Photos by Annelise Loughead
Fender Vintera Telecaster
The new Fender Vintera ’60s Telecaster gives you the modern playability and flexibility your fingers crave, with the vintage aesthetic your eyes crave. This is a player’s guitar, sporting a comfortable and thick modern C-shape neck with a 9.5” radius and medium-jumbo frets, and a vintage look with old-school ashtray three-saddle bridge, vintage tuners and a mint green 3-ply pickguard. Whether you’re playing open chords or playing single note lead-lines up the neck, you’ll be able to play without worrying about hand fatigue. Further, the neck is frictionless, smooth and fast due to the satin-backed “vintage tint” finish, which won’t hold you up like a glossed-back would. The Custom Shop pickups are hot, articulate and versatile, and can go from famous Tele “twang” to a smoldering, sultry lead tone with a flick of the four-way toggle switch. This is a great guitar for players who only want to bring one instrument to the gig without compromising tonal variety.
Deering Winston Marshall Signature Banjo
The Deering Winston Marshall Signature Banjo is an excellent touring banjo. And it should be, as it was designed in collaboration with Winston Marshall, banjo player for Mumford and Sons. Out of the box acoustically, this thing projects! It is resonant yet punchy, and has a throaty mid-range tone that speaks when you dig in. The neck is comfortable and the spacing and weight balance makes fast, articulate picking a breeze while standing and performing. The pickup system is where this banjo really starts to shine. The two pickups (the Kavanjo pickup in the neck and the piezo in the bridge) offer a plethora of tonal options with just a flick of the three-way toggle switch and a turn of the blend knob. The beautiful mother of pearl inlays and wooden armrest make this banjo a looker as much as a player, and will stand out in any spotlight. Exclusively available through www.deeringbanjos.com.
The Yamaha CSF-TA shatters stereotypes of parlor-sized guitars, providing arguably the most massive sound you can get from one. The onboard Transacoustic technology lets you dial in reverb or chorus, without having to plug into amplification. Yamaha’s patented technology engages effects from reading string vibration rather than amplification, giving you unique effects that are dynamic and reactive to your playing. The guitar itself offers a solid Sitka spruce top with mahogany back and sides, and sounds more full and defined than most parlor guitars. The neck is comfortable and shines both in the open chord area and up the neck for leads. This guitar will find a home in many writing rooms and living rooms alike.
Martin 000Jr-10e (pictured left)
The Martin 000JR-10e gives you that authentic Martin sound in a travel-sized footprint. The X-braced Sitka spruce top and Sapele back and sides elicit the warm, full lows and articulate, crisp highs you know and love from this classic company. The same amount of craftsmanship that keeps the Martin reputation high is given here, and I found a love for the nice rolled edges on the naturally finished neck. This guitar feels especially great for soloing, particularly coupled with the onboard Fishman Sonotone preamp. The smaller body rarely gives me feedback issues, and further gives the illusion of a full-sized 000 when fed through a full sound system. The flexibility and portability makes this a great travel companion on any road trip, too, giving you the space you want as well as the guitar you need.
Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe
The Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe is an elegantly designed, scaled-down jumbo guitar without the bulkiness of a standard jumbo. Featuring a select maple body and solid spruce top, stunning crown inlays that shine with the spotlight, and the classic mustache bridge, this guitar looks beautiful on stage. The balanced tone gives you a sense of depth and fullness without even being backed by a band. The comfortable, slim-tapered neck shape especially shines in the open chord area, and the cutaway allows for easy soloing. The upgraded pre-amp fits this guitar to any stage. Whether you’re playing with a full-band or solo, the EJ-200 Coupe is a great, affordable axe for players who want a sturdy and beautiful live companion.
