Photo by Frank White

Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson and the Aristocrats’ Guthrie Govan conjure a prog juggernaut with a little help from studio giant Alan Parsons.

Steven Wilson likes creepy stuff—he must. There’s no other explanation for the Porcupine Tree frontman’s new solo album, The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)—a prog-rock opus featuring six supernatural tales in the vein of M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe, and eerie artwork by German illustrator Hajo Mueller. It certainly explains a lot of his other activities, including producing Opeth’s 2001 death-metal masterpiece Blackwater Park and collaborating with Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt on the decidedly macabre, Grammy-nominated Storm Corrosion project.

As with his compatriots in Porcupine Tree, Wilson seems to gravitate toward monster musicians, too. After touring with Aristocrats drummer Marco Minnemann and keyboardist Adam Holzman in support of his previous solo effort, 2011’s Grace for Drowning, Wilson also brought terrifyingly talented Aristocrats guitarist Guthrie Govan into the fold. Govan’s incredible legato technique and stunning phrasing lend The Raven a tastefully virtuosic guitar element that brings new dimensions to Wilson’s majestic vocabulary, and it was perhaps Govan’s presence in an already fire-breathing band that gave Wilson the courage to track the album almost completely live—a feat he never felt confident enough to attempt before. Of course, it helped that Wilson tapped one of the giants of studio engineering—Alan Parsons, renowned both for his work on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and his many hits with the Alan Parsons Project—to oversee the sessions at L.A.’s equally legendary East West Studios.

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With its comfortable but substantial neck, artfully and precisely built body and hardware, and vast array of timbres, the PRS 408 Maple Top is an amazing tool for carving out a very individual tone.

In an American guitar culture that often feels dominated by Fender and Gibson, PRS is still perceived by some as the new kid on the block. But the Annapolis, Maryland, upstart that took on the big boys at their own game 28 years ago has not only thrived—it’s joined their ranks as one of the most recognized and revered brands on the planet. Though some vintage devotees still scoff at the notion of playing anything other than a Strat, Tele, or Les Paul, PRS has consistently and artfully challenged old paradigms, recombined the best features of the classics, and won a legion of converts in the process.

Those devotees hail from all genres—metal players like Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, blues-rock heroes like Warren Haynes, alternative dudes like Dave Navarro, country pickers like Jerry Flowers and Ricky Skaggs, and top studio studs like Paul Jackson, Jr., to name just a few.

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Double Naught Spy Car''s Paul Lacques and Marcus Watkins on their hilariously heady blend of surf-informed jazz-noir instrumentals.

LEFT: Paul Lacques wailing onstage with his 1953 Fender lap steel. RIGHT: Marcus Watkins’ main Spy guitar is a ’62 Strat reissue from 1986. Photos by Greg Allen

“Sometimes the audience at our shows is nearly half musicians,” laughs Double Naught Spy Car guitarist and lap-steel player Paul Lacques. “I mean, when someone starts laughing at something you snuck into the middle of a phrase, you know that’s gotta be a guitar player!”

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Heptode''s Deep Crunch must be considered a serious contender for anyone looking to add classic preamp shimmer and drive to their favorite amp, or project studio players looking for an easy way to add Soldano-style dirt to digital mixes.

It doesn’t seem like so long ago that “vintage tone” referred exclusively to gear from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. But in 2012, the measuring stick has shifted considerably, and nostalgia for the sounds of ’80s and ’90s gear has been making a steady comeback.

The recently released Ecstasy and Uberschall preamp pedals from Bogner, for instance, cop the drive channel sounds from those quintessentially ’90s amps. French stompbox builder Heptode has jumped in the fray too, and the all-analog Deep Crunch and Heavy Tone stompboxes pay homage to the all-tube preamp channels of the legendary Soldano SLO-100 head—a fixture of the ’80s and ’90s tonescape if there ever was one. The Deep Crunch reviewed here, is, as you might guess, the tamer of the two Heptode offerings. It’s suited to meaty rhythm work and riffs, and nails the response of the Soldano’s crunch rhythm channel, but it’s a dangerous weapon for bluesy leads and even singing overdrive.

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