Review: Martin Signature D-420

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Happy 4/20! Martin wanted to celebrate too and created this monster D-420 signature edition Dreadnought acoustic guitar. I just so happen to have one in studio and have decided to strum out some of my favorite Willie Nelson tunes on it in celebration.

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The Look

What can be said about the whimsical top finish illustration by artist, Robert Goetzl. It looks like I slapped a bunch of pot leaf stickers on a Martin, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing I guess, but definitely suits a specific demographic.
Mahogany back and sides with that pot-covered Sitka spruce top, all look great as a good Martin should. I’m really bummed this doesn’t feature some hemp wood or fiber variant as the headstock or something, but forget the novelty, the guitar looks great.

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The Feel

Martin invented the Dreadnought shape, so they are used to getting it right. This guitar is big and feels like the most traditional dread-bodied models all wrapped into a pot-loving exterior. The neck is of “low oval” shape and feels just right when fretting campfire tunes… in a skyscraper in Chicago.
It features an ebony fingerboard and bridge for extra “high-performance” acoustic guitar features.

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The Tone

This guitar, no matter how it looks or what message it gets across, sounds great; a truly rewarding acoustic experience. The low-end booms out of the dread-body and the mids punch though with fine definition and clarity. Leaving the highs just enough room to round out the tone with enough sustain to fill the sonic space in any folk song.
Along with most acoustic guitars, this one has to be played to be believed. I wasn’t getting the same impression from a recording as I was with it actually in my hands, and feeling each sustained note through the body.

The Recommendation

This guitar is for Willie Nelson.

Review: Paul Reed Smith McCarty 594

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Lately, John Mayer has been generating some hype on the “PRS Stratocaster” he wore on-stage in Boston, MA. Though it seems like PRS just went ahead and made a body style for Mayer that he’s comfortable with, many are feeding the rumor-mill (including Mayer himself) claiming a new PRS signature is on the way. So this got me in the PRS mood, I headed into the live room and picked up a stunning McCarty 594, let’s hear it.nick13

The Look

I’ll be the first to admit, I never really “got” the whole appeal of PRS-looking or “California-topped” guitars. I’ll agree that it does showcase the exotic tone woods used in production of the guitar, but I always was more accustomed to a simpler design.
That does not take away from the fact that this guitar is unbelievably gorgeous. The flamed maple 10-top looks immaculate and powerful. The traditional PRS bird inlays are neat, and add a class to this guitar that is really only prevalent in instruments like this (ones that cost nearly as much as a down payment on a house.)
The back and neck are a mahogany, simple but effective at emulating warm tone of Les Paul of yesteryear.

The Feel

Playing this guitar was a distinctive experience. I was getting the feel of a Les Paul in some ways, but there was another nagging feeling of something different. It plays like its own instrument, it’s not a 100 percent emulation of any one guitar or brand, this is a PRS of the highest level and it uniquely shows in its play. The neck is wide and body is thick for an electric, it feels powerful in the hand. Nothing was difficult to reach or fret, I can see Gibson player as well as the PRS faithful regarding this guitar in the highest degree.

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The Tone

The McCarty features PRS 58/15 LT pickups with “push/pull” coil taps on the tone controls. The pickups are setup for a vintage tone, and in the humbucker mode they crunch right along with the best of the 50s and 60s Gibson pickups. Pushing this guitar through the Fender Vibrolux Reverb left me with tons of tonal options and kicking on the coil tap to “single” let a “jangly” Stratocaster tone ring out through the speakers.
I kept the pickups on single-coil for the rest of the session. I was amazed with the tone this guitar got; almost a “wet” already mixed/compressed stratocaster tone that would be perfect for jazz or R&B.

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The Recommendation

This guitar is for the PRS purist, someone who is with the company until the end. With its price tag, features and playability it is firmly in the “elite/performance” category of instruments. Such a high-end instrument can’t really be limited to a singular use (studio, tour, etc.) This guitar is a “forever guitar” something that will be a workhorse, and always sound great doing whatever is asked of it.

Review: Ernie Ball Music Man Valentine

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In studio today we’ve got a rad Ernie Ball Music Man James Valentine Signature Guitar. Valentine is the guitarist for “Maroon 5,” a very eclectically voiced band, with tracks ranging in genre from R&B, Pop, to Rock. Valentine in conjunction with Ernie Ball has created one of the best signature guitars I’ve ever had the chance to play; let’s get into it.

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The Look

The James Valentine signature is strangely stunning. “Strange” because of its pure simplicity of design. A wedge-shaped ash slab body, with a oil-and-wax rubbed and roasted maple neck are the first features I took in as I grabbed this guitar off the rack. Playing the “Transparent Maroon” model allows just a touch of grain to bleed through the finish, it looks great and subtle. After holding the guitar for a moment, the oversized “4-over-2” headstock caught my eye, and feels really good in the hand and the addition of locking Schaller tuners hints at the “pro” aspect of this instrument.
Ernie Ball is in the business of making “pro level” guitars and this is certainly one of those. From the “Vintage/modern” hardtail bridge, to the volume and tone controls (both with push-push) and a 3-way pickup switch, the Valentine can be an easy studio shredder and solid workhorse for almost any type of guitarist.

