I have always been a pushover for a great deal on that special effects pedal that simply inspires you to play. As good as some deals may be, we all know low-cost pedals can often leave much to be desired in terms of quality, durability, and tone. Yes, they can sometimes fill the void and tie you over for the short term, but in my experience, they rarely stay on the pedalboard for the long haul. More often than not they get traded or sold for some other gear down the line. So what is the bargain hunter looking for great tone to do?
I fired up Google hoping to uncover a new pedal that I had not hear of before for a great price. Several searches brought up nothing more than the usual mediocre mini pedals that are flooding the market from overseas. I must admit that I’ve tried some over the years but I didn’t feel any desire for more of those. I wanted something different this time around, something more substantial.
I stumbled upon GeneralGuitarGadgets.com and noticed that the website offered very affordable pedal kits that can be built by the do-it-yourselfer. I couldn’t help thinking of it as the IKEA of guitar pedals. I decided to have a closer look at the various kits they offered and I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of pedal kits they had in stock.
Suddenly I wondered if building my own pedal would be cool and rewarding? I could make it uniquely mine. Would building a kit from scratch be too challenging for my limited skill set? I had never attempted to build a pedal before and my electronic knowledge tops out at some basic soldering and the ability to read basic instructions. I loved building model kits as a child so I thought this could be fun! Quality pedals at budget prices don’t happen every day! If this was such a good thing, then why had I not heard of them before? Was this deal too good to be true? Yes, you could say I had some doubts!
I headed over to YouTube to look up some demo videos of the various pedal kits they offered to help calm my doubts. I watched a few videos but I didn’t really get enough of a feel of the final product as I had hoped. I downloaded the build instructions from the website and read through them. The information seemed pretty clear and detailed. The question was, would I be able to put together a unit and actually make it work? I decided to ignore that annoying voice in my head and proceed to order a pedal kit. There would only be one way to find out!
After much scrutiny, I selected the BSIAB 2 kit which claims to offer the iconic brown sound made famous by Eddie Van Halen. My choice was based on the fact that I had always been a big fan of that Van Halen Tone. If the description on the website was accurate, the BSIAB should be a perfect choice.
The package arrived after about a week and I proceeded to open up the box and have a look at all the parts that would eventually become my new pedal. Most of the required components were enclosed in a small plastic bag. I printed the detailed instructions for the build from the GeneralGuitarGadets.com website a few days earlier so I had everything I needed to begin the project. I cleared off my workbench, fired up my trusty soldering iron, took a deep breath, and got started.
The process was quite satisfying and went smoothly until I came across some instructions which were not 100% clear to me. I tried to the best of my abilities to figure them out but I thought it may be a better idea to send a quick email to Mr. JD Sleep to see if I could get some clarification. To my surprise, JD answered my questions quickly and accurately. As a matter of fact, he even said he would clarify the build instructions based on my questions so it would be clearer for others as well. I was quite impressed by the level of customer support I received since most other DYI pedal companies out there leave you to fend for yourself or point you to a general forum where you can hopefully get the right information from others.
I excitedly proceeded to finish the build so I could judge for myself just how close my new pedal would get to that “brown sound” most guitarists are searching for. I took the delicate electrical innards to my amp and plugged it in to test my creation. I must admit I felt a little like Dr. Frankenstein just before I flicked the power switch on my amp. I nervously pressed the switch and the LED turned on brightly. This was a great sign that the current was flowing through the pedal. I turned up the volume and gain and strummed my first power cord and to my delight, a wonderfully saturated tone came through the amp’s speakers. I tweaked the knobs till I found the sweet spot and played a few more riffs. The brown sound came through in spades. So much so that I decided to put my brand new pedal up against my favorite overdrive pedal which easily costs 4 times as much. To my surprise, the kit pedal did the brown sound better to my ears. It had more of that edgy sound commonly associated with a cranked Marshall Plexi. I continued playing rock riffs with a big satisfied smile on my face.
In my opinion, this is one heck of a “Cranked Marshall” pedal. It has no difficulties getting sounds from Van Halen or ZZ Top. It cleans up nicely and sounds even better in a live situation. I would say that this unit compares very positively to other stomp boxes that cost hundreds of dollars more. It would surely give any of the boutique pedal builders out there a good run for their money. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a great sounding pedal capable of some very nice rock tones at a very reasonable price point.
Overall I think that building your very own effects pedal can seem to be a little daunting at first, but my first experience with Generalguitargadgets.com was very satisfying. I came away from it with a little more confidence, some better electrical knowledge and a really great pedal that I can tweak or repair if ever I needed to. If you are looking for a pedal you can really make your own right down to the paint job and have a few hours to dedicate to the project, check out these kits for yourself.
I already have my eye on my next build!
To visit Generalguitargadgets.com website click here.
The Canadian pickup maker Sanford Magnetics located in New Brunswick Canada has recently released a new low output pickup called the V68. As a Canuck myself, it’s always a pleasure to see some great Canadian products getting some well-deserved recognition. Low output pickups are steadily becoming more popular for those guitarist looking for a purer tone allowing the character of the guitar and amp to shine through.
