NAMM 2020: Framus makes a more affordable Devin Townsend Stormbender

The Devin Townsend Stormbender is a gorgeous guitar, as anyone who has got their mitts on one will know. But it’s also dang pricey. So Framus has just announced a new, more affordable version of the instrument. It’s no budget cheapie though: it’s part of the company’s D-Series, crafted in China to a very high standard, and it’s still gonna cost you a fair chunk o’cash, just not the super high prices a Teambuilt or Masterbuilt Stormbender made in Germany would cost ya.

The most obvious differences from the Teambuilt Stormbender that it most closely resembles are the use of a Tune-o-Matic bridge and Stop tailpiece instead of an EverTune system, and the absence of any fancy inlay at the 12th fret. Otherwise you might be hard-pressed to spot a difference. It comes with Devin’s signature Fishman Fluence pickups, AAAA flamed Maple veneer top, set-neck construction, 25.5″ scale length, 12″ fretboard radius… basically it’s a damn nice guitar that still sits in a higher price bracket but nowhere near the six grand that a Teambuilt will cost you here in Australia. (I haven’t even looked at the Masterbuilt prices because I’m too scared).

If you haven’t heard it yet, Devin was on the I Heart Guitar podcast a little while ago. Listen to it here.

Speaking of the Stormbender, you ever seen Devin’s rainbow one? I adore this guitar.

And if you’d like to know more about the Stormbender in general, check out this video:

And of course the song that gives the guitar its name!

The Ultimate Guitar Pickup Guide

Pickup Basics

The simplest way to think of a pickup is “like a microphone for an electric guitar.” And have you ever noticed that if you pluck the string close to the bridge the note will sound bright and twangy, whereas if you pick right down by the neck you’ll hear a softer, rounder tone? Well if you place a pickup near the bridge of the guitar it will sound sharper and brighter compared to one that’s placed near the neck. This is why the majority of guitars have more than one pickup: so you can select different sounds from the full and warm to the thin and snappy.

From a mechanical perspective, a pickup is simply a magnet with a bunch of copper wire wrapped around it. The magnet creates its own magnetic field. The vibration of the metallic guitar string interacts with that field, and the changing magnetic flux induces a voltage in the coil of wire. This then gets sent to your amp where it’s turned into music. There are two main types of pickups: single coils and humbuckers. Let’s have a look at each, and what they do.

Single Coils
Single coils (like you might find on a Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster) have a clear, twangy sound, and they tend to sound really great through a clean, un-distorted amp setting. This type of single coil pickup is made by wrapping wire around six ‘slug’ pole pieces (which are held in place by flatwork to create a bobbin). A cover is usually placed over the pickup to protect the wire.

But single coils have a drawback: you’ll notice a bit of background buzz which is just part and parcel of the single coil experience. Some players swear by this sound because it’s a link back to guitar’s vintage past. Others want to get rid of it so they can only have the pristine single coil sound minus the hum. Various noiseless single coils are available from companies like Fender, DiMarzio, Kinman and Seymour Duncan. Single coils are great for country, blues, indie and alternative styles.

Humbuckers
The idea behind humbuckers is to use two separate pickup coils, each wound in a different direction, over a central magnet. The hum is cancelled out by the two different coil directions, and the overall tone is generally thicker, louder, warmer and fuller than single coils. Humbuckers are great for heavier styles like classic rock, hard rock and metal, and they can add some toughness and raunch to blues too. And the softer, smoother tone of humbuckers makes them great for jazz as well, especially if you use a humbucker in the neck position on a big hollow-body guitar.

You can use single coils and humbuckers in the same guitar. Popular configurations include a humbucker in the bridge position with single coils in the middle and neck spots; humbuckers in the bridge and neck with a single in the middle; or a single coil in the bridge position of a Telecaster with a humbucker in the neck position.

