that I could buy and then never need another one, so to speak. Compared to other high end LP Junior builds, I think I much prefer this one. So for that alone, the Mendocino Junior deserves high praise. Factor in the shear quality of the instrument and the story behind the old growth Redwood (Grez Guitars are actively helping to re-plant trees), and you’ve got something that is offering lots of surplus value in my humble opinion.

Good for: Punk Rock, Garage Rock, Classic Rock, Players With Back Problems, Fans Of Lightweight Guitars, Fans Of Stripped Down/Simple Gear

Mid-Year Update On Guitar And Pedal Rankings

With 6 months of guitar and gear reviews down, what are the most impressive to date?

The rest of 2021 will feature some big reviews from brands like Gibson, Fender, Squier Supro, D’Angelico, and many more that I’m pumped to talk about. But before we get there, and to the end of the year rankings, let’s do a quick update on how the current review rankings stand. Despite some slow downs, delays, and issues related to gear reviews during the Covid-19 era, we still have a pretty large selection of guitar reviews to discuss as well as far more pedals than I could have expected. So this year, in addition to our ultra-detailed guitar review rankings, we’ll be doing the same thing for guitar pedals!

To date, 10 guitar reviews have been published, with 3 more on the way in the coming weeks before it is time to get the next shipment in. The top 5 sports a mix of expensive, affordable, and mid-priced guitars from some familiar brands. There’s going to be a lot of new brands appearing on the site soon, but so far I will admit the reviews have featured heavily covered companies like Fender, PRS, Gibson, etc..

Electric Guitars

ModelRating (1-10)Grab Your Own
Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster9.4Reverb.com
Dunable DE Cyclops8.8Reverb.com
PRS SE Custom 24-088.6Reverb.com
Fender Noventa Series Telecaster8.3Reverb.com
Sterling by Music Man Cutlass CT50HSS8.3Reverb.com

The Acoustasonic Stratocaster is far and away one of the best instruments I have ever played. It’s very musical and incredibly comfortable, there’s no denying it even if you’re skeptical. But after that work of art, there is a real competition brewing between this amazing Dunable DE Cyclops, which was much more than just a metal guitar, and the PRS SE Custom 24-08 which is just so damn versatile. I’ve played a lot of guitars in the $800-$1000 range and been pretty impressed, many of these are absolutely ready for a tour or gig right out of the box. The Cutlass, on paper, should have been a “boring” guitar and yet I found it absolutely wonderful to play and I’ll take it to a gig tomorrow instead of my own HSS Strat.

Effects and Pedals

ModelRating (1-10)Grab Your Own
Shotmaker Instruments Heroine (Gain)10Reverb.com
Danelectro 3699 fUZZ (Fuzz)9.0Reverb.com
Interchange Noise Works Element 119 (Gain)8.75Reverb.com
Thirty7fx Fat Guy Little Coat (Fuzz)8.5Reverb.com
JHS 3 Series Delay (Delay) 8.0Reverb.com

No surprises here, the Heroine from Shotmaker Instruments is one of the best gain pedals I have ever played hands down. It’s an amp in a box, but it is also so much more than that thanks to the ability to dial in 2-gain stages to craft everything from boost to overdrive to mid-scooped metal tones. I don’t usually like boutique pedals, so my appreciation for this pedal should be taken seriously. Interchange Noise Works should also get major props for what is a beautiful mix of distortion and fuzz with the Element 119. Lastly, that JHS 3 Series Delay is way better than 99% of $99 pedals.

Sterling By Music Man Cutlass CT50 HSS Guitar Review

I think I just found my new favorite HSS Strat-style guitar in a very unexpected place.

