Thursday, November 15, 2012

ESP LTD Jeff Hanneman JH-200 Digital Camo

The ESP LTD Jeff Hanneman Digital Camo (JH-200 DC) guitar is the "entry" level version of the range of Jeff Hanneman signature guitars from ESP. From its killer looks, classy looking hardware and devilish inlays, this guitar was built to play only one genre of music - and it would almost be insulting to the man himself if it were used for anything else. I purchased this guitar at a 40% discount, brand new out of the box - in one of those crazy sales in Jakarta (which I have aptly dubbed guitar heaven).

I am sure judging from the images of the guitar above, you would be inclined to do nothing but leave your distortion knob at 10, and to truly rock out with this guitar. With 24 jumbo frets, and extra thin neck, and a fast fretboard, this guitar will let you hit the solos you desire. Below some quick facts before the review;

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Maple
Neck Profile: Extra Thin U-Neck Contour
Fingerboard: Rosewood (24 XJ Frets)
Body Material: Basswood
Neck Pickup: ESP LH-301 Humbucker
Bridge Pickup: ESP LH-301 Humbucker
Bridge: Kahler X-Tremolo

Make: Made in China

So in recent time I've been drawing the distinctions between Chinese made and Indonesian made guitars. In further re-iterating my assessment of this, I find China made guitars to lack attention to detail, and more often than not, the guitar will require some work before it is ready to be used to jam or to gig with. This guitar was no exception, as when I got it the action was a mile high against the bridge. The Kahler X-Tremolo looked really nice from a hardware perspective, however, looked absolutely confusing to work with. With no one who sold me the guitar knowing how to set-up this bridge, I took it upon myself to set it up - but more on that later. Anyway, going back to the comparison, the Indonesia guitars I have purchased recently (view recent posts) have actually been ready to go right from the box. More often than not the harmonics, the intonation and the action are all really low and ready to go. I've not had to set-up any of my Indonesian made guitars in recent time - but I've had to go through a lot of pains with my Chinese made guitars. To not speculate, I won't comment too much on the factory line-up and how the production lines may differ in terms of QC, however, the short version is, I am more impressed by guitars produced out of Indonesia, than China.

In going back to this particular guitar, the action was a mile high, and it wasn't until I finally found a manual online for a similar Kahler bridge, of which I applied the theories I felt were similar for all Kahler bridges, and attempted to set-up up the guitar - the result? Well, first time around the strings snapped! I attribute this to lowering the action and tightening the locks too soon, not allowing strings to stretch, and instead snapped it while bending a note. My next attempt was much better, as I then had to read up on how to re-string a Kahler, and in the mean time, decided to experiment on it. Essentially before you can reduce the height of the screws, it is important to unlock the nut at the back for each string place holder. Only then can the screws move up and down freely without injuring the strings too much and according to Gary Kahler - I was close to screwing up my entire bridge. After several other attempts, I've managed to bring the strings very close down, and have gotten used to adjusting the nuts. The guitar feels real good now, and this is something some experimentation will deliver to you. I've had to reset this guitar 3 times, to finally get to a point I feel most comfortable - and yet, I feel the G, B and E strings are a bit too high - something which I will eventually work on.

Sounds wise, this guitar is filled with a sonic tone to play metal. Rolling down the town does not give you much satisfaction, but at full blast, this guitar is meant to be shred upon. Shred upon I did, and I look forward to trying to record a metal track using it. Reaching the 24th fret is easy, and very convenient for any pentatonic run. The difference between neck and bridge pickups are very slight as both utilize the same stock ESP pickups. Changing pickups is something I would consider in the future, as I am not the largest fan of the LH-301s, but I do believe it provides a certain character to the guitar. The LH-301s masquerade as high output passives, which have quite a bit of mids and bass to it. It's not a bad pickup by any means, but it's difficult to get that sting at times. Do note though, this was tested on my CFX 30 Marshall amp, with distortion on 10, bass rolled to 7, mids at 5 and treble at 6.

I do enjoy the playability of this guitar after the set-up. Prior to the set up, I was ready to smash the guitar to bits with my fingers digging underneath the strings and the tone lacking. After the set-up, it's become very playable and I very much enjoy doodling on this guitar. It's a welcomed aesthetic addition to my collection, but at the same time its functionalities are apparent. I'll eventually update this blog post with a posting of me using it on a metal track - just gotta find that metal track first.

This guitar can be great, but at this point in time it's just "good". A bit more work and I think it'll be king - but at this juncture, it'll settle for a lower than desired score till it finds its optimized and maximized potential.

Overall Rating: 7.5

Here's the updated video after the set-up:


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dean VMNT Dave Mustaine Rust in Peace

What can I say about this guitar? A guitar utilized by one of my heroes and inspirations, Dave Mustaine. A guitar fit to be described as the epitome of heavy metal guitars. One of which I have been eyeing for 3 years from a man who has fought through it all, and up till today produces some of the finest thrash metal music in history (unlike a certain other band he used to play for). An exquisite looking guitar, with fierce design and killer graphics, the Dave Mustaine VMNT Rust in Peace guitar was fit to destroy worlds - and that is exactly what Dave has been doing night in and night out by using this Korean made model on stage.

From the many videos seen of Dave playing on stage, and also interviews with Willy G, his guitar tech, there has been a lot of talk about Dave preferring the Korean made Deans simply because of its lighter weight and playability. Both the American and Korean DM models are equipped with active Seymour Duncan Livewire pickups - which are Dave's signature pickups. There are 8 incantations of the Dave Mustaine VMNTs, 5 of which comes with the Dave Mustaine Duncan Live Wires, 2 of them which come with Dean Active Pickups, and 1 of which comes with a set of DMT passives (the United Abominations VMNTX). How I understand it, the silver and black VMNTX guitars have been discontinued in favour of the guitars with album artwork as they have been much better sellers.

