Ernie Ball’s new Cobalt string series was introduced at the NAMM Show this year – coinciding with the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations (which included a huge concert featuring Paul Gilbert, Steve Morse, Albert Lee, Randy Jackson, Joe Bonamassa, Blues Saraceno and Steve Vai – who even donned a Gibson Les Paul for some Zeppelin jammage). The Cobalts are one of two string sets unveiled at NAMM this year, the other being the Everlast acoustic strings, which use a breakthrough nanotreatment to enhance the metal surface so it repels moisture and oils. This treatment is a thousand times thinner than any other coating on the market, and it’s available in 80/20 and Phosphor Bronze alloys, in all popular gauges.
The Octavia is a classic yet mysterious effect, and one that’s particularly hard to describe with the written word. It produces an overtone an octave above whatever you play, but it doesn’t sound like a harmonizer or a 12-string guitar. Instead, imagine fuzz combined with the sound that you hear when you run your finger around the rim of a crystal wine glass, except the pitch of the glass follows that of the guitar. It can be hauntingly beautiful when combined with a clean tone or it can add a harmonic, fixed-wah-like quality to distorted ones.
The Voodoo TC Octavia is Roger Mayer’s latest iteration of his historic invention. The intention is very much the same as when Jimi Hendrix used Mayer’s Octavia on “Purple Haze” and “Fire,” but the Voodoo TC range offers many advantages. Continue reading
TC Electronic is particularly known for their amazing reverbs and delays, but the company has quite a handle on gain-based effects as well. Case in point: their brilliant Nova Drive, a programmable, digitally-controllable analog drive unit. But not everybody wants to sift through digital presets and learn parameters and memory banks and the like. Some players just want to turn some knobs, dial in a killer tone and play. That’s where the Röttweiler Distortion comes in.
The Röttweiler Distortion is built using the same basic ‘hammerhead’ rugged die-cast aluminium chassis as TC’s excellent TonePrint pedals and the revolutionary PolyTune tuner, and purely from an aesthetic perspective it looks really cool. I like TC’s design sense. There are four control pots, Gain, Level, Bass and Treble, along with a two-way Voice switch which governs the midrange profile. There’s an input, an output, a True Bypass switch, a really quite bright red LED to indicate that the effect is on, and a 9v DC supply jack. Battery access is through a handy little turn screw on the bottom.
Slash is one of those players who manages to cross the divide between generations. Original classic rock fans love his blues-based style. Hard rock and metal fans dig his attitude. And kids are drawn to his guitar hero persona. Slash has always used top-quality gear and has had no hesitation in putting his name to the equipment that meets his standards. We may not all be able to afford a Gibson Slash Les Paul and his signature Marshall AFD 100 amp, but now with AmpliTube Slash you can at still rock out with a version of Slash’s iconic tone – no, scratch that, make that tones.
AmpliTube Slash is available for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, and you can use IK Multimedia’s iRig or iRig Stomp to connect to the app. Other interfaces which use the 30 pin connector work too, and you can also use iRig MIDI to control AmpliTube Slash with your floor controller.
The app includes five effects (Chorus, Delay, Booster, OctoBlue and Distortion/Wah, the latter being available for free when you register the app) as well as a noise gate, two amplifier heads (Marshall JCM Slash Edition Silver Jubilee and the AFD 100), a single track recorder, expandable to eight tracks with mastering effects. You can export your recordings via email, SoundCloud, FTP or File Sharing. There are 30 tone presets included, and you can create your own too. There’s a tuner, a metronome, and you can import/purchase and play along with your favourite Slash tracks or any music in your library. The SpeedTrainer section lets you slow down or speed up licks while maintaining pitch for practicing. if you currently own AmpliTube for iPad or iPhone, upgrade to version 2.5 for free and all AmpliTube Slash gear models are available as in-app purchase, either as a complete set or a-la-carte.
So those amp models: it appears that there are two included, but really there’s three, with two contained within the Marshall AFD100 amp, just like with the real amp. Lemmie explain. The original AFD100 Slash amp features two modes: AFD and 34. The 34 mode is based on Slash’s modded JCM 800 2208 (which has ’34′ stencilled on the side). The second mode, AFD, adds an extra gain stage and is based on the sound heard on the Appetite For Destruction album. So the AFD model in the app is based on this amp and its two modes. Cool huh?
I plugged my Gibson Les Paul Traditional in using Sonoma Wire Works GuitarJack 2 (I don’t have an iRig Stomp handy) and let rip. I could tell you all about the sounds, but you can hear some of my noodlings here.
There haven’t been many innovations in pickup switching since the 50s. A few coil splits, phase flips, blend pots, series/parallel tweaks and Fender’s S1 are pretty much all that’s happened in that department in 60 years (okay, I’m understating it to make a point, but bare with me). So Ernie Ball Music Man has tackled the problem in a system that takes the best of what techs have been tweaking in back rooms for years, and blows it out to almost unlimited potential in The Game Changer. The best way to describe it is this: it frees the coils of each pickup from the normal order of things, so now you can instantly – and with an analog signal path – rewire your guitar or bass by combining any order of pickup coils in series, parallel and in or out of phase. The result is more than 250,000 possible pickup configurations, which you can create on your computer and then send to the guitar for storage in several banks.
