gear reviews

REVIEW: Ernie Ball M-Steel Strings

M-Steel-PackErnie Ball has been around for 52 years now – can you believe it? – and in that time they’ve spearheaded some pretty revolutionary innovations in the string world, such as the Slinky range and the brilliant Cobalt series. The latter are incredibly strong, powerfully-voiced strings that pretty much refuse to die. So what does Ernie Ball hope to achieve with the new M-Steel line? Well, they feature new patent-pending technology based on a defence-grade alloy known as Maraging Steel in order to keep the strings stronger. By the way, before we get into the review: to celebrate the introduction of M-Steel strings, Ernie Ball is launching “M-Steel Madness.” Starting April 1st, fans will be asked to post videos or photos of themselves with their newly purchased M-Steel strings using the hashtag #msteel. One lucky winner will be chosen at random on July 1st, and receive a prize package of exclusive musical gear.

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REVIEW: Epiphone Black Royale Dot & ES-399 PRO

Epiphone-Black-Royale-collectionBlack Royale Dot: The Epiphone Dot may have been conceived as a more affordable alternative to the Gibson ES-335 but it quickly established itself as a great guitar line in its own right. It has a certain classic rock swagger about it but is also great for jazz, blues, country and indie styles. The large body really lends an air of ‘serious guitar,’ and the styling just makes you feel good about yourself, dammit. The version on review here is part of Epiphone’s Limited Edition Black Royale line, which brings together some of the company’s most well-known guitar designs all kitted out with a Black Pearl fine metallic color finish with silver sparkle binding. The full line-up includes this Dot, the ES-339 PRO reviewed below, the radical and super cool Riviera Custom P93 with three P-90R pickups, the groovy Emperor Swingster with SwingBucker Plus Humbuckers, series parallel wiring, and Bigsby tremolo; the ground-breaking Wildkat with P-90s and Bigsby tremolo, and of course, because no Gibson line-up is complete without one, the Les Paul Standard with Alnico Classic Plus humbuckers. Continue reading

REVIEW: Marshall Handwired Series 2245THW

Marshall 2245THWIf you’ve never plugged into an old-school tube amp with no master volume control, dude, you’re missing out. If the closest you’ve ever come to blasting through a cranked Plexi is a digital model, you’ve never experienced the majesty and power of rock. There’s a special kind of alchemy that occurs when you put some hurt on those power tubes and really push some air through those speakers. But first, a little history lesson: the 1962 has its roots in the JTM45, the first amp Marshall ever made. It was first produced in 1962, inspired by the Fender Bassman but with various changes related to the differences in parts available in the UK compared to the USA. Released in 1965, the Model 1962 was basically the bass version of the JTM 45 (Model 1986), and the basic design underwent various revisions over the years, partly in an effort to improve the Tremolo circuit. This version, from Marshall’s Handwired Series of authentic all-valve amp reproductions, is based on the 1962HW ‘Bluesbreaker’ combo, itself a recreation of a 1965 version of the amp. Continue reading

REVIEW: Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO

1000230_662222213811390_528666020_nEpiphone offers many different takes on the Les Paul, from simple single-pickup Juniors to Floyd Rose-loaded shred machines and metal-blasting beasts stocked with active EMGs and an attitude. But the Les Paul Standard is, obviously, the standard upon which all others are judged, and in the PlusTop PRO Epiphone have sought to make a truly classic Les Paul. First of all, the name of this model refers to the beautiful AAA flame Maple veneer top (presumably sitting atop a more plain-looking maple cap. There are plenty of different colours available, but the Trans Black of the review model is probably the most eye-catching, bringing together a bit of a ‘silver burst’ vibe combined with the beautiful flamed maple. Continue reading

REVIEW: Mayones Regius 8

regiusthumbMayones is a Polish company who have been around for quite a while, but recently they’ve really launched onto the world stage with a daring attitude, a knack for choosing ridiculously beautiful woods, and a willingness to work with a variety of pickup companies in order to effectively operate like a custom shop in terms of letting players choose the voicing of their guitar.  The Regius 8 is an 8-string guitar (standard 8-string tuning is F#-B-E-A-D-G-B-E, but you are of course welcome to tune it however you like) made with neck-thru construction – that is to say, the neck continues all the way through to the rear strap-pin end of the body. Continue reading

REVIEW: Gibson USA Les Paul Studio 2013 Gold Series

StudioWhen Gibson first developed the Studio series, it was intended to be an affordable alternative to the top-shelf stuff. But then Gibson’s Epiphone division really stepped up and filled that niche, building affordable Les Pauls, SGs and the like with all the visual bling like binding and full inlays. That took some of the pressure off the Studio in terms of being an affordable Les Paul, and allowed it to become more of a stripped down Les Paul for its own sake: its own model playing by its own rules. So you you can get some pretty interesting guitars under the ‘Studio’ moniker. Guitars like the Gibson USA Les Paul Studio 2013 Gold Series. Continue reading

