Monthly Archives: February 2009

REVIEW: Gibson Les Paul Nashville Junior Double Cutaway

Gibson has released more variations on the Les Paul theme than most other companies can manage across their entire product line. From the highly tricked out Neal Schon model with Floyd Rose bridge and a sustainer pickup, to the simplicity of the 1957 Les Paul Junior Single Cutaway, there’s something for everybody in the Les Paul line. Personally I really dig the new Les Paul Axcess, but I’ve always had a fondness for Gibson’s Les Paul Junior guitars too.

The Les Paul Nashville Junior Double Cutaway shares many common features with the classic single cutaway model that was probably most famous in the hands of Leslie West and which formed the basis of Green Day front man Billy Joe Armstrong’s signature model, but it deviates from it in several distinctive and important ways.

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REVIEW: Taylor SolidBody Custom

When Taylor debuted the stunning T5 hybrid acoustic/electric guitar, guitarists the world over thought it was just a matter of time before the company unleashed its first fully electric, solidbody guitar. Never one to do quite what’s expected of it, Taylor didn’t release its first solidbody electric: instead they launched their first three solidbody electrics, all at once, each a little bit similar but a lot different.

The SolidBody Classic has a two-piece swamp ash body, funky pickguard, and Taylor’s Style 1 covered humbuckers. The SolidBody Standard has a sapele back with maple veneered laminate top and Taylor Style 2 uncovered humbuckers. I’m reviewing the flagship SolidBody Custom, which has a three piece sapele back with walnut burl veneered laminate top and Style 1 humbuckers.

At first glance the SolidBody Custom might look like a conventional single cutaway electric, but appearances can be deceiving. The first hint that this is something a little different is the neck joint: a single bolt affixes the neck to the body. This system is surprisingly stable, and seems to result in a much smoother transfer of vibration from body to neck, which in turn creates more sustain than typical four or five bolt attachment.
The body itself is heavily chambered, with only the area under the bridge remaining fully solid for maximum string vibration transfer. The rest of the body (or lack thereof, since we’re talking about hollow sound chambers) conspires to add layer after layer of harmonic complexity.

Other ‘look a little bit closer’ features include the unique Taylor hard tail bridge, with height adjustment through the back of the guitar, and a clever fused string ground, in case a faulty ground ever tries to get one over on you. Don’t worry: if the fuse is ever tripped, the guitar will still operate, but it might be a little bit noisy until you replace it. Small price to pay to eliminate the risk of frying one’s lips off due to the combined effects a dodgy microphone and a puddle of beer on stage.

The pickup height adjustment is also accessed from the back of the guitar, keeping the front nice and clean, free of busy-looking adjustment screws. The single volume and tone controls look elegant and feel very sturdy, and the five way pickup selector gives you the following settings: 1: full neck pickup. 2: inside coils of both pickups in parallel. 3: full neck pickup and one coil of the bridge pickup. 4: Two inside coils in series. 5: Full bridge pickup.

One especially useful feature is the tone control. For the first two thirds of its travel it functions like any other master tone control, but get into that final third and it increases midrange ‘honk’ just like a stationary wah pedal. It’s an ingenious design, and one which increases the guitar’s already impressive list of features to near revolutionary levels. Once I started investigating this feature, I must have kept the tone control all the way down for about an hour, experimenting with how this tone interacted with the guitar’s sustain and harmonics at different points on the fretboard.

The SolidBody Custom’s tones are very complex and bright. The chambered body seems to add an extra dimension to the sound not only unplugged (I swear it’s the loudest electric I’ve ever heard acoustically), but also through the pickups. The bridge pickup has a toothy bite with lots of subtle overtones and a healthy but not overbearing amount of string sound (I hesitate to use the term ‘string noise’ because that implies negative connotations, of which I mean none), and the neck unit has a warm and bright jangle. It’s almost like playing a Paul Reed Smith but hearing a Gretsch. The guitar excels at rock, jazz and fusion tones, and even sounds great at ultra high gain levels, where you wouldn’t expect these pickups and this guitar to thrive.

In all honesty, this is one of the best guitars I’ve ever played, and I can only hope that one day I can get my hands on one to keep. Taylor has made a stunning entry to the solidbody electric guitar game. Time will tell if the market is ready to accept Taylor as an electric guitar builder, but with a guitar this cool, if any acoustic maker can cross over, it’s Taylor.

