Author Archives: martinberka

Review: Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster

Hendrix Ad

Jimi Hendrix’ simply doesn’t seem to wane, even though the genial guitar hero himself died in London in 1970 at 27 years of age. There’s still so much interest in Hendrix’ music that he continues to rank among the top ten of best-earning dead celebrities in Forbes magazine.

The Fender Stratocaster was the master’s favourite instrument, so it’s not really surprising that the man has been honoured with a signature model by Fender last year. This guitar is now also available in Finland.

The new Made-in-Mexico Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster isn’t the first Hendrix model that Fender has released:

In 1980 a small, semiofficial run of Hendrix Strats was made, sporting a white body and a left-handed neck with a large headstock. Fender’s Custom Shop came out with 100 Monterey Stratocasters, which where close copies of the guitar instrument played and burned at the 1967 festival. It was a right-handed Stratocaster with a small headstock and a hand-painted body, set up for left-handed playing. Along with the guitar the Monterey Set also included a flight case and a leather gig bag. In the same year (1997) Fender USA started to produce the Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Strat. The Voodoo Strat was in fact a a left-handed (!) copy of Hendrix’ (right-handed) Woodstock Stratocaster, with the headstock decals turned into mirror images, so that you would look (a bit) like Hendrix, whenever you stepped in front of a mirror.Β Β  πŸ˜€

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Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – full front

The brand-new Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster (approx. 950 € in Finland) also has some features resembling the guitar Hendrix used at the Woodstock festival:

The right-handed alder body is finished either in black or in white, while the neck is a large headstock-carrying, left-handed, all-maple affair.

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – headstock

The headstock carries the so-called transition logo from the mid-Sixties, which was much larger than the Fifties’ spaghetti logo, but still gold coloured. By the end of the Sixties the logo was changed to black and the model name was written in large, bold lettering – that would be called the the CBS logo.

Modern improvements on the Hendrix Strat include truss rod access from the headstock side, as well as a flatter, more bend-friendly fretboard radius of 9.5 inches.

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – tuners

The headstock’s flip side displays Hendrix’ signature, and a very decent set of Kluson copies.

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – neck plate

The neck joint has been kept very traditional, but for the Authentic Hendrix-logo on the neck plate.

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – pickups

The most important differences between the Hendrix model and a bog standard Strat can be found in the pickup department:

The Mexican signature guitar comes equipped with a pukka set of American Vintage ’65 Gray-Bottom Fender-pickups, which have been installed into this guitar, as if this were a left-handed model turned over. Both the neck and middle pickup have been flipped over by 180 degrees, while the bridge pickup has been flipped over first, before being installed at a reverse angle. Usually the bridge pickup is placed so that its bass side is closer to the neck with the treble side being closer to the bridge. On the Hendrix Strat the bridge pickup’s bass side is closer to the bridge and the treble side closer to the neck.

This reverse installation means that the magnet stagger is “wrong”, changing slightly the balance between the strings in terms of output. Furthermore, the bridge pickup will give you a slightly changed range of overtones, due to its reverse angle.

We’ll find out in the listening test, whether these changes really make any discernible difference.

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – controls

The controls follow the vintage recipe – master volume, neck tone, middle tone – while the pickup selector on the Hendrix model is a modern five-way unit.

The American Vintage ’65 pickup set is true to the original specs and does not feature a reverse-wound/reverse-polarity middle pickup for hum-cancelling in positions two and four, like many updated Strats!

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – vibrato

Fender’s vintage vibrato bridge (the “Sychronized Tremolo”) sports bent steel saddles.

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Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – beauty shot 1

Fender Strats are well-known for their excellent ergonomic properties and the Hendrix signature model stays true to this heritage.

Our review instrument was of comfortable moderate weight. The neck’s mid-Sixties C-profile feels great, thanks to not being overly chunky.

The guitar arrived strung with a set of 010s and tuned to E-flat, but the setup wasn’t quite spot-on. The vibrato bridge was tipped a little too steeply, and the intonation was a bit off on the bass strings. But it only took me a couple of minutes (and the correct pair of screwdrivers) to get this Strat shipshape. The result was a great-playing and great-sounding guitar (string height at 12th fret: bottom-E: 2.2 mm/high-e: 1.7 mm).

The flatter-than-vintage fretboard radius really helps to make the Hendrix Strat a very bend-friendly guitar, while also minimising the possibility of fret choke during large-interval bends.

I must admit that I’m not quite sure, whether I really hear much of a difference in the amplified sound of the reversed pickups, though.

Jimi’s guitar tech and effects guru, Roger Mayer, has often stated that Hendrix was satisfied with the sound of his (right-handed) Strats right off the peg. According to Mayer, the only “customisation” the pair ever did on newly bought guitars, was to take off the neck and remove all possible finish residue inside the neck pockets to improve the stability of the neck joints. Hendrix’ effects, on the other hand, were a regular target for fine-adjustment and electronic customisation.

Anyway, the new Fender Jimi Hendrix signature guitar sounds just like a great Strat should. Here’s a clean clip first:

Here’s an example of the Hendrix Strat’s distorted tone:

I was eager to start recording with the Fender Hendrix model. The first demo track puts the signature Strat into a slightly more contemporary context. The signal chain for this track was: Fender Hendrix Stratocaster –> Electro-Harmonix Germanium 4 Big Muff Pi –> Morley M2 Wah/Volume –> Blackstar HT-1R:

Next I recorded a demo track with a more Hendrix-like arrangement. The signal path was: Hendrix Stratocaster –> Morley M2 Wah/Volume –> Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Pi –> Blackstar HT-1R. The Uni-Vibe style sound at the end of the track was achieved with a phaser plug-in during mixdown:

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – back beauty

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Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – body beauty 2

Hendrix’ Live Sound

Even though Jimi Hendrix was known for his avant-garde use of effects in the studio – buoyed by the creativity of his sound engineer Eddie Kramer – his signal chain on stage was surprisingly straightforward. Here’s a short and basic rundown of Hendrix’ live rig.

1. Marshall Model 1959 “Plexi” stack
Jimi Hendrix used what we now call a vintage-type, non-master volume amplifier stack, which wasn’t especially high-gain by today’s standards. Usually Hendrix had two 100 Watt Marshall-stacks running in parallel, which meant things got very loud. His Strats would cause his amp to break up, but the type of distortion was closer to what we’d now call a 60s Blues sound than to 70s Metal, and far removed from the high-gain saturation of our time.

