All of Slash’s favourite stomps are included, from lush chorus and octave effects, to face-melting wah sounds

Slash fans have had it pretty sweet for the last few months. New album Apocalyptic Love is an absolute scorcher, Dunlop has launched two new signature pedals, and now, thanks to IK Multimedia, aspiring guitar heroes can carry Slash’s coveted tones around in their pockets.

By now, most of us have had some experience with amp modelling in one way or another. It’s one thing coming up with a reasonable simulation, but accurately modelling a signature amp from one of the world’s most influential guitarists is a big ask.

If anyone can pull it off, it’s IK Multimedia. AmpliTube was one of the first modelling apps to launch on Apple’s iOS devices, and still remains the benchmark by which other efforts are judged.

The app comes complete with two similar, yet distinct, signature amp models. The first is based on Marshall’s JCM Slash 2555 Jubilee Signature Edition, and the second on Slash’s newer AFD100 signature amp.

Don’t be fooled into thinking two Marshalls designed for the same guitarist are going to sound the same, though. The two-channel JCM has less drive under the bonnet, but produces warmer clean tones and a slightly more vintage-flavoured crunch that responds to your picking just as you’d expect a classic Marshall to. The AFD, on the other hand, has a more modern voice, with a touch more gain and aggression. Both the lower gain #34 and the lead AFD channels are present and correct.

Cycling through the presets is a good way to get a handle on the effects. Patches based on Paradise City and Welcome To The Jungle show off the Slash-approved chorus and delay effects at their absolute best. They sound bang on for the tone they’re aiming for, and importing the original tracks to play along with is a cinch. You can even turn down the centre mix to remove the lead guitar and vocals. Other onboard effects include Slash’s signature wah (based on the older Dunlop SW-95 Crybaby Slash signature), a booster and a wicked octave pedal. That covers just about any Slash-a-like tone.

A single-track recorder is provided gratis, which also allows for re-amping of your original signal. This is a great way to tune your tone to perfection, while actually being able to hear your riff altered in real-time.

A tuner and metronome are also included, but, for an additional £10.49, you can expand AmpliTube’s recording capabilities to full eight-track, with master effects section. That’s a little steep in our eyes, considering the quality of Apple’s own GarageBand app (£2.99), but for recording everything in the one app, it’s your only option.

Verdict

Whether you buy it as an expansion to an existing AmpliTube setup or as a standalone app, AmpliTube Slash is bound to leave you impressed.

5 of 5 stars

The Tubemeister 36 is a seriously versatile amp, especially when teamed with a good MIDI effects device

The so-called ‘lunchbox’ head has definitely been one of the biggest amplification stories around the world for the last five years or so, with many amplifier manufacturers adding a metal-bodied, small to medium-powered head to their catalogues.

Hughes & Kettner may have come late to the game, but its German-designed and Chinese-built TubeMeister range has been one of the success stories of the last year, generating significant positive publicity across the real and virtual worlds. We’ve already looked at the five-watt and 18-watt versions, now it’s time to ogle the amp that threatens to fire a howitzer into the mid-priced head market – the TubeMeister 36.

The TubeMeister 36 shares the same design format as its two smaller siblings with a robust steel chassis supporting two oversized transformers, four EL84 output valves and three 12AX7 preamp valves. Inside there are two main circuit boards: one holds all the valve bases and most of the amp circuitry, the second accommodates most of the rear panel equipment.

There are a couple of smaller PCBs that appear to hold the MIDI and digital effects stuff. The quality is typical of Hughes & Kettner’s high standard; all the boards are through-plated and they’re stuffed with high temperature electrolytic capacitors and close tolerance metal film resistors for durability, consistency and low noise.

The chrome front panel features the Hughes & Kettner hallmark-engraved clear Perspex fascia, which lights up in blue when the power goes on. Previously reserved for top-flight models such as the Triamp and Puretone, this either looks unbelievably cool, or not, depending on your taste. But coupled with the TubeMeister 1 x 12 enclosure, the head looks like it means business while also being small enough not to dominate a lounge or bedroom.

Further building upon the TubeMeister 18’s features, the 36-watt version offers three channels for clean, crunch and lead, each with separate gain and master volume controls. There are two three-band EQs – one for the clean channel, the other shared by crunch and lead.

