Another year has drawn to a close, and with it we have seen some amazing things in music. Axl Rose and his new configuration of Guns-N-Roses toured the world behind their Chinese Democracy album, while Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez were named the newest judges on American Idol in the US. Katy Perry drew controversy for her revealing clothes on a children's show, while Kings Of Leon abandoned their set at a show early due to the torrent of pigeon poop that was raining down on them from the rafters.
At the same time, guitar players continued to be deluged with tons of great new products to help them play and record, and there are some especially standout products that should be noted, as they may be just what you're looking for heading into 2011. Some popular, key categories are listed below, which are then divided into a couple of different price points for all different types of players.
Fender Blacktop Guitars Can't start without guitars, right? Arguably the most talked-about release this year was the Fender Blacktop series. This new cost-conscious series from Fender brings the same level of detail and tone found in many of their other, higher-priced guitars, at a price that can't be beat. Great looking versions of the Strat, Tele, Jaguar, Jazzmaster and Mustang give you everything you'd want and more.
Epiphone Slash Signature Appetite for Destruction Les Paul A little less than a year ago, the higher-end Gibson brand put out a limited edition Les Paul based on Slash's Derrig LP clone that was used to record much of the seminal Appetite for Destruction' Guns n Roses album. Due to the huge popularity of that line (which sold out incredibly fast), along with a desire to put this great-looking axe in the hands of even more players, Gibson's Epiphone label decided to put out their own Slash model out. This mass-market edition is every bit as awesome-looking as its higher-priced big brother, with similar specs such as the famous Les Paul long neck tenon, Seymour Duncan Alnico II Slash Signature pickups, and the awesome tiger-striped top. The tone and the looks will have you standing out from the crowd!
Paul Reed Smith 25th Anniversary Guitars while these started to ship in limited quantities in 2009, these became widely distributed and available in 2010, but only available for about 1 year as a special run of many of the most popular PRS models. From the Mira at the bottom of the price ladder, up to the 513 and Modern Eagle at the top end, these featured binding on the guitar necks for the first time commonly available on PRS guitars, as well as special white silk-screened cases for collectibility. As usual, the guitars are stunning and without parallel, made of incredible tonewoods and uncompromising detail across all models, and the switch to the lauded 57/08 pickups in many models made these hands-down the guitar to beat.
VOX AC15VR and AC30VR Valve Reactor Series Inspired by the success of the popular Valvetronix series from Vox, these new amps provide 15-watt or 30-watt hybrid tube/solid-state tones in the classic-looking Vox cabinet style, with a huge variety of great sounding tones. Go from very clean, to Beatles-esque sounds, up to classic rock, hard rock and even metal tones, all in one easy to use setup. British Invasion in spades!
Orange Rockerverb MK II the very popular Rockerverb series was relaunched in 2010 with the new MK II editions. Refined controls, along with a rich, lush reverb that sits even better in the mix, make this a welcome enhancement to an already awesome amp series. Add the introduction of the new 1x12 combo version, and Orange is clearly showing they're paying attention to the wants and needs of modern guitar players. Further, the popular ability from the old 100-watt version heads to switch to different power tubes has now been ported to the 50-watt combos and head as well, allowing much more tonal flexibility for years to come. Try a classic EL34 set of tubes for more of a British vibe, or put in some 6L6's for a modern American punch. No matter what you choose, of course, the Rockerverb sounds amazing on clean, mild overdrive or hard rocking tones.
Engl Powerball II much like the Orange Rockerverb, the Powerball was updated for 2010. With a more blacked-out look, the Powerball II amp head offers several additional features over the already incredible-sounding original Powerball, to cover many players' needs. First, each of the four channels was given its own gain channel, allowing for more variation in tone and voicing between the channels. Next, a footswitchable mid-boost option was added, which is perfect for cutting through when soloing on top of another guitar player. Third, the FX loop and onboard noise gate have been made footswitchable, allowing for more on-the-fly adjustment during gigs. With the clean, crunch and lead channels onboard the Powerball II, this amp very well could be the last you'll ever need.
Modeling (POD, AXE FX, ETC.)
