Editor’s top picks from Anaheim—the cream of the crop in cutting-edge gear.
By the last day of the four-day Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California, you see a lot of exhibitors, journalists, and gearheads walking around with rather glazed looks in their eyes. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. See, Winter NAMM 2012 was busy ... hoppin' ... cookin' ... happening. And that means business is good -- so good, in fact, that it's just plain hard to take it all in.
But blasted and dazed as we are when we emerge from the buzzing confines of the Anaheim Convention Center, there's a lot you don't easily forget. So here are some of the guitars, amps, pedals, and basses that blew us away, in full color for you to see for yourself.
One of the great things about NAMM is that it's a beautifully democratic bazaar. Garage-based pedal builders hawk their wares just a stone's throw from the biggest players in the business. And just when you think the newest 6-string from Fender, Martin, Gibson, Taylor, or PRS is the thing you'll remember as you fall off to sleep that night, some upstart fuzz builder pulls you over and blows your mind -- cranking their latest contraption through a ratty, blackface Princeton from a booth the size of your closet.
The whole cross-section is represented here, some of our favorites, anyway. But there's plenty more to see, including in-depth video coverage, at premierguitar.com. Check it out. Then holler and let us know what you think. You'll be seeing a lot of these products reviewed in the months to come, but we'd love to know what you're all hot about, too. Frankly, we're still a little blown away by everything we heard and saw.
1. Reverend Eastsider
Reverend’s Eastsider is the company’s second Pete Anderson Signature model. It has a Broadcaster-style bridge pickup, korina body, and a compound radius fretboard.
2. Moog Lap Steel
The Moog Lap Steel was one of the most intriguing instruments at NAMM. It’s built around the electronics from the Moog Guitar, which means the Lap Steel is capable of practically infi nite sustain, a cool controlled sustain mode that simultaneously mutes unplayed strings and sustains played strings, and a piezo pickup so you can blend natural lap steel sounds and Moogifi ed tones.
3. Jens Ritter Monroe
Jens Ritter’s Monroe, dressed up in deep and luxurious royal blue from head to toe, was a contender the running for the Rolls Royce of NAMM. Ritter conceived the model after a rockabilly listening binge and features custom humbuckers and a Bigsby B7 modifi ed by Ritter himself.
4. Hagstrom Viking baritone
The new 28"-scale Viking Baritone features a maple semi-hollow body with fl amed top veneer, a vintage-voice humbucker and P-90, dual volume and tone controls, and 22 frets. Besides being beautiful and sounding great, it’s remarkable in two big ways: It’s possibly the only semi-hollow production baritone on the market, and it streets for around $700.
5. LSL Instruments BadBone 2
This vintage-themed beauty comes in a choice of swamp ash, pine, or alder bodies, features either a 7.25"- or a 9.5"-radius fretboard, and has a trimmed-down T-style bridge that accommodates its handwound PAF-voiced LSL humbuckers.
6. Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar
Fender’s Johnny Marr signature Jaguar includes several signifi cant and useful evolutionary features. Pickups can be wired in series or in parallel and there’s a reconfi gured bright switch. Marr also requested Bare Knuckle pickups and the guitar has a chunkier-than-usual neck based on a favorite ’65 Jag in Marr’s quiver.
1. Blueridge BG-2500 Super Jumbo
Blueridge’s BG-2500 Super Jumbo has a gorgeous flame maple back and sides, spruce top, sweet, hefty neck, art deco bridge and barks like a 200-pound hound.
2. Lowden F-35
Lowden’s F-35 fanned-fret prototype looks bound for production and the combination of reclaimed redwood top and Honduran mahogany back and sides sounds distinctly Lowden—warm, detailed, and really responsive.
3. Santa Cruz Baritone
Santa Cruz Guitars brought some show stoppers this year as part of their program to support local guitar shops, including this spectacular dread-bodied baritone with sycamore back and sides and Italian spruce top.
4. L.R. Baggs M80
Lloyd Baggs’ new soundhole pickup features a stacked humbucking design in which the second coil is suspended in a proprietary material that allows the pickup to act as a 3-D body sensor. It also has active/passive modes and a multi-segment battery indicator for more convenient battery-power tracking.