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Mahogany
Neck Profile: Set Mahogany D-Shaped Neck
Fingerboard: Ebony (24 Frets)
Body Material: Mahogany
Neck Pickup: Dave Mustaine Duncan Live Wire Active Pickups
Bridge Pickup: Dave Mustaine Duncan Live Wire Active Pickups

Make: Made in Korea


I'll be honest, I really only bought this guitar because of its killer looks! I will not even kid you that I considered the sound. The only reason why I tested it at the guitar store was to make sure it worked! With that said, however, the DM Livewires are an amazing set of pickups. They are not as "clean" as EMGs, but it certainly gives you a high output tone fit for the thrash metal genre. The neck pickup is actually brilliant for soloing, and I enjoyed playing the solo to Symphony of Destruction on the neck setting simply because it sounded more crisp, cleaner and with a bit more depth to it. While the bridge pickup is equally as stunning tone wise, however, it's clear the bridge pickup is used very much for Dave's pentatonic style solos, which needs a thinner shriek which cuts through a lot of the rhythm playing. With that said, playing the intro to Washington is Next on the bridge pickup setting, with high gain is a hell of a thrill!!

I've had this guitar for a month now, and I have to say the build quality is excellent. A lot of care was taken into making this guitar to specifications, and the art looks simply beautiful (take a look at the photos above). It doesn't look like a cheap art sticker pasted on, and it certainly looks very well crafted and painted on the body. I took a lot of time to just stare at the guitar before plugging it in to play, and believe me you will too if you have this bad boy. To top it all off, this guitar comes with a custom hardshell case, which fits the VMNT body perfectly.

Rhythming on this guitar felt very natural, and the way the fins are designed outwards, made it a bit more natural to play this in comparison to my Michael Schenker V. A simplistic example of this is that when resting with the VMNT between my legs, I can actually see my fret board when I play - while the way the Schenker guitar is made, and where the jack plugs in - it makes it really difficult to view the fretboard while playing - so half the time I am playing on insticts more so than really seeing where I am going - which is not really that bad a thing after all. Intonation wise, this guitar plays well, with a slightly raised action. You may not get the pinch harmonics you desire because of how the action and intonation is set, but you hardly hear Dave Mustaine do any of those anyway. So I am guessing this was set very much to how Dave would use it for many of his songs.

Ergonomically, this guitar actually is "convenient" to play for a V, and its lightweight makes it all the better to stand up and to maneuver around. At times it makes you think that for the price you pay, you may be getting short changed in the wood department, but the richness of the tone and how boisterous it can sound will beg to differ. I do believe this was a "production triumph" for Dean in producing a light weight guitar, while maintaining a lot of depth in this solid body. I am sure Dave worked very closely with Dean to ensure the right specs were thrown in as Dave won't be caught dead with sub-par fire wood on stage. With that, I salute artists such as Dave Mustaine for using guitars of which they have their name on and do not cost more than US$2k! (hear that Satch? Vai?).

Overall Rating: 9

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ibanez PF Series Acoustic-Electric

This Ibanez PF Series Acoustic guitar is the "oldest" guitar in my entire collection, and essentially the second guitar I ever owned in my entire existence. Purchased in 2002 in Perth, this beautiful guitar was a present from my partner during our university days. I personally selected this guitar in a huge guitar mega-mart called Guitar World (nothing to do with the magazine) in Cannington, Perth. I remember walking into that store and being blown away by the sheer number of guitars they had hanging across all the racks. It was an amazing sight for a 21 year old who was just venturing back into the world of guitaring (yes, I gave up the guitar for almost a year - but that's another story). So I walked through the racks, stared at some of the "typical" natural finished acoustic guitars on the world, and didn't seem bothered. Then my eyes caught this beauty. At my age at 21, and Ibanez guitar seemed like the holy grail, and upon spotting this acoustic guitar, was blown away by the curves, texture, colour and design. I took it off the rack with the help of a "rocker" Aussie chap, who let me waste time strumming nothing but chords. He then said he'll sell it off for AU$500 bucks, which was AU$50 off the list price (at that time, MYR to AUD was close to 2.2). So after a few more quick strums, I decided with this guitar.

Up till now, I have not spotted the exact same model of this guitar anywhere else. I remember checking in the big guitar store in KL when I returned, and other places in Australia, but never ran into this model ever again. The versions I've seen were the scaled down electric-acoustics, which lacked the depth and tonal qualities of this one. To be honest, the sound from this guitar is "big", and sometimes, I forget how overwhelming the sound can be until I fire it up again. This guitar sounds great both plugged in or otherwise. It functions fantastically without being plugged up, offering enough quality to be heard stock - or when plugged up, the on-board EQ helps greatly in getting the right acoustic tone through the amp. I've played some other acoustic-electric guitars - more notably the "thinner bodied" Ibanez guitars - only to have a very "electronic" tone coming out of the amp. This baby sounds like an acoustic both ways.

With so much quality coming out of this guitar, it's no wonder it featured prominently in all acoustic tracks in my first and second album. My first EP had plenty of acoustic based rhythm playing, and it was all played on this guitar. It recorded great, with an instrument mic right up the body.

The only gripe I had about this guitar was that the strings it was shipped with was too thick for comfortable playing. The string gauge was thick, and I was stupid enough to continue playing on that string gauge for many years till I figured out that I could actually just get thinner acoustic strings! I used to end up with extremely sore fingers by the end of the sessions, but after a quick swap to 9-42s and everything worked out great. I won't trade this guitar for any other acoustic guitar. It packs too many memories and a great tone. Strum it once, and I'll be able to identify it.

