Monthly Archives: November 2015

Review: Vuorensaku Custom Pickups S. Kamiina set

Vuorensaku Pickups Package

Not all custom pickups are created equal.

Most custom winders seem to be on the hunt for the “ultimate vintage experience”, whatever that really means. Those makers try to source the most vintage-correct materials and try to zone in on the right way to bring their pickups to the desired authentic NOS specifications. For a Fender Stratocaster this could mean either going for a dry and woody Fifties-style tone or for a juicier and grittier Sixties version.

Vuorensaku’s Saku Vuori fearlessly approaches the subject of custom pickups from a different angle. The result is a pickup set with a refreshingly personal sound that isn’t frantically trying to reclaim past glories.

The Vuorensaku S. Kamiina set’s (prices starting at around 200 €) is based on thicker magnet wire, compared to what an original Fender pickup uses. The S. Kamiina set is wound using 40 AWG gauged wire, while most classic Fender creations use 42 AWG wire (except the Telecaster’s neck pickup, which is wound with a thinner 43 AWG wire). The thicker wire in the S. Kamiina set is complemented with Alnico II magnets, which are a milder type of magnet than Fender’s preferred Alnico V variety.

Vuorensaku’s set includes a reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup, resulting in hum-cancelling switch positions two and five. The set’s bridge pickup has received a few extra windings for a little bit of extra output.

In terms of its electronic values the Vuorensaku set clearly differs from your traditional Strat pickups:

The resistance of a regular Stratocaster singlecoil lies in the ballpark of around six kilo-ohms, with a typical inductance of  2,3-2,4 henries. The pickups in the S. Kamiina set read 2,2 kΩ for resistance (bridge pickup: 2,3 kΩ) with an inductance of two henries.

Judging by these numbers only, we can surmise that the Vuorensaku pickup set will probably sound brighter than a traditional vintage Strat set, while also having a slightly lower output.

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Vuorensaku Custom Pickups S. Kamiina Set

Saku Vuori was kind enough to provide a S. Kamiina-equipped Classic Series Fender 70s Stratocaster for this review. The guitar has an ash body, as well as a maple neck with a maple fingerboard. For comparisons I used my own Fender Japan Stratocaster with one-piece maple neck and an alder body.

I was right in expecting the  Vuorensaku set to sound brighter than most vintage-style Stratocaster pickups, but the supposed drop in output level is of a more theoretical nature than of real practical importance. The S. Kamiina set imbues the 70s Reissue with a very cool Gretsch- or Rickenbacker-type jangly tone and grit. The Vuorensaku pickups also feature a cleaner lower mid-range, when compared to traditional Stratocaster pickups.

For comparison purposes the first (neck pickup) and last (bridge pickup) phrases of the sound clip have been played using my own vintage-style Strat, while the five phrases in between have been recorded with the S. Kamiina set (starting with the neck pickup):

The presence lift in the Vuorensaku set is also easy to spot in distorted sounds. The S. Kamiina’s delivery is a bit more aggressive and in-yer-face, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

For comparison purposes the first (neck pickup) and last (bridge pickup) phrases of the sound clip have been played using my own vintage-style Strat, while the five phrases in between have been recorded with the S. Kamiina set (starting with the neck pickup):

The demo song contains four guitar tracks:

• two rhythm guitar parts – left channel: neck and middle pickup; right channel: neck pickups

• a mystically floating backing guitar: middle and bridge pickup

• lead guitar: neck pickup with the tone control turned halfway down

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Turenki Tonefest 2015 002

If you’re an stickler for authentic vintage specs, the Vuorensaku S. Kamiina set probably isn’t what you’re looking for – these pickups are no mere vintage clones.

If you’re after a brighter tone, though, especially if you dislike the neutrality of many active pickups, the S. Kamiina set is definitely one to check out! Vuorensaku’s pickups will breathe life into a dark-sounding guitar, while also giving your controls a wider tonal range to work with. These are pickups that won’t mush up.

By the way:

Saku Vuori applies his “low output principle” to other Vuorensaku pickups, too, like the Telecaster- and P-90-style pickups he uses in his handcrafted Vuorensaku T. Family guitar models.

