Brian May's tone is one of the most recognisable in Rock and consists of some very unlikely components. If having a totally home made guitar that was built using any materials he and his father could lay their hands on wasn't enough, many of his finest moments were record using an amplifier built from parts found in a skip (aka dumpster)! Songs such as 'Good Company', 'Killer Queen', 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'A Winters Tale', to name just a few, all contained sections recorded with this very distinctive sounding homemade amp. Combined with the Red Special and a treble booster, the 'Deacy', as it was dubbed, produced a very cutting crisp distorted tone, which when manipulated with the pickup and phase switching capabilities of the Red Special, different mic positioning, and the use of a wah as a tone control, enabled Brian to produce symphonic orchestral like sounds from his guitar. The Deacy became very much a part of Queen and Brian's voice in the studio.
Brian wasn't the only academically gifted member of Queen, nor was he the only one to have experimented building musical equipment with anything that came to hand. Queen's bassist, John Deacon, was an Honours electronics student studying in London and found the circuit board that formed the basis for the Deacy amp discarded in a builders skip in 1972. His attention was drawn to the wires hanging over the side of the skip, and on closer investigation he discovered the circuit board attached to the other end. John decided to use the circuit board to build a small practice amp for playing guitar through. He mounted the circuit inside an old bookshelf speaker he had lying around, and mounted a jack socket on the rear of the speaker. There was also a power lead coming out of the back of the speaker that connected to a PP9 battery. The 'Deacy amp' was born! It had no controls and produced a warm, slightly distorted tone, but history was about to be made when John took the little amp along to a Queen rehearsal. Brian May was intrigued and plugged in his Red Special and treble booster. Driving the amp with the treble booster pushed both the input and output stage, producing a very unique distorted tone that Brian has never been able to achieve on anything else, analogue or digital. From that point on the Deacy amp became part of Brian's arsenal of tone tools; often blending it with his darker AC30 tone.
Brian and his tech Pete Malandrone eventually decided that they wanted a replica of the Deacy made as a back up for Brian, as well as producing a unit to sell. Around thirteen years were spent painstakingly researching and building an exact replica; Brian even allowed the original Deacy to be taken apart to match the speakers, circuit board and transistors correctly to produce the legendary Deacy tone. This task was originally undertaken by Australian Greg Fryer and ultimately concluded by Nigel Knight, who has an extensive knowledge of vintage electric components. Everything was researched and analysed to the utmost degree, even down to cabinet thickness and the weave of the grille cloth. Experts at Celestion Speakers aided Nigel, with extensive analysis of the speakers that would eventually result in exact recreations. Eventually the finished replica was sat with Brian's original Deacy, and Brian took part in a 'blind'
Now that digital wireless microphone transmitters and receivers are running in the worldwide free-for-all that is the 2.4GHz radio frequency band alongside microwave ovens, cordless phones, wifi routers and Bluetooth devices etc., the benefits of economies of scale and on-going developments in those other areas - which are many orders of magnitude larger than digital wireless mics - is really beginning to be felt in the MI and pro-audio markets.
In the past, innovations in the old UHF and VHF wireless microphone market tended to be the preserve of the big players - Audio-Technica, Shure, Sennheiser, AKG and the like - due to the investment needed to develop new products. However, with the size of the 2.4GHz wireless market worldwide driving the latest low-cost technology, innovation has become more important than a monstrous bank balance.
Early 2.4GHz wireless systems were, in form and function, essentially digital analogues of their analogue ancestors. Nowadays, innovative entrepreneurs are leveraging the miniaturisation being driven by other 2.4GHz market segments to produce smaller and, in terms of their feature sets, ever more powerful digital wireless mic systems.
One such company is California-based Wi Digital Systems, which was (in their own words) 'created to be at the leading edge in the development and manufacture of unique Pocket Portable Stereo Digital Wireless Systems, High-Definition In-Ear-Canal Reference Monitors, High Performance Miniature Microphones and Wearable Technologies for musicians, performers, videographers and educators.'
Brian May's home made Red Special guitar is one of the most distinctive looking and unique sounding guitars in Rock history. Constructed totally by Brian and his father Harold, the Red Special has graced pretty much every recording made by Brian that features electric guitar. Over the years he has been involved in several collaborations with various guitar companies, to produce a close replica at an affordable price. Early attempts by US manufacturer Guild resulted in the first official Red Special style/replica guitars. Following a departure from Guild, Brian next collaborated with Burns, producing a highly successful replica of the original guitar. This version introduced variations on the original that made the guitar much more affordable than the high end, totally authentic, replicas produced by luthiers like Greg Fryer from Australia, KZ from Japan, and Andrew Guyton from the UK.
Brian eventually moved production of the Burns over to his own company, Brian May Guitars, which he set up with the help of Barry Moorhouse of House Music, and Brian's long time guitar tech Pete Malandrone. The company now produces several variations of the Red Special including various BMG Specials in a variety of finishes: the BMG Super, the BMG Vision, a stripped down twin humbucker version, the BMG Mini May, the BMG Bass, the BMG Rhapsody Acoustic, and the BMG Uke.
We've actually reviewed a BMG Special in Guitar Interactive before, way back in issue 14, but we felt it deserved a second glance in a feature which is bound to spur readers to wonder what this surprisingly affordable instrument could offer them that they aren't already getting from other guitars. It also seemed pretty much essential to compare the BMG Special with the BMG Super, which we are taking a first look at in this issue.
To ring the changes at least a little, BMG sent us something a bit different from the normal Special everyone will immediately recognise and we were delighted to open the box to find a BMG Special Limited Edition in striking Windermere Blue - a pale metallic blue that gives the Special more than a hint of retro chic.
Visually there is no mistaking that this is a Brian May guitar, with the look and construction faithful to the original. There are obvious differences, though, which have all been considered to produce the highest quality replica of the original guitar that won't break the bank. Another interesting point that came up when I was talking with Pete Malandrone (see our interview in this issue) is that he discusses how BMG is trying to produce a guitar that isn't just for Brian May fans, but is something that stands up on its own against other popular brands.
