Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Manager has wound pickups for a who’s-who of guitar gods—Clapton, Gibbons, Van Halen, Holdsworth, Harrison, and many more. But she’s revered for more than her tonal sensibilities.

Maricela “MJ” Juarez manning her pickup winding station

“The heart and soul of your guitar has to connect with your own heart and soul,” says Seymour Duncan Custom Shop manager Maricela “MJ” Juarez.

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By using stainless steel and titanium in critical parts of the unit, FU-Tone has indeed taken the Floyd Rose concept in several new directions.

After building a better mousetrap, Adam Reiver of (formerly Floyd Upgrades) decided to build an even better mousetrap. Back in 2009, we reviewed the Big Block upgrade, a Floyd Rose tremolo replacement sustain block that is substantially larger and more massive than the standard Floyd Rose block. It represented a big improvement, but Reiver figured he could find more ways to improve on the existing Floyd Rose design. And by using stainless steel and titanium in critical parts of the unit, he has indeed taken the Floyd Rose concept in several new directions. Already such players as Warren DeMartini, Steve Stevens, Phil Collen, Slash, George Lynch, and Alex Lifeson have embraced the potential of these upgrades.

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The Series One 100 offers a variety of high-quality sounds at all volumes

Blackstar Amplification’s motto, “The sound in your head,” signifies the nature of their mission: to help guitarists achieve the tones they’re striving for. Born in Northampton, England in 2004, Blackstar was the brainchild of four ex-Marshall employees—Ian Robinson, Bruce Keir, Paul Hayhoe and Richard Frost—so it was clear from the start the company would become a major player on the world amp stage. In 2007, the company was formally launched at the Frankfurt Musikmesse, took on two more former Marshall employees, Keith Dudley and Joel Richardson, and entered the market with their HT series pedals—with the intent to graduate to full-on amplification by 2008.

There are three basics to Blackstar’s method, as Hayhoe explains: “First, whether it’s a low-end practice amp or a high-end boutique product, we always want to make sure we’ve got something on there that no one else is offering. Second, it absolutely has to sound the best on the market. [And] the last part is to make sure that it’s affordable, and an extremely good value for the money.”

Following on the successes achieved by the boutique- oriented Artisan series, Blackstar now brings forth the Series One range of amplifiers to the market, and is poised for even more growth with the recent launch of Blackstar USA, Inc., which is designed to supplement existing distribution with independent retailers. The company’s Series One line is an all-tube driven design with more than enough flexibility in tone to make “the sound in your head” a reality.

The Design
Blackstar’s design team is on to something with this four-mode, 100-watt, dual-channel head. Featured in the Series One amps are two controls that are unique to the Blackstar brand: the ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) and DPR(Dynamic Power Reduction). The ISF interacts with the tone controls to further shape the voicing characteristics. Not a switch or a notched knob, this is a gliding pot that goes from “US” (fully counterclockwise) to “UK” (fully clockwise)— the general idea being the ability to adjust toward either American- or British-style voicing and response, or anywhere in between. It enables users to go beyond the usual bass, middle and treble. And to add even more to the tonal palette, the Master menu serves up Resonance and Presence controls for the overall bass and treble response of the amp.

The DPR allows you to get cranked-up tone at virtually any physical volume. It can reduce the output down to 10 percent of the amp’s rated power—in this case all the way down to 10 watts—or anywhere in between without sacrificing that tone. Blackstar designed this without placing the power reduction between the output and speaker, so it’s not an attenuator. The DPR’s primary function is to reduce the power output without sacrificing the damping effect or losing the harmonic content of the signal. Also included is a MIDI in/thru interface port and a speaker emulated out for a direct line to a soundboard or recording console.