I simulated this type of amp response by turning my Blackstar HT-1R’s gain control up to get the clean channel to overdrive.

2. Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face

In my view, the fuzz pedal is the most important ingredient in Jimi’s sound, because it adds a lot of oomph, creamy compression, and aggression to proceedings.

A British importer of musical equipment, a man called Ivor Arbiter, came up with the Fuzz Face in 1966, because he wanted to have a fuzz pedal in his product range. He came up with a chunky package by having the Fuzz Face circuit built into the base of a 60s microphone stand. The round enclosure, coupled with the unit’s two controls and single footswitch, looked like a smiley face, which is where the pedal got its name from.

Fuzz Faces are built by the Jim Dunlop company these days. There are also cheap alternatives available, from companies such as Mooer or Rowin. I’m using an Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Pi for the demo tracks:

3. Vox Wah-Wah

Hendrix generally used his Vox Wah in front of his Fuzz Face, but keeping it behind the fuzz will also result in some cool tones. Great wah-pedals can also be head from Boss, Mission Engineering or Jim Dunlop.

I’ve used my Morley M2 Wah/Volume pedal in front of the Big Muff Pi:

4. Octavia +Uni-Vibe

Roger Mayer’s Octavia-pedal was sometimes used as an additional ingredient in Jimi’s live sound. This strange-sounding effect combines distortion with an artificial upper octave and some slight ring-modulation. Hendrix also used a Uni-Vibe effect, which was one of the first pedals that tried to create a Leslie-like sound in a compact format.Β 

A genuine Octavia-pedal is only made by Roger Mayer, but Joyo’s inexpensive JF-12 Voodoo Octave stomp box sets you off in a very similar direction.

Korg has introduced the NuVibe, which is a pukka re-imagination of the original Uni-Vibe-pedal. Voodoo Lab’s Micro Vibe is a high-quality proposition at a fair price.

You can also simulate Uni-Vibe-style tones by using a suitable phaser. The Boss PH-3 is a modern and versatile phaser. If you want something even more affordable, you could check out Mooer’s range of effects.

This clip uses a combination of two phaser plug-ins in my audio sequencer:

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – body beauty 1

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Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – beauty shot 2

If you want to go all the way to “become Hendrix”, you will need to buy a left-handed Stratocaster and turn it into a right-handed instrument. The result will be authentic, but also much less comfortable than a regular Strat, because the controls are all in the wrong place.

Fender’s new Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster will give you the (very slight) difference a reversed headstock brings to the playing feel, as well as the (very slight) tonal differences of the reversed pickups, while keeping all of the Stratocaster’s great ergonomics intact.

Fender’s Hendrix model is a fine Strat, which you can use for all types of music. Still, it’s the “Hendrix-thing” this guitar does the best!

If I could only have the maestro’s long fingers and musical imagination…

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Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster

Price approx. 950 €

Contact: Fender

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

Pros:

+ musician-friendly price tag

+ workmanship

+ American Vintage pickups

+ playability

+ sound

Cons:

– factory setup

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster – flying

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Review: Vox AC10C1

Vox AC10C1 – with guitar 1

The new Vox AC10C1 combo amp nicely bridges the gap between the Custom Series’ AC4C1 four-watter and the 15-watt AC15C1.

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Vox AC10C1 – full front

The Vox AC10C1 (street price in Finland approx. 520 €) isn’t a copy or reissue of any of the AC10 versions from the 1950s or 60s, but rather a modern reinterpretation of the company’s Top Boost-theme in a more compact guise, and made in China, just like the rest of the Custom Series.

This being so, the new AC10C1 amp does away with the old version’s vibrato effect, adding instead such welcome modern features as a quality digital reverb, and separate Gain and (Master) Volume controls.

Vox AC10C1 – front angle 1

Vox’ new combo looks like a smaller version of their legendary AC30 combo, which isn’t a coincidence, I’m sure. It sports lots of black vinyl, white piping, a golden metal rail, and the famous maroon front cloth with the diamond pattern.

The AC10C1 only weighs 12 kilos, which means it’s very easy to carry by its single top handle.

As we are looking at a production line, Chinese valve amp, it would be totally unrealistic to expect hand soldered point-to-point wiring inside this combo. The AC10C1’s electronic components – tubes and all – are mounted on three PCBs. You can have a good looks at this combo’s innards in this picture.

The little Vox’ two EL84 main amplifier valves have been placed just beneath the ventilation grille on the top (next to the handle). The preamp valves – a pair of 12AX7s – get their ventilation via a small slot at the bottom end of the cabinet’s back wall.

Vox AC10C1 – control panel LRG

The control panel sports the classic Vox chicken head knobs.

In addition to Gain and Volume, you will find a two-band EQ section, and the reverb control.

Vox AC10C1 – full back

In practical terms, the Vox AC10C1 is a closed-back combo, despite the small opening for preamp tube ventilation.

A ten-inch Celestion VX10 has been chosen as the combo’s sole speaker.

Vox AC10C1 – back panel

In the EU the new combo is sold with an Eco-feature. When the Eco-switch is set to “on”, the AC10C1 will power off automatically if the amp isn’t played for two hours.

The AC10C1 can be connected to an external speaker cabinet, as long as the load is kept to 16 Ohms.

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Vox AC10C1 – with guitar 2

Let me say something about the Vox AC10C1’s volume first:

This little amp is quite the belter for a combo rated at only 10 Watts! Yes, it does have a master volume control, but I still wouldn’t recommend using this Vox as a living-room amp in an apartment block. The Volume control really has to be set to 10 o’clock, or higher, to make this baby come to life.

The basic character of this Vox combo is rather bright and bitey – I had to take the Treble knob down to below 10 o’clock to find the sounds that I like.