But What Are P90s?
The P90 is a single coil too, but it’s larger than a Stratocaster-style single coil, and its sound is edgier, rattier and hotter. It’s a great choice for alternative, punk, country and blues, goes great with slide guitar, and is even suited to styles like stoner rock and vintage metal: flip to the neck pickup of a P90-loaded guitar and play Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” to see what I mean. Because they’re single coils, P90s are prone to the same noise issues. And just like other single coils, various companies also make noiseless versions to counteract this.

Active vs Passive Pickups
A passive pickup is the most common kind (to the point where people rarely even use the term ‘passive pickup’ unless they’re comparing it to an active pickup: they simply say ‘pickup’). An active pickup is usually wound much weaker than a passive pickup, but its signal is amplified from within the pickup itself, usually via an internal 9 volt battery. There are several advantages: the output is usually more powerful; there’s often more sustain; and the sound will stay intact even if you use a really long cable (whereas the signal of a passive pickup will degrade more and more the longer your cable is). Active pickups are available in humbucker and single coil versions, and they’re both very quiet. You’ll hear active EMG single coil pickups in the hands of Mr. David Gilmour in the 80s and 90s – Pink Floyd’s P.U.L.S.E live album and DVD is essentially one huge catalog of great active single coil sounds – while companies like EMG and Seymour Duncan make plenty of humbucker models that are great for heavier styes, where the power and clarity of an active pickup come in really handy during high-speed runs and palm-muted chugs. It’s generally very difficult to install active and passive pickups in the same guitar, so usually you’ll find one kind or the other, not both. If you’d like active and passive sounds in the same guitar, check out Fishman’s Fluence series, active pickups which offer several selectable sounds, usually a more active-voiced and a more passive-voiced one. I particularly like the Devin Townsend signature set.

Magnets
Whether you choose single coil or humbucker, active or passive, the size, type and configuration of magnet/s that you use in your pickup all have a big influence on the sound that the pickup produces, as does the type of wire: how thick it is, how it’s insulated, how it’s wound around the bobbins, how many turns of wire. For instance, if you add more turns of wire then the pickup will have a louder perceived output, but will lose treble frequencies. You can counteract this by using a stronger magnet instead of extra turns, or you can raise the height of adjustable pole pieces to get more treble back into your sound. And the closer the pickup is to the string, the louder the pickup will seem to be. Raise it too close to the strings though, and the pickup’s magnetic field will negatively affect the vibration of the string, leading to weird out-of-tune notes and/or a weird ‘wub-wub-wub’ oscillating overtone. And adjustable pole pieces can also help you to refine the magnetic field and its interaction with different strings. Is the B string a little quiet compared to the rest, especially when you’re running a clean tone? Well then, raise its pole piece a little to boost the height of the magnetic field in that section of pickup. Want less bass and output but more treble? Lower the pickup a little and raise the pole pieces. Easy! But let’s backtrack a bit…

All of these factors influence the sound of a pickup, but one of the easiest to quantify is the magnet type. There are a few magnets that are typically used in pickups, and by knowing a little bit about them you can more easily figure out which one might work for the sound you’re going for. We’ll start by looking at Alnico, an iron alloy which includes iron (of course), aluminuim (Al), nickel (Ni) and cobalt (Co), as well as a little bit of copper (Cu). (I guess when they were naming it they decided against Fealnicocu). The three most commonly used Alnico magnets for pickups are Alnico II, Alnico III and Alnico V, although Alnico VIII is also sometimes used. Let’s look a few of the most popular magnets, with a focus on how they apply to humbuckers.

Alnico III
It may be a little counterintuitive, but Alnico III is the weakest of the magnets used in pickups because it has no cobalt. But I guess it’d be confusing to just call it ‘Alni.’ It has the lowest magnetic pull, which means the strings are less influenced by the pickup’s magnetic pull, and this makes it a popular choice for neck pickups. It’s a little more ‘confident’ in its tone compared to Alnico II, although both exhibit a similar ‘softness.’ Many players like to balance an Alnico III neck pickup against an Alnico II in the bridge.