The Gibson G-45 gives you everything you’ve always loved about Gibson dreadnaughts in a workhorse outfit. There is a nice balance between the warmth and body of the guitar’s low-end characteristics and a crisp, bell-like high end. When finger-picking, this guitar gives off great sustain and resonance. Flat-picking on this guitar has clear articulation and tracking. It is easy to fly fingers up and down the fretboard due to its smooth, frictionless utile neck. I could play this guitar for an extended time without experiencing hand fatigue, which is a must-have in a guitar for long gigs and sessions. Singer-songwriters will love this guitar for strumming, giving you a nice bed and balanced tone that will match any voice. The onboard Fishman Sonotone preamp sounds great amplified and fits into any scenario you put it in. The G-45 sports a beautiful grain and unique inlays, and the natural finished headstock gives off a vintage vibe that will make other guitar slingers look twice.
Batson The Troubadour
Batson’s “The Troubadour” guitar will impress singer-songwriters. Most acoustic guitars are great for the listener, yet when you’re playing it, you don’t actually hear the essence of how the guitar actually sounds. The Troubadour’s sound hole is located on the side of the guitar facing up towards your ear, so you are able to clearly hear every nuance of the guitar. In turn, this makes it a great guitar for sitting down and writing. The Troubadour has a satin-finished neck that doesn’t slip or stick when you’re flying up and down the neck, which is comfortable and familiar. The arm cutout is beautiful as well as utilitarian; my arm rests naturally whether I’m sitting or standing. This is also a great axe for the stage, and shines when it’s plugged in. The onboard preamp provides a natural representation of the guitar itself and feedback issues are minimal. This means you’ll be able to crank your floor monitor up and experience the same intimate sound amplified onstage that you do offstage.
Recording King “Dirty 30s” Resonator
The Recording King “Dirty 30s” is an affordable resonator with a big, vintage vibe. I pulled this thing right out of the case and instinctively brought the guitar down to open G; it instantly felt like home base. It is a dark resonator, with a full-bodied and warm low-end and a throaty mid-range area that will sit well with both slide players and flat-pickers. Single note lines are articulate, and there’s enough sustain and bite to make slide work fit into any mix without too much processing on the soundboard. Out of the box, the action is set medium-high, making it a great middle ground for someone who does both slide and finger playing. This guitar could easily be mistaken for a vintage instrument, with its gorgeous matte black finish and classic checkered cream binding. (It’s also available in tobacco sunburst and Wabash blue.) This is a great studio tool for Americana and country songwriters who are new to the world of resonator guitars, as well as a great road guitar for seasoned slide and blues cats alike.
Epiphone Hummingbird® Ukulele
The Epiphone Hummingbird Tenor Ukulele takes the familiar look and design of the Epiphone brand and brings it into the uke world. The comfortable, fatter glossed neck gives a perfect transition point for guitar players getting on the uke wave, and this instrument will also find a home with the seasoned player due to its big sound and elegant appearance. This uke projects powerfully, giving off a nicely balanced frequency range and a low end. Since it is a tenor ukulele, it embodies a rich tone without the shrill high end, giving it an almost a guitar-like characteristic. This instrument records nicely and stays in tune like a pro, no matter how obnoxiously you solo. You will truly stand out in any gig you bring this to, and it further becomes a workhorse with its onboard preamp. Tech talk aside, this instrument is fun to play and will inspire a wave of ideas for any songwriter that picks it up.
Boss SY-1 Synthesizer Pedal (pictured right)
Synth pedals are becoming popular with players right now, and Boss maintains its high reputation by providing what could become a standard. The Boss SY-1 Synthesizer pedal will coax a whole new world of sounds from your guitar, while its small, rugged enclosure won’t take up too much space on your pedalboard. Each knob’s controls take little effort to get familiar with, while the sounds go from lush pads to biting leads to inspiring effects that will bring your live guitar sound to the next level. As a guitar player, I often add more notes to fill out the sound spectrum. I found myself playing less and, in turn, playing a more defined, potent part that worked better for the music. One of seven available bell variations gave a nice pad to my Telecaster on one of my original songs, bringing it to the next level. It took polyphonic chords very smoothly and accurately, and also tracked single note lines cleanly and without latency. In a world where electronic based pop music is dominating the charts, the Synthesizer will give your guitar tone a modern and creative edge.