Around the back, you’ll find a series of pushbutton switches for the TubeMeister’s built-in attenuator that progressively reduce output power from 36 watts down to 18, five, or one watt, with a mute switch. This disconnects the speaker but leaves the head’s built-in Red Box speaker emulator on for silent recording.

There’s also a switchable series effects loop, digital reverb, and Hughes & Kettner’s clever TSC (Tube Safety Control), which constantly monitors and micro-adjusts bias to ensure the amp is running at peak efficiency. In addition, a single speaker outlet and a pair of footswitch jacks operate channel-switching, reverb and loop functions.

The Tubemeister 36 is a seriously versatile amp, especially when teamed with a good MIDI effects device

However, the most significant upgrade over the TM18 is the MIDI-in socket. All of the TubeMeister 36’s switched functions can be operated via MIDI, including the power soak. The significance of that is immense because you can seamlessly go from a fat clean sound using all 36 watts for maximum headroom, through a slightly compressed crunch tone on 18 watts, to a fully saturated lead sound with the master cranked up on five watts, or any combination.

The Red Box speaker emulator offers a balanced output for easy connection to PA or recording equipment. There’s no ground-lift switch, which would have been the hundreds and thousands on top of an already well-iced cake, but it’s not a major inconvenience. Another slight disappointment is the lack of a MIDI out/thru socket, which means the TM36 can only accept incoming MIDI patch change commands.

All in, the TubeMeister is every bit as good on the inside as it is on the outside. It may originate from China, but it’s built to the same high standard that we’ve come to expect from all Hughes & Kettner products and should easily handle the rigours of non-stop gigging without any complaint.

Sounds

Using a variety of different guitars to test the TubeMeister 36, including our regular test-bed Strat, a Gibson Les Paul Standard with PAF humbuckers and a nicely yellowed 1970 Les Paul Custom, we found this head can sound as vintage or as modern as you like, with a definite American influence on the clean and crunch tones, while the lead channel is more in British territory, with a hint of another famous EL84-powered amp.

The clean channel is open and airy, with clarity that’s almost hi-fi at lower gain settings and sounds superb with a dash of chorus. With the gain turned up, the clean channel starts to growl a little – more so if you reduce the amp’s power output and turn up the channel volume.

Swap for humbuckers and there’s plenty of drive available to turn the clean channel into a second crunch channel. This overlaps nicely with the real crunch channel, which adds a good deal more overdrive and aggression, with plenty of bottom end from the dual-ported 1 x 12 cabinet. This Vintage 30-powered enclosure is very impressive; made from decent quality plywood, it sounds a lot bigger than it looks.

The lead channel adds even more gain for a singing overdrive with just the right amount of edge to add bite to dark guitars. On some other Hughes & Kettner amps, you need to work a bit to find your sound. However, on the TubeMeister it’s already there waiting for you – just a little fine-tuning from the smoothly interacting bass, mid and treble controls is all that’s needed.

The Tubemeister 36 is a seriously versatile amp, especially when teamed with a good MIDI effects device

The digital reverb sounds like it emulates a spring and works well for more pronounced effects as well as background ambience. The internal Red Box sounds good into a desk with minimal need for EQ.

It’s all good stuff, but being able to switch everything simultaneously using MIDI really kicks the TubeMeister 36 into a different league. We hooked it up to a BOSS GT-10 effects processor and in just a few minutes, the TubeMeister was automatically changing channels, power soak settings and reverb, as we swapped patches on the BOSS.

We reckon the TubeMeister 36 will tick all the boxes for many potential customers. There really isn’t much to criticise: we mentioned the lack of a MIDI out/thru socket earlier, the only other thing that we’re not sure about is the way Hughes & Kettner has shared the TubeMeister 36’s two EQs between three channels.

We think the lead channel would be more versatile with its own dedicated network, and the clean and crunch channels sharing the other EQ. But it’s not a major issue, as all three channels have excellent response and sound superb right out of the box.

Just as well, because there are some hot competitors in the tone department at the moment. However, none have MIDI switching and a multi-step attenuator that can also be remotely controlled – we think that’s a first and it makes the TubeMeister 36 a seriously versatile amp, especially when teamed with a good MIDI effects device.