Nate from Sandford tells me the idea for the V68 pickups originally came about when a customer wanted a really uncluttered, open-sounding pickup. The concept was simple. Let the guitar breathe and have the amp do the heavy lifting by getting the drive and compression from the amp and pedals. Nate says that the focus was mainly on developing an open, uncompressed, even sounding eq. rather than focusing on overall output. The pickups are constructed using A4 magnets, 42g plain enamel wire, Nickle silver baseplates, Nickel covers and I assume they are not wax potted as I was able to coax some nice feedback out of them when pushed.
I’ve noticed how some people seem to be reluctant to try lower output pickups. My opinion is that low-output pickup can deliver an abundance of tone and dynamics that high-output pickups simply don’t excel at. That is not to say that it isn’t possible to achieve a good sound with hot pickups or high-gain amps. If a player takes the time to dial in the sound it is, but it’s now equally possible to get a heavy sound with a low-output pickup. What it all boils down to is knowing how to get there. Of course, if it sounds good then it is good regardless of what method you used to get there.
I decided I would use my Zack Myers PRS as the donor guitar in this review. As usual, I prefer to play the new pickups for a few days after I install then to feel confident that I have found the sweet spot. I normally also refrain from commenting on the pickups until I have had a chance to play them in both a live situation as well as in the studio so I understand the full dynamic range the pickups can offer.
Overall build quality on the pickups seemed to be very nice. The braided wire and nickel covers gave the pickups some cool mojo appeal. I have to say that I am indeed a sucker for nickel covers. They age so nicely and provide that slight relic look after a while. Chrome covers tend to remain relatively constant since they are less easily tarnished.
Installation was no more difficult than other pickups I’ve used. I normally raise the bridge way up and sink the neck way down for optimal sound on a Les Paul type guitar and although the PRS is a semi-hollow body, the formula was the same. I noticed right from the start that the neck pickup offered quite a bit more bottom end compared to the bridge so the pickups did require some additional dialing in to achieve a balanced sound.
The amps of choice for this evaluation were a modded fender Blues Jr., as well as a Brunetti Pleximan, and a Rockitt Retro Marshall Plexi clone built to 68 specs. I wanted to hear the pickups through a low, medium and higher gain amp for full effect.
With a target DCR at only 6.8k the bridge pickup does allow the sound to breathe, yet I find that the pickups sounded best when the amp was running hard. At bedroom levels, the pickups sounded ok but performed particularly well with louder volumes or in a live situation.
I felt the lower output allowed the character of the guitar and amp to shine through. The nuances that are normally buried in higher output pickups were easily heard. The A4 magnets had a dryness to them and didn’t really push the mids and lows hard. They did provide a good amount of treble but were not harsh. The middle position yielded some really nice tones and was my favorite setting position with the V68 set. The bridge position gets a little tele-ish when you dig into it, and the neck pickup provides plenty of bottom end. When blended together they really deliver a very nice full bodied sound.
When playing through my 4x12 cabinet loaded with G12-65 speakers they came alive at higher volumes yet were a little more subdued when playing at lower bedroom levels. At times the neck pickup seemed to almost overpower the bridge pickup with its abundant lower end. I found that the speakers and pickup combination sounded a little unfocused at times due to the looser lower end of the speakers. The Fender Blues Jr. loaded with WGS ET65’s and a vintage 30 in a pine 2x12 open back cabinet was a much better match for cleans and overdriven it simply killed with the v68s.
My main impression of the pickups is that the neck position is immediately much fuller sounding than the bridge. I normally prefer the sound of bridge pickups, but in this case, I found the fullness of the neck pickup complimented the frequencies the bridge was lacking when in the middle position. It's funny because I normally rarely use the middle position on other guitars. In the case of the V68s, it was the best combination of the three.
I often find that neck pickups typically are more challenging harmonically to dial in properly. I usually test them by playing the opening riff to Billy Idol’s White Wedding to see if I can get those palm muted harmonics to hold together. Most neck pickups will not be able to do it. Only a few I have tried can pull it off. It’s simply not a normal thing to expect from a neck pickup, but it does give you a pretty good idea of the harmonic limitations of the pickup.
I was able to get some very sweet sounding clean tones. The interesting thing about these pickups is how well they straddle the line between clean and driven tones. I think Nate clearly has developed a really nice sounding pickup with these v68’s.
My final conclusion is that although I do tend to prefer a bridge pickup with a little more bottom end to it, the tones do cut through in the mix quite well in a live situation. The neck could use slightly less low end and slightly more note separation but it still sounds great. I’m just picky. Overall, if you take the time to really learn to control your tone via the knobs, amp, and natural gain, I am confident that these pickups will be quite rewarding for you. If you are looking for a generic tone, they may not be for you. I for one will be permanently keeping then in my PRS so I can enjoy them for years to come.
For more information on Sanford Magnetics pickups, please visit www.sanfordmagnetics.com
As musicians we depend heavily on our sense of hearing. The idea of damaging our hearing over time resulting in losing our ability to hear properly can be quite frightening. Unfortunately, as musicians, the very thing that can damage our delicate hearing, namely repeated exposure to high volume levels is exactly what we are subjecting ourselves to on a regular basis. Because of this, musicians are in fact four times more likely to lose there hearing.
We often think that only professional musicians need worry about the risk of hearing damage, but nothing can be further from the truth. Weekend musicians are just as susceptible to hearing issues. With noise pollution on the rise, and exposure to loud music via our mobile devices, concerts, clubs and other daily exposure, we are finding ourselves causing non-reversible damage to our ears. In fact, we are seeing a dramatic rise in hearing problems in much younger people.