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Vuorensaku Custom Pickups S. Kamiina set

Stratocaster sets start from 200 €

Additional options: pickup cover, relicing

Contact: Vuorensaku

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Pros:

+ handmade in Finland

+ original sound, no vintage copies

+ rw/rp middle pickup

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Review: PRS SE Custom 24 30th Anniversary

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – body beauty 1

Thirty years ago a young, bespectacled man introduced the guitar-playing world to the first guitar model from his new company at the NAMM Show. The company from Maryland was only a small start-up, but their beautiful new electric guitar already started to attract a good deal of attention.

This young man was none other than Paul Reed Smith, the company PRS Guitars, and their first model the now-legendary Custom 24.

Before founding PRS Guitars, Smith had already managed to sell several of his handmade guitars to well-known guitarists, such as Howard Leese and Carlos Santana. Smith’s early guitars were clearly grounded in Gibson-tradition, successfully blending classic Les Paul Standard visuals with the more practical double-cut design of late 1950s Les Paul Specials. Carlos Santana’s signature PRS is based on these early (pre-PRS) guitars.

Nonetheless, Paul Reed Smith wasn’t content with high-class “copying”. He wanted to come up with the ultimate electric guitar, both in terms of playability and sounds. What he came up with was a guitar that successfully bridges the gap between Fender and Gibson electrics, without copying any of their classic models.

The first step on Paul Reed Smith’s ongoing quest for excellence was the PRS Custom 24, introduced at NAMM in 1985.

This guitar set PRS’ wheels a-rollin’, and the company has come a long way from its humble beginnings. These days people talk about the “Big Three” manufacturers of electric guitars – meaning Fender, Gibson and PRS.

To celebrate their anniversary PRS have released four limited edition models. Kitarablogi.com managed to get hold of the Made-in-Korea SE Custom 24 30th Anniversary for this review.

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PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – full front

The PRS SE 30th Anniversary Custom 24 (current price in Finland approx. 1,000 €) is the most-affordable of the anniversary models, but it still is a great-looking guitar.

It has PRS Guitars’ typical scale length of 25-inches (63.5 cm), which is longer than Gibson’s, but shorter than Fender’s typically used scale lengths.

The back of the body is made from mahogany, while the curved top is crafted from maple. To spruce up the looks of the SE 30th Anniversary, a thin flame maple veneer is glued onto the (plain) maple top. The top is bound with cream-coloured plastic.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – full back

On current SE Custom 24 guitars the neck is made from maple – in contrast to the mahogany necks on US-produced Customs. The change was made recently for both tonal and ecological reasons. The SE’s set neck is glued together from three long strips of maple, with two small pieces added to get the headstock to its full width.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – headstock

The nut is made from PRS’ special graphite-impregnated, hard plastic.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – tuners

The 30th Anniversary SE Custom 24 sports a set of very decent, non-locking Schaller-copies.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – bird inlays

PRS have come up with a variation of their bird-inlays for the anniversary models, which sees the birds flying in a gracefully curved line across the fingerboard.

The bound rosewood fingerboard is home to 24 medium-jumbo frets. The fretjob is excellent.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – cutaways

The bevelled treble side cutaway has become something of a trademark for PRS guitars.

If you click on the picture for a better view, you will be able to see clearly the demarcation lines between the mahogany back, the maple top, and the flame maple veneer.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – vibrato

Thirty years ago locking vibratos (Floyd Rose, Kahler, Rockinger) were highly fashionable, but Paul Reed Smith wasn’t too keen on them. In his view locking systems changed a guitar’s sound in a negative way, and he felt they were too cumbersome when it came to changing strings.

Smith came up with a highly-improved take on the classic Stratocaster vibrato – a chunky piece of beauty, milled from solid brass.

The SE 30th Anniversary Custom uses a high-quality version of the original design.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – pickups

In the Eighties guitarists favoured hot bridge humbuckers, because they made achieving a creamy distortion sound much easier.

This Anniversary-Custom brings this concept back by combining a medium-output neck humbucker – the Vintage Bass – with the SE-version of the high-output HFS Treble (HFS = hot fat screams).

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – controls

In the beginning, original PRS Custom 24 models came with two “controls” and a mini-toggle switch. Actually, the second “control” was a five-way rotary switch that served as the guitar’s pickup selector. The tiny switch was PRS’ Sweet Switch, a preset treble roll-off.