Alnico II
Alnico II is associated with the original PAF humbucker, and it’s still used today in a great number of pickups. The tone is relatively soft and clear, often described as sweet, with a slight rounding off of the more brittle treble frequencies. It can sound very musical and mellifluous with a clean tone, and rather ’singing’ with overdrive. If you’re running a hotter, more distorted tone you may find that Alnico II humbuckers tend to provide excellent note separation for complex chords.

Alnico V
Alnico V pickups usually sound hotter and more ‘edgy’ than their Alnico II and III counterparts. They’re great at more aggressive tones and in situations where you need a little more ‘unity’ in your chords: notes may knit together a little more tightly when you’re chording through heavy distortion with an Alnico V pickup. It’s also a little warmer in the midrange, which makes it great for lead guitar.

Ceramic
Ceramic magnets are also used in some pickups. Their sound is usually characterised as more ‘modern,’ with a tighter low end, more ‘cut’ and higher output compared to Alnico magnets. You can usually bet that a ceramic-loaded guitar will sound pretty powerful, maybe with a little more bold midrange, especially in the upper mids. Some early ceramic pickups sounded rather flat and pinched, but as pickup companies further explored the capabilities of the magnets they discovered how to really get the most out of the tone.

Alnico VIII
Alnico VIII is probably the least common magnet type, but many players consider it to be an undiscovered gem, It gives you the power of a ceramic magnet but with the warmth and harmonics of an Alnico V, and is a great way of preserving some of the woodiness of your guitar tone while still hitting your amp with plenty of output.

What’s a split coil/coil tap?
Many players confuse ‘coil split’ and ‘coil tap,’ using the terms interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different. A coil split involves a humbucker pickup whose wiring lets you essentially switch one coil off, thereby turning it into a single coil. Many players like having the tonal flexibility of having single coil and humbucker tones available in the same guitar. Unless you’re buying an intentionally vintage-styled pickup, most pickups these days come with four conductor wiring as stock. That usually entails four separate wires (a ‘start’ and ‘end’ for each pickup coil), plus a ground wire. You can have your guitar wired so you can turn off one coil via a push-pull switch built into a volume control, or you can use a separate toggle switch, or (depending on the type of switch you’re using) special custom wiring. You will get single coil hum when using single coil mode, but not humbucker mode.

A coil tap is different: it involves a single coil pickup which is made with an extra wire coming off it to give you two different levels of output. The full output and a lower ‘tapped’ output. Again you can use a push-pull knob, a toggle switch or special wiring to engage the tapped mode. The benefit here is that you can have a ‘full-power’ sound for solos and huge riffs, then flip to tapped mode to reduce the output, distortion and volume for quieter moments when you need to drift into the background a bit.

Acoustic Guitar pickups
Amplifying an acoustic guitar can be tricky. Part of what makes an acoustic guitar great – perhaps the most major part, really – is the resonance that occurs within the body itself. But the most popular type of pickup for acoustic guitars is the piezo element, which lives underneath the bridge saddle and translates the vibration of the strings through the bridge into amplifiable sound. But this process gives you a distinctive harsh ‘quack’ tone which you then need to either live with or eliminate. There are plenty of preamps and outboard devices out there which superimpose ‘profiles’ of different acoustic guitars onto your piezo sound, thickening it up and greatly reducing the synthetic effect of the piezo pickup.

There are a few other options though (other than simply micing your acoustic guitar up with a microphone or two, which can be great in the studio but problematic in a live environment). One is a magnetic pickup, much like those used for electric guitars. These still pick up the sound of the strings themselves, rather than the strings as resonated through the body, but the effect is much warmer and less harsh and brittle than a typical unprocessed piezo element. The other option is an internal microphone system, which will give you a much more accurate reading of the actual sound of your guitar. There are some units which combine several of these options – for instance an internal mic for the resonance and a magnetic or piezo pickup for the detail, with the ability to blend between them. Some of these systems come as stock equipment in the guitar when you buy it, while others will need to be installed, either by yourself or a competent technician (depending on complexity of the job: some simply pop in while others need a little bit more work).