My search for hearing protection began when I noticed a ringing in my ears after rehearsals with my band. I would often expect it to subside after a few hours, which it normally did. Unfortunately for me, after a while the ringing took longer and longer to subside until it no longer did. I currently live with a constant ringing tone in my left ear. In my search to find a solution that would allow me to continue to play music while avoiding any further hearing damage, I discovered a new product by REV33. This compact device was designed to work with in-ear monitors, or ear buds to essentially allow you to hear the music warmer, richer and clearer with less distortion and ultimately less ear fatigue. I decided to try out a unit for myself to see if this device could allow me to lower the volume levels of my in ear monitors during rehearsals.
Before ordering a set I got an opportunity to speak with Brett Butler the CEO of REVx Technologies. He graciously explained the more technical aspects of how this new technology works to clean noise and distortion from the audio signal resulting in improved sonic clarity.
He mentioned that the REV33 was designed from the ground up to make in-ear monitors or headphones render the music with greater definition without processing your music. Essentially, all speakers generate distortion that isn’t comprehended in standard Total Harmonic Distortion (THD+N) measurements. This unwanted energy moves from the speaker back toward the amplifier and distorts the original music signal. The patent-pending True Sound technology inhibits the effect of these external noise sources, reducing the ability of the in-ear monitor to add this unwanted energy. This technique does not require analyzing the audio signal, so you’ll hear more of your music—more clarity, more precision, and more warmth. With a 30-day money back guarantee I figured I would have nothing to lose.
When I received the package I quickly opened it and found a device that was slightly smaller than a zippo lighter. It came with a couple of audio jacks and a nice carry case for it. I was so eager to try it out that I immediately plugged it into my in ear monitors that night during a rehearsal. I was expecting to hear something quite different, but instead I was quite surprised that the REV33 didn’t really color the sound. The REV33 was clean and allowed me to play the volume on the monitors a little lower than I would normally need to. We continued on with the 3-hour long rehearsal as per usual and at the end of the evening, I did notice that the ringing in my ears was noticeably less than it had been during other sessions without the REV33. It reduced my ear fatigue while increasing the sonic detail I was hearing. I didn’t find myself struggling with the other frequencies as much and felt it was easier to hear myself in the mix.
Would the REV33 stop ear damage from high volume? Probably not since it is not designed to act like an attenuator, but it does indeed clean up the sound and allow the music to be heard with less distortion. It also allows the sound to cut through better allowing you to reduce the overall volume required which is always a good thing especially if you already have ringing in your ears.
My overall impression of the REV33 is that it can be a great tool if you are looking to reduce hearing fatigue and undo stress on your ears, but you should always try to limit any exposure to loud music for extended periods of time when possible. I will continue to use the REV33 as I feel it is definitely worth the cost.
For anyone that would like to get more information on how the REV33 works or would like to try out a unit for themselves, you can find all the information on the REV33 website at www.rev33.com
Most serious guitarists invest lots of time searching for that magical, and sometimes elusive tone they hear in their heads. During this process, they often enjoy testing everything from different guitar models, amps, effects pedals, strings and even cables. They don’t however, give much thought to the nut that is the main support for the strings they play on daily. This tiny yet critical piece of the instrument is what allows the strings resonate properly. Let’s be honest, most guitarists don’t really consider this to be of primary importance until something goes wrong with the guitar!
When tuning issues, sustain or buzzing arise, the nut can be the culprit. An improperly shaped or slotted nut can make a great guitar sound or play poorly, while a properly cut and installed nut can often make an average guitar much more playable and resonant.
I don’t pretend to be an expert when it comes to guitar nuts, but I have installed several nuts on my guitars over the years. I can therefore appreciate how difficult it can be to get a nut shaped and filed and slotted properly. It also requires quite a bit of time to get it right.
There are quite a few different materials one can choose when selecting a nut for an installation. Typical materials include, bone, brass, Corian, graphite, plastic and a host of other materials. The question often asked is whether or not the material used when fabricating a nut makes a real difference in tone? Sure there is a lot of Voodoo theories floating around the internet these days, but what is the honest truth?
To answer this question, I decided to contact Andrew Marshall from Tone Ninja who understands the technology behind guitar nuts intimately. Andrew is the founder of the Tone Ninja brand that fabricates a wide variety of guitar nuts for easy installation and great tone. I asked Andrew to help shed some light on a few common questions relating to guitar nuts in the hopes of getting a better understanding of what makes a great nut.
Andrew, first off, why did you decide to start a company based on guitar nuts?
It’s an idea we’ve been kicking around for a couple of years, and as with most of these things there were several influencing factors. Firstly, up to now there’s only been one company producing nuts for the replacement and upgrade market, and there’s definitely room for another. Secondly, there’s no line of nuts available for the broader market that are made in the USA, and a majority of our customers both domestically and abroad have a strong preference for US manufactured products. Third, we thought we could definitely build a technically superior product at a lower end-user cost. Fourth, as with almost everything in the music industry, it was a lot of fun and a very gratifying experience. You get to work with great people and produce something people love. Finally, nobody’s really done anything new with nuts for thirty years so we thought it was about time.
