It's that special time of year when we can all sit back and reflect on the highs and lows of days gone by. 2011 truly would not be complete without someone fabricating a definitive list of awards for you, the ultimate-guitar.com reader. Keep in mind these awards have no official capacity other than my own humble opinion, which is never wrong.
It's hard to find a company that walks the line between bizarre/quality/useless/and amazingly awesome quite like my favorite pedal company Electro-Harmonix. One of their signature releases this year is the 'Ravish Sitar', unequivocally the number 1 sitar simulation pedal on the market today.
It actually does a lot more than just emulate a sitar, you can use it for any amount of atmospheric effects, and even use it with a bass. For $239, it sure beats buying and learning how to play a sitar. The following video does a good job of demo-ing the pedal, and also sums up the bizarre nature of EHX pretty well, considering the first 2 minutes consist of a disoriented old man inexplicably blabbering on about nonsense before showcasing the pedal.
Trainwreck of the Year
Let's take a moment to truly give Gibson a round of applause for another full year of terrible customer support, lackluster quality control, and refusing to allow smaller, local music vendors to reasonably become dealers. In addition, they released a grand total of ONE new guitar (the Firebird X, which only runs $4,000), and somehow managed to have their factory raided by armed federal marshals for illegal wood trafficking. All in all, a banner year.
Disappearing Act of the Year
Fender American Standard Telecaster
Where have all the Tele's gone?! I won't go so far as to say that the Telecaster has undergone somewhat of a revival (because it's always been a mainstay) but it seems like you can't go to a concert or turn on the TV without seeing that classic Fender guitar. So why is it so hard to find a good American Standard Tele anywhere?
Maybe it's because the good people at Fender are choking the supply of the guitar to increase the demand in a masterfully orchestrated plot to make Telecasters the most sought after guitar of all-time. Actually, no. That's not it at all. The truth is, Fender's long-time paint supplier went bankrupt, leaving the savvy Fender brain-trust scrambling to fill orders for all their American Standard guitars. Hopefully you were able to find a dealer with a good backstock, or you might be waiting awhile. That's right, failure to acquire the right color of paint has robbed a year's worth of new Telecaster players the privilege to join the ranks. Look out Gibson, you've got company. Which brings us too...
Underrated Guitar Manufacturer of the Year
Ernie Ball Music Man
A company known first and foremost for their guitar strings, then for their consistently spectacular bass guitars, and lastly for their electric guitars. It's an outright injustice that Music Man guitars don't get more respect.
They consistently turn out guitars with impeccable quality control, craftsmanship, finish, and setup. Truly a step above other manufacturers with their consistency (check out the Albert Lee if you get a chance). Music Man is a great American company that doesn't get mentioned as often with the big boys as they deserve.
Achievement in a Tuning Pedal
DigiTech Hardwire HT-6
Just when you thought tuner pedals had evolved as far as possible, DigiTech drops the HT-6 on us. It's a polyphonic tuner with LED displays for 4-6 strings (bass or guitar), ALL AT ONCE! Gone are the days of having to tune one string at a time. Just give the guitar a strum, and it's able to pick out each individual string's pitch, displaying it in a precise, easy-to-read interface. You can set it to any number of different tunings and even connect to a computer via usb to download crazy different ones. It's housed in the Hardwire single-space, stomp chassis, the best in the business as far as I'm concerned, and still kept it under $100. Very cool.
Honorable mention to the TC Electronic PolyTune which may have been first to the table with this concept, but DigiTech's seems nicer.
Digital Plug-In of the Year
Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 Pro
If you had to choose one word to describe the current landscape of digital guitar processor plug-ins, it would be "saturated".
Nevertheless, Native Instruments has updated their award-winning Guitar Rig series with a 5th installment. Useful for guitar and/or bass, it sports 17 faithful amps models and 24 cabs. Fender, Mesa, Orange, Vox, Marshall and anything else you can think of is represented (albeit overtly disguised). It provides you with an endless array of options for tweaking your sound and the results are the closest to the real thing I've encountered in the plug-in world. The low-end warmth of a tube amp still isn't quite there as far as digital modeling goes, but it gets closer every year and Native Instruments is at the forefront of the movement.
Totally Un-biased App of the Year
The Ultimate Guitar Tools iPhone App
For a mere $3.99 (20% of the cost of a decent standalone tuner), you can turn your iPhone or iPod Touch into a chromatic tuner with a bunch of different options and easy interface. It also comes with a metronome and comprehensive chord library finder. What a totally unbiased deal!
Achievement in Not Being Innovative at All
The most exciting news out of the Boss US guitar pedal offices this year? They've slightly updated their loop stations! Stop the presses! Is it just me or does it seem like Boss is comfortably trapped in 1992? Nothing has become less exciting over the years than simply looking at a Boss pedal.
Let's put it this way, their two most respected products are the Blues Driver (awesome) and their noise suppressor. Think about that for a second. It's hard to really get that excited about a noise suppressor, personally. How about a little innovation? PLEASE! And no, a GT-11 won't count.