Technical Terms

Pole Piece: A metal slug or screw which corresponds to each individual guitar string, focusing the pickup’s magnetic field at the optimal position to do its job.

Coil: The basic structural foundation of a pickup: wire wrapped around pole pieces, either as a self-contained unit (in a single coil) or as part of a slightly more complex assembly which shares a single magnet (humbucker).

Single coil: a pickup style which provides excellent clarity and translation of the sound of the string, but which is susceptible to certain kinds of background hum.

Humbucker: a pickup designed to eliminate the hum of single coils by cancelling it out with an opposite coil. It has more power and a thicker, warmer sound than a single coil.

Trembucker: Seymour Duncan’s term for a pickup whose pole pieces are spaced slightly wider apart for a guitar with a Fender or Floyd Rose-style bridge.

F-Spaced: DiMarzio’s term for a pickup whose pole pieces are spaced slightly wider apart for a guitar with a Fender or Floyd Rose-style bridge.

Coil Split: A type of wiring option which ‘turns off’ one coil of a humbucker to approximate the sound of a single coil. Usually requires a pickup with four conductor wiring.

Coil Tap: A type of wiring available with certain kinds of single coil where a ‘tap’ is run off the wire at a certain point, giving you two selectable power levels.

INTERVIEW: Devin Townsend

Devin Townsend Project

Transcendence is the latest album from the Devin Townsend Project and in many ways it feels like a culmination of musical explorations that Devin begun in 2009 with Addicted! and that flowed through Epicloud and Sky Blue. It’s alternatingly melodic and crushing, ethereal and imposing, and in true Devin fashion it’s an album that reveals more about itself on each subsequent listen.

I love the new record. Y’know how every now and then an album comes along that’s just what you needed to hear at that point in time? 

That’s awesome. Thank you, Peter. It’s a special one for me in a lot of ways, and especially the latter half. The processes that went into it and the challenges that came into it, the control issues, letting go of things and trying to participate with other people and be analytical and aware enough of myself that I could call myself on my own shit is one thing. But it also coincided with what feels like a real tangible shift in my own psyche. Now, whether or not that was because of the fact that I took myself on vacation for the first time in my life, or something to do with age, or something to do with circumstances I’m not sure. But something shifted at the same time as the latter half of this record and now I find myself in a place that is new and foreign in a lot of ways and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here. Read More …

MUSIKMESSE: New Martin Models

e75dd9955407ad7f1c238e520276f85c_MPRESS RELEASE: C. F. Martin & Co. (www.martinguitar.com) will unveil four outstanding new models at Musikmesse 2014, Hall 3.1 Stand F81, in Frankfurt, Germany March 12-15.  Two new retro-inspired models, the 000-18 and OM-28, both highlight distinct vintage design and include features that can be found on coveted Martin pre-war era guitars.  Additionally, two new cutaway models are being introduced, the DC-Aura GT and GPC-Aura GT,both of which will come equipped with Fishman F1 Aura Plus electronics.

Read More …

NAMM: Ibanez 7 And 8-string Acoustics

ibanez1One of my big ’causes’ is to remind players that 7 and 8-string guitars don’t just have to be for djent – you can play all sorts of styles on these instruments. Classical guitars with extra strings may not be super common but they’re nothing new. Yet when Ibanez makes them, it’s big news. Ibanez knows probably better than anyone how to make extended-range instruments, and these guitars are bound to inspire new musical styles and explorations. At NAMM this year Ibanez showed three extended-range acoustics: two 7s and an 8. Here they are:  Read More …

REVIEW: CORT M200P

First off, I don’t know if you can even buy these guitars new any more. I wrote the first version of this review for Mixdown back in 2006, and haven’t seen any of these axes in stores for a while. But maybe this review will help out somebody who stumbles across a used one for sale and needs some more information.