This AC10C1 doesn’t have oodles of clean headroom, still there are some very nice clean tones to be had in the first third of the Gain control’s range, when you use Fender-type single coil pickups (Fender Stratocaster; amp gain at 10 o’clock):

Many valve amp snobs will view a digital reverb circuit as a big no-no, but in my view, the AC10C1’s reverb is one of the very best I’ve ever heard in an amp in this price range. The reverb is a digital version of a spring tank, and has a charming sense of depth. At higher settings you can even get some “spring splash” by attacking the strings with gusto:

Due to its higher output a P-90-type pickup will require you to adjust the volume knob(s) on the guitar, if you want to achieve genuinely clean sounds. Here’s a clip of an Epiphone Casino (with GΓΆldo P-90s), with the guitar’s volumes turned about halfway down (amp gain at 9 o’clock):

Here’s the same Casino with its volume controls set to 8 (the amp settings stay untouched):

Humbuckers, too, mean you will have to turn the guitar down a bit for clean sounds, otherwise the AC10C1 will start adding some of that famous Top Boost grit. The first clip uses a Hamer USA Studio Custom with its volume controls turned down to 5 (amp gain at 9 o’clock):

Same guitar, same amp settings, but the Hamer’s volumes have been set to 7:

You could sum up the AC10C1’s distorted sounds with one word – classic! This isn’t a high gain combo by no stretch of the imagination. This Vox feels most at home with Pop-, Blues-, and Rock-sounds of the Sixties and Seventies (and their modern descendants). If you want a piece of that classic Vox Top Boost tone (think Beatles, Queen, U2), the AC10C1 has it in spades at manageable volume levels.

Stratocaster; amp gain 3 o’clock:

Casino; amp gain 1 o’clock:

Hamer; amp gain 1 o’clock:

Stratocaster; full amp gain:

Casino; full amp gain:

Hamer; full amp gain:

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Vox AC10C1 – front angle 2

In my opinion, the Vox AC10C1 is just the ticket if you’re after genuine Vox tones in a compact, easy-to-handle package.

Clean headroom isn’t to be had in abundance, but luckily this Vox combo reacts extremely well to volume changes on the guitar. The sound cleans up nicely, while the amp retains its full vigour and liveliness.

The Vox AC10C1 is loud enough for most rehearsal situations, and you might even use it in some small venues without a mike.

For studio work, too, I feel Vox’ AC10C1 has a lot to offer, because it enables you to get chunky Vox tones with much less bleed-through into other microphones, like the drum mikes.

Vox AC10C1 – logo

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Vox AC10C1

current street price in Finland approximately 520 €

Finnish distribution: EM Nordic

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

Pros:

+ value for money

+ compact size

+ reverb sound

+ amp sound

Cons:

– limited clean headroom

Review: J. Leachim Guitars S&T-Style + Royal

JLeachim S&T – beauty shot 2

Jan Merivirta’s J. Leachim Guitars is still a young company, yet it already has managed to gain a reputation among guitarists.

Kitarablogi.com has had the pleasure to test drive twoΒ  J.L.G.-models – a heavily relic’d S&T-Style, along with a brand-new addition to the lineup, the semiacoustic Royal.

J. Leachim has also started to import Mojotone pickups from the USA, recently – in addition to the Mojotone-equipped review guitars, I received three further instruments carrying Mojotone pickups to try out.

JLeachim Royal – beauty shot 2

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JLeachim S&T – full front

J. Leachim Guitars have really made a mark with their heavily relic’d guitars and basses. It’s true, you can also order a “mint” condition instrument from J.L.G., but many players have decided to go for the added mojo of a pre-worn guitar.

The J. Leachim S&T-Style (price approximately 1.600 €; includes a hard case and a custom-made leather strap) is such a mojo machine – a players solidbody electric, that combines a Stratocaster-type body with a Tele-style neck.

JLeachim S&T – headstock

JLeachim S&T – tuners

The S&T’s neck sports a relic’d satin finish, as well as a classy set of Kluson-style machine heads.

JLeachim S&T – Wilkinson vibrato

The guitar’s Wilkinson Vintage vibrato looks extremely worn, too.

This bridge is based on a vintage Fender bridge, but it features two practical improvements:

The vibrato arm is push fit with adjustable action, while the vibrato block has the string channels drilled so that they follow the octave compensation, which keeps the string pressure on the saddle uniform across all strings.

JLeachim S&T – back beauty

S&T-Style uses four vibrato springs for a very positive, muscular vibrato action that managed to stay on the right side of stiff.

JLeachim S&T – body beauty 1

The review guitar’s alder body looks like the guitar has been regularly used (and abused) on sweaty club stage for the last 50 years.

JLeachim S&T – plug receptacle

The Electrosocket jack receptacle keeps the Telecaster look, while offering much easier access for servicing and repairs that Fender’s original part.

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JLeachim Royal – full front

The J. Leachim Royal (1.600 €; includes hard case and certificate of authenticity) is a step in a new direction for J.L.G. – it’s a thinline semiacoustic guitar.

The body shape owes a lot to the venerable Telecaster, but this isn’t a straight copy, though, as it is built in an involved, multilayered fashion.

JLeachim Royal – headstock

The Royal’s one-piece bird’s eye maple neck is a true thing of beauty.

JLeachim Royal – Wilkinson tuners

The tuners are Wilkinson’s updates of vintage Kluson machines.

JLeachim Royal – bird's eye maple neck

Bird’s eye maple and abalone dots – sure looks like Custom Shop-luxury to me!

JLeachim Royal – bridge

The chunky bridge on the Royal is a quality piece of hardware, but probably not the best choice on this model. The thick base means that the bridge saddles have to adjusted quite low to achieve a comfortable action. This in turn results in the sharpish height-adjustment grub screws protruding quite some way above the top of the saddles. Shorter grub screws would make this guitar more comfortable for the plectrum hand.

JLeachim Royal – body beauty 1

The J. Leachim Royal’s body is made in the UK (in Nottingham) by a small company called Bodge Fabrications (pun intended!).

JLeachim Royal – Bodge body

The beautifully sculpted Bodge body is a layered affair made from walnut, maple, and mahogany. If you love nice woods, like I do, this body will sen shivers of delight down your spine.

JLeachim Royal – back beauty

The back of the body features a rib cage bevel for added carrying comfort.

JLeachim Royal – neck joint

The added maple block inside the neck pocket adds stiffness to the Royal’s neck joint.

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JLeachim S&T – beauty shot 1

J. Leachim’s S&T-Style is a very ergonomically sound instrument:

This guitar is lightweight, and sports a rounded 60s-style Tele neck that feels great. The fret-job is very smooth. This guitar is a fantastic player, and its vibrato works as smoothly as can be expected in a quality instrument in this price range.

JLeachim S&T – pickups

This S&T-Style came equipped with a Mojotone Rene Martinez Texas Strat pickup set. Rene Martinez was Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar technician, so it’s no wonder these pickups are specifically tailored to give you SRV-style tones.