Over the years guitar nuts have been made from everything from bone, Corian, various plastic materials, graphite and even brass. What material are your guitar nuts made from and why did you choose this material specifically?
Ah, the voodoo question. As you probably know, many people have strong opinions on this, and I’ve learned a lot in the process listening to guitarists and trying to parse those opinions into a material specification. We engaged materials engineers in the process and went through several iterations before we arrived at the current material, which is a high performance engineering copolymer. The trick was to find a material that was wear resistant and had a great (i.e. low) coefficient of friction and was easy to work if needed. Then, it had to produce reliable results to very high engineering tolerances when fabricated and on top of all that have consistent density for tone transmission. It was quite a task, but we’re very pleased with the result.
Guitarists often think bone is the best material to use when making a guitar nut. What are your thoughts on this?
Bone is a fantastic material, and if you have the time, skills and tools to fabricate your own nut it’s a great choice. For most guitarists, that’s not really a viable option, so that’s where we come in. We think our nuts are as close as you can get to a luthier fabricated bone nut as you can get with a prefabricated product. As an aside, bone only comes in one color, which is, well, bone color, and that can be incongruous on many instruments.
What are some benefits I can expect to notice after installing a Tone Ninja nut?
Every instrument is different, of course, but the immediate benefits are playability and tuning stability. Open string resonance should improve too. In most playability problems we see, the nut is contributing to the problem – either too high or too low, or with one or more slots too deep or too shallow, or the wrong shape, or too wide or too narrow – you get the idea.
What are the main points I should think about when considering a nut upgrade for my guitar?
How hard will it be to change the nut, and will it make a difference should be the top two. We’ve tried to make the replacement process as easy as we can, and in most cases the slots should work as is. Will it make a difference? The nut is often overlooked as ‘too hard to fix’ when doing a setup, but in many cases it’s the problem that needs solving.
I have a slipping G string on one of my more expensive guitars. Why is this happening, and can a good quality nut fix this issue? If so, why don’t guitar manufacturers install better nuts on their guitars?
Binding on the G or B string is a common problem – the dreaded ‘ping’ when tuning. It can be caused by a couple of things, commonly a malformed slot or a sticky material. Using a nut with well-engineered slots and a high material lubricity will overcome most if not all of those issues.
Even with more expensive instruments, they’re built to a price. This is reflected not only in the nut material but also in the labor hours that can be spent at the factory getting the nut set up exactly right. The slots on most mass produced nuts are not that well engineered, which doesn’t help. Also remember the factory setup is very generic and may not suit what you need.
I have occasionally seen people using a brass nut in place of a plastic or bone nut. Are there any advantages to brass over the other materials?
Brass was pretty popular in the late 70’s, but apart from Yngwie’s brass strat nut which is available from Fender as a separate part, it isn’t used much today. It obviously wears well but it’s also pretty hard to work and relatively expensive. It sounds quite bright. It’s actually one of the materials we compared against when developing Tone Ninja nuts.
There are some people that believe a guitar nut if properly slotted has little impact on guitar tone. Fretted notes leave the nut out of the equation so nut material has little if any impact on tone. They often point to locking tremolo systems that do not actually use a nut yet still achieve good tone. What do you think about this argument?
It’s much more about how the nut, its fit, and its slot engineering affect playability and tuning than the actual vibration transmission, and you hit the nail on the head in the question with ‘properly slotted’. Some people in the industry are definitely guilty of over-stating the nut’s contribution to tone, and you’re quite correct that when a note is fretted the nut isn’t in play. Let’s not ignore open strings though, and there the material can make a significant difference.
However, let’s explore a different factor of tone: What we really mean by tone is how a guitar sounds when played. You’re probably familiar with two effects: one, when you pick up a guitar that just plays really well, you feel more connected to what you’re playing and the overall result is just somehow better, and two, when what you play sounds really good, it lifts your opinion of your tone? A properly set up guitar that stays in tune, and has great playability will start that positive feedback loop that improves your opinion of your tone, your own opinion of how you sound.
It’s not a panacea, it has to be in conjunction with many other factors – but if your nut is wrong, it will be hard to achieve good playability and hence ‘tone’, and that’s how our nuts really affect your tone.
Do you think someone can pick out a guitar with a bone nut or a plastic nut just by listening to them being played side by side?
Same guitar, same strings, open strings, acoustically? Possibly. I’m sure you could measure it with a spectrum analyzer. The reality is though, that bone is not practical or accessible to most guitarists and the acoustic difference between the material we use for Tone Ninja nuts and bone is small. Most people wouldn’t hear it. Cheaper plastic nuts? The difference would be more obvious.
Andrew, thank you very much for taking the time to answer some of our questions. I am looking forward to installing a Tone Ninja nut on a guitar that I am in the process of doing some mods to. Where can our visitors get some Tone Ninja nuts if they wish to purchase some?
They can simply visit us at www.sporthitech.com/ninjanut and place an order online. We have many models and sizes available for most any type of guitar.
I was recently asked if I could put together an article on how to purchase a fist guitar by one of my viewers. I thought to myself in today’s golden age of the internet, surely there must be information readily available online that would be helpful to most novice musicians? I decided to search Google and see what articles I could find. What I read left me feeling horrified and quite uneasy. Yes, there was lots of information available, but so much of it was simply misguided, incomplete or just wrong! I had no choice but to put together an article to stop this insanity!
