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Roundup: 5 Shred Guitars Reviewed

October 23, 2013
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THE TECHNICALLY ADVANCED GUITAR STYLES KNOWN AS “shredding” owe much to the 1978 release of Van Halen’s first album, as well as to the discoveries of some extraordinarily talented players in the 1980s by guitarist/producer Mike Varney, Through his Spotlight column in GP, and the albums he produced on his Shrapnel label, Varney helped introduce guitarists around the world to such icons of shred as Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore, and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Shredders, of course, also needed guitars that could facilitate their blazingly fast legatos, sweep picking, etc., and with the exception of Yngwie (who stuck with a Fender Strat) many of these players gave valuable input to companies like Charvel, Jackson, ESP, Carvin, and Ibanez—all of which were early responders to the call for guitars that featured such shred-essential elements as natural-finished necks with thin profiles and flat fretboards, sleek double-cutaway bodies, and pickups that had power and definition. By the end of the 1980s, nearly every major manufacturer offered guitars that met these requirements and had the pointy headstocks to prove it.

Fast-forward to 2013, and nothing has fundamentally changed in the shred scene. The speed and technical barriers broken by Yngwie and Becker 25 years ago still serve as high-water marks of shred, and shred guitars still look like 6-string equivalents of Formula 1 cars.

On deck for this roundup are five shred-worthy guitars from Carvin, ESP, EVH, Ibanez, and Jackson. They all carry DNA that can be traced back some three decades, although the ESP EC-1000 scores evolutionary points for featuring the groundbreaking Ever- Tune bridge.

We tested these guitars through an EVH 5150 III 2x12 combo and a PRS 2-Channel 1x12 combo, and each guitar was evaluated on tone, playability, construction, and value. —ART THOMPSON

 

CARVIN JB200C JASON BECKER TRIBUTE

ANYONE WHO HAS WATCHED THE VIDEOS OF JASON BECKER DOING A CLINIC at the Atlanta Institute of Music saw two things: First, they witnessed one of the all-time great shredders at the absolute top of his game. Second, they saw him play his jaw-dropping scale runs and arpeggios on a sapphire blue Carvin DC200. Now, decades later, Carvin has honored Becker with his own signature model, the JB200C. I tested this high-performance machine through an EVH 2x12 combo, a PRS 2 Channel, and a Fryette Sig:X. I also checked in with the guitar’s namesake to get his remembrances.

We were instantly struck by the JB’s sleek feel and good looks. The maple top is gorgeous, the blueburst finish is sexy and flawless, and the tung-oiled maple neck feels amazing and really pops against the dark blue body and black hardware. The neck and its finish were specifically requested by Becker back in the day. “I loved the purple DC200 that I got when Marty Friedman and I first visited Carvin,” he says, “because it felt great, and I could get both Les Paul- and Strat-style tones out of one guitar. I pretty much asked for the same thing in my blue one, only with a narrow, flamed maple neck with a satin finish, so I wouldn’t get stuck on the paint.” His comments led to a satin-finished neck up to the 18th fret, where the body paint comes back in. It feels smooth, fast, and easy to play. The slim profile, flat radius, and awesome setup make it a dream to shred on.

Amplified, the JB200C has a lot of different tones, all of which are musical and useful, ranging from huge humbucker chunk to skinny, funky single-coil sounds. Carvin accomplishes this with an ingenious control layout. The guitar’s default is the active mode, where you get a master Volume and knobs for Treble boost/cut and Bass boost/cut, plus coil-splitting options and a phase switch. This provides many great sounds both clean and dirty. If you pull up on the Volume knob, you enter the passive mode where you still get the coil-split and phase options, only now with a standard Tone control. I liked all these tones, and the out-of- phase ones have a great Brian May-style squawk. “I loved the coil-split sounds,” says Becker. “I also sometimes used the phase option, like in my tune “Thousand Million Suns” from the Raspberry Jams CD.”

The Floyd Rose whammy was set up in a floating configuration with a ton of range in either direction. I could yank harmonics on the G string up a tritone (!) and lower them all the way to the depths of hell. Nice! The flat radius makes bending silky smooth, too, with no fretting out whatsoever, even on bends of a major third or more. This guitar is just incredibly easy to play, and even if most of us can’t play at the mind-boggling level that Becker did on this model, we’ll all be able to take things up a notch because of the great construction and features that Carvin has put into it. As Becker recalls of his astounding playing at the Atlanta clinic, “That guitar made it easy and so much fun! As I am sure many of us have felt, I was one with this guitar. We could do anything together.” —MATT BLACKETT

