Author Archives: martinberka

Review: Farida M-2 & B-10E

Farida M-2NS – soundhole rosette

Kitarablogi.com had the pleasure to review two acoustic steel-string guitars from Chinese brand Farida Guitars:

The Farida M-2 is a parlour-sized guitar, while the Farida B-10E gives you this company’s take on a miked-up, slope-shouldered Gibson steel-string.

Farida B-10E – soundhole rosette

****

Farida M-2NS – beauty shot 1 – new

These days a guitar is called a parlour (or parlor, if you’re so inclined), if its soundbox is smaller than a Martin OM- or 000-body. While parlour guitars have gained a growing followership over the last few years, it is still surprisingly difficult to find reasonably priced exponents of this species.

Farida Guitars’ M-2 (current price in Finland: 465 €) ticks all the right boxes to whet a parlour lover’s appetite – a slightly shorter scale length (62.8 cm/24.7″), a 12th fret neck joint, and a classical-type open headstock.

Farida M-2NS – back beauty

The M-2’s soundbox is made from a beautiful solid red cedar top, and laminated mahogany for the rims and the back.

The mahogany neck is glued into the body in traditional fashion.

Farida M-2NS – headstock

The three-on-a-strip tuners are of a decent quality.

Farida M-2NS – bridge

The Farida M2’s top nut and compensated bridge saddle are both made from a man-made bone substitute.

Farida M-2NS – fretboard

The fretwire used on this parlour has a narrow and medium-height profile.

There’s a very nice red hue to the M-2’s rosewood fretboard.

Farida M-2NS – body beauty 2

This very cleanly built acoustic instrument comes in a thin natural satin finish.

****

Farida B-10E – beauty shot 1 – new

Farida’s B-10E (425 €) is the brand’s affordable version of Gibson’s famous slope shoulder (or round shoulder) dreadnought design (first released in the mid-1930s as the Advanced Jumbo). Like the name says, this guitar type differs from the more common Martin dreadnought by virtue of its rounded “shoulders”.

The B-10E sports a solid spruce top finished in a gorgeously deep gloss sunburst.

Farida B-10E – back beauty

The mahogany soundbox has also received a gloss finish, while the mahogany neck goes for a modern satin finish.

Farida B-10E – headstock

Farida have come up with a good-looking headstock shape, at least in my opinion. The B-10E’s headstock face sports a beautiful rosewood veneer.

Farida B-10E – tuners

The machine heads are very decent Schaller-style models.

Farida B-10E – bridge

As with the parlour model, Farida’s slope shoulder dread also comes equipped with a self-lubricating Tusq-type nut and compensated bridge saddle.

Farida B-10E – Fishman Isys T

The B-10E features a Fishman Sonicore under-saddle transducer connected to an Isys T preamp.

In addition to the large volume control, the preamp also comes with a phase inverse switch (to combat feedback), a pre-EQ curve (called Contour), and a digital tuner.

Farida B-10E – output jack + battery

The output jack is found in the end pin, with the easy access battery compartment nearby.

Farida B-10E – fretboard

Despite this model’s rather affordable status, the fret job on the B-10 is actually surprisingly clean.

Farida B-10E – body beauty 2

****

Farida M-2NS – body beauty 1

To some parlour snobs – yes, there are such people – the only “correct” neck profile for a guitar of this type is a wide and massive V-neck (also called a boat neck). True, a boat neck is the authentic option, but many modern players do feel quite alienated by such a profile.

Luckily (and sensibly) the Farida Guitars M-2 comes with a very player-friendly, modern D-style neck profile.

Talking about comfortable: The M-2 is a very lightweight and compact little instrument, which fits effortlessly in your lap. This means that this parlour is a great choice for young players and many women, too. You don’t need to be a Folk music fan.

Farida’s M-2 delivers the sound you’d expect from a small-bodied steel-string guitar. There’s not a lot of deep bass, the mid-range has a certain boxy quality, and the whole is rounded off by a healthy dose of chiming top end.

The M-2 is a fabulous choice for fingerstyle players, because the tight bass response of a parlour leaves ample room for the full character of the mid-range to shine through:

But a small body doesn’t necessarily mean a puny sound – this Farida is a nice little barker when played with a plectrum. Thanks to its sinewy bass register this guitar is also easy to record:

The rhythm guitar parts on this demo song feature both test guitars. The Farida M-2 is in the left channel and the B-10E can be heard coming from the right:

****

Farida B-10E – body beauty 1

Farida’s B-10E offers a lot of value and enjoyment for a very moderate price.

Here the neck profile is a slightly more rounded, oval C.

This Farida gives you the punch you’d associate with a well-made dreadnought guitar, suitably seasoned with the warmth this model’s Gibson-type scale length brings into the mix.

In contrast to the parlour, the much larger body of the B-10E equates a hefty boost in the bass and treble registers.

Played fingerstyle you’ll get a stronger bass content and more top end sparkle:

This larger-than-life persona, so typical of dreadnoughts, is also present when you switch over to a plectrum:

Fishman’s Isys T system is a very workable addition for live use. A piezo-only pickup system is always a bit of a compromise, in terms of sound fidelity, but the Isys T does a good job. In these clips the first phrase has been recorded with Contour off and the second phrase with Contour on:

The rhythm guitar parts on this demo song feature both test guitars. The Farida M-2 is in the left channel and the B-10E can be heard coming from the right:

****

Farida M-2NS – beauty shot 2

Based on this review, Farida seem to offer a lot of guitar at very fair prices. Both the Farida M-2 and the B10E are beautiful steel-string guitars that offer easy playability and inspiring sounds.

Farida B-10E – beauty shot 2

****
Farida Guitars M-2 + B-10E

M-2 – 465 €

B-10E – 425 €

Finnish distribution: Vantaan Musiikki

****

Pros (both models):

+ value-for-money

+ finish

+ fretwork

+ acoustic sound

+ easy to use pickup system (B-10E only)

Save

Advertisements

Review: Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

The Bluetone Black Prince Reverb guitar combo sees the boutique amp makers from Helsinki branch out into a new and interesting direction.

Bluetone Crossroad head – 1

All the Bluetone models we have known thus far have been (and still are) produced as pure and genuine custom-made valve amplifiers.

This means that each new amp is ordered by the customer based on a certain Bluetone configuration on their website – like an à la carte-menu. The chosen model is then tweaked according to the customer’s wishes, and there are plenty of different options available – from the details of the amplifier’s internal specifications all the way to the type of finish of the cabinet and the font on the control panel.

Bluetone Crossroad – handwired board 3

Due to the nature of custom amps, such as these, every Bluetone Custom amp is built completely by hand, starting with a clean slate – meaning: an empty metal chassis, and an empty fibreglass eyelet-board.

The board is then riveted at the right spots to take all the necessary wiring and electronic components going into this specific custom order. Everything is soldered into place by hand (point-to-point).

This is a very involved and time-consuming process, requiring a steady hand and a keen eye, which of course is reflected in the price of a Bluetone Custom amp. The advantage of building this type of point-to-point amp is, of course, that it gives the customer free reign to have his dream amp built.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – hybrid PCB 2

Bluetone’s dynamic duo – Harry Kneckt and Matti Vauhkonen – have recently decided to launch a second model range alongside their strictly custom-made amps. The new range will include a few models that will be made and sold “as is”, with only very limited options to choose from.

These new amps will be made using so-called hybrid boards.

Bluetone’s hybrid boards are very sturdy PCBs made of fibreglass, and are of a considerably higher quality than what you’d find in mass-produced valve amplifiers. Each component’s place on the hybrid is clearly labelled, and some of the “wiring” is already incorporated into the board itself. In contrast to many mass-produced affordable amps, Bluetone’s new range will see all tubes and transformers mounted securely to the metal chassis (like on their custom-made amps, too), and not directly on the PCB (like on many affordable Far Eastern designs).

