Another year in the books, another year of putting off that really hard solo, and another year of gear…glorious gear. As we know by our gracious readers lists are impossible. We post them because they generally speak for the majority, but in actuality it is hard to put a good list together.
Everyone has their own personal taste and preferences which make it impossible to win over the hearts of everyone. We knew we had to try though. There is just too much good stuff so we decided to take a crack at it.
We played a lot of gear this year, stomped on way too many pedals, went to sleep far too often with ringing ears, but we did it for you.
To say the least it was extremely hard to narrow this down to just several new items of 2011 but after hours of a debate, a few brawls, and a couple of pints we have narrowed it down to this, the best gear of 2011!
Budget: Squier Classic Vibe Series
Arguably the most talked-about release from Fender/Squier to be hitting the gear-junkie forums are the new Classic Vibe series. Every guitar and bass in the lineup is getting phenomenal reviews from users across the board.
You can get your hands on one of these for a great price and walk away with a great guitar or bass. Don’t be fooled by the word Classic, these have the Vibe of the old ones with modern updates to make it suit the modern player.
Mid-Range: Epiphone Limited Edition Joe Bonamassa Les Paul
Joe Bonamassa at the ripe old age of 34 has continually been gaining steam in his career with release after release of studio album and his current Super-Group outfit Black Country Communion. Not only is he selling well in those formats, his guitars that he partnered with Gibson and Epiphone are flying off the shelves. The Epiphone model is a great guitar as you don’t just get some Alnico V humbuckers picked up off the factory floor; you actually get a Gibson Burstbucker 2 and Burstbucker 3. It will be tough not to get great tone out of this, hopefully the next Christmas wish you can have will to be get some of Bonamassa’s chops.
High-End: Gretsch George Harrison Tribute Duo Jet
There are winners and there are losers. This is clearly in the winner’s circle. We were impressed with this back in January when we saw this at NAMM 2011 and were overly impressed with it when we got to spend a couple of minutes with it back in June. The George Harrison Duo Jet is flat out remarkable. We know this choice will come with much controversy as there are only 60 of these being produced and it falls in at about $20,000usd. You could say the Taxman would be after you after a purchase like this but this is a real tribute, this pays homage to one of the best and most influential guitar players and we can think of nothing better than to have his guitar be number one.
Budget: VOX AC4VTV Series
True tube tone you can play at home without getting evicted. Isn’t that what we all really want for Christmas? Solid construction, amazing tone, and all at an amazing price. These four-watt amps pack a punch and in some venues you might even be able to get by with using this. From clean blues to country twang and all the way to Rock n’ Roll you will be covered. An absolute treasure for recording and great considering you can be a part of the Vox AC family without selling your car.
Mid-Range: Orange Dark Terror
The Orange Tiny Terror has been along for quite some time and has received great fanfare over the years. With the beauty of the EL84’s you are able to get a bright tone, some bluesy stuff, but don’t be fooled you can still get the Led out. New for 2011 we saw the addition of the Dark Terror. It sounds menacing, it looks menacing, it is menacing. Orange added the ‘Shape’ control from the Thunderverb series in this tiny little package. If you are a Hard-Rock or Metal player, look no further, convince yourself this is a stocking stuffer, be brootal, and pick one up.
High-End: Mesa/Boogie TA-30
Mesa/Boogie says this amp is a “power experiment in the world of simplicity.” I think that pretty much sums up all you need to know about this beast. This amp can be set to play 15 or 30 watts Class-A or 40 watts in Class A/B on either channel! Want a high wattage clean channel so you can stay really clean and a lower wattage overdrive channel to break up early? No Problem. Channel 1 is styled after the Vox AC30 series with a normal and top boost option. Channel 2 has a Tweed, HI 1, and HI 2 setting. Tweed is more of a warm clean tone, HI 1 is the British style crunch, and HI 2 is the Boogie tone! You can get it all with this amp so cross your fingers and hope you were a good boy/girl in 2011.