Come to think of it, it's actually the 10th anniversary of owning this guitar. Happy anniversary Azalin!

Quick Facts (I don't really recall, but here goes from memory):

Neck: Mahogany
Fretboard: Rosewood
Body: Mahogany (Spruce Top)
Electronics: EQ/Pre-Amp
Pickups: Ibanez "under-saddle" pickup

Make: Made in China

Overall Rating: 9

Monday, January 30, 2012

Segue: "All You Ever Need"

On 29 January, 2012, my musical bro and I finally sat down after many, many months to have an electric guitar jam session. It was a special event as I was visiting him for CNY, and at the same time, was bringing over a newly acquired Fender Telecaster (a review on this later) for him to try out as I believe any Fender or Les Paul/SG guitar has to be tested by him. What begun as a casual jam session turned out to be an analytical exchange of guitar knowledge, studying of styles and appreciation for Fender and Epiphone (yes, EPIPHONE) guitars. This was the rig we used;

Musical Bro:

1. Squier S-65
2. Fender Stratocaster 1954 Classic Re-issue
3. Marshall Amplifier
4. Ibanez TS7
5. Boss FZ 5


1. Fender Telecaster Deluxe Blackout
2. Epiphone G-400 Custom Special Edition
3. Kustom Amplifier
4. Boss MT-2

We started our jam session at around noon and ended close to 2.15pm. 2 hours of solid jamming from blues licks to metal pentatonic runs - this was certainly an enjoyable session. Throughout the 2 hour session we traded licks with each other and begun analysing one anothers style. We've concluded that we are both not "Rock School" material at this point, but have over the years developed a solid style of play which mimicks some of our guitar heroes. My musical guitar bro is theoretically sound, understands the fretboard well, and moves through it a lot more fluid than I do. Steeped in blues influences such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray and some Gilmour thrown in, he's ready to take on any premier blues player this country has to offer. That's not to say he can't throw in some metal when required, but this guy is a blues master hands down. His weapons of choice? Well, a wicked Squier and a Fender Strat.

A lot can be said about the Squier. The tone is really "one of a kind", and it's hard to duplicate. An exquisite anniversary edition, this Squier was built like a tank, has a killer "SG" look, and is ready to rock out but also mellow down to some blues or jazz. With his TS 7 and FZ 5 in tow, musical bro was blistering through blues lead lines with such ease with this guitar. The tone is nice, round and fat (exactly what you want your one year old baby to be). Output is moderate, but is able to cut through with the right amount of mids. He had no issue cutting through my Tele's rhythm while using his TS 7.

However, it was the end of the 2 hour session which yielded the best line of the day, which spawned the title of this blog post. This stemmed from my musical bro plugging up an Epiphone G-400 Custom SG through to his Marshall and TS 7 - and the results were amazing. This guitar was recently re-set by a fellow Malaysian blues master, and I had been aching to give it a good whirl - and boy did musical bro give it a good work out! While the playing was equally as awesome, the tone which was produced by this Epiphone was exquisite. The neck produced a creamy rounded tone, while the treble produced the thinner "mono" type sound you'd use in classic 60s solos. Plugged through the Marshall the tone remained warm and the fuzz added a certain depth to the lead lines. Musical bro was impressed, and I was more than impressed with his playing which produced these exquisite tones. Prior to testing the Epiphone, he tried out the Telecaster and was equally happy with the 3 pickup configuration, the versatility of the tones produced by the 5-was toggle, and the weight of the guitar. This spawned the line "Dude, these two? All you ever need....."

While I am extremely happy with the tones they produced, he knows that I will beg to differ on these two being all I'll ever need (my guitar collection is up to 26 guitars now!). And furthermore, sitting in his house, he was kind enough to allow me to give his Les Paul and Strat a whirl, and boy are they fantastic pieces of wood. The LP was fitted with a beautiful pair of Seymour Duncan pickups (JB and 59). Soloing on the neck of the Les Paul is a joy, and the feel of the Les Paul is "full". That's the best way I can describe it. I feel really good playing the LP. His Fender on the other hand has recently been set up beautifully, and playing it was amazingly comfortable. I enjoyed the tones I could produce from the guitar, but up till now have no idea how he bends those strings with 5 springs hooked up to it! It sounds great, but I'm quite sure my fingers got real sore after trying to bend those strings lol. But it sounds great and I wouldn't want to change any of the set up for anything else. So dude, you know you have some awesome guitars too!

In conclusion, we realised we need to jam way more often than we have been doing so. We're trying to schedule in something the upcoming holidays - but we both agree that we need our fingers to recover from the soreness prior to anymore jamming! Age must be catching up....

Dude, next week Mon/Tues?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Epiphone Zakk Wylde Graveyard Disciple (Limited Ed)

Just when you thoughts I ran out of Zakk Wylde signature models, I present to you the Epiphone Zakk Wylde Graveyard Disciple guitar! A guitar which is ugly as hell, but superbly unique, with an amazing tone. This represents my fourth ZW signature guitar, and yup, you guessed it! It comes with a hand-signed certification from Zakk himself. It took me more than one year to track down this guitar, and I finally found it in an Epiphone dealer's store in Thailand. Prior to that, I had it on order from my "friend" who helped me acquire two other Zakk signature models. Word was that it was so limited (and this word came from Barb - Zakk's wife - in one of my conversations with her in Singapore) that Asia would see very few pieces, with most of it being thrown off to Japan. Luck would have it that I headed to the guitar store in Thailand by "accident". I was actually on a mission to visit another guitar store to acquire an old Nick Catanese Washburn guitar, which I passed on the last time I was there. However, as I was walking towards that particular guitar store, I stopped by the mall where this guitar store was hosted to "take a look".

