Some lo-res pics of this guitar leaked last week and they didn’t look great. Well guess what! Turns out leaking crappy photos of a sophisticated design doesn’t do the design justice because the new Ibanez Steve Vai model, the PIA, looks a lot cooler than those pics indicated. Especially of note: the new DiMarzio Utopia pickups with really interesting covers designed by Mike Mesker, colour-matched ‘Pia Blossom’ inlays (except for the white model which has all white inlays) and a little scoop above the handle in the body.
Here’s Steve to tell you all about the new guitar, including all the subtle differences compared to a Jem, like a new forearm contour, repositioned volume knob, new super high access sculpting on the inside of the treble side cutaway, and more. Seriously, if you’re one of the people who trashed this guitar last week because of those dodgy photos, you really need to watch this video to see how much thought and elegance has been put into this design.
We’re talking Stainless Steel frets, switchable high pass filter, magnetic back plate, redesigned contours, new neck shape, Luminlay glow-in-the-dark side dots, Ultralite carbon fiber tremolo bar… basically it’s a Steve Vai guitar for 2020 instead of 1987.
As for the Utopia pickups, they use the DiMarzio Evolution as a starting point but with softer highs and mids and more output. That sounds pretty damn cool to me.
If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time you probably know I’m a massive Steve Vai nerd. I’ve interviewed Steve many times over the years and I just got the chance to chat with him again, this time to promote the new Generation Axe album.
Since Carvin rolled down the shutters for the last time, Steve Vai fans have been wondering what Dr. Vai is going to do next amp-wise. At NAMM he was talking up Synergy Amps, whose interchangable modules are damn fine indeed. And today Vai his previewed his signature module. Thus tweeteth Steve:
Coming soon… My @SynergyAmps Signature Series Module! The final production model will be out in a couple of months, as we are finishing minor tweaks to make this module exactly what I envisioned! This thing completely blows me away, and I can’t wait to share this with you all! pic.twitter.com/WuWAs3kyFq
We can’t glean too much from the photo other than that it’s a two-channel preamp with three-band EQ and a couple of voicing switches. Typically with Synergy these are three-position Treble and Bass voicing switches. I love the green face plate, and you better believe I’ll be getting one of these when funds allow!
“The H9 is that rare sonic tool that is capable of inspiring your entire musical direction.”
Eventide has been a part of the musical landscape since the 70s: David Bowie and Brian Eno famously used the hell out of an Eventide harmonizer starting from the Low album and that’s good enough for me! In the guitar world, Steve Vai practically created an entire genre of psychedelic progressive shred wackiness through his use of the H3000 Ultra-Harmonizer. But you’ll find Eventide’s family of harmonizers all over the place: recording studios, sound design, radio production… the company’s footprint is all over the last four decades plus of sonic history. Eventide doesn’t cut corners, so it can be a pretty costly proposition to add one of their rack units to your arsenal. Thankfully there’s a range of great stompboxes available in the form of the TimeFactor (delay), ModFactor (modulation), PitchFactor (pitch shifting), and Space (reverb). Each is a dedicated unit with plenty of controls and functions and they’re all serious stuff, but Eventide has found a way to cram every one of those pedals into a small, pedalboard-friendly unit called the H9 MAX.
The H9 gets away with this Tardis-like approach to effects management by placing the controls not on the pedal itself but on your computer or smartphone screen via the H9 Control App which gives you instant access to over 500 presets and practically endless editing capability. There is a degree of control available on the surface of the pedal itself in the form of a Hotknob and three assignable parameters, but this is a pedal designed for those who are comfortable dialling in their tone on their screen.
Connections include stereo inputs and outputs, an expression pedal jack, Mini USB and MIDI Out/Thru (plus the 12v DC jack for the included power supply). It’s important to note that the H9 is not a multi-effect pedal – that is, you can’t combine multiple effects in a chain – but many effects include delay or reverb capability alongside their main function. And you’re not forced to commit to using it just in your amp’s effects loop or just through its front end. The stereo inputs and outputs can be treated as two totally different signal paths to select between, allowing you to send, say, a chewy-sounding vintage phaser preset to your amp’s front end, then switching to a delay or reverb preset that goes through your amp’s effects loop. It’s a really ingenious system that allows you to get the most out of the H9’s stunning range of capabilities as the song demands.
Variations On A Theme
There are actually three variations on the H9 available, which differ only in the pre-loaded effects: the base H9 Core which comes loaded with the PitchFactor’s H910/H949 settings; the H9 Harmonizer which has two algorithms each from Space, PitchFactor, ModFactor and TimeFactor plus the H9-exclusive UltraTap Delay; and the full H9 MAX which is loaded with 50 effect algorithms and 99 presets, with over 500 presets available via the H9 Control app. You can upgrade the H9 Core or H9 Harmonizer to H9 MAX specs online for an additional cost using the MAXOut Program, so even if you don’t have the spare bucks to get the MAX up-front, you can get in on the ground floor with the H9 Harmonizer or Core and upgrade as you’re able. And it’s worth doing because here’s what MAX comes loaded with:
Some of these are pretty self-explanatory. Others are really unique. For instance, Sculpt lets you split the audio signal into high and low frequency bands and then apply different levels of gain and filtering to each, then add compression either before or after the distortion. In stereo if you want to. PitchFuzz combines fuzz, three pitch shifters and two delays for some truly filthy sounds. CrushStation is a stereo distortion that can do anything from blues tones to ultra pissed-off. And HotSaws is a pitch-tracking monophonic synth with modulation sources including LFO, Envelope Follower and ADS Gate, with four assignable destinations (Filter Cutoff, Volume, Pitch and Oscillator Depth), with each modulation source able to be assigned to any destination at any time.