The body shape is faithful to the original, and although is constructed from different wood to Brian's 'Old Lady', it features a chambered mahogany body with the chambering based on Brian's original design. This is finished off with a book matched mahogany top, with a six-ply pinstripe front and rear binding. The body and neck are finished in a high gloss lacquer and I have to say the finishing and binding are exquisite; no finish bleeding into the binding and no roughly finished edges. The guitar features a 24'
Back in GI 13 we reviewed the original EBS Reidmar head and liked it a lot. Then we paired it with one of the Swedish company's CL (Classic Line) 1x12'
Germany's LD Systems, part of the Adam Hall Group, has been around for a decade or so and has established itself as a major player in the MI and pro-audio markets worldwide. The Maui 5 column PA system is one of LD's latest products and has recently gained the brand a 2016 IF Design Award for design excellence.
As you'll have seen in the video, the Maui 5 is an extremely compact system physically, weighing in at only 11kg total, however size isn't everything as it delivers 800 Watts at peak power, giving a maximum SPL of 120dB - which is very loud indeed!
The Maui 5 is made up of a three-piece column, the uppermost part of which contains the speaker array of 4x3'
For many years guitarists have been asking for a totally authentic replica of Brian May's legendary Red Special guitar. A very early attempt at this was by luthier John Birch, who famously built Brian a blonde/gold replica of the Red Special as a back-up. The guitar never worked for Brian, suffering from terrible tuning issues, and eventually was snapped during a frustrating solo spot at a Queen concert. The next attempt at a more authentic replica came in the early 1990s when Guild released the BM01. This was a more accurate version than the first run of Kahler loaded Guilds produced around 1984, in both construction and styling.Â But although the new Guild featured a more authentic tremolo and a chambered body, it still fell short of the fans' expectations, with a lack of attention to detail being betrayed by unauthentic features including a smaller neck, edge binding on the scratch plate and Seymour Duncan replica Tri-Sonic pickups.
Later came the release of first the Burns Special and then the BMG Special, so it seemed that a totally accurate production model was never going to be. Some individual luthiers built Red Special guitars with Brian's endorsement, including Greg Fryer, and Andrew Guyton. These builders offered exquisite totally accurate replicas that Brian himself played, but they were restricted to limited numbers, and would cost you as much as a small new car if you ordered one. So the fans turned to unofficial builders who offered a more authentic version of the Red Special at more sedate prices. One such luthier from Japan was Kazutaka Ijuin of KZ Guitars who was producing very accurate and beautifully built unofficial replicas. BM Guitars enlisted him and along with Greg Fryer they designed the original run of Supers, that were manufactured by KZ in Japan.
That Original Super was hugely successful with the fans, and Brian himself used one on tour. But the guitar was only available for a short period before production halted.
Fast-forward to 2015 and a new builder in the Czech Republic joined forces with BM Guitars, and the second edition Super became available. I had personally been talking to Barry Moorhouse at House Music (which looks after BMG) since the tail end of 2014 when I heard that the new Super was going into production. I had been using an original KZ/Fryer Super on the We Will Rock You German tour since 2012, and was very keen to see and hear how the new Super would stand up against the original Super. As you can imagine, I was keen to get the guitar into the pages of Guitar Interactive to give you a closer look and compare it to the original, along with the BM Special, which has its own review in this issue.
Comparisons are never easy but I have been lucky enough to have played the original Red Special, built by Brian and his father, on numerous occasions and I have also played one of Brian's Fryer replicas. As well as this I have also borrowed Brian's green Guyton replica when I toured with Brian May and Kerry Ellis, so I have a pretty good idea of how all of them feel and play, which I've borne closely in mind while playing this latest Super.
To start with, visually the BMG Super is very authentic looking, with a more accurate red colour than the BMG Special boasts. For the real devotee, this shade is based on the red wood dye and layers of Rustin's Plastic Coating that Brian and his father had applied to the original. The scratch plate and tremolo are also pretty much the same as on the original. As with the BMG Special, there are few differences that make that make the guitar more cost effective, as you might expect. BM Guitars say the Super is meant to bridge the gap between the very affordable BM Special, and the exquisite and 'reassuringly expensive' Guyton.
Starting with the body, the Super is constructed from two-piece quarter sawn mahogany, with a two-piece quarter sawn, book matched mahogany top. The dimensions of the body are faithful to the original RS, with some slight modifications to the acoustic chambers and the control cavity. The body is coloured with an attractive antique cherry stain and features a white double edge binding.
The headstock and fingerboard radius are also faithful to the original Red Special, as is the neck profile, which is very chunky! The neck however is glued on, as opposed to the single large bolt on Brian's 'Old Lady'. BM Guitars has also opted for a clear lacquered ebony fretboard as opposed to painted oak on the original - a choice not many would argue with!
The guitar features 24 frets and a zero fret which are Dunlop 6130s, with a Graph Tech Black TUSQ-XL nut. The fingerboard features attractive mother of pearl face and side dot markers; Brian made his dot markers from shirt buttons from his mother's sewing box, saving the most colourful markers for the 24th fret! The headstock matches the exact dimensions and angle of Brian's 'Old Lady', which aids straight string pull for excellent tuning stability. The headstock houses six Gotoh Magnum Lock machine heads, three on each side. The headstock is decorated with a mother of pearl 'May Star'
MTD Guitars (the initials stand for Mike Tobias Designs) began life in around 1993, but for those not in the know already, Michael Tobias has been proving his expertise in the bass arena since the late '70s. MTD is a small company hand creating instruments in Kingston, New York. Like most boutique makers, however, the cost of Mike's instrument is prohibitive for many players, so Tobias has launched quite a large series of Chinese made basses under the MTD label. Of these, the Kingston series is said to be among his most popular. It comes in four, five and six string versions, fretted or fretless and we were loaned a five string fretted model for this review.
One of the truly great sounds in contemporary music from the last 50 years is that of a Hammond organ spooling up through a cranked 122 Leslie cabinet. Many guitar players such as Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh and George Harrison realised the potential that this great swirling effect has on the guitar and were among the first to utilize it on iconic recordings such as Clapton's 'Badge' or George Harrison's 'Something'. Wouldn't it be great if there was a pedal out there that recreated this amazing sound so closely that you would be hard pushed to tell the difference in an A/B comparison? Well (big fanfare), there is!
