The Hughes & Kettner Coreblade is quite unashamedly one thing: a metal amp. You can tell by looking at it ['hell, you can tell by simply picking it up' - Peter's spine]and you can definitely tell when you plug in. An amp that can garner the approval of Annihilator’s Jeff Waters is nothing to be grunted at. So what’s under the hood of this metal-spewing monster?
The 100 watt Coreblade head packs a quartet of EL34 power tubes, known for their warm sound and open attack. Oh but if you’re more into the steely, punchy, tight vibe of 6L6CG power tubes, the Coreblade can hang with those too. The preamp section includes three 12AX7s and four modes – Clean, Drive, Ultra I and Ultra II – selectable via a 4-way rotary switch over on the far right. Travelling right to left, there’s a Boost switch then Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble, Resonance (for fine-tuning low end), Presence (for the high end) and Volume controls.
Line 6′s POD line of amp simulators is as ubiquitous in studios both home and professional as the venerable Shure SM58 mic, or a pair of headphones held together with duct tape, or old skin mags in the bathroom. From the tiny Pocket POD to the famous kidney bean-shaped desktop units to the Floor POD, there’s a POD for all people in the Line 6 line-up. The new HD range ups the ante by offering even more accurate amp models, all laid out on the floor in an extremely foot-friendly manner. The available HD models are the HD300, HD400 and HD500. Let’s look at the most kitted-out one, the HD500, shall we?
The ML is probably Dean’s most famous design, not least due to the contribution of one Dimebag Darrell. Dime received his first ML as a prize in a guitar playing contest as a teenager, and when Pantera were on tour in the early days he would scour the pawn shops of the USA in the hope of finding more MLs to add to his collection. Over the years Dime tricked out his MLs with Floyd Rose tremolos and a combination of Bill Lawrence and Dimarzio humbuckers, and these innovations eventually found their way into his signature range. But the heart and soul of the ML was always the classic 1979 design cooked up by company founder Dean Zelinsky. Dean Z has moved on now but Dean are still cranking out some very cool guitars (including the Rusty Cooley and Dave Mustaine models).
Zelinsky’s basic premise for the ML was to take the front half of a Gibson Explorer, the back half of a Gibson Flying V, and join them together in the middle, thus creating an unholy super-being of awesome rock power. The unique V shaped headstock and string-through design are intended to increase the overall sustain and tone by spreading string vibration energy across a larger area, and combined with the massive body the overall impression of the ML is that it’s an absolutely huge guitar. As I type this review the ML is lined up with a bunch of my personal guitars and it makes them look like ukuleles by comparison.
As you travel further up the Dean price list the pickups and hardware become more ‘boutique.’ On the Korean-made ML79, the pickups are Dean brand uncovered black humbuckers. Switches and knobs feel sturdy enough, and the large kidney button Grover tuners hold tuning particularly well, even if, like me, you’ve just been to a Zakk Wylde gig and now every second note you play is a pinch harmonic on the low E string, bent up a fourth and vibratoed within an inch of its life.
The neck is suitably chunky for a design hatched in the late 70s – it wasn’t until the mid 80s that super thin necks really started to appear with any regularity on this type of guitar – and the pearloid block position markers only add to the chunky vibe. An aggressively shaped V string anchor splays the strings out as it sends them through the body, and despite the 24-3/4” scale length the string tension is quite high, most likely due to the increased string length between the nut and tuning pegs. Action on the review model was way higher than I would like for a guitar that would mainly be used for blisteringly fast riffage and hyperspeed solos, but this is easily fixed. The review model was finished in a well executed silver burst similar to the Les Pauls favoured by Tool guitarist Adam Jones, and while other guitars in this series of MLs are topped off with binding, I kind of wish this one did too just to complete the look.
The ML79’s sustain was on the lower side of ‘long,’ but certainly longer than you would find on a bolt-on guitar, and what it lacked in infinite sustain it made up for with solid, thick tone. It’s like the string energy that would have gone into keeping the note going forever has instead been distributed into the overall thickness of the note.
The unassuming pickups pack quite a punch, with a thick, almost Van Halenesque tone that stands out from the mix with a vowel-like upper midrange. They sound a bit like Dimarzio PAF Pros to my ears, though not as dynamic. The bridge unit easily handles the transition from heavy rhythm to wild lead, and cleans up nicely with a solid, harmonically rich aura. The neck pickup sounds full and articulate, and aside from the PAF Pro comparison, it also reminds me of the neck pickup of my first guitar teacher’s 67 Gibson SG, a tone he described at the time as “juicy.” It’s not as rounded as that particular guitar’s sound, but it’s certainly in the ballpark. Believe it or not, the neck pickup of this monster also offers a quite passable clean jazz tone. You’ll certainly turn some heads if you rock up to a jazz gig with this behemoth.
