REVIEW: Fender Deluxe Lone Star Stratocaster

There have been about a million variations on the classic Stratocaster theme since its 1954 introduction. Some of them have been less than obvious to the casual glance, like changes in neck construction methods and the move to 3 ply pickguards back in the early days. Others have been pretty over the top, like the old Ritchie Sambora signature model with a Floyd Rose bridge and star shaped inlays. The Deluxe Lone Star Stratocaster doesn’t try to be too drastically different from the classic Strat blueprint, so what is it that sets this one apart, and why has Fender decided to reissue the guitar only a few years after discontinuing it?

The chief difference with the Lone Star Strat is its choice of pickups, all of which have a distinctive Texas pedigree. The neck and middle pickups are Fender’s own Texas Special single coils. These pickups first surfaced on the original Stevie Ray Vaughan signature model in the early 90s. They’re wound hotter than the average single coil for thicker, fatter tone with a higher output for that down and dirty blues sound. They’re especially happy when kicking a cranked valve amp right where it counts. The bridge pickup is a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Plus model, which Seymour himself designed when Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top wanted a pickup to make any guitar sound like his beloved 1959 Gibson Les Paul, a guitar which Gibbons named …Pearly Gates. Electronics include tone controls for the bridge and neck pickups, and a 5-way pickup selector switch. Position 2 on the switch combines the full humbucker with the middle single coil. Some companies might split the humbucker into a single too for this setting, but the extra toughness of the full humbucker is in keeping with the Lone Star vibe.

Besides the pickups, appointments on this model include a brown shell pickguard, a vintage-tinted C-shaped maple neck with rosewood fretboard and 21 medium jumbo frets. The fretboard radius is a roundish 9.5”. With this type of radius, a very low string height can sometimes result in choked out notes when bending, but careful maintenance of a good setup can avoid this. The factory setup has the strings at a nice medium height, great for digging in hard for gutsy, tough blues, and for really grabbing the strings for big soulful bends.

The Lone Star Strat has a vintage style synchronized tremolo bridge, and although this is in no way a Stevie Ray Vaughan signature model, it does make me reflect on how SRV never made the switch to guitars with a two-point knife edge tremolo, so it in the spirit of Texas blues it makes sense to see the old six-screw version represented here. The body is alder, a common wood for Stratocasters, with a nice balance of frequencies.

The Pearly Gates humbucker sounds killer on a Strat. The upper midrange response makes this a great axe for those who want a Satriani style tone but don’t want to play a high tech Ibanez to get it, and when driving a dirty, overdriven amp the sound opens up beautifully. The pickup responds especially well to Jeff Beck-style finger picking, and it tracks very well for fast playing.

The Texas Specials have that up-front, punchy sound associated with SRV: tight bass, immediate impact, and open treble. There is a wide range of tonal flexibility available by adjusting the guitar’s volume control, and without too much work you should be able to find a sweet spot with the volume at about 2/3 of the way up where the single coils sound more bell-like, before cranking it back to 10 for more fatness and grunt.

The Lone Star Stratocaster is for those who want a traditional Strat but need a bit more power and flexibility. It’s a Stratocaster for those who like their steak rare or, to partially quote Homer Simpson, people who like their beer cold and their TV loud.

SPECS:
Body: Alder
Neck: Tinted maple
Fretboard: Rosewood, 21 medium jumbo frets, 9.5” radius.
Pickups: Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Plus (bridge), Fender Texas Special (neck, middle).
Extras: Deluxe padded gig bag.

CLICK HERE to search for Fender Stratocasters on eBay.

REVIEW: EVH Wolfgang

Jemsite member Anthony5150 has provided I Heart Guitar with the following review and photos of his brand new EVH Wolfgang. Take it away Anthony.

I’ll start with the fit and finish. The body is basically the same shape as the older version, if not exact. The neck still has a roundish feel like the older one, but scaled down. It’s not really chunky and I wouldn’t consider it really thin either. It falls right in the middle. To me, its a perfect balance. The more I play it, the more I like it. Kind of like an old glove. The stainless steel frets are much smaller the 6105’s. They felt a little weird at first but they are growing one me, and I’m really starting to like them. The action was the best I’ve ever felt on any guitar. I have had professional level and setups and this one is right there on par, probably better. I can’t believe how close the strings are to the board, especially on the higher frets. There is a slight buzz in some areas, but no fretting out or loss of tone anywhere. I have never seen anything like it that was playable.

The knobs on this thing are on top of low friction pots, so they move really easily. This is something I could have done without, as the slightest brush of the volume knob with your pinky is gonna move it. I can see how they would come in handy but I have never played using the volume swell technique used in eddies “Cathedral”. But maybe now is a good time to learn :) The trem springs were a little loose when I received it, as the bridge was lifting with big bends. A few cranks on the screws solved that problem. Other than that the actual finish of this thing is superb: I couldn’t find any flaws whatsoever.