Over the years, the rotary switch fell out of favour, and the control setup on US-made guitars changed to master volume, master tone, and a five-way blade switch.

On the SE Custom 24 the blade switch is a three-way model, while a push/pull switch in the tone control allows you to split both humbuckers.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – gig bag

A well-made gig bag is included with the SE Custom 24 30th Anniversary model.

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PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – beauty shot 1

PRS guitars are known for their well though-out ergonomics and their great playability, and the SE Custom 24 30th Anniversary proves to be a genuine PRS in this respect, too. It has a comfortable medium weight, and feel nice both in your lap and strapped on.

In keeping with the 1980s theme, the SE comes with a Wide Thin neck profile. Despite its name, though, you needn’t be afraid that this Custom 24 comes with an insubstantial Ibanez Wizard. I’d describe the Wide Thin profile as distinctly oval with a medium thickness, so there’s still more than enough wood left for good tone and sustain.

The review guitar came with a comfortably low setup (low-E: 1.9 mm/high-e: 1.6 mm) without any buzzes, thanks to the great fret job.

I know that it’s a thing of personal preference, but I’d like to see a PRS strung up with a set of 010-gauge strings, instead of the factory set of 009s. The factory set feels almost too “slinky”and effortless, making it hard to really dig into the strings.

The PRS-vibrato is one of the best updates of the vintage vibrato you’re likely to encouter, and it works like a dream on the SE Custom 24, too. The feel is smooth, creamy and precise, but isn’t as sensitive to heavy-handed playing or string bending as a Floyd Rose, despite the floating setup.

Paul Reed Smith has also proven he know’s how to voice pickups. Naturally, these Korean pickups aren’t quite in the same league as their American counterparts, but these are still very decent pickups.

On paper, pairing a Vintage Bass with a HFS Treble humbucker sounds like a recipe for a slightly schizophrenic sound, when, actually, these pickups work very well together. The jump in output levels isn’t as acute as you might think. The difference between the Vintage Bass and the HFS Treble comes over clearest in the way the latter focusses heavily on the mid-range frequencies.

The sound clips both start with the coil-split on, before moving on to the full humbucker sound. The sequence is always neck pickup –> both pickups –> bridge pickup:

The rhythm guitars on the demo track use the coil-split (left channel: neck PU; right channel: both PUs), while the lead guitar starts with the full neck humbucker, before switching to the full bridge humbucker at 0’49”:

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – back beauty

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PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – body beauty 2

No wonder that PRS Guitars’ SE-range is so popular:

The SE Custom 24 30th Anniversary gives you the genuine “PRS experience” at a truly fair price. This is a pro-level electric guitar that plays very well and offers you a wide variety oif different sounds.

PRS SE Custom 24 30th Ann – beauty shot 2

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PRS SE Custom 24 30th Anniversary

approximately 1,000 € (including gig bag)

Finnish distributor: EM Nordic

A big thank you to DLX Music Helsinki for the loan of the review instrument!

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Pros:

+ workmanship

+ playability

+ vibrato action

+ versatile sound

+ anniversary model

Review: Boss DD-500

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The brand-new Boss DD-500 will quite likely prove to be a definite milestone in the effect company’s history. Boss’ newest creation isn’t just another run-of-the-mill delay pedal; instead, the company’s R&D-department has set out to create a genuine “mother of all delay pedals”, aiming to take the user all the way, from the illustrious past of echoes and delays right into the here-and-now of top notch audio processing.

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The Boss DD-500 (current street price in Finland approx. 370 €) comes over as a very matter-of-fact, businesslike pedal with a very clean and uncluttered look.

Despite the fact that each effect patch contains quite a number of different adjustable parameters, Boss have provided the user with physical knobs and buttons to access the most important features directly. In addition to the all-important Delay Mode selector, you’ll find controls for Time, Feedback, Effect Level, Tone, and Modulation Depth. This makes tweaking any patch very fast and easy.