If you’re looking for a mid-priced amp that really can do it all, the TubeMeister 36 deserves to be right at the top of your ‘must try’ list.

Verdict

Hughes & Kettner has produced a gem we reckon will sell and sell.

4.5 of 5 stars

The Cavallo has one of the fastest and most forgiving necks we’ve played in a long time

Let’s just agree that the electric guitar is the most important symbol of pop-cultural rebellion. Sure, you can make an argument for the biker jacket, the motorcycle… Whatever. The electric guitar is louder, and cooler. But if the electric guitar is the avatar of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion, then the DBZ Cavallo is all about rebelling against electric guitars, ergonomics, and everything in between. It’s an unwieldy beast, a brutal individualist.

The Cavallo has the look of hot-rodded Americana, and guitar-wise it’s exactly that. Take your standard Gibson Flying V, stretch the wings out, carve a piece of wood in homage to the tail-end of a circa-’66 Lincoln Futura Batmobile, and affix Grover kidney bean tuners: et voila, a headstock. On its website, DBZ promises a coil-tap, but the example we have here is fitted with stock DBZB and DBZ5 humbuckers, and we’re told that coil-taps will not be appearing on any Cavallo models for the foreseeable future.

If you have a browse of the secondhand market, you may well stumble on an sample that still has this feature, but, otherwise, you’ll just be getting a three-way selector, volume and tone pots, and a string- through tune-o-matic bridge. We’d have loved a good set of single-coil tones, but as it is, the Cavallo still has plenty of talking points.

It looks savagely retro, aggressive and angularly awkward enough to preclude playing in a seated position – the wings are too close together to jam it in and get comfy. Unusually, the neck has a soft-V profile, more commonly associated with classic Fender than a hot-rod metal axe. But, really, give it a try anyway: it’s brilliant in use, making for easy barre chords and flattening out nicely in the upper registers.

For all the Cavallo’s ergonomic disregard, it’s lightweight owing to some out-there contouring, ridiculously playable, and has one of the fastest and most forgiving necks we’ve played in a long time. Any intermediate shredders looking to lose the L-plates will be impressed. And the sustain? The Cavallo can hold a note longer than Bill Withers.

For a guitar so ostentatiously appointed in white, with gold hardware and pearloid binding, it gently rebukes its own outlandish appearance when it comes to the pickups, with enough heat, depth and sparkle to silence our squawking about upgrading to a pair of Seymour Duncans.

Indeed, compared to the Seymour Duncan SH-4-appointed Jackson RR5 (a clear competitor), the Cavallo has a similarly pugnacious midrange – a real toothy tone that’s perfect for rock and metal, while cleaning up brilliantly for clean or crunchy blues bends.

Verdict

Looks can be deceiving, but try to look past the dressage; the Cavallo is a thoroughbred workhorse in a show pony’s body.

4 of 5 stars

It may be diddy (see the specs), but Taurus hasn’t skimped on features or connectivity

These days, amps come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but rarely do we confuse them with effects pedals and Robot Wars contestants. The Taurus Stomp Head is different, though, packing a roaring, fully featured, 70-watt high-gain amp into a rugged and compact floor-based enclosure.

It may be diddy (see the specs), but Taurus hasn’t skimped on features or connectivity. Along with the usual inputs, effects loop and speaker outputs, there’s also a speaker-emulated line out for recording, 40/70-watt selector switch and stage/studio switch. In stage mode, the amplifier runs at full volume (either 40 or 70 watts), but in studio mode, the power is 10 times lower, perfect for cranking at home or recording.

Each channel has its own 12AX7 in the preamp stage and a dedicated EQ, and the clean channel also has its own crunch mode, which, in itself, is almost a third channel. There’s also a boost switch on the right-hand side, which not only serves as a volume boost for both channels, but also adds a layer of gain and harmonic complexity to the lead channel.

This added punch functions even if the boost’s volume is set to zero, so you don’t necessarily have to force a massive jump in volume to enjoy the extra oomph.

The clean channel itself is chimey and clear as a bell. With loads of headroom, it’s ideal for pristine cleans that can still keep up with the rest of the band. At its lower settings, the crunch mode comes in at just the right level, adding a bit of grit to the clean tones, but also offering enough saturation at its highest point to cover just about any low-to- medium-gain genre. Chords ring out with clarity and balance, while lead passages are nicely touch- responsive, if not quite as detailed and dynamic as an all-valve head.