The rest of the building process is virtually identical to the more costly custom-made amplifiers – the components are fitted to the hybrid board by hand (from the top) and hand-soldered to the board. Thanks to the hybrid board the new amplifier range will be much easier and faster to produce, which will be reflected in the pricing of the new hybrid amps vis-à-vis the point-to-point custom orders.

****

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – front view 1

The first new Bluetone-combo is called the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb (approx. 1.500 €).

This compact and handy combo takes a lot of inspiration from Fender’s legendary “Blackface” Princeton Reverb (version AA1164), but due to the Bluetone’s many refinements you can’t really call the Black Prince a straight copy.

In addition to the basic version in wine red tolex, you can also order the Black Prince Reverb in genuine tweed, or with an oiled cabinet made from mahogany (both at extra cost).

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – control panel

I very much like the businesslike and sober look of the Blacktone’s front panel. Everything is clearly labelled, which can be a great plus on a dimly lit stage.

The Bluetone Black Prince Reverb offers two different inputs for singlecoil and humbucker-equipped guitars (High and Low). The EQ-section is a three-band affair, with an additional Bright switch to liven up dull sounding pickups.

Even though the Black Prince Reverb is such a compact combo, it still featured both a genuine, valve-driven spring reverb and a tube tremolo.

Bluetone uses a post phase-inverter master volume in most of their designs, because it has the least negative impact on an amp’s tone and feel.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – back panel

There’s a Fender-style open back on the Black Prince.

The back panel sports outputs for additional speakers, as well as the jack for the combo’s two-button footswitch unit (included).

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – footswitch

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – back view

This is what the Bluetone looks like with the open back removed.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – valves

The Black Prince Reverb combo is an all-valve machine, loaded with the following tube types (from right to left):

The first 12AX7 is the combo’s preamp valve. The spring reverb circuit uses a 12AT7 and a 12AX7 valve. The 12AX7 works as the amp’s phase-inverter and tremolo tube.

The Black Prince leaves Bluetone’s workshop equipped with a pair of 6V6GT power valves, which will translate to about 20 watts of output. You can also re-bias this amp for a pair of 6L6GCs, which would boost the output to almost 30 watts.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – spring reverb

This combo’s short reverb tank is supplied by MOD.

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – Warehouse Retro 10 speaker

Bluetone have chosen a Warehouse Guitar Speakers Retro 10-speaker for their new combo, even though this model is distinctly different from the old Jensen speakers in vintage Fender designs.

This choice is, of course, deliberate and based upon many listening tests:

The WGS Retro, which is made to withstand far more output than this combo can deliver, keeps the Black Prince Reverb’s tones clean and dynamic under all circumstances. This speaker’s British character also makes the Bluetone-combo sound larger and fatter than you’d expect.

****

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – pilot light from PS

Oh, boy, this is a sound you cannot get enough of! At least in my case only a minute or two of playing the Black Prince was enough to make me consider getting myself in debt.

It’s hard to put into words what that special ingredient is, but this is what a clean electric guitar should sound like! This combo sounds clean, fresh and dynamic, but never clinical, cold or brittle. There a good dose of chime, but it doesn’t hurt your ears. The bass strings sound big, but never mushy.

The sound of the short MOD reverb tank is surprisingly dense and complex, and there’s more than enough of it to satisfy Surf Music fans. The Black Prince Reverb’s tremolo works like a treat, too, offering you anything from slow and soft to machine-gun mania.

Here’s a clip, recorded with a Fender Telecaster, gives you an idea of the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb’s dry tone, as well as its spring reverb and tremolo effects:

The Black Prince also excels in keeping your guitar’s own character intact. These three clips feature a Fender Telecaster…

…an Epiphone Casino…

…and a 1970s Japanese “lawsuit” copy of a Gibson ES-335:

This combo’s fantastic clean tone is a fantastic platform for pedal addicts. The demo track was recorded using an analogue chorus pedal, a tube screamer-type overdrive, as well as the amp’s built-in reverb and tremolo.

The rhythm parts were played on a Fender Stratocaster, while the lead was played on a Hamer USA Studio Custom:

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – power valves

****

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – front view 1

In my view, Bluetone’s Black Prince Reverb is a top-drawer choice as a combo for use at home or in the studio. It’s also great for smaller gigs, when too much noise on stage can be a problem, or you can mike it up for larger venues.

The Black Prince Reverb is a nicely compact boutique-grade valve combo offering fantastic cleans, as well as fine reverb and tremolo effects.

This amp hasn’t been spoiled by unnecessary “tube voodoo” or distracting graphic. I’m all for the clean and understated looks this Bluetone has to offer!

This is a handmade, Finnish boutique combo, offered at a very fair price.

****

Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

1.500 €

Contact: Bluetone Amps

****

Pros:

+ value-for-money ratio

+ handmade in Finland

+ workmanship

+ fine spring reverb and valve tremolo

+ sound

+ master volume-control

Save

Review: Blackstar Artist 15

Blackstar Artist 15 – logo

In a way Blackstar Amplification’s new Artist Series breaks new ground for the British amp maker.

Until now most of Blackstar’s designs were based on the typically British tones of EL34 and EL84 power tubes, often associated with Marshall designs.

The new Artist combos feature power amps built around 6L6 valves, as used in many of Fender’s classic designs. According to Blackstar the new Artist amps are designed to combine the best bits of the typically British Class A tone (with two ECC83s in the preamp section) with the dynamic range and chiming top end of a 6L6 power section.

Kitarablogi.com was given the opportunity to take the smaller Artist model – the Blackstar Artist 15 (current price in Finland: 799 €) for a spin.

****

Blackstar Artist 15 – full front

The Blackstar Artist 15 looks like a typical Blackstar combo – black vinyl covering and a dark grey grille cloth.

For a combo that comes equipped with a single 12-inch speaker the amp’s cabinet is rather large. The reason for the cabinet’s size becomes clear when you look at the Artist 15 from behind.

Blackstar Artist 15 – full back

The combo’s Celestion V-Type G12-speaker has been placed deliberately to one side of the combo. Blackstar doesn’t tell us exactly why this configuration has been chosen, but I’d wager that the idea behind this is to harness the benefits of a large, stiff front baffle and a larger cabinet – namely: a crisp attack, and a warm, full bottom end.

Blackstar Artist 15 – Celestion V-Type speaker

Celestion’s V-Type comes loaded with a ceramic magnet. According to Celestion this speaker combines a classic tonality with a modern power rating.

Blackstar Artist 15 – back panel

The Blackstar’s back panel sports a whole array of connectors for things such as external speaker cabinets, a speaker-emulated line out, an effects loop, as well as the channel footswitch that comes with the amp.

****

Blackstar Artist 15 – controls 1

Blackstar’s Artist 15 is rated at 15 watts of output and features two preamp channels:

Channel 1 is the so-called boutique channel, designed to put the least possible amount of components between your guitar and the speaker. This channel sports only two controls – Volume and Tone – before the signal is sent on to the master section.

Channel 2 gives you the full Blackstar-experience – you’ll find separate Gain and Volume knobs, a three-band EQ section, as well as Blackstar’s proprietary ISF-control. Setting the ISF knob to zero will result in bright and sinewy Fender Blackface-style sounds, while ISF at full on will give you muscular, Marshall-type tones from this channel.

In addition to the Master Volume control, the Artist 15’s master section also includes the level control for the combo’s very nice digital reverb.

Channel 1 clearly has a much rounder and warmer basic tonality than the (more versatile) second channel. With clean settings Channel 1 will give you a fuller mid-range compared to the more Fender-like, chimey Channel 2.