The sound of this thing is just amazing. Compared to what I thought was perfect in the older version, the new one made me realize I really don’t know what perfect is. This thing is a different sound all together. It’s much brighter. I think this is what really puts the sound over the top. It has a nice full sound to it and the separation is unbelievable: every note stand out on its and comes through nice and clear. At first I was having problems getting tapped harmonics to ring loud and clear, but after a day or two I got used to it and that’s not an issue. I will definitely buy another one of these in the future when the price comes down a bit, and probably trade my older one in for it.

This thing is awesome. Eddie and fender really got it right.

Buy EVH products at Guitar Center:

EVH Wolfgang Electric Guitar Vintage White Maple Top for $2,999.99.


EVH Wolfgang Electric Guitar Tobacco Sunburst Quilted Maple Top for $3,149.99.

REVIEW: Roger Mayer Vision Wah Special

Legendary pedal designer Roger Mayer says the Vision Wah Special comes from the same bloodline as a pedal he built 40 years ago for Jimi Hendrix. That may be so, but to think of this as just a foot-operated portal to Jimi’s patchouli-scented spirit is to sell it way short.

Visually, the Vision Wah Special borrows a little bit of the science fiction vibe of Mayer’s famed spaceship-shaped pedals. There are two side mounted knobs, but the sleek design dispenses with any writing whatsoever on the visible part of the pedal. Instead you have to flip it over to see “Roger Mayer Vision Wah Special – Handbuilt in the UK” and that the knobs are labelled Wah Sweep and Wah Blend. Closer inspection of the pedal base also reveals a tiny hole leading through to a trimpot inside the pedal, which allows you to set a minimum volume for when the pedal is in bypass mode: when you’re not using the wah effect, the unit functions as a volume pedal. However if you don’t need the volume pedal option, you can simply turn it off by moving a jumper on the PC card.

The wah effect itself is engaged via a switch at the full ‘toe down’ end of the wah treadle, and if you’re worried that your Chuck Taylors will stomp the effect on when you’re using the volume mode, you can remove the base plate to find a small control on the PC card labelled SW Adjust, which sets the required bypass switch pressure. The treadle itself is smooth and comfortable, and relies on a clever vari friction nylon bearing, combined with a fully balanced top plate which allows the user to customise the tension from light to firm. The treadle will always remain exactly where you leave it, for those Michael Schenker fixed wah tones.

As you’d expect from a pedal associated with Jimi, the Vision Wah can sound funky and earthy. I found that at the most extreme end of the Wah Sweep control, the pedal cut through in a very sharp, bright manner especially suited to wild psycho soloing or clucky clean funk, while lower, more bass-heavy settings introduced a supportive, thick quality similar to Jimi’s soulful wah work, or the sounds of Alice In Chains’ ‘Dirt’ album. Somewhere around the upper middle of the Wah Sweep trajectory I was able to dial in a cool nasal Zappa ‘honk.’ Depending on the setting and how you play the pedal, it can go from a ‘wah wah’ to a ‘quoll quoll,’ ‘loop loop’ and ‘qua qua’ pedal. The Wah Blend control allows you to introduce the dry guitar into the sound, which is a great way of maintaining pitch clarity and the quality of your phrasing without having them be overwhelmed by the wah effect.

The Roger Mayer Vision Wah Special is more than just ‘like the one Jimi used.’ It’s a modern update on the wah concept in general, and while its ability to recreate classic Hendrix tones is a great selling point, it’s just one of the things it does very, very well.

If you’re in Australia, you can buy Roger Mayer pedals online from Guitar Toyz

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

Before you can take an honest look at ‘Chinese Democracy,’ you have to address and then dismiss a few key facts: Yes, the only original member left is Axl Rose; yes, it’s 17years since ‘Use Your Illusion 1 & 2’; no, it’s probably not going to live up to the expectations created by that 17 year wait; and no, you can’t get your free Dr. Pepper unless you’re an American resident. It’s impossible to listen to this album without being aware of its history – starts, stops, hirings, firings, postponement after postponement. But ultimately this context has to be put aside if you have any chance of listening to the album for what it is: 14 songs by the guy who sang ‘Welcome To The Jungle.’

Opening with an atmospheric, chattering soundscape (courtesy of Eric Cardieaux, who has done a lot of work with Joe Satriani), followed by a heavily processed but very much rock-approved guitar riff, Axl suddenly breaks through the din with that famous scream, and the preceding 17 years are all but forgotten. The high notes are still there, and so is the attitude, and sure, the vocals could have been pieced together from studio sessions dating back to 2005, but Axl sounds happy to just be singing again. The sound is updated, semi-industrial, and very, very polished. It sounds like every dollar of the rumoured $14 million or so was used on the recording process rather than private jets and bike shorts.