Treading on the lead channel has the potential to unleash a tidal wave of distortion. There’s enough gain to get the kind of huge, low-end response required for down-tuned and extended range guitars, but the gain range is wide enough to dial back the madness if you want to keep away from metal territory. The extra gain dialled in from the boost switch is also extremely useful, and gives you yet another texture to switch in mid- song, without having to alter any of your amp’s settings.

While there is a difference between the Stomp Head and an all-valve amp, it’s still far away from a solid-state experience, and we’ve been left seriously impressed. That said, did the amp really need to be shrunk down into a floor pedal?

We can’t help but worry that the Stomp Head is one bad accident away from reminding us why we leave our amps well out of the way, but there’s no denying that this head is well built, extremely portable and practical for just about any application.

Verdict

It deserves its place in the market, and we can imagine quite a few guitarists choosing it as their new stomping ground.

4 of 5 stars

Value-for-money pedal provides twin synchronised loops with added effects

Having made its first foray into the world of looping pedals last year with the VDL-1 Dynamic Looper, Vox has now brought out a more affordable and more compact looper pedal, the appropriately named Lil’ Looper.

Like the VDL-1, the latest pedal offers two independent loops at once, with a combined loop length of up to 90 seconds, and has a full complement of effects that can be recorded into a loop, but is missing the VDL-1’s treadle and onboard memory programs.

The Lil’ Looper can be used as a standard guitar pedal but adds versatility in that it can also take mic signals and has a headphone output if you want to noodle away in silence or listen to the handy onboard metronome through a pair of headphones while sending the guitar sound to an amp.

It can also run off battery power so you can use it anywhere you want. The set-up is designed to provide a footswitch for each loop with easy operation – one press for record, play and overdub, two presses to stop, and hold to undo the last action.

Loops can be recorded freeform or you can use the metronome and/or the associated loop quantize function for timing help – with loop quantization it’s easy to create phrases that will automatically loop on the beat, and the feature also allows you to synchronise loop one and loop two to the same tempo.

The tempo is set via a tap tempo button, and you can turn the metronome volume to zero and just use the flashing button as a visual cue. Another useful feature is auto recording, in which a loop starts recording as soon as you start playing.

To make your loops more interesting there’s an array of effects that can be recorded into the loop. These are grouped into three categories – pedal, modulation and simulation – each called up with a press of a central button, which lights up red, green or orange.

Once you have chosen the category, you can dial up one of the four effects within it using a rotary knob divided into four quadrants – moving the knob clockwise in any effect’s quadrant increases the value of a crucial parameter until you reach the start of the next effect.

The pedal effects are a compressor and three different types of dirt (crunch, overdrive, distortion). For modulation, there’s a choice of chorus, phaser, stutter (on/off tremolo) and delay, while the simulation effects offer an acoustic and bass guitar simulations, radio-style EQ and pitch shifting.

Sounds

The single-knob set-up is simple enough to quickly get the hang of, although you need to be quite precise with some of the effects – the pitch parameter changes in semitones, while the delay offers increasing delay times. Each effect also has a second parameter, which can be adjusted by holding down the effect button and turning the value knob.

Value-for-money pedal provides twin synchronised loops with added effects

The Vox approach to looping pedals is different from its main rivals in providing no storage or transfer facility for loops, the emphasis being on live performance. It’s more about the moment and spontaneity. And plugging into the Lil’ Looper will certainly let you get creative, layering up your recordings as you’re playing on one loop inspires the next loop or overdub.

The effects have been nicely chosen too, so you can have a range of tones in your mix – clean chorused chords perhaps, with a distorted lead, simulated bass and some harmonised guitar courtesy of the pitch shifter, which has ranges from a octave up to an octave down.

The whole process is pretty easy to operate using the twin pedals, but if you want a bit more control, there’s provision for adding an extra footswitch, which will let you turn the effect on and off, select the effect type, stop the operation of each loop separately or delete individual phrases.