And that’s just the new stuff available only in H9 MAX: there are also plenty of classic Eventide effects that you’ll recognise from either the ‘Factor’ series of pedals, or earlier devices such as the H3000, H949 and H910. For instance, y’know Steve Vai’s classic ‘Ballerina 12/24’ pitch-shifted delay setting? That’s in here. The pitch shift preset from ‘The Animal’ is in here too, as are various EVH ‘1984’-inspired sounds (and I’ve been able to dial in a perfect replica of Eddie’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge-era chorus-like subtle doubling sound). In fact, the huge number of sounds in here from previous Eventide products like the H3000 really hits home just how innovative that classic rack unit was. The DigiTech Whammy Pedal? It’s basically just a particular H3000 mode with a built-in expression pedal, and you can do it with the H9 and an expression pedal too. Dynamic reverb, chorus and delay effects that respond to your picking? That’s all here just like it has been since the H3000. Extensive looping capability? Ditto. But there’s other stuff in here that has been criminally overlooked. Frank Zappa was a fan of using dynamic flanging effects, and Eventide gives you this capability (which works especially well as an ‘into-the-front-of-the-amp’ effect); trigger a flanger-sweep every time you pick a note, or deeper sweeps the harder you pick. Or assign the flanger resonance to an expression pedal. The signal-processing possibilities are endless, and that means your creative and expressive options as a musician are endless too. The H9 is that rare sonic tool that is capable of inspiring your entire musical direction.
The sound quality is so great that you can get away with using the H9 as front-and-centre feature effects in a recording environment – as you’d expect from a company whose gear is in every serious studio in the world – but what really impresses me is how utterly clean and noise-free the sound is when used with my roaring Marshall. I’m used to battling against hiss and hum in outboard gear and I’ve figured out various ways to get rid of it over the years but the H9 is so damn quiet. The dynamic range isn’t unnaturally squished, there’s no buzz, no hum, no white noise. And this becomes really apparent when using delay and reverb effects.
The MIDI capability is also extremely handy. Although the H9 has become my go-to reverb and delay unit, I’ve been connecting the H9 MAX to my trusty old BOSS GT-8 Multi-Fx floorboard so I can use the GT-8’s delay and reverb effects when the H9 MAX is otherwise occupied with another algorithm through my amp’s front end (eg: Octave, Flanger, Wah or PitchFlex effects). This also lets me add H9 presets with my GT-8 presets, and also to use the GT-8’s expression pedal to control H9 effects. In a perfect world I’d have an Eclipse V4 sitting in a rack to take care of delay and harmonizer effects in my amp’s effects loop and an H9 on a pedalboard to look after front-end effects like fuzz, distortion, wah, flanger, phaser, pitch and whammy.
The Bottom Line
If you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves and dig into some serious editing on a smartphone, tablet or computer screen, the H9 will do absolutely everything you can ever think to ask of it. (If you’re a little put off by the control method but you still want some great Eventide delay and modulation effects – from the natural to the freaky – check out the new Eventide Rose Modulated Delay). The H9 is a serious piece of kit, which is why Living Colour’s Doug Wimbish had four of the dang things on his pedalboard when I saw the band live recently!
The Ibanez JEM7VWH has been Steve Vai’s main instrument since it was released at the time of the Sex & Religion album in 1993. Upon release it had a Lo Pro Edge tremolo, an Ebony fingerboard and Vai’s new DiMarzio Evolution humbucking pickups. Since then the VWH has undergone a few changes, including the switch to an Edge Pro tremolo and then to an original Edge, but by far the biggest change that really riled up the Jem community when it happened was the decision to move from an Ebony fingerboard to a Rosewood one in 2004. Sure, this gave the Jem a slightly warmer tone (which helped to cool down those very aggressive Evolutions) but many players preferred the more direct tone and smooth feel of Ebony.
Now Ibanez is releasing a Premium version of the JEM7VWH, the JEM7VP, which brings back that sweet sweet Ebony fingerboard. There are a couple of other key differences between this and the Japan-made VWH though: it has Jumbo frets and a 5-piece Maple/Walnut Wizard neck instead of the JEM neck shape and narrow/tall 6105 frets, and the Premium’s fingerboard radius is a little more subtly rounded than the VWH.
I can imagine a lot of players being very happy with this model. A) It’s more affordable than the VWH which is a seriously-priced piece of kit; B) Yay Ebony; C) The smaller frets and flatter radius of the WVH just don’t feel as Ibanezzy to players who are used to the RG neck. One point to note: it does not have scallops on frets 21-24.
This is also pretty smart marketing by Ibanez. It gives players something in between the top-of-the-line JEM7VWH and the budget JEM Jr, a guitar that a lot of folks buy to upgrade to more VWH-like specs.
I used to have a VWH and while it was a phenomenal guitar, eventually I traded it for a Strat because it just never really felt like ‘mine.’ But I’m certainly tempted to get the JEM7VP because there will always be a place in my heart for the white Jem, and I think I would like this model’s neck a little more. What do you think?
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 …
Steve Vai (probably my biggest influence and my one-time jam-buddy, brag brag brag) has announced a special 25h Anniversary reissue of Passion & Warfare. It features a new disc called Modern Primitive, and Steve will also undertake an extensive tour where he will play the whole record start-to-finish. Yes, even “Ballerina 12/24” and hopefully some freaky arrangements of “Alien Water Kiss” and “Love Secrets.” Read the full press release below, plus info about the third Vai Academy event.
Hey Steve, one request: the jazzy little solo section of “The Animal” pretty much changed the way I play guitar, but you always play improvised stuff instead of the original solo when I hear you play it live. How about returning to that classic finger-pretzelling, life-changing solo for ‘ol Petie, eh? Pleeeeease? (By the way, check out these Fascinating Facts About Steve Vai’s Passion & Warfare).