Boss RC10 (pictured center)
Live looping is such a common trend with singer-songwriters both on stage and in the writing room, and the folks at Boss sprove that they’re still the “boss” of loop pedals with the all new RC-10R rhythm loop station. This is truly a creation machine, delivering crystal clear 32-bit AD/DA loop playback and high-quality rhythms and groove. I felt at home with the functionality of this pedal as soon as I set it up in my writing room, and in only a few minutes I was jamming out. The rhythm tracks are organic and natural, and switching between the “a-section” and “b-section” grooves didn’t take me out of my creative zone. This is also a great tool for players who want a little more practice at home keeping time, as well as a tool to create backing tracks to solo over. The RC-10R can and should be used live, giving on-stage looping an edge that loop pedals aren’t known for having. The two separate outputs let you run your “drums” and guitar to two separate amplification sources. This is exceptionally useful if you’re playing electric guitar and want to run your guitar to a cranked amp and the rhythm track straight to the PA. Plus, there are over 280 preset rhythm patterns that cover any genre you can think of.
Beat Buddy Mini 2 (pictured left)
The Beat Buddy Mini 2 drummer pedal is a great tool for writing and practicing. Its functionality becomes second nature, giving you the ability to worry about playing rather than controlling the pedal itself. With over 200 samples that were recorded by actual drummers, you won’t feel like you’re playing with a machine at all. The rhythms are organic and span a ton of different genres, catering to all types of players. As both a teacher and a writer, I’ve felt that the Beat Buddy Mini 2 really shined behind the scenes, giving my students encouragement to play along with rockin’ beats rather than my “evil” metronome. Each pattern has an ‘A’ section and ‘B’ section, as well as fills that can be easily triggered by an optional foot switch to make each performance with the Beat Buddy even more human-like. This can also be used live, and has a couple of light percussion grooves that spruce up my acoustic performances and keep me in time during solo gigs.
IK Multimedia ILoud MTM Monitors
The IK Multimedia iLoud MTM monitors provide an accurate representation of your music in the smallest available footprint on the market. Whether you’re listening in a small home studio or using these as pro reference monitors, these speakers are created to adapt to any room and environment. Setup takes only minutes, and the ARC microphone (included) calibrates these monitors to your room in seconds. The tilting stand prevents you from having to buy another set of acoustic pads, while giving you the proper angle to accurately hear your mix. The center point is focused and the stereo image is as accurate as if you’re listening through headphones. The bass response is astonishing, considering how small the footprint is, and I favored these over my larger 8” speakers in the session I was mixing. The size of these lets you take them anywhere, and your mixes will benefit from the honesty and flatness of the frequency response.
Price: $349 each
Phone cameras keep getting better, so it’s time to couple high quality video with top-notch audio from an industry leader. The Shure MV88+ is an iOS compatible condenser microphone kit that turns your iPhone into a full audio/video recording rig; it includes an all-in-one mic, phone mount and mini tripod that connects to your phone via your lightning port. Set-up takes only a minute or two, and paired with the Shure MOTIV app, all you need to do is set your gain levels accordingly and press record to be able to get studio-grade audio and video. The mic itself can be set to different polar patterns depending on your needs, and comes with its own DSP power and presets to further make capturing the moment quick and easy. This is a great tool for recording shows and rehearsals, as well as for documenting writing sessions. The MC88+ folds into a small carrying pouch that easily fits into any gig-bag. Video is stored on your phone, which makes it really easy to edit, crop and post to social media later on, as well as giving you the ability to export the audio as a .WAV file to further mix the sound if you desire.
