NEWS: SansAmp 20th anniversary relic

As if the news of the Tech 21 Private Stock division wasn’t noteworthy enough for devotees of fine analog amp modelling, the company is releasing a 20th anniversary version of the SansAmp, the revolutionary stompbox/direct recording device which changed the face of recording for many guitarists, including Mike Keneally who used one all over his album ‘hat.’

Now, just last week I saw a pair of SansAmp units at a secondhand store that looked pretty much like this, except it was achieved with good old-fashioned irresponsible mistreatment, not precise relicing. I know some I Heart Guitar readers are dead against the idea of relicing, so what do you think of this?

Here’s the press release:

In celebration of their 20th anniversary, Tech 21 is releasing a special relic-style version of their SansAmp Classic. The exterior design is taken from an actual “vintage”SansAmp pedal used on a world tour by a renowned artist. The main heart of the circuitry and inner workings remain virtually unchanged.

The SansAmp Classic pedal is B. Andrew Barta’s innovative invention which debuted in 1989. It’s a little known fact that Barta never intended on becoming a manufacturer. He initially tried selling his technology to some of the major manufacturers, but was turned down. Unable to abandon his idea, Barta formed Tech 21 and set out on his own. In spite of the fact this kind of product had never before existed, it took a surprisingly short amount of time to gain acceptance. Players simply had to hear it. Players like Mick Jones of Foreigner, who, early on, helped Barta get the word out. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tech 21 pioneered the direct recording movement and was responsible for creating an entirely new category of signal processing. Barta’s proprietary, 100% analog technology captures the warm, rich, natural tones of the most sought-after tube amplifiers. SansAmp can be used with almost any instrument, for any music style, and for multiple applications in the studio as well as live performances. Currently, the SansAmp is available in 15 different models, including 5 in their SansAmp Character Series released in 2008.

Barta’s technology stands alone in the analog domain, a domain to which he remains loyal for several reasons. According to Barta, “Overall, I think analog is much warmer, more organic and more responsive. There’s also the issue of clarity. At extreme settings, digital tends to produce more “artifacts”(garbles) and unnatural noise in the background. So, in turn, this needs to be reduced by artificial means such as a noise gate, which I am not fond of. I also prefer analog because there’s no latency. No matter how minor it is, even with the improvements in digital technology, latency can still be felt and I find it distracting while I’m playing.”

Of the pedal formats, SansAmp Classic is the most sophisticated. There is a bank of eight Character switches to adjust tonality, harmonics and dynamics; a 3-position input switch offers a choice of pre-amp styles; and four knob controls to shape pre-amp contours, power amp contours, volume and final tone.

Manufactured in the U.S.A. MSRP: $375.00. Contact Tech 21 USA, Inc., 790 Bloomfield Avenue, Clifton, NJ 07012. Tel:973-777-6996. Fax:973-777-9899.

CLICK HERE to buy the standard, non-relic Tech 21 SansAmp GT2 Tube Amp Emulator from Musician’s Friend.

CLICK HERE to buy Mike Keneally’s ‘hat.’ (Expanded and Remastered) from

NEWS: MXR and Bradshaw wah

I’ve been using a Bob Bradshaw-designed MXR/Custom Audio Electronics Boost/Overdrive for about six months now with my Marshall JCM2000 DSL50. I set the amp’s gain levels relatively conservatively, then hit the preamp with increased output from the boost when required, so I have 4 levels of gain across 2 channels. Then I stomp on the overdrive section if I need even more gain.

The latest from the CAE/MXR collaboration is the MC-404 CAR Wah. I can’t wait to try this one, and maybe add more sweet CAE/MXR gear to my pedalboard.

Here’s the press release.

The MC-404 CAE Wah was developed by Bob Bradshaw of Custom Audio Electronics and the Crybaby design team with the goal of creating a highly versatile wah-wah of top-grade components. It features dual Fasel inductors with two distinct voices (high-end emphasis or low to mid resonance), and a built-in MXR MC-401 Boost/LineDriver adds even more flexibility. Choose between inductors and turn the boost on or off with the side-mounted kickswitches; bright LEDs on each side of the wah indicate operation status. The MC-404 boasts true hardwire bypass, a long-life CTS potentiometer, and internal pots for “Q” and gain adjustments – high performance and quality that you can only expect from Dunlop, the world leader in wah-wah technology.

List price: $298.68 Street Price: $169.99

For more information, visit their web site at

CLICK HERE to buy the MXR Custom Audio Electronics MC-402 Boost/Overdrive Pedal from Musician’s Friend.

CLICK HERE to buy the MXR Custom Audio Electronics MC-401 Boost Pedal from Musician’s Friend.

NAMM 2009: Schecter 8-string

This just landed in my inbox… now THAT’S the stuff. Want!!!