The Lil’ Looper is a neat little piece of gear and good value considering that it can also double as an effects pedal when you don’t want to use the looping facility – adding the extra footswitch allows practical effect switching. Absorbing and fun, as well as being a valid practice tool, it’s a great introduction to looping for the uninitiated.

Verdict

If you’ve never used a looper before, this is a great place to start.

4 of 5 stars

A humbucker, plus a Strat and Tele singlecoil mean this pine slab can handle most styles

Aside from its Swiss Army knife line-up of pickups, the new Tele Plus features an unusual pine body. Most Teles are hewn from alder or ash, but Leo Fender built some early Esquire models using pine.

As a result, there are many pine-Tele obsessed toneheads around the world. Those old-schoolers would be less comfortable with the new Tele’s humbucker (bridge), Strat single-coil (middle) and Tele single-coil (neck) set-up.

Still, this is a Tele for modern players looking to pull as many tones as possible from that classic chassis. Plus, like the other models here in this round-up, the Tele Plus has a modern feel, with its jumbo frets, slim-profile bolt-on maple neck and flatter-than- vintage fingerboard radius.

Sounds

Running this Tele’s ‘bucker on full will satisfy any gain junkie, with enough power to pull off old-school rock and modern metal tones.

Coil split the ‘bucker and combine it with the middle single-coil for Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield vibes, clean and with overdrive. In classic Tele style, the neck pickup is the right address for overdriven blues and jazzy chords.

However, the lack of a traditional Tele bridge set-up makes it tough to judge what contribution this Tele’s pine body makes to its tone when compared to a more traditional alder or ash-body model.

Verdict

It’s not the prettiest example, but if your tastes run to country and metal, this is one Tele that comes up with the goods.

4 of 5 stars

The retro-nostalgic design is a welcome change from the standard black box

How. Cool. Is. That? Forgive us from coming over all retro-nostalgic but after the umpteenth black box promising ever more than the last, it is a tonic indeed to come across an amp like the Fender Pawn Shop Special Excelsior that has no pretence whatsoever to being all things to all men.

The irony, then, is that is actually is a great deal more versatile than you might think via its three inputs, two pseudo-Bakelite knobs, single tone switch, tremolo effect and 15-inch speaker.

The inputs are for, wait for it, guitar, mic and… accordion. Now, if you were in New Orleans, for example, that might not sound so strange. The dear old squeezebox isn’t quite the musical leper in many parts of the world that it is in the UK.

But will you ever use it for an accordion? Er, maybe. Can you plug your guitar into it? Well, yes – it’s a weaker, duller sounding input, but that might give you a tonal option or two. The mic input has a bit more level; not as hot as the guitar input, but blow a harp into an appropriate mic, give it some beans and all of a sudden you’re Paul Butterfield. Sort of.

Eventually to the guitar then. The Excelsior uses a pair of cathode-biased 6V6s to put out a stated 13 watts. The totally open-backed cabinet looks the part from afar. Up closer the signs of cost-consciousness are there: thin plastic vinyl, a particleboard cabinet and a generally adequate level of finishing. Lest we be too harsh though – just look again at that bordering-on-silly price.

On the inside, it’s very much modern Fender, albeit split with the preamp up top and the power section at the bottom of the amp. The circuits are simple, populated on PCBs with plenty of space – we can feel the soldering irons heating up now for all manner of mods that enthusiastic tweakers will bestow on their Excelsiors [while voiding the warranty and risking electric shock of course – Health & Safety Ed].

Sounds

Loud, is the first impression: the Excelsior would make a fantastic clean-toned home amp, but it’s also plenty loud enough for small rehearsals and little gigs. The 15-inch speaker and open-backed cab help to create an immediate ‘big amp’ feel. There’s plenty of low-end, and a sense of air and spread that it’s just not possible to get from a small enclosed cabinet.

As a result, clean tones are very rewarding, especially when you add in some of the output bias tremolo effect. It doesn’t do machine-gun stutters, instead it’s a lovely vintage-type oscillation that works wonders for all kinds of Americana, blues and the like.

The bass/treble switch is a bit all-or-nothing; in the former position it’s very dark sounding and in the latter adds both treble and a swathe of brightness. An additional rotary tone control like the Greta’s would have been good, but in its absence, you can tame things from the guitar.