Cost: $499.99 from Reverb.com or Amazon.com, or learn more at Sterlingbymusicman.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 8.3 out of 10

As a longtime HSS Stratocaster player, I’m not sure there is a more versatile guitar design on the market. While this Sterling Cutlass CT50 isn’t technically your run of the mill HSS Strat, it really feels like a more upgraded, perfected take on the design. Packing Sterling designed pickups, with master tone and volume knobs (none of that useless 3-knob Strat nonsense), a standard 5-way switch makes you feel right at home on this Cutlass CT50HSS guitar. Sterling’s beloved vintage-style tremolo makes another appearance here, providing the same smooth performance as it did on the St. Vincent and Mariposa guitars. A lightweight Poplar body features a Roasted Maple neck and fretboard, and comes in some rad finishes including the Dropped Copper pictured above, and Rose Gold or Firemist Silver. Locking tuners, 22 medium jumbo frets, and a full 25.5″ scale length round out the impressive feature set on this budget guitar and help make it feel much closer to an Ernie Ball than you might expect.

Sound: 8

My first reaction to this guitar was “why do these pickups sound so good?”. For a $500 guitar, they just sound out this world compared to some of the lower end Fender MIM Strats I’ve played. The single coils are super crips, clear, and articulate. Perfect for tight rhythm playing and clean lead lines. The humbucker really brings the guitar to life too, providing a surprisingly balanced output that sounds big and fills space, but doesn’t get too shrill or blow the single coils out of the water. I’m not trying to exaggerate and suggest this is on par with a $3000 guitar, but the Cutlass CT50 sounds far closer to a premium guitar than anticipated. High marks for me come from the versatility of the HSS design, the pristine cleans, and the ability to handle multiple stages of gain pedals well. Sonically, the Sterling Cutlass is cut out to gig relentlessly no matter what genre or style you throw at it.

Playability: 8

There’s really a good bit to like in terms of action and set up here. The roasted Maple neck is a huge winner in my book. It looks great, feels smooth (and fancy), and is going to hold up better to changing weather and climate than most other necks out there. Sterling also clearly hit a lot of the key points here, as there is nothing that stands out as bad or below average. Likewise though, nothing aside from the roasted Maple screams out to me as a premium feature. So the strong rating here is a reflection of this guitar being comfortable, reliable, and in tune after taking a power chord beating from me. Locking tuners help make string changes quicker and more convenient, and do help prevent string slippage as well, which improves tuning. But the 4:2 headstock design of Sterling/EBMM is unbeatable and really just improves the action, feel, and tuning stability of a guitar no matter the quality or price point.

Finish & Construction: 8

Again, high marks here because of the overall sturdiness and reliability that the Cutlass possesses. The finish was not only gorgeous, but showed little to no signs of error/damage/lazy QAQC. Likewise, the set up, fret ends, and hardware adjustments all were fine out of the box. I think you can certainly tweak a few things to be more to your specific liking, but there isn’t anything preventing you from taking this on stage right out of the box. It’s also a time tested body shape and general guitar design that really prioritizes user friendliness over anything else. That will always get a big boost in the score from me, as I like guitars that are tools, not just works of art. As a huge fan of the HSS Strat design, this fits right in as a modern update to a rugged, flexible design. With a killer finish, that has a slight sparkle to it, this is a well built and good looking option for the budget-minded player. I mean, getting a roasted Maple neck on a $500 guitar is borderline criminal.

Value: 9

This category is the reason that this guitar gets a higher score here than on my Ultimate-Guitar.com review. I don’t often get to grade for value using that scale, but I care very much about the guitar per dollar here. Simply put, the Cutlass CT50HSS is better than the sum of its parts. It feels much more on par with a $900 Mexican Fender from the Vintera line than it would with another $500 guitar. Especially with $500 quickly becoming the lower end of the market, whereas it used to be solidly in the middle. It’s a lot of guitar for the money and I would take this is my main #1 instrument with no hesitation. It’s fairly easy to modify as well, just like all Leo Fender-designed guitars are, so you can really tweak it and shape it to your liking throughout your guitar playing career or growth arc. Arguably, the Cutlass would be a phenomenal first guitar for a beginner or a superb gigging instrument for a 20 year vet. That’s a great value.

Good for: Stratocaster Players, Versatile Players, Studio and Recording Artists, Garage Rock, Blues, Jazz, Pop