MODEL

JB200C JASON BECKER TRIBUTE

CONTACT carvinguitars.com

PRICE $1,599 street

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK Tung-oiled hard rock maple neck with matching flamed maple headstock
FRETBOARD Flamed maple, 25" scale
FRETS 24
TUNERS Premium Carvin locking, 19:1 ratio
BODY Alder with standard AAAA flamed maple top
BRIDGE Original Floyd Rose tremolo with locking nut
PICKUPS Carvin M22SD humbucker (bridge), M22V humbucker (neck)
CONTROLS Volume, Tone (passive mode), Volume, Bass cut/boost, Treble cut/boost (active mode), 3-way selector, two dual/singlecoil switches, phase switch.
FACTORY STRINGS Elixir, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.5 lbs
BUILT U.S.A.
KUDOS Top-notch construction. Huge range of sounds. Great playability.
CONCERNS None

 

ESP LTD EC-1000 EVERTUNE

WHEN WE FIRST REVIEWED THE BRILLIANT EVERTUNE BRIDGE IN THE 2/11 issue of GP, it was only available as an aftermarket item and required a fairly serious installation. Every single guitarist that I showed it to was blown away by its ability to stay in tune indefinitely— regardless of temperature changes, violent bending, etc.—and intonate perfectly all the way up the neck. But several players said something like, “I don’t want to mod my guitar. I wish this just came stock in a production model.” Well, the folks at ESP must have been listening, because they made the bold decision to release not one, but two EverTune-equipped LTD models, including the beauty you see here.

ESP has always been known for amazing quality, and every detail of the EC-1000 is spot-on with great attention to detail. The cosmetics are sleek, sexy, and classy, with beautiful binding that encapsulates not just the body and neck but also the rosewood fretboard, lending just the right amount of fancy without being gaudy. The star of the hardware, the EverTune itself, fits right in and looks like it was made for this guitar. The routs under the toggle and knobs are perfectly rounded, as is the beveled cutaway. The nut and fret ends are smooth and reinforce the feeling of refinement.

As with any guitar that sports an EverTune bridge, the 1000 was perfectly in tune the second we unboxed it. I turned the tuning machines until I got to the “bend stop,” which is the point where the tension of the strings is just about to override the tension of the EverTune’s springs in back. Now I could bend normally but not squeeze any chords or notes out of tune. I plugged in and heard the awesome rock tones that we associate with an EMG-loaded mahogany guitar: tight, aggressive, detailed chords and singing single-note lines. But there’s more. Because of the Ever- Tune’s ability to play so freakishly in tune, all my rhythm lines took on an otherworldly clarity, even with raging distortion. The sense of confidence that comes with being able to play any voicing in any position—even referencing against an open string—has to be felt to be believed. No joke, I hit a D-shaped A chord in the nineteenth position over an open low A and it sounded like a freaking piano. Even my best-intonating guitars would have some difficulty with that. The EC is a blast to solo on, with low action and meaty frets for easy bending. Some monster bends exhibited a little fret-out acoustically—although not through an amp—but even bends of a fourth or more on the G came back 100% in tune every single time.

This guitar (or its double-cutaway sibling, the MH-1000 EverTune) would be a serious secret weapon on the road and in the studio. You could take it from a chilly hotel room to a sunlit outdoor stage with total impunity. You can double rhythm tracks without even thinking about looking at a tuner. ESP guitars are rock solid to begin with and the EverTune only adds to that. Admittedly, there is a learning curve when it comes to string changes and initially dialing the system in, and there are great how-to videos on the EverTune website that show you everything you need to know. But this is game-changing technology, folks, and you absolutely need to try this guitar. Major props to ESP being the first to offer this groundbreaking bridge on their beautiful instruments. —MATT BLACKETT

MODEL

EC-1000 EVERTUNE

CONTACT espguitars.com

PRICE $999 street

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.65"
NECK Mahogany
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24 3/4" scale
FRETS 24 XJ
TUNERS LTD
BODY Mahogany with maple top
BRIDGE EverTune F model
PICKUPS EMG 81 (bridge) and 60 (neck) active humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, master Tone, 3-way toggle
FACTORY STRINGS Cleartone, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.18 lbs
BUILT Korea
KUDOS Beautiful attention to detail. Excellent rock tones. Unreal tuning stability and intonation.
CONCERNS None.

 

EVH STRIPED SERIES

BASED ON THE GUITARS THAT EDDIE VAN HALEN ASSEMBLED FROM VARIOUS parts and painted so distinctively, the EVH Striped Series comes in three color schemes: white with black stripes, black with yellow stripes, and the red-with-black-and-white-stripes version on review here. While obviously not an exacting replica of the guitar that Ed built—there’s no 3-way switch in the middle rout, no 1971 quarter under the trem, and no non-functioning single-coil in the neck slot—the Striped offers the basic elements needed to get your Van Halen on: a Strat-style body, bolt-on maple neck, a direct-mounted humbucker, single Volume control (labeled “Tone”), and a double-locking trem bridge. The strap buttons are the correct vintage style, and the gloss finish is a lot sleeker than the original’s spray can paint job.