This Ventilator II by German company Neo is the latest version of the Ventilator that has been around for a number of years and that I got to try for Guitar Interactive many issues ago (in Issue 5, to be precise - Ed). The original version was pretty amazing and it is hard to see how they could have improved it, but this latest version has been tweaked to give you even more fine tuning detail. No stone has been left unturned into how close you can get it to the real thing, and this would probably benefit the expert Hammond organ users out there who know what and how they want their Leslie effect to sound in very fine detail, whereas most guitar players just want to plug in go and would be impressed that their guitar instantly sounds like a fantastic swirling 122 Leslie cab. It also says a lot about the difference between how most keyboard players and guitarists' brains are wired - mine especially!
So, the Ventilator II is both a huge tool for guitarists and keyboard players alike and it certainly saves the need to lug a massive Leslie cab about. The pedal has an expression pedal capability to speed up and slow down the rotors if you can't place the pedal in a situation where you can reach the onboard switch that does this. As a keyboard player, you might want the pedal sitting on top of your keyboard so you can manually tweak the settings as you go, but have an expression pedal on the floor continually controlling the speeding up and slowing down of the top and bottom virtual speakers. As a guitar player, though, you would probably want this pedal somewhere close to the front of your pedal board so you can get easy access to the fast slow rotor function, the on off function and the 'stop' rotor function, which slows the sound of the spinning speakers to a complete stop ending up facing front. This is a great detail and it sounds fantastic as the effect goes from a complete stop to full speed. The Ventilator II is also true bypass, so will not interfere with your tone in any way, no matter where you put it in your pedal chain.
The attention to detail is endless with this new Ventilator. You have complete tweakability over anything you can think of. If you use it in stereo, you would hear how the top tweeter rotor is miked up left and right and how there is a single directional mic on the lower rotor, which is the ideal configuration for the full stereo effect. You even have control over how close or far away you want the mic placement. This has the effect of balancing hi or low speakers, in case you want more or less of one or the other. In mono, it still is an ear catching sound and can be just as effective in a band context. If you are recording though, you definitely want to use the stereo in and out to full effect.
You also have a drive function to simulate pushing the valves in a 122 cab to give more grit and dirt to the sound. Think Jon Lord from Deep Purple if you are an organ player, and think added fun if you are a guitarist, because the interaction with your valve guitar amp can lead to even more sonic options! Another fantastic programmable detail is how you can preset how fast or slow you want the top and bottom rotors to end up at their max and minimum settings, and how quickly or slowly you want them to get there. The in between sound as the rotors are revving up is really addictive, with the added fact that the lower rotor would take longer to speed up or slow than the tweeter, so how they interact is a great midway effect and is true to the original 122 Leslie cab.
A 12 volt power supply comes with the unit as do adaptors for each world territory and it would have been the icing on the cake if you could have powered the Ventilator by your average 9 volt power which most guitar players are geared up for in their pedal boards. A small niggle indeed for what is a truly fantastic product by the guys at Neo.
This is almost certainly the ultimate rotary effects pedal and for most players would probably count as a luxury purchase - after all, you can get very good rotary FX for guitar for a lot less money. On the other hand, if this is a key effect for you, or you just insist on the best, you know where to come!
Brian May's tone is without a doubt one of the unique voices in Rock guitar
Searching for that unique Brian May tone? Want to do it without breaking the bank? After countless hours spent with the We Will Rock You show, Jamie Humphries probably has more experience than anyone at getting the perfect sound. Here's Jamie's guide to doing it the affordable way.
The origins of 'that sound'
Brian May's tone is without a doubt one of the unique voices in Rock guitar. It's almost like a mystical chain of events resulted in the equipment that came together to produce his sound. Although that sound has evolved and changed slightly over the years, it has always stayed faithful to Brian's initial vision of how he imagined his tone to be. I think that in itself is a very interesting fact that, from the very conception of the Red Special, he knew in his mind how he imagined his voice on the guitar.
Right from the outset, he wanted a rich smooth distortion that would produce feedback, inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. Originally, in fact, the Red Special was going to have an 'F'
Polish guitar and bass manufacturer Mayones (apparently the name is pronounced Mayon-ez) has been around since 1982 and has built a considerable reputation for itself, becoming particularly well known for using truly stunning top woods on ultra playable instruments that cater for all styles, including extended range (six strings plus) basses. Indeed two of my best friends, professional players, use Mayones as their instruments of choice.
Success seems to be on the cards for this manufacturer as its instruments (guitars as well as basses) seem to be more widely available now, in many countries, including the UK, USA and Canada. One or two of the big names should be taking a look over their shoulder at Mayones!
Beyond the custom instruments that Mayones offers, the company makes a wide series ofÂ 'off the shelf' instruments - though they are a far cry from the obvious traditional basses we all grew up with! Take the BE 4 we had in for review, for example. There are three models in the BE series. The Exotic, the Elite and this, the BE Ash, all of which come with varying specifications. As the name suggests, this bass features a swamp ash body with matching swamp ash headstock facing. Looks pretty good, doesn't it?
The highly sculpted body curves are bold and follow the outline of the bass scooping through accentuating angles. Ultimately it makes this an extremely comfortable instrument to play as well as one that is wonderfully eye catching. I felt that the bass had a downsized body - and yes it's smaller than a slab Precision of course, but those scoops and cutaways make it feel even more so. That's a plus point for sure with those who don't share my 6'3'
All singing and all dancing delay units that include everything but the kitchen sink' have become a common staple of the guitar effects industry these days, with most units offering more sounds and presets than you could ever possibly use in an attempt to compete with each other. Most people end up using just one or two sounds, leaving the multitude of other settings as little more than impressive sales devices in the music store. The Echolution 2 Ultra Pro from Pigtronix bucks this trend somewhat, offering a ton of very useful features but without overwhelming you with options and sounds you'll never use.