BODY: Sapele with walnut top
NECK: Sapele, ebony fretboard, 22 medium frets
PICKUPS: 2 Taylor Style 1 covered humbuckers
ELECTRONICS: 1 vol, 1 tone, 5 way pickup selector
EXTRAS: Hard case included

REVIEW: Alice In Chains concert, Melbourne, Australia

Palais Theatre, St Kilda, February 26 2009.

The last time Alice In Chains toured Australia, I was still in high school and lived 4 hours away from the nearest capital city. The circumstances required for me to see them live were alarmingly insurmountable, and even after I moved to the big smoke and was geographically and economically able to see them, the tragic death of singer Layne Staley seemed to spell a permanent impasse to my ever witnessing them live. Jerry Cantrell has been one of my favourite players ever since I was about 14, so I was ultra-excited to be able to finally see him live.

Now, of course, Comes With The Fall vocalist William DuVall has taken up the front-and-centre position on stage, and within the first song of the night I’m sure anyone with lingering doubts about his place in the band had resolved to shut the hell up and just get on with having their socks rocked off. DuVall also provides rhythm guitar on certain key tracks, and is a very capable player.

I’ve heard reports from those who saw Alice In Chains back in the day that they were a less-than-inspiring live act, with dull stage presentation and sleepy musical delivery. How much of this is true I can’t really say, but the band who appeared on stage at the Palais last night were energetic and powerful, and certainly knew how to work a crowd. The set list included, but was not limited to, Angry Chair, Man In The Box (third song in!), Rain When I Die, Love Hate Love, Them Bones, Would? Rooster, No Excuses, Dirt, Junkhead and We Die Young.

In the years between Alice In Chains’ first incarnation and 2009, guitarist Jerry Cantrell seems to have picked up a more cultured, controlled vibrato, and was able to nail accurately-pitched bends with a confidence I don’t recall hearing in previous performances. Naturally it stands to reason that one’s playing will develop and evolve over a given time span, so this should come as no surprise, but the Jerry Cantrell on stage last night seemed to go that extra step beyond what the Jerry Cantrell of 1993 was capable of in terms of phrasing, dynamics and all out rock power. By the way, Cantrell still uses his original old G&L Rampage, as well as a few other Rampages, and some Gibson Les Pauls.

Mike Inez was, as always, a very solid player, keeping the sound full and powerful on any of the single-guitar songs in which Cantrell took solos. He seemed to be smiling all night, and locked in perfectly with drummer Sean Kinney’s behind-the-beat-yet-perfectly-in-time playing. Incidentally, I’m not sure how but Kinney has managed to not age one day since 1993. Dude must be into some kind of freaky age-defying voodoo.

Finally, special mention must be made of the band’s trademark vocal harmonies. Longtime fans of the band are surely well aware that Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies and backing vocals (and occasional lead vocal lines such as in the verses for Grind and Would?) were always an important part of the band’s sound. Well, despite the swapping of Staley for DuVall, Alice In Chains still sounds like Alice In Chains, and a big reason for that is that Jerry is still singing too. This is certainly not like in the case of Van Halen where the whole sound of any back catalogue songs changed when Sammy Hagar stepped into David Lee Roth’s gig.

If you haven’t seen the new version of Alice In Chains because you’re sceptical about whether they can hold it together and live up to their legacy, it’s time to put aside such concerns and check them out. Of course they’ll never be the same without Layne, but last night’s performance was a powerful demonstration that the Alice In Chains of 2009 deserves to be spoken of in the same reverential tones as the Alice In Chains of the 90s.

NEWS: Faith No More reunion totally, utterly confirmed!

More from Blabbermouth.net, including confirmation that the guitarist for the reunion is John Hudson, who played with the band on their final CD, ‘Album Of The Year.’

FAITH NO MORE bassist Bill Gould has released the following statement to BLABBERMOUTH.NET:

“FAITH NO MORE has always stood out as some sort of unique beast; part dog, part cat — its music almost as schizophrenic as the personalities of its members. When it all worked, it worked really well, even if the chemistry was always volatile.

“Throughout our 17 years of existence, the mental and physical energy required to sustain this creature was considerable and relentless. Though amicable enough, when we finally split, we all followed paths seemingly destined to opposite ends of the universe. Yet during the entire 10 years that have passed since our decision to break up we’ve experienced constant rumors and requests from fans and promoters alike. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, none of us kept in regular touch, much less to discuss any possibilities of getting together.

