How many guitars, pedals, and amps do you need? Enough to make you happy. But window shopping alone has its own benefits.
I just got back from the NAMM show, and I am suppressing the nervous twitch of desire. My eyes and ears were flooded with all kinds of great gear, from cutting edge software plugins to microphones to—my favorites—pedals, amps, and guitars. With so much new gear around, G.A.S. was so abundant you could almost smell it hanging over the show floor. (Sorry, I could not resist.)
As you all know, I’m talking about Gear Acquisition Syndrome, the disease for which there is no cure. I have 15 guitars—17, if you count a cigar box and a diddley bow—that cover the sonic waterfront for me and then some. So why would I want more? My tube and solid-state amps are carefully curated so I can recreate all the classic tones I love, and with my quirky playing approach and equally carefully assembled pedalboard, I can put my own spin on every one of them.
And yet … I return with a pocketful of maybes. Maybe that new semi-hollow with the sleek neck and coil-splitting would get me another tone I can’t quite access now? Maybe that pedal would make it easier to accommodate pitch shifting while I solo? Maybe it’s time to add a bona fide high-gain amp, or dive into modeling?
I used to think these impulses were unhealthy. Especially when I was a touring indie musician and had no money to spend on gear. (One of musical life’s great ironies is that club-level working musicians often earn so little that they can’t afford to increase or upgrade the tools of their craft.) But I’ve changed my mind, thanks to my dog.
“You should never pick up interesting things with your mouth.”
Dolly, who is going on 17, is slow … or perhaps methodical … when we go on walks. But every inch of the way she is sniffing, her ears are up, and she stops to spend time looking at and smelling anything that captures her interest, even for a moment. That’s a great way to spend NAMM and to examine gear, with senses and imagination open, considering the potential of everything for your music, prepared to evaluate impulses without prejudice. (But, unlike Dolly, you should never pick up interesting things with your mouth.)
Considering a piece of gear is not the same as buying it, or I’d be broke. And evaluating these flirtations can lead to something good. Let’s say you’re smitten with a brand-new $250 modulation pedal. But after careful consideration and inspection, you realize you can get a similar sound with the chorus or vibrato you already own, and a delay or reverb pedal. The tempting new gear has led you down a path of finding a new, purposeful sound in your current gear. Same with a drive pedal. It’s fresh, it’s raw, it’s low and singing—and maybe with a bit of compression it isn’t very far from the sound you can get with your current overdrive if you just roll back the tone controls on your 6-string. And what about that semi-hollow? Maybe what I really need is a 10-band EQ pedal so I can approximate semi-hollow and hollowbody tones on all my guitars at whim, which would certainly inject a different voice into the solos or choruses of songs in my repertoire. Sometimes looking at new gear reminds us of the full range of our current musical real estate holdings. And that’s great. It’s easy to get in a rut and overlook the potential of gear you already own. (Parallel question: How many of you really make full use of the tone and volume controls on your instruments? I find this to be an oddly neglected zone of exploration, even this many years beyond Eric Clapton’s unfortunately dubbed “woman tone.”)
That said, there’s also not a damn thing wrong with buying some new gear. In fact, it’s great. Guitars, pedals, amps, microphones, plugins, and even accessories seem to get better all the time, which means we probably all have some room for upgrades if we’re able to make them. Same with the tones produced by modern emulations of vintage gear, which ideally get more on the nose with every iteration, while adding improvements to tonality and performance. In terms of consistency and playability, today’s well-made guitars are perhaps the finest ever built, in some cases outperforming the templates that inspired them at much lower cost. And, as the saying goes, every guitar—or pedal, or amp—has new songs inside of it, waiting to be discovered.
Hopefully you’ve gorged on the videos and reports from the NAMM floor that we’ve shared at premierguitar.com with you this month. There was a lot to see, hear, and smell. Well, maybe not smell, but I think you know what I mean. Never be afraid to chase gear temptation, because it can often lead you to interesting places.
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Mesa/Boogie-built updates of two classic combos add boutique amp control and character to handsome vintage templates.
A medium-high-gain overdrive that gives you room to move between fat boost tones and fuzzier fare.
A powerfully heavy but also surprisingly subtle and versatile distortion pedal. Great dynamics and articulation.
Some noise at higher gain settings.
EarthQuaker Devices Zoar
What’s in a name? In dubbing their latest “Zoar,” maybe the pedal pushers from Akron, Ohio, are referencing the falcon from Masters of the Universe. More likely, they are referring to the communal village in Ohio named for the Biblical hamlet spared during the Old Testament razing of Sodom and Gomorrah. Maybe it’s just EarthQuaker Devices’ idea of the kind of ominous name a chunky medium-high-gain distortion should have. The latter scenario isn’t out of the question. It becomes clear pretty quickly that the name totally suits this teal, hammer-finished machine. Yet the Zoar is more than a tool for aggression. It’s a dynamic device that straddles both sides of the distortion/fuzz fence and achieves great touch sensitivity via a discrete transistor-based circuit.
