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more... Gear Award 2011ReviewsDecember 2011

Best of 2011: Premier Gear Awards

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Best of 2011: Premier Gear Awards

SATELLITE MUDSHARK
There’s no shortage of fools that have gone in pursuit of Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin I tone, forgetting that it was a combination of studio wile, an all-analog studio signal path, and a certain set of magical, genius fingers interfacing with a mind open to wildly divergent influences. Even still, Satellite Amplification did us mortals the favor of resurrecting one of the most vital components of the equation—a beautiful take on Jimmy Page’s Supro Thunderbolt cheekily dubbed the Mudshark.

This dead-simple, 5881-tube powered, 20-watt, blue sparkle meanie, is a thing of minimalist beauty. And we discovered that it can very stylishly move from wellmannered to malevolent, finding that it “remains defined during complex chord work, and exhibits pick sensitivity that we have rarely experienced in an amplifier. It’s very honest, with beautiful grit and nary an ounce of dampening or over-compression.”

It may not get you all the way to “Dazed and Confused,” but it can get you part of the way in style and perhaps open up some unexplored facets of your own playing along the way.

satelliteamps.com

FUCHS PLUSH FX JERSEY THUNDER
Andy Fuchs’ Plush line of effects have been turning up with ever more regularity on the pedalboards of frontline guitar rippers. If the Jersey Thunder is any indication, bassists will soon be falling in line—especially if, as reviewer Jordan Wagner observed, the Jersey Thunder can summon frequencies from your bass you may not have even known were there.

Like so many Fuchs products, from amps to pedals, the Jersey Thunder seems built with an ear for touch sensitivity. The versatile Shape control moved Wagner to comment on how he could summon punch without loss of clarity. He found the Slope EQ settings “perfectly tuned.” Little surprise, perhaps, given that Andy Fuchs is behind it all—but maybe a revelation for bass players in waiting.

fuchsaudiotechnology.com



BREEDLOVE GUITARS FOCUS SE CUSTOM WALNUT
Breedlove built its rep’ on top-quality guitars that walked just a little off the beaten path. The Focus SE Custom Walnut couldn’t do a better job of holding up that tradition. With walnut back and sides and a redwood top, it’s a beautiful deviation from bread and butter tonewood combinations.

The result, as reviewer Gayla Drake Paul noted, is a guitar that’s “simultaneously dark and brilliant, thanks to the snappy-but-deep qualities of the walnut back and sides— which sound a bit like a cross between rosewood and mahogany—while the redwood has the warm detail of cedar.” Gayla also loved its rich and varied personality: “it’s quite loud, projects extremely well, and is responsive to a light touch—all of which translates to great dynamic range. Play it whisper-soft and you’ll get a crystalline, delicate tone. Dig in, and the Focus SE rocks without significantly blurring overtones.”

We also noted it’s a guitar that “gorgeously illustrates how Breedlove has helped bridge forward-thinking and old-world styles.” We’re thankful that Breedlove still knows how to walk that walk.

breedlovemusic.com

BLACK CAT BEE BUZZ
In tackling a re-interpretation of the underground legend that was and is the Roland Bee Baa, Black Cat not only gave new life to one of the great unsung fuzzes, but lent some of its own twists that make it a standout in a cluttered cosmos of buzz ‘n’ fuzz boxes.

The strength might be a beautifully skuzzy, but surprisingly meaty, ’60s-style fuzz in Bee mode, a switch to Buzz mode rendered our candy apple Bee Buzz a brawny cousin to the Fuzz Face and Big Muff clans.

Gear Editor Charles Saufley was moved to gush that the “Bee Buzz is a brilliant beam of stinging light in the world of brawny, super high-gain fuzzes,” and that “with the flip of a switch it transforms into a meatier Muff-like fuzz that can run with those tigers, too.” For those who don’t mind risking the sting, the Bee Buzz is one burly little bugger that can rise above the din.

blackcatpedals.com

EVENTIDE SPACE
Rarely has such an ambitiously named piece of gear lived up to its handle. No joke, this little box really can sound like the whole freaking cosmos in all its exploding, nebulous glory. It’s a pretty nice straightforward reverb, too, if that’s your need or fancy. But smart and free-ranging players will take advantage of all its multitudinous capabilities, and will no doubt make some very interesting music.

Space does its magic by spinning out sonic tangents from 12 basic reverb algorithms, including Hall, Room, Plate, Spring, and Reverse and more esoteric algorithms like Mangledverb (distorts and detunes reverb tails), Shimmer (shifts pitches in reverb tails and lends a touch of harmonizing), and Blackhole (lends an overtone-rich, morespacious- than-space feel).

The latter is a particularly apt descriptor because this Eventide can truly be a Black Hole for practice time. Few pedals have ever made a single D chord so cool in so many ways. Those who care to venture further into the ways it will interact with more nuanced playing risk never returning. Like the universe itself, Space is virtually endless. If you go, don’t forget to write.

eventide.com

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