Each of the two channels, Clean and Overdrive, has two modes, each with its own Gain and Volume controls. The two modes of the Clean channel are Bright and Warm, the target tones being in the realm of boutique-ish Class-A amps and the British workhorse rock tones, respectively. The Overdrive channel has Crunch and Super Crunch modes, which is somewhat self-explanatory. However, there is a difference in the sonic behavior between the two beyond the higher gain of the latter. The four modes are accessible by push-buttons on the amp, as well as the provided footswitch.

The tube complement is four EL34 power tubes (standard for a 100-watt amp), three ECC83 tubes in the preamp section, and one ECC82 that serves to goose the input stage of the signal. According to Blackstar, “The ECC82 is actually used as a buffer to the input of the power amplifier and allows the amp to accommodate a wider spread of power valve grades.” For this review, the amp was accompanied by a Blackstar Series One 412A slant cabinet that houses four 60W Celestion Vintage 30 speakers.

Beginning with the Clean-channel Bright mode, I plugged in a ’57 reissue Strat and went at it. I wanted to see how close I could get to anice, Vox-ey jangle, so I set the Bass midway, Middle around 6 and the Treble around 5. I began with the ISF control in the middle as a central reference point and estimated this tone to be around a 30 to 40 percent DPR. Using a minimal amount of Gain, I got a good, sparkly tone playing some Byrds-style arpeggiated chords. Still searching for that AC30 tone, I brought the Gain up a bit, increased the Bass and moved the ISF clockwise to 2 o’clock. It became very Vox-like. Turning up the Gain a little more and moving the ISF more clockwise caused the amp to sound like a WEM Dominator on steroids. Attempting to put a monkey wrench in the program, I increased the DPR to about 60 percent. The tone was very responsive to pick attack, and it got punchy—I couldn’t help but play some Billy Gibbons licks to get it to break up a little where I needed it.

Selecting the Warm mode with the same guitar and amp settings brought the tone into Jeff Beck-land. Increasing the Gain to 7 or 8, with the Bass wide open and turning up the Treble to 6 got the Series One 100 within the “Plexi” realm. Letting a chord ring out as I turned the Treble knob, I could hear the behavior of the midrange shift quite a bit. Switching to a Les Paul Custom, I set out to get some classic rock tones ranging from Free to Thin Lizzy. Turning the ISF a smidge to the right without changing any of the tone settings proved that control’s worth; the dampening characteristic of the ISF tightened up the bottom end much like the channel-jumped 1959 Super Lead this mode was tailored to parallel. Turning up the DPR to 100 percent, I couldn’t help but play the opening riff to “Jailbreak.” Turning up the Gain almost full bore gave the amp a walloping crunch that’ll make you forget this is still the Clean channel. Decreasing the volume on the guitar still gives you a usable clean tone, but you’ll forget that overdrive and booster pedals exist when you turn your guitar back up.

You can effortlessly get spanky in Bright mode and a focused bottom end in the Warm mode; these characteristics are due to the removal of feedback from the power amp in Bright mode and the inclusion of feedback in Warm mode.

Getting into the Gain
To the right of the Clean channel is where the heat is. Switching into the overdriven Crunch channel, I tried to pick up where I left off with the gained-up Warm mode. Setting up the tone for a simple overdriven tone ideal for a general rock playing style, I set the bass at 9 or 10, Middle at 6 and Treble at 7. Backing the power down to 50 percent, I experimented with this channel’s Gain and Volume in an attempt to get a cranked silverface Twin sound. Putting the ISF on the US side, I was able to achieve a Texas-laced fury with the Gain at 4 and Volume straight up at 5. Increasing the ISF to the British side gradually, without changing the tone settings, the sound became much more percussive, with that back-of-the-cabinet thump becoming more prominent. It almost sounded like two completely different amps, going from that cranked ’70s Twin tone to a Hiwatt with the turn of the ISF dial.

