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2012 Premier Gear Awards

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2012 Premier Gear Awards

Ritter R8 Singlecut
September 2012
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Jens Ritter has a nose for the finer things—just watch our Ritter shop tour video at permierguitar.com to see what we mean—but he also possesses a sense of exactitude befitting a semiconductor specialist (which he used to be). The convergence of those forces results in instruments like the R8 Singlecut bass—which reviewer Dave Abdo says, “excites the inner scientist and unlocks unlimited creativity from the artist.” The luxurious R8’s body is carved from a single piece of gorgeous flamed maple, and cool touches like ebony pickup covers, a custom brass bridge, triplebuckers (one passive coil and two active coils), and the clever EQ system make the bass an incredible and highly tailorable tone machine. Abdo also found the Singlecut incredibly responsive and balanced, remarking that he could actually feel an ingenuity at work in the bass’ design that reduced fatigue and enhanced techniques. Abdo was moved enough by the R8 to say that the term “art” did not do Ritter’s work justice. If the music that comes out of the R8 is half as inspired as that, it’s worth its weight in gold. ritter-basses.com


Ernie Ball/Music Man Game Changer
October 2012
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The ambitious Music Man Game Changer dares to ask what shapes the marriage of analog and digital can take in an electric guitar. The answer, we found out, was “Just about freaking anything, from a tone perspective”—and that was enough to justify bestowing a Premier Gear award. But we might not have been so inclined were the Game Changer just a gimmick. It’s not. It’s a guitar designed to open up as many combinations of a simple pickup array as possible via digital control. And that philosophy of making the most from a little is one that’s all right by us. Detractors, needless to say, will call it overkill, but we’re inclined to applaud the possibilities of it all. And while the technology might fail to impress players who just want to flick a simple switch and rock, guitarists who relish the micro-nuances of tone will have a field day. And if that describes your musical philosophy, the Game Changer will be worth every penny. music-man.com


Wren and Cuff Box of War
October 2012
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The original Sovtek Big Muff—known far and wide as “the Civil War”—is about as cool looking as pedals come, and it goes without saying that the sound was legendary. Both points serve as the inspiration for Wren and Cuff’s Box of War—a fantastic-sounding, Civil War-inspired fuzz by any measure. But it’s Wren and Cuff’s decision to dress the pedal up in a sturdy, sweet-looking enclosure—which apes the Civil War’s graphic while employing a sort of compact Super Fuzz enclosure design—that makes it all a little more special. The Box of War practically beckons you to stomp, and the payoff when you do is bound to soothe the soul—and stoke the creative fires—of any player who’s ever thrilled to the growling menace and smooth cello tones of a Big Muff. Gear editor Charles Saufley applauded the Box of War’s uncommon penchant for string-to-string detail and harmonic richness, even with chords. It might be a bit too civilized for players who savor the gnarliest Muff tones, but it’s still destined to be one of the classiest and coolest-sounding pedals on any pedalboard at your next gig. wrenandcuff.com


Fano Alt De Facto PX4
October 2012
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If you have a certain type of design eye—one that relishes the collision of guitar design and mid-century furniture design—Gibson’s non-reverse Firebird and Thunderbird basses are slices of jet-minimal- modernist perfection. Luthier Dennis Fano seems devotedly of that school of thought, but his ability to understand the merits of these instruments clearly goes deeper—into realms where a wellworn specimen of the order can deliver musical magic. We found the PX4 to be about as playable as a bass can be, and we were doubly stoked that behind the PX4’s quasi-vintage exterior lurked a 16-position switch that expands the already impressive tone potential of the Lollar pickups. But what the Fano does best is deliver the kind of thumping, authoritative, smooth, warm tones that defined rock’s golden era. Add an overflowingly bossy vibe, and you have a 4-string that borders on irresistible. fanoguitars.com


Wampler Tweed '57
October 2012
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Brian Wampler is already known as a master of replicating amp dynamics with a stompbox, but we all know it still ain’t easy tackling the complex, compressed, squishy-to-exploding tones of a tweed Fender. One of the most beautiful things we discovered about the Tweed ’57 is that, despite having a mission to capture such a specialized and difficult-tonail voice, it works beautifully with tube amps of all types, in addition to solid-state amps. And it can lend an extra measure of tone, EQ, and, dynamic capabilities that can genuinely expand the voice of a tube amp that has started to sound dull. Reviewer Joe Charupakorn remarked that it’s “the kind of pedal that can save your hide when you have to gig in rooms of varying size, or when you’re dealing with a questionable backline.” In other words, the Tweed ’57 gives you more of just about whatever you need—whether it’s jangle or organic crunch—depending on how you use the gain control, input simulator switch, and 3-band EQ. Even if you’re not dead-set on the sound of tweed, the Wampler can still add a whole lot of character and life to your rig. wamplerpedals.com