“What’s changed is that this year, for the first time, we’ve all decided to sit down together and talk about it. And what we’ve discovered is that time has afforded us enough distance to look back on our years together through a clearer lens and made us realize that through all the hard work, the music still sounds good, and we are beginning to appreciate the fact that we might have actually done something right. Meanwhile, we find ourselves at a moment in time with zero label obligations, still young and strong enough to deliver a kick-ass set, with enthusiasm to not only revisit our past but possibly add something to the present. And so with this we’ve decided to hold our collective breaths and jump off this cliff…. BACK, GOD FORBID, INTO THE MONKEY CAGE!!!

“We can only hope that the experience of playing together again will yield results erratic and unpredictable enough to live up to the legacy of FNM.

“Who knows where this will end or what it will bring up… only the future knows. But we are about to find out!”

FAITH NO MORE 2009 is:

Mike Bordin – Drums
Roddy Bottum – Keyboards
Bill Gould – Bass
Jon Hudson – Guitar
Mike Patton – Vocals

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the story.

REVIEW: Bogner Alchemist

I’ll be perfectly honest with ya, I’d been looking forward to the day when I got to test-drive a Bogner Alchemist like a kid looks forward to Christmas. Then again, I look forward to Christmas like I look forward to cranking tube amps. Anyway, the Bogner Alchemist is the first ‘relatively low-cost’ offering from the eccentric, California-based, German-raised amp genius Reinhold Bogner (if you wanna see how eccentric, go to bogneramplification.com and scroll down the news page). Bogner’s modern classic USA-built amps, such as the Ecstasy and Uberschall, are now badged as Bogner Custom Shop, with the straight Bogner name now being used for the Alchemist series, which are built in China. Straight up, let me say the build quality is very high, so don’t let that ‘Made In China’ throw ya.

The 6L6-loaded, Class AB-powered, 40-watt Alchemist is available as 1X12 and 2X12 open-back combos, and a 100 watt head with matching open-back 2X12 cabinet. I tested the 2X12 combo (and I also ran it through my closed-back Marshall 4X12 cab and an AxeTrak isolated speaker box). Channel 1 (the Gold) channel has controls for gain, treble, middle, bass and volume in addition to slider switches for Clean/Crunch, Bright (treble boost) and Deep (low boost). Next are a pair of switches for channel switching and a solo boost. Channel 2 (Mercury) also has gain, treble, middle, bass and volume controls, along with switches for Punch, Bright and Mid Shift. Next there’s an effect section with delay (Ducking, Analog and Tape) and reverb (Plate, Spring, Hall). Finally, there are power and standby switches, the latter of which has selects between standby, 20 watt or 40 watt operation. The supplied footswitch selects channel, boost, delay and reverb. The effects loop is parallel, meaning that whatever effect is in the loop will be running alongside the unadorned sound. The loop has its own level control, it travels independently of the main signal for improved clarity, and it’s designed for instrument-level effects (ie: stompboxes), although the manual says rack gear can be used too if you’re careful with the levels.

With so many control options, one could worry that the amp is too complex, but after a few minutes it all becomes very intuitive. The Gold channel can go from the cleanest of clean to a grindy crunch that is heavy enough to work for Foo Fighters or even Metallica-style rhythms (at least Kill Em All and Load eras…), or can be backed off for a more classic rock response. The in-between sounds are especially dynamic and controllable: a sparkly, Hendrixy single coil sound can be driven to a toothy bite just with harder pick attack, great for emphasising particular licks and even greater for covering ‘Little Wing.’ The sound may be a bit too open for more intense metal tones but that’s not really what the Alchemist is for.

The Mercury channel bares the obvious influence of the Bogner Ecstasy: anyone who’s heard Steve Vai on the first G3 DVD will recognise certain shared tonal characteristics here. Again the amp responds super-well to playing dynamics, until reaching saturation point where the attack compresses and smoothes out. Lay back a bit and notes seem to grow and evolve with an almost vocal-like midrange envelope. It’s pretty addictive, especially in medium gain levels, where you can wring a wide range of tones out of your strings. It’s also very fingerpicking-friendly, with great articulation for those Jeff Beck licks. Again this is going to work for certain types of players more than others, and may not be suited to more metallic sounds requiring flatter dynamics.

