gear award 2017

Multiple shades of overdrive and boost come alive in a compact stomp built to last.

Radial is famous for reliable DI boxes tough enough to double as ball peen hammers. But the company’s utilitarian image often seems to obscure how thoughtfully designed and musical their stompboxes can be. Those qualities are easy to hear, see, and feel in the Tonebone Texas Pro.

Like Radial’s DIs, the Canada-built Texas Pro is ridiculously robust: heavy gauge steel, smooth, precise, and sensitive controls with perfect resistance, a smart effects loop, and switches and jacks that seem impervious to wear. The layout, too, is simple and sensible, with streamlined control sets for the boost and overdrive arrayed across the compact 4 1/2" enclosure.

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Though specifically designed for flatwound bebopping, this stellar instrument handles a variety of genres—including aggro ones—with aplomb.

Even for the most jaded of guitar writers, there are still times when you open a case and mutter, “What the … ?”

That was pretty much my reaction when I unboxed the SP1-1 Jazz Jr. from Los Angeles luthier Michael Pinter. Where to start? The unusual body shape suggests a long-lost cousin of the Coral Electric Sitar. There’s wood-grain veneer on top of the pickups. The logo appears not on the headstock, but inlaid into the body on the bass side of the neck pocket.

And perhaps oddest of all, this slim, bolt-on-neck solidbody is pitched as a jazz guitar. “The SB1-J Jazz Jr. is our take on what a jazz guitar can be,” reads Pinter’s website. “What it is not is just an electric solidbody fitted with flatwounds. Rather, it was designed from the ground up with the jazz artist playing flatwound strings in mind. It is called the Jazz Jr. because it is not your traditional jazz box.” Ya think?

Flats for Cats
The designed-for-flatwounds claim sent my BS detector into the red zone. Strats, Teles, Pauls, and 335s were all created with flatwounds in mind, as were almost all electric guitar designs that originated before the mid-1960s. And how can it be built from the ground up for jazz when Pinter’s three non-jazz SP1 models feature the same neck and body?

Separately and together, the two pickups sound stunning. Their impact and tones are exceedingly piano-like, with definitive attack and phenomenal midrange complexity.

Oh, me of little faith. This is a fabulous guitar, and yes, it sounds sublime with flatwound strings.

A Righteous Sound
The biggest difference between the Jazz Jr. and Pinter’s other models are the guitar’s pickups. Joshua Spataro of Righteous Sound Pickups designed these especially for the SB1-J. Spataro is uncommonly secretive about his pickup recipes. He won’t even disclose the DC resistance of his creations. But beneath those decorative faux-wood caps lie a bridge humbucker of modest output and maximum definition and Spataro’s take on a traditional Tele neck pickup.

Separately and together, the two pickups sound stunning. Their impact and tones are exceedingly piano-like, with definitive attack and great midrange complexity. The pair is perfectly matched. The humbucker never outweighs the single-coil. Their colors run the gamut from “articulate warmth” to “slighter, brighter articulate warmth.” Tones maintain remarkable string-to-string definition despite their sheer mass. They’re perfect for solo jazz players who embrace counterpoint and chord-melody playing, though they’re equally lovely for single-note soloing.

Built for Comfort
The Jazz Jr.’s playability is as extraordinary as its pickups. The alder body, with its understated belly and forearm bevels, balances nicely. It’s light and zingy, with excellent acoustic sustain. The crafty cutaway makes the 22nd fret as accessible as the first. The asymmetrical 4-screw neck plate is another eye-catching detail.

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A fantastically colorful and expressive bucket brigade analog delay at a ridiculously low price.

Curiously, TC Electronic never gave a name to the line of affordable, metal-enclosure stompboxes they announced late last year. That leaves it to the stompbox nerd community to contribute a label. And given how many of these pedals seem like budget classics in the making, we suspect a new handle—and a cult following—is fast forthcoming.

The Echobrain analog bucket brigade delay has a memorable enough name. But it’s the resonant, colorful, and occasionally haunting lo-fi sounds it produces and its sensitive, tactile control set that make using it so addictive.

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