The Dean ML79 represents an affordable version of a now classic design, and its faithfulness to the original blueprints means you can own one without having to spend megabucks on eBay or sifting through the racks of backwater pawnshops to own a piece of rock history. If I had my way I would update the design slightly with a thinner neck and a coil tap for the middle ‘neck-plus-bridge’ pickup selection just to get a little more tonal flexibility and add another dimension to the available clean sounds, and I would drop the strings way down to pull of sweep picking licks and Dimebag style lateral scalar licks, but otherwise it’s a fine axe worthy of the Dean name.
Body: Mahogany (Flamed maple top on transparent finishes)
Neck: Mahogany neck; Rosewood fretboard
Pickups: 2 Dean uncovered humbuckers
Electronics: 2 volume; master tone
The last time Alice In Chains toured Australia, I was still in high school and lived 4 hours away from the nearest capital city. The circumstances required for me to see them live were alarmingly insurmountable, and even after I moved to the big smoke and was geographically and economically able to see them, the tragic death of singer Layne Staley seemed to spell a permanent impasse to my ever witnessing them live. Jerry Cantrell has been one of my favourite players ever since I was about 14, so I was ultra-excited to be able to finally see him live.
Now, of course, Comes With The Fall vocalist William DuVall has taken up the front-and-centre position on stage, and within the first song of the night I’m sure anyone with lingering doubts about his place in the band had resolved to shut the hell up and just get on with having their socks rocked off. DuVall also provides rhythm guitar on certain key tracks, and is a very capable player.
I’ve heard reports from those who saw Alice In Chains back in the day that they were a less-than-inspiring live act, with dull stage presentation and sleepy musical delivery. How much of this is true I can’t really say, but the band who appeared on stage at the Palais last night were energetic and powerful, and certainly knew how to work a crowd. The set list included, but was not limited to, Angry Chair, Man In The Box (third song in!), Rain When I Die, Love Hate Love, Them Bones, Would? Rooster, No Excuses, Dirt, Junkhead and We Die Young.
In the years between Alice In Chains’ first incarnation and 2009, guitarist Jerry Cantrell seems to have picked up a more cultured, controlled vibrato, and was able to nail accurately-pitched bends with a confidence I don’t recall hearing in previous performances. Naturally it stands to reason that one’s playing will develop and evolve over a given time span, so this should come as no surprise, but the Jerry Cantrell on stage last night seemed to go that extra step beyond what the Jerry Cantrell of 1993 was capable of in terms of phrasing, dynamics and all out rock power. By the way, Cantrell still uses his original old G&L Rampage, as well as a few other Rampages, and some Gibson Les Pauls.
Mike Inez was, as always, a very solid player, keeping the sound full and powerful on any of the single-guitar songs in which Cantrell took solos. He seemed to be smiling all night, and locked in perfectly with drummer Sean Kinney’s behind-the-beat-yet-perfectly-in-time playing. Incidentally, I’m not sure how but Kinney has managed to not age one day since 1993. Dude must be into some kind of freaky age-defying voodoo.
Finally, special mention must be made of the band’s trademark vocal harmonies. Longtime fans of the band are surely well aware that Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies and backing vocals (and occasional lead vocal lines such as in the verses for Grind and Would?) were always an important part of the band’s sound. Well, despite the swapping of Staley for DuVall, Alice In Chains still sounds like Alice In Chains, and a big reason for that is that Jerry is still singing too. This is certainly not like in the case of Van Halen where the whole sound of any back catalogue songs changed when Sammy Hagar stepped into David Lee Roth’s gig.
If you haven’t seen the new version of Alice In Chains because you’re sceptical about whether they can hold it together and live up to their legacy, it’s time to put aside such concerns and check them out. Of course they’ll never be the same without Layne, but last night’s performance was a powerful demonstration that the Alice In Chains of 2009 deserves to be spoken of in the same reverential tones as the Alice In Chains of the 90s.
The DigiTech Whammy Pedal first arrived on the scene in the early 1990s (I remember first seeing it in an ad in the British magazine Guitar way back then), and was quickly adopted by the big wigs of the shred movement, such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, for high pitched sonic freakout squeals and other tricks. The pedal was originally designed and marketed as a way of copying whammy bar effects on fixed bridge guitars such as Les Pauls and Telecasters, right around the time that dive bombs and racing car effects started to go out of fashion. However, players soon realised that the ‘pitch up’ settings were of more musical use than ‘pitch down,’ and a sonic revolution ensued.