Honorable Mention Marshall Class 5 Head
Marshall released their first version of the Class 5 combo over a year ago and let’s just be nice and say it had some issues. Well at the end of Spring 2011 they came out with the head unit and the improved combo. Looks like a classic Plexi Marshall, sounds like a classic Plexi Marshall with tone offerings all the way up to a JCM 800. You get true tube Marshall tone without having to sell your Kidney on the black market all out of the EL84 powered beast.
Budget: Zoom G3
New for 2011 came Zoom’s G3 with its new fancy 32 bit processor. 13 amps and over 100 effects at the stomp of your feet. You have three individual LCD screens to set whatever you want. Being our budget choice it does not have all the bells and whistles as some of the big names on this list but it can get the job done for a fraction of the price. For a good deal you can get this and an absolute huge amount of amp and pedal effects just in time for your holiday ensemble.
Mid-Range: Line 6 POD HD
This is the new POD for desktop and home use based on the extremely popular Line 6 HD series that we featured in last year’s gear roundup. Just as others in the HD series this features 16 amp models and 100+ effects right out of the gate. Nearly every effect and amp setting can be tweaked with absolute ease. The amp models are spot on and you can have the most popular (and expensive) ones of the last 60 years. Depending on how or what application you use this with the HD series will probably have you covered.
High-End: Axe FX II by Fractal Audio Systems
Coming back to reign in another title is the new Axe FX II. After making our 2010 list the Axe FX II is back in a big way. Fractal Audio Systems has doubled the processing power of this unit, has improved speaker and amp simulation, added a USB interface, and added a dedicated port for their footswitch. Any tone, through any speaker in any cab configuration you can possibly imagine and you can dial it all in with your fingertips. Don’t buy anybody else presents this holiday season and this could be yours!
Budget: GFS Guitar Pedals
Wait who? Exactly. Guitar Fetish online has released an amazing amount of redone pedals for 2011. “These are budget pedals right? Probably just some horrible buffers, messy electronics, sucks all the tone from your chain, etc.” Well if you are saying this you were probably in the majority until you did some more research. ALL of their pedals are True Bypass, all have nice electronics, and most all of these sound amazing! Tell me where you can find a new True Bypass tuner for $39usd. How about a True Bypass TS808 clone for $49usd? These are “budget” pedals but you get a lot for your money. Sturdy case, built much like an EHX pedal, great sounds, clean and easy look, great tone, amazing price!
Mid-Range: Fulltone PlimSoul Distortion
Mike Fuller of Fulltone has been on a tear in the boutique pedal industry for over the last two decades. This was a guy that two years ago, when everyone was consistently raising their prices of their gear from year to year he actually lowered his! Speaks volumes of a man that stands behind his work and makes great pedals for a great price. The PlimSoul is two pedals in one. You can achieve a bluesy-compressed tone and with the turn of the dial can achieve some crunchy British tone with expanded and lower mid’s. The best part is that Fulltone pedals are touch sensitive. As in they actually react to how you attack the strings, it reacts like an amp, like it should.
High-End: Boss RC-3 Loop Station
I hear the comments brewing already. How can we possibly have a Loop Station as our pick? Well, let us explain. Boss has a successful line of Loop Stations on the market and the RC-2 was great for at home or at gigs if you were not looping too many tracks simultaneously. It let you hold up to 16 minutes on 11 different phrases. How many of you hit that limit? Boss responded. The new RC-3 has up to three hours of recording time and 99 different phrase tracks. In addition you have a USB port to interact with your computer and save your loops, onboard rhythm/drum tracks, and an auxiliary input. Did we mention this does this all in stereo?
There has been a ton of great gear released in 2011 and many great items that unfortunately have been left off this list. With NAMM 2012 just around the corner we will be seeing what that the New Year will bring us. We have a feeling there will be a bunch of expensive things on our ever changing wish lists. Let us know in the comments some of your favorite gear of 2011. Happy holidays to all and to all a good riff.
by Jesse Kleinow