The Les Paul has been through literally hundreds of iterations over the years. The current Les Paul Standard, for instance, is a very different instrument to the Standard of the 50s. It now features a chambered body and a compound radius fretboard. By contrast, the Gibson Les Paul Traditional is more akin to what we think of when we hear ‘Les Paul.’ It has a 12″ fretboard radius and a weight relieved (not chambered) body. It’s the Les Paul for those who want a more classic guitar, inspired by the iconic LPs of the 50s but also channeled through models like the 80s/90s Les Paul Classic. When I decided I needed a Les Paul, I tested out quite a few before settling on the one I ultimately called my own. This is a review of that guitar.
The Traditional model spec calls for a one or two piece Grade A mahogany body with a maple top (about 2cm thick, certainly more than thick enough to have an impact on the tone). Available colours are Heritage Cherry Sunburst, Desert Burst, Honey Burst, Iced Tea, Light Burst, Gold Top, Ebony, Chicago Blue and Wine Red. On this particular guitar the body is made of two pieces of mahogany, joined right down the middle. The Honey Burst top is flamed maple, and while there were many perfectly book matched and frankly breathtaking tops, this particular example has a bit more character. The bass half is heavily flamed and three-dimensional while the treble side is quite different. With the pick guard on you can barely discern any flame at all. Under certain lighting conditions it’s practically plain. Remove the pick guard and there’s a little more flame visible, balancing out the mismatched effect somewhat, but there’s still a big discrepancy between the two halves. This is something you’ll often see on original 1958-1960 Les Paul Standards, so I’m quite happy to see it on this guitar, although some might consider it an imperfection.
Buddy Blaze is a legend in the guitar world. Y’know Dimebag Darrell’s ‘Dean From Hell’ guitar? It was Buddy who acquired that guitar in its original state, then modded the iconic axe with its Floyd Rose and distinctive look before giving it back to Dime. The Kramer Nightswan signature model for Vivian Campbell? That started life as a Buddy Blaze Shredder. Throw in tech work for the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Great White among many, many more, and Buddy has earned a rightful place in metal and hard rock guitar history. Buddy has been making killer rock and metal guitars for years now (the Shredder, the Makani, the Evanator, the K2), and a seven-string version has been high on fans’ wish lists. Buddy displayed two seven-string prototypes at the the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California this January.
The seven-string’s outline is similar to Blaze’s K2 model, although if I had to liken it to any other guitar it would be a Washburn N4 Nuno Bettencourt signature. Both seem to have slightly undersized outlines, along with H-H pickup configurations and a single volume knob paired with a three-way pickup selector. But the Blaze is still a world away from the Washburn in all but the most general of ways.
The octave pedal is an often overlooked tool which can fill in the lower range while a funk or fusion bass player explores higher regions of the neck. It’s also a great way for rock and metal players to add some extended rumble and grind to their sound, or for R&B players to tap into some of the multi-octave vibe that their organ-playing bandmates enjoy. The EBS OctaBass offers a little more control for most, in a robust, reliable package.
There are two control pots on the OctaBass: Normal and Octave. This allows you to blend precise levels of both the octave and natural notes, from a little octave to nothing but, and anything in between. Sure, EBS could have gotten away with a single ‘blend’ pot, but this gives you finer control. There’s also a three-position Range switch which gives you three modes: High (synth), Mid (Classic divider) and Low (low, low low).
One of MXR’s early successes was the Dyna Comp compressor. This legendary little red box was particularly integral to the tone of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and it also found favour with country players who dug the way its rounded tone smoothed over some of the sharp edges of their Telecaster tones (which could be especially emphasised by slapback delay). And it has a permanent place on my pedalboard.
Paul Reed Smith has many gorgeous signature models for artists like Carlos Santana, Alter Bridge/Creed’s Mark Tremonti, David Grissom and Al DiMeola, as well as SE models for Orianthi, Dave Navarro, Bernie Marsden, Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt and many more. The PRS Guitars Signature Limited is a signature model too, but you won’t find a specific artist named on the headstock. Instead this model has the backing of multiple artists: Howard Leese (Heart/Bad Company), Davy Knowles (when I told Davy I was reviewing the Signature Limited, he offered a few words: “It’s the only guitar I’ve played for ages now. So proud to be a part of it!”), Michael Ault, legendary guitar historian Tom Wheeler and Paul Smith himself. The model was launched at the 2011 Winter NAMM show as a 100-piece run through the company’s Private Stock division, but in 2012 the model has been shifted over to the core production line for a still-limited but much-larger, 400-piece run.
Aah, the Les Paul. Is there anything cooler than slinging one down around your knees, slumping over like Slash and reeling off sleazy rock riff after sleazy rock riff? Well, yeah. Not having to put down your beloved axe to pick up a wimpy acoustic to play the ballad is cooler. Not being tied to one of those acoustic guitar stands for the songs when you need to play acoustic and electric parts is cooler. Now, Gibson and Epiphone are well aware of how to make a cool thing cooler – just witness the Gibson Tony Iommi SG or the Epiphone Goth 1958 Explorer for proof. So it should be no surprise that they’ve figured out the least obtrusive way yet to cram acoustic sounds (via a Shadow NanoMag pickup) into an otherwise all-electric Les Paul in the form of the Les Paul Standard Ultra-II.