The new Schecter Hellraiser C-8 has 8 strings (the lowest is tuned down to F#, but I figure that if you’re going to go that low anyway, you might as well tune it down to E so you can play octave-down power chords, Drop-D-style.
By the way, check out that ad copy: “A custom designed Hip-Shot bridge that DOES intonate…” Who could they be taking a dig at there? The only other production 8 strings I know of are the
Ibanez RG2228
, which has the genius FXEdge bridge, and the ESP/LTD Stephen Carpenter models. Hmmm…

NAMM 2009: Daisy Rock Bangles guitars

I’m not ashamed to say that when I was about 9, I thought the Bangles were great. I mean c’mon, look at Susannah Hoffs. The Bangles have teamed up with Daisy Rock Girl Guitars to offer a pair of new guitars (an acoustic and an electric). 

Press release:
Long time Daisy Rock supporters and one of the most legendary all-female groups The Bangles stopped by the Daisy Rock Girl Guitars Booth on Friday January 16th, 2009 to perform a few songs and debut Daisy Rock’s latest high-end acoustic: the Wildwood Artist Deluxe Acoustic/Electric Guitar. Attendees of the event had the opportunity to see Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson, and Vicki Peterson perform select songs such as “Manic Monday” and “Rain Song” at the Daisy Rock Girl Guitars product demo stage at the 2009 NAMM Show.

Daisy Rock endorsee Vicki Peterson took the time the showcase her band’s own inspired guitar, The Bangles Signature Model, as well as debut the new sound of Daisy Rock’s newest high-end acoustic, the Wildwood Artist Deluxe Acoustic/Electric, to a crowd of onlookers. Available in Royal Purple Burst, Atomic Pink, and Sunset Burst, the Wildwood Artist Deluxe has a solid spruce top for better tone, Fishman electronics, and is lightweight with a slim & narrow neck profile, designed with the female form in mind.

For more information on Daisy Rock Band The Bangles, visit:

NAMM 2009: Sparrow Von Drat

Despite my well-known geekiness for pointy shred axes and stuff, I’m not shy about admitting I love old-school axes with that Made In Japan, pawnshop-prize charm, and this is one of the charmiest I’ve seen in recent times. Sometimes you’ve just gotta put down that sleek Ibanez RG and pick up something that looks like it was drawn for a cartoon. Especially if it’s avocado green.

Man, now I want Mexican food.
Press release:

Sparrow Guitars is proud to have introduced the Von Drat surf guitar at the 2009 NAMM Show. The Von Drat is the newest addition to Sparrow’s family of retro guitars which includes the Big Daddy, Primitive, Rat Rod and Twangmaster models. The Von Drat debuted at the 2009 NAMM Show Hall D Booth #3394 in Anaheim, California from January 15-18th 2009 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

The Von Drat joins Sparrow’s Rat Rod and Twangmaster as available in the premium “Continental” line. Made in Vancouver, BC Canada, the Von Drat surf guitar features Burns Tri-Sonic pickups, Grover tuners, bone nut and Wilkinson tremolo. With an alder body, maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, the Von Drat is a 21-fret, 12″ radius, 25½” scale length guitar with the volume and tone top-hat knobs and three-way selector switch located at the lower bout for versatility and playability. The Von Drat is currently available in Tudor Black and Avocado Green, with custom pickguard.

The guitar is the namesake of Toronto, Canada-based surf outfit The Von Drats. The Von Drats were hired by Sparrow Guitars to play an event as part of the 2008 MIAC Show in Toronto, Canada and became instant favourites of Sparrow staff. From that meeting, Sparrow President Billy Bones began planning and designing what would become Sparrow’s Von Drat guitar.

For more information, visit their web site at

NEWS: Tech 21 creates Private Stock division

Has anyone else noticed the growing trend for gear designers to become mini-celebrities? When I was a kid I remember being aware of only a few names: James Brown at Peavey, Ritchie Fliegler at Marshall (and later Fender); Steve Blucher at Dimarzio. Now it seems we’re so much more aware of the designers who make us sound great. Andrew Barta’s Tech 21 has been making guitarists sound awesome for years with his preamps and stompboxes, and now he’s offering a Private Stock division.

Here’s the press release.

Andrew Barta started Tech 21 with a product he originally designed for his own personal use, the highly-acclaimed SansAmp. Being a constant tinkerer, there are times he is inspired to build creations for his own enjoyment that are outside the realm of being mass produced and commercially viable.With the encouragement from a select few who have witnessed some of these products, Andrew has decid- ed to open the door to his Private Stock.

The Tech 21 Private Stock division will offer a diverse range of products, the first of which is the Vacuum Tube Bass Pre-Amp Head. Each product will be custom-designed by Andrew, hand-built, tested and tweaked at their factory in the United States, and available directly for purchase on a per order basis.

Interested parties for these unique and limited products should check the Tech 21 website periodically for updates.

For more information, visit their web site at

FEATURE: Faked out

Picture it: You surf eBay for months looking for the Gibson Les Paul of your dreams. Finally one comes up in just the right colour, and it’s cheap – almost too cheap. You win the auction, and a little while later your guitar arrives. But it’s not quite right. It sounds a bit hollow. The pickups are thin and noisy. The tuning machines creak. The toggle switch feels loose. You’ve been stooged.

