Martin OMC-LJ Pro Laurence Juber Custom Artist Edition
Martin’s OM is one of the greatest acoustic fingerstyle guitars ever designed—heck, it’s just about one of the greatest guitars period. And former Wings and studio ace Laurence Juber is as about as resourceful a guitarist as you’ll ever find. So the fact that the guitar that resulted from the collaboration between the two should end up a recipient of a Premier Gear award isn’t startling. But that doesn’t mean the OMC-LJ (January 2010 web exclusive) is lacking in surprises. Unlike previous Martin Laurence Juber models, the OMC-LJ Pro has a back and sides of maple—a tonewood that imparts a lot of warmth and detail but is more commonly seen on heftier, jumbo-bodied guitars. Reviewer Gayla Drake Paul loved the sonic qualities of the maple and it’s affect on her playing, noting that it had “incredible power, drive, and sustain, with lean but warm bass and plenty of sparkle. You put your hands on it and it starts to sing, and gives up its tone effortlessly. I still haven’t found a way to overdrive it and make it sound fuzzy or distorted.” She also found it amazingly versatile “This guitar rocks. Or whispers. You can make it sing like an angel or bark like a dog. You can play fingerstyle and you can flatpick. It loves open tunings, but sounds awesome in standard tuning.”
Street $4599

Rack Systems Brown Eye and Naked

Amp builder Dave Friedman’s takes on vintage Marshall sounds are informed by working with a very demanding clientele (among them Jerry Cantrell and Eddie Van Halen) but also by an interest in lending them a modern sound and feel. In the form of the 100-watt Brown Eye and Naked heads (September 2010), Friedman took two very bold, impressive, and successful steps toward that goal. Jordan Wagner found the plexi-inspired Brown Eye, with its Fat, Custom 45, and Saturation switches and Clean and Gain channels, to be the more flexible of the two. Noting that it was capable of biting, late-’60s- Marshall clean and saturated tones, Wagner remarked that “the pure, raw aggression lunging from the amp was staggering, to say the least.” The Naked, inspired by a Friedman modification of A Perfect Circle guitarist Billy Howerdel’s JMP 100, is (as the name suggests) the more straightforward affair. Designed for clarity, high gain, and improved touch sensitivity, the Naked impressed Wagner with its headroom and clean-channel tones, though it also had no problem driving into “raging Slayer territory.” With aesthetic nods to the very earliest Marshall heads and tones ranging from classic rock to modern metal, Friedman’s amps cover a lot of high-power Brit amp history and sonic territory.
Brown Eye Street $3500
Naked Street $3000

T-Rex Octavius
Octave pedals can take many forms. They don’t come in as many flavors as fuzz boxes perhaps, but they can run the gamut from chaotic and rhino-grunt-belching to harmonically precise and singing. The T-Rex Octavius (November 2010 web exclusive) has a foot in each world. And for having such a many-faceted identity, it might just become the octave pedal most likely to stay on your pedal board. The Octavius isn’t exclusively a dive-down or high-octave pedal. Instead, you can set volumes for separate high- and low-octave functions, which effectively allows you to create a three-octave tone that you can also boost for super-fat and rich lead work or leave clean for subtle texturizing. Out in front of a fuzz box, this thing can do major damage. But by itself it’s an exceptionally musical pedal that can make your guitar pop in a mix. Reviewer Oscar Jordan was able to “dial in all kinds of octave variations, going from subtle thickening of my stock guitar tone to crazy high-pitched stuff that sounded like my Strat suddenly becoming a 12-string.” Looking for one pedal to totally transform your tone vocabulary? The Octavius may be the ticket.
Street $279

Tone Box Skull Crusher Overdrive

If there’s one thing rockers like, it’s a good skull. And, frankly, were amazed we haven’t seen a stompbox in a brain bucket before the Skull Crusher. Thankfully, when Tone Box got around to doing this most macabre stompbox deed, they made it sound amazing, too. The Skull Crusher (March 2010) is the brainchild of John Kasha, an expert on high-gain Marshall amp modifications. And as reviewer Steve Ouimette found out, it can turn a JCM 800 into a thick, singing beast. Switchable voicings—including, Clear, Ice, Chains, and Body—yield tone-shaping and switchable-gain capabilities that Ouimette likened to “stepping through a very effective tone stack that revoiced the Marshall for four totally usable and very different tones.” A Turbo Boost mode provides access to a super-high-gain boost full of harmonic sustain that is tailor-made for pinched harmonics and other modes of metallic expression. As Ouimette said, “rarely have I heard a pedal that so effortlessly let you be heard through the din. It’s like stepping above the band and proclaiming, ‘Here I am!’” As if having a glowing skull on your pedal board wasn’t enough!
Street $399