The Overdrive channel’s Super Crunch mode leaves a little to be desired, though. The aim of this mode is to give heavier gain saturation and an even more focused bass, which it has, but there was a slight drop in volume when switching from Crunch to Super Crunch. While in Crunch mode and still wielding my Les Paul, I set out for a good metal tone à la Judas Priest, dropping the Middle control to 5 and cranking the power back up to 100 percent, which turned the S1 into a heavy metal flamethrower. It has a great tone, strong and well defined, and the ISF control gives an almost infinite variety of metal tones, from Van Halen to Metallica. Going from a rhythm riff into solo mode using the footswitch, the gain structure does have quite a bit more dirt, but there is a slight cut in volume. It isn’t a lot, but it’s significant enough to notice. The increase of saturation and midrange dip made the sound less defined. In order to get the needed volume boost to kick the Crunch into Super mode, the channel volume in Super Crunch mode would have to be increased. To give the Super Crunch the definition it needed, a decrease in gain was the cure. But in a performance situation, this is unrealistic, as the two modes share the same Gain and Volume controls.

The Final Mojo
The Blackstar Series One 100 is a serious piece of guitar amp technology with a modern design that can appeal to a wide assortment of guitarists at an affordable price. The idea was to produce an amp that could offer a variety of high-quality tones and maintain them at any volume level. What’s surprising is that the resulting amp is not complicated with umpteen-bazillion switches and rows of knobs and requiring a dozen tubes or more. The most unique features of this amp are the ISF and the DPR. Although the basic tone shaping is much like any other amp of this type, the tonal characteristics can be varied almost infinitely because of the ISF—so don’t expect this amp to have any one definable tone. The DPR is genuinely useful in maintaining the playing dynamics in lower wattages without sacrificing tone. My only concern is the slight volume discrepancy when switching from Crunch to Super Crunch. According to Blackstar, the increase in volume between the Crunch and Super Crunch is a subtle 1.6dB, and is there to offer the player the option of a lead boost. If the role of the Super Crunch mode is to be a boost above the Crunch mode, then perhaps a separate volume is needed.
Buy if...
you want versatility, flexibility and tone that can maintain performance integrity at any volume.
Skip if...
you prefer an amp with one identifiable tone and voice.

Street $1699 (Head); $999 (Cab) - Blackstar Amplification -

The EVH Wolfgang shines with pristine build quality and great playability.

Download Example 1
Clip 1 demonstrates the perfection of the EVH D-Tuna on the EVH Wolfgang guitar. Begins with the opening riff of Dokken's "Kiss Of Death" which is in E.  The second riff you hear (after the clicking noise of the D-Tuna being engaged buy pulling it out of the rear end of the Floyd Rose tremolo) is the opening riff to RATT's "Lay It Down, " which is tuned to a drop D with the key of the song in D. You can hear the tuning of the low E string is dead on without any tuning adjustments needed.
Download Example 2
The clip starts with the volume all the way up, then rolled off a bit, then cranked again.
Download Example 3
This clip adds a Cusack Screamer overdrive (with minimal gain and the level at 5) and an Akai Headrush delay (set to tape echo).  Here, we test how the EVH Wolfgang guitar can withstand total shredfest!  With the stock set-up as per Eddie's spec using Eddie's preferred string gauge (009.-.046), it took a little getting used to before hitting the record button.  The thin stainless steel frets were slippery enough to allow for effortless vibrato and the low action made the tapping sequence simpler than I had anticipated.  The mid section also has the Floyd Rose used in aiding vibrato to bent notes and the end has me crashing the Floyd into a divebomb with open harmonics and fretting a G on the low E string.
Recorded with EVH Wolfgang guitar played through a '73 Marshall 100-watt head through a Marshall 4x12 loaded with four 25-watt Celestions and an Electro Harmonix Holy Grail reverb pedal. There is minimal gain as the amp is set at 10 (a la EVH himself).
Eddie Van Halen is known for hacking his way into great tone—taking chisels and a set of screwdrivers to a guitar body to get some of the most influential guitar sounds known to mankind. That seems ironic when you look at his new signature series EVH Wolfgang guitar, which gleams with sheer elegance. While it’s true that this one evolved out of previous Van Halen signature guitars, the EVH Wolfgang is clearly a different kind of guitar.