Long story short, I saw this guitar on display at the store, and immediately ran in and hand gestured as much as possible to get to give it a test run. After giving it a good ol go, and realising how well the guitar was set-up and somewhat "seasoned" from all the testing (I reckon it's been at the window for more than a couple of months), I realised this playability of this guitar felt amazing. It squeals on both neck and bridge effortlessly.

After a quick test, and several discussions involving a calculator, I finally made the decision to purchase the guitar at a fantastic price below RM3k (where it was otherwise quoted closer to 4k in Malaysia). To top it off, I got a tax rebate at the airport, which made this superbly worthwhile.

To add to this already "lucky" story, I was absolutely worried on my flight back. I was on a MAS flight, which was one of those dinky 737-400s. Economy class tends to be absolutely full and I was very worried where I would stow my guitar - or perhaps be forced to check it in. Luck would have it that on my return flight, I was bumped up to business class! So I basically boarded first, had an entire to myself, and my guitar! So I returned feeling really happy and lucky!

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Maple
Neck Profile: Slim "D" Profile
Fingerboard: Rosewood (22 frets)
Body Material: Mahogany
Neck Pickup: EMG-HZ
Bridge Pickup: EMG-HZ
Licensed Floyd Rose

Make: Made in China


I actually played this guitar consistently for 2 weeks in a row. I really really enjoyed the playability of the guitar, the tone was heavy, and there was something different about it in comparison to the other ZW models I had. The body was smaller in comparison to the Les Paul and the ZV, the mahogany body somehow made the attack brighter, and both bridge and neck pickups provided an energetic rhythm. Soloing on this guitar is very effortless, and the set-up when I received it made it very easy to shred up and down the neck. The SlimTaper "D" profile helps to hit the right notes quickly, and also to switch to rhythm very quickly. The string tension allowed for vibratos to be achieved very easily, and of course, this guitar was built like a tank.

It took me less than 1 minute to get comfortable playing this guitar. An extended "stand" pops out at the bottom which helps keep the guitar on balance on your lap. No issues of the guitar being too body heavy and falling off. In fact, I find this guitar way easier to balance and play than a Flying V guitar. With that said, I've not attempted to stand up and play this guitar yet - so I can't comment much on the playability of this guitar when standing up.

The pickups are what you would expect from the EMG-HZs. The recent set of EMG-HZs I've received on my ZV and Graveyard Disciple somehow has a harder attack than the ones equipped on my Korean made ZW Les Paul, which feels a tad more passive in comparison to these newer ones. This may have prompted Epiphone to begin equipping the ZW models now with active EMGs - but I'm not sure. In any case, this guitar was easily built for metal and to rock out. You can probably get away with some nice clean tones - but I'll be honest and say I've hardly played this guitar on clean, as I have no idea why anyone would want to play anything clean on this guitar! Just look at it and tell me if you're be doing any Tommy Emmanuel on it anytime soon.

Great guitar, pretty much one of a kind, excellent build quality out of the China Epiphone factory - which has been improving year by year. I was impressed on how well it was put together (although it is boasted that it was inspected in the US). Of course, with Zakk's personal guarantee as he has mentioned in many interviews that he ensures quality for any piece of wood which has his name on it. For sceptics, just tune in to a Guitar Player special on YouTube where he plays his signature Epiphone LP and still manages to have his tone coming out of those HZs.

Overall Rating: 8.5

Friday, January 20, 2012

Epiphone Zakk Wylde ZV (Bullseye)

I purchased this guitar in 2009 as part of my "golden ticket" to catch Zakk Wylde in person in Singapore. There's quite a story to this.

Sometime in July 2009, I decided to contact an online seller who was dealing with Dean guitars - amongst many other brands he was dealing with. I got in touch with him as I was interested in purchasing a Dean VMNTX United Abominations guitar - one Dave Mustaine signature guitar which I was trying hard to hunt down due to the looks and graphic painted on it. So this person was able to bring the guitar in, and I slapped on a deposit of RM200 to secure my interest. A couple of months later, I was contacted by said seller who said unfortunately he was unable to get the United Abominations version of the VMNTX, but was able to grab me the standard silver model. While I was tempted by this, I decided to tell him to hang on to my cash first, to see if he was able to swing it in a month or so. As I was in no rush, and wanted that specific guitar, I was willing to wait.

A month or so later, I was contacted back, and this particular seller apologised to me and said he was still unable to get the UA version of the guitar and asked if I wanted my money back. At this point, I had found out that Zakk Wylde was coming to Singapore for a Epiphone/Gibson clinic, and interesting luck would hae it that this seller was offering a "deal" where if you were to purchase a Zakk Wylde signature guitar, it would be delivered to you hand signed with a certificate of authenticity by the man himself. As this excited me so much, I decided to switch my deposit to the Zakk Wylde ZV guitar, in hopes of getting a signed version back. What took place after this was beyond my wildest dreams.

Essentially I was brought to a guitar store where I was to pay for my purchase, and there, I met a nice chap who deals with Gibson guitars. Several discussions later, and after pouring out my heart and soul over what a huge Zakk Wylde fan I am since 1996, I was then invited to "look them up" when I was in Singapore to collect my guitar. I had then also attempted to secure my entry to the guitar clinic by contacting the organizers. Little did I know, I ended up not really needing that confirmation.

Short version of the story, the night ended with me having sat in the VIP lounge with Zakk and Barb (his wife), having long conversations, got my Epiphone LP Bullseye signed, my Epiphone ZV signed, Sonic Brew and Stronger than Death CD signed, a photo with Zakk, sat at the front VIP row to watch Zakk's clinic, and sat right next to him having seafood dinner by the Indoor Stadium river. I would also a month later end up being an owner of a hand signed Gibson BFG model, which was signed on the same day as all my other guitars. November 30, 2009 will forever be one of the most amazing days of my life.