Here’s what Channel 1 sounds like played clean with an Epiphone Casino (first clip) and a Gibson Melody Maker SG (second clip):

…and here’s Channel 2 played with the same guitars:

The Artist 15’s channels also differ in the amount of gain they offer:

Channel 1 will take you from clean all the way to Rockbilly-style breakup and traditional Blues overdrive, while Channel 2 offers more than enough dirt for chunky Rock tones.

Here’s Channel 1 at full gain (Casino and Melody Maker SG):

…and here are two clips of Channel 2 with Gain full up:

The rhythm guitar tracks on the demo song have been recorded with a 1970s Japanese ES-335 copy (made by Kasuga; left channel) and a maple-necked Fender Stratocaster (right channel). The lead is played on the Kasuga:

Blackstar Artist 15 – angled

****

Blackstar Artist 15 – pilot light

The new Blackstar Artist 15 isn’t your typical two-channel combo, which offers you a clean channel and a dirty channel. This is a valve amp that’s all about choices and flexibility.

Blackstar have noticed that pedalboards are becoming en vogue again, which is why their new Artist combos offer enough headroom for clean tones in both of their two channels.

For pedal users the big advantage of the Artist 15’s architecture lies in the fact that the combo offers two high-quality clean variants in the same amp. Channel 1 is a back-to-basics boutique-/AC30-style channel, while Channel 2 offers a much broader range of clean tones, all the way from Fender to modern Marshall.

Of course, you’re free to use the Blackstar Artist 15 in the traditional channel-switching fashion, too, which will give you a top-notch clean sound from Channel 1, and a very versatile array of quality overdriven and distorted tones from Channel 2.

Either way – the Blackstar Artist 15 hits bull’s-eye, in my opinion, and I can only recommend checking one out for yourselves.

****

Blackstar Artist 15

799 €

Finnish distribution: Musamaailma

Pros:

+ workmanship

+ clean headroom

+ versatile amp sound

+ great reverb

Save

Review: Viitasaari Guitars OM

Viitasaari OM – headstock

Olli Viitasaari is a young luthier from Järvenpää in the south of Finland.

After completing his training at IKATA, Olli has been working on his own electric guitar model (in addition to doing repairs and customising jobs), which he since displayed at Fuzz Guitar Show (Gothenburg, Sweden) and Turenki Tonefest (Finland).

Turenki Tonefest 2015 016

Fuzz 2016 – visitor at Viitasaari Guitars

Olli’s guitar model is called the Viitasaari OM (OM = Offset Model, prices starting from 2,500 €; a Hiscox case is included), and it represents Olli’s vision of the perfect Jazzmaster-style guitar. Guitarists have reacted very positively to the Viitasaari OM, and there are already a few guitars in active use by Finnish and Swedish guitarists.

Kitarablogi.com would like to thank Mr. Juha Pöysä for the loan of his personal guitar!

****

Viitasaari OM – full front 1

The basic building blocks of the Viitasaari OM use the tried and trusted recipe of its 1950s forefather:

The OM’s body is made from alder, while the bolt-on neck has been carved from hard rock maple. The fretboard is rosewood.

The first indication that this isn’t your run-in-the-mill Fender-clone lies in the scale length. Olli has chosen 25 inches for his model, which places this guitar’s scale length in the same territory as a PRS – right in the middle between traditional Fender and traditional Gibson.

Viitasaari OM – back beauty

As Viitasaari Guitars is a true boutique builder there’s plenty of options for the customer to choose from, both in terms of pickups and electronics, as well as the guitar’s finish.

Juha Pöysä’s OM comes in a very fetching blue satin finish for the body, and a natural satin finish for the neck. The customer can also specify gloss finishes or oil-based finishes for his (or her) own guitar.

Viitasaari OM – Gotoh tuners

This guitar sports a set of Gotoh HAP-tuners, which combine vintage looks with height-adjustable tuner posts.

Viitasaari OM – Mastery bridge

Leo Fender’s original Jazzmaster/Jaguar-vibrato is both loved and loathed among guitarists. Players tend to love the soft and slightly spongy action, but often tend to find the original design’s many quirks and idiosyncrasies extremely annoying.

Fender’s original design features tiny grub screws for the height-adjustment of the bridge’s separate bridge saddles. These screws often tend to work loose during playing, causing rattles and involuntary changes in string action. Additionally, there’s only a relatively shallow string angle over the bridge, exacerbating the string rattling, and sometimes even causing a string to jump out of position, especially with modern light gauge strings. In extreme cases, a bridge saddle may even turn upside down in the middle of a solo.

US-based hardware company Mastery has put a stop to all these problems by redesigning the Offset Bridge from the ground up. Naturally, this fantastic system has been chosen for the Viitasaari OM.

Viitasaari OM – body beauty 2

The OM’s 9.5-inch radius and fatter-than-vintage frets give the Viitasaari a modern playing feel.

Viitasaari OM – J Salo pickups

The two P-90-type pickups have been developed especially for the Viitasaari OM by Olli and Finnish pickup maker Jarno Salo.

Viitasaari OM – pickups and controls

The special feature of these Viitasaari/Salo-pickups are their dual coil taps, giving you three different basic sounds (and output levels) per pickup. A slide switch above each pickup lets you select between the full coil and the two coil tapped variations.

You can choose between a three-way blade switch (as on the reviewed instrument) or a three-way rotary for the pickup selector.

The controls are master volume and master tone. You can also specify a built-in fuzz effect as an option, which is then activated by a push/pull-switch inside the tone control.

****

Viitasaari OM – beauty shot 1

The Viitasaari OM is a top-drawer boutique guitar; it is lightweight and easy to play.

Comparing a Viitasaari to a mass-produced guitar makes the differences blatantly obvious – even though the Jazzmaster/Jaguar-shape is already a very ergonomic design, Olli Viitasaari’s craftsmanship takes the smoothness to new levels. The OM feels like a natural extension of the player’s body.

The workmanship and finish on this guitar couldn’t possibly be any neater – you could call t exemplary. The playing feel with the 0105 [sic!] set of strings is precise and bendy at the same time.

Mastery’s Offset vibrato system really is the best that has happened to the offset-vibrato since its inception in 1958. This is how the bridge and vibrato should have been designed right from the start! The Mastery Offset takes all the whammy abuse you can throw at it without any untoward side effects – no tuning problems, no strings jumping about. No wonder so many Jazzmaster and Jaguar-players have already updated to the Mastery Offset-system.

Viitasaari OM – beauty shot 2

The clean sound of the Viitasaari OM is Fender-ish in its fresh brightness and clean midrange, even though these P-90s are slightly more powerful than Fender Jazzmaster pickups. We get a high quality version of the Jazzmaster-tone with clearly less hum and buzz, thanks to the fine Viitasaari/Salo-pickups.

Using the coil taps will give you two quieter and slightly more rounded versions of the full pickup tone.

Here are the neck pickup’s three variations:

And the same for the bridge pickup:

As we all know, P-90s love chunky overdrive sounds, which opens the Viitasaari OM up to all sorts of tasty crunch tones:

I feel the coil taps are especially useful in distorted Rock/Blues-settings, making it possible to go from rhythm to lead playing without having to step onto an effects pedal. The shorter coil variations cool things down nicely, while the full coil gives you a “boost” in volume and bite for lead guitar parts.

Here are the neck pickup’s three variations:

And the same for the bridge pickup:

In recorded the demo track’s guitar parts using a T-Rex Replicator analogue tape delay:

****

Viitasaari OM – full front 2

What a gorgeous guitar! To me the Viitasaari OM is simply the best Jazzmaster-type guitar I have ever played.

The workmanship is boutique grade and the OM plays like a dream. The Master vibrato is the icing on the cake, taking this design to new levels.

In my view the best thing about the OM, though, is the way Olli has incorporated double coil taps in his design. The OM takes the lead/rhythm idea of the original Jazzmaster, but transforms it into something that actually works much better in a modern context.

