The Gibson Explorer was ahead of its time when it was released in the 50s, and still seemed like a bit a quirky anachronism in the 70s. But in the 80s it found itself at the centre of a revolution in guitar: thrash. This highly technical, highly aggressive new form of music required a guitar that could have plenty of punch, was playable, and looked badass. Certain players took the Explorer and popped a set of EMG pickups in it, and went on to create history. The 1984 Explorer EX pays tribute to the meeting of Explorer and EMG that helped to define the future of heavy music.
Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher’s first signature instrument was the Gibson Golden Axe Explorer, a visually stunning instrument that combined classic explorer looks with an eye-catching golden brown sunburst finish and Kelliher’s signature Lace Sensor Dissonant Aggressor passive humbucker pickups. The Golden Axe is already becoming quite hard to find because these limited edition beasts are very much coveted, not just by Mastodon fans – they achieve the rare feat of crossing over to guitar fans in general – and anyone who gets one tends to hang onto it. The new Bill Kelliher Halcyon Les Paul follows a similar track, kitting out a classic Les Paul design with a few of Kelliher’s own personal touches and in the process creating a guitar that will please all sorts of players, whether they’ve heard of Mastodon or not.
Overdrive pedals are a funny thing: some of us like to use them to get crunchy, amp-like warmth. Some of us like to use them to boost an already overdriven amp channel into the next level. And almost everyone defaults to a certain green box when they think of analog overdrive pedals. The Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive was designed with those classic tones in mind as a starting point but this pedal has significant differences from the Tube Screamer, beginning with the chip that powers its sound. While early development focused on the same chip, SD engineers eventually ended up with the MC33178 due to what they felt were superior sonic characteristics (along with a lower noise level and longer battery life).
Although the Gibson SG is an American design, for many decades it’s resonated particularly closely with we Australians. Put this down to one Mr. Angus Young. There’s something about those devilish pointy horns and blues-approved tones that appeals to the Aussie pub rock aesthetic. The SG Special is one of Gibson’s newest designs, adding a few little twists and turns to an otherwise straightforward but badass-looking take on the SG style. See Gibson SGs on eBay. Continue reading
I recently checked out the TC Electronic Alter Ego X4, a vintage-vibed delay unit occupying the same footprint as the mammoth Flashback X4 Delay. That pedal offered a wealth of old-school sounds curated by US store ProGuitarShop. The Alter Ego X4 is a huge, hulking pedal that’s perfectly designed for stage use, but perhaps you don’t want a single pedal with the footprint of a lunchbox on your pedalboard. Perhaps you want a more conventional compact delay pedal that’s still packed with vintage tone. Well, my friend, meet the Alter Ego V2 Vintage Echo. Buy the TC Electronic Alter Ego V2 Vintage Delay here.
Blackstar amps are famously versatile and user-friendly, but there’s always room for any company to innovate. And innovate they have, with their ID:Series amps and now the ID:Core line. The thing that’s so revolutionary about the ID:Core line (and there are stereo combos available in 10 watt, 20 watt and 40 watt configurations) is that on the surface they’re as easily controllable as any other Blackstar amp, especially due to the handy ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) control which gives you a range of tones from UK to US and any point in between. But the free Insider software lets you fully unlock the potential of the amp by plugging it into your computer and taking your preset-editing to a whole other level.
I’ve tended to avoid gig bags, personally. I’ave had a few of ‘em over the years and they’ve generally felt like something that would protect your guitar from, oh I don’t know, stray leaves and errant breezes. And the ones that were built to be more sturdy seemed unnecessarily bulky and cumbersome. So when the MONO Guitar Sleeve showed up for review I found myself thinking “Oh well, here we go. How much can you say about a bag?” Continue reading
There are many, many different pickups out there that are inspired by Gibson’s ‘Patent Applied For’ humbucker invented by Seth Lover. Some makers go to incredible lengths to replicate not only the raw materials but also the chaotic, random unpredictability that went into the creation of those original 50s PAFs. DiMarzio’s PAF® Master bridge and neck models are designed with the spirit of those original PAFs in mind but DiMarzio says they’re more about paying tribute to the original sound rather than cloning it. So these pickups use several of DiMarzio’s patented ideas, and the coils are purposely tuned to specific differing frequencies to generate a version of the legendary PAF snarl without compromising the pickup’s ability to hum-cancel (which can be a problem with some of the originals and some of the more randomly-constructed PAF-alikes of the kind you tend to find from some of the smaller builders). See DiMarzio pickups on eBay here. Continue reading
This gets a bit tricky, so bare with me. Originally there was Music Man, a company co-founded by Leo Fender which made instruments and amplifiers. One of their developments was the StingRay bass, which Sterling Ball helped to design. This company was eventually sold to Ernie Ball. In the noughties, Certain Ernie Ball Music Man designs were the basis for a budget line called OLP (which quite blandly stood for Official Licensed Product). They were great budget instruments but eventually that came to an end. Then there was (and is) Sterling By Music Man, which offers mid-priced (and brilliant) instruments based on classic MM designs. Now there’s SUB by Sterling by Music Man to cater to the budget end of the market again. These instruments were released at NAMM a couple of years ago and they feature several classic Music Man designs, one of which is the StingRay, in the form of the Ray4 four-string and Ray5 five-string. Continue reading
Blackstar is no longer the new kid on the block in the amp world, and while they’ve done a great job of quickly establishing themselves as a name to be reckoned with, their amp offerings can sometimes feel a little ‘samey’ – there’s a lot of crossover between different amp model lines in terms of what they can do, and at a certain point it becomes “How many channels do you want to work with? How many speakers? How loud?” That’s great but there’s also room for Blackstar to innovate. And innovate they have, with their ID:Series amps and now the ID:Core line. Continue reading
Vox’s Night Train series is hugely popular and rather modern-looking, with an exterior that looks like something that liquid metal Terminator guy would play through if he was into little lunchbox amps and mini combos. It’s a very distinctive look but some players feel that Vox already has a distinctive look, and wouldn’t it be nice to have a Night Train that looks like a Vox? If this point of view describes you, read on, my friend, read on. Continue reading
TC Electronic’s TonePrint line of pedals is a great innovation: when it was first launched, various rock stars and industry pros were handed the keys to a special program which allowed them to design custom effects which could then be loaded into the pedal by everybody (via USB or a handy mobile app). But then the program was made available for everyone, and now anybody who wants to tweak their tone and then share it with the world can do so. The Alter Ego Vintage Echo X4 Delay is related to the smaller Alter Ego delay, which was born when Andy and Aaron of ProGuitarShop got their paws on the TonePrint software for the Flashback Delay and created two exclusive new delay modes worthy of their own pedal. Now the Alter Ego X4 Vintage Echo takes this pedal and blows it out, in a similar way to the awesome Flashback X4 Delay.