The Wolfgang guitar used for this review features a basswood body and AA top with subtle figuring that glows through its amber-colored tobacco finish. The shape of the body is reminiscent of previous Van Halen signature models, but has more refined and subtle differences. Its total thickness is 1-1/2”. The maple top is arched, and is 1/2” thick at the apex of the arch. The back of the guitar is finished in a dark, transparent brown color to complement the front. A regal touch is added by a five-ply black-and-cream colored binding that surrounds the face of the body. From both sides of the neck pocket, it’s plain to see the binding is not simply trimmed off, as it rounds into the crease of the neck. The body as a whole is covered in a very thin acrylic finish.

The scale length of this guitar is 25.5”. The neck is made of a two-piece, AA heavy birdseye maple with an angled headstock. It seems bulky yet comfortable at 3/4” thick. Embedded inside it are two graphite reinforcement rods that aid the truss rod staying true. The fretboard is a separate 1/4” slab of heavy birdseye maple. The headstock also evolved from a previous EVH signature design, but has a more pronounced fork at the tip. It uniformly matches the body with the same amber-colored tobacco sunburst and five-ply binding. The frets are vintage-style, Strat-sized stainless steel wire and are rounded on the surface, not crowned to a near point. The 3-on-a-side tuners are custom-made for the Wolfgang by Gotoh, and they add to the elegance of this guitar with their pearloid buttons. The neck joins the body at the 16th fret and is bolted to the body with four offset position bolts. The heel area of the body is carved to fit the inner palm of the hand while fretting notes in the upper register of the neck. The truss rod adjustment access is at the end of the neck, recessed into an exposed cavity. It’s a wheel turned by exposed holes that needs only an Allen wrench or any metal rod (like a small screwdriver) to turn.

Getting into the Nuts and Bolts
Much of the hardware and electronics is exclusive to this guitar. The first-ever signature Floyd Rose tremolo bridge is on this guitar. It bears both the Floyd Rose and EVH brand logos. While the previous Van Halen signature guitars had licensed Floyd Rose variations, this is a specific tremolo made for this guitar by Floyd Rose. An EVH D-Tuna is attached to the low E saddle. The nut width of this guitar is 1-5/8”, and the locking nut is bolted through the back of the headstock, the more traditional Floyd Rose way. The 500k volume pot and 250k tone pot are custom-made by Bourns and EVH, and bear the EVH brand logo. They are firmly mounted to the interior of the heavily shielded electronics cavity, with grounds attached to metal screws embedded into the wood.

Unlike the non-descript knobs adorning many guitars, the Bourns pots are capped by MXR-like knobs in a nod to Van Halen’s preference for MXR pedals. The three-position pickup selector toggle switch is at the top horn of the body and is wired backwards in comparison to most guitars featuring this switch: up is the bridge pickup, middle is both pickups, and down is the neck pickup.

At the heart of this guitar are the custom-designed, custom-wound, double-potted pickups. These zebra-coiled EVH humbuckers are low output and are screwed directly into the wood. There are no springs or adjustment transit screws. The wood is carved to the exact measurement the pickups need in relation to the string height. Because of their low output, the sound of this guitar is very defined. Through a moderately overdriven amp, there is more individual string volume than the masking sizzle of a higher-output pickup.

