REVIEW: Godin Velocity

Godin guitars remind me of comedian Rodney Dangerfield: they both don’t get no respect. In Rodney’s case this was part of his shtick. For the Canadian guitar maker, it’s one of the unexplained mysteries of the guitar world. Why are their instruments so highly prized among top name players like John McLaughlin (read my interview with him here), Richie Blackmore and Bill Frisell, yet they haven’t broken through to the forefront of brand consciousness? It’s a bit of a mystery to me: through teaching and as a repair tech I’ve found their guitars to be brilliantly constructed, cleverly designed and very easy to play. I can only conclude that they’re that one standout model or endorser away from staking out a solid corner of the hallowed turf occupied by the Big Guitar Makers.

CLICK HERE to see Godin guitars on Amazon.com (may not ship to all countries)

The Velocity model may look like a bit of a shred machine at first glance, but look a little closer and it has more in common with the boutique output of makers like John Suhr than the hepped up metal axes enjoying a resurgence today. The pickup scheme is the first clue: a pair of Godin GS-1 single coils in the neck and middle positions, and a Seymour Duncan SH-5 Duncan Custom humbucker in the bridge. The current shredder’s market tends to favour neck humbuckers and often omit a middle pickup altogether, but the H-S-S layout is still in great favour in more, let’s say, refined designs.

The next hint as to this model’s design heritage is its vintage-style tremolo bridge. While other Godin tremolo models feature either two point fulcrum bridges or Floyd Rose locking systems, the Velocity puts its faith in the classic operation and unique attack characteristics of this 50-something-year-old design. I guess the assumption is that the kind of player this guitar is aimed at has no need for wild whammy bar antics, but may indulge in the occasional David Gilmour or Hank Marvin moment. Certainly at this price point the Velocity doesn’t need to use a vintage bridge to cut corners, and it’s no surprise that tuning stability on this model is as good as can be expected as long as you don’t try to pick the guitar up by the bar to perfect your Steve Vai wiggle-stick tricks.

The Velocity’s body is made of a silver leaf maple center with poplar wings and a solid high-flame maple top. The neck is rock maple, with maple or rosewood fretboard. The 12” radius fretboard is comfortable for complex chords, yet won’t fret out on wild bends. Electronics consist of a 5-way switch, and master volume and tone controls. Tucked down by the tone knob is a small black switch. This is Godin’s High-Definition Revoicer (HDR). This circuit is powered by a 9v battery accessed through the back of the guitar, and when engaged it revoices the frequency range of each pickup, boosting the output and amounting to a conversion from passive to active pickups at the nudge of a button.

The single coils have plenty of bite and gutsier output than I expected, especially combined with the visionary HDR system. In fact, the middle pickup was more than adequate as a main pickup in situations where one might otherwise choose the humbucker. The Duncan Custom is fat and rich, and the HDR bumps it up to EMG-like levels of gain. Thanks to the HDR you can certainly get metal tones out of this guitar if you’re seeking them, but the Velocity is also very happy with mildy overdriven crunch tones and smooth distortion. The tone is warm yet bright – just enough treble bite to add an edge to your sound, but with a full body too. There’s good note separation for open chords, and some nice midrange overtones when you move up the neck to play single notes.

If you’re using a valve amp, you can even use the HDR almost like an amp channel switch to push your crunchy preamp into overdrive. Turn off the HDR and back down a little on the guitar’s volume pot and there’s yer clean sound. Cool!

The Velocity is a versatile entry to the ‘SuperStrat’ stakes, and is a little more ‘Strat’ than its ‘super’ looks might initially appear. If you haven’t experienced a Godin before, the Velocity is a great place to start.

SPECS
BODY: Silver leaf maple, poplar, flame maple
NECK: Rock maple with rosewood or maple fretboard
ELECTRONICS: 1 volume, 1 tone, HDR switch, 5 way switch
PICKUPS: 2 X Godin GS-1 single coils, 1 X Seymour Duncan SH-5 humbucker


REVIEW: Fernandes Ravelle Deluxe Baritone

In some circles, Fernandes is known for the high quality copy guitars it made in decades gone by. I have a rather impressive Fernandes Jazz Bass copy, for instance. For others the Fernandes Sustainer, a pickup system that provides infinite sustain and controllable feedback by interacting with the string itself, is a thing of legend, the key to a sonic Eden populated by the likes of Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Reeves Gabrels and Adrian Belew.

Fernandes calls the Ravelle Deluxe Baritone (discontinued in the USA but still available in some markets, or check eBay) the most aggressive axe it’s ever made, and it’s easy to see why. Apart from the distinctive Ravelle styling, which looks like some kind of medieval weapon concealed within the lower half of an otherwise subdued looking 50s solidbody guitar design, this mahogany-bodied beast features fire breathing EMG pickups and an extended scale length designed for maximum impact when tuning down.

The Ravelle Baritone came tuned to B and was strung with heavy D’Addario strings selected to get the most out of the extended 27” scale length at such a low tuning. The hardwear, in classic metal tradition, could be ‘none more black.’ The Gotoh-made Tune-O-Matic bridge and Stop tailpiece good choices for maintaining tuning stability, while the break angle of the bridge to the tailpiece seems to add its own little mojo in terms of sustain and fullness of tone.