As with all of Pigtronix's range, the E2UP is built from the highest quality components offering all the benefits of analogue circuit design and tone but with a very sophisticated digital control system. There is a huge amount on offer here, this being the most complex product the company make, but if you've ever been overwhelmed by having a delay pedal with more modes than you can shake a stick at, the E2UP will be a refreshing change. This unit features true stereo ins and outs, MIDI in and out, Expression and remote control inputs and a USB input for updating the firmware and editing presets via the excellent software editor that will be a revelation for people who hate using the onboard controls to create sounds.
Speaking of controls, Pigtronix has taken care to give you only what you need with this unit, offering a series of dials for the most commonly edited controls such as Repeats, Mix, Time and Modulation Speed and Depth and any of these dials can be easily mapped to the expression pedal input. Eight small multi-function buttons allow for further editing with long and short presses offering different options and LEDs to show what settings are on or off. There is quite a bit to get your head around but the manual is excellent and it's really just a case of remembering where everything is. For basic functions, you are up and running in seconds and even more advanced editing is very easy once you've figured out which settings are mapped to which controls!
The E2UP offers superb analogue delays from 10ms up to 10s, selectable via the Time dial which can be set to short, medium or long settings for more accurate control or dialled-in with the non-latching tap tempo footswitch. Once delay time is set you can choose to alter the time of the delay line as a ratio of the tempo, using 1:1, 3:4, 2:3, 1:2 or even as PHI setting (based on the Golden Ratio) for further creative control. A second delay line can also be added that can be based on any of these ratios for a wide range of cool multi-tap rhythmic delays. Each repeat can be pitch shifted independently with further options for a Halo shimmer-type' octave effect or ping-pong stereo sounds. The delays can then be run through one of four filters, Low Pass, Tape, Comb or Sweep to further shape the sound. LP, Tape and Comb can be combined with the Sweep setting and Pigtronix even included a Bit Crusher setting for adding grunge and distortion to the delay line.
Further tone shaping can be applied with a very extensive LFO modulation section, featuring Triangle, Square and Ramp and random waveforms. The LFO can be run freely or can sync to the delay time tap tempo and subdivision or even to MIDI clock if required. For extra creativity users can select reverse delay and ducking delay modes plus a dry kill mode and the ability to switch trails off or have the unit listen to your playing while in bypass mode, so that once switched on you'll hear delays for what you played in bypass mode. Using a Pigtronix remote switch allows for even more creative expression with access to a freeze function that can even function like a looper and jump' function where the delays will cascade up in a chosen musical interval while the footswitch is held down.
The delays on offer here are truly exceptional and your original tone remains intact thanks to no analogue to digital conversion. From pristine repeats to gorgeous tape modulated delays, rhythmic multi tap madness and shimmering, pad-like ambient textures, the E2UP does everything you could want from a delay pedal without ever making you feel like you are paying for features you'll never use. Delays simply don't get better than this and although it's an expensive unit you are getting the highest quality components and signal path here and that doesn't come cheap.
With this much on tap, you need a way to organise everything, so Pigtronix have included space for 60 presets that can be selected using the preset dial, the Pigtronix Remote Switch (purchased separately) or via midi/USB. The software editor is free and runs on both Windows and OSX machines and even Linux for the real tech geeks out there! Also included is an 18v DC power supply.
Pigtronix may well have created the ultimate delay pedal here, especially for those that don't want masses of special effect delay types they'll never use, but would rather have superb sounding delays that can be filtered and shaped in truly useful ways. The price is up there with the other high end delay units on the market and should be high on your list of things to check out if you are searching for the ultimate in delay sounds for you pedal board.
The P3NY is part of Takamine's New Yorker range, the P3 being a Parlour-style-acoustic which is the smallest body type Takamine offers. Parlour ('Parlor' in US English) sized guitars are hugely popular just now as players who would once have dived straight for a dreadnought discover that small doesn't necessarily mean restricted in terms of tone. In fact, the best guitars in this size range ooze subtle tones that record superbly.
Another advantage is that they are easy to handle and this Takamine is the company's smallest full scale guitar but the body shape has been designed to make it super comfortable to play sitting or standing. Fit and finish overall on our sample was very good. This is what one has come to expect from Takamine over the years and it's good to see standards still high from this respected brand.
The P3NY's 'Classical style' headstock and tuners are a great touch, adding to the overall quality look of the instrument. The neck is a very comfortable C shape that fits the hand well feeling much like an electric guitar neck and not a miniature guitar. Obviously, this has distinct advantages for players who are constantly swapping between electric and acoustic, as well as being generally easier to play. The frets were all seated and finished nicely, with an easy going action, low enough to make barre chords and lead playing easy, but not so low as to introduce fretbuzz or intonation issues.
There is no cutaway on this guitar, as you can see, but you would probably lose a fair bit of tonal depth if it did have one, so there are no complaints there, though the neck joint and strap button do hinder the upper fret access a fair bit. Then again, on this style of guitar you probably aren't intending to visit the dusty end that often!
Constructionally, the P3NY features a solid cedar top matched with a solid sapele back and sapele sides and the combination delivered a very pleasing tone. Despite its size, the sound it makes is sweet and clear with a frequency range that makes it stand out in the mix. Having a mahogany neck and a rosewood fingerboard matches perfectly with the body wood, probably adding more depth and warmth to the overall tonal palette. It's a very versatile guitar yielding plenty of dynamic range and warmth right across the tonal spectrum. Despite its size, plenty of volume can be achieved once you start to dig in. Takamine's split saddle bone bridge provided faultless intonation and excellent acoustic coupling to the top.
The electrics on this guitar are courtesy of Takamine's own CT4B II pre-amp system. Included in this set-up is a three band equaliser, volume control, plus built in tuner. The tuner worked well and all the controls were straightforward to use. However, they are all placed quite far around the guitar, near the neck joint, meaning a fair bit of neck 'craning' to see them, making adjustment a little tricky on the fly.
There is always an issue with plugging in an acoustic. It seems that however you do it, a lot of natural tonal characteristics are lost as the sound winds its way through the various systems, but the electronics in the P3NY worked well, with no feedback issues and the three band EQ is a great thing to have at your fingertips. It did lose some of its warmth and bottom end compared with the pure acoustic tone but that is to be expected and by adding a bit of bass on the EQ you can claw back some of that. Plugging into a standard PA or good acoustic amp will suit this guitar down to the ground, but if you are recording with it, definitely use a mic capture its true, and really very good, resonance.
