If you’ve been to this site before, then you know at the end of every year, I do a Gear Summary. I go back to some of my major purchases of the year – I usually don’t include smaller ones but there are exceptions – and write about why I made the purchase and how it’s helping me write, record or practice.
I do this for two reasons. One, it’s great to take a step back and see through the lens of my gear how I’m progressing as a musician. If you reflect back, you always see some excellent decisions and some not-so-good ones. Some risks you took that panned out, and some that didn’t. You learn a lot from these over the years. And you grow as a musician so you can focus on what you need in your own musical journey. And two, I share these with the hope that it will inform you of some cool products that you either may not be aware of or have wanted to get for a while.
Jackson USA KV2 Quicksilver
I’d done my fair share of impulse purchases before this, but I’d never done it for a guitar before! Quite an expensive ordeal to satisfy an impulse but there were two USA KV finishes that I’ve always wanted and, finally, I’d found one of them. To quote Dr. Frasier Crane, “what is a boy to do?”
In reality, I originally wanted another USA KV. There’s one with a trans red finish and silver hardware and it looks amazing! I spotted one of those on this website called Next Big Thing Guitars. It prompted me to add the guitar to my cart, so it seemed to be available. But something didn’t feel right. The USA Jacksons, especially ones with rare finishes, go very quickly. So I e-mailed the site’s owner. I didn’t get a response for a couple of days. Then I called the number he listed. He told me that my gut instinct was right and the guitar had indeed been sold. He said he didn’t have time to update the website too much and that I should check out his Reverb page instead (or was it his eBay page, can’t remember…) As I’m typing this, the guitar still shows in stock on his site, so approach with caution!
Here’s the funny thing. After I hung up the phone, I went on Reverb and typed “Jackson USA KV”. This was something I did quite often, mostly hunting for two particular finishes but I’d never come across a KV with this quicksilver finish. But somehow this time, on that same day I lost my chance to purchase the trans red one, I’d found this quicksilver! I’m a huge fan of Dave Mustaine. What Jackson finish is most associated with him? I’d argue it’s this! This is not one of his signature models (he hasn’t been with Jackson since 2002) but the association is still there if you grew up watching Mustaine playing his Jacksons. Maybe that’s why I wanted it so bad.
The guitar is stellar. It feels great and it sounds as phenomenal as you’d expect from a USA Jackson. But now that the novelty is slowly wearing off, I’m realizing that I’m just not as big on Floyd Rose bridges as I once was. I’m also getting used to playing this sitting down but I don’t find myself playing this too often. I want to hold on to it for a while longer to see if it gets more play time, but there may be a tough decision waiting for me in the long run. I don’t know. For now, I’m enjoying my first KV!
Ibanez AZ Prestige Seafoam Green
This was very much a planned purchase for which I had to save up for a long time. The interesting thing here is that I usually don’t get along with Ibanez guitars. I knew they make some solid guitars that so many cherish, but every RG or S series guitar I tried, I found the necks to be way too thin for my taste. I remember 6 or 7 years ago, I went into a Guitar Center and tried an S series guitar. I can’t remember what the exact model was but I do remember it cost a little less than $2K. It looked great so I asked one of the clerks at the store if I could try it. Upon sitting down with it, it was so uncomfortable for me that I didn’t even know what to do! Needless to say, I didn’t get it.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019… I walked into the same Guitar Center to sell an old guitar. Then, I saw this AZ series guitar from Ibanez that someone was selling. I asked if I could try it out. It felt amazing! For someone who had never gotten along with Ibanez necks, this new series felt incredible! It was built exactly for players like me. I loved it. I wanted it. But I couldn’t afford it at the time. So, I walked out but I was determined to save up for it. And I wanted that exact seafoam finish with the roasted maple fretboard. It had to be that combo… It just looked spectacular.
I was finally able to get it this year. I got it from Sweetwater because they had a different configuration than Guitar Center. I liked Sweetwater’s HH configuration with black hardware better than the HSS one with white hardware. I’m sure I’d have been fine with either, but I had to make a call and I don’t regret it.
This guitar is incredibly versatile. I’ve played everything from classic rock to melodic heavy metal, to thrash metal… It responds well to all. And it’s just so comfortable to play. And that seafoam finish? Believe me, the pictures don’t do it justice!
Fractal Audio FM3
I was new to the Fractal world with my Axe-Fx III but I loved what I could do with it so much that the idea of getting something that I could carry with me seemed appealing. Some people were upset that the launch got delayed a bit, and then of course there were some without any headphone jacks that also upset some people. I wasn’t really bothered. I had enough gear to play with while I waited but I also understood why some were upset. I decided to wait for one with a headphone input, so it added a couple more months to my timeline but I eventually got it in June of this year.
I think it’s a solid unit. I’m very happy with it. Here’s the thing. Yes, the DSP on the Axe-Fx III is far stronger so you can build much more intricate presets with it. But the FM3 is a different kind of beast. And by the way, even though you can’t run multiple amps at the same time, there’s still so much you can do with it. I highly recommend watching Leon Todd’s YouTube videos on the FM3. There was one in particular where he shows you how you can utilize your footswitches to toggle between Channels (i.e. not just Presets and Scenes) and that can open up a whole new array of tonal variety within the same preset. It’s more versatile than you think.