The retro-nostalgic design is a welcome change from the standard black box

Headroom disappears quickly as you wind up the wick, and powerful pickups have the Excelsior driving soon enough. It’s a vintage-style drive that can get right into the kind of messed-up, lo-fi worlds of Jon Spencer and the previously mentioned Messrs Auerbach and White.

Wound back to a lighter range of drives, these sounds sit in countless genres from pop and blues, to soul and country. Will it be loud enough? That depends entirely on your bass player and drummer; in Fender terms it’s much closer to Blues Junior territory than Hot Rod Deluxe.

It seems that Fender’s sheer might allows it the luxury, on a product or two at least, to kick back, chill and make something that’s just cool – pure and simple. So while everyone else slugs it out with features and benefits in the low-end valve amp market, in come the Greta and Excelsior with no such pretensions. The premise is simple: loads of fun, not much money and both unquestionably hit the bullseye on that.

Improvements? Fender could use a more expensive speaker, heftier transformers, add reverb and a more upmarket ply cabinet to make it a tone-hound beast to compete with anything. Would you pay the extra £4-500 for it? It’d be a tough call. As it is, it gets 80 per cent of the way there for a ridiculously low price. In these times, that’s the way to do it.

Verdict

The go-to amp for credible old-school Americana valve sounds on a budget.

4 of 5 stars

The black-on-black scratchplate exudes class, even if it looks too good to touch

Founded in 1962 in Sakashita, Japan, at the base of the mountain that gave the company its name, Takamine was noticed in the early seventies for its well- priced replicas of Martin and Guild guitars.

Ironically, a commercial tie-up with Kaman, the company behind electro-acoustic pioneers Ovation, meant that, by the late seventies, after Takamine had developed its own Palathetic pickup system, Kaman effectively had commercial interest in the two main electro-acoustic guitar brands of the day. In further irony, it was Takamine’s traditionally-made guitars that had longer- lasting appeal over Ovation’s plastic bowl-backed guitars.

After 25 years of guitar making, Takamine started its annual Limited Edition guitars in 1987 and, this year, celebrating 50 years honing its craft, we have more. Here, we look at the none-more-black LTD 2012 ‘Michi’.

Takamine explains the series: “Guided by the theme of ‘Michi’, the Japanese concept of a path or a course to follow over a distance, the 2012 Limited Edition Series commemorates the course of Takamine’s 50-year history. Each guitar features a stunning growing vine motif that symbolizes Takamine’s long and vital life, and this unique design will never be duplicated again.”

After opening the arched-top brown leather-effect hardcase of the LTD 2012 ‘Michi’, you are greeted with a small certificate of authenticity validating the not-to-be- repeated design themes, a triangular pendant in a gold logo’d pouch, a branded duster, headstock sticker and case- carrying shoulder strap. The ‘Michi’, in its all black gloss livery, is quite breathtaking.

Here, you have a properly inlaid scratchplate, which has a deep and lustrous look, as does the whole finish of the spruce- topped rosewood body. The inlays feature subtle details of red berry fruits, veined leaves and a small songbird. It’s tasteful and not outrageous.

The fingerboard inlays are far more detailed than the on the Takamine EG50TH (it’s affordable sister model), with veins and narrow limbs stretching from the eighth to 15th fret. There are gold-coloured details aplenty on the purfling and rosette, while the gold-effect headstock logo is prominent and framed by gold-plated tuners, contrasted by a black rosewood headstock facing.

The solid black finish, of course, hides any outer view of the scalloped X-braced solid spruce top, or the rosewood back. The fingerboard here is ebony and the set-up is good: the nut and saddle are bone and, overall, the level of craftsmanship exudes quality.

Mind you, the black gloss finish shows up all fingerprints, and it almost seems too posh to play. You also get a top-of-the- line Takamine endpin jack socket and there is a matching gold-plated strap button offset at the heel. Perhaps a matching black heel cap would look smarter still.

The black-on-black scratchplate exudes class, even if it looks too good to touch

Sounds

Vibrant and alive, there’s an exciting balance between this acoustic’s depth and warmth of projection and roundness in the top end. It’s a luxuriant sound, but, then, you’d expect that. It’s sonorous, wide, engulfing and prominent.