The neck and (reverse-wound) middle pickup use Alnico III magnets for a bright sound with a sharp attack and a fantastically dynamic response. The bridge pickup is wound a little hotter and comes loaded with more powerful Alnico V magnets for a more muscular tone.

Here are two audio clips of the S&T-Style:

As a demo track I chose to record my own cover version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar solo on David Bowie’s hit China Girl (all guitar tracks have been recorded with the J.L.G S&T-Style):

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JLeachim Royal – beauty shot 1

J.L.G.’s Royal is a classy newcomer in the company’s range of models.

The Royal is all about the feel and sound of wood. This is a guitar that’s very hard to put down once you’ve picked it up. The semiacoustic body adds a charming vocal quality to this model’s acoustic tone.

JLeachim Royal – pickups

This Royal comes with a Mojotone set of humbucker-sized P-90 pickups, which offer you a range of different sounds, from Jazz all the way to gritty Rock.

The neck pickups is built around an Alnico IV magnet, while the slightly hotter bridge pickup comes with an Alnico V magnet:

Carlos Santana used a P-90-equipped Gibson SG Special at the beginning of his career (for example at Woodstock), which prompted me to record a Santana-tinged demo track with the J. Leachim Royal:

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JLeachim + Mojotone – teaser

Additionally, I got the chance to check out these three Mojotone pickup sets:

JLeachim + Mojotone – pickups 4

A J.L.G. TeleGacy loaded with Mojotone’s ’59 PAF Clone Reverse Zebra humbuckers:

Fender Adam Clayton JB + Mojotone 70s Clone JB pickups

A Fender Adam Clayton Signature Jazz Bass with a Mojotone 70s Clone JB Set.

JLeachim + Mojotone – pickups 3

A J.L.G. TeleGacy with a pair of covered Mojotone ’59 PAF Clone humbuckers. This guitar sported push/pull-switches to split the humbuckers for single coil type tones:

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JLeachim S&T – body beauty 2

Finland really is blessed with a very diverse list of homegrown guitars, and J. Leachim is definitely one company to keep on your radar.

J. Leachim’s S&T-Style will make you boogie till the cows come home, and the company’s new Royal model is a beautiful new take on the Thinline Telecaster theme.

JLeachim Royal – body beauty 2

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J. Leachim Guitars S&T-Style + Royal

S&T-Style – 1.600 €

Royal – 1.600 €

Contact: J. Leachim Guitars

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Pros:

+ designed and hand finished in Finland

+ quality of finish

+ workmanship

+ playability

+ sound

Cons:

– protruding bridge saddle screws (Royal only)

Review: Tokai Love Rock LC-107, LS-130F & LS-160

Tokai – badge

Kitarablogi’s year starts off with some really tasty guitars – three Japanese Tokai Love Rock models. Handcrafted Love Rocks just like these originally laid the foundation for Tokai’s legendary reputation as a maker of high-quality copies of vintage guitars.

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Tokai LC-107 – full front large

Tokai’s LC-107 (current price in Finland: 1.219 €) is the company’s gorgeous version of a Les Paul Custom.

The gold-coloured hardware fits our review sample’s tasty see-through wine red finish to a tee.

In terms of built, the Tokai LC-107 follows closely the original 1950s recipe of an LP Custom – unlike many recent original Gibsons:

The mahogany body is genuinely solid, meaning there are no hidden holes or pockets serving as weight relief. Tokai keeps the weight of their Love Rocks down by carefully selecting lightweight mahogany.

The LC-107’s curved top, too, has been carved from mahogany (!), just like Gibson did it in the Fifties.

There is one change, though, that Tokai made for environmental reasons:

The bound fingerboard is made from rosewood, not ebony.

Tokai LC-107 – back beauty

The multiply binding on both top and back add a nice dose of panache to the looks of the Tokai LC-107.

Tokai LS-130F – full front large

The Tokai LS-130F (1.514) is an LP Standard-type instrument with a thin satin finish.

The letter F in its name hints at the beautiful solid flame maple top of the LS-130F.

Our review instrument comes in a beautiful tobacco sunburst, whose edges may look brown at first glance, but actually turn out to be a dark, see-through violet, allowing you to see the chatoyant wood grain beneath it.

Tokai LS-130F – back beauty

The LS-130F’s neck and the back of the body have been finished in cherry red.

Tokai LS-160 – full front large

Due to the runaway popularity of tiger striped maple on Les Pauls, many younger guitarists might think that all Standards made between 1958 and ’60 have flame maple tops. Actually, there are many original ‘Bursts that were produced with what is nowadays called a plain top.

Tokai’s LS-160 (1.773 €) is a stunning, top-of-the-line version of such a plain top LP.

Adding to the LS-160’s vintage-style prestige is this instrument’s nitrocellulose finish, taking this model’s specifications right back to 1958.

Tokai LC-107 – headstock

The headstock on the Tokai LC-107 sports plenty of inlay works, as well as multiple binding.

The tuners are modern sealed Gotoh heads.

Tokai LS-130F – headstock

The headstocks on both the LS-130F and the LS-160 follows the more restrained LP Standard pattern.

Tokai LS-130F – tuners

These two models come equipped with Gotoh’s quality versions of vintage Kluson tuners.

Tokai LC-107 – fretboard

The Tokai LC’s sports oblong position markers made from pearloid plastic…

Tokai LS-130F – fretboard

…while both LS’ come with crown inlays.

The fretwork on all three instruments is exemplary.

Tokai LS-160 – cutaway binding

All three guitars have long tenon neck joints, with a part of the neck extending into the neck pickup cavity.

Many players claim that this type of neck joint makes for better tone and sustain.

Tokai LC-107 – bridge

Tokai LS-160 – bridge

The tune-o-matic bridges and stopbars on all three models come from Gotoh’s Japanese hardware range.

Tokai LC-107 – pickups

The LC-107 comes with a pair of Tokai’s fabled PAF Vintage Mark II humbuckers.

Tokai LS-130F – pickups

The LS-130F and LS-160 have been equipped with a pair of Seymour Duncan ’59 Model pickups.

Tokai LS-130F – control cavity

The control cavities look clean and neat, displaying Japanese craftsmanship and parts, as well as thorough shielding with conductive paint.