The problem of unauthorised copies of guitars has been around for decades, with many big companies sued by bigger companies for infringing on copyrights. In the 70s Ibanez copies of Gibson and Fender designs were so close to the real thing that the lawyers pounced, prompting Ibanez to change its designs and begin to focus on more original shapes and features. Today those copy guitars are nicknamed “lawsuit models” and are collectible in their own right.

But going after a company like Ibanez is easy compared to tackling the issue of counterfeit guitars. The rise of eBay seems to have triggered a flood of new copies which claim to be the real thing. Relaxed intellectual property laws in parts of Asia have long been credited for the illegal trade of bootleg DVDs, CDs, shoes, perfumes and sporting goods. As a result, it’s hard for companies to track down the manufacturers stamping out these poor quality imitations.

Recently I saw what purported to be a Gibson Custom Shop Zakk Wylde Les Paul signature model with Zakk’s distinctive camouflage bullseye graphic. It only took a passing familiarity with Gibson to know this guitar wasn’t right, even though it seemed to have an authentic serial number and Zakk’s signature. The tuners, which on the real model are supposed to be gold, had a kind of bubbly matte texture which certainly didn’t look or feel like the real thing. The pickup selector switch was flimsy, the binding was messy, and the pickups were labelled as passive EMG-HZs, not the active EMGs Zakk is so identified with. Popping open the electronics cavity I realised the EMGs were not only the wrong model, they were also fake. The owner didn’t pay anywhere near what a real Zakk axe would cost, and they had a sneaking suspicion they had been sold a forgery, but for the money they could have bought an official Epiphone version of the same guitar and it would have been much higher quality – with real pickups too.

Another example is the Ibanez Jem. This Steve Vai signature model has been in production for nearly 20 years now and there are collectors the world over who lust after particular rare variations, or just the standard white 7VWH model most identified with Vai. Asian Jem fakes are so prevalent on eBay they’ve begun to be referred to in the industry as “Chibanez” guitars. From a distance they may look authentic – they say Ibanez on the headstock, they have the characteristic handle cut into the body, and the creeping vine inlay on the fretboard, but on closer inspection these guitars never hold up. Some are more accurate than others in copying the design, but there are several giveaways. One is the handle – it’s usually just a little bit off in the copies. Spend some time at the picture galleries of to see what the real deal should look like.

Another area is the bridge. Ibanez use their own brand of bridge in their guitars – an Edge model in early Jems, a Lo Pro Edge from the early 90s onward, then the Edge Pro from 2004 to the present, while the budget Jem Jr 555 model should have a Lo TRS II or, after 2004, an Edge Pro II. If you find a Jem that has a Floyd Rose brand tremolo, not only is the guitar a fake, but the trem probably is too. Once again, compare the bridge to the original, because it’s a hard part to fake.

Other areas to inspect for hints of a fake Jem are the pickups (they should be Dimarzios), the vine inlay, the cut of the neck pocket, and the body shape itself. Some fake guitar manufacturers can’t seem to 100% nail the outline of the Jem and its sister model, the RG. If you’re a serious buyer you owe it to yourself to do some serious research and know exactly what it is you’re shopping for, so a few quick clicks at will help you figure out if you’re about to buy a premium guitar or a forgery. Ibanez even has all of their old catalogs online, so you can check a guitar’s authenticity even if it’s a discontinued model. If you have access to the guitar in person, take off the neck to see if the neck and the pocket it fits into on the body are stamped with the model name. Taking off the neck to check authenticity or to verify a model number is a reasonable request when looking to invest in a premium guitar.

Some builders of fake guitars drop little hints that you’re not getting the real deal. A lot of Ibanez Jem rip offs are labelled “Jem Jr,” a name stamped on the real 555 model but definitely not on the 7VWH. I’ve seen fake Gibson guitars where the opening at the top of the “O” in the brand name was widened just enough to read “Gibsun” from close up while still looking like Gibson from across the room.

Musical instrument building is a fine art, reflecting passion, research and craftsmanship. The old adage “You get what you pay for” is definitely true when it comes to guitar buying. If it sounds too cheap, it probably is. Nobody’s really going to sell you a guitar for $300 if it retails for $4,899. Don’t let the thrill of a bargain blind you to the sting of the rip off – you owe it to yourself and the companies whose designs you love to buy the real thing, not an imitation that may look the part but feel and sound nothing like the actual instrument.

NEWS: Steve Vai auctions Jem, pickups, necks. I sell a kidney.

Anyone wanna buy a kidney? Cos I need to raise funds quickly to participate in some auctions coming up on eBay courtesy of one Mr Steve Vai.

A mailout today included the following tantalising tidbit: Winter Ebay Extravaganza

Steve has been clearing out the garage and it’s time for a winter sale.

Among the goodies up for grabs is a Jem777VDY – used both live and in the studio, this yellow Jem was given to an assistant of Steve’s a few years back. In recent times this guitar came back into Steve’s possession, and we now make it available for you. We are open to serious offers on this guitar ahead of it appearing on Ebay. Email us at talk2us[at] with offers or inquiries.

Also up for grabs are a set of DiMarzio prototype pickups, Jem necks, used pedals, straps, amps and more!

Check back in the coming days for a list of gear and photos.


Image used with permission.