Aah, the relicing issue. Not since ‘tone is in the fingers’ has a topic generated such heated debate on guitar forums, in guitar stores and in dimly lit bars after gigs. Whether you like the idea of buying a brand-new bashed up guitar or you think it’s an abomination and an affront to real vintage guitars everywhere, everyone’s got an opinion. One way to look at it is: whether you’re into the look or not, a pre-aged guitar by its very nature has a few features that should make it a little nicer to play in some respects than a pristine off-the-shelfer.


ESP has had a few goes at offering aged finishes at various price points, including the James Hetfield Iron Cross and Truckster models (the latter of which was available in ESP and LTD versions), the George Lynch’s GL-56 and, most recently, the LTD EC-256 AHB. Based on the company’s Eclipse model, this relatively inexpensive axe is of the classic twin humbucker, set neck, mahogany body variety. It’s given ESP’s own distinctive touches, of course, including subtle curving of the top (instead of all-out carving), a volume-volume-tone control layout, and a sharp cutaway which seems to say “Some of this guitar is traditional, but your grandad never would have played this back in the day.”

The first thing to look at on a guitar like this is the relicing. Does it look authentic like a real beaten up guitar that’s been mishandled or loved on stages up and down the country? Nope. The sanding marks are pretty obvious, and the tri of dings on the treble side of the lower bout look quite contrived. Some rough sanding marks on the headstock look more like scratches from an unfriendly gig bag than a few decades of knocks from a succession of feisty roadies. But that’s all somewhat beside the point, because after a few years of regular use the ‘shininess’ of these manufactured blemishes is likely to be dulled by and intermingled with real-life ones, and it will truly become the dinged up but well-loved instrument that it was designed to look like. The most important thing about the EC-256 for me was that the back of the neck felt comfortably aged and friction-free, which made for a very pleasant playing experience. It’s also worth noting that the thin finish of the top allows the sound to breathe, opening up the treble and adding a little depth to the guitar’s amplified tone.


The EC-256 sounds best with mild overdrive playing relatively dark music (Tool fans take note). It doesn’t seem to want to be a high gain screamer, although the natural tone seems to work really well with lowered tunings. It’s just that the guitar’s natural character is best represented by more subtle distortion levels. There’s a coil split on the tone control which extends the guitar’s personality and adds versatility while maintaining the guitar’s own character. Again, the neck pickup in single coil mode doesn’t really like to be distorted: it’s more at home with some light bluesy overdrive. If you dig the visual vibe and the way it plays but you need gutsier tones, a pickup upgrade might be in order.


Despite the aggressiveness of the cutway, which suggested a heavier musical orientation, I don’t think this is a guitar for those who play blazing solos over metal riffs. It’s much more at home with crunchy rhythm sounds and bluesy double stops. Whether you like the relicing or not is up to you but this is a guitar that will find its fans for what it is, rather than what it tries to be.

REVIEW: Roger Mayer Concorde + Treble Booster

Ok, you’ve got your fuzz, your overdrive, your distortion and your clean boost. That’s all, right? Wrongo. The treble booster is an almost-forgotten member of the distortion family, and without it we wouldn’t have such classic tones as Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid,’ pretty much all of Led Zeppelin 1, and everything Brian May’s ever done. So what’s a treble booster and why is it different to just turning up the treble knob on the amp? Well not quite a fuzz, not quite an EQ, treble boosters were typically based on very simple circuits and they promoted the idea of boosting the strength of the signal to the amp while tailoring its tone curve to attain maximum tonal goodness.

The Concorde +, like the other pedals in Roger Mayer’s Vision Series, has controls for Drive, Tone and Output, a sturdy and stompworthy footswitch, twin buffered outs and a hardwired bypass out, an input, a slidable battery cover and a super-strong casing. The electronics combine a low noise class A silicon drive circuit with passive tone shaping to drive a fully optimised germanium treble booster, allowing you to add drive and distortion with EQ before the actual treble booster section – think of it kind of like two pedals in a signal chain, which you can balance for the perfect interaction.

Mayer notes that you can also set the silicon drive section to drive the treble booster section much harder than any guitar pickup could ever do, without any added distortion but with the added feature of having EQ prior to the treble booster, so you get the qualities of soft germanium type distortion overload characteristics or more radical germanium distortion sounds.