Viitasaari OM – body beauty 1

****

Viitasaari Guitars OM

from 2,500 €

Contact: Viitasaari Guitars

Pros:

+ handmade in Finland

+ workmanship

+ finish

+ Finnish pickups

+ Mastery-vibrato

+ sound

Save

Review: T-Rex Replicator

T-Rex Replicator – angle 2

Danish effects specialists T-Rex have caused an enormous stir with their newest guitar pedal. Their new stompbox – called  the Replicator – is a genuine, all analogue tape delay, hand-assembled in Denmark. These days tape echoes in themselves are rather rare beasts, but T-Rex ups the ante by giving us the first tape delay with a built-in tap tempo function!

****

What is a tape delay?

The tape delay was the first studio effect invented (back when Rock ‘n’ Roll was in its infancy), and it was produced by “misusing” an open-reel tape recorder (hence the name).

The magnetic tape recorder – originally called the Magnetophon – was a German invention from the 1930s, which used a plastic tape coated with magnetisable material as its recording medium.

An empty – or wiped – magnetic tape has all the metal particles in its magnetisable surface pointing in the same direction. The result is silence (in theory) – or rather: some tape hiss.

During recording the recording head transforms the incoming audio signal into magnetic bursts of different strength, wavelength and polarity, and magnetises the tape’s metal particles, rearranging them into different magnetic clusters. During playback these “magnetic ripples” are picked up by the playback head and translated back into an audio signal.

In tape recorders, such as open-reel studio machines or C-Cassette recorders, many different factors affect the audio quality of the playback. These factors include things such as the physical condition of the tape, tape width, tape speed, the condition of the parts involved in the mechanical transport of the tape, as well as the exact position of the playback head in relation to the tape.

Most C-Cassette players have/had only two heads – one erase head, plus a combined recording and playback head – but reel-to-reel tape recorders in the studio usually came with at least three heads (erase, record, playback). Thanks to the separate recording and playback heads the studio engineer was able to listen to the recording in progress as it sounded on the tape, while it was being recorded (to listen for tape distortion or tape defects/drop-outs).

Because there is a small physical distance between the recording and playback head, there’s always a short audible delay between the signal being recorded and the playback off the tape. The length of this delay is directly dependent on the distance between the two heads, as well as on the tape speed.

In the end, a recording engineer somewhere hit upon the bright idea to use the studio’s backup tape machine as an “effect processor”. The engineer used the main recorder in the usual way, to record the song’s final (live-) mix off the mixing console’s master buss. The spare tape recorder was fed only the instruments and vocal parts (from the mixer) which needed to receive tape delay. If you mixed the output of the second recorder’s playback head into the recording desk you got a single delay effect. By feeding a small portion of the delay signal back into the delay tape machine’s input you could get multiple delays.

T-Rex Replicator – under the hood

Tape delays meant for live use usually come with more than one playback head, which makes it easier to fine-tune the length of the echo effect, and which makes rhythmic delay patterns possible. Almost all mobile tape echoes use tape loops as their recording medium.

The T-Rex Replicator comes equipped with four tape heads:

The black head is the erase head, next in line is the record head, followed by two playback heads.

****

T-Rex Replicator – carrying bag

The T-Rex Replicator (current price in Finland: 849 €) comes in its own, vintage-themed “vinyl leather” carrying bag, which contains the Replicator itself, as well as its power supply, a second tape loop cartridge, the owner’s manual, and a set of cotton swabs (for cleaning the heads with a drop of isopropyl alcohol).

T-Rex Replicator – angle

The Replicator is quite a rugged pice of gear, made to withstand onstage use.

The 24 VDC power supply, though, seemed a little weedy in comparison.

T-Rex Replicator – back panel

The back panel offers the following connectors:

There are the input and output jacks, as well as two connectors for expression pedals, should you want to control the delay time (tape speed) and/or the feedback on the fly.

The little Kill Dry-switch mutes the dry (uneffected) signal in the Replicator’s output. This is a very handy feature, should you want to run the Replicator connected to a parallel effect loop, or to a mixing desk using a send/return-bus.

T-Rex Replicator – top view

The T-Rex Replicator offers you six controls and four footswitches to control its functions:

The On/Off-switch does what it says on the tin. When the delay effect is off the Replicator’s tape loop stops running.

The Heads-switch gives you access to the effect’s three delay modes by switching the playback heads on or off. A green light means you’re using the long mode (delay times of approx. 250 – 1.200 ms), red stands for short mode (125 – 600 ms), while orange means you’re running both playback heads simultaneously for a rhythmic delay pattern.

Stepping onto the Chorus-switch will introduce deliberate wow and flutter (tape speed fluctuations) to produce a chorus-style effect that can be fine-tuned with the corresponding control.

Tap Tempo does what it says on the tin. Although this is quite a normal feature on digital delay units, the Tap Tempo-switch on the Replicator is huge news for tape delay fans. T-Rex have developed a system to control the unit’s motor digitally, making it possible, for the first time, to synchronise a tape delay precisely on the fly.

The Saturate-control holds a pivotal role for the sound of the Replicator’s delays. Depending on its settings the effect can either be clean and dynamic or greasy and overdriven.

Adjusting the Delay Time- and Feedback-controls on the fly can produce some wild and wonderful effects (in Feedback’s case up to and including self-oscillation).

****

T-Rex Replicator – running 2

Despite being a child of the Sixties, who has used a tape echo as the main effect in his first band’s PA-system, I have to admit that I’ve grown accustomed to the clarity and precision of digital effects. My first reaction when I tried out the Replicator for this review was “Is it supposed to sound like this, or is there something wrong?”

Alas, it didn’t take long for the memories of a distant past to return, and I started to really enjoy the genuine old-school tones emanating from the Replicator. You should remember, though, that the Replicator is meant as a handy, portable tool for the guitarist or keyboard player. You shouldn’t expect Queen-style ultra-long, studio quality delay sounds from a compact unit such as this.

Tape speed is of course the most important variable, when it comes to the audio quality of the delay effects – short delay times (= faster running tape loop) will naturally result in cleaner and more stable sounds than long delay times (= a slow running tape).

The first audio clip has been recorded with the shortest possible delay time, while the second clip lets you hear the Replicator running at maximum delay (both clips feature all three head modes):

In my view, the T-Rex Replicator is a portable tape delay of professional quality. You should keep in mind, though, that a genuine analogue tape echo is always (!) a low-fi device in comparison to a digital delay pedal. But it is exactly this authenticity, the slight greasiness, and the sense of unpredictability a genuine tape echo conveys, that makes the Replicator such an enjoyable piece of equipment. The T-Rex’ delay never sounds tacked on, instead it becomes a natural part of your guitar signal’s harmonic content.

I’d say it is hard to overemphasise the advantages this unit’s tap tempo-function brings. The Replicator makes synching your delay child’s play.

I used the T-Rex Replicator to record two demo tracks, which show off the effect’s sounds in different musical contexts:

Demo Track 1

Demo Track 2

T-Rex Replicator – running

****

T-Rex Replicator – top view 2

There’s no beating about the bush about this – the single restrictive factor to seeing the Replicator creep into the pedalboard of each and every guitarist is the unit’s steep price. Most players will baulk at a price tag of over 800 euros for a “lo-fi effect”, and rather opt for one of the numerous tape delay modellers, like the Strymon El Capistan.

The Replicator, which is lovingly assembled by hand in Denmark, will find most of its clientele among vintage collectors and well-heeled boutique guitar and amp connoisseurs. If you run your original 1950s guitar through an equally vintage amplifier, running an authentic, mechanical tape delay unit will be like the icing on the cake. Especially, if the tape delay is as reliable and easy to use as the T-Rex Replicator.

Is the T-Rex Replicator the best genuine tape delay ever? To my knowledge, there are currently three different new tape echo models on the market – each of them sound great. I would pick the Replicator, though, because it is small enough to fit on a medium-to-large pedalboard, and because of its nifty tap tempo feature.