Tokai Love Rock – case

Our review trio is sold with a nice Tokai hard case included in the price.

Tokai LS-160 – pickups

Tokai LS-160 – shroud

In order to protect the LS-160’s delicate nitro finish, this model is placed inside the case in its own velours bag.

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In terms of their playability, all three guitars – the LC-107, the LS-130F and the LS-160 – are all on an equally high level. In terms of their feel, though, close inspection reveals a few minute differences.

Tokai LC-107 – body beauty

The neck profile on the Tokai LC-107 is a medium-depth, well-rounded D-shape. LP fans would probably describe this neck as a ’59 Neck – meaning there’s enough meat on the bones for tone, but the overall dimensions are not unwieldy.

Tokai LS-130F – body beauty

Tokai’s LS-130F comes endowed with a 58 Neck, meaning the full chunky Monty. The fantastic matte finish makes this neck feel very “fast”, despite its considerable girth.

Tokai LS-160 – body beauty

The LS-160’s neck profile is the slimmest neck of this trio. It’s what you call a 60 Neck – not as deep as a 59 Neck, and with an oval C-profile.

Despite the fact that all review instruments came strung with the same set of 010-strings, and notwithstanding identical setups (string height at the 12th fret: low E: 1.9 mm/treble e: 1.6 mm), Tokai’s LS-160 felt a little bit bendier than the LC-107 and LS-130F.

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Tokai LC-107 – beauty shot

Played acoustically, the Tokai LC-107 had a sweet voice with nice woody mids and a little helping of shimmering highs, which is most likely down to the all-mahogany body.

Tokai’s own PAF Vintage Mark II pickups are great remakes of Gibson’s fabled late-Fifties humbuckers. Their output levels are relatively low, keeping the tone dynamic and fresh:

Tokai LS-130F – beauty shot

Tokai’s LS-130F turned out to be a little shouter, when strummed unplugged. This guitar gives you that famous freight-train-jumped-off-the-tracks-at-full speed experience that so many LP players love.

Seymour Duncan’s ’59 Model humbuckers make the LS-130F sound a little bit bigger and broader, when compared directly to the LC-107:

Tokai LS-160 – beauty shot

Unplugged the Tokai LS-160 sits right between its cousins. It isn’t as vociferous as the LS-130F, but there’s a bit more presence than what you’d find in the LC-107.

What is surprising, though, is that the LS-160 has the most “vintage-accurate” tone of this trio, when plugged into an amplifier, even though the pickups are exactly the same as in the LS-130F. The neck pickup is dipped deep in tasty cream, while the bridge pickup is more dynamic and a bit brighter than many would expect from an LP Standard. The end result is a very versatile clean tone:

The demo track keeps the same guitars on clean rhythm duty throughout (left channel: LC-107; right channel: LS-160). The riffs and lead parts, on the other hand, change – first up is the LC-107, then the LS-130F, and the last to go is the LS-160:

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Tokai LC-107 – flying – final version

Tokai LS-130F – flying

Tokai LS-160 – flying

Tokai’s LC-107, LS-130F and LS-160 offer you top quality for a very fair price. All three models are professional grade instruments that play like a dream and sound fantastic.

The LC-107’s woody tone makes it a good choice for Jazz- and Fusion-guitarists, but will work equally well in other genres, too.

Tokai’s LS-130F would be my choice for an all-rocking, all-riffing Love Rock. Put on your top hat and travel to Paradise City.

The LS-160 takes you all the way back to the vintage Les Pauls that have served as Tokai’s inspiration. This authentically minded vintage-style guitar is full of dynamic Bluesbreaker-mojo.

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Tokai Love Rock

LC-107 – 1.219 € (case included)

LS-130F – 1.514 € (case included)

LS-160 – 1.773 € (case included)

Pros:

+ Made in Japan

+ workmanship

+ playability

+ sound

+ hard case included

Review: Boss SY-300

When guitar synthesisers first came into being (at the beginning of the 1970s) they all were fully analogue and used the actual guitar signal as the raw material of their output. The guitar’s output was fed into a chain of different effects, including distortion, octaving, filters and modulation, to make the sound resemble that of an analogue synth.

Many old guitar synths sound great, but they require a very clean playing technique to track cleanly, and almost all of the devices were purely monophonic (meaning: no chords).

Roland’s GK-pickup – as well as the MIDI standard – changed all that drastically:

Thanks to the GK-pickup it was (and still is) possible to make use of chords, bends and double stops, and incorporate them all in your synth performance. The GK system also makes it easy to trigger rack synths, software synths or samplers using your guitar, turning the instrument into a full-blown orchestra.

The brand-new Boss SY-300 (street price in Finland approx. 720 €) returns to the original idea of the guitar synth, but takes advantage of the huge advances that have been made in digital technology recently. Boss say the SY-300 tracks quickly and accurately, while delivering huge and fat sounds with lots of scope for editing. But the best thing about it is: The synth is polyphonic and works straight off the regular guitar signal.

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sy_300_top_gal

The Boss SY-300 is a chunky piece of gear and looks like a compact multi-effects unit. The external power supply unit is included in the price.

You can assign the synth’s four footswitches to different functions, but in the factory default they work as follows:

The switch on the far left is the On/Off-switch (well, actually the bypass). CTL 1 is used to change a predetermined parameter in the chosen patch (like vibrato or modulation). The last two switches (CTL 2 and CTL 3) take over patch changing duties; step on them both, and you’ll switch on the built-in digital tuner.

As we are talking about a fully featured digital piece of equipment, the amount of editable parameters is quite staggering. Luckily, the graphics-based user interface in the Boss SY-300 is well-designed, making it fairly easy to programme the synthesiser using the controller knobs beneath the display, and the navigation buttons to the right of it.

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sy_300_back_gal

The SY-300’s well-spec’ed back panel will not leave you wanting:

Placed next to the guitar input are the phone jacks for the guitar synth’s external effects loop. The Ground/Lift-switch makes it safe and easy to break any hum-inducing earth loop. Boss even included two sets of stereo outputs in their synth. The Main Output could be sent to your onstage amplifiers, for example, while the Sub Output feed could be connected to the FOH console. The Main Output’s left output also doubles as a headphones jack.

It’s also easy to integrate the Boss guitar synth into any MIDI-setup, thanks to its two MIDI-ports. The jack labelled EXP/CTL 4,5 is for use with additional (optional) footswitches and/or expression pedals. The SY-300 is compatible with EV-5- and FS-7-pedals, as well as the FS-5U- and FS-6-footswitch units.