I thought back to the first guitar acquisition I made when I was just 13 years old. What I remember is that my purchase was mainly fueled by what my guitar idol at the time was playing. All I cared about was it if it looked somewhat like what my rock god played. If it was good enough for him then it had to be good enough for me? Of course I was wrong, but back then I didn’t have the internet, online forums or YouTube to tell me otherwise.
1 - Determine your budget
How much do you want to spend? This is a difficult question when you are not sure of what you need or want. Because of this, beginners are often advised to buy an inexpensive first guitar they can play until they know what they really need. Also, if they eventually decide they don’t have the talent or patience required to pursue music, they would not have lost much money. This advice although cautious, is not always the best advice for everyone. The problem is that most beginners don’t clearly understand the differences between a cheap guitar and an inexpensive one. And yes, there is a difference!
Opting for a cheap guitar can sometimes limit your playing, hamper the enjoyment you get from playing, and end up costing you much more in the long run. If your cheapie guitar is inadequate for you, and your playing development suffers because of it, you may feel pressure to upgrade to a better guitar sooner than expected and your initial investment may be lost. Cheap guitars simply don’t hold their resale value very well because online classified sites are filled with postings from people trying to sell these items. The truth is you end up losing more of your initial investment with a cheap no name guitar than if you purchased a more expensive brand name guitar. Popular brands simply sell quicker even if they are more expensive.
My advice is to try to buy the best guitar you can afford. Shop with value and features in mind and try to find an instrument that checks off as many boxes from your requirement list as discussed in step three. You need to be realistic when shopping. You may not be able to find everything you are looking for within your budget, but if you aim for the most important features on your list, you will end up with a guitar that you will enjoy for quite a while before feeling any need to upgrade.
If budget is an issue, you can easily get more bang for your buck by looking at used instruments. Purchasing a used instrument can be a little more challenging for the novice but as long as you do proper research before buying anything you should be fine. Remember, when you buy used, you need to be able to identify hidden defects that may not be disclosed by the seller. This can be tricky, so if you don’t feel confident you can do this, having a seasoned player check out the instrument before you buy it. This can limit and nasty surprises down the road. Remember its always buyer beware when it comes to buying anything that is used.
When buying new there are a few things you keep in mind. First, just because a guitar is expensive that doesn’t automatically guarantee it will play or sound better than a comparable less expensive guitar. This is a common misconception. I often see novice players go for the expensive guitar just because they think that it’s expensive so it must be better right? Not Always! An expensive guitar can be good, but if it’s not the right guitar for your playing style or needs then it can be just as bad or worse than the cheap guitar in the corner. The key thing is getting a guitar that is right for your needs.
Once you have determined how much you can afford to spend on a guitar, it’s time to start the doing research.
2 - Determine what type of guitar you want?
This will often depend on what style you want to play. Electric guitars are versatile and provide a wide tonal range that can be further expanded with pedals and amplifiers.
Acoustic guitars have some limitations but they can also be expanded with the right accessories.
I often recommend starting on an acoustic guitar because fingering is often more difficult and actually builds up finger strength quicker than on an electric guitar. Also, acoustic guitars have less temptation to be distracted by amps, pedals, and other technology as they are simpler and can be played without electricity or other devices.
The main price factor for acoustic guitars is the material they are made of and to some extent the workmanship. Cheap guitars are often made of laminates, (plywood) while better-crafted guitars are made of solid woods. The top can be solid and the back and sides made of laminate or all the wood can be solid.
The species of woods also will affect the price. Tops are usually made of evergreens like cedar or spruce. The back and sides could be made from many varieties of hardwood. A popular choice is some kind of rosewood because of the attractive look of the grain and color.
You can look at the inside and the outside of the guitar to see if the back and side grain pattern are the same on both sides. You may have to ask the dealer for the specifications on the wood unless you have a very good eye and know your wood species.
If you choose to go with an electric guitar, your budget should also include an allowance for an amplifier. Amplifiers can be quite costly and intimidating especially if you are not familiar with them. I could write another article on how to purchase your first amp! I may just do that!
If you can’t play loud due to finicky neighbors, an alternative to consider is a multi-effect unit. These are often less costly and more flexible than an amplifier. Volume is not an issue with a multi-effects unit as they can be used with headphones and the built in effects allow you to experiment with many different tones and they often also come with a built in tuner that will come in quite handy.
3 – Determine the features you need not want
Begin your research by asking yourself a few key questions.
What style of music do I want to play? If you determine that you like heavy metal, for example, the choice of guitars you will consider may be very different than what you would consider if you are into jazz.
Next, ask yourself what features you would prefer to have. Do you like lighter guitars? Do you prefer the sound of humbucker pickups or single coils? Are you looking for a rosewood or maple neck? Do you need a floating or fixed bridge?
When all this starts sounding like gibberish, you’ve probably reached your knowledge cutoff point. From here on in, you may want to find someone you trust to help guide you. Preferably someone that has played guitar for a while and understands your requirements.
If you really like a big name guitar but can’t afford one, you can often get a budget version that is made offshore for the same company for much less money but the same features. Think Epiphone for Gibson, Squire for Fender etc. etc.