****

T-Rex Replicator

849 €

Finnish distribution: Custom Sounds

****

Pros:

+ hand-assembled in Denmark

+ tap tempo

+ two playback heads

+ easy to exchange the tape cartridge

+ authentic sound

+ compact size

Cons:

– flimsy PSU cable

– price

Save

Review: Bogner Goldfinger 54 Phi

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – control panel logo

Bogner Amplification has recently added a new member to its Goldfinger-family of guitar amps. In addition to the two-channel Goldfinger 45, there’s now also a single-channel amplifier available, called the Goldfinger 54 Phi.

****

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – full front

The basic idea behind the Bogner Goldfinger 54 Phi combo (current price in Finland: 3.091 €) was to develop the most versatile single-channel valve amp possible.

The 54 Phi’s starting point was the Goldfinger 45’s clean Alpha-channel. The new model is concentrating mainly on clean tones, and it is meant as the ideal combo for guitarists who achieve most of their sounds with the help of effect pedals.

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – full back

In its combo version – the 54 Phi is also available as an amp head – weighs in at about 26 kilos.

The cabinet is made from pine ply and it sports an open back construction.

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – Celestion G12

Bogner’s new tube combo comes equipped with a Celestion G12M-65 Creamback speaker, which combines a modern power rating with a classic, Greenback-type tonality.

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – footswitch

A four-button footswitch unit is sold with the GF 54 Phi, and it gives us some hints regarding the combo’s versatility and features.

****

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – control panel

Bogner’s Goldfinger Phi offers a lot of scope for adjustment, so that every guitarist can dial in the sound he or she wants. Due to its versatility the 54 Phi needs you to get familiar with all its features, before plugging your guitar in and wailing away.

Actually, you should start your sonic journey with this Bogner’s back panel! The GF 54 Phi comes with a slightly unusual split power amp that employs two pairs of power amp valves – a pair of 6V6s and a pair of 6L6s. Each pair can be switched on or off individually, while the front panel’s Hi/Low-switch makes it possible to use only a single power amp tube from each pair, in effect halving the combo’s output power. By using the Hi/Low-switch and the power amp switches you can choose from six power modes. The lowest alternative lets the Goldfinger Phi run at approximately nine watts (6V6, Low), while the highest power mode (6L6+6V6, Hi) will give you the combo’s full 66 watts of output.

As were talking about a valve amp here, choosing between pairs (or single) power amp tubes doesn’t only have a bearing on the 54’s power rating, but it also affects the amp’s behaviour, especially when it comes to clean headroom and power amp compression (sag). You need to find the “right” tube and Hi/Low-switch mix for your own, personal tone.

The Gain knob is used to set the preamp gain, while Loudness is what Bogner calls their master volume controls. There are two signal boosts implemented in the Goldfinger Phi’s preamp, but their are placed at different points in the signal chain, which makes them work and sound differently. The adjustable Boost booster is placed in front of the Gain control, even making it possible to achieve some distortion, if necessary. Solo, in turn, is a fixed booster that sits right at the end of the preamp.

Bogner’s GF 54 Phi offers you two different EQ-configurations. You can choose from Bogner’s own, modern tone stack or switch to a vintage Baxandall EQ. Originally, the Baxandall circuit was designed for Hi-Fi equipment, but it found its way into some guitar amps from the 1950s and 60s. Due to the way a Bax EQ works, there’s a perceivable drop in volume when you switch over without readjusting the EQ controls.

The EQ-section is complemented by a separate Presence control, as well as two Expand-switches (one adding bottom end, the other treble).

It may come as a shock to some valve purists, but Reinhold Bogner has deliberately chosen a digital reverb unit for his 54 Phi. In his view this digital unit offers more depth of sound and lushness than the type of spring tray he’d be able to fit into the 54 Phi combo. The reverb type features a little bit of chorus-style modulation to liven things up even further.

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – back panel

I’ve moaned about this before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not the biggest fan of Bogner’s downward-facing back panels. Unless you know the exact position of all connectors and switches by heart, you are forced to lie on your back to make sense of it all.

Be that as it may, the Bogner Goldfinger 54 Phi’s back panel gives you a wide array of different options for getting the most from your combo.

****

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – teaser 2

I was only given a weekend to test Bogner’s new baby, which is why I didn’t have enough time to record more audio demos. I still managed to come up with two, stylistically rather different demo songs.

The first track was recorded with the 54 Phi combo running in in 9 watts power mode, which made it possible to achieve overdriven sounds without the aid of pedals, simply by running hot humbucking pickups into the Goldfinger. The lead guitar is a Gibson Les Paul Junior with the tone knob turned down halfway, while all backwards guitar tracks were played on a Gibson Melody Maker SG. I recorded the combo (in both demo songs) with a Shure SM57:

The second demo track was recorded with the Bogner running at full tilt (66 W), and with a Boss SD-1 overdrive and a Joyo JF-37 chorus pedal in front of the combo. All guitar parts are played on a Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid guitar with a neck humbucker and a Telecaster-type single coil in the bridge position:

****

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – front angle

Bogner’s Goldfinger 54 Phi is a prime example of the versatility and quality of sound a well-designed, single-channel valve amp can offer.

This is a combo for the sound aesthete, who wants to build a strong foundation for his or her sound, regardless of whether this tone comes from just the fingers or a range of effect pedals.

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54 – logo

****

Bogner Goldfinger Phi 54

3.091 €

Finnish distributor: Musamaailma

Pros:

+ workmanship

+ versatile preamp

+ switchable power amp configuration

+ sound

Save

Review: Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid, Liekki 290-T Classic & 57HM-H Master

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – headstock

This spring is bringing exciting news from Flaxwood Guitars – the Finnish maker has given its model line-up a thorough overhaul.

One important change sees Flaxwood rearranging their models into three distinct series:

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – flying

The (newly-expanded) Hybrid Series encompasses Fender-inspired electric guitars, which combine Flaxwood’s famous injection-moulded WFC-necks (Wood Fibre Composite) with wooden bodies.

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – flying

Flaxwood’s bona fide classics – such as the Äijä, Laine or Rautia models – have now been grouped into the aptly-named Classic Series.

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – flying

The brand-new Master Series is offering the guitarist “factory customised” Flaxwood guitars. These models have received special finishes and/or hardware, in addition to pickup choices that differ from similar Classic Series instruments.

For this review we received one guitar from each series – the MTQ Hybrid (current RRP in Finland: 1.750 €), the Liekki 290-T Classic (current RRP in Finland: 2.054 €) and the 57HM-H Master (current RRP in Finland: 2.707 €).

****

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – beauty shot 1

The Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid is the company’s beautiful take on the Telecaster Custom theme, with its wood-composite Flaxwood-neck and a swamp ash body with a bound flame maple top.

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – back beauty

The MTQ’s gorgeous Honeyburst finish shows off some luscious wood grain.

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – Gotoh HAP tuners

The golden machine heads on the MTQ Hybrid are locking Gotoh H.A.P. units with height-adjustable tuning posts.

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – bridge

The bridge is a traditional Tele-ashtray design, but it comes updated with six bridge saddles for perfect intonation and action adjustment.

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – pickups

The MTQ’s pickups are made by Seymour Duncan:

The neck unit is a (PAF-style) Antiquity Humbucker, while the bridge single coil is a chunky STL-1B.

****

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – beauty shot 1

The Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic (liekki means flame in Finnish) is without doubt one of the best-known guitars from this Finnish maker. This slender and gracious f-holed beauty is offered in several cool finishes.

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – back beauty

The Liekki 290-T Classic is an all Flaxwood-WFC instrument. This injection-moulded material – which was developed in co-operation with the University of Eastern Finland – is eco-friendly and fully recyclable.

The Flaxwood body is partially hollow, and capped from the back with a resonating back plate.