One last note on this. If you get an FC-6 to pair with your FM3, watch Cooper Carter’s video that he titled the “OMG-9” layout. The moment you do that, it makes it seamless to switch between presets, scenes, or effects. It’s incredibly easy to follow because it’s designed to be intuitive. I’ve been using that template, except for a couple of presets where I wanted a preset specific configuration. Adding an FC-6, on top of an already costly FM3, is quite challenging. I sold a few things to help fund it. But it was worth it.
Friedman ASM-12 FRFR Active Monitor
I had my eye on these for a long time too so I’m incredibly thankful to finally have it. I love my Atomic CLRs so I still have those too. But since I ended up with way too many speakers, I sold one of my Headrush 108s and will likely sell the other at some point. I still think the HR 108 is a good product for its price range. Remember, it’s not trying to compete with the Friedman ASMs of the world… There’s a reason why it’s cheaper.
But then I watched a YouTube video where the channel owner did a comparison of the Friedman ASM and the HeadRush. You already expect the Friedman to sound better given its price range, but I never expected the difference to be that much! He hit the nail on the head when he said that compared to the Friedman, the HeadRush sounded like someone had put a blanket over it. Again, you’ve got to realize that it’s not about taking a dig at the HeadRush. It’s more about how much more enhanced your sound gets when you upgrade your speakers. Your choice of FRFR will make a huge difference in your tone!
As much as I love the Friedmans, my favorite FRFR speaker is still the Atomic CLR. But you can’t go wrong with either one of them. Yes, these can be costly and it takes a while to save up. But if you’re spending more than a thousand for your modelers (or more, depending on the product), you may want to pair that with a speaker that can do its tones justice.
Some New Pedals
Digitech Freqout: I got this after so many on the Facebook Helix group raved about it. I can see why. It does what it claims to do well. Its main use is to give you the natural feedback that you would get with real amps. I usually keep it in the momentary mode so I can get the effect for a bit and then move on. But you get a wider variety of options than that.
Boss WL-50 Wireless System: I got a bit frustrated with the Line6 G10S because it doesn’t always charge properly. I keep its software updated but I always run into an issue. I keep it only because it works great with my Yamaha THR-II (Yamaha bought Line6 so there’s some natural integration). The WL-50, overall, is more reliable than the G10S. It’s so easy to keep it powered whenever you may need it. It has a built-in battery transmitter, but you can also use AA batteries, or power it however you power other pedals. It’s so far been fairly reliable except for the fact that it makes a thumping sound with some guitars. Boss recommends a few things to try to remedy that. I haven’t tried those yet. If, one day, I start gigging with a band, I may invest in a more expensive – but a much better – wireless solution, like maybe something from Shure. For now, this mostly does the job.
TC Electronic Plethora X5: I wanted this since the day I saw a video on YouTube but for the longest time it was out of stock. I wanted a multi-effects solution that I could use with other pedals, or with smaller modelers that have bigger DSP limitations than others. I really like it so far, but I am a little confused about how to use the TonePrint app. I probably need to spend more time with it but even with stock settings, it’s got a great sound. I usually put this in the FX Loop of my HX Stomp. The Stomp has DSP limitations, so if I want to have all kinds of delays or reverbs, I can just get them from my Plethora and the Stomp can focus on other blocks.
Revv G3: I already had the G4 and loved it, so this seemed to be the next move. The Helix has since incorporated some Revv amps and they sound amazing, so these pedals are getting less playtime. I’m keeping them for now, because in cases where I don’t have my Helix but want that awesome Revv sound, the G3 and G4 are amazing. Plus, I use them with my practice amps sometimes to inject some additional energy into them!
There are a few more items I bought and sold this year (sold the Boss Katana Air, HeadRush Gigboard, and one of my HeadRush 108 speakers). I’m only highlighting some. Looking back at older articles I wrote on the topic, I realize that my purchases have become smarter because I don’t buy based on what other people use, I buy based on what I need to make my own music and create easier practice routines. I will likely sell a few items next year to fund some new purchases (gotta prepare to buy the Quad Cortex!). New gear won’t necessarily make you a better musician. But never underestimate the joy and inspiration good quality gear can induce.
Wish List for 2021
A Bass: I don’t know much about bass guitars to know what I should start with but I want to record with. I program my bass on MIDI and use some cool plug-ins to get it to sound as good as it can. I’ll probably record DI and then keep using the plug-ins to color the sound, but a human playing bass is very different than just programmed bass. The nuances are not there. I’d love to try this out with a bass that won’t hurt the bank.
Neural Quad Cortex: I’m already on the waitlist. Can’t wait to try it out.
A New Guitar: Why, of course! Who doesn’t wish for new guitars? Maybe a 7-string to try? Or perhaps another Ibanez AZ Prestige or Schecter SLS Elite, both of which have become instant favorites? Maybe an E-II Horizon which comes in some cool finishes? Or a Fender Strat to have that tone in my sound arsenal… I do know I won’t get any of these any time soon. Gotta save up and figure out what I’m selling. But why stop wishing?
Happy New Year, folks! Thanks for being a part of the Mega-Depth clan.