TOOL BOX(2)

September 1, 2003


Super Splurges Over $500




Gibson Les Paul Faded Double Cutaway
The retro thing is so totally overblown that even the uncoolest suburb in the Ukraine is most likely drowning in the detris of ’50s and ’60s America. But that doesn’t stop the Les Paul Faded Double Cutaway—which is modeled after Les Paul Specials and Juniors, circa 1958-60—from being one stunning 6-string. The Faded DC ($599 street) is a true, born-in-the-U.S.A. Gibson with a mahogany body, a rosewood-on-mahogany neck (with “1960 slim taper”), 22 jumbo frets, a 24e"-scale, a 1h" nut width, and two P-90 pickups.

Available in Worn Cherry or Worn Yellow hues that evoke wear-and-tear (but aren’t quite as groovy as the cherry and TV yellow finishes of the originals), the Faded DC is light (6.6 lbs), nimble, and extremely well built (the only glitch is the nut’s shallow slots, which jetison the strings during aggressive playing). It’s one of those guitars that I simply love to play, and its zingy acoustic response invites unplugged strum fests with minimal encouragement. In other words, a mere glimpse of the DC sends this order to my brain: “Drop everything and play with me!”

Plugged into an amp, the P-90s can deliver a clean, airy ka-ching or a tough, almost feral overdrive (but minus the low-midrange chunk of a Les Paul Standard or Custom). The Faded DC is an incredibly responsive guitar that looks ultra cool and has the rowdy tones to match its leather-jacket, stab-and-dance bar vibe. Don’t let the “simulated vintage” finish and the affordable price tag fool you—this is a serious classic. —Michael Molenda
Pros: Retro hip. Rebel yell. An under-$600 U.S.A. Gibson. Cons: Strings can snap out of the shallow nut slots. Contact: (800) 444-2766; gibson.com



Malden Holly Keyser
Looking for maximum bang from your hard-earned bucks? Dig the head-turning Holly Keyser ($695 street), which offers a hollow mahogany body, a 24e" scale rosewood-on-mahogany neck, 24 medium frets, two ferrite/alnico humbuckers, chrome tuners, and a Tune-o-matic-style bridge. The sharp looking, figured maple-ply arched top makes an immediate impression, and the well-rendered cream binding shows only a couple of tiny color-bleed imperfections. The Keyser’s ultra-fast (not to mention ultra comfy) neck will have you speeding around the fretboard, and the large, nicely dressed frets offer superb playability.

The Keyser sounds equally comfortable dishing-out fat, chirping lead lines ` la Larry Carlton, or simmering clean textures. In fact, I found its keen clean tones to be among its coolest attributes, though the richly focused tones I obtained when running through a high-gain Hughes &Kettner combo were also impressive. The Holly Keyser is a happening deal that not only has looks, but playability and tones to boot. —Darrin Fox
Pros: Cool tones. Amazing playability. Tremendous value. Cons: Slight cosmetic imperfections. Contact: (310) 553-2214; maldenguitars.com.



Yamaha CSF-60
Small-bodied parlor guitars are so enticing—especially for playing around the house—and Yamaha’s CSF-60 ($628 street w/hardshell case) brings such cool details as a solid spruce top, solid Sapele (African mahogany) back and sides, and a rosewood-on-Sapele neck. The nickel-plated, butterbean-style Kluson tuners are a nice touch, as is the graceful rosewood bridge, with its white-dot pins and compensated saddle. Other highlights include a glossy, two-tone sunburst finish, a pretty abalone rosette, and multi-ply bindings on the top, back, and headstock (which also sports a rosewood facing).