Using an alder-bodied, Bigsby-loaded Ibanez Talman with vintage-output Ibanez Super 58 pickups, I flipped to the neck pickup and unleashed my inner Iommi for some ‘Paranoid.’ With a setting of about 3 o’clock on the Drive control and 2 o’clock on the Tone, there was just enough dirt and grizzle around the notes but still punch and definition on the low end. If you turn up the Drive a bit further you get a fuzzy buzz between the notes which works great for sludgier riffage. There are also some great Jimmy Page tones available. With everything set to the midway point the Concorde + is perfect for ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Communication Breakdown’ – that barky, aggressive tone which begs for you to alternate between muted chugs and chord stabs. Wind back the Drive control a little for a bright, punchy clean tone which begs for heavy gauge strings and single coil country licks.

The Concorde + isn’t just for the player who wants to get closer to those classic Page, Iommi and May tones; it’s for the experimentalist seeking new levels of tone control, or anyone looking for a different character to their overdrive and distortion.

Roger Mayer:
Buy Concorde + at

NEWS: Kerry King Australian instore appearances

Awesome. My pals at AMS, Aussie distributors of Dunlop/MXR, just alerted me to the very cool news that Slayer’s Kerry King will be appearing at Allans in Melbourne and Kosmic Sound in Perth while in Australia for the joint Slayer/Megadeth metalfest. I can’t wait for this gig!

Melbourne at Allans Bourke Street at 3.30pm – 5.30pm on FRIDAY October 9th –

Perth – at Kosmic Sound Cannington at 1.00pm – 3.00pm on Tuesday 13th October –

Not much blog stuff this week

Just letting you know that blog content will be a little thin this week. A loved one is very ill so I won’t really be around to write new stuff for a few days. I’ve set a few reviews to auto-publish over the next few days and I guess I’ll be back next week.

REVIEW: Morpheus DropTune

Here’s a dilemma I face pretty much every day. You have your guitar set up to perfection. Perfection for you (well, for me) includes a finely balanced Floyd Rose type system. Problem is, every now and then you wanna jam along with some early Van Halen, Extreme, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Slipknot, Meshuggah… can’t really do that unless you change your tuning, and you simply can’t lower the tuning for a few songs on a Floyd Rose, unless you use a device like the Tremolno to block the trem first, but then you can’t do any awesome whammy bar stuff. What’s the point? So you scrimp and save and buy another guitar with the intention of using that for a lower tuning. But you like the sound of it so much that you decide to keep that one in standard too. Time to start saving again… repeat every time you get into another band with a different degree of downtuning.

Morpheus has come to the rescue with the DropTune, a pedal designed with one thing in mind: to lower the pitch of your guitar while not sounding so darn fake about it. I’m sure we’ve all tried various pitch-shifting devices one time or another to achieve this. If the weird underwater-sounding digital artefacts don’t kill ya straight away, the latency will. But what do you expect: those pedals are typically designed to shift the pitch downwards to recombine with the original note anyway. The DropTune doesn’t aim to be a harmonizer with pitch-shifting capabilities. It’s just a pitch-dropping pedal.

The DropTune’s design is simple. There are three footswitches: On/Off, Up, and Down. The On/Off switch is also labelled ‘effect’ (see the photos) while the Up switch is also labelled ‘toggle.’ I tested a prototype version that didn’t have these markings. Around the back there’s a guitar in, a line level pot, a line out, a USB port and the 12V DC 500mA power jack.

The DropTune allows you to drop the guitar’s pitch up to 3 ½ steps down in ½ step increments (ie: your low E can be changed to Eb, D, Db, C, B, Bb or A) as well as an octave-down setting and an octaver effect which blends the octave-down note with your original one.

So how does it sound in practice? Awesome. For testing I used an Ibanez RG7620 7-string with DiMarzio Crunch Lab and LiquiFire pickups. I set the DropTune so I could play the low B string with the effect bypassed, then switch it on and play the E string instead but dropped to mimic the low B. Toggling back and forth between the two strings, the main difference was one of punch. The harmonic complexity remained pretty much intact, but the digitally dropped note was a little looser and softer – warmer and not as snappy. Through a raging amp you probably wouldn’t even notice a difference. Slight latency can be detected if you listen really hard – not enough to be distracting and certainly less than I’ve experienced with using software amp sims in Pro Tools, for instance, but it’s more detectable when playing unaccompanied.