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – neck joint

Flaxwood Guitars’ proprietary 3D neck joint is very smooth.

As you can see from this picture, newer Flaxwood instruments now sport a matte black neck, instead of the original, structured look of the early Flaxwood necks.

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – headstock

The company uses it’s own compensated X-Tune Nut on all Classic and Master Series models. The X-Tune Nut will make open chords ring out much more in tune than most traditional guitars.

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – vibrato

The Liekki’s 290-T-version comes equipped with Schaller’s ingenious LP Tremolo vibrato bridge.

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – pickups

Two Seymour Duncan P-90-type pickups (SP90-1 Vintage Soapbar) have been installed on the Liekki Classic.

****

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – beauty shot 2

Flaxwood’s brand-new 57HM-H Master is a Metal guitarist’s dream machine.

The 57HM-H comes with a suitably moody matte black finish with golden pinstripes, Schaller Security Locks, and a pair of active EMG pickups.

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – back beauty

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – body cavity

The 57HM-H Master’s battery compartment has been installed into the instrument’s back plate.

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – headstock

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – bridge

The Gotoh hardware – locking tuners and a tune-o-matic bridge plus stopbar – has been finished in black chrome.

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – pickups

EMG’s 57/66-set comprises a pair of alnico-loaded humbuckers, and promises to deliver an intriguing combination of vintage warmth with active punch and clarity.

****

Even though Flaxwood Guitars’ brand philosophy is based on the ultra-modern use of injection-moulded WFC-composite material, there is still a surprising amount of traditional handicraft that goes into the making of each and every Flaxwood model. There isn’t a machine in existence that will churn out finished instruments from raw materials, you do still need lots of guitar-making skills to build a top notch instrument.

You can see and feel the touch of a craftsman when you pick up a Flaxwood guitar. Our review trio displayed excellent workmanship, and all guitars came with a top grade set-up.

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – body beauty 2

Any old Telecaster lover will feel right at home with the Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid, because the most important design elements – like the vintage bridge or the control positioning – have been carried over from the classic to this new model.

The neck profile is slim and slightly oval, with a mere whiff of a V-neck’s spine along its back. The playing feel is fast, effortless and precise.

The tone of the Flaxwood MTQ doesn’t come as a surprise – this model offers an array of very tasty Tele-style sounds!

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – body beauty 1

****

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – body beauty 2

Flaxwood’s Liekki 290-T Classic is a lightweight and compact instrument that balances perfectly on a strap.

In addition to the three-way pickup switch, most Flaxwood models traditionally feature a single master volume control and two tone controls (one per pickup).

I can’t understand why Schaller’s excellent LP Tremolo isn’t used on more guitars as a standard feature. I can only applaud Flaxwood for featuring the LP Tremolo on several of their models!

The Seymour Duncan P-90s give you a wide range of different tones on the Liekki, from jazzy warmth all the way to gritty Rock.

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – body beauty 1

****

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – body beauty 1

The Flaxwood 57HM-H is a fantastic addition to the company’s line-up in my opinion:

The playing feel of the 57HM-H is quite similar to the Liekki model, but the fatter frets and stable, non-trem bridge will be just the ticket for fans of detuned high-gain riffage.

The EMG 57/66-set is a great update on the US-maker’s original active humbucker recipe. There’s more than enough power and punch on tap, but you could never call these active humbuckers cold, clinical or sterile!

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – body beauty 1

****

Flaxwood MTQ Hybrid – beauty shot 2

Flaxwood Liekki 290-T Classic – beauty shot 2

It’s really great to see Flaxwood Guitars expanding their line-up further!

In my view the new three-tiered model range makes a lot of sense, making it easier to find the right Flaxwood for any player.

The Liekki 290-T Classic has become a genuine classic over the years, while the brand-new MTQ Hybrid and 57HM-H models further widen Flaxwood’s appeal to include both traditional and modern guitarists. A test drive is highly recommended!

Flaxwood 57HM-H Master – beauty shot 1

****
Flaxwood Guitars

MTQ Hybrid – 1.750 € (comes with a gig bag)

Liekki 290-T Classic – 2.045 € (comes with a case)

57HM-H Master – 2.707 € (comes with a case)

Pros:

+ made in Finland

+ workmanship

+ quality parts and pickups

+ playability

+ sound

Save

Review: Vox AV15

Vox AV15 – logo

Vox Amplification’s new AV-series comprises three affordable guitar combos. The Vox AV15, AV30 and AV60 – named according to their power amp wattage – are modelling valve hybrid amplifiers that combine the best elements of solid state and tube technology.

****

****

Vox AV15 – front view new

KitarablogiDotCom took the smallest of the trio, the Vox AV15 (street price in Finland approx. 269 €) for a spin.

The AV15 is a compact little combo (height: 37 cm, width: 45 cm, depth: 23 cm), weighing in at just below eight kilos.

AV15 cabinet construction

The combo’s cabinet has taken a big leaf out of the book of hi-fi speaker construction. Normally a guitar cab is meant to add its own bit of tonal modification into the mix, but when dealing with a modelling amplifier meant to imitate a number of different amp and speaker configurations, the more linear frequency response of a bass reflex cabinet is highly desirable.

Vox AV15 – back angle

Vox AV15 – back panel

The only thing you’ll find on the Vox AV15’s back panel is the connector for the amp’s external power supply unit (12 VDC, included).

****

Vox AV15 – control panel 2 LRG

The Preamp Circuit-switch lets you select one of the eight amp models offered by the Vox. The selection takes you from Fender Twin-style cleans, and Vox- and Marshall-type crunch, all the way to Rectifier-like high gain tones.

You can fine-tune your tone using the three-band EQ section. The AV15 also comes equipped with an effects section made up of three different effects – reverb, delay and chorus (called modulation on the front panel). You are free to choose any or all of the effects. Each effect allows you to control a second parameter (in addition to the effect level) by keeping the respective effect’s effect button depressed while turning the Effects-control. You can change the modulation speed of the chorus, the delay time for the delay effect, and the length of the reverb tail of the reverb effect. The effects are the only digital bits in the AV-combo’s architecture, the rest of the Vox’ signal path – including the amp modelling – is kept all-analogue.

Here are three short clips illustrating the AV15’s effects (Gibson Les Paul Junior, Shure SM57):

CHORUS (with a little added reverb)

DELAY

REVERB

It may seem a bit unusual, but the AV15 features three different “volume controls”, which all have a different bearing on the combo’s sound:

The Gain-knob sets the signal level before the signal is sent to the preamp’s valve stage. Low Gain settings result in a clean sound, while higher Gain settings will lead to preamp break-up and (depending on the chosen amp model) distortion. The Volume-control adjusts the signal level right in front of the power amp’s tube stage. Lower Volume settings will give you a clean and dynamic signal, while higher settings will bring in some power amp compression and saturation (= distortion). The last volume knob – called Power Level on the Vox AV15 – determines the final volume level in your room (or in your headphones).

Vox AV15 – tube and switches LRG

While its bigger siblings – the AV30 and the AV60 – feature two valves in their architecture (one for the preamp, one for the power amp), the smaller Vox AV15 makes do with just a single tube for both pre- and power amp duties. This is made possible by the way the good-old 12AX7-valve is constructed, offering you two triodes in one single tube. This means, you can split this valve type to perform two jobs simultaneously.

This Vox’ Valve Stage-section features four small slider switches that you can use to modify the way the two valve stages react and sound:

The Pre Amp side of things sports a Bright-switch for adding sparkle to your top end, as well as a Fat-switch that will boost the bass response.

The switches labelled “Power Amp” really do make a significant difference to this combo’s “feel”. The Bias- and Reactor-switches let you select how much the power amp’s tube section is “pushed” and how much power amp compression will be audible.