The P3NY is a great, small and comfortable acoustic that despite its size hasn't had its tone compromised. Well set up and easy to play straight out of the box, the headstock and saddle are nice design features that give it a unique look. This is not just a good small acoustic but a great all round acoustic guitar. If you want great tone without the size, then this could be the acoustic for you.
Moog is a name that needs no introduction to any musician, the company being synonymous with the best in analogue synth and effects design for decades now. The company's Minifooger range is based around a series of compact, all-analogue effects units in a foot pedal format, housed in a rugged cast-aluminium case and with high quality components for uncompromising tone. Moog sent us the Flange and Chorus Minifooger pedals to check out.
Both of these pedals feature 100% analogue operation with Bucket Brigade chip based modulation, true bypass, mono or stereo operation and expression pedal input. The whole range is built to survive a bomb blast and feels superb in operation thanks to their intuitive, solid controls and excellent construction. Both pedals are powered by a standard centre negative 9v DC input and feature a single in and out for mono operation or stereo via a TRS cable, using an internal switch to move between the two modes. Internally the pedals are very impressive, with an incredibly clean design and a back plate that is very easy to remove for battery access. Particularly impressive is the battery housing itself, designed so that the battery simply pushes into place, locking into the case with no extraneous wires that could be damaged over time.
Moog Minifooger MF Flange
The MF Flange features four main controls: Rate, Depth, Time and Feedback, plus a two-position type switch that moves between alternate flange modes - vocal or traditional flanging. Due to the analogue design the controls are very interactive and can produce a huge range of different sounds that cross into chorus and almost ring-modulation territory. The rate dial allows you to control the rate of the modulation sweep, from very slow at the minimum value up to very percussive pulsing sounds at the highest. The Depth control is assigned to the amount of modulation and can give a wide array of light and subtle sounds up to complete tonal madness if required. The Time dial allows you to craft either traditional flanging sounds at the maximum position to warmer sounds as the control is dialled back for tones that approach chorus-like qualities. Finally, the Feedback control can take the effect from a smooth and subtle sound at the minimum position adding more frequency peaks and metallic tones as higher settings are dialled in. The expression input is mapped to the Time control for further shaping of your tone.
The sheer range of sounds on offer is staggering and even subtle changes to the controls can yield new results that sound consistently fantastic. These are undoubtedly some of the best flange sounds you will hear in a pedal format with thick, lush modulations all the way up to crazy, uncontrolled textures plus all the classic flange sounds we know and love!
Moog Minifooger MF Chorus
The MF Chorus features exactly the same control layout as the MF Flange with Rate, Depth, Time and Feedback controls but with a three-way Mix switch for even more tonal options. The Rate and Depth dials do exactly what you'd expect, controlling the depth and rate of the chorus modulation. Combined with one another these two controls allow you to dial in gorgeous, subtle analogue vibrato and chorusing all the way up to rotary style effects and fast modulated craziness if required. The Feedback control gives the chorusing a resonant peak that increases as the dial is turned up for more extreme sounds whilst the Time control can take the sound from brighter chorus sounds at the minimum, fattening the sound in the mid position before turning the pedal into a great modulated slapback delay effect with higher feedback settings. Finally, the Mix switch allows for three different settings with open and natural chorusing in the lowest position, fatter and warmer chorus in the middle and Vibrato effects in the upper position where only the wet signal is heard. The expression input is mapped to the rate control for further creative possibilities.
As with the MF Flange, the MF Chorus represents some of the best analogue modulation tones you are likely to hear from a pedal with incredibly lush and warm sounds that are a pleasure to play, great slapback delays or even tonal madness at higher modulations depths and rates.
Both of these pedals are fantastic, analogue units that not only sound superb but are superbly built and represent good value considering the quality on offer and the option of stereo or mono operation. They are easy to operate and offer a far wider range of tones than you might expect, so if you want the best that analogue pedals have to offer, you'd be crazy to not check out these two excellent examples. Highly recommended!
Art & Lutherie comes from a Canadian hot bed of small guitar makers situated around Quebec. Along with Seagull and Simon & Patrick, these brands all come under the Godin umbrella and pride themselves on being handcrafted from 95% sustainable Canadian wood. And why not! Canada is a huge country with a lot of space and a lot of trees, so using local resources keeps the costs down and the quality up. It's all done in a very eco-friendly way too, because Art & Lutherie use wood from previously fallen trees in eastern Canada. No clear cutting or deforestation is involved, which is very good to know. If we guitarists actually stopped and thought for second about what has happened to the forests of the world over the last 50 years in order to make our precious high end guitars, we would hopefully feel a little pang of guilt. So, no guilt with our review guitar the Art & Lutherie Folk.
I have to confess to some confusion about the materials used on this nice looking guitar. Most of the models in this Folk size range from A&L have cedar tops but our sample had an antique stained spruce top. You can have either a cedar or a spruce version and we had the spruce model, though I misidentified it as cedar when I was filming my review. It's hard to tell under that finish! Whichever version you choose, all the tops on these guitars are apparently pressure tested to give the highest stiffness and maximum harmonic vibration. I'm presuming this is a process of pressurising the wood to make it denser and more rigid, which would have the side effect of making it very sensitive to vibration, but I don't claim to be a luthier!
In addition to the pressure testing, A&L's guitars are finished in a satin sheen which the maker calls a custom varnish finish, and which apparently allows the guitar to breathe and most importantly, age. A well made acoustic will age gracefully and sound better and better as the years go by. This guitar sounds very nice now, but wouldn't it be interesting to compare how 30 years of playing would improve the tone! They also have semi-gloss and gloss options, but I like the satin look on this one.
The back and sides are a very attractive wild cherry, which seems to be a lovely reddish brown wood that looks great and suits the whole look of the guitar. I'm guessing that wild cherry wood imparts the warmth and depth of tone and the spruce top gives it the high end definition. It would be interesting to try his spruce topped model next to a cedar one to see just what the tonal difference between the two is.