The Boss SY-300 can also be utilised as a versatile external soundcard, with the synth offer four different USB Audio-modes for just this purpose, like the nifty Re-Synth-mode, which works in the same way as reamping. The unit also sends and receives MIDI-data using USB. You can also edit patches, load new ones or share your settings with other SY-300 users with the free Boss Tone Studio software (Win/Mac OS).

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Boss SY-300 signaalitie

The above graphics show you the internal architecture and the signal path of the Boss SY-300. Each patch (Preset: 70; User: 99) can use up to three oscillators as sound sources (OSC1-OSC3). Each oscillator comes with a number of different waveforms to choose from (from saw to PWM, and beyond), as well as its own set of dedicated filters, LFOs and ADSR-envelope modules. A good indication of the SY-300’s versatility lies in the fact that exact placement of the oscillators in the signal path can be changed. You could have two oscillators running in parallel, with the third one placed behind the pair in series. Furthermore, the Sequencer feature makes it possible to use each oscillator as a 16-step sequencer, turning each note you play into a rhythmic and melodic pattern.

But there’s still more to come:

Boss’ new guitar synth also comes with four FX modules, each offering a very wide selection of different pro-quality effects. Depending on the chosen oscillator routing, the signal routing of the FX modules can also be changed by the user.

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sy_300_angle_1_gal

The new Boss SY-300 is a very user-friendly device, but due to its versatility – as well as the huge amount of editable parameters – you should take some time to read the user manual, before trying to programme your own patches. Especially if you’re new to the subject of synthesis, you shouldn’t be disappointed if it takes a little time, before your creations sound the way you intended.

I’m old enough to have learned synthesiser programming in the age of polyphonic analogue synths and the Yamaha DX7, which meant I felt right at home with the SY-300.

A good test of any user interface is trying to create something completely from scratch. I chose to use the Boss synth to come up with a slightly Eastern-influenced patch, that uses two oscillators in series to produce a sitar-style twangy tone, with the third oscillator assigned to produce shimmering overtones.

The resulting patch sounds like this (a single guitar synth track, plus three tracks of Roland HandSonic-percussion):

This clip gives you some idea of the types of patches included in the factory settings:

I also recorded a demo track that uses the Boss SY-300 for everything, except for the drum tracks:

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Boss SY-300

Boss’ new guitar synth is a fantastic piece of gear, if you’re a fan of real synthesiser sounds.

The SY-300 locks on to your guitar signal very well and it tracks like a dream, staying true to both the dynamic, as well as the melodic and harmonic content of your playing.

The SY-300 isn’t meant to replace Roland’s GK-/GR-products – if you’re after realistic-sounding, multitimbral sounds, using a GK-pickup is still the easiest and best option. The Boss SY-300 is meant as a fantastic choice if you’re looking for a genuine guitar synth – in the original sense of the term. You will get huge and fat synthesiser sounds, seasoned with great effects, from the SY-300, not pianos, violins or trumpets.

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Boss SY-300

Street price in Finland approximately 720 €

Contact: Roland

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Pros:

+ graphic user interface

+ polyphonic

+ three OSC-modules

+ four FX-modules

+ external effects loop

+ sound

+ USB-soundcard

Review: Sterling SUB Silo3 & Vox AmPlug 2 Classic Rock

As Christmas is just around the corner, we at Kitarablogi felt it was a good idea to review one of the starter packs offered by a local music dealer:

DLX Music’s own affordable starter pack (299 €) combines a Sterling S.U.B. Silo3 guitar with a Vox AmPlug 2 Classic Rock headphone amplifier. The only things you need to add are a plectrum and a set of headphones – and off you go. And what’s best: Thanks to the headphone amp you won’t be disturbing any neighbours with your playing!

DLX Joulu 2015 – teaser

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Sterling by MM Silo3 – full front

The Sterling (by Music Man) S.U.B Silo3 is an affordable licensed copy of the legendary Music Man Silhouette HSS-model. To my knowledge, the S.U.B. Silo3 is currently offered in Finland only as part of three DLX Music guitar packs. In other countries of the EU this guitar model is sold for around 300 €.

This Made-in-Indonesia Sterling uses different local hardwoods (all of which are said to resemble alder in terms of their sound) for the body.

Sterling by MM Silo3 – full back

The Silo3’s neck has been crafted from maple, same goes for the separate fretboard.

Sterling by MM Silo3 – fingerboard

The whole neck comes with a thin satin finish, while the body is finished gloss black.

The fingerboard sports 22 medium-sized frets.

Sterling by MM Silo3 – neck plate

The Sterling’s very comfortable neck joint is a straight copy of the bolt-on joint used in Music Man’s US-manufactured guitars.

Sterling by MM Silo3 – headstock

Thanks to the four-plus-two machine head arrangement on this guitar’s headstock, the Sterling Silo3 offers a straight string path from the nut to the tuner posts, without the need for any string retainers, which might impede on the vibrato’s return to pitch.

Sterling by MM Silo3 – tuners

The tuners themselves are of decent quality.

Sterling by MM Silo3 – bridge

The vibrato bridge on the S.U.B. Silo3 is a modern take on the venerable vintage vibrato, featuring a knife-edge bearing with two height-adjustable posts.

Sterling by MM Silo3 – pickups

Between the neck pickup and the end of the fingerboard you can see the truss rod adjustment wheel, typical of Music Man-instruments. Thanks to the wheel you can use an object that’s sturdy enough for the job – like a small screwdriver or a metal rod – to adjust the truss rod, without having to detach the neck or loosen the strings.

The Silo3 comes equipped with a set of ceramic pickups, which features slightly hotter singlecoils in the neck and middle positions for an overall balanced output level.

Sterling by MM Silo3 – body front

The controls comprise a master volume, a master tone, and a five-way blade switch.

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Vox AmPlug2 Classic Rock – full front

The new, second-generation Vox AmPlug 2 headphone amps come with an updated set of features, both in terms of their sound and their practicality.

The AmPlug 2 Classic Rock (39 €) is the “Marshall-type” model in the line-up.

Vox AmPlug2 Classic Rock – full back

The new AmPlug 2 models now come with a rotating jack plug, which makes it easier to use the device with any electric guitar shape known to mankind.