Listen to these two sound clips – clean and crunch – to get an idea of how the Valve Stage switches change the combo’s sound (Gibson Les Paul Junior, Shure SM57). Both clips start with all the switches in the left position. Then I put one switch after the other to its right position (starting with the Bright-switch, and continuing left to right):

Vox AV15 – front angle 2

****

Vox AV15 – front angle 3

Snobbism seems to be the fashion of the day – we’ve got cork sniffers, we’ve got vinyl snobs, and we’ve got valve amp anoraks.

But in our heart of hearts, most of us “old farts” would have been more than happy, if we would have had such a great-sounding and versatile amp as the Vox AV15 when we started playing in the 1970s and 80s! The AV15 really wins you over with its array of inspiring tones and its affordable price tag.

The Vox AV15 is a real amp, not a plastic toy sucking all of the sheer joy of playing out of an eager novice. Vox AV-series hybrid combos can also serve more advanced players as fun living room amps, they can be used for backstage warm-up, and they also make a good figure as home studio amps (as you can hear in the demo songs).

BLUES demo

Rhythm guitars: Fender Telecaster (left channel) & Epiphone Casino (right channel)

Lead guitar: Fender Stratocaster

ROCK demo

Rhythm guitars: Fender Telecaster (left channel) & Gibson Les Paul Junior (right channel)

Lead guitar: Gibson Melody Maker SG

METAL demo

Rhythm guitars: Gibson Melody Maker SG (left channel) & Fender Stratocaster (right channel)

Lead guitar: Hamer USA Studio Custom

****

Vox AV15 – front angle 4

In my opinion Vox Amplification’s new AV15 is a fine choice as a practice amp, for guitar teachers, or for school bands. The affordable Vox AV15 is easy to use and sounds great.

****

Vox AV15

Finnish street price approx. 269 €

Finnish distributor: EM Nordic

A big “thank you” goes to DLX Music Helsinki for the loan of the review amp!

Pros:

+ compact

+ lightweight

+ versatile

+ Valve Stage-section

+ sound

+ value-for-money

Review: Tanglewood Sundance Historic TW40O-AN-E + TW40D-AN-E

Tanglewood TW40O + TW40D – ad

This review could also carry the headline: “Tanglewood brings vintage to the masses”. Tanglewood’s Sundance Historic guitars have been designed to give you plenty of that “pre-war” charm at very player-friendly prices. Take the two models on review, for example, which have price tags well below 700 Euros, despite even coming with on-board Fishman pickups and preamps!

The TW40O-AN-E and the TW40D-AN-E are both quite reminiscent of certain legendary Martin-models from the 1930s and 40s.

****

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – full front

The Tanglewood TW40O–AN-E (current price in Finland 673 €) is the Sundance Historic series’ version of a Martin OM-18 model – the first Martin steel-string acoustic to feature a neck joint at the 14th fret when it was introduced in the Thirties.

Tanglewood TW40D-AN-E – full front

Tanglewood’s TW40D-AN-E (673 €) is a tip of the hat to Martin’s D-18, which is the most copied, most referenced steel-string of all time. Even Gibson went out and bought a Martin in 1960, so they could use it to reverse engineer their own Hummingbird and Dove models.

Both of these models can also be had without the pickup system for 598 Euros each.

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – back beauty

The necks of the TW40O and the TW40D have been built in the traditional fashion employed on classical guitars:

The neck is a one-piece mahogany affair – headstock and all – save for a separate, glued-on neck heel.

Tanglewood TW40D-AN-E – body beauty 2

The bodies are crafted using solid spruce tops and laminated mahogany rims and backs.

The “AN” in the model designation hints at the beautiful Antique Natural finish of these Historic Series instruments.

Tanglewood TW40D-AN-E – headstock

The nut is genuine bovine bone.

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – tuners

The machine heads are very decent copies of 1930s open-geared Grovers. They do a great job of keeping the tuning stable, but their action is a little bit stiffer than what you’re used to with modern die-cast tuners.

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – fretboard

The slender and small frets fit the vintage brief of the TW40O and TW40D to a tee.

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – bridge

Here’s a good example of how different two pieces of rosewood can look:

The reviewed TW40O-AN-E’s bridge is a nicely-grained light example…

Tanglewood TW40D-AN-E – bridge

…while the dreadnought carries a much darker counterpart.

The compensated bridge saddle is genuine bone on both instruments.

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – Fishman Sonitone

Both Sundance Historics have been equipped with a Fishman Sonitone pickup and preamp.

The piezo transducer sits beneath the bridge saddle and feeds its signal to the preamp – featuring master volume and master tone controls – that has been glued to the underside of the soundhole’s bass side edge. The Sonitone is powered by a 9 V battery, which is stowed away in its own pouch that is velcro’d to the neck block. The downside is that changing the battery is a much more involved affair than with a quick change battery compartment, but the advantage of this Fishman system is that it doesn’t spoil the guitar’s looks.

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – output

Both Tanglewoods sport an end pin output jack.

****

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – body beauty 2

The care that has quite obviously gone into building these two Tanglewood Sundance Historic guitars really puts a smile on your face. The workmanship is clean and precise, and both instruments look more expensive than they really are.

Even though both guitars are from the 500-800 Euro price bracket, Tanglewood have gone the extra mile to match the wood grain on the sides of both guitars. The tops of the shoulders look bookmatched.

The vintage brief extends to more than simple cosmetics on the TW40O-AN-E:

Vintage OM-guitars (OM stands for Orchestra Model) are known for their slightly wider necks with soft V-profiles. You will also often find a slightly wider string spacing at the bridge, which makes fingerstyle playing much easier.

Tanglewood has used these vintage specifications for their Sundance Historic OM:

The neck has a very nice, soft V-profile, with a width at the top nut of 46 mm. The low E to top e spacing at the bridge is a very comfy 58 mm, which is good news for fingerpickers, working equally well with a plectrum.

The TW40O plays like a dream with a nice set-up on our review sample (string height at the 12th fret: bass-E – 2.1 mm/treble-e – 1.9 mm).

There a lot of debate about the pros and cons of solid backs in acoustic guitars. Some claim that a solid back is almost as important as a solid top in a steel-string acoustic, while others point to the use of laminated backs in the legendary Selmer-Maccaferri guitars (and newer exponents of the Gypsy Jazz genre) or to the great sound of arched-back vintage Guilds.

My own position in this debate is that most (but not all) guitars with laminated backs a bit quieter and drier-sounding than their all-solid brethren. Nevertheless, I feel that a solid top and an overall well-crafted instrument are much more important to the sound as a whole.

An OM-sized steel-string will have a “sweeter”, less bass-heavy tone than a Dreadnought of similar build, which is due in large part to its smaller and differently-shaped body.

Tanglewood’s TW40O has the trademark OM-sound – the guitar’s voice is open and well-balanced, with a projection akin to that of a Dreadnought, and it is very easy to record and place in a mix.

These two clips have been recorded with a pair of Shure SM57 microphones:

Fishman’s Sonitone system is a decent and easy-to-use choice to amplify your guitar on stage with the least amount of hassle:

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – soundhole rosette

****

Tanglewood TW40D-AN-E – body beauty 1

The original aims in designing the Dreadnought were the need for more volume and a fatter bass register. At first Martin’s D-models were aimed squarely at the “singing cowboys”, which were so popular in the US in the 1930s and 40s. These musicians, such as Gene Autry or Hank Williams, needed loud guitars that would build a strong foundation for their vocals. This is what started the phenomenal success of the D-model, making it fairly ubiquitous in most genres of music.

Tanglewood’s TW40D-AN-E is a well-made homage to a 1930s-style D-18, both in terms of looks and sound.

The TW40D’s neck is virtually identical to the one on the TW40O – a nice soft-V affair, which is slightly wider and bigger than the neck on many contemporary steel-strings.