But what makes the CSF-60 so special is its superb playability and sweet, crisp tone. The gloss-finished, slightly V-shaped neck is ultra comfy, and the low action and polished frets allow your fingers to glide on the 25"-scale board. The CSF-60 wasn’t designed to be a loud performance guitar, but its rich voice is gutsy enough for small rooms and even outdoor jams. The compact CSF-60 is an ideal instrument to pack on camping trips, yet its handsome looks make it the perfect thing to keep on permanent display in your den, studio, or any place where you can grab it when the inspiration strikes. A bang-for-buck no-brainer, the CSF-60 well deserves an Editors’ Pick Award. —Art Thompson
Pros: Retro hip. Rebel yell. An under-$600 U.S.A. Gibson. Cons: Strings can snap out of the shallow nut slots. Contact: (800) 444-2766; gibson.com


Kustom Quad 100 DFX

Sorry, John Fogerty fans—there are no classic, tuck-and-roll cosmetics on the Kustom Quad 100 DFX ($340 street). What you get is a 100-watt, 2x12 solid-state combo that features two channels (each sporting 3-band EQ), as well as eight onboard digital effects, an effects loop, an extension-speaker out, a footswitch jack, and a speaker-simulated output. Both channels offer preamp voicing buttons—Neutral/Brilliant on the clean side, UK/USA on the lead side—and the lead channel also has a boost function.

The Quad 100’s clean tones shimmer wonderfully, and the distorted tones yield a smooth grind with enough midrange fang to succeed in a variety of blues/rock settings.

Effects choices include hall reverb, spring reverb, slap back, delay, chorus, chorus/reverb, flange/reverb, and tremolo. A Level control is all you get to tweeze the effects. The limited tweakability worked fine for the reverb presets—which bring some nice atmospheric dimension to the amp’s already formidable tones—but was decidedly uncool for the detuned and lumpy-sounding chorus preset. Bottom line: The Quad 100 DFX is a solid performer that delivers champagne tones on a malt-liquor budget. —Darrin Fox

Pros: appening tones. Affordable. Loud. Cons: Limited effects tweakability. Lead boost isn’t footswitchable. Contact: (800) 451-5000; kustom.com

Tascam CD-GT1


If Tascam’s CD-GT1 ($149 street) had come out in the ’80s—when fast guitarists such as Randy Rhoads, Allan Holdsworth, Steve Vai, and Stevie Ray Vaughan were inspiring legions of players to decode their speedy riffs—the handy gizmo probably would have been a bigger sensation than the Rubik’s Cube. Back then, if you wanted to slow down an insane lick, the best you could hope for was an antique turntable capable of spinning records at half-speed—which resulted in music so detuned that your favorite shredder sounded as if he was struggling to play solos on electric bass while submerged in a vat of molasses.

The CD-GT1, however, can slow down ordinary CDs by as much as 50 percent without altering the pitch. The audio takes on a freaky, digitally fragmented quality the more you stretch out the time, but who cares? Lower fidelity is a small price to pay for the privilege of being able to slow a superhero such as Eddie Van Halen down to mortal speeds—which is exactly what I did while testing the CD-GT1. Suddenly, EVH’s white-hot licks on the intro to “I’m the One” (from Van Halen) were easy to decode, especially after I looped them using the intuitive looping function. Add the bonus features, such as the ability to plug your guitar directly into the unit’s onboard guitar preamp (which comes with dozens of effects) and jam along with the audio, and this small, red box from Tascam is definitely a dream come true for riff-hungry guitarists. —Jude Gold

Pros: Slows down CD audio without altering pitch. Onboard preamp, effects, and tuner. Spectacular learning tool. Cons: Confusing user interface (the manual is required reading) Contact: (323) 726-0303; tascam.com

Frostwave Funk-A-Duck


The Funk-A-Duck ($225 street) is a highly sophisticated filtering device that has more in common with modular synths than simple stompbox filters. The Duck follows your input signal’s dynamics (envelope), and uses that “control signal” to create various effects—from Mu-Tron III-like wahs and inverse wahs, to over-the-top oscillator sweeps. There are knobs for Input Range, Output Level, Envelope (continuously variable between down, neutral, and up), Resonance, Frequency, and Speed (attack/decay). There are also switches for high/low-pass filter settings, and active/true-bypass modes. The unit is powered by a 18-volt AC wall-wart.