One of my favourite features on the DropTune is the Toggle button. Use this to switch the effect on and off rapidly for weird pitch flutters, or even just to mimic a few notes or chords on a phantom 7th string if you’re playing a 6-string. Where was this pedal when I was 16, trying to play Steve Vai’s ‘The Riddle’ on a 6-string and having to play the few 7th-string notes an octave higher on my 6-string?

It’s also very gratifying to be able to play songs in Eb or D without having to set up another guitar. Finally I can jam along to ‘Eruption,’ ‘Far Beyond The Sun’ and ‘Sad But True’ with accuracy and ease! Sweet!

During the time I had the DropTune, a firmware update was released, so I was able to try it out both before and after the update. It was pretty cool to be able to hear the product in development like this. Before the update there was a slight muddiness to the notes and a little bit of noticeable latency. After the update the latency was greatly reduced and the notes sounded a little punchier. Here’s a little recording I whipped up, using Dream Theater’s ‘Lie’ as an example. Here’s what you’ll hear after the count-in:

Bar 1: Panned hard left – riff on the B string (no Morpheus)
Bar 2: Panned middle – riff on the E string (Morpheus set to drop 5
semitones, before the firmware upgrade)
Bar 3: Panned hard right – riff onthe E string (Morpheus set to drop 5
semitones, after the firmware upgrade)
Bar 4-8: Panned left – riff on Be string (no Morpheus). Panned right –
riff on E string (Morpheus after firmware upgrade)

Then there’s a little solo, still using the Morpheus dropped down 5 semitones.

The post-upgrade E string version sounds eerily close to the B string version. Bar 2 before the upgrade is slightly muddier but Bar 3 has much of the same bite and snap as Bar 1. At the most, the sonic difference can be likened to using a different string gauge. There’s only the tiniest bit of latency but it’s barely even noticeable and certainly not distracting. In fact, the only distracting thing for me is hearing the natural pitch of the strings clashing with the Drop Tune when playing at bedroom volumes!

REVIEW: Taylor T3/B

If you’re a frequent reader of I Heart Guitar you’ve no doubt seen my gushing praise for the Taylor SolidBody Custom, a guitar I dug so much it inspired me to hunt out similarly-voiced pickups for one of my own guitars. I was blown away by the SolidBody’s build quality, playability and above all its unique tone. Taylor’s newest electric model is the T3. The T3 is available in two versions, identical except one has a stop tailpiece and the other has a Bigsby (the B in T3/B). Being a Bigsby geek myself, I was thrilled to get my hands on the Bigbsy version. Either way, the bridge itself is of the roller variety, ensuring frictionless tuning stability whether you’re going for a wild wiggle on the Bigsby or bending a note into the stratosphere and back on the fixed bridge version.

The sapele body is hollowed out like the venerable T5 with the exception of a solid block of wood that runs down the length of the center with the quilted maple top laid directly on top. The neck joint is Taylor’s unique T-Lock system, which uses a single bolt yet secures the neck as well as any set neck instrument I’ve played. Check out the photo below to see just why the T-Lock system provides such stability. The larger frets of the T3 helped me feel more at home with it – I’m used to fat-fretted 80s shredders after all – and the neck shape is comfortable without being too fat or too thin. In fact it’s bound to please Fender fans and those who dig Gibson’s 50s profile, and maybe even a few Ernie Ball Music Man fans.

Electronics consist of a pair of Taylor pickups (the same Style 2 model featured in the SolidBody Standard), a three-way pickup selector, and volume and tone controls, each of which has a secondary feature accessed via push-pull pots. Pull up on the volume control for three coil-split sounds. Pull up on the tone to change the character of the tone pot. More on that later.

So let’s plug the T3/B in. My first thought about playability is that at no point did I feel I had to fight the guitar when playing at full speed, yet when playing at slower tempos I felt like the guitar was with me for every phrase and beat. Some guitar designs aim to get out of your way completely so you can pretty much just move your fingers in the right direction and come off sounding more or less okay. Others challenge you with unfriendly string tension, unforgiving frets and pickups that leave out no detail of your playing, good or bad. The T3/B is right in the middle: it plays quite easily but you have to put some work in to get the most out of it. Upper fret access is a little impeded on the bass strings but you should be able to quite comfortably work your way up to the widdly end of the neck without hindrance.

