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.
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 Ernie Ball company is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012, and over the years they’ve done it all: strings, picks, basses, guitars, 7-string guitars, baritone guitars… they have original designs out the wazoo, and an incredible list of famous users who all operate on handshake deals – Steve Lukather, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, Albert Lee, Steve Morse. Heck, even Joe Bonamassa, who has Gibson and Epiphone signature models, still takes to the stage with various Ernie Ball Music Man guitars. The company has never been content to rest on the successes of the past, and their policy of closely listening to and collaborating with artists is why it can be so hard to keep up with their latest models. But that’s also half the fun. And it’s this drive for innovation that brings us to the Reflex, which features a particularly interesting pickup selection circuit as its biggest selling point.
The Reflex is a kind of odd design. It has obvious visual links to the old Edward Van Halen model (which lives on today in slightly modified form as the rather excellent AXIS), but it’s a little stretched out compared to that instrument’s rounder outline, giving it a slight Telecaster vibe, or maybe a little like one of Manson’s creations as used by Muse’s Matt Bellamy. Because this is a new shape, you don’t quite get the ‘I know exactly what kind of music I’m supposed to play on this’ vibe that you get from familiar shapes. So that makes the Reflex a good ‘clean slate’ platform for its unique switching system, and doubly so for Ernie Ball’s use of the instrument as the bed for the Game Changer pickup selection system.
Today’s guitar gallery is Mayones. They make plenty of great production line guitars – check out the Regius Elements – PERFECT with fretted or fretless neck, Seymour Duncan pickups and GraphTech Ghost System (Piezo preamp + MIDI Hexpander), or this Legend T - but their customs are a step beyond even that, as you’ll see from their gallery here. Check out the Setius PRO 7 Slime pictured above. It has an ash top, mahogany body with open sound chambers (look close and you’ll spot ‘em), cbony freeboard, custom green acrylic Slime inscription and position markers, DiMarzio Evolution (bridge) + PAF 7 (neck) pickups with Green covers, genuine Floyd Rose 7 bridge and Schaller tuners.
Or how about this Setius Dime Bomb XTrem 36? 36 frets, DiMarzio Evolution 7 humbucker (angled for 6 strings)… very cool.
Sure, Strictly7 don’t strictly make 7-string guitars – they also do 6, 8 and 9-string models – but whatever the string count, their guitars are incredible. Various production models are available with passive DiMarzio and Bare Knuckle or active Seymour Duncan and EMG pickups. Check out their custom gallery here, but make sure you check out their production models too – including their Ola Englund signature model (read Ola’s blog here).
The Fender Telecaster was the first production-line solidbody electric guitar, and Leo and co got it pretty much right the first time around. The Telecaster’s design is like a perfect storm of tone: the chunky body and the bolt-on neck joint encourage a particular kind of string energy transfer that retains a great deal of treble, and this gives the Tele its legendary ring. But there are many different approaches to the Tele tone. Some players need to tame the treble a bit, some wish to emphasise it, some require lower output, some want lower noise, and some want higher output. The DiMarzio Area T 615 is aimed at modern country players who need to retain the classic Tele tone but who need something a little more finely tuned for overdrive sounds as well as cleans. These players need the true Tele twang, but they also need solid, punchy tones for the rockier styles that have progressively crept into modern country.
The hum-cancelling DiMarzio Area T 615 is built with an Alnico 2 magnet. It has an output of 200 mV and a DC resistance of 7.93 Kohm. This puts it above the vintage-toned Area T bridge (175 Kohm) and below the heftier Area Hot T Bridge (238 Kohm).
Steve Lukather recently unveiled the LIII, a new signature model which takes his established Luke model and updates it with a few tweaks – most notably new custom-voiced passive DiMarzio pickups in place of the active EMGs on the Luke model. And the new, larger body shape was a response to requests from players who felt that the standard version made them look too big. Luke is currently touring Australia with G3 and for Bluesfest, and this guitar sounded incredible in the hands of both Luke and Mike Keneally. And man, I want one. And I have a huge – huge – interview with him to post when I’ve finished typing it up, but here’s a teaser:
“I’m loving mine. I wanted to do a different take on it. Non-active DiMarzios, a little bigger body. It’s a simplification. But we’ve had such fantastic success with the guitar over the years, why not see where this goes? I listen to what people say. Constructive criticism, I’m all about. But if someone’s going to go on the internet and beat the shit out of me for a laugh, there’s not much I can do about that. But I listen to these things. They (Ernie Ball) were a little bit opposed to this at first, but we found a happy medium and so far the reactions are really positive.”
And here are some pics from NAMM:
I’ve just managed to get my hands on Ibanez‘s latest RG 25th anniversary model, and it’s amazing. I guess Ibanez was encouraged by the response to the Evo relic announced at NAMM, so they’ve decided to apply the same treatment to the RG550.