Plugging in, the Takamine Palathetic pickup and Cool Tube preamp create a nicely detailed tone. You can mix in more warmth from the 12AU7 dual triode valve, and the harmonic content of the sound takes on more vibrancy.

The mid-range is selectable from 250Hz to 4.5kHz. You can then cut or boost at whatever frequency suits, while the bass and treble sliders quickly tailor the sound – your personalised ‘voice’.

It’s a very flexible and intuitive system, though it does add physical weight to the guitar and, acoustically, the timbre is so dynamic, you would surely want to mic this guitar whenever you could.

Once upon a time, Takamine was top of the heap in terms of electro-acoustic performance. Today, things are very different, with all sorts of pickup systems and electros right across the price range. Limited editions also proliferate today – annual, seasonal, etc – which certainly wasn’t the case back in 1987.

What hasn’t changed, though, is Takamine’s dedication to quality in terms of build and electronics – a major reason why we still see so many on stages large and small.

The ‘Michi’ reminds us, if needed, of the sumptuous quality of Takamine’s high-end instruments. It’s a guitar that holds its own, 50 years on, in the vastly expanded world of the modern-production electro-acoustic.

Verdict

Beautiful for the studio – a real keeper and first-port-of-call instrument for most genres. A work of art with practical uses. Cherish it.

4.5 of 5 stars

There’s bite on the ‘buckers and twang on the singlecoils, plus coil-split capability

Compared to the other new twists on classic designs that have been in ample supply from Fender of late, there’s nothing particularly special about the Modern Player Stratocaster HSS.

It has an alder body, bolt-on maple neck and an old- school ‘Synchronized’ vibrato. Sure, it has a humbucker chiselled into the bridge position, but Eddie did that over 30 years ago. The 241mm (9.5- inch) fingerboard radius and 22 jumbo frets promote the slick, modern feel we expect from Fender instruments.

What makes this guitar worthy of your attention is how it delivers a great payload of tone and playability for not a lot of cash: a quick Google search will return some great prices.

The build quality isn’t quite a match for, say, the recent Fender Blacktop Strat HSH – the finish isn’t ultimately as flat, for example – but the Modern Player comes pretty close.

Sounds

Approach the Modern Player Stratocaster HSS without knowledge of its unassuming Fender logo on the headstock doesn’t hurt, but it’s the playability and tonal range that help this Strat punch above its weight.

The single-coils have that glassy tonality any great Strat should have. The bridge ‘bucker has plenty of bite, but it’s no overwound monster; you can split it with the push/ pull tone control.

Like its sister model, the Modern Player Telecaster Plus, this guitar offers a great palette of tones, only in a more visually traditional package.

Verdict

Near frighteningly good value for money, where playability and tonal range seal the deal on this do-it-all Strat.

4.5 of 5 stars

There’s just enough Jag-style vibe to keep this guitar clinging to a branch on its family tree

This latest version of Fender’s sixties offset switches out the dual humbuckers of the existing Blacktop Jaguar HH for a pair of sweet-sounding P-90s. Like the HH, the new Jag comes sans the vibrato unit that plagued/made the original guitar.

In its place, the Jaguar 90 features a chrome Adjusto-Matic bridge and anchored tailpiece that suffers none of the tuning problems often present in the sixties guitar and its reissues.

This Jag’s alder body, slim-profile maple neck, big headstock and the crucial 24-inch scale length offer just enough Jag-style vibe to keep this guitar clinging to a branch on its family tree. Those looking for a cool alternative to a Gibson Les Paul Special should give it a go.

Sounds

If P-90s have passed you by, imagine them as fat-sounding single-coils; the chubby vibe is here in the Jaguar 90. Clean tones are bright, yet well-rounded, in all positions on the three-way switch. Add some overdrive for a lovely clang when you hit power chords with the bridge pickup engaged.

There’s more edge on this alder- fuelled guitar than you’d expect from mahogany-bodied P-90 planks, but all those rock, mod and punk tones are in here. That edge also helps the clarity of the overdriven neck pickup, making it perfect for upper- fingerboard blues licks.

Verdict

As much as we like the existing Jaguar HH, we had our fingers crossed for a twin-P-90- loaded version. The Jaguar 90 is every bit as great as we hoped it would be.

4 of 5 stars