Cort guitars have enjoyed a massive surge in popularity lately. The company, formed by Jack Westheimer and partner Yung H.Park in 1973, was originally established to promote Japanese and South Korean made guitars, which were gaining prominence and reputation at that time. The brand name Cort actually came from the Japanese acoustic guitar brand Cortez, which Westheimer had contracted. When the opportunity arose, the Westheimer and Park took the plunge and went from distributing other company’s guitars to making their own.

Park remains with Cort to this day, and the company’s factory in Incheon, South Korea, has attained a world class reputation not only for the manufacture of Cort guitars, but also guitars for many other top brands. The company has been able to take this design and manufacture experience and incorporate it into their own work, and we’re seeing guitars coming out of Korea today that are every bit as good as the Japanese output of the 1980s. Artists such as Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies bass player Billy Cox, Steve Vai/Pretenders bass player TM Stevens, Hiram Bullock, session legend Larry Coryell, Blues Brother Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Neil Zaza and Ricky Garcia are all proud Cort users. Several Cort basses were also my instrument of choice when I was teaching bass and guitar at World of Music – I knew I could just reach for a Cort on the wall and chances were it’d be pretty good.

The M200P is a unique hybrid guitar, based on the still-available M200. Its general outline is somewhere between a PRS and a Line6 Variax. The carved agathis body is extremely heavy, and the subtle arch of the fretboard results in a Les Paul style neck pitch. Picking the guitar up from the treble side cutaway, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re holding a set neck guitar, but the M200P is a bolt on. The neck joint itself also feels like a set neck, and it all adds up to making the guitar feel sturdy and resonant.

The 22 fret mahogany neck is just a touch on the smaller side of medium depth. Fretboard width is relatively small, which is a huge benefit for speedy legato techniques and general long-term playing comfort. The tip of the headstock has a small semicircular bite out of it which creates a distinctive shape and creates a contour for the “Designed by Cort Research” logo to follow. The larger screened Cort logo sits between the unbranded tuners, and the model number is stamped on the back of the headstock and on the headstock’s truss rod cover.

A pair of uncovered black humbuckers form part of the M200P’s sonic arsenal, but by far the most impressive inclusion at this price point is the Fishman Powerbridge – a unique addition for the Australian market by special order of distributors Lamberti Bros, and no doubt the ‘P’ added to the M200P name. This little beauty features piezo elements in each of the bridge saddles, connected to a preamp and integrated with the guitar’s existing magnetic pickup system. It’s a huge advantage to have the ability to summon acoustic tones on demand at a gig without having to deal with lugging an acoustic guitar and dealing with feedback woes.

The aforementioned thin neck width, combined with a flattish fretboard radius, the angle of the neck pitch and the subtle carves of the top, contribute to making the guitar easy to play for long periods despite the heavy body weight. The frets are relatively low in profile and highly polished, which further enhances the playing experience. The neck on the review model was perfectly straight and the action was low and buttery, inviting wide bends and slippery smooth slides and position shifts.

The pickups sound quite rich and full, with a decently high output. The bridge humbucker emphasises pick attack and just loves to be pelted with harmonics. The neck humbucker has an almost single coil vibe, but with higher output and no noise. The single coil effect increases the harder you dig the pick into the strings. The middle pickup setting sounds great for vintage Santana style leads or warmly overdriven classic rock rhythms.

Flipping to the Fishman Powerbridge, the M200P yields a very usable approximation of an acoustic guitar tone. By definition piezo pickups can’t replicate the warmth of an acoustic guitar’s body and wood, because they only transfer the string vibration itself, but this particular preamp seems to impart a little warmth, playing down much of the ‘quack factor’ inherent in piezo pickups. It’s interesting to note that when you switch to acoustic mode, the M200P feels like a completely different guitar. I found myself playing it quite differently to when in electric mode, yet still getting just as much out of it. The thickness of the humbuckers gives way to the clean note separation of the piezo, and the tighter than usual grain of the rosewood neck contributes to a rounded tone, free of neck dead spots.