4 - Read as many reviews as you can
The new guitarist today has a really big advantage. Product review information is all over the internet. You can typically get a pretty good idea of the quality of the instrument you are considering by searching YouTube, Online review articles, and gear forums. Don’t be afraid to post comments and ask questions. You will be surprised how often you can get a quick honest answer.
5 - Determine where you want to buy your guitar
With more and more online sales options it's quite tempting to buy your guitar where ever you can get the best price online. Online music stores typically charge about $50 less for that starter guitar but it comes with a few disadvantages as well. First, you can’t see or try the guitar before buying it. You can’t really easily ask all your questions before buying online. There is often addition shipping, duties, and taxes to pay. Should something be wrong with the product you will often have to wait a few more weeks before you can get the item replaces and may have to pay return shipping out of your own pocket.
When buying your first guitar from a reputable local retailer you may be paying a little more, but have someone you can take the guitar to should you have problems or additional questions. You can try the guitar before you buy, and you are supporting your local economy.
6 - Time To Scope out some local Shops
I always recommend that you play a guitar before you buy it. It really is the only way to know if the guitar is right for you or not. In some cases, you may be tempted to buy a guitar online because of a great price or current promotion, but not being able to play the guitar before you buy can be a huge mistake.
Visit as many local shops as you can and try out as many guitars that fit your budget and requirements as you can.
Start off by playing the guitars unplugged. Yes, you should do this even if it’s an electric guitar. From my experience, if a guitar sounds good unplugged it will also sound good when plugged in.
With acoustic guitars, I often find that the reverse is true. They often sound good unplugged and less so when plugged in.
A word of caution. A novice guitar player can often fall prey to an eager eagle-eyed sales person. I would recommend that you tell the sales person in the store that you are not buying anything today and are just browsing as soon as you walk in. This may help you avoid someone looking over your shoulder and trying to convince you to buy something you don’t need.
It is often a good idea to have a guitar-playing friend with some experience go with you to several shops to help you determine what sounds good. As a beginner, your ear may not recognize subtle tone qualities that your friend may have an easier time picking up. This can be very helpful.
It is extremely important to remember to shop with your ears and hands and not with your eyes! I can’t repeat this enough! So many new guitar players make the mistake of being distracted by the aesthetics of an instrument instead of the sound and feel of the instrument. This is a sure fire way of buying something you will regret later.
To fully appreciate all the nuances of a guitar, you really need to spend some time with it. Just strumming it for a few minutes is not enough time to get familiar with it completely. It will, however, weed out many of the obvious duds. You should be able to spot things like whether the neck is too small or too big for your hands if the sound is too dull or too bright etc. etc. These are things you should take notice of when first trying out a new guitar. I call it the first pass.
7 - Zero in on the guitar that fits your style.
Here is where your Jedi skills come into play. You need to tune out all the guitars screaming for your attention on the racks and focus on only the guitars that fit your playing style and criteria we spoke about in the earlier section. It may take a while but eventually you will land on the one that sounds and feels right to you. Play if for as long as you need to be sure it is the right one. I often suggest that you put it back down and play a few others then return to it and see if you still feel the same way about it.
Don’t forget to try it sitting and standing as well. If doesn’t seem natural to you, walk away and keep looking. If everyone checks out and you still like the sound and feel of the guitar, then it’s time for the second pass.
8 - Look for any obvious imperfections.
Just because a guitar is in a music store that doesn’t automatically mean it’s in perfect condition. The guitars on the rack are often played by many people before they get purchased. Sometimes people accidentally ding or scratch a guitar or worse drop it! The climate in a store may be too dry which can cause neck relief issues.
When buying any guitar, I always suggest a close inspection for any apparent defects such as chips or cracks, warped necks, buzzing frets, rough fret edges, scratchy pots, misaligned necks, strings that are too high or too low or anything else you can spot.
Take note that an off the shelf guitar may be a great guitar but simply not feel right because of little or no setup. It is always a good idea to ask if the guitar has been set up. If it has not the store should include a free setup with the purchase of the guitar. If they don’t or will charge you for it, you might walk away from that shop altogether.
Keep in mind that almost all new guitars require a proper adjustment including proper neck adjustment and intonation. Also, most other minor issues can be resolved with an adjustment as well. It’s important to be able to determine what is a minor issue or a major one.
Here are a few issues that would make me walk away from a guitar:
• A crack in the neck joint of the guitar
• A neck that is twisted
• Frets that are not level or have a couple of visibly high frets
• Necks that have too much space on either side of the pocket. More than a millimeter to two
• Guitars that go out of tune repeatedly right after tuning
• Buzzing frets
• Scratchy pots
• Deep chips in the finish of the guitar
• Nuts that are cut too low for the strings
• Bulging top directly under or behind the bridge (Acoustic guitars)
9 - Leverage your purchasing power at the right time:
When you are ready to purchase your new guitar you have the leveraging power in your favor. This is the ideal time to ask for perks. You usually can negotiate a few things like a new set of strings, picks, a case, and a tuner or cable.
I would strongly recommend getting a proper hard case for your new guitar. I typically do not recommend the soft gig bags. They don’t really do a great job of protecting your investment. Most dealers leave the factory strings on the guitars for quite a while which you can tell by the dead tone they produce. New strings quickly resolve the problem and dealers will often agree to give you a set free of charge.