The EVH-branded Floyd Rose trem is set for downward only bends as per Van Halen’s preference, and the strings are routed under a bar-style retainer on their way to the chromed die-cast tuners. The bridge works smoothly under hard dive-bombing action, and the D-Tuna does as it’s supposed to—taking the low E string instantly and accurately down to D when you pull the knurled handle, and back to E again when the handle is pushed in. The bridge makes some vibration noises, however, which seem to be caused by it not being fully seated on the body. At the headstock end, the tuners also rattled when the neck was given a shake.

The oil-rubbed neck has a great feel and the compound radius ’board and expertly installed polished jumbo frets and low-action setup make for an inspiring playing experience. Some buzzing was noticeable upon delivery, but it was easy enough to clear that up by adjusting the trussrod, which you can turn at the rear of the neck.

The Wolfgang humbucker has a balanced response and moderate output, and it delivers tones that have plenty of bottom and just the right brightness to cut through a stage mix, while still delivering that delicious brownness that’s a signature of Van Halen’s tone. Jacked into the middle channel of an EVH 5150 III 2x12 combo, the Striped elicited gobs of sustain and a meaty, slicing edge with excellent note definition. In this mode you can turn down the guitar to get a cleaner tone for rhythm playing (the Volume control keeps the highs present as it’s rolled down), which is less possible when you move to the third channel of the 5150, where the gain is simply ridiculous. Still though, the Striped managed to keep its stringy voice intact amidst a blizzard of tortured tube harmonics.

The Striped is ideally configured for metal and hard rock, and there’s not much else you’re going to do with a guitar like this other than perhaps use it ironically in a reggae band or something like that. But for Van Halen fans, this is an excellent way to get up close and personal with the guitar that Ed played. And even if you simply hang it on the wall for fear of being expected to shred Van Halen-style if you dare to take it out in public, the Striped Series is still a fitting tribute to one of the most iconic solidbody guitars ever made. —ART THOMPSON

MODEL

EVH STRIPED SERIES

CONTACT evhguitars.com

PRICE $899 street

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.687"
NECK Maple
FRETBOARD Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETS 22 jumbo
TUNERS EVH die-cast
BODY Basswood
BRIDGE EVH branded double-locking with D-Tuna
PICKUPS Wolfgang humbucker
CONTROLS Volume
FACTORY STRINGS Fender, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.3 lbs
BUILT Mexico
KUDOS Awesome look. Excellent playability and tone.
CONCERNS. Rattling tuners.

 

IBANEZ SIR27FD IRON LABEL SERIES 7-STRING

IBANEZ HAS A SOLID REPUTATION IN THE SHRED SEGMENT, AND THIS SIR27FD 7-string from the new Iron Label Series quickly shows us why. At comfortably under $1k, this is a well-designed and impressively equipped mayhem machine, and it reveals even more of its dark charms the deeper you probe. The SIR27FD has the streamlined S Series Ibanez body—a slimline take on the classic super-Strat shape— that is extremely comfortable to play, and which focuses your attention visually and functionally on the neck, where all the action is. Between the coverless and ringless pickups mounted directly into the wood, the minimalist control array, and the recessed jack, Ibanez maintains esthetic integrity, although the jack design could be a scary proposition if you step on your cord without anchoring it behind the rear strap button. The Iron Pewter finish and dark chrome hardware (Ibanez calls it Cosmo Black) emphasize this axe’s intentions, while a thin white binding around the top of the body and the headstock lends an air of tradition.

Ibanez’s Nitro Wizard neck is a three-piece construction of maple, bubinga, and maple with an extremely slim, flat-backed profile that has proved itself on other war machines, and is just the right shape for speedy shred maneuvers. The setup felt good right out of the box, although the outside-front corners of the nut were just a little sharp against the left hand during low-string rambles, and a fan of super-straight necks might want to tighten the trussrod just a hair.

For firepower, Ibanez wisely eschews the “hotter is better” ethos applied to so many super-Strats by loading the SIR27FD with a pair of DiMarzio PAF 7 humbuckers. These vintage- wind pickups, which barely nudge 7kΩ in either position, offer the kind of clarity and dynamics that overwound humbuckers usually struggle to achieve, while still wreaking vengeance aplenty through a high-gain amp or distortion pedal. The single Volume and Tone controls keep it simple, while the 5-way switch adds combined split-coil and parallel neck position options to the usual 3-way selections. Finally, Ibanez’s Gibraltar Standard bridge remains, for the most part, an impressive piece of hardtail hardware, promising enhanced sustain in its through-body stringing, although some tighter tolerances might remedy the slight side-to-side play I discovered in some of the saddles.