The body shape is defined as 'Folk' which is a comfortable size for any player. It doesn't have the volume and bass of a dreadnought, but is not far off. Acoustic buffs say certain size acoustic guitars suit certain playing styles or music, which is true, but I see no reason why this guitar can't cater for all acoustic needs. There is an onboard Godin pre-amp which makes the guitar even more versatile, on stage or in the studio. The pre-amp sounds great and is simple and easy to navigate. The spec for this guitar says it's an EPM Quantum 1, but I just saw the name Godin on it.
The fingerboard and bridge are matching rosewood, and maybe these are the parts of the guitar that were not found fallen in the Canadian forest - still, you can't have everything. The neck on the other hand is made from silver leaf maple, which is the fourth tone wood used on this guitar. The neck is comfortable will be just right for most players, being pretty middle of the road in its dimensions.
Again, the intonation seemed very good all over the neck. Some acoustics, even expensive ones, can be a compromise with certain chord voicings, but this one sounds nicely in tune in any position. The neck should be very stable and be able to take environmental and temperature changes in its stride because A&L says that it uses an integrated set neck system that is very resistant to warping and twisting. The neck also has a double function truss rod should you need to tweak it.
We liked this guitar even without knowing its price - but when we found out what it's selling for, we had to do a bit of a quick rethink because we'd assumed it was twice the price! At double the money it would be a very creditable guitar without, perhaps, being outstanding. But at the asking price, we think this one is a steal - a Canadian made, mostly hand-crafted acoustic guitar built from good quality woods at the price of a mass produced, factory made Chinese guitar from one of the lesser known brands. How could you possibly go wrong?
Art & Lutherie offers a large range of guitars, with 6 and 12 string versions, dreadnoughts, cutaways, folk or parlour body sizes, nylon or steel strings, and some striking colours and finishes. If this guitar is anything to go by, then they certainly deserve your interest and attention.
Taurus Amplification is a Polish company which has been innovating in the amplifier market for some years now, producing fully fledged amplifiers in a lightweight floor unit form factor, designed to sound and function just like a standard head or combo but at a truly portable size.
The Stomp Head 5 is the latest iteration of this concept and features a three channel design, each with independent EQ controls and a large number of tonal features that put most full-size amps to shame. The unit is surprisingly light in weight at 2.65kg and at only 330x205mm will fit on the average pedal board with ease. This small, but fully featured, all analogue amp gives you a 12ax7 pre-amp stage with Clean, Classic Lead and High Gain Lead channels matched to a 90W power stage running Taurus' own Master Tube Design technology that allows for this level of power output in a small chassis. The power can be dropped to 40W for smaller venues or recording via the speaker outs or the included record out with Celestion Vintage 30 style speaker emulation built in. This line out can be run both with and without the speaker simulation simultaneously.
The Stomp Head 5 is laid out in a very intuitive fashion with a slew of controls that are very easy to use. The clean channel features Bass, Middle and Treble controls plus Gain and Volume for sparkly cleans up to light crunch tones. Also included are Bright and Mid-Range push switches for further tone shaping. The Classic and High Gain Lead channels each have Drive, Treble, Middle, Bass and Volume controls plus the same Mid-Range push switch and a three-way Dark to Bright switch for lots of tonal control. The master section contains a very effective Noise Gate (although the amp is very quiet in operation, even at higher gain settings), Boost and overall Master Volume control.
Five high quality footswitches select between each channel and operate the Boost and a Mute function, producing an amp that has a lot of controls but is very straightforward to use. Around the back you'll find the usual speaker out with automatic selection for 4, 8 and 16 Ohms, the line out, serial effects loop, external control inputs for channel selection and boost switching plus a power (90W/40W) switch and a selectable +6dB input gain boost for low output guitars. The final switch selects between Normal channel operation and an extremely cool Mix mode where all three channels are mixed together at once for some unique sound options.
The build quality is superb, as it needs to be with an amplifier that lives primarily on the floor. The fully metal casing and chassis are pretty much bomb proof and feel like they'd survive some serious abuse on the road. The controls and switches are all very solid and well mounted, giving you the reassuring feeling that this thing is built to last and won't fail in the middle of a gig. Channel switching is immediate and feels good with no pops or clicks and all the dials are very responsive with easy to read settings and a good range of motion for precise dialling of your tone.
Plugging into the Stomp Head 5 is a great experience. Starting with the clean channel plugged into out studio 4x12 cab loaded with Vintage 30s it was immediately apparent that this is a great sounding and feeling amp. The cleans are highly dynamic and responsive with access to super clean sparkly tones and edge of breakup loveliness to dark Jazz tones and light crunch tones all from this single channel. The bright and mid range switch are great for extra options making this a very versatile channel that gives a great impression of things to come with the Stomp Head's other two channels.
Moving on to the Classic Lead channel you are presented with some lovely crunch and bluesy tones that are full of low end thump without getting muddy and retain all the dynamic response of the clean channel. The three-way bright/dark switch is superb for taming the highs or adding brightness to different guitars and the channel has a very usable amount of gain that never strays into the realms of fizziness at all. Channel three has an insane amount of gain available and definitely has much more of a footing in the modern, mid-scooped metal territory. Super thick saturated lead tones can be achieved here too by using the dark setting and even at the highest gain settings the Noise Gate wasn't required. The Mix mode is a superb idea, offering all three channels together for developing some amazing tones where clean definition can be added to high gain tones with whatever channel mix you desire, adding even further weight to this amps already impressive tonal portfolio. All in all, the Stomp Head 5 is a fantastic sounding amp with a great feel and a huge range of tones on offer, covering almost every tonal base you could require.
Taurus has crafted a really superb solution here for a genuinely portable amplifier that can fit onto a pedal board without sacrificing features and tone. For a fully featured three channel amp the price is very attractive too, representing great value for this level of control, tone and build quality. Taurus has been producing the Stomp Head series for a while now but the Stomp Head 5 is easily the best amp the company has produced so far and is a seriously cool, professional product that deserves a lot of recognition. Superb!