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Mahogany
Neck Type: Set Neck
Fingerboard: Rosewood (22 Frets)
Body Material: Mahogany
Neck Pickup: EMG-HZ
Bridge Pickup: EMG-HZ

I've hardly touched this guitar also in fear of smearing the signature. I can only guess it sounds very much like the LPs only with a slight SG tone. I've tested it out for a short while just to make sure both pick-ups work. The HZs are pretty standard on most Epiphones, and they are high output passives, so I doubt you will have any issues with getting a solid tone out of it. Last I checked this guitar was discontinued by Epiphone - so I am guessing a review is a little pointless at this juncture anyway. But if it's one thing I know, whatever guitar Zakk puts his name on is going to kick some effin' ass.

Overall Rating: N/A

Epiphone G-400 Tony Iommi Signature Guitar

So I'm guessing here that no one is going to believe if I told them that in 2007 - the same year I won an Ibanez S470 at a Herman Li guitar clinic - I was selected as the winner of a competition by the organizers who brought Heaven & Hell (comprising Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi and Vinny Appice) to Singapore. The prize? Well, an Epiphone G-400 Tony Iommi Signature guitar. The most important part about the prize was that it was signed by the late, great Ronnie James Dio (RIP), the legendary Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, and the epic Vinny Appice. I cherish the signatures of these greats on the guitar. It was slightly smeared when I received the guitar, but the actual signatures are all pristine. It's now kept nicely in a case to preserve the memory of these legends.

Honestly, I have absolutely no review of this guitar, and it will be difficult for me to fully scrutinize it as I've not played it much at all in fear of the signatures smearing further. I plugged it up ONCE, and the tone was recorded for a demo version of a song called "Mind Games". I have to say, the USA pickups are amazing - extremely responsive, and if you blink you might actually think they are a set of actives. Playability of the guitar is what you would expect from a classic SG with a wider fretboard. Neck and bridge tones have a distinct difference, with the treble giving you more crunch when required. I wired this up through a Boss MT-2 and recorded a very rough cut version of the song, and my guitar bro was blown away by how thick and clear the tone was, as it cut through the rhythm.

However, that was the only time I had used it, and unfortunately am unable to provide a more in-depth review. From what I hear, this guitar is absolutely fab, and I'm sure if you're looking to play some Black Sabbath tracks, this guitar would absolutely suit you.

Get well soon Tony! The world still needs your music!

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Mahogany
Neck Type: Slim Tapered Set Neck
Fingerboard: Rosewood (22 Frets)
Body Material: Mahogany
Neck Pickup: Gibson USA Tony Iommi Humbuckers
Bridge Pickup: Gibson USA Tony Iommi Humbuckers

Make: Made in Korea

Overall Rating: N/A

Ibanez S470

It was a beautiful May day in 2007. Herman Li had come to Malaysia to conduct an Ibanez guitar clinic. My guitar bro and I had long been listening to Dragonforce and was looking forward to the opportunity to catch Herman Li in all his guitar playing glory. If I remember correctly, the guitar clinic ticket was close to RM40, but we were willing to dish out the dough to catch Herman and view his technical wizardry. The event was held in KL, and as per usual, my guitar bro and I would indulge in a bit of nasi goreng tambah telur tambah ayam, before heading out to a night of madness. How the night ended, was truly insane.

So we walked in to the registration counter and the place was flooded with people - in excess of 300. This is quite unusual for a guitar clinic, but the organizer's were well prepared for a large crowd, and this is why they shifted the venue to KL. As we were walking in, we were distracted by a couple of white sheets of paper which you are given after the registration. It turned out that the white piece of paper was for a lucky draw to win an Ibanez S470. The conversation between my guitar bro and I was short and succinct. I don't remember the exact words of our convo, but I know I ended the convo saying "I'm going to win that guitar".

Fast forward till the end of the concert, and the lucky draw event was going on. About 10 names were called up without my guitar bro and I winning anything. The lucky 10 called up were getting clinic tshirts and everything else. When it came to the grand prize, I suddenly heard Herman Li pause and stare at the sheet of paper, and begin to badly pronounce my name. In 2 seconds I jumped off my seat and went "YEAH!!!". And the rest is history. The S470 was presented to me by Herman himself, with his signature on the cutaway. Following that, I managed to meet him, shake his hand and got him to sign my Dragonforce CD sleeve. What a great night!

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Maple
Neck Type: Wizard II
Fingerboard: Rosewood (22 Frets)
Body Material: Mahogany
Neck Pickup: AH-1
Middle Pickup: AS - 1
Bridge Pickup: AH - 2
Lo TRS Bridge

Make: Made in Korea

Ibanez S 470 Review

Short version of this review is that I've hardly used this guitar in fear of wearing out the signature. I did, however, use this guitar to record two songs from my second album - Oriental Love Affair and Lifeline. The tone of the guitar is exactly what I had expected out of an Ibanez - a nice rocky edge, with smooth tones on the neck, and bordering on metal brutality on the bridge. I'll admit I've hardly used the middle pickup, and if you've read my earlier reviews, in my experience, the middle pickup for Ibanez guitars are usually absolutely rubbish (with the exception of the Prestige series of guitars).

In any case, I recorded those songs with a Boss MT-2 pedal, and the result was exactly what I was looking for. Single note picking on distortion can get a little bit too messy, but nothing a good producer can't clean up. Lead lines can be creamy and smooth on the neck, especially on the higher frets. What I enjoyed - and to me is one of the hallmarks of a good Ibanez guitar - is how versatile these guitars are. One look at it and you tend to think it's an all out metal guitar, but the variety of tones you get out of it always surprises me. I guess this is why I own more than 5 Ibanez guitars - Japan, Korean , Indonesia and China made ones.