1. Orange OR50
Big and classically British, the single-channel OR50 is a reissue of Orange’s legendary “Pics Only” 50-watt head from 1972. Two EL34s, two 12AX7s in the preamp, an attenuator section and a ton of classic Rock Over London vibes.
2. Marshall 1-Watt Anniversary Editions
Marshall Amplification introduced 1-watt versions of their classic amplifiers celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary in 2012. There is the JTM 1, JMP-1, JCM800, DSL1, and JVM1. Each amplifier represents the corresponding decade the amp was originally released.
3. Diezel Hagen
A refinement on Peter Diezel’s acclaimed VH4 head, the brilliant and brutal new 100- watt Hagen is powered by four EL34s and has a preamp that’s driven by six 12AX7s and controlled by four horizontally arrayed independent channels—clean, crunch, mega, and lead. It also has three effects loops—one MIDI controlled serial, a permanent serial, and a permanent parallel with volume control.
4. Carr Bloke
Carr amplifiers unveiled their new hi-gain amp, the Bloke. It takes its inspiration from vintage British heads and late-’60s tube bass amps from America. Controls include lead master, treble, and bass with the bass routed through a separate circuit. The Bloke is powered by two EL34s, but is compatible with 6V6 tubes.
5. Jet City JCA22W
Based on Mike Soldano’s Atomic 16 amp, the EL84-powered, 20-watt Jet City JCA22W is a dream for guitarists who love hearing pure tube tone onstage but are at the mercy of sound men in the house mix. The JCA22W’s monitor-like wedge shape enables you to blast your own unadulterated tones into your face while sending a 4x12-simulation via direct output to the PA.
6. Ampeg R-12R Reverberocket
1. Malekko Plus Ultra, Chaos, and Helium
Malekko released three fuzz boxes at NAMM. The Wolftone Plus Ultra, Wolftone Chaos, and Wolftone Helium all create different flavors of absolutely insane fuzz mayhem— and exponentially so when they’re used together— and they are licensed designs from Studio Electronics, whose own versions are highly sought-after rarities.
2. Earthquaker Organizer and Rainbow Generator
Earthquaker Devices was up to their usual sickness at NAMM. The Organizer helps you generate organ tones and odd oscillations. The Tone Job is a simple but effective cut/boost EQ and boost. The Rainbow Machine is a DSP-driven, pitch shifting, tone twisting, dimension altering piece of hardware that can also be controlled with an expression pedal and sounds freaking incredible.
3. Egnater Overdose
Egnater announced two new pedals at the NAMM show, the Holy Driver and Overdose. The Overdose is a pure analog overdrive and boost pedal. The right side handles the boost and can be routed either before it after the overdrive section in the signal chain. There are also patch in/out jacks so you can insert other pedals between the overdrive and boost sections.
4. Jack Deville Deuce Coupe
The Deuce Coupe is Jack Deville’s new dual-mode overdrive pedal. You can double tap the clickless, true-bypass switch to activate between 4 and 16 dB of boost.
5. Rivera Sustain Shaman
Paul Rivera’s new compressor goes way past traditional guitar-pedal compressor designs by offering two channels with extremely low-noise circuitry. Channel B has a SuperSust switch for long, sustained leads, while channel A is voiced for rhythm work.
6. Pigtronix Infinity Looper
Pigtronix Infinity Stereo Multi-Track Looper features dual stereo loops with sync, 20 loop presets, multiplier for loop 2 (2, 3, 4, or 6 times), and USB access to save loops.
7. Diamond Pedals Quantum Leap
Diamond Pedals introduced two new pedals at NAMM. The Cornerstone has two gain controls and two switches for bright and mid. The Quantum Leap, which has design roots in the Memory Lane Jr., is capable of everything from a flanger-ish short delay all the way to a 500 ms, analog-style delay. You also can get classic, chimey modulation tones and pitch shifting up or down one octave.