The Feel

Obviously the first impression of the oil-and-wax rubbed, roasted maple neck was spectacular. A fast, almost “shredder” quality to it makes even the most demanding arrangements play out with a subtle ease I’m used to getting on high-end guitars; no surprises here.
The body is bigger than most solid bodies I’m use to, but has a decent form factor that really doesn’t compromise the “feel” between comfort and keeping an intact ash slab, for tonal reasons.
This guitar feels like I’m playing a Les Paul with a thinner neck. With a 10″ neck radius, it feels a lot like my native telecasters do, which I like but could be a negative in some hands.

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The Tone

Though this guitar is visually appealing, it’s under the hood where this it really shines. James Valentine mentions with this guitar he wanted to combine the tones of a Gibson 335 and a Fender Telecaster in one, basically one he could play throughout an entire “Maroon 5” set, all types of genre shifts, and tone changes in a one hour period without switching to a new guitar.
When plugging this guitar into a Fender Vibrolux Reverb and getting just a touch of overdrive, I’m hearing the 335 tone right away. Deep driving chords and focused leads, thick tones akin to tons of Gibsons. When I push in the tone knob it coil splits the Music Man custom pickup (which has staggered pole pieces) and a familiar “tele-twang” erupts from the Vibrolux full of screeching highs, and punchy mids.
After noodling around on a relatively clean tone I push in the volume knob to unleash a 20db boost and a crunchy breakup in the Vibrolux. Pairing these with the slab ash body adds some great sustain and some brightness with the roasted maple neck.

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The Recommendation

This guitar is definitely receiving a nomination for being a player’s “forever guitar.” Being as versatile as it is, coupled with the vintage looks and outstanding feel the Valentine signature can be a good option in both the studio, with its tone options and out on the road, with its high build quality and ease of use. Without a doubt this instrument is a “pro-player” level guitar, but has the options and feel to be a great asset in the hobbyist or collector’s repertoire.

Review: Supro Westbury

 

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Today in the shop I had the pleasure of noodling around on a new favorite of mine, the Supro Westbury (Antique White.) This guitar jumped out at me from the first glance, gorgeous looks coupled with a fast satin neck and vintage-toned gold-foil pickups; let’s get into it.

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The Look

The first thing I noticed was obviously the retro looks of this guitar. It’s just weird enough looking and feeling to draw in the vintage lovers and utilitarian enough to bring in the modern tone-chasers.

Based on a 1960s beveled edge body style, the Westbury is more reminiscent of a 50s roadster than Fenders and Gibsons of the time. Block inlays, striking black pick guard with “50s wiring” volume and tone completed with a 5-way pickup switch, “wave-style” tailpiece, and all draws the eye to the Supro mini gold-foil pickups in the bridge and neck positions.

The satin neck on the Supro Westbury brings life to the vintage tone.

 

The Feel

Seconds after grabbing the Westbury off the guitar stand I noticed a key feature: it’s weight. I expected it to be a bit heavier, more like a Les Paul nearing 11lbs. Supro gives this guitar an average weight of about 9lbs. That’s great news for those with shoulder problems and road warriors alike.

After marveling about the weight I got down to playing and this 12″ radius satin maple neck spoke to me. Fast, responsive and just thick enough, it really had me treading the line between fighting the guitar (in a good way) and putting me on auto-pilot (like some tele necks do.) After a few months of playing this guitar I can postulate that I’ll really never want much else. The set neck is another feature that gives a nice sustain-filled, vintage vibe only replicated in similarly voiced vintage instruments.

The Tone

As stated before, the center-piece of this guitar’s design is most definitely the Supro gold-foil pickups; this is also true for the tone and playability of this instrument. When I’m really digging in and pushing the Supro 1624T combo amplifier there is a nice high-end sparkle that accompanies the mid-range crunch and resonance I’m use to with vintage toned guitars. On the clean side, the Westbury punches through and could easily be used as the main voice in a crowded song.

I can see this guitar being utilized in both rhythm and lead applications on-stage. A lot more versatile than I originally imagined from an instrument of this design.

The Recommendation

This guitar is for the player who wants a “work-horse” with all the flash of a vintage “private reserve” style instrument. The touring musician can draw from the weight and playability of the neck, and the studio dweller can use the Westbury as an alternative single-coil option to bring a different sonic profile to a track.

This is a guitar I want to pick up everyday and try on every amp I can get my hands on. It’s tone is rare, and finally available on a modern designed instrument with an affordable price.

For more info on Supro’s newest line of guitars and amplifiers, visit: SuproUSA.com.

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