Bose T8S with L1 Model 2 and B2 Subwoofer
The T8S Tonematch mixer ups the ante in Bose’s proprietary line, offering more flexibility and portability, high quality effects and ToneMatch technology that allows you to “set it and forget it” while performing live. This unit is geared to musicians that have to supply and run their own sound, and with the easy-to-read display, scene recall and rugged design, being a “soundman” becomes one less thing to worry about. Each channel can run its own independent EQ and gain stage, dynamics and effects. Each gig setting can also be stored and quickly recalled, saving valuable setup time. Paired with the Bose L1 Model II and B2 subwoofer (pictured), L1S or F1 systems, you have an easy one-wire connection to fully take control of this unit and fill every imaginable room with big sound. The groundbreaking L1 Model II, if you haven’t played through one, provides a 24-speaker line array and 180-degree listening area dispersion, eliminating the need for a monitor, and does not sacrifice sound quality for the audience. The T8S has 8 XLR-combo jacks, so connecting mics and instruments is stress-free without the need of a slew of DI boxes and transformers. There are 4 aux outs packed into the unit, excellent news if you do want to run multiple monitor mixes for your band (especially if they’re using in-ears).
Price: T8S: $899.00, L1 Model and B2 Subwoofer: $2699.00
Shubb Capo Royale Series
Many players consider Shubb the gold standard for capos. Their patented design allows the capo to close onto the guitar without any pull to either side of the neck. A simple screw adjustment keeps the guitar in tune. Fittingly, their newest addition, the Capo Royale series, was designed in part by customer demand for a gold-plated capo. Shubb’s high-tech finishing technique utilizes titanium, which has the beauty of real gold without the high cost. Two distinct finishes, Gold and Rose Gold, are available.
Fishman Triple Play Connect
Looking to breathe new life into that boring G-C-D chord rhythmic progression you came up with on your guitar? Spice it up with the Fishman Triple Play Connect and make it sound like a piano, an organ or flute, add some funky drums and give it some groove. The Triple Play Connect is a serious hardware/software combo designed for iPad that packs a mountain of sounds, which you can record and then share online. The MIDI guitar controller hardware (pictured) installs non-invasively on your guitar and connection to the iPad is through a Lightning or USB cable. The iOS app is an immersive music production toolbox that opens up a world of sounds, including piano and organ, looping, rhythms, backing tracks and more. Low-latency tracking allows you to play freely and in time. Triple Play Connect provides tremendous value and inspiration for those who want to invest the time and seriously explore their creative side at any hour of the day.
We reviewed a lot of great gear on AmericanSongwriter.com in 2019. Below are some of the highlights.
Taylor 362ce 12-String
The Taylor 362ce is a beautiful, light, small-bodied 12-string acoustic guitar that projects a huge sound. Included in their Grand Concert series, the 362ce now features Taylor’s revolutionary V-class bracing. The 362ce is catered to the 6-string player who wants the big sound of a 12-string, without the bulkiness. This guitar, with its “compact” cutaway and comfortable 12-fret neck, shines in the open chord area and has a nice, tight bass response that you would expect to hear from a much larger 12-string. An innovative, double-mounted string anchor design allows the string pairs to share the same hole, giving the strings an even balance and feel, even in the higher register. And with the neck being only a 24-7/8” scale, this is also perfect to rip Stevie Ray Vaughn-esque solos. And with Taylor’s ES2 pickup system and beautiful, natural finish and shaded edge-burst top, this is a perfect guitar for the stage as well.
Fender ToneMaster Deluxe Reverb
The new Fender Tonemaster Deluxe Reverb brings you the classic amp you’ve known and loved for over five decades, but without the tubes AND half the weight. The folks at Fender painstakingly modeled every characteristic of the popular tube amp, from the two distinct channels that capture a tube-driven sound to a musical “spring” reverb and vibrato. This amp reacts exactly like your tube amp would, and the variable wattage control further allows you to decrease the power going to the speakers; this gives you the ability to crank the amp up to a rich overdrive without piercing volumes. When cranked, it gives the same feel and articulation as a tube amp; backing off on volume or picking cleans it up naturally, while digging in makes this amp rip. The lighter Jensen speaker pushes the same air and evokes the classic sound, but is a key factor to why this amp is half the weight of a normal Deluxe Reverb. Weighing only 22 pounds, this is the perfect amp for musicians lugging gear to club shows, but holds its own to play arenas at night. There’s also a direct XLR out on the back of this amp with a switchable cab and mic IR, giving further flexibility for the studio and stage. You need to play this amp in person to truly believe its magic.