Catalinbread Octapussy
October 2012
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Octave fuzz adds attitude to a lead like few other effects. It’s sassy, it’s funky, but it can also strip dynamics from your tone and add unwanted compression that can turn a mix to mud. The Catalinbread Octapussy is designed, to a significant extent, to eliminate those limitations. But in the process it becomes an octave fuzz of varied voices and broad capabilities. Most notably, it’s highly reactive to adjustments from a guitar’s volume and tone controls. We found the Octapussy capable of some classic ring-modulator effects, but we were even more impressed with how much sustain and yummy decay the Octapussy generated at less-than-full-bore levels. Overall, we found the Octapussy to be a big leap forward in terms of musicality and range. Best of all, we found it to be a path to unexpected octave effects. Pretty cool for an effect that tends to be stereotyped in terms of tone and application—and it’s also clear evidence of why builders keep tinkering with these circuits. catalinbread.com


Stomp Under Foot The Pi
October 2012
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Matt Pasquerella has carved out quite a niche building great Muff-style fuzz circuits, and that’s because he has a knack for finding great vintage Muffs and figuring out precisely what makes them tick. The Pi is built around the commonalities found in the latest Ram’s Head Muffs and the visually iconic black-and-red Muffs that are a template for the look of Electro-Harmonix’s current NYC version. It may be the perfect pedal for players who don’t know whether they’re more aligned with the searing sounds of the Ram’s Head or the more corpulent Russian Muffs. The tone knob effectively guides navigation between those two EQ spheres. And in its brighter modes, the Pi proves equally adept at Iommi-like lead tones, detailed power-pop arpeggios, and even raspy ’60s buzz when you roll the volume back and crank the sustain. Throw in the capacity to do all things classically Muff—from singing Gilmour leads to desert-rock crunch—and you’re talking about a genuinely evolutionary take on a circuit that gets more gloriously varied the deeper we dig. stompunderfoot.com


Z. Vex Sonar
October 2012
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Thank goodness for Z.Vex. Every time you think you’ve heard it all, these vanguards and explorers of the boutique-pedal pantheon twist sound on its ear again. In this case, Z.Vex tackles tremolo and, in the process, makes this modulation mainstay better suited for high-gain applications and heavy pulsation. The real beauty of the Sonar, however, is the unexpected ways in which it lets you shape the tremolo effect: A built-in noise gate enables crazily intense pulses at high volumes and distorted settings, while the inclusion of Z.Vex’s infamous Machine circuit adds a crossover distortion effect that can make the tremolo rather more grotesque. And an amazing speed range makes the Sonar even more flexible. We applauded the Sonar’s ability to range from “classic to maniacal.” But like so many Z.Vex pedals, it’s award-worthy because of the way it takes an effect we thought we knew and transforms it into a whole new tool for musical expression. zvex.com


Hardwire Supernatural Ambient Verb
October 2012
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As far as guitar effects go, reverb might be unsurpassed for conjuring moods and emotions. And though spring reverb has long been the gold standard for many reverb-loving guitarists, even a simple stompbox reverb can have transformative power—lending grand, cinematic scale to simple chords and single notes. Apparently, the mission of the HardWire Supernatural Ambient Verb is to pack as many of the most emotive reverb textures as possible into a single compact stompbox. That ambition alone would make the Supernatural a Premier Gear award contender, but it’s the HardWire’s ability to deliver a wide range of simple to soaring reverb that puts it over the top. We found the Supernatural just as capable of subtle vintage-amp-style reverb as it is of wide-as-the-sky ambience. And the rock-solid construction inspires a cool “Yes, I really can pack this much atmosphere on my pedalboard” confidence that’s likely to incite widespread excitement among performing post-rock texuralists, indie bands, and prog obsessives. proguitarshop.com


Strymon Flint
October 2012
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We’ve probably started to sound like a broken record in our praise for Strymon, but the fact is that these guys harness the power of DSP for music-making good like few others out there. Like the company’s El Capistan delay, the Flint Tremolo and Reverb was born out of the effort to nail the minute nuances of analog effects that make them classics. And like the El Capistan, the Flint is truly ambitious in terms of its targets—the vibey-as-heck harmonic tremolo from the Fender 6G5 Pro, a brownface-style tube-bias tremolo sound, and the warm, intense, and psychedelic pulses of Fender’s photocell tremolo. That the Flint nails those textures and enables mix-and-match pairings with three superb, tweakable reverbs—a ’60s-style spring unit, a ’70s-style plate emulation, and an ’80s-style, rack-reverb-like voice— makes this pedal a super-fun and expansive texture playground that could confound the most hardcore analog devotee. strymon.net

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