In any case, the S470 is an "inexpensive" Korean guitar, worth considering if you're looking for something versatile to suit a harder rock genre. I've coupled it alongside several other pedals and amp distortion and it usually performs well. The output is good enough for both studio, stage and recording, so unless you're looking for a specific tone, there's no real need to change the stock pickups. Well done to Ibanez on that part.

Playability wise, you're looking at a set of jumbo frets, so you can afford a little bit of sloppiness and still hit the right notes. The Wizard II neck is fast as always, and the action is a hair away from the fretboard. Keep in mind though, that this guitar only has 22 frets, and not a 24 you would expect from an RG. The S470 is a classier guitar, slimmer body, Lo TRS tremolo for a lot of "horse screaming" tones, and with pickups with adequate output for most types of music and settings. In short, worth exploring this guitar if you just need 1 axe to cut across many genres.

Overall Rating: 8

Monday, January 16, 2012

Epiphone Les Paul Custom ZW Signature Bullseye

It was the year 2004, I had just returned from Australia several months before that and got into my first "real" job. Earning a meager salary of RM1,600, harbouring huge hopes and high dreams of one day being able to own a signature guitar from my hero and all-time legend Zakk Wylde.

My love affair with Zakk and his music began in 1996, when I started to delve into the world of Black Sabbath, and then to Ozzy Osbourne. I heard a song called "No More Tears" and was just blown away by the solo. Up till today, if I were asked to pick the one perfect solo - Zakk's solo from "No More Tears" will be number one without contention. The phrases, timing, speed, accuracy and technicality were so perfectly intertwined that from that moment on, Zakk solidified his position as my all time favourite guitarist. I then went deeper, and got deep into his Pride & Glory music, his solo acoustic material from Book of Shadows and his tour of Japan, early BLS material from Sonic Brew and Stronger than Death - two epic Zakk albums (Listen to "Hey You (Batch of Lies)") and of course all his material from Ozzy Osbourne. I was obsessed with Zakk, and therefore swore that on my first drawn salary ever in my life, I will purchase his signature guitar as a tribute to my all-time hero.

So let's come back to the story - the year was 2004, it was my first job, and I was earning a crappy bullshit RM1,600. Contrary to your expectations, my first salary did not go to this guitar but it went to a Jimi Hendrix Dunlop Wah (JH-1) instead! I'll talk about this wah pedal later on when I review the effects pedals I own. It was not until after 6 months of working, and a trip to Singapore to watch Master Steve Vai live, that I finally purchased this guitar. I emailed the chaps at the large music store in Singapore on stock availability, case options and total price. I was tended to fast, and everything was perfectly set for when I showed up at the store to collect my guitar - well, almost.

I showed up at the particular branch where the chap who answered me worked at. I came in, introduced myself and told him I was there to collect the guitar. To my surprise, he did not have ready "stock" in the store, and instead told me to take the off-the-shelf copy. After examining the off-the-rack one, I concluded that the condition was too bullshit to take home. So I asked for a new one, and instead was told to get down to their warehouse to pick it up. So I paid the bill in full at the branch, and walked out of the store with an empty case, and my luggage (I used to take the bus to Singapore in those days - thank you NICE bus). So I grabbed a cab, squeezed in with the solid hard case, and went on my way to the guitar warehouse, where the people were notified ahead of time of my arrival, and had the guitar sitting out in a box ready for my collection when I arrived. I left the taxi meter running on the outside of the gate (as the cab was not allowed to turn in to the warehouse), and ran in to collect my guitar. All this occurred 1 hour before I was due on a bus back to KL. Long story short, everything worked out well, and I got my guitar, it fit the case perfectly, and I went off an extremely happy camper. To top it all off, this was the last few Korean made versions of this guitar.

I was finally a proud owner of a Zakk Wylde signature model! For years after that I kept talking about how it would be brilliant to one day have Zakk himself sign the body of the guitar in a gold marker. That dream was fulfilled in 2009 when I met Zakk himself who happily scribbled all over my guitar! So dreams do come true folks.....and it helps to be lucky sometimes too.

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Maple
Neck Profile: Slim Taper "C" Profile
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Body: Mahogany
Neck Pickup: EMG - HZ
Bridge Pickup: EMG - HZ

Make: Made in Korea


I'll keep this short and sweet, as my long story above is what really matters to me - especially the fact that this guitar is now long retired into my glass showcase with his signature scribbled all over it.

Short version, the EMG-HZ's are probably the most active passive pickups I know. Picksup well, very ballsy, clear distorted tones and clear clean tones as well. The neck clean tone is exquisite, a good amount of bass and depth. Obviously thinner on the bridge, but also sounds equally compelling on clean. Both pickups can sound sinister on high distortion - but what's more exciting is how it can clean off by rolling the tone knob. I used this guitar on a number of songs I recorded for my second release, and rolling the tone knob down actually helped to clean up the dirty outliers left behind by my BOSS Metalzone pedal. It then turns it into a nice hard rock tone, for fans of newer "rock' style music, which adds a lot of bass into their chugging chords - this guitar will deliver the expected Les Paul tone, with an added kick thanks to the EMGs.

I did not have to set-up the guitar out of the box, and the action and playability came out well inspected from Korea. I've used this guitar anyway from heavy metal (Ozzy, BLS, Megadeth, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden) to 80s Metal/Rock (Poison, Bon Jovi, Dokken), to my own pop/rock styled music and it all fit in well. I'll be honest and say I never really got the most out of this guitar because I was simply too careful around it. It was my first ever electric guitar purchase, it was a signature model of my hero and I never really wanted to damage it. I was very coy around it, and perhaps never "enjoyed" it the way it should have been used. But on the flipside, I enjoy it equally as much staring at it in my cabinet. Maybe sometime in the future I'll purchase the LP Custom Plus ZW Bullseye, which now comes with active EMGs ;)

Overall Rating: Off the scale! Ok, realistically it makes an 8.5 - Zakk himself would use it stock!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fender American Standard Stratocaster (Blackie)

The purchase of this Stratocaster was an extremely proud moment. It was also kinda funny how it happened, and I am not sure if anyone knows this story.