This is one of the most versatile amps I’ve ever played, yet it feels very simple despite its complexity. The cleans can be polite enough for jazz, edgy enough for blues, jangly enough for indie, punchy enough for rock, grindy enough for more traditional variants of metal, and hyper enough for shred. Frankly, I want one!

To hear the Alchemist in action, here’s my video demo, which I posted on YouTube and linked to from I Heart Guitar about a month ago.

NEWS: Yngwie acoustic EP cover

So here’s the cover of Yngwie’s forthcoming 7-track acoustic EP, Angels Of Love, and it’s one of those exceedingly rare Yngwie album covers that doesn’t feature a photo of our facourite Swedish shredder poised to rock your socks off. Instead it looks like Angelina Jolie perched in waiting to adopt 30 more children, or perhaps like an advertisement in a magazine for a perfume you would buy your mum for her birthday.

Angels of Love is released on March 10 in the US, and April 1 in Japan.

The track list is:

1. Like an Angel
2. Save Our Love
3. Prelude To April
4. Sorrow
5. Memories
6. Miracle of Life
7. Forever One.

CLICK HERE to preorder the CD on Amazon.com

REVIEW: Jim Dunlop Buddy Guy Wah Wah

Dunlop seems to be going full tilt with the signature wah pedals lately – Dimebag Darrell, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Eddie Van Halen… and finally they’re honouring one of the originators of wah in a blues/rock setting, the great Buddy Guy.

Even at a glance, anyone familiar with Buddy would know this is his wah. It’s kitted out in the same white polka dot on black background as his signature Fender Stratocaster, and his signature is present in moulded form on the treadle. The finish of the pedal itself is very slick, thick and glossy, and looks like it would withstand a huge number of knocks and bumps before starting to show the even the faintest hint of wear. Normally stuff like that wouldn’t bother me on a pedal (I’m sure everyone has a banged-up Boss DS-1 or Crybaby under their bed, if not on their pedalboard), but in the case of the Buddy wah I’d like to preserve that neat polka dot finish for as long as possible.

Similar to the boost switch on the side of the Dimebag wah, there’s a small kick button on the right side of the pedal which allows you to go from the default “Deep” mode to the “BG” mode. There are LEDs on both sides of the pedal to let you know if the effect is engaged (blue) and if Buddy’s “BG” mode is selected (red).

Inside, the pedal features true bypass switching and a Fasel inductor. The inductor is the brain of a wah circuit, if you will, and tone hounds have long praised older Crybaby wahs which used a Fasel brand inductor, over later models which didn’t. In recent years the company has brought back this venerated component in many of its wahs, and it’s become a strong selling point.

Let’s kick the pedal into action and start with the “Deep” mode. The filter sweep of this mode includes a low pass range of 250Hz – 330Hz and a high pass range of 1.3kHz-1.6kHz (by comparison, the ZW-45 Zakk Wylde Signature Wah has a low pass range of 250Hz-350Hz and a high pass range of 1.4kHz-2.4kHz). This mode is very thick and deep sounding, with certain harmonic overtones located at about ¾ of the way through the pedal’s sweep which almost sound like they’re generating an additional octave above whatever note you’re playing. It’s a very addictive sound which works really well for single note riffs, and even better for low, gruff distorted rhythm guitar. On this sound alone a lot of people will be sold on this pedal. It also sounds particularly great when used ‘in reverse’ – that is, rocking the pedal from toe-down to heel-down over the course of a note, instead of the other way around.

In “BG” mode, the low pass range is 290Hz – 390Hz and the high pass range is 1.5kHz –1.9kHz. The result is a thinner, more trebly sound which seems to especially appreciate single coil pickups and cleaner tones. It’s closer to a traditional Crybaby voicing, but with more sparkle and less low end. In all honesty I would probably use the “Deep” mode more often than the “BG” mode, mainly because it seems to have a more distinctive character. That’s not to say that “BG” mode sounds bad, because it’s actually quite good, but it’s more standard-sounding. Then again, it’s nice to have both modes available in the one pedal, as there are certainly times when a more traditional wah sound is called for.