The Model-selector goes right to the heart of what the DD-500 does, offering you access to the different delay types on offer. The DD-500’s twelve Modes really run the whole gamut of all delay types known to mankind, starting with a state-of-the-art, contemporary delay (Standard) and leading you all the way to some of the best digital models of tape- and bucket brigade-delays you’re likely to hear. Let’s not forget about the more special delay types on offer here, such as Boss’ own Tera Echo Mode, Shimmer, Slow Attack, or Reverse. The outlandishly bit-crunching SFX setting, as well as the fat and chewy Filter Mode will take your playing closer to the realms of synthesizers and Electronica. Depending on the chosen mode, the maximum delay time on offer stretches to a whopping ten seconds!

Naturally, the DD-500 also comes with a phrase looper, which can loop up to two minutes of audio.

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The Boss DD-500 will work equally well in mono or stereo setups.

The Control/Expression-jack lets you hook up an additional (double) footswitch unit or an expression pedal (not included) to the delay unit, allowing for real-time control of almost any parameter(s) you choose.

You can use MIDI to synchronise your delays to an outside source (such as an audio sequencer), as well as for remote effect patch switching.

The DD-500’s USB-port can handle both MIDI data, as well as digital audio, making it easy to record your effected guitar signal straight into your sequencer.

The Boss DD-500 offers plenty of memory space for effect patches:

Set to factory specifications, the delay unit will give you access to 99 banks of two patches each (A & B), that you can turn on and off using the switches of the same name. In this configuration the third switch is set aside for tap tempo and parameter control duties. You can change the factory configuration, though, which makes it possible to use 99 banks of three patches each (A, B & C). And if you’re really adventurous, you can also choose a setting that lets you use two delay patches simultaneously.

The Boss DD-500 can be run as a true bypass-effect, meaning that the input signal goes straight to the unit’s output, whenever the delay is turned off. If you have a long effect chain, or if you’re forced to run long cables to your backline, you will appreciate the delay’s buffered output option, too, which will keep all your precious trebles and dynamic content intact.

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Boss’ internal digital signal processing, with a sample rate of 98 kHz and a 32-bit resolution, lays the perfect groundwork for the DD-500’s excellent audio quality and amazing versatility. This isn’t your daddy’s delay box, where you can only set the delay time, feedback, and effect level; the DD-500 allows you to delve very deep to hone your tone in exactly the way you want. For example, all Delay Modes come with their dedicated semiparametric EQ, a comprehensive modulation section, and a ducking compressor.

Adding the possibilities offered by the CTL-switch – or additional switches, or an expression pedal – into the mix, further multiplies the tonal options on tap in the DD-500. If you don’t need the tap tempo function, you can use the built-in CTL-switch for special effects, such as – among others – Hold (the repeats don’t fade away, while the footswitch is pressed), Warp (basically a modern version of tape-spin; your delay running wild) or different types of Roll (changing the note value of your delay).

Yes, there is a long list of different parameters that you can tweak, but the DD-500 is still surprisingly easy to use. Despite the fact that this unit is much more versatile than a simple analogue delay, making your own delay patches is still relatively simple.

In my opinion, the new Boss DD-500 is the best and most versatile delay pedal available today.

Even used “straight” – that is without further modulation or filtering – the basic Delay Modes sound great, offering you the widest possible scope to take you on a sonic journey par excellence. Here’s a short clip introducing all twelve Modes, using the same knob settings (with Modulation Depth set to zero). I start with Standard and work my way forward in a clockwise direction:

The factory patches in the DD-500 offer so many different types of delays that a review, such as this, can’t cover them all. The demo track features 12 different factory patches on the lead guitar, plus an additional patch, used to simulate a violin sound.

Here’s a mix of just the lead guitar parts:

And here’s the full track:

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I’m pretty sure that the Boss DD-500 will put an end to many a guitarist’s epic search for the “perfect delay pedal”.

This delay unit offers you such a wealth of different sounds, delay types, and tonal options, that I probably could have spent weeks on end with the DD-500, without bumping into the outer walls of this universe of inspiration. The Boss DD-500 is an equally excellent choice for the traditional guitarist, looking for authentic versions of legendary delay sounds, as it is for the fearless sound traveller, who will draw a sheer never-ending wealth of inspiration from this device.

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Boss DD-500

street price ca. 370 €

Contact: Roland

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Pros:

+ value-for-money

+ 12 delay types

+ broad scope for adjustment

+ large patch memory

+ sound