REVIEW: TC Electronic Hall Of Fame Mini Reverb

hofminiOkay, we all know that TC Electronic makes incredible effects. Their 2290 delay is legendary. Their G System, G Major and G Force: legendary. Their Nova series of pedals: legendary. But the TonePrint series of pedals is a unique opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that’s going to become legendary. Because TonePrint pedals allow you to dial in your own sounds, sure, but they also give you access to finely tweaked effects designed by some of the best ears in the biz, including Dream Theater’s John Petrucci, Steve Stevens, Paul Gilbert, Bumblefoot and many, many more. Continue reading

REVIEW: Dean Cadillac Straight-Six

cadillacThe Cadillac is one of Dean Guitars’ oldest designs, originally surfacing in 1980. On the surface it could be viewed as ‘Oh, that’s just the front half of an Explorer stuck to the back half of a Les Paul,’ if you wanted to get all basic about it, but Dean have always put their own spin on things, so of course you’re getting Dean’s own approach to crucial things like neck profile, fretwork and electronics: we all know that a guitar is about much more than just the shape. The Cadillac Straight-Six is one of Dean’s newest models, members of the Straight-Six series which adds a six-in-line headstock and classy gold hardware to one of four classic Dean shapes: the ML (think Dimebag Darrell), the V, the Z (think Explorer) and of course the Cadillac.

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REVIEW: Mayones Regius 6

Regius 6Poland’s Mayones has been around for quite a while, but they’ve only recently really gained a foothold on the world stage, helped in large part by the high visibility of players such as Periphery’s Misha Mansoor and Pain of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlöw. There are several base models to choose from in the Mayones range, including six and seven-string variations, your choice of pickups by DiMarzio, Bare Knuckle, EMG and Seymour Duncan, and even the Djentlemen range of 7 and 8-string axes aimed at the the rapidly solidifying dent movement. The Regius is a particularly popular shape for Mayones, a little more offset and rounded compared to the equally droolworthy Setius.

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REVIEW: Vintage Reissued Series V52


Some of Trev Wilkinson’s designs via the Fret-King are very clever updates of popular designs, with tonal and ergonomic improvements that bring the general vintage aesthetic into the modern era. Others, like the brilliant Esprit 5, take a more anarchistic approach to the idea of vintage-vibed guitars, and in the process create a unique axe that stands on its own merits rather than being referred back to the instruments that came before it. The Vintage Reissued series, also designed by Wikinson, doesn’t try to be either of those things. Instead these guitars aim to basically give you a guitar which feels, sounds and looks like the vintage models we all know and love, but with Trev’s range of pickups, tuners and hardware and at a much more affordable price point than, say, a $250,000 ’59 Les Paul. There are a few little differences – another kind of wood here, an extra fret there – but for the most part these are guitars that tell you a lot about what to expect just through the sheer weight of their inspiration. Continue reading

REVIEW: DV Mark Multiamp

multiampthumbIt’s a very interesting time to be a guitarist. Companies have been trying to make great digital gear for decades now, but until recently it’s always been a little hit-and-miss. Remember the digital distortion pedals of the 80s? Exactly. But digital technology has well and truly come of age. Just look at the proliferation of devices by the likes of Kemper, Axe-FX and Line 6. DV Mark’s Multiamp seeks to do something a bit similar to those devices but with a distinctly DV Mark approach which seems specifically geared at professional players working in live situations – although of course it’s designed to be a studio tool as well (and virtuoso Andy James seems to be doing an amazing job of showcasing that side of it – check him out on YouTube). But everything about the Multiamp, from the simple control layout to the hardy construction, seems to scream “Stage!”, unlike some similar devices which feel a little too busy for live use by more analog-minded players. Continue reading

REVIEW: Ernie Ball Music Man Armada

armadaWhen it comes to guitar design, it’s kinda hard to do something new. Sure, there are brands out there doing something legitimately ‘out there’ – Strandberg comes to mind – but companies that have a well-established design style and a dedicated fanbase can often be locked into making the same guitar over and over again. Ernie Ball Music Man is a company who has often seemed to delight in pushing their designs just that little bit beyond what might be perceived as the limit of what their customer base will comfortably accept, with the groovily pointy Albert Lee signature, the Bongo bass, the Steve Morse model with its elaborate pickup setup and of course the Game Changer pickup selection system. But the Armada is possibly the boldest step yet by the company. Designed by Music Man’s Scott Ball and Dudley Gimple, it’s a neck-thru instrument with a single-cutaway design and a 24.75″ scale length. Continue reading

Guthrie Govan

Peter Hodgson Hi! I'm Peter Hodgson. I write for Gibson.com, Australian Guitar, Australian Musician, Mixdown Magazine (including my instructional column, 'Unleash Your Inner Rock God,' which has been running since 2007), BluntBeat (including their weekly hard rock/metal column Crunch) and The Brag. And I'm Assistant Social Coordinator with Seymour Duncan. I've been playing guitar since I was 8 years old, and I've been writing for magazines since I was 18. I've also worked as a guitar teacher (up to 50 students a week), a setup tech, a newspaper editor, and I've also dabbled in radio a little bit. I live in Melbourne, Australia, and my hobbies include drinking way too much coffee, and eating way too much Mexican food. You can check out my guitar playing at Bandcamp or on YouTube, and feel free to email me at iheartguitarblog@gmail.com

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