The AmPlugs runs on two AAA-sized batteries.

Vox AmPlug2 Classic Rock – controls

The AmPlug 2 Classic Rock sports three controls:

Gain adjusts the preamp levels from clean all the way to distorted. Tone lets you control the amount of treble in your output signal, while Volume is your master volume control, which adjusts the volume level in your headphones.

The Classic Rock’s effects department (labelled FX) lets you choose between three different guitar effects (chorus, delay, reverb), with each effect type offering you three different variations. You can only use one effect at any given time.

The Vox also comes with an Aux-input for connecting an mp3-player (or your mobile phone) for play-along sessions.

Vox AmPlug2 Classic Rock – red boost

This Vox headphone amp also comes with a built-in mid-range booster. The current boost setting is indicated by the colour of the on/off-LED (green: boost off; orange: mild boost; red: full boost).

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Sterling by MM Silo3 – body beauty 2

Sterling’s S.U.B. Silo3 offers you a lot of guitar for very little money.

The neck’s oval, slightly flattish C-profile will feel comfortable to most players, while the nice fretwork on the Silo3, as well as its 12-inch fretboard radius, makes string bending easy. Our review sample came well-adjusted and with a player friendly action (low E: 2.2 mm; high e: 2.0 mm @ 12th fret). Sterling uses a quality set of Ernie Ball Super Slinkies (a 009 set) as factory strings.

Used moderately, the Silo3’s vibrato bridge returns well to pitch, but if you want to dive bomb, you’ll probably need a locking nut.

I must admit to have been positively surprised by the quality of the Sterling Silo3-model’s pickups. Don’t forget, we’re talking about a 300 € guitar!

The clean sounds are nicely rounded and fresh, and even the singlecoil pickups retain a healthy dose of bottom-end warmth. Because of their overwound nature, the singlecoil pickups also manage to hold their own – output-wise – against the bridge humbucker.

This sound clip (recorded straight off the AmPlug) starts with the neck pickup:

The Sterling S.U.B. Silo3 is such a versatile instrument that it manages to cover the whole range of overdriven and distorted guitar tones –  from slightly crunchy old-school Blues to full-frontal Metal. For my part, I wouldn’t have any qualms about dragging this guitar on stage with me right now…

Sterling by MM Silo3 – body beauty 1

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Vox AmPlug2 Classic Rock – angle 2 with status light

As you could already witness from the two above Silo3-clips, Vox has managed to improve further on the already great sound of its range of headphone amplifiers. There are, for example, definite improvements in the hiss levels of the AmPlug 2 Classic Rock.

The range of sounds on offer will cater for all you Marshall-spirited needs from the 1960s all the way to the 80s – Classic Rock, indeed. If you’re after contemporary High Gain-sounds, I’d steer your attention towards the AmPlug 2 Metal instead.

The Classic Rock’s effects section does its bit to spruce up your guitar tone, and the quality on offer is amazing (especially, when considering the tiny price tag). The audio clip starts with a completely dry guitar sound:

The AmPlug’s mid-boost function makes even fatter and more aggressive sounds possible, whenever you need them. This audio clip starts with the boost off, and continues with the mild boost, before giving you an idea of what the full mid-range boost will do for you:

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Sterling by MM Silo3 – beauty shot 2

In my opinion, this is a great starter pack, making learning to play the guitar, as well as practising, a lot of fun.

Sterling’s S.U.B. Silo3 isn’t the cheapest electric guitar that you can lay your hands on in Finland, but it most certainly is one of the best (and most versatile) instruments in its class. The Silo3 is a real electric guitar, and not a cheese grater with strings. This Sterling both plays and sounds great!

Vox’ updated AmPlug 2 Series wins you over with even more features and an even better sound. This inexpensive little device makes it possible for you to rock out in most places, and almost at any hour – whenever and wherever inspiration might strike.

You can really make music with this quality pack from DLX Music Helsinki, as you can hear from the demo track. All guitar tracks have been recorded straight off the Vox AmPlug 2 Classic Rock, without any additional effects (save for a tiny bit of compression added during mixdown):

Vox AmPlug2 Classic Rock – angle 1

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Sterling by Music Man Silo3 and Vox AmPlug 2 Classic Rock (DLX Music starter pack)

299 €

Contact: DLX Music

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Pros:

+ quality started pack

+ great even for use in an apartment block

+ good enough for more advanced players, too

+ playability (guitar)

+ sound (guitar and headphone amp)

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 ofΒ  2,3-2,4 henries. The pickups in the S. Kamiina set read 2,2 kΞ© for resistance (bridge pickup: 2,3 kΞ©) 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 theΒ  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:

β€’ two rhythm guitar parts – left channel: neck and middle pickup; right channel: neck pickups

β€’ a mystically floating backing guitar: middle and bridge pickup

β€’ 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

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

dd_500_angle_3_gal

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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dd_500_top_gal

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.

dd_500_back_gal

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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dd_500_angle_1_gal

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

Review: Tokai Classic Series

Tokai Classic TE – headstock

Tokai Guitars has built its reputation on very well-crafted and vintage-correct copies of classic models. The original Japanese Tokai instruments from the Seventies and Eighties gave most US manufacturers a good run for their money, and in some respects Tokai’s – ahem – “versions” were even better than some of the originals from that era.

Tokai’s top-of-the-line instruments are still made in Japan. The company’s Chinese output, though, makes it possible to own a genuine Tokai guitar (or bass), even on a tighter budget.

The idea behind the brand-new Tokai Classic series is to offer very reasonably priced guitars and basses, which combine a classic look with a few modern tweaks for easier playability.

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Tokai Classic TE – full front

Tokai Classic TE – full back

Kitarablogi received these three Tokai Classics for review:

A Tokai Classic TE (current price in Finland: 249 €) in a 50s-style two-tone sunburst finish…

Tokai Classic ST – full front

Tokai Classic ST – full back

…a creamy white Tokai Classic ST (249 €)…

Tokai Classic JB – full front

Tokai Classic JB – full back

…as well as a Classic JB bass (299 €) in a fetching three-tone sunburst.

Tokai Classic ST – headstock

Tokai’s Classic series features bolt-on maple necks.

On the TE and ST models the face of the headstock sports a gloss finish.

Tokai Classic JB – headstock

The JB bass’ headstock front has received the same thin satin finish as the neck.