Plugged alternately into a Bogner Goldfinger 45 and a Dr. Z Remedy with a Providence Stampede pedal at the ready, I found the SIR27FD rewarded first with the kinds of clean tones that are too often considered dispensable in your average thrash machine. Despite its incendiary looks, this guitar issued nuanced, bluesy tones perfect for convincing traditional blues-rock or atmospheric ballads, while scorching leads were just a stomp-switch away. Through the highest-gain options in the Bogner, the SIR27FD veritably sizzled, urging me to some thundering low-string runs alternated with power-chord stabs and wailing leads. Into the Dr. Z via the Stampede overdrive, classic ’70s metal was a piece of cake, while meaty sustain and whale-song feedback came naturally from either setup. In short, the SIR27FD is an easy player, and packs all the goods to get it done sonically—and it’s a good value to boot. —DAVE HUNTER

MODEL

SIR27FD IRON LABEL SERIES 7-STRING

CONTACT Ibanez.com

PRICE $799 street

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT black self-lubricating, 1.89" wide
NECK Three-piece maple and bubinga, slim profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 15.75" radius
FRETS 24 jumbo
TUNERS Die-cast Ibanez tuners
BODY Mahogany
BRIDGE Ibanez Gibralter Standard 7
PICKUPS Two DiMarzio PAF 7 humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 5-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.059
WEIGHT 7.2 lbs BUILT Indonesia
KUDOS Stylish and comfortable design. Versatile sonics
CONCERNS Sharp nut corners and some play in the bridge saddles.

 

JACKSON DK2M DINKY PRO SERIES

GROVER JACKSON GOT HIS START IN THE GUITAR BIZ WORKING FOR WAYNE Charvel at his repair shop in Glendora, California. Jackson bought the facility from Charvel in 1978, and he and his crew started making production Charvel guitars, which became very popular throughout the ’80s with metal players in the SoCal scene. The first guitar with “Jackson” on the headstock was the Concorde model that Grover made for Randy Rhodes in 1980, and from that point on, his name was synonymous with models like the Kelly, Soloist, King V, Double Rhodes, and the bolt-on-neck Dinky.

The modern-day Dinky, which embodies the classic Jackson approach to building an affordable “working man’s” guitar, struts a clean, stealthy look with its black hardware and satin black-finished body and headstock (also available in Chlorine Burst, Transparent Red, Transparent Black, Silver Burst, and White). The maple fretboard ties nicely into the theme courtesy of the black binding running along its edges, and the graphite-reinforced maple neck with its slender profile and natural satin finish has a great feel. The Dinky’s playability is further enhanced by the polished frets, which are evenly seated and smoothed on the ends, and, of course, the flat-ish fretboard, which, with a compound radius 12" to 16" is an ideal surface for shredding. Light strings and low, buzzfree action top off what is a superb setup for those who like to play fast. The recessed Floyd Rose bridge allows for up and down bending, and its action is smooth and precise with no rattles or undue mechanical noises heard when snapping the strings acoustically.

The direct-mounted “zebra” coil Duncan pickups (’59 neck, JB bridge) feed a 5-way blade switch that provides the three humbucker settings (bridge, both, neck) and two splitcoil configurations that tap the inside coils of the pickups. Plugged into an EVH 5150 III 2x12 combo, the Dinky has a bright, resonant sound that is rife with stringy detail. Notes ring out clearly with excellent attack, and the guitar feels very responsive to picking dynamics and sounds tuneful in all regions of the fretboard. If you prefer a fatter neck, the Dinky is probably not what you’re looking for, though it’s ideal for anyone who wants a light, easy playing feel.

Sonically, this guitar is great for rock, metal, and fusion, and the range of sounds it produces will work for any of those styles and then some. The bridge pickup is ballsy sounding with a great balance of heft and bite, and the neck unit sounds fat, clear, and very cool for rhythm playing or throaty lead tones. The Dinky’s sound broadens in the dual pickup position, although with only one Volume control there’s not much you can do to alter the sound beyond rolling off the highs with the Tone knob. That said, I really like the clucky timbres that you get in switch positions 2 and 4, which yield slightly phased tones (darker and brighter respectively) that sound hip for funky rhythm work and squeaky-clean solos. It’s nice to have those options on a guitar like this as it expands the tonal palette and makes the Dinky suitable for a lot of other things besides just rock and metal. —ART THOMPSON

MODEL

DKM2 DINKY

CONTACT jacksonguitars.com

PRICE $849 street

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.687"
NECK Maple, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETS 24 jumbo
TUNERS Jackson die-cast
BODY Alder
BRIDGE Floyd Rose double-locking
PICKUPS Seymour Duncan ’59 (neck), JB (bridge)
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 5-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS .009-.042
WEIGHT 8.6 lbs
BUILT Mexico
KUDOS Excellent playability. Well made. Broad tonal range.
CONCERNS. None.

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