10 - Invest in Proper lessons:
With all of the online video lessons on YouTube today, it is very tempting to forgo any official lessons from a qualified teacher and try to teach yourself. This can be done but is often the slower and more frustrating approach.
I would strongly recommend some private guitar lessons to get you started on the right track even if it is costlier. Think of it as an investment. While videos and books are a great supplement, they usually don’t teach you correct technique (the precise way to position fingers, hands, arms, back, and playing), only theory. Once you have developed improper technique it is often quite difficult to break bad habits. So it’s much better to get started with the proper guidance. Plus, the best way to get a better overall sound is to master your instrument. It is said that tone comes primarily from the fingers and not the guitar, I couldn’t agree with that statement more! If you gave Jimmy Page, Steve Vai or Guthrie Govan an inexpensive guitar they would still make it sound great. While hand a Gibson custom shop reissue to a guitarist that can’t play and it will still sound terrible.
Enjoy playing the heck out of your new guitar!
It’s not often that I choose to forgo plugging directly into one of my tube driven amps to experiment with some software based amp simulation interface like TH2. Thankfully I decided to do just that a few days ago. If it were not for that, I would never have heard the unique sounds of the Brunetti amp simulations that eventually lead me to search out some YouTube videos and ultimately discover the new Brunetti PlexiMan amp.
I clicked on video link after video link and what I saw and heard intrigued me. Here I was listening to an Italian designed compact 50 Watt two-channel amp head complete with two-tone tolex and effects loop. It sounded wonderful through my speakers and I was pleased to discover that it also was switchable down to 5 Watts.
I let the sounds and features linger in the back of my mind for a few days in the hopes that I would lose interest. I kept repeating that I really didn’t need another amp! A few more hours reading reviews on the forums as well as whatever few bits of information I could find online and I found myself e-mailing Brunetti for pricing. I was disappointed to learn that there were no distributors in Canada as of yet but surprised by how reasonable the price of the amp was. Of course, the marginally declining Euro was not in my favor as the Canadian dollar was still much weaker overall. A few e-mails with Mary at Brunetti and my PlexiMan was on order and would be shipping out in about one week. All my questions were answered quickly and Mary and I even exchanged a little World Cup Soccer talk and I told her I was hoping Italy would defeat Germany in the weekends game!
The longest part of the whole process was upon me… Waiting for FedEx to arrive so I could finally hear in person what I’ve only had a teaser of online.
Once FedEx dropped off the package, the first thing I noticed was how light the box was. After opening the box, I was pleasantly surprised at how compact the Brunetti was. I don’t really enjoy lugging around larger heavy amp heads anymore so this was precisely what I was looking for.
Out of the box, the amp is stunning to look at, really nicely made. The two tone tolex was finished expertly and the handle of the unit felt high quality and sturdy enough to withstand daily use if required.
It also came with an offer for a free Brunetti version of Overloud TH2 which is a nice additional perk I will take advantage of soon.
The front panel of the amp was very easy to read with the white lettering on the black front panel. The white MXR style knobs were also easy to read and felt snug and solid to the touch. The front panel had 6 switches and a green power indicator light but more about the switches later.
The amp cover was designed with a side pocket to conveniently store the footswitch. A nice touch! I pulled out the foot pedal from the amp cover with the large Brunetti logo silkscreened across the front of it and was pleased with how solid it felt. The unit was made of thick steel and even included a foam rubber base and 3 indicator lights for the amps 3 switchable channels. Hotrod mode, solo mode, and channel. The input jack for the footswitch was hardwired to the box. This is something that could end up getting damaged eventually, but the high quality, thick gauge wire put me at ease. It was also long enough to use onstage without any issues.
The user manual was a little basic. It was a set of sheets printed in an inkjet printer and bound together. I’m not a big manual reader type of guy since I usually like to dive right in and figure it out as I go, but I thought it looked somewhat cheap. The information was clear enough, though.
So let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the amp. I plugged in into my Marshall closed back 4-12 cabinet with vintage Celestion g12-65 speakers. I was surprised at how the amp sounded balanced with all the knobs set to the 12 o’clock position. Actually, I found it was a little difficult to actually get a bad sound out of it. Turning the knobs one way or another just gave you more flavor but never really brought you into a sound that was not pleasant like some other amps can sometimes do.
Since you can switch to the hotrod mode from the pedal board, the amp is almost a three channel amp.
I found that the amp interacted with my pedals very well. I normally like to play with an overdrive pedal on and just a little delay and some slight reverb for a little more sparkle. I felt that I no longer needed to use my Wampler Pinnacle or my Fulltone Plimsoul as the amp was able to deliver better overdrive tones than the pedals. This amp just may allow me to free up some space on my pedal board if I remove the overdrives. I did keep my EP booster pedal on however because I feel that unit pushes amps just enough and makes everything sound better.
I felt that the amp interacted with the Celestion G12-65 speakers in a very, very nice way. I would like to try it into my open back 2 12 cabinet with a WGS vintage 30 and a WGS version of the G12-65 but I haven’t got around to it yet. The sound was full and not spikey or fizzy at all. The bottom end of the sound spectrum was perfect. Not boomy and not anemic either. I felt it would do very well in a live rehearsal situation.
The 50-watt mode is loud enough to handle any band situation with ease. No worries there. The 5-watt mode works tremendously well in a bedroom setting. It can be lower volume if you want it to be, but can also be loud if you crank it. Always full and natural sounding.