It was during one of those sale events held by a large guitar store in PJ. I had walked in to the store to pick up a set of Seymour Duncan Alnico II pickups to be fitted into my white Epiphone Les Paul. I went in and purchased the pickups, and was served by a nice sales dude (who still works there and is an awesome person), who went through the motions with me and basically rang up my pickup sale. In my haste of purchasing the Alnico II pickup, I had failed to notice that the pickup I purchased was for the neck instead of the bridge! I did not realise this mistake until I reached home that night, had contacted the gentleman who helps to set up my guitars, and realised that I bought the wrong one!

So being absolutely disappointed, I headed back to the store the next day, and looked for the same sales dude. I told him my predicament, and he more than happily walked over to where the SD pickups were to seek out the bridge version of the Alnico II. After 5 minutes of search, he comes back to deliver the bad news to me that they are out of stock of the bridge ones, and I am free to choose any other pickup of equal value or to get store credit. Seeing that I was not swung by any other pickup at that point to fit into my Les Paul (I wanted the Slash tone), I decided against getting any other pickup and opted for store credit. So the nice sales dude basically rung it up and scribbled on my receipt that I now had RM380 of store credit to use in this store.

So being disappointed, I decided to walk around the store to take a look at the guitars. I had not realised that the store was on sale - and back then in the big guitar store, when guitars were on sale, accessories usually were not. So I walked around and hit the Fender section, and I tend to "shut off" sometimes at this section simply because I always feel I am unable to afford anything in that section. As I continued walking, all of a suddenly a huge 20% discount sign caught my eye, and there sitting on the stand was a Black Fender American Standard Stratocaster. After quick mental math, I decided to try it out, and immediately fell in love with it. I was a fan of the black version as one of my all time favourite guitarist, David Gilmour, uses a black Strat. Let's not forget that Eric Clapton uses a black one too. So to quote my guitar bro, I finally had my own Blackie! And it came with this awesome fitted Fender case too!

I basically swapped my store credit and added on the extras and walked home a proud owner of an American Fender Strat!

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Maple
Neck Profile: C Shape
Fingerboard: Maple (22 Frets)
Body: Alder
Neck Pickup: Am Standard Single Coil
Mid Pickup: Am Standard Single Coil
Bridge Pickup: Am Standard Single Coil

Make: Made in USA

Fender American Standard Stratocaster (Black) Review

So what else can I say about a Fender Stratocaster which has not been said already? I am guessing that's why it took me this long to actually want to write a review on it. I think I was far more interested in the history of its acquisition than an actual review. So I'm going to try to be succinct;

Glassy tone? Check
Comfortable neck? Check
Stratified Single Coil Tone? Check
Killer Blues Tone? Check
Able to play David Gilmour tunes? Check

Really, there's not much more to go on about it. Crystal clean tone, perfect mids, excellent highs. Plays very comfortably, although I am not the best "strat" player around. I used this guitar for some of my gigs which required a nice single coil tone. The output is great, matches up with the drums and bass very well, and cuts through when required. Can't complain much about this gutiar at all. If I were to gripe, is trying to understand why the hell my pickguard is yellowing - but I am guessing that's probably the "made in china" part of the guitar! Am thinking of swapping it for a black one, so that I truly have a David Gilmour looking guitar.

So, sorry folks. Not much of a review here, but more a posting about having a Fender American Standard Stratocaster. The short version? Everyone should own one. Every serious guitarist should own one. It's a terrifically versatile guitar, and can fit almost any genre. If you want to play some metal on it, just hook up a Metalzone of Full Bore on it, and you're ready to go. I know I did, and I was able to cover a ton of different tunes. Just be aware of the limitations of a single coil. It's not Fender's fault, but really yours if you think you can perform Black Metal on it.

Overall Rating: 9

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

PRS SE Mikael Akerfeldt (Tortoise Shell)

Quick Facts:

Neck Material: Maple
Neck Type/Profile: Standard
Fingerboard: Ebony (24 Frets)
Body: Extra Thick Single Cut-away Mahogany
Neck Pickup: PRS HFS Vintage Bass Humbuckers
Bridge Pickup: PRS HFS Vintage Bass Humbuckers

Make: Made in Korea

PRS SE Mikael Akerfeldt Review

Once every couple of years, constant aimless visits to a guitar store pays dividends. I spotted this guitar by chance on one of those days where I had nothing better to do, decided to visit the guitar store to see "what's new" without any idea that this guitar even existed. Upon visiting this store, I was at my usual hotspots of Ibanez and Fender, when I was told by a then person I knew who worked for the store, that they received a new shipment of PRS guitars. Now previously, I was hardly swung by PRS guitars sold in Malaysia, as a certain store used to bring sub-par models in and jack them up for premium prices. So I did not expect much....until I saw this baby.....

Being the huge Opeth fan that I am (and I still regard Mikael Akerfeldt as one of the few "genius" musicians currently active and alive today), I was immediately taken in by the design of the guitar, and especially the beauty of its color (described as a "tortoise shell" finish) and the nicely parked Opeth guitar behind the bridge. I've read some reviews which have complained about how ugly the guitar looks, but I could never understand why they believe so. Listening to Opeth for more than 10 years now made me think that I could not imagine this guitar any other way. In my opinion, it exudes the same mental upbringing of its signature artist, and also portrays the wry, autumn type melody which is synonymous with Opeth's music. I was blown away by the design itself, and was honestly not prepared for what I was going to get when I plugged it in.