BOSS for several years has been putting out multi-fx boards that use their patented COSM technology to model many of their famous standalone guitar and bass pedals, but put altogether in affordable, easy-to-use packages. This year's ME-25 model was the latest in their lineup, offering simplicity, great tone, and rock-bottom pricing. As with other recent entries in their ME line, the ME-25 now includes amp simulation, offering a complete plug-and-play solution for any guitarist. In addition, a harmonizer and a 38-second (!) looper have been added from the higher-priced ME-70. As always, the built-in footpedal can be used for wah, volume, octave up/down functions and more. Distortions, overdrives, delays, choruses, reverbs and more abound, making this truly a great little pedalboard to offer any guitar player a world of new tones.
The new POD HD series floorboard processors were introduced in 2010, and have already been garnering rave reviews and heavy sales volume around the world. Starting with a long-awaited upgrade to processing power from the older X3 series POD units, the POD HD units feature much more realistic amp modeling. While including less amp models than some previous entries in the series, the newly-modeled-from-scratch tones found here give the much higher-priced Axe FX a run for its money, along with many subtle improvements to the layout and usability of the unit. Along with the new amp tones and a built-in multi-layer looper, the POD HD series now includes the acclaimed effects models from Line 6's acclaimed M-series (M9 and M13) pedals, upping the tones across the board in this new series. Start with the lower-priced HD300 for a straightforward signal chain, or up the processing power by moving up to the HD500 to allow much more complicated pedal and tone layouts.
Axe FX Ultra by Fractal Audio Systems While this unit was actually released in 2009, it started to become available in greater quantities and become fully documented and supported with an online community in 2010. The Axe FX Ultra has quickly become the gold standard in guitar amp modeling. Even when just sticking to the basics, or just playing through the presets, this rackmounted processor sounds every bit like a full-sized guitar rig, with all of the subtle harmonics, sustain and touch sensitivity of a tube guitar amp. Tons of vintage and modern amps and pedal tones are included, and there is even the ability to start tweaking each amp and pedal in ways that could never be accomplished on the original devices themselves.
Visual Sound Garage Tone Chainsaw Distortion - Admit it, the very first pedal you probably went out to buy was a distortion or an overdrive pedal. Especially for those of us who picked up guitar because of our love for rock or metal music, this is the cornerstone to many of our pedalboards, and what creates our own signature tone. Visual Sound, which has put out many pedals with awesome tones at great price points, released the Garage Tone Chainsaw Distortion pedal to wide release in 2010. This very low-priced pedal hides an all-analog monster tone in a simple, easy-to-use package. Who needs a metal-voiced half-stack when you can have this?
For a step up in overdrive/distortion tone, check out the all new BOSS ST-2 Power Stack. This is technically a modelling pedal, not a traditional analog pedal, but built in the standard heavy-duty BOSS metal housing, and powered by the typical BOSS-style AC power adaptors or 9v battery. The pedal is capable of handling low-crunch, Plexi-tones, up to JCM-style 80's gain sounds, up to modern extreme-gain tones, with an onboard 2-channel EQ to further customize the tones to your guitar and amp and signal chain. While you can't save presets and perform other advanced customizations you may be used to on modelling boards, this could very well be the last distortion pedal you'll ever need to dial in with tons of potential tones sitting under the surface.
Dunlop Jerry Cantrell Crybaby Wah - No two guitar players are alike, and neither are any two Wah pedals alike. The Jerry Cantrell Wah was introduced this year as the new incarnation of Alice in Chains was touring, building momentum behind their latest release. This Wah, in a striking oxidized brass metal finish, is unique from the several other signature Crybaby Wah pedals due to its overall darker tone, as well as it's wider sweep range from heel-to-toe. In addition, the knob on the side specifically adjusts the frequency of the toe-down frequency (i.e. when the wah is set to maximum). As with all other Crybaby pedals, the Jerry Cantrell Wah looks good and is built to take a beating.
As you can see, this is just a sampling of some notable gear releases throughout 2010, but there are many more great products being released every day to make sure every possible musician has exactly the instruments they need, to do what they do best: make music. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
By Shekhar Dhupelia Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2010