All Classic instruments offer easy access to the truss rod at the headstock, so you won’t have to take off the neck to make adjustments.

Tokai Classic TE – tuners

There’s a set of very decent Kluson-copies installed on the guitars.

Tokai Classic JB – tuners

The Classic JB comes with a set of Schaller-copies, which are less massive than vintage-style Klusons.

Tokai Classic guitars – fretboard

The Classic TE and ST come with a flatter-than-vintage fingerboard radius and chunkier frets, which makes the playing feel much more modern and bend-friendly.

Tokai Classic JB – fretboard

The same goes for the Tokai Classic bass.

Tokai Classic TE – back beauty 2

All Classic series bodies are made of basswood, a proven tonewood with a sound similar to alder.

Tokai Classic TE – neck plate

The black plastic cushion beneath the neck plate protects the finish.

Tokai Classic TE – bridge

There are different versions of the three-saddle Tele-style bridge in circulation:

The Classic TE goes for the late-Sixties variety sporting three saddles with pre-set grooves for the strings.

Tokai Classic TE – back ferrules

The TE came strung the regular way, though the body, with the strings’ ball-ends anchored in ferrules. This setup is favoured by most Tele players.

Tokai Classic TE – additional bridge holes

Tokai’s Classic TE nevertheless offers an additional interesting feature:

It’s possible to string this guitar through the back of the bridge, too. This was a rare feature on original Fender Telecasters in 1958/59 that noticeably alters the feel and sound of the guitar.

Tokai Classic ST – bridge

At first glance, the bridge on Tokai’s Classic ST looks like a dead-on copy of a vintage Strat vibrato.

Tokai Classic ST – vibrato block

The vibrato block, though, isn’t as chunky as on the original. It’s about the same size as the block on a Floyd Rose vibrato.

Vintage-anoraks will sniff disapprovingly at the sight of such a block, claiming that it’s bad for the tone of the guitar. Let me tell you that the review guitar’s acoustic ring and sustain were actually quite healthy. So much for preconceptions…

Tokai Classic JB – bridge

The Classic JB sports a nice copy of a 1970s Fender bass bridge.

Tokai Classic TE – pickups

Most self-appointed “vintage-gurus” will tell you to steer clear at all times of ceramic Fender-style singlecoils.

Traditionally, a Fender-type singlecoil is constructed from six small, cylindrical magnets, which are tapped into vulcanised fibre plates. Around this magnet core a coil of thin copper wire is wound to complete the pickup. In traditional pickups the polepieces you see are actually the top ends of the alnico magnets.

Tokai Classic ST – pickups

Tokai’s Classic series uses ceramic pickups, which are made a little differently. The polepieces aren’t magnets, but rather soft steel rods, which are in physical contact to a ceramic bar magnet (or sometimes two magnets) stuck to the bottom of each pickup.

Tokai Classic JB – pickups 2

When ceramic pickups first appeared on budget guitars in the Nineties, their sound was admittedly often very spiky, brittle and sharp. This gave ceramic singlecoils a bad name, which wasn’t all that undeserved.

But that was then, and ceramic pickups have been improved drastically since. Despite this, there’s still quite a lot of prejudice against this type of guitar pickup.

In the case of these Tokai Classic instruments, I’d suggest you approach their pickups with an open heart and open ears – you might be in for a positive surprise!

Tokai Classic TE – control cavity

The Classic series features electronic parts of inexpensive, but very decent quality. All the switches and controls work fine, and without any hiccups.

As you can easily see from this picture, the workmanship is very clean in the Classic TE.

Tokai Classic JB – control cavity

The rout for the Classic JB’s component cavity wasn’t quite as clean on our review sample. Luckily, this has no bearing whatsoever on the functionality of this bass guitar.

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Tokai Classic TE – body beauty 1

Tokai’s Classic TE is a very nice, well-playing Tele-style electric guitar.

Quite often, you will find uninspiring, flat and generic neck profiles on instruments in this price bracket.

The Classic TE is quite an exception, as it sports a comfortable, well-rounded and chunky neck, that still manages to stay on the right side of “fat”. The fretwork is really great on our review sample. Combined with the bigger frets and flatter fretboard radius, this results in a slinky and bend-friendly playing feel.

Tokai’s Classic TE is no slouch in the sound department, either:

The neck pickup is warm and round, but never sounds boring or one-dimensional. The middle position of the switch will give you a cool, funky rhythm tone. The bridge pickup on its own offers enough twang for Country playing, and enough whack for the Classic Rock crowd.

Tokai Classic TE – body beauty 2

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Tokai Classic ST – body beauty 1

I’d never have thought an electric guitar costing only 249 € could be as utterly inspiring as this Tokai Classic ST!

The neck feels great with its oval C-profile. The fretwork and setup make this a real player’s guitar. The vibrato works well in a vintage-style way, and the ST’s acoustic tone is woody and dynamic.

The ceramic pickups on the Tokai Classic ST are a bit hotter than the alnicos on my 50s-style Fender Stratocaster reissue. They also have a bit more sizzle and bite, but in a good way, making this more of a “Jimi Hendrix” than a “Buddy Holly” guitar.

Tokai Classic ST – body beauty 2

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Tokai Classic JB – body beauty 1

Tokai’s Classic JB truly offers a lot of bass in a very pocket-friendly package.

The Classic JB will give you all the features you’d look for in a Jazz Bass-type instrument:

There’s the slender, distinctly tapered neck profile, the comfortable balance, and the wide variety (for a passive bass) of different sounds.

Tokai Classic JB – body beauty 2

This last clip lets you listen to the video’s bass and guitar tracks in isolation. During the first half all guitar tracks are played on the Classic TE, in the second half the Classic ST takes over:

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Tokai Classic TE – beauty shot 1

Tokai Classic ST – beauty shot 1

Tokai Classic JB – beauty shot 1

Tokai’s Classic Series may well prove to set a new standard for vintage-style instruments in this price range. The three reviewed guitars were well-made, well-playing instruments, and their sound was inspiring.

While the Classic series is aimed mainly at beginners, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the instruments crept up on pub or club stages!

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Tokai Classic Series

Tokai Classic TE – 249 €

Tokai Classic ST – 249 €

Tokai Classic JB – 299 €

Finnish distributor: Musamaailma

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Pros:

+ value-for-money

+ playability

+ workmanship

+ sound

Tokai Classic ST – beauty shot 2