8. Red Witch Synthotron
The new Synthotron pedal, which is dressed up in what looks like a visual nod to the wild Mu-Tron pedals of old, offers up a wild variety of psychedelic tones, including octave and envelope-filter functions that let you get your Dr. Who on.
1. EBS Reidmar
2. Epifani AL Combo
Epifani introduced the AL series line of bass combos at NAMM. The AL is the first to use a solid-aluminum shell, a construction technique that Epifani says results in improved frequency response and power output without unwanted tonal colorations.
3. Lakland Bass 60-11 Prototype
Lakland brought a new bass prototype called the 60-11 to the show, and it’s likely to appease anyone who’s ever lusted for a Fender Bass VI. This 6-string is technically a bass, but will be familiar to baritone guitarists, too. The bass is loaded with three Hanson P-90s and sounds just as good through a bass or guitar amp.
4. Warwick Jack Bruce Survivor
This fretless, neck-through designed bass is ready to rumble. Available in both fretted and fretless versions, this beauty is handcrafted in Germany and outfitted with passive MEC single-coils and active MEC 2-way electronics. With a stained, high-polish finish in either burgundy red or nirvana black, Bruce’s signature axe certainly turned some heads in Anaheim.
5. Gallien-Krueger 800 MB Fusion
GK’s latest features 800 watts (at 4Ω) of power shaped by a 12AX7-driven preamp. It’s all packed into an incredibly portable design that weighs around five pounds. New front-panel features include backlit mute and -10 dB input padding toggles.
Hartke''s powerful new Kilo head features built-in compression, overdrive, muting, a slew of EQ controls, and multiple connection features.
Compared to guitarists, it seems bassists often get the short end of the stick when it comes to the sheer numbers of gear offerings. Granted, the past decade has seen much more gear released for low-end rumble than ever before, but the numbers still pale in comparison to how many tone tools guitarists have at their disposal. This isn’t because bassists are afterthoughts to most companies—it’s mainly because the average bassist has fewer tone-palette needs than the average guitarist. For evidence, all you have to do is compare the number of bassists carting around gargantuan pedalboards and rack systems to the number of guitarists doing so.
However, a handful of effects and tone-processing circuits are integral to a significant number of discerning bassists, and Hartke—a bass-focused company that’s been serving some of the biggest names on the scene since the early ’80s—took pretty much all of those into consideration when designing their monstrously powerful new Kilo head. It features built-in compression, overdrive, muting, a slew of EQ controls, and multiple connection features.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink
The Kilo features an all-tube preamp driven by a trio of 12AX7 tubes. After connecting your bass to the amp’s input, your input level is adjusted by a gain knob and a switch that enables you to pad the input for active pickups. Output is handled by a pair of solidstate power amps, each running 500 watts at 2 Ω or a huge 1,000 watts at 4 Ω when in bridged mono mode. In stereo mode, a balance control varies volume between each side, enabling you to have one cabinet louder than the other if you wish. Tone shaping is handled primarily by the tone-stack EQ’s bass, midrange, and treble controls, but it can be shaped further using a 10-band graphic EQ with an independent volume control. If the 3- or 10-band EQs don’t offer enough range for crafting your tone—and it would be very surprising if they didn’t—the Kilo also include three EQ-shaping push-buttons to add 6 dB to the highs (brite), boost low end (deep), and apply an adjustable EQ curve to the entire tone (shape).
Overdrive can be brought in and out of the circuit via a front-panel button or a footswitch, and it ranges from light grit to super-heavy fuzz. Compression is one of the most essential effects for a wide swath of bassists, and the Kilo’s inclusion of such a circuit removes the need for a separate pedal or rack. Seems like a lot of features so far, huh? And this is only the front panel!
The back panel features three output sections—two for stereo mode or a single output for bridged-mono mode. The stereo section has two 1/4" jacks with a speakON output connector for each side of the stereo signal, all wired in parallel. The bridgedmono area has a single speakON connector, making it the only connection option to use when the amp’s power sections are combined. Dual outs for the preamp and dual ins for the power amp add to the Kilo’s versatility as a standalone tone generator that can be routed straight into a PA or a recording console. There’s also a second dedicated tuner output (the first is on the front panel), and an XLR out. Capping everything off is a pair of jacks for controlling the mute/ overdrive functions, as well as EQ and effects switching. There are also three 1/4" jacks for the stereo serial effects loop.