The craftsmanship displayed on this D is of the same high standard as on the reviewed OM, really leaving nothing to be desired in terms of the TW40D’s playability and set-up (bass-E: 2.2 mm/top-e: 1.7 mm).

We all know how a Dreadnought should sound: a big bottom end, coupled with a warm mid-range and chiming treble.

The Tanglewood TW40D doesn’t disappoint:

Fishman’s Sonitone system also works very well in the context of the TW40D-AN-E-model:

Tanglewood TW40D-AN-E – soundhole rosette 2

****

Tanglewood TW40O-AN-E – beauty shot 1

In my opinion Tanglewood’s TW40O-AN-E and TW40D-AN-E really do offer something special in their price range:

Here we have a pair of steel-string acoustics at player-friendly prices, which take the terms “vintage” and “historic” above and beyond mere cosmetics. Thanks to the “vintage correct” neck dimensions and neck profiles of these two instruments, and the wider string spacing, genuinely vintage-feeling guitars become available without custom shop price tags.

These are well-made, great-sounding guitars. Too bad I have to give them back…

Tanglewood TW40D-AN-E – beauty shot 1

****

Tanglewood Sundance Historic

TW40O-AN-E – 673 €

TW40D-AN-E – 673 €

Finnish distributor: Musamaailma

****
Pros:

+ value-for-money

+ workmanship

+ authentic neck profile

+ playability

+ Fishman pickup and preamp

+ sound

Review: Gretsch Streamliner G2420T Hollow Body

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – label

Gretsch Guitars’ brand new Streamliner series offers access to the legendary brand name at a very affordable price point.

At the moment, the new range includes three different guitar models:

The G2622 Streamliner Center Block (also available left handed) is a centre block-equipped version of a Sixties double cutaway Country Gentleman, while the G2655 Streamliner Center Block offers you similar looks in a more compact package. The G2420 Streamliner Hollow Body, for its part, is a full-blown, big-bodied archtop guitar in a similar vein to Gretsch’s legendary 6120.

All three guitars are also available as T-versions with a Bigsby Lightning Series vibrato. The Streamliner Series is handmade in Indonesia.

****

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – full front from PS LRG

The Gretsch Streamliner G2420T Hollow Body (street price in Finland approx. 560 €) is a very foxy looking guitar, despite its quite affordable pedigree.

The G2420T can be had in see-though red or gold metallic, while the standard model (equipped with a lyre-style tailpiece) comes in brown sunburst only.

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – back beauty

The G2420T’s full-depth body is made from steam-pressed laminated maple. The top is stiffened by Gretsch’s traditional parallel bracing.

The nato (an Asian wood species somewhat similar to mahogany) neck is glued into the body.

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – headstock

There’s plenty of binding on the Streamliner Hollow Body – in addition to the multiple binding on the body the guitar also sports a bound fretboard and even a bound headstock.

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – tuners

This Gretsch comes equipped with a very decent set of sealed tuning machines.

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – fretboard

The vintage-sized frets have been neatly seated. The G2420T features large rectangular position markers made from pearloid.

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – Bigsby B60

Bigsby’s mid-priced Lightning Series vibratos are produced in the Far East to exacting standards. The Bigsby B60 has been specifically designed for use with large-bodied archtops, such as the Gretsch G2420T.

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – Adjustomatic bridge

This Streamliner’s Adjusto-matic bridge may seem to be held in place simply by string pressure, but there’s more to the bridge than meets the eye. The rosewood base is “secured”, which means reverse pinned. The bridge posts continue all the way through the rosewood base and into two holes in the guitar’s top, which keeps the whole bridge in the correct place.

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – Broad'Tron pickups

The biggest difference between the Streamliner G2420T and similar models in Gretsch’s Electromatic- and Pro-ranges can be found in the new guitar’s pickups:

Depending on the “era”, or an artists wishes, a Pro Series Model G6120 will either come with a pair of DeArmond single coils, Gretsch’s own Filter’Tron humbuckers or similar TV Jones pickups. Recent Electromatic G5420’s are now equipped with Gretsch’s new Black Top Filter’Trons, which are licensed Far Eastern copies of the original pickups.

All new Streamliners sport a pair of Broad’Tron pickups. Broad’Trons are full-sized humbuckers designed to offer a tone somewhere in-between the twang and bite of Filter’Trons and the lush warmth of PAF-style ‘buckers.

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – controls

The controls on the G2420T are pure Gretsch:

Below the f-hole you will find separate volume knobs for each pickup, as well as a joint master tone control. An additional master volume control is placed next to the cutaway.

****

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – body beauty 2

Let me start this section by stressing how well-made this budget-Gretsch really is! The review sample wasn’t a “review instrument”, breathed on by distributors Fender Scandinavia, instead I took the guitar straight off the wall at a local music shop (DLX Music).

The Gretsch G2420T Streamliner Hollow Body is a very cleanly put together archtop electric, and I genuinely couldn’t find anything to criticise (especially when considering the instruments pocket-friendly price). The very nice fretwork on the Streamliner is a definite plus when it comes to this guitar’s comfortable playability.

Officially Gretsch call this neck profile a “Thin U”, but I would describe it as a very comfy D shape with a slightly flattened back.

The Bigsby B60 is buttery and doesn’t throw the Hollow Body out of tune too much, if used sensibly (a word of advice: if you’re very sensitive when it comes tuning stability, a Bigsby probably isn’t right for you). Because a Bigsby B6/B60 makes do without the additional roller of other Bigsby models, this vibrato is more sensitive and immediate in use (which is a good thing in my view). You get the all the Bigsby shine and shimmer with less “work”.

Played acoustically, the Streamliner Hollow Body sounds just like the laminated-body archtop it is – open and dry with a strong focus on mid-range frequencies.

I feel that Gretsch’s plan of taking its new Streamliners closer towards the mainstream really seems to hit the mark. The Broad’Trons may not give you the traditional clucky, chicken picking, bright and sparkly sound of a set of Filter’Trons, but there’s still enough presence and treble left in the new pickups’ tone for a gretsch-y sound.

Thanks to the new pickups’ broader tone the Gretsch G2420T also works well for Jazz, apart from the usual Country and Rock (-abilly) genres. This clip starts with the neck pickup:

The Streamliner Hollow Body also sounds great with a light amount of crunch. There’s a nice balance between the low end and the treble in the G2420T’s sound, coupled with the dry delivery so typical of big box archtops.

You should be aware, though, that high gain settings and/or very high volume levels will result in howling feedback sooner or later. This isn’t really a fault, but rather a normal feature of this type of instrument, and the Streamliner Hollow Body isn’t any more “problematic” than other guitars of this type.

This sound clip, too, has been recorded with Blackstar HT-1R valve combo:

Here’s the demo track off the Youtube video, whose guitar tracks were recorded using Apple Garageband’s own amp plug-ins. The lead guitar uses the bridge pickup, while the rhythm parts have been recorded using both pickups (left channel) and the neck pickup (right channel), respectively:

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – body beauty 1c

****

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T – beauty shot

In my opinion the Gretsch Streamliner G2420T Hollow Body is one of the best full-size archtops in this price range – possibly even the best! This is a surprisingly well-made instrument that punches far above its “weight”.

If you’re looking for the “genuine Gretsch Sound”, warts-and-all, I would point you to the (much pricier) Electromatic Series and its Filter’Tron pickups.

One of the Streamliner Series’ main objectives, though, is to broaden and widen the appeal of these guitars, and take the Gretsch name closer to the mainstream. I feel Gretsch have succeeded very well in this endeavour!

****

Gretsch Streamliner G2420T Hollow Body

street price 560 €

Contact: Gretsch Guitars

A very warm “thank you” to the guys at DLX Music Helsinki for supplying the review guitar!

Pros:

+ value for money

+ workmanship

+ fretwork

+ secured bridge

+ Bigsby works great

+ sound