Purely on the strength of the “Deep” mode, the Buddy Guy Signature Wah would be a unique addition to the ever-growing stable of Dunlop wahs. The “BG” mode, though it’s really the featured mode of the pedal, is almost a straightforward option compared to the strength of the other mode, and you really do get two pedals in one: A hepped-up but more traditional wah, and the fat, funky “Deep” mode that you’ll have a hard time turning off. While I only had this wah for a few weeks for the purposes of review, I will definitely buy one soon to replace my tired old Crybaby.

NEWS: Faith No More reunion!

One of the first singles I ever bought (back when vinyl was current rather than kitsch) was Faith No More’s ‘Epic.’ Actually I think it might have been a Christmas present from my older brother. Anyway, back then, in the heady days of 1989, Faith No More were an absolute head****, and even moreso when they released Angel Dust a few years later. I was fortunate to see them in 1997 on their last tour, and I’d very much resigned myself to the belief that they’d never play together again. Even recent talk of a reunion sounded like another of those rumours that swell up and die off without fanfare.

Then today I see this on Blabbermouth:

Former FAITH NO MORE singer Mike Patton’s publicist has confirmed that the hugely influential ’90s alt-metal band will reunite for a summer tour. At the moment, it appears that the group will only perform in Europe and there are absolutely no plans to tour the States.

The news was broken in the final line of a press release sent late Monday night (February 23) promoting Patton’s involvement in the “major motion film ‘Crank 2: High Voltage’, which listed Patton’s upcoming performance schedule, including a stop at the Coachella festival and “the highly anticipated reunion tour with FAITH NO MORE in Europe this summer.”

As previously reported, a source close to guitarist Jim Martin, who was in FAITH NO MORE from 1983 until 1993, has told BLABBERMOUTH.NET that the axeman expressed interest in taking part in the reunion after being recently contacted by keyboardist Roddy Bottum and a member of FAITH NO MORE’s management team, but that the band inexplicably decided to utilize a different guitarist — believed to be one of several musicians that were in FAITH NO MORE following Martin’s exit from the group — for the upcoming dates.

Awesome. If Jim Martin’s not involved, I’d love for the guitarist to be Trey Spruance, but I dunno if he’d be into it, so my next and probably more likely choice would be Jon Hudson, who was a great addition to the band for their final CD, ‘Album Of The Year.’

REVIEW: Fender Deluxe Lone Star Stratocaster

There have been about a million variations on the classic Stratocaster theme since its 1954 introduction. Some of them have been less than obvious to the casual glance, like changes in neck construction methods and the move to 3 ply pickguards back in the early days. Others have been pretty over the top, like the old Ritchie Sambora signature model with a Floyd Rose bridge and star shaped inlays. The Deluxe Lone Star Stratocaster doesn’t try to be too drastically different from the classic Strat blueprint, so what is it that sets this one apart, and why has Fender decided to reissue the guitar only a few years after discontinuing it?

The chief difference with the Lone Star Strat is its choice of pickups, all of which have a distinctive Texas pedigree. The neck and middle pickups are Fender’s own Texas Special single coils. These pickups first surfaced on the original Stevie Ray Vaughan signature model in the early 90s. They’re wound hotter than the average single coil for thicker, fatter tone with a higher output for that down and dirty blues sound. They’re especially happy when kicking a cranked valve amp right where it counts. The bridge pickup is a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Plus model, which Seymour himself designed when Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top wanted a pickup to make any guitar sound like his beloved 1959 Gibson Les Paul, a guitar which Gibbons named …Pearly Gates. Electronics include tone controls for the bridge and neck pickups, and a 5-way pickup selector switch. Position 2 on the switch combines the full humbucker with the middle single coil. Some companies might split the humbucker into a single too for this setting, but the extra toughness of the full humbucker is in keeping with the Lone Star vibe.

Besides the pickups, appointments on this model include a brown shell pickguard, a vintage-tinted C-shaped maple neck with rosewood fretboard and 21 medium jumbo frets. The fretboard radius is a roundish 9.5”. With this type of radius, a very low string height can sometimes result in choked out notes when bending, but careful maintenance of a good setup can avoid this. The factory setup has the strings at a nice medium height, great for digging in hard for gutsy, tough blues, and for really grabbing the strings for big soulful bends.