JBL One Series 104 Reference Monitors
The JBL One Series 104 Reference Monitors are small enough to fit into a tight desktop space yet still deliver a powerful and excellent sound. The One Series will ably serve as your main speakers for podcasting, casual listening and recording needs. N.R.P.
LR Baggs Align Series Chorus and Delay
Both the Align Series Chorus and Delay can enhance acoustic guitarists’ arsenals without detracting from the sounds of our instruments. Signal quality (both wet and dry) was always good and the control ranges seemed just right for acoustic players. Mike McKernan
Price: Chorus $179.00; Delay $179.00
The acoustic SE designs are descended from the high-end PRS Private Stock line, built in Maryland. While prices for Private Stock instruments can broach the five-figure mark, PRS has clearly put effort into delivering high quality instruments to their devotees who operate within budgets. M.M.
IK Multimedia Axe I/O
The newly released IK Multimedia Axe I/O, a two-in/five-out unit and controller, makes it “caveman” easy to get pro-quality recordings in the comfort of my home. This unit really starts to shine in the guitar world. The main channel features three different “circuit topologies” and IK’s patented Z-Tone impedance control, which brings the most out of your guitars. Nick Ryan Piescor
Street Price: $349.00
McPherson Touring Carbon Guitar
This guitar is for the gigging guitarist (and collector alike) who wants to stand out with their instrument and start a conversation. Its sleek black top makes this axe rugged yet classy; it’s quite photogenic. Despite the small ¾-size scale, this guitar provides a big sound, with strong lows and crisp highs. N.R.P.
The new DL16S is the perfect step up for a band (and venue) that needs more channels, versatility in a mixer, and a slew of excellent effects, all packed in an amazingly small-sized piece of hardware controlled by Mackie’s Master Fader 5 software app. It’s an excellent solution for any band looking to physically lighten their load, guarantee quality sound on a gig and put their mind at ease so they can focus on performing. Steve Warendorf
Street price: $769.99
Taylor Guitars Builder’s Edition Grand Pacific
The Builder’s Edition 517 and 717 Grand Pacific guitars feature a round-shoulder dreadnought design, satin finish, Andy Powers-designed V-Class bracing system, a torrefied Sitka spruce top and are differentiated by their choice of back and side wood: neo-tropical mahogany for the 517 and Indian rosewood for the 717. It’s definitely one of the most exciting instruments Taylor has released to date, thanks to its comfort, striking appearance and sonic versatility. Christian Seaman
Price: 517 — $2,699-$2,999.00; 717 — $2,899-$3,199.00
The PreSonus ATOM is the manufacturer’s first pad controller, an essential piece of gear for anyone who uses virtual instruments. Along with having 16 velocity-sensitive and pressure-sensitive pads, it allows you to control your whole session without even touching your computer. The ATOM includes PreSonus Studio One Artist production software and recording DAW and is fully integrated right out of the box, which makes for an easier workflow. At a $149 price point, you’re getting a serious “bang” for your buck. N.R.P.
Street price: $149.95
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock
How do you connect older USB-A-connected hard drives or keyboard controllers, and other peripherals such as SD cards, headphones and monitors to your new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and USB-C connections? The easiest solution is the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, which features 14 ports of connectivity and the convenience and speed of Thunderbolt technology. It’s a great solution for songwriters who need multiple ports for their peripherals and want a self-contained central hub with one of the smallest available footprints. Askold Buk