The Duck’s controls are highly interactive, and you’ll need to spend some time experimenting with them to unleash the pedal’s plethora of killer sounds. And be careful! If you push the resonance into self-oscillation you’ll get frequencies high enough to deafen dogs, low enough to disintegrate speaker cones, and everything in between. This ain’t no plug-n-play pedal! But try patching a distortion pedal before it for some incredibly edgy tones, use it to funk-up anything (especially percussive sounds), or even play it manually like a sweepable tone generator. Because the Funk-A-Duck is sensitive to slight adjustments it’s best suited for studio work, but brave souls could make it a secret weapon in their live rigs, as well. —Barry Cleveland

Pros: Extremely versatile. Sounds great. True-bypass switching. Cons: Complex. Contact: frostwave.com


Planet Waves Circuit Breaker Cable
Designed to eliminate the annoying pops and squeals that occur when a conventional cable is removed from a guitar’s output jack, the Planet Waves Circuit Breaker cable ($34 street) features a thumb-activated mute button on one of its futuristic-looking plugs. This latching-type switch shorts the cable’s center conductor to ground, and the cable remains muted until the button is pressed again. The plugs are plated with 24-karat gold to resist tone-robbing corrosion, and patented “compression springs” provide extra grip for a more secure connection. The Circuit Breakers even include a handy, molded-
plastic-and-elastic cable tie.

Unlike previous Planet Waves instrument cables that use two conductors and a “floating shield,” the Circuit Breaker cables use a more conventional single-conductor design. This new cable has extremely low capacitance—our 15-foot review example measured a mere 250pF—which is great, because the more capacitance, the more high-frequency roll-off. While I enjoyed the convenience provided by the cable’s muting function, I was also impressed with the Circuit Breaker’s exceptionally detailed, focused, and coherent sound. This affordably priced cable compared favorably with several expensive, high-end models. The Circuit Breaker is one of the best cable values you’ll find, and that’s why it receives an Editors’ Pick Award. —Terry Buddingh

Pros: Affordable. Great sound. Mute feature. Cons: Difficult to determine mute button position by sight or feel. Contact: (631) 439-3300; planet-waves.com.


Shubb Deluxe Capo
Does the world really need a new Shubb capo? After all, many players consider Shubb’s original “C” model to be darn near perfect. It’s ingeniously compact, virtually indestructible, and easily adjustable to suit varying neck thicknesses (so that when it’s applied at higher frets—where the neck is thicker—the strings aren’t squeezed sharp in pitch). But though the C has sold over one million units worldwide and is still available, Shubb’s new Deluxe ($20 street) is more perfect than its predecessor.

At first glance, the big change on the Deluxe (other than the fact that it’s machined from stainless steel instead of nickel-plated brass) appears to be the fact its adjusting screw sets the height of a Delrin wheel rather than a sliding fulcrum, which ultimately affects how hard the Deluxe “squeezes” when you snap it shut. But while the wheel ensures there’s next to no friction involved in opening and closing the capo, the real benefit comes via the Deluxe’s smoother closing action. As you close the capo on the neck, there’s a much smaller “spike” in pressure before the Deluxe locks in position. This translates into less stretch-and-release on the strings when you clamp the capo in place, and means your tuning will be more stable than ever. —Jude Gold

Pros: Squeezes strings with even pressure. Adapts to different neck thicknesses. Compact. Cons: Requires adjustments when moving higher or lower on the neck. Contact: (707) 876-3001; shubb.com


Electro-Harmonix Strings
Effects maker Electro-Harmonix recently introduced a series of guitar strings ($5 street) that incorporate pure-nickel windings over stainless-steel cores, and come in three sizes: 9s (.009-.042), 10s (.010-.046), and 11s (.011-.048). To see how the new strings fared under real-world conditions, I put a set of 11s on my Les Paul for several three-set gigs. Not surprisingly, the strings felt great from the start, tuning up easily and providing silky playability. But it’s how strings perform over the long haul that matters, and the EHs definitely proved their mettle (no pun intended). Other than wiping them off with a funky rag at the end of each night, I did nothing to extend the life of these strings, yet they remained clear and sweet sounding, and never became oxidized or sonically wasted. Even after three weeks of hard playing, they were still hanging in.

Of course, other nickel-wound strings I’ve tried from major manufacturers perform equally well, so my take is this: EH’s nickel-wound series don’t bring anything radically new to the string party, but they get high marks for sound and feel, they hold up extremely well, and they’re competitively priced. —Art Thompson

Pros: Excellent tone and durability. Cons: None. Contact: (800) 633-5477; ehx.com.

     

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