Track 2, ‘Shackler’s Revenge’ continues, and in fact enhances, the industrial vibe with a pre-chorus straight out of the NIN songbook and a riff which would be at home on Max Cavalera’s Nailbomb side project. Track 3, ‘Better,’ is my frontrunner for song of the year. I can’t get this freaking thing out of my head, and that’s okay with me. Processed guitars and falsetto vocals set up the mood, and some on-the-off-beat guitar rhythms give the verses a sense of propulsion. Wild sweep-picked licks cap off the choruses, and Buckethead throws in a typically unpredictable ear-candy solo. Then NIN guitarist Robin Finck kicks in with a soulful, lyrical solo which reminds me of Ritchie Kotzen’s Telecaster tones and clean phrasing. Compared to the virtuosity of Buckethead and Ron ‘Thal’ Bumblefoot, Finck’s solo is reminiscent of the bluesier spirit Slash brought to the band.

Bumblefoot has a few cool guitar moments scattered throughout the album, as does Buckethead, and Finck can be relied upon for more tasty blues phrasing before the album is through, but for an act that’s so much a part of hard rock history (and with 6 guitarists listed in the credits if you count Axl), there’s less guitar here than you might expect. Around the middle of the album, things get very ‘November Rain.’ There are 4 midtempo piano songs in a row, coloured with varying degrees of drum loops and synth pads, at times sounding like the Bowie-and-electronica-influenced solo album of Queensryche’s Geoff Tate, and at other times recalling the ‘right up-to-date when it was released’ sounds of Sting’s ‘Brand New Day’ album – which would have been great news if Chinese Democracy was released in 2000, but which makes it sound a little dated today. The melodies are carefully crafted and the mood ranges from intimate to epic, and the overall pacing has a bit of a concert vibe (albeit compressed into just over an hour).

Piano time draws to a close and leads to the Zep-ish ‘Riad & The Bedouins,’ which has an almost prog vibe and some crushing guitar riffs, topped off with some classic 70s glam. The proggy vibe continues with ‘Sorry,’ which has a kind of 90s Black Sabbath vibe. Then ‘IRS’ brings in a bit of classic G’n’R rock mixed with more of that Tate-ish vibe. ‘Madagascar’ is another big epic, and one of a bunch of Chinese Democracy songs played on tour over the last few years. ‘This I Love’ is almost contemporary musical theatre with yet more piano and overblown arrangement, and finally ‘Prostitute’ caps off the album with some uptempo drums, soaring vocal melodies, and finally a quiet, peaceful orchestral finish.

‘Chinese Democracy’ may not be the greatest album of all time, but it’s surprisingly coherent despite its eclecticism, and while it comes close to collapsing under the weight of not only public anticipation but also its own overdubbed bloat, it seems to remain on track and provide a compelling listening experience. Sure, it’s not the album G’n’R would have made if Slash, Duff, Izzy, Gilby, Matt, or even Steven Alder were around, and it has its flaws, but if you treat it as an Axl solo album, you may be very pleasantly surprised. Just don’t expect a hard rock album.

CLICK HERE for my interview with Bumblefoot
CLICK HERE to buy Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy from CDJapan.co.jp
CLICK HERE to buy the limited edition SHM-CD version from CDJapan.co.jp

REVIEW: Extreme – Saudades de Rock

Extreme may always be best known to the world at large for the acoustic hit ‘More Than Words,’ but rock fans know the band’s real bread and butter was a funky, harmony-driven rock sound which was equal parts Van Halen, Aerosmith and Queen, capped off with the tasteful shred of guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. Nuno was one of the best of the post Van Halen guitarists, and what made him stand out most was his sense of groove and rhythm. Nuno was never content to phone it in until it was time to solo, and as a result his rhythm guitar parts were always a finely balanced concoction of technicality and danceability.

Thirteen years have passed since Extreme’s last album, the raw and underrated ‘Waiting For The Punchline.’ Since then, singer Gary Cherone fronted Van Halen (he put in a valiant effort, but it was just not to be); drummer Paul Geary, who split halfway through the ‘Punchline’ sessions, managed Godsmack; bass player Pat Badger raised alpacas; and Nuno released a whole bunch of albums, mostly under various band names but still all amounting to “Nuno + backing band.” Now the band feels the time is right to return, and although Geary is assisting with band management matters, the drum stool is now occupied by Kevin Figueiredo from Nuno’s last band, Dramagods.