The Lone Star Strat has a vintage style synchronized tremolo bridge, and although this is in no way a Stevie Ray Vaughan signature model, it does make me reflect on how SRV never made the switch to guitars with a two-point knife edge tremolo, so it in the spirit of Texas blues it makes sense to see the old six-screw version represented here. The body is alder, a common wood for Stratocasters, with a nice balance of frequencies.

The Pearly Gates humbucker sounds killer on a Strat. The upper midrange response makes this a great axe for those who want a Satriani style tone but don’t want to play a high tech Ibanez to get it, and when driving a dirty, overdriven amp the sound opens up beautifully. The pickup responds especially well to Jeff Beck-style finger picking, and it tracks very well for fast playing.

The Texas Specials have that up-front, punchy sound associated with SRV: tight bass, immediate impact, and open treble. There is a wide range of tonal flexibility available by adjusting the guitar’s volume control, and without too much work you should be able to find a sweet spot with the volume at about 2/3 of the way up where the single coils sound more bell-like, before cranking it back to 10 for more fatness and grunt.

The Lone Star Stratocaster is for those who want a traditional Strat but need a bit more power and flexibility. It’s a Stratocaster for those who like their steak rare or, to partially quote Homer Simpson, people who like their beer cold and their TV loud.

Body: Alder
Neck: Tinted maple
Fretboard: Rosewood, 21 medium jumbo frets, 9.5” radius.
Pickups: Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Plus (bridge), Fender Texas Special (neck, middle).
Extras: Deluxe padded gig bag.

CLICK HERE to search for Fender Stratocasters on eBay.

REVIEW: Digitech Whammy WH4 Pedal

The DigiTech Whammy Pedal first arrived on the scene in the early 1990s (I remember first seeing it in an ad in the British magazine Guitar way back then), and was quickly adopted by the big wigs of the shred movement, such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, for high pitched sonic freakout squeals and other tricks. The pedal was originally designed and marketed as a way of copying whammy bar effects on fixed bridge guitars such as Les Pauls and Telecasters, right around the time that dive bombs and racing car effects started to go out of fashion. However, players soon realised that the ‘pitch up’ settings were of more musical use than ‘pitch down,’ and a sonic revolution ensued.

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8 Whammy Pedal moments you totally have to hear

Steve Vai – Touching Tongues (Sex & Religion)
Vai combines a whammy pedal and delay to create complex harmonies and countermelodies in the chorus of this track from 1993’s Sex & Religion album. Very musical, very creative and very cool.

Living Colour – Wall (Stain)
With a delay effect keeping the groove going, bass player Doug Wimbish picks out certain notes to emphasise with the Whammy pedal before shifting the whole friggin’ riff up an octave over the course of the final bar of the intro. Awesome.

Pantera – Becoming (Far Beyond Driven)
Dimebag stomps on the Whammy pedal on the second beat of each bar of this killer riff. Live he liked to rock out without having to worry about pedals, so his tech did all Dime’s Whammy squealing for him.

Audioslave – Like A Stone (Audioslave)
Tom Morello uses the Whammy Pedal almost like Eddie Van Halen sometimes does with the whammy bar, using it to slide into each note from below. Awesome.

Pink Floyd – Marooned (The Division Bell)
The Whammy Pedal usage in this song is pretty subtle on first listen. David Gilmour uses it to stretch bends out over an octave, but he blends it in with his regular playing style so seamlessly that you can be forgiven for not even noticing.

Joe Satriani – Cool #9 (Joe Satriani)
The Whammy Pedal had been available for a while when Satch released this track on his low key, live-vibed self-titled album, and he’s used the pedal a lot since, but the open space provided by the vamp of this track leaves plenty of room to hear Joe’s intuitive Whammy Pedal technique in detail.

Coverdale/Page – Over Now (Coverdale/Page)
Jimmy Page uses the original WH1Whammy Pedal’s ‘Down 2nd’ mode to slide an A5 chord down to a D5. This setting is still present in the WH1, but these days they call it ‘Drop Tune.’

The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army (Elephant)
What sounds like a bass on this track is actually a Digitech Whammy Pedal with the pitch dropped way down below the basement. While Jack White loves his vintage analog gear, he’s obviously not shy about the occasional digital chip either.

CLICK HERE to read my review of the DigiTech Whammy Pedal.