I'll put this forward immediately - playing on this guitar is absolutely effortless! With an extremely comfortable neck, and highly responsive pickups, the guitar was built to play bassy rhythm lines, as well as thin fuzzed up retro leads which Mikael himself is known for producing. Playing around with the tone knob can produce some amazing results - and at one point if one were blind and just listening to the tone, you would almost think that a Telecaster was being played. That sums up the versatility of the guitar, which is absolutely what an artist such as Mikael Akerfeldt would demand. Opeth is well known for their melodic death metal music, as well as their penchant in creating melodic masterpieces which switches between dirty and clean within a blink. Further on, their album Damnation brought out a different side of Mikael's song writing process, one which will forever seal his "genius" title in my mind. The way the guitar is made, and the way the tone of the guitar can seamlessly switch between bass heavy dirty tones and crystal clear clean tones all begins making sense if you're familiar with Opeth's music.

To add further to my amazement of this guitar, the price point was unbelievable for the quality you are getting. For below RM3k, you are able to obtain a Korean piece of wood, tricked out and suited towards any particular genre. I'll be bold enough to say that this guitar can play musical styles ranging from pop/rock, blues, country, heavy metal and jazz. The mahogany body provides enough depth for heavier forms of music, or even clean jazz which calls for more bass tones, and the tone knob cleans up the tone, and thins it just right for thinner lead lines required in both clean and slight over drive. Once again I cannot express how amazed I was at this guitar overall, with a great price point to go with also.

It took me many visits before I finally brought mine home, as everytime I was ready to bring it back with it, it was sold out (and was forever kicking myself for not getting it on the first visit). Finally, after 3 different "shipments" in and out of the guitar store, I finally got my piece, brought it home and was thoroughly satisfied with it! If you want to get a slight feel for how it sounds, tune in to some of Opeth's newer material, and you will hear this PRS make its apperance in its tracks.

Overall Rating: 9

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Gibson Zakk Wylde BFG (Buzzsaw)

To finally own a Gibson guitar is to finally feel like you have achieved something tremendous. The day I purchased this guitar I stayed awake most of the night thinking how far my guitar collection had come, from humble beginnings of a Santana acoustic guitar when I was 15 (I donated the Santana guitar to a charity where they had music classes), to now owning a Gibson Les Paul, albeit a BFG model. A few months prior to this purchase, I had achieved the coveted status of being a Fender American Standard guitar owner- an exquisite guitar which provides tones you always only hear on your favorite CD, DVD or live performance.

I purchased this guitar from a recently acquired friend whom I met "accidentally" while pursuing my dream of meeting Zakk Wylde in Singapore. Sometimes life throws you a bunch of oddballs, and what started off as a quest to purchase a Dean VMNTX United Abominations guitar, turned out to be a purchase of a ZW ZV Epiphone and a ZW Gibson BFG, as well a bunch of crazy twists which saw me seated next to Zakk Wylde eating seafood by the bay in Singapore (but more on that later).

So yes, as you can tell from the photo, this guitar was signed by Zakk himself on Nov 30, 2009 during a meet and greet in Singapore. I had 2 other guitars signed by Zakk (Epiphone Bullseye and ZV) which I will review at a later date.

Gibson Zakk Wylde BFG (Buzzsaw) Review
Quick Facts:
Neck Material: Unfinished Maple
Neck Type/Profile: Les Paul 50's Neck
Fingerboard: Rosewood (22 Frets)
Body: Bookmatched Maple Top and Chambered Mahogany
Neck Pickup: EMG 85
Bridge Pickup: EMG 81  

Make: Made in USA

The Zakk Wylde Gibson BFG is one Bad F*ing Guitar, with its nasty unfinished looks, natural color and signature Zakk graphics, this guitar was built for war. Solid as a tank, the tone exuded by this guitar is rich, fat and chunky all the same, while keeping the clean tone pure and bassy at the same time. This is not a guitar for elegant fingerpicking, but was built for pure destruction. The EMGs are ready for an attack at any time, and as with any active pickup, the EMGs are extremely sensitive to the nuance of your playing, and will project that in the best way possible through your amp.

The most crucial part about this guitar is that you are able to get Zakk's tone with the right pedal and amp settings. The whole reason behind my purchase of this guitar was to emulate Zakk's tone. I was not fussed over whether the clean tone was fantastic (and I do remember I only tested this guitar in dirty), but was more concerned over what settings on the amp I would need to prep to ensure I am able to pinch and squeal ala Zakk. This guitar did not disappoint, and I was able to do almost anything I want on it. The neck is slim, fairly fast, and emulates the classic LP 50's neck, which was built for good rhythming and lead at the same time.

The Zakk Wylde BFG plays like a dream. In spite of being a BFG, the workmanship of the guitar is exquisite, and Gibson still took the pains in ensuring that the product being sold with Zakk's name is that of quality and precision. Part of this is due to Zakk's personal involvement in all his signature guitars produced by both Epiphone and Gibson. Loaded up with active EMG 85 (neck) and 81 (bridge) pickups, this guitar is ready to squeal and run through metal chords and progressions with superb ease. The neck feels faster than the usual LP necks, and all the little scrapes and nicks from your pick can be heard, forcing yourself to be cleaner as you continue to play this guitar.

So if you're as nutty over Zakk as I am, this guitar is a "cheaper" alternative to his Gibson LP Custom signature guitar, and it's a class above the Epiphones available (although those are not too shabby at all!). It's a good in between for those Zakk fans looking at emulating his legendary tone. I certainly was able to do so!  
Overall Rating: 9.2