If you are seriously into guitar then you will be familiar with Alex Lifeson and his work with Rush and you will also be familiar with PRS Guitars. Lifeson has been a PRS player for some years and is one of the relative few who also play the company's exquisitely expensive private Stock Angelus acoustics. These are so highly priced that few can aspire to owning one but Lifeson and PRS have decided to offer at least a taste of the experience by marketing this Korean-made Thinline version at a far more affordable price. This, let it be said, is quite an ask! An Angelus is a very expensive guitar and this isn't - well, not very. So let's see how it gets on.
Pulling the PRS from its good quality hard case, it's an immediately attractive cutaway guitar, regardless of the signature on the headstock. The natural finish, complemented by the dark rosewood fingerboard and bridge, make this look a very classy looking instrument. Carrying over unique appointments from the original Alex Lifeson Private Stock Angelus, this SE however features a thinner body, by some margin. According to PRS, this 'Thinline' version is exactly what Alex Lifeson specified and what that means in practical terms is that the body depth has been reduced to 3 7/8'
I am honoured to be one of first players in the UK to get to try out this new range of amps from Panama. They have arrived here through distributor Strings and Things all the way from the jungles of Panama at the base of some volcanoes, which is not something you get to say very often when reviewing guitar equipment! We had two amps from the range to look at, the Shaman 20 and the flagship Inferno 100, which both have their own character and places in the market.
Let's start with the Inferno, which would be classed as the top of the range offering. We are talking a big 100 Watts, with six 12ax7 pre-amp valves, two 6550 power amp valves, four foot switchable independent channels each with its own EQ, two switchable master volumes, switchable depth-boost controls, two level controllable effects loop, in a box finished in Spanish cedar and red zorrowood!
The four channels on the Inferno give you ultimate versatility in terms of super clean to super dirty. The obvious, most workable, way to have your channels set is to be able to go from the clean sounds through to crunch through to full on gain with each channel a bit dirtier than the one before. The Inferno does this all very well and the 6550/6L6 output tubes give huge bottom end with clear sparkling highs and is usually my output tube preference in amps that I own. Six 12ax7 pre-amp valves allow a cascading gain stage to take you from very clean to huge amounts of filth and dirt.
A great addition is the ability to switch between two master volumes, so you can have a volume boost preset on any channel which is great for your moment in the spotlight to get above the mix of the band. With a 100 Watts to play with you won't run out of headroom to take full advantage of this and that's the advantage of high power amps: you keep your cleans clean and your solo sounds crisp because the headroom gives you that capacity. In fact I don't associate Watts with volume, I always equate it to headroom, but obviously it is crazy loud if you want to turn it up. The amp has good stage presence too with its red exotic wood front and red and black tolex. There is a cool onboard depth-boost switch which gives extra low end thump and high end sparkle and although it's quite subtle at low volumes, you really get the benefit of it at rude volumes.
Panama Shaman 20
The Shaman 20 combo is switchable between 20 and 10 Watts. It's a two channel amp switchable from most generic amp footswitches and it runs five 12ax7s in the pre-amp stage and two EL84 tubes in the output stage. It has a tube effects loop with the option to bypass it. Although it officially gives two independent channels, each channel has an optional voicing mode, so you really get four sounds to choose from.
This little amp returns bags of character and the low wattage makes some creamy smooth tones available at modest volumes. You can dial in some Fenderish cleans to some fat Marshall-like crunch, on to modern high gain overdrive and all this would add up to the Shaman being a great studio amp, giving a huge range of tones in a portable package. 20 Watts is possibly on the limit of working in a live band situation, but in the room it sounds very capable and obviously live situations vary in what is needed from a back line amp.
Panama Cabs & combo features
The speaker cabs that come with these amps have some great design features. One is the ability to change the cabinet from closed back to open back. I much prefer open back cabs, which fill a stage much more than a very directional closed back cab, but sometimes that can be a bit antisocial for other band members, so a cab that gives you the option is very welcome. Another fantastic addition is each cab has an onboard attenuator, so you can drive your amp loud to get the full goodness of the valves, but you can then turn it all down to whisper volumes with cab attenuator. How cool is that on a guitar cab?!
The onboard drivers are apparently Panama's own; based largely on Celestion Vintage 30 speakers but they are smoother in the upper mids. They also have baffles made from tonewood for a nicer transient response. Both amps and cabs use only sustainable and eco-friendly tonewoods, the maker says.
Guild's Westerly collection celebrates the company's 1967 move from their original Hoboken, New Jersey factory to the Rhode Island based factory in Westerly. After this move, the company flourished into the Guild we know today and this series is inspired by the success the move helped to generate.
The Westerly F-1512 is part of the higher end 150 range and combines two of Guild's specialities, Jumbo guitars and 12-strings for a large body instrument available with and without a built in Fishman pre-amp. Our F-1512E included the Fishman Sonitone pickup for a small upcharge verses the pickup-free F-1512 model.
Both F-1512's feature the same solid Indian rosewood back and sides, matched with a solid Sitka spruce top and scalloped x-bracing plus very attractive ivory ABS binding and purfling for a classic look. The back sports a lovely inlay while the top has a three-part rosette with mother-of -pearl, ivory ABS and black bands giving the guitar a subtle, classy look. The neck is mahogany with an Indian rosewood fretboard, small mother-of-pearl dots, 20 vintage sized frets and a bone nut leading up to a classic Guild headstock with 12 Die-cast closed gear tuners, six per side and the Chesterfield headstock logo, similar to that used on the wonderful 1960s Guilds. To complete the design, you get an Indian rosewood bridge and bone saddle with ivory coloured plastic pins, tortoiseshell effect pickguard and the guitar comes with an excellent, lightweight hard case.
The F-1512 is a definitely a superb looking and well-built guitar finished in a natural polyurethane gloss that really allows the beautiful rosewood back and sides to show off their lovely grain. The guitar features exceptional work internally and externally with excellent fretwork and set-up from the factory. The guitar arrived at our studio detuned for transportation and, whilst tuning any 12 string can be a long process, the tuners on the F-1512 made the process as pain free as possible and the guitar retained its tuning very well indeed, even despite our studio lights.