Most amps I’ve tried fail in the lower watt modes because I feel the amps tend to lose too much of their original character. I didn’t think the Brunetti did that at all. The sound still filled the room nicely and as a matter of fact, the 5-watt mode cranked up loud sounded very punchy indeed. It provided more tone than I expected from a 5 Watt amp.
If I had to put a label on the tones the Brunetti can emulate, I would have to say it produces Billy Gibbons tones with ease. Think Tush, La Grange, or Sharp Dressed Man. It can also produce Van Halen I tones quite convincingly as well as other classic rock sounds.
Compared to my hand-wired Marshall Plexi I can honestly say that the Brunetti PlexiMan is more flexible in that it has more useable tones as well as plenty of punch at lower volumes which the Marshall simply cannot do without some very heavy attenuation. Even with attenuation the Marshall never really gets into that Van Halen brown sound without being modified or using pedals to help it along. Being a one channel non master volume amp it simply needs to be cranked up louder than someone can support in a home setting.
My only gripe with the Brunetti is the somewhat limited clean channel. With just a volume and a tone knob, I feel that you can’t really dial in a true sparkling clean tone. Maybe I have to spend more time in this channel but in all honesty, I tend to spend more time in the Hot Rod channel because it just sounds so darn good!
I think the secret to attaining a really good clean tone with this amp is to stick with the Hot Rod channel. This may sound counter intuitive but trust me, if you increase the volume and decrease the gain while in the 50 watt mode you can get some excellent clean tones. Think Shine On You Crazy Diamond or even some Stevie Ray Vaughn. All you need is a little reverb and a Tube Screamer to push it a little.
The switches on this amp such as the Mello, Extra, Hot Rod and Dense will allow you to spice up you primary tone in so many ways it is simply amazing. I tend to alter the setting of the switches depending on what channel and tones I am trying to achieve. The beauty of having these alternate setting at your disposal is that regardless of the type of guitar you are using, you can optimize the tone of the amp to work with it. Humbuckers or single coils work equally well.
Overall I am extremely pleased with the Brunetti PlexiMan. It offers great value and tones without the extreme price tag typical of other boutique amps on the market. If you are considering a vintage British style amp for classic rock and roll tones, do yourself a favour and demo the Italian designed PlexiMan before purchasing your next amp. I honestly think very few amps currently offer this many features at this price point and build quality. I think you will be more than pleased.
visit www.brunetti.it for more product information
Ibanez JEM is the iconic electric guitar manufactured by Ibanez and first produced in 1987. The guitar's most notable and co-designer is Steve Via. As of 2010, there have been five sub-models of the JEM: the JEM7, JEM77, JEM777, JEM555, JEM333, and JEM70V. The Jem Jr. was released as a low-cost import to meet the demand of players looking for good value and reasonable price.
With many fake Jem copies flooding the market these days, it difficult to be sure you are really getting an original Ibanez made guitar. Unless you buy the guitar from a reputable guitar store or have a really good eye you just may get scammed so buyer beware especially if you are looked for one on the used market.
When I purchased the Jem Jr. I did so on a whim. I have been a big fan of Steve Vai since I was a teenager. Not so much for his music as for his technique and virtuosity. I will be honest and say that I don't even own one of his records. Don't judge me! I was looking for a guitar that didn't quite have the same sound or features as the other guitars in my collection. The Ibanez fit the bill
very nicely. I like to compare this guitar to a sports car. Slim flat neck with wife frets makes it super easy to play. The vine of life inlay and monkey grip handle make it quite identifiable at first glance. The little things like the angled input jack add to the unique design it is well known for.
The HSH configuration of the pickups gives you quite a bit of additional tonal range. Although players who are not used to this configuration may find themselves a little limited in picking space between pickups. Honestly, I don't really use the center pickup very much but I refuse to remove it because I want to stay true to the look of the original Jem. I feel that although the stock pickups in the Jem Jr are adequate, they are nothing that I consider impressive. Yes, they do the job, but I am certain that the guitar could benefit from a pickup upgrade if you are looking to squeeze the most out of this Ibanez.
One aspect of the guitar that irks me a little is that they decided to go with a super white pick-guard instead of the off-white pearl version on the original. I can't help but feel that this looks out of place on the guitar. One can always purchase a replacement but I fear that the hole locations are not in the same location. So installation may be somewhat of a challenge without being forced to drill new holes.
The bridge although decent is not nearly at the same level of quality as the original. I was not surprised to see that Ibanez opted to go with a cheaper version to keep costs down. Some people have voiced their disappointment in this area but using cheaper badges and electronics is a commonly seen tactic among guitar manufacturers looking to cut costs. I would say that the bridge on the JEM Jr is a mid-level bridge that for the most part hold tuning well enough. I have seen much much worse at around the same price point from other manufacturers which shall remain un-named. You always have the option of dropping in an original Floyd Rose if you intend to keep the guitar long term.
The guitar setup was very well done out of the box. The action was low and comfortable. The fret edges we well rounded and not sharp and the bridge was floating level and adjusted properly. So no complaints in that department.
Overall I think the Jem Jr is a very nice guitar although a little retro after all these years. It's not for everyone and some traditionalist may find that it is not for them, the 70's and 80's crowd will still get a kick out of this shredder guitar.