With Great Power Comes
To test the Kilo, I plugged in a Kramer USA Striker bass and connected the head to two Hartke HyDrive 410 cabinets, each of which has four 250-watt, neodymium-hybrid-cone speakers split between two sealed chambers. Because the speakers are 40 percent lighter than most 10" units, the cabs are surprisingly lightweight and easy to carry.
Tonally, the Kilo is all about smoothness. Its power section serves up clean, booming bass, and the tube preamp keeps things from sounding too processed and flat. Even if you’re running it without any of the extra bells and whistles engaged, it excels at clear, powerful tone. With the 3-band EQ knobs at noon (and the graphic EQ switched off), the amp exhibited an impressively wide dynamic range but had plenty of room left on each control to modify the tone with more low end, scooped or humped mids, or high-end pop for slapping. The low end was thick and buttery smooth, the mids facilitated excellent articulation, and the highs were sweet and rich but never harsh. In short, I was able to coax a massive variety of tones out of the Kilo—from classic Motown grooves to slap-happy funk, dub-worthy tones, and percussive sounds that would fit in with the tightest of metal groups. In fact, even if the Kilo didn’t have all the other impressive accoutrements, the preamp alone would make it a compelling head. When you add in the graphic EQ, which has +/- 12 dB for each band, you’ve got an even more precisely seasoned and tasty smorgasbord of tones.
Beyond EQ curves, one of the Kilo’s most drastic and fantastic ways to modify your low end is its overdrive circuit—which is capable of adding a considerable amount of burly hairiness. With gain set around 11 o’clock, I conjured moderate grind by hitting the strings hard, but the sound still cleaned up when I backed off my attack. Things got warm and fuzzy as gain approached 3 o’clock, though the effect wasn’t quite as punchy as, say, an Electro- Harmonix Big Muff. However, it was easy to control the amount of grit without getting excessive feedback or having to cut bass frequencies or overbearing mids.
The Hartke Kilo is versatile enough to satisfy just about any bassist. Though its range of features may initially appear daunting to players who prefer simple rigs, it’s so easy and intuitive to use that even these players owe it to themselves to check out its fantastically punchy and diverse tones—because it cranks out enough volume to cover pretty much any style of music imaginable.
burly yet infinitely tweakable tones are your bag.
you don’t need massive wattage or you get option anxiety easily.
HyDrive 410 Rating:
your back twinges at the mere thought of traditional 4x10 cabs.
you need the sub frequencies that only 12s or 15s can provide.
This beautiful—and beautifully built—fuzz isn’t a clone of anything. But it is positively packed with fuzz voices generated by parallel germanium and silicon circuits that can be independently operated, blended, and tailored to create a technicolor circus of buzz, grind, fizz, fuzz, and crunch.
If you’re a real texturalist and sonic saucier—one that seeks to color every tune a little differently—one fuzz will never do. Muff tones. Tone Bender tones. Fuzz Face tones. Within each of these classics dwells a perfect fuzz monster, if not several. But when you’re in the middle of a budget recording project, or rehearsing for a show that’s 48 hours away, chances are you don’t have the time to mine your stompbox collection and tinker endlessly with a thousand fuzz permutations to get just the right sound for each and every riff and solo passage.
Imagine then, having the delightfully, functionally schizophrenic Spaceman Gemini III at your disposal. This beautiful—and beautifully built—fuzz isn’t a clone of anything. And it doesn’t promise access to dead-on emulations to every holy grail fuzz of all time. But it is positively packed with fuzz voices generated by parallel germanium and silicon circuits that can be independently operated, blended, and tailored to create a technicolor circus of buzz, grind, fizz, fuzz, and crunch. If you can’t find a fuzz tone here that fits the bill, you might as well consider work as a bongo master.
Unpacking the Spacemen Gemini III is like a little touch of Christmas morning. The pedal comes in a silver spacesuit-cloth drawstring bag adorned with a silkscreened astronaut. And pulling out the Gemini III lends the very justified suspicion that you might have your hands on the coolest new contraption on the block.