This model has a vintage inspired, C-shape neck profile with a very comfortable 48mm nut width and friendly string spacing that makes the guitar as similar as possible to a six-string with little adjustment required in terms of playing technique to accommodate the 12-string design. A 16'
Sweden's Hagstrom may not have been at the forefront of guitar design but for a while back in the 1960s, the company did have a following and, particularly in Europe, achieved some success. Originally an accordion maker, by 1958 it had got into the spirit of Rock and Roll and was making its own idiosyncratic guitars. They're much liked by the sort of people who like the design of Italian guitars of the early 1960s but, not to put too fine a point on it, they were much better made and far more playable than most of the Italian rivals. In both cases, however, think sparkly finishes, pearloid plastic and stamped metal logos!
Hagstrom had a number of 'firsts' too - including the first 8-string bass, the H8, which was made a bit of a legend by Jimi Hendrix. They also made a number of semi-acoustic and Jazz models, some of which command quite high prices today on the vintage market. One feature the company was particularly proud of and which is still is in use is its H-Expander truss rod system.
So Hagstrom certainly played its part in guitar history and has been bubbling around once again, since it was reintroduced as a brand a few years ago with a range of models inspired by those 1960s guitars. They are very much aimed at the Indie player who really does not want to be seen with a superstrat, a Fender or a Gibson.
The model we're reviewing here is the Impala, heavily based on a model launched in 1963 - and doesn't it look it? Let's say now that liking the looks of this guitar (or not) is really an aesthetic decision. You either get it or you don't! Our reviews concentrate, as far as possible, on the objective points of a guitar, so we'll leave the decision about whether or not you like the Impala's looks to you.
Pulling it from the case it certainly is a unique looking instrument and one of the first things you notice is the array of switches, leaving you wondering what they all do, and probably whether they are they all necessary! This was a common design 'feature' at the time. European guitar makers decided that the more switches and knobs you put on a guitar the better would-be players thought it was - a design feature which went to some pretty absurd lengths at times! Mind you, Fender might have caught a dose of the same bug at the time when they designed the Jaguar and Jazzmaster, so no one was immune.
The finish on our sample was of a pretty high quality though, personally, I'm not a fan of the stamped metal name on the body, but, again, it fits with the 'tradition'. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard, and it's a set neck - in other words a traditional glued joint, so there's no bulky neck joint to get in the way and the perfect marriage between body and neck. As with all Hagstrom guitars, the Impala uses the company's unique H-Expander truss rod. 'Providing tension at both ends and running the entire length of the neck, the rigid yet light-weight alloy truss rod allows for a very low action and thin neck'
A couple of issues back I reviewed Tascam's Trackpack 2x2 which includes the US-2x2 audio interface. I concluded that it's a good package to get a home studio started, but sometimes you just need more. In the case of the Celesonic US-20x20 you get quite a lot more.
The US-20x20 has 20 channels of IO - that's eight 56dB, high headroom mic pre-amps, two line inputs and up to 10 digital IO channels on S/PDIF and ADAT. It uses USB 3 (or 2) and has AKM Audio4pro converters for sample rates to 192kHz. It's worth noting that the IO count falls to 16 at double sample-rates (88.2 or 96 kHz), and to 12 at quad-rates (176.4 and 192 kHz) as always happens with ADAT.
On the back panel are the USB, digital, MIDI, BNC Wordclock, line-in and 10x line out sockets, plus the DC input for the wall-wart power supply (with a lightweight retaining clip) and an Auto-Powersave switch. More clues about what you can do appear on the front panel, with a power switch (thank you) followed by a Mode button to select Mic Pre, Audio Interface or Mixer modes. Past that are the eight mic inputs on combi-sockets with hi-z instrument options on channels 1 & 2 and line options on 3-8, bank-selectable phantom power (1-4 and 5-8 - it would have been nice to have a little more control over this), individual gain controls for the mic pres with basic signal present/clip LEDs, line-out 1-2 level control (for your monitors) and two headphone sockets with independent level controls.
I reckon you can figure-out most of the functions by just reading the labels on the panel, but there's a 44 page Reference Manual and 104 page Owner's Manual online if you need some additional help (in four languages to be fair).
Ergonomics are good; the unit ships with the same type of angled end panels that I liked for desktop use on the smaller interface and the box also contains a set of brackets for rack-mounting. Once you've got your digital and MIDI gear plugged in and patched your dedicated line IO as needed, everything you need to access is where it belongs on the front panel. Except for the bits that are controlled by software. OK, download and install (took about a minute). Drivers are class-compliant by the way.
The unit was recognized on my Windows10 machine immediately. The software recognizes the current mode of the device and gives you the appropriate options. In Mic Pre mode the analogue inputs are connected to the analogue and digital outputs and as you'd expect, so stand alone operation is simple and uncluttered. Mixer mode allows a surprising amount of control over the built-in 6-bus DSP mixer, complete with gain, eq, compression and reverb, and Audio Interface mode additionally lets you choose how to route your IO into and from your computer. The mixer screens may take a few minutes to get used-to, but it's really all pretty straight forward once you get orientated, and when you get the set-up as you want it you can save it as a scene.
In use - certainly you'll find more esoteric pres and converters with perhaps a little finer detail, but these are good quality, clean and quiet just as they need to be (and if you have access to those top-end pres you can always patch them in using the line inputs or digital connectors). Operation was both things that it needs to be: simple and reliable. Reviewers are pretty well conditioned to complain that input metering is too basic, but really, turn it up till it clips (if it does - these pres have good headroom) then back the level off and it's fine - beyond that use the level meters on your recorder.
Pricing is such that it's realistic for a project studio - if you can afford enough mics to need an eight mic input then you can probably afford one of these to plug them into. The digital IO (and let's not forget MIDI) gives a lot of flexibility, the USB3 connectivity is probably the most future-proof option available at the moment, and with a laptop you can even use it as a mixer for your band. Oh, and Tascam includes the USB3 cable! Overall it's good quality, well priced and very flexible; I can see these units getting a lot of use in studios and mobile racks.