Saudades de Rock (the name loosely translates as ‘nostalgic homesickness for rock’) has a lot in common with ‘Punchline’ – raw production, ambient drum sounds, a minimum of overdubs – but it sounds tighter, sharper, and altogether more powerful than that album’s dark, muffled tone. The album opens with Star, draped in Queen-inspired harmonies over a rhythm section slightly reminiscent of the big Van Halen shuffles like ‘Hot For Teacher.’ Lyrically, the song is similar to ‘Hip Today’ from ‘Punchline,’ but while that song offered an ominous warning to the here today, gone tomorrow grunge bands of the day, ‘Star’ expands the scope to the world of instant stardom through reality TV and paparazzi frenzy.

‘Comfortably Dumb’ has a killer groove and tight vocal harmonies, while the lyrics flow on from Frank Zappa’s famous comment that the most plentiful element in the universe is stupidity. The protagonist of the song has become jaded and desensitised due to multimedia oversaturation. A parallel can again be drawn to a ‘Punchline’ track, ‘Cynical,’ but in that song the subject was left negative and pessimistic by the state of the world, in ‘Comfortably Dumb’ they’ve shut down completely.

‘Take Us Alive’ has a rockabilly-influenced, country edge complete with some twangy guitar noodling. ‘King of the Ladies’ is reminiscent of Nuno’s solo work, and is one of several moments on the album where Nuno lets his Octave pedal do the talking, to great effect. ‘Last Hour on Earth’ picks up where Van Halen’s ‘A Year To The Day’ left off, in both structure and feel, and ‘Flower Man’ picks up the pace with more clever harmony colouring. ‘Ghost’ has drawn many comparisons to Coldplay, and if radio was to find this song it would be a certain hit. And while the album concludes with ‘Peace (Saudade),’ it feels more like a low-key encore because it’s the second last track, ‘Sunrise,’ that really feels like the closer to the album proper.

Some fans are calling Saudades de Rock the best album of Extreme’s career. Others aren’t quite won over by the continued use of the live-sounding recording techniques of the ‘Punchline’ album, hoping instead for a return to the more produced sounds of ‘Pornograffiti’ and ‘III Sides to Every Story.’ Personally I freaking love this album and, after living with it for about a month, I still find myself drawn to it several times a week, when usually I’ve moved on from an album by that time. It’s for that reason that I’m naming Saudades de Rock my favourite album of the year so far.

Open E Records

LINKS:

Extreme website
Extreme Myspace
Open E Records
Saudades de Rock at Amazon.com

Washburn Nuno Series N4ESA Electric Guitar Natural Matte

Washburn Nuno Series N4ESA Electric Guitar Natural Matte

Nuno Bettencourt signature series electric guitar with L500 and Seymour Duncan humbucking pickups, locking tremolo and the Buzz Feiten tuning system – Made in the USA. Includes GC31R hardshell case, a $130 value.


REVIEW: Bryan Beller – Thanks In Advance

Bassist Bryan Beller’s second album goes a little deeper than its predecessor, ‘View,’ both conceptually and musically. Always a great all-round bass player (he’s been former Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally’s right hand man since the mid 90s, and is a member of Steve Vai’s String Theories band), Beller now seems even more comfortable as a solo artist, whether he’s grooving in the rhythm section, throwing out a Zappaesque flurry, or blazing a solo.

Styles on ‘Thanks In Advance’ range from fusion to rock to electronica, to the almost vintage R&B feel of the title track. Sonically, the production is a little more open and bright than ‘View,’ and the compositions appear to breathe a little more. The bass playing is as tasty as ever, and as you might expect, the bass is presented on a silver platter, front and centre when it’s called for or carefully mixed to support the song when needed.

‘Casual Lie Day’ is a cruisy, jazzy track with a groovy, deep bass tone and some very tasteful guitar playing, topped off with a clever horn arrangement which gathers strength as the song progresses. ‘Play Hard’ is an upbeat vocal song with definite rock radio appeal and a bright guitar pop kind of vibe. It sounds a little bit like something by the band Freak Kitchen, but more substance, less gimmicky flash.

Mike Keneally makes a powerful appearance on ‘Love Terror Adrenaline/Break Through,’ moving smoothly from sparse single note lines to complex melodies, to huge, bristling chords, to an almost vocal and deep solo, to all out freak out, then into epic harmonies. Those who haven’t witnessed Keneally’s particular splendour before will be bowled over by his ability to play very fast, very difficult pieces without sounding like a ‘shred guy.’

‘From Nothing’ caps off the album, featuring Zappa Plays Zappa saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez jamming over a high energy rhythm section. By the time the song winds down, the album is wrapped up with a sense of catharsis and optimism.

Onion Boy Records

Thanks In Advance pre-orders begin on Monday September 15 at www.bryanbeller.com, and the album will be available from the end of September.