The Gemini III has an uncannily authentic NASA-circa-’65 aesthetic. The embossed plastic overlay looks like it was lifted directly from a capsule control panel, and sporting “S”-and-arrow graphics, the knobs look designed for sonic mission-critical precision. The control layout is definitely more complicated than a Fuzz Face, Tone Bender, or Big Muff. The top row of controls consist of a master volume for the effect level, a filter knob, and a 2-position switch that alters the direction of the filter sweep in germanium mode.
The center position of the control set is dedicated to the germanium/ silicon circuit blend knob. It’s an elegantly designed control with a sweep from 1 to 11 o’clock, and a thin line that marks an equal blend of germanium (Ge) and silicon (Si) blend at 6 o’clock. But it’s the very real effectiveness of the control’s range that’s most impressive. On either side of the Ge/Si blend knob there are 3-position switches that step up the gain in three stages for each circuit. Curiously, the lowest gain setting (1) is in the center position. But once you work with the pedal a little bit, the audible difference each setting creates is reminder enough of which position is which.
A cool, early ’60s-style industrial property tag with stamped serial number marks each solid-as-a-brick enclosure. But a look inside reveals that the smart, tough-as-nails engineering is much more than skin deep. The solution to incorporating independent silicon and germanium circuits is a tidy bit of genius. The two boards are stacked ziggurat-style and take up the upper half of the enclosure. Each board is immaculately and logically arranged and wired with a layout worthy of Vulcan high art. Elsewhere the wiring is neat and linear.
Orbiting the Fuzz Globe
If you’re into Brit ’67-’70 sounds of Beck- Ola, Led Zeppelin I, or Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” the cranked reaches of the germanium circuit are a paradise. With the Ge/Se blend set for maximum germanium input and the filter knob cranked, a Telecaster’s bridge pickup stabbed at a Fender Pro Junior with explosive menace that gave “Dazed and Confused” solo phrases an extra dose of garage brutality, and Beck’s signature Yardbirds riffs a little extra muscle and danger.
Through a Marshall Super Lead the same licks were scarily colossal. And a Gibson Les Paul bridge pickup drove the Ge side and Marshall to cloud-piercing heights—impractical and overkill for most of us, but absolute exhilaration—like a GTO and 30 miles of desolate, cop-free, two-lane blacktop.
Blend in more silicon and scoop the mids by rolling off the tone control, and you’re bound for Iommi territory and stoner zones beyond. Even in these ultra thick dimensions, chords retain remarkable note-to-note clarity—even more so with single-coils. And notes sustain with a harmonic sheen that hovers airily over a thick and deliciously muddy bed tone. Aggressive and crafty use of the filter control here can give you a hip, even synthy trace of octave that’s killer for Cream-era Clapton runs and horn-like stabs in heavy funk jams.
At lower gain settings the germanium side is great for mid-’60s garage-punk tones. You might not be able to access that super-clipped Davie Allan-style Buzzrite beehive fuzz, but backing off the master a bit, cranking the guitar wide open, and strangling the Pro Junior a bit conjures a genuinely skanky and thuggish buzz tone that will suit the most surly, swaggering, and chain-slinging biker jam.
You could spend a few hours with the Gemini III and just start to get into the nuances and secret back alleys of filth and fuzz that lurk within the gleaming, polished aluminum enclosure. There’s not a superfluous function on this thing—even if it looks really busy for a fuzz. The gain switches, filter function, and, most importantly, the Ge/ Si blend knob enable you to tailor a guitarand- amp combination to any situation on the fly, at levels from subtle to extreme. This is one fearsome studio weapon.
Perhaps the biggest bummer is that, like most Spaceman pedals, there aren’t many to go around. So let this review be a plea to Spaceman Handmade Effects of Portland, Oregon, USA: Keep these units rolling off the bench. We’ll never tire of taking this trip.
you’re a fuzz nut on the hunt for new flavors and a way to consolidate classic fuzz tones in a single unit.
you rarely venture beyond your favorite Fuzz Face sound.