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Top 10 Reviews of 2022

Top 10 Reviews of 2022

Based on your interest: a throwback Tele, a Silver Sky steal, a pair of Boss powerhouses, a duo of diametrically different amps, and a shred machine topped this year’s list.

10. Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder Exotic Hardtail 

Joe Charupakorn

David Schecter started Schecter Guitar Research in 1976. In the beginning, the company did repairs and sold parts in their Van Nuys, California, shop (much like their contemporaries, Charvel). But Schecter quickly developed a solid reputation among SoCal players and started selling complete guitars in 1979.

9. Ampeg Rocket Bass RB-115 

Victor Brodén

Even though Ampeg has made amplifiers based on modern, lightweight technology for years, to many of us the brand represents the gold standard of vintage bass tone. When an engineer or artist asks you to provide an Ampeg sound in the studio or on a gig, they usually want the unmistakable low-mid thump of a B-15 or the unparalleled sub-lows and top-end grit of a ’70s era SVT with tubes that have been cooking for a few hours. So, whenever I try any new product from Ampeg, those sound standards are at the fore of my imagination. The 200-watt Rocket Bass RB-115, from Ampeg’s new Rocket line of combos, captures the essence of many of those foundational Ampeg tones in an amp that’s easy on the wallet, easy to use, and even surprisingly easy to carry.

8. Magnatone Starlite

Charles Saufley

The fact that small amps excel—and can sound really big—in studio situations isn’t news as much as it’s audio engineering gospel. But while little amps like the Fender Champ, Gibson Skylark, and Danelectro DM10 have been pulling feats of trompe-l’oeil on records for decades, some small combos still sound bigger and badder than others. And I feel pretty good about making the case for Magnatone’s new 5-watt Starlite as one of the biggest sounding—and most flexible—little amps that’s ever joined this club of overachievers.

7. Boss IR-200

Shawn Hammond

If you’ve been lusting after Kemper, Fractal, or Line 6 amp modelers but fear they’d be overkill for your brain or wallet, the Boss IR-200 is among the most stacked—yet relatively simple and straightforward—alternatives you could consider.

6. Boss SY-200 

Ted Drozdowski

Roland produced the first guitar synthesizer, the GR-500, in 1977. It was cumbersome—requiring multiple rack spaces or a tabletop stand, and a special guitar outfitted with hexaphonic pickups. Problems with latency and tracking were all too real, as anyone who tried bending a note learned. But, with the right coddling, they sounded heavenly. Check out David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” to hear the GR-500 at its best.

5. Fender Hammertone Reverb, Overdrive, Flanger, Chorus, and Delay

Charles Saufley

Fender’s most important gift to the effects cosmos is spring reverb. That legacy, however, tends to obscure other high points in the company’s effects history, which is dotted with a few classics—if not runaway commercial hits.

At appealing prices ranging from $79 to $99, the new Fender Hammertone pedals could easily be huge sellers. But what makes these effects extra attractive is that they don’t have the functional or operational feel of generic entry-level pedals. Most have a strong, even distinctive, personality—at least compared to other inexpensive effects. They each come with extra features and voices that stretch the boundaries of the foundational tones. And if the voices aren’t always the most refined or lush when compared to more expensive analog equivalents or expensive digital units, they are fun and prompt a lot of musical sparks.

4. Taylor AD27e Flametop

Charles Saufley

One of the nice things about designing guitars for a company like Taylor is that you’re less burdened by tradition. Even though the builder is now nearly a 50-year-old institution—not to mention one of the biggest guitar makers in the world—to many acoustic traditionalists they are still very much the new kid on the block. While such fresh-faced “newness” may mean flattop classicists look askance at your every move, it also means you can introduce a design departure like the company’s V-Class bracing without risk of rebellion from your consumer constituency—or, for that matter, build a dreadnought with a top fashioned from big leaf maple.

3. EVH 5150 Iconic Series 40W 1x12 Combo

Joe Charupakorn

The late Eddie Van Halen spent much of his early career in search of what’s now known as the “brown sound.” Years after cracking the code, he helped bottle various versions of the recipe into the 5150 line of amps. Various iterations of these amps are now studio and stage staples, and are often used in heavy genres that transcend Van Halen’s vision.

2. PRS SE Silver Sky

Ted Drozdowski

Budget renditions of established-model guitars used to make me skeptical. There was often a hitch: rough frets, pickups that were let-downs, funky pots, etc. But over the past decade-plus, the quality of guitars built in Asia by the major brands has continued to improve. PRS’s lower-priced version of their John Mayer signature model, the SE Silver Sky, is a premier example.

1. Fender American Vintage II ’72 Thinline Telecaster

Charles Saufley

In the 50 years since their big, chrome covers first reflected a hot stage light, Fender’s Seth Lover-designed Wide Range humbuckers have gone from maligned to revered. The guitars built around Wide Range pickups are legends in their own right, too. Keith Richards’ Telecaster Custom is synonymous with the Stones dynamic and adventurous late-70s-to-early-80s period. Scores of punk and indie guitarists made the Telecaster Deluxe a fixture of those scenes. And Jonny Greenwood almost singlehandedly elevated the Starcaster from a curiosity to an object of collector lust. The fourth member of the Wide Range-based guitar family, the ’72 Telecaster Thinline, lived a comparatively low-profile life. Yet it is a practical, streamlined, uniquely stylish, and multifaceted instrument with a truly original voice—qualities that are plain to see, feel, and hear in this new American Vintage II incarnation.

A pair of new, mighty Sunn 100S amps—the company’s original flagship amplifier—built by the new team led by James Lebihan, Mike Eldred, and Steve Skillings.

Since forming to help early garage rockers the Kingsmen bring their hit “Louie Louie” on the road, Sunn amps have roared behind everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Leslie West to Kurt Cobain to the doom-metal act that bears their name. After laying dormant for decades, the brand is back and the new team promises to live up to its legendary reputation.

“Have you ever considered covering ‘Louie Louie,’” I ask Stephen O’Malley over Zoom. The doom-metal guitarist and half of the band Sunn O))) is a native of Seattle but has lived the past 20 years in Paris, France. “I see where you’re going with this,” O'Malley chuckles, and says, “but we’re not a rock ’n’ roll band. Still, the Kingsmen and Conrad Sundholm building a bass amp for his brother—that’s a legendary Northwest story.”

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Introducing the limited-edition HALO Core by Keeley Electronics, with only 300 units available.

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ESP Guitars introduces the new LTD DX Series, offering high-quality guitars at a more affordable price.

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In Flames' Björn Gelotte, Chris Broderick & Liam Wilson Rig Rundown
Rig Rundown: In Flames' Björn Gelotte, Chris Broderick & Liam Wilson

The Swedish melodic death metal pioneers continue solidifying their reign as technical titans. That’s due in part to signature guitars—Epiphone Les Paul Customs plus Jackson Diabolics and Soloists that rip and roar—as well as Zon Sonus basses. Altogether, these steely vets with thundering tenacity are feeling the surge of fresh sonic blood.

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