The setup of the Bigsby was absolutely flawless – the best factory-setup Bigsby system I’ve ever tried. It had the perfect amount of wobble, warble and waver, integrating quite smoothly and naturally with the sustain of the note rather than boldly announcing ‘now he’s reached for the Bigsby!’

Taylor describes the T3 as souping up a semi-hollowbody’s essential sound, and it’s true: the classic semi-hollowbody traits are there. Sustain, that vocal upper midrange, the steely yet compressed treble, and the interactivity which invites you to really explore the dynamic range with picking and phrasing variations… yet there’s something firmer and more self-assured about the T3 compared to other semi-hollowbody designs. The T3’s pickups have the ability to handle everything from soft, delicate strumming to full-on metal. If you don’t believe me, check out the video below, where I use the bridge humbucker for an all-out thrash riff. Granted you might look a little out of place if you show up with this guitar for a gig with your Megadeth tribute band, but sonically it can sure do the job. And these same qualities – tight but full bass, bright treble and solid but not honky midrange – make the T3/B excel at lower-gain tones in blues, country and rock settings. Pop up the volume knob to split the humbuckers into single coils and the tones become brighter, zingier and even better suited to bluesy riffs. Here the sound kind of reminded me of a cleaner, more refined P90 rather than a Strat or Telecaster single coil, or maybe a more robust Rickenbacker or Gretsch single.

In its standard mode the tone control works like a regular tone control for most of its travel, but as you get towards the end of its range it boosts the mids, somewhat emulating the sound of a stationary wah wah pedal. This is a great way to add complexity to a lead tone without having to step on any pedals or change amp channels, and it’s especially effective with higher levels of overdrive or distortion. If you’re into the T3/B for its lighter, cleaner tones, pull the tone control up to engage a second capacitor which mellows out the sound for smooth jazzy voices.

The T3/B is one of those rare guitars that can pretty much be all things to all players: a jazz box, a bluesman’s muse, a rocker’s main squeeze, an indie player’s canvas, or even a shredder’s secret weapon. Like the SolidBody Custom, what I dig most about the T3/B is that it has its own sound – it doesn’t need to sound like any other brands’ instrument – yet that sound has a certain classic quality to it without directly recalling any particular other design.

Here’s my video demo, where I present my favourite sounds from the T3/B. I could have gone on and on if I had the time to do more.

There’s a huge range of tones achievable with the tone control and coil split settings too, and you can hear a lot more of the T3’s variety in this video by Taylor’s Andy Lund:

Thanks to Taylor and Electric Factory.

NEWS: Premier Guitar checks out Digidesign Eleven rack unit

Excuse me for a moment while I squeal like a little girl… EEEEEEEEEEEEK! Sorry, just had to get that out of my system after seeing Premier Guitar’s first peek at the new DigiDesign Eleven rack unit.

Head over here to read the whole story, but here are some snippets:

The Eleven Rack is a rackmountable recording and signal processing system that does the DSP work for you so that your computer doesn’t have to. That means that you can use the unit live onstage and recreate the exact tones you recorded with, without a computer attached to it. However, there are advantages to using Eleven Rack with a computer — more on that in a bit. Eleven Rack has an LED screen on its front panel that allows you to do everything you’re used to doing with the Eleven package of plug-in effects. Eleven involves a connoisseur’s collection of vintage and modern amps, cabs and effects, while giving you far-reaching signal path and internal component tweaking ability.

One of the coolest things about Eleven Rack’s eight simultaneous recording capable inputs is the True-Z auto-impedance matching input that recreates the electronic connection between your guitar and an amp or effect. This isn’t done with digital processing, either—analog components are used to detect and adjust the input impedance from your guitar’s pickups and adjust the signal for a proper match for the particular amp/effects you’re using within Eleven. The result: you get the nuances you’re used to—both in feel and sound. With the ability to record both dry and processed signals, your reamping options are endless—you can even reamp later without doing the cable patching tango.

And here’s Premier Guitar’s video demo.