Best of all, though the M200P only features a single output, it’s actually a stereo output combined in a single jack, and using a stereo Y cord you can split the acoustic signal to one amp and the electric signal to another. This is a great way of adding huge amounts of texture, especially in a band with only one guitar, and opens up a whole world of processing tricks. It also allows you to maximise the potential of the piezo tone by sending it to a dedicated acoustic guitar amp or to the mixing desk via an appropriate preamp. This is a great alternative to just using an electric guitar amp’s clean channel, which isn’t designed to reproduce the tonal range of an acoustic guitar.

The M200P is a killer utility guitar, suitable for everything from nu metal to classic rock, Chicago blues to modern FM radio stuff, and that’s even before you flip the switch and turn it into an acoustic capable of covering country, jazz, pop – maybe even classical with a judicious tweak of the tone control. The stereo output is an especially nice touch, and contributes to the M200P being one of the most versatile guitars for the price. You may have a hard time finding one internationally, but if you’re here in Australia and you look hard enough you just might be in luck.

Buy Cort guitars at Green Meanie Guitars – enter the code IHEARTGUITAR for an additional $10 off!

REVIEW: Baden Guitars D-Style


Baden Guitars was founded by T.J. Baden in 2006. A former vice president of sales and marketing at Taylor, Baden and partner Errol Antzis, a former investment banker and a guitar lover, enlisted European luthiers Andreas Pichler and Ulrich Tueffel and together they set about to redefine the acoustic guitar.

The first thing you need to know about Baden guitars is that they are made in Vietnam, and while this information might trigger alarm bells for some shoppers who prefer their instruments to be US-made, it’s important to point out that Baden guitars are no production-line-stamped, automated, cheap little axes made in a facility that builds guitars for half a dozen other brands too. Nope, these instruments are all completely hand-built, overseen by six French luthiers.

The first and most striking thing about the Baden D-Style is its shape. It’s a dreadnaught, Jim, but not as we know it. The curves have been flattened out and the outline is given a slightly boxy vibe, almost like certain vintage Danelectro electric guitar designs. The next thing you notice is the subdued approach to ornamentation: no elaborate inlays, overwrought rosettes or extravagant abalone binding here. The Baden design philosophy is one of minimalism. In fact even the Baden logo on the headstock is simply cut into the wood, rather than inlaid or painted. The one concession to style-over-substance in this regard is a tiny triangular wedge driven into a little circular cutout at the fretboard end of the sound hole. The D-Style’s back and sides are mahogany, and the top is Stika spruce, while the The binding, bridge, fretboard, heel cap and headstock overlay are rosewood. The fretboard is free of any kind of position markers, with only subtle side dots to help you find your way.

Electronics on the review model are a Fishman Matrix Infinity system with simple volume and tone controls, unobtrusively tucked away inside the sound hole. However, Baden has recently started using Fishman’s more pimped-out Aura range, which adds acoustic imaging to the piezo signal for added realism. Unplugged the D-Style is a very bright-sounding guitar, with lots of loud yet tight bass and a throaty, zingy high end. The tone is ideal for players who need to be loud and proud in the mix, especially in country or roots styles. If your music requires some heavily-picked rhythmic chugging on the low strings, the D-Style keeps up with every note, while chord stabs ring out brightly and clearly. It’s also a good fingerpicker due to the clarity and note separation. The action as set up at the factory is quite low at the nut end of the fretboard, gradually rising as you travel along the neck. This makes it more at-home for open-position chords right out of the box, but any music store or luthier worth their salt can adjust the action to a more barre chord-friendly height with ease. Plugged in, the Fishman does a good job of translating the guitar’s natural tone, but it’s a shame I couldn’t get my hands on the Fishman Aura version.

The D-Style is a bold, unique take on the traditional dreadnaught design, and it’s an ideal choice for those looking for something a little unique while still sounding like a dreadnaught should. Baden is attempting something quite innovative in what can be a quite conservative market segment, and their guitars are well worth checking out.