REVIEW: MXR Classic 108 Fuzz

I’m a bit of an MXR/Jim Dunlop fanboy. The MXR-to-other-stuff ratio on my pedalboard is about 70:30. I push my amp with an MXR/Custom Audio Electronics boost/overdrive, I get my swirl on via an EVH Phase 90, and the Carbon Copy Analog Delay is probably the funkiest, warmest sounding delay on the market, and earlier this year I finally bought a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz, which was literally the very first pedal I became aware of, the day I bought my first guitar magazine at age 12.

And this brings us to the Classic 108 Fuzz. Essentially this pedal is simply the guts of the BC 108-loaded Fuzz Face, transplanted into a more pedalboard-friendly layout than the almost hubcap-like proportions of the original unit. Boutique builders have been doing this very thing for years, and MXR is well aware they need to do something to make the Classic 108 Fuzz stand out from the pack. So aside from the authenticity of being built by the very company that now owns the rights to the design, MXR/Dunlop has ensured this stand-outedness by adding a buffer circuit. More on that later.

Controls are simple: Volume and Fuzz. There are no tone controls or switches, just the buffer button. Unlike the original Fuzz Face, the Classic 108 Fuzz has a removable battery door (the same kind as on the bottom of my MXR/CAE Boost/OD), a simple design which I think should be implemented across the pedal line, and tradition be damned: who wants to have to unscrew a pedal baseplate just to change a battery? Other updates include optional AC operation (I ran it off a battery and my Gator power supply), true bypass, and a status LED. The buffer also has its own LED, when it’s on, it’s on, regardless of whether you’ve turned on the effect or not. This is especially important over long cable runs, where the signal would degrade if not given a helping hand through a buffer.

In unbuffered mode, the Classic 108 Fuzz sounds round, barky and dirty. Just like it’s supposed to. There’s a kind of synthetic charm to the sound that’s not attainable by later overdrive and distortion designs, which are intended to mimic or at least approximate the sound of an overdriven amp. This pedal is pure vintage bliss, Hendrixy voodoo intact, with unearthly-sounding overtones and squashed dynamics all over the place. Pickup selection and phrasing choices make some amount of difference to the sound, but the pedal always adds its own character, regardless of whether you set the gain level to ‘kill’ or if you back it off a bit for some grit and dirt. Chords mush together in an oh-so-fuzzy way, and single notes have a kind of buzzy, violin-like sustain – great for those Eric Johnson moments, especially with some nice cascading analog delay repeats.

Kicking in the buffer has an additional and very practical use: to eliminate an annoying oscillation which can occur between this type of fuzz and certain wah wah pedals. But it also has a drastic effect on the tone, almost kicking the sound up to hi-fi levels (which is not usually a term associated with vintage fuzz). Pick attack and note definition are increased, as are upper midrange harmonics. I loved this sound through my slightly overdriven Marshall DSL50 head, where it added an old school fuzz edge while pushing the amp into a more modern high gain sound. Lower gain levels on the pedal, or volume settings on the guitar, clean up the sound while maintaining that cool vintage vibe. Using my Ibanez Jem7VWH and a more modern-sounding digital delay, the result was a thick, compressed tone with lots of harmonics and an upper midrange spike with added thump to palm-muted notes on the lower strings while evening out legato lines on the higher ones.

Despite its simple origins, this is a very versatile pedal which can be appreciated by rockers, fusionists, blues guys, even metalheads who need an extra lashing of evil for solos. I’m sure I’ll be adding one to my ever-growing pedalboard as soon as possible, especially for the aforementioned Jem/digital delay/overdriven Marshall combination.

Merchant City Music

Peter Hodgson Hi! I'm Peter Hodgson. I write for Gibson.com, Australian Guitar, Australian Musician, Mixdown Magazine (including my instructional column, 'Unleash Your Inner Rock God,' which has been running since 2007), BluntBeat (including their weekly hard rock/metal column Crunch) and The Brag. And I'm Assistant Social Coordinator with Seymour Duncan. I've been playing guitar since I was 8 years old, and I've been writing for magazines since I was 18. I've also worked as a guitar teacher (up to 50 students a week), a setup tech, a newspaper editor, and I've also dabbled in radio a little bit. I live in Melbourne, Australia, and my hobbies include drinking way too much coffee, and eating way too much Mexican food. You can check out my guitar playing at Bandcamp or on YouTube, and feel free to email me at iheartguitarblog@gmail.com If you'd like to support the site, feel free to kick in a couple o'bucks using this donation button.

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