At nearly eight pounds, the weight is average for this type of guitar. It’s set up according to Van Halen spec and factory strung with a standard .009–.042 set of strings. The neck feels more vintage and old-style with its meatier center section. Most modern rock-style guitars have necks that are thinned out in the middle, but the Wolfgang feels more like an old Strat. Like previous Van Halen-designed signature guitars, the neck shape is asymmetrical, but feels even-sided along its length. The action is very low at 1/16”—at times, it feels like the lower strings are slapping against the frets when playing fretted chords. Because it has a compound radius of 12” to 16”, the surface of the neck gets flatter as you ascend up the fretboard, easing playing in the upper register and soloing past the 12th fret. With stainless steel frets, bending notes and lightly vibrato-ed chords seem slippery to the touch and take a little getting used to. Stainless steel frets are resistant to major wear, which was the reason for using them on this guitar, but the slippery feel makes the G-string seem flimsier than normal. One thing to note is the thinness of the frets— they’re not troublesome during shredding because of the fretboard’s flatness and the straightness of the neck (due to the graphite rods). Most shred guitars feature big frets, but this guitar doesn’t need them. With the action low and slippery frets, shredding seems effortless. Again, it takes a little getting used to, but once you get started, the temptation to perform the intro chords to a Van Halen classic like “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” is inevitable.

The Floyd Rose tremolo set up is for downward travel only. It’s seated into the wood and recessed only slightly into the body in its resting position. This contributes much to the natural string vibration transfer. When depressing the bar downward, it only takes a light touch because there are only two springs. This also contributes to making bending notes feel less stiff. The D-Tuna is a push-in/pull-out attachment that drops the low E to a perfect D.

The Sound
The guitar’s natural resonance is significant— you can feel substantial vibrations in the neck, and the guitar is easy to hear unplugged. The lack of lacquer allows the naturally resonating piece of wood to vibrate freely. As a tonewood, basswood is less trebly and has a porous mass, giving this guitar its natural midrange. The maple top adds the density needed to give it the treble without adding more unneeded mass.

Plugging into a moderately overdriven amp, the tone is ripping. Unlike some guitars that have moderate output pickups, the low-output EVH humbuckers have a string clarity in which you can hear every string in barre chords. For most of the testing, the bridge pickup was used (since it’s used 90 percent of the time in hard rock settings). There seems to be more natural string volume, making it sound much more aggressive than some metal guitars with active pickups. Rolling down the volume knob, the tone is clean, and open chords ring with clarity. The vibration transfer to the pickups is due mostly to the fact that they’re screwed directly to the wood. This is the reward for such a painstaking measurement and routing job—the pickups are just deep enough to be in perfect relation to string height. This in itself is ingenious in the design of this guitar.

Speaking of rolling the volume knob, the Bourns 500k volume pot has a low-friction action to its rotation. The taper is gradual and not sudden when bringing it up or down. This is more evident from the zero point and glides easily without much force.

Another contributing factor to the guitar’s tone is that the Floyd is non-floating, as the bridge plate rests on the surface of the body. What this does is lessen the amount of vibration lost, as happens when a Floyd Rose is suspended only by the pivot posts. This sucker sits squarely on the body and makes the guitar sustain well when striking a simple A chord, or holding a single note for quite a while.

The Final Mojo
The new EVH Wolfgang is a guitar made from years of Eddie Van Halen’s own research. It has an ease of playability and though somewhat small-bodied, it sounds like a herd of wild elephants when cranked through an overdriven amp. The outstanding features of the guitar are the stainless steel frets, the thinly coated body, low-output pickups screwed into the wood, and the non-floating Floyd Rose seated into the body. After putting this guitar through the ringer, abusing the volume knob, dive bombing the Floyd and trying to outplay the fretboard for several hours, this guitar kept coming back—no need to retune it, or even consider adjusting the polepieces in the bridge pickup. Checking the fretboard for a hair of wear on the frets turned up no single indent. While this guitar might not be for everybody, it truly lives up to its design claims. If this is truly meant to distribute to a wider guitar-playing audience exactly what Eddie uses, this guitar serves as testament to him. Plain:
Buy if...
You want defined clarity from low-output pickups in a guitar that’s built like a tank, with consistent action and wear-resistant frets.
Skip if...
You’re a rock player who enjoys standard production guitars with high-output pickups to mask your tone.

MSRP $3149.99 as reviewed - EVH Brand Guitars -