The Zoar is housed in EQD’s standard enclosure and built around a 6-control layout, which has become a familiar sight on the company’s pedals. Here, they control gain, weight, level, bass, middle, and treble. Input and output jacks flank the center-negative 9V input on the crown of the pedal, and there’s a red LED indicator alongside the silent-action footswitch. Most of the controls are self-explanatory, save, perhaps, for weight, which governs the low-end content in the distortion signal. How you set it up plays a big part in shaping the pedal’s overall voice. So, too, does the traditional-looking 3-band EQ which EarthQuaker configured to feel and respond more like a traditional low-pass filter.
The Zoar can be powered by anything from 9V up to 18V DC, and higher voltages enhance the pedal’s dynamics, articulation, and frequency range. The non-latching, relay-based, true-bypass footswitch—called a “flexi-switch” by EQD—enables either standard on/off operation with a single tap or momentary operation when you press and hold.
Rhymes with Roar
Unlike some distortion pedals—and fuzzes in particular—that are nearly all-or-nothing, the Zoar’s gain knob has a gradual curve that yields many subtler drive colors. From around 3 o’clock to maximum, it’s pretty thick and heavy, and very fuzz-like at the highest settings. This is where the “Audio Grinder” part of the pedal’s name makes the most sense, and where the meanest, dirtiest sounds live. It’s great for sludgy chord work or foundation-rumbling riffing. It’s a heavy tone for sure, but one I can imagine using across indie styles, too.
There is an impressive plurality among the pedal’s tones, thanks to the wide-ranging EQ and the girth delivered by the weight knob. From razory and tight to flabby and bovine, there’s an entire world of high-gain, fuzzy distortion available. The Zoar’s noise levels aren’t bad overall, but noise becomes significant in silent passages if you have the gain maxed.
Reduce the gain, tweak the other controls, and the Zoar becomes appealingly nuanced. Where so many distortion and fuzz pedals are virtually unusable with their gain controls at the minimum, the Zoar behaves a lot like a good low-gain overdrive or a fat, semi-clean boost. Set this way, it lends lots of texture and liveliness to the tone as well as just a little hair that stops short of outright distortion as most of us imagine it. At 11 o’clock, you’ll hear a bit more clipping that’s more within the realm of overdrive than distortion, but you can construct many variations on that, thanks to the bass, middle, treble, and weight controls. More variation still is available via use of the 18V power option. It increases clarity and crispness as well as more detail and greater range in the already respectable touch sensitivity, which might make this mode many players’ favorite powering option.
sparkle as it does to generate all-out distortion and fuzzy textures. There’s a little noise with the gain knob at full tilt, but few medium-high-gain drives escape that fate, and the tones are sweet enough that you probably won’t notice anyway.
Bohlinger Tries the EarthQuaker Devices Zoar | First Look
Here’s a look at portable PA systems that’ll handle any throw-and-go gig you might have.
Never underestimate the power of portability—especially when you need to provide the PA. This roundup includes 8 options that aim to balance power, portability, and features along with all the inputs and outputs you might need for a quick-hit gig.
This uber-portable line array offers a whopping 16 articulated 2" neodymium drivers to offer maximum coverage without sacrificing low end. The included app also allows for deep EQ control.
This PA can handle up to six inputs, including stereo Bluetooth and RCA connections. It cranks out 1,000 watts and has over 30 different effects you can add to your mix.
Armed with 2,000 watts of peak power, this PA creates a wall of sound via a dozen 2.5" drivers and a 12" woofer. It also allows you to save 8 presets and includes two USB charging ports.
An all-in-one powerhouse of a PA with a 5-channel digital mixer as the heart of the system. It’s fed by an 1,100-watt, class-D power amp along with 10 line-array speakers and a 12" subwoofer.
This column array includes 12 midrange drivers and two tweeters, and features a cardioid design promising controlled midrange and up to 18 dB rear attenuation.
This PA delivers powerful 1,000-watt sound with custom-engineered subwoofers and neodymium drivers. It’s also packed with Klark Teknik DSP, Bluetooth streaming, and iPhone/iPad control.
This portable PA, with a peak output of 1,300 watts , features a 10" LF driver and a 6x2" column array, a 6-channel mixer, and Bluetooth/aux inputs. It also comes loaded with reverb options, sound presets, and remote control via an iOS/Android app.
A portable PA system that delivers 120 dB of sound thanks to eight 4-inch top speakers and three 8-inch subwoofers. It sports a pair of universal microphone jacks, plus 3.5mm and 1/4-inch aux inputs.