Electronics consist of a pair of EMG 81 pickups, a 3 way toggle switch, and volume and tone controls. The fretboard has a 14” radius, with a 5 1/8” Graph Tech Trem nut. What? A trem nut? Hang on, bucko, there’s logic behind this lunacy. Sure, at first it would seem like an odd choice – why would a nut designed for keeping vintage tremolo systems in tune be used on a fixed bridge guitar? But it makes perfect sense when you consider that there’s no ‘standard’ string gauge or even standard tuning for baritone guitars, so this self-lubricating nut is a great way of covering all bases and coping with the demands of a player who may change string gauges and tunings several times before settling on their preferred setup.

Ravelle Baritone, meet Marshall DSL50. The Ravelle is a straight up ass kicker from the very first chord. Those used to tuning down on standard scale instruments, or even dedicated 7-stringers like myself, will realise very quickly that they’re missing out by playing lower tunings without the extended scale of this baritone. The extra length keeps the string tension tight and makes the note definition sharp and punchy. On a down-tuned standard scale guitar, play a chord and the notes drift around a little bit, especially if you’re using lighter strings. On this baritone, the tuning remains solid, but more importantly, there’s a punch and oomph to the note attack that you just can’t get with a standard scale length. The EMG pickups add some bite and fizz to the top end, so not only does the Ravelle thud you in the chest, it also takes off some skin – metaphorically speaking of course, unless you get a bit too wild with that sharp treble side cutaway during live performance…

The Ravelle Baritone has uses for everything from metal to country, though pickups with a coil split option might enhance its use for the latter. While I thought I would generally pretty happy to stick with my 7 string when I need to get down to low B, now I’m not so sure.

CLICK HERE to see baritone guitars on eBay

REVIEW: Ampeg Dan Armstrong ADA6

Anyone with an eye to music video shows or channels will recognise this guitar from the Foo Fighters video for ‘All My Life.’ Music fans with a slightly longer memory may recall these flashy instruments in the hands of Keith Richards, Leslie West, Paul McCartney, Cream’s Jack Bruce or Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler. Let’s go through the plexiglass to see what’s on the other side.

X RAY SPECS
This version is a near-exact replica of the original Ampeg model designed by Dan Armstrong, dating back to 1969. It differs from the originals by way of an improved neck joint, as well as a compensated rosewood bridge designed for regular string sets with three wound and three unwound strings – the original’s bridge was compensated for a wound G string, and evidently Ampeg felt that remaining vintage-faithful in this instance would compromise tuning for the majority of players who favour contemporary string sets.

The double cutaway Plexiglas body certainly looks cool, but there’s a method behind this madness. The theory is that the density and uniformity of the body material eliminates unwanted vibrations and frequencies, improving sustain by transferring the string vibrations uninterrupted by the variations in grain and density that you might find in wood.

Another very interesting feature is the removable pickup system. Out of the case, the Dan Armstrong is fitted with a Rock Sustain humbucking pickup, but a single coil Rock Treble pickup is also included. Each are designed by Kent Armstrong, who designed the original’s pickups in the 1960s and 70s. The pickups simply slot into the body and are secured by a few thumbscrews. Electronics consist of volume and tone controls, plus a 3-way tone switch. The centre position bypasses the tone circuit completely, while the other two positions shift the frequencies affected by the tone knob.

The neck is hard maple, with 24 frets on a rosewood fretboard. Die cast Grover tuners are positioned for almost perfectly straight string pull, and are close-coupled to minimise string tension differences.

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW
I plugged into my all-valve half stack, set to a vintage, edgy but clear tone, and let ‘er rip with some Bowie riffs. The first thing I noticed was the unique attack of the notes, compared to a more conventionally constructed guitar. There was a satisfying chunk and chirp to the pick attack, followed by a kind of opening up of the tone. If you hold a note, it seems to start out compressed then spread out, sustain for a while, then gradually fade away. With some smooth Tube Screamer overdrive, the Ampeg reminded me of Trey Anastasio’s main solo tone in Phish. The tone switch was handy for emphasising different overtones in single note lines, but for pure classic chunk the guitar sounded best in the centre position. Swapping to the single coil pickup, a bright, almost P90-ish jangle was attainable, and was especially great for blasting out “Jean Genie.”

TRANSPARENTING
While the looks are likely to divide players, the construction quality and tone of this guitar are undeniable. Fortunately, if you don’t like the clear look, Ampeg recently announced the AMG100 series, which replaces the acrylic with swamp ash, mahogany or alder, but you owe it to yourself to check out the attack and sustain characteristics of the acrylic version.

SPECS
Body: Clear acrylic polymer
Neck: Maple, bolt-on, 24.75″ scale
Fretboard: 24-fret, rosewood
Controls: Master volume, master tone, 3-way pickup selector
Pickups: 1 single-blade Rock Treble, 1 dual-blade Sustain Treble; interchangeable
Tuners: Grover nickel die-cast
Bridge: Rosewood with compensated brass saddles
Case: Hardshell case included

CLICK HERE to buy the Ampeg Dan Armstrong from Guitar Center for $1,499