The idea behind this model is to present a typical 1987 Ibanez RG550 as it might appear today, 25 years later and after plenty of hard playing. Features include:
* Basswood body with paint sinking into the wood grain and the joins between the multiple pieces of wood that make up the body.
* Authentic dings and scratches befitting a guitar that fell out of favour in the early 90s and was therefore chucked in a closet without a case.
* Simulated drool patches to mimic what happened to the typical RG550 when the owner replaced the stock pickups with DiMarzios or Duncans.
* Neck joint finish crack.
* Neck crack in between the two bolts for the locking nut.
* ‘Finger dirt’ on the fretboard – as if the owner of the guitar was a loser who kept forgetting to clean his frigging guitar.
* Strap Locks in place of the original strap buttons.
* Dusty, rusted-ass Ibanez Edge tremolo bridge.
The Ibanez RG550APRIL1 is released worldwide on April 1, 2012.
Just stumbled across this video on YouTube of the fine folks from England’s Jaden Rose Guitars capering at the NAMM Show (including some great shreddage by Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders). These guys make incredible guitars that are especially shred and djent-friendly. Six-strings, seven-strings, eight-strings, fixed bridge, Floyd Rose, extended scale, multi-scale, exotic woods, DiMarzio pickups, ridiculously comfortable necks… want!
The DiMarzio Dominon isn’t my only New Pickup Day: I’ve also just installed a DiMarzio Area T 615 in my Telecaster parts guitar. The Area T 615 is a Tele bridge pickup made for modern country music. It’s hum-cancelling and it offers increased dynamic range. It’s made with an Alnico 2 magnet, has a DC resistance of 7.93 Kohm and an output mV of 200, and DiMarzio puts its general tone guide at Treble 7.5, Mid 5.5 and bass 5.5.
I’ve given it a quick spin ahead sitting down to do a full review, and so far I’m really digging how nicely it ‘sits.’ The bass isn’t too big, the highs aren’t too strident and the mids aren’t too honky. It cleans up very nicely indeed when you pick softer, and it sounds great no matter where on the neck you play.
The neck pickup in my home-assembled Tele contraption is a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder, a very dark, woolly-sounding pickup which doesn’t seem to balance very nicely with the Area T 615, although it sounds great with its matching Quarter Pounder bridge pickup.
My dad and I put this Tele together when I was about 15. For a few years it was my main guitar, and it’s been through a hell of a lot with me. I don’t play it very often any more but when I do I feel right at home, even though I’m much more commonly found playing superstrats.
More info on the DiMarzio Area T 615 here.
This weekend I installed a set of DiMarzio Dominion humbuckers in my Ibanez RG550MMX. These pickups are the signature models for Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton. I spoke with Morton about these recently for the debut issue of Heavy magazine. Here’s a snippet from the article:
Morton describes the pickups as medium-output passive humbuckers with a real creamy, smooth quality to them that’s not brittle or barky at all. “It’s a real tight, silky gain structure that’s really nice, and works well in different situations,” he says. “Again going for something that’s versatile, that will crunch up really nice for a Lamb of God gig but which I can also plug in and play Cream covers with my buddies with. I don’t understand why everybody uses active pickups. I don’t. It’s like the guitar playing itself when you use actives. To my ears it should be all about subtleties and nuance and dynamics, and actives just murder all of those!”
You can read more about the Dominion bridge and neck models at the DiMarzio website. A review is coming soon, but below a little clip of me noodling on them using AmpKit on my iPad with a Line 6 Mobile In interface just after I installed them.
Country guitarist Albert Lee is a freak. One of the true greats able to play totally in the pocket in a very tasteful, rhythmic manner – as those who were lucky enough to see him at the recent Ernie Ball 50th Anniversary party can attest – then slice your head off with a seemingly impossible flurry of speedy yet purposeful notes. Lee’s longstanding signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar is much the same: both restrained and outrageous, traditional and exotic. The most common, three-single-coil configuration displays an obvious lineage to the Fender Stratocaster but to think of it as just a pointy Strat is to do the guitar a great disservice. And that fact is driven home even further by the EBMM Albert Lee HH model.
The twin-humbucker HH has the same basic outline as the triple single coil version, with its angular body horns and a very ‘designy’ forearm contour which follows the path set in motion by the slope of the top edge of the cutaway. The body is made of African Mahogany, finished in a high gloss polyester and available in all of EBMM’s Standard Classic Colours range. The company goes to great pains to ensure that all guitars weigh in within a specific range – around 2.95kg, give or take a little, or 0.2kg more for the tremolo version, ensuring consistency from guitar to guitar.