GIbson Les Paul '70s Tribute

Price Paid: 
$999.00 CAN
Condition: 
New
Country of origin: 
USA
Body wood(s): 
Mahogany w. Maple top
Neck wood: 
Mahogany
Fretboard: 
Rosewood
Fretboard Scale: 
24.75
Number of frets: 
22
Pros: 

 

 

Sound is fantastic. It roars, it squeals, it growls, all of the sounds I wanted from a Les Paul. Personally I really like the Dirty Fingers pickups, and they are really the heart of this guitar. Neck shape is comfortable, not super thin, but not a boat either. I like the faded finishes, I believe the colour is like a dark cherry, I think it looks great, and it could be buffed to a brighter shine if that is a concern. Tuners are Grovers, and do the job. Surprisingly the nut was cut properly and doesn't stick/ping at all.

Cons: 

The fret ends were sprouting rather significantly. I expected this as I am sure it sat in a warehouse during this eternal winter. I have the tools and skills to address. It took me about 45 minutes to file them even to the fretboard and re round the fret ends. If you are not comfortable with this, it would probably cost you $75 to $150 to get that work done, and it was necessary, as they were deadly sharp at the start. The gig bag is truly a piece of crap, down to the plastic zipper. I will need to get a case.

Summary: 

I love the sound of this guitar, I guess it would be safe to say that was the major selling point, and the price is not too high either. It is by no means a fancy looking Les Paul, in fact, rather plain. However, for me that holds a certain elegance in itself. I would recommend this as a guitar for playing just about any kind of dino music, it certainly gives a good sound for John Sykes (early), Gary Moore, and later Thin Lizzy type tones. Beware of the fact that as the price is budget, the finishing/setup will be rough and you will likely have to do some of the work yourself, or get it done by a professional.

Overall Rating: 
4

Kemper Profiling Amplifier (rackmount non-powerhead unit)

Head/Combo: 
Head
Price Paid: 
$2200
Condition: 
New
Country of origin: 
Germany
Tube Type: 
No power tubes
Features: 

 

 

Far too many to list, but here are the main things:

 

  • Replication of existing amplifiers via profiling.
  • Loudspeaker emulation using impulse responses.
  • Deep editing of amplifier behaviour parameters (clarity, definition, pick attack, compression, tube bias and more)
  • MIDI channel switching and expression.
  • HUGE range of effects - overdrives, modulation, delays, intelligent pitch shifting, reverbs, wah and much more.
  • Ability to make your own amplifier profiles (replicate your own amplifier).
  • Multiple independent outputs for direct recording, monitoring, to power amp, digital outs. 

 

Pros: 
  • Versatility. This unit seems to cover all the bases for studio recording, but also is very well-equipped for gigging.
  • Incredible effects. The quality is brilliant and there's pretty much everything you could need.
  • Clean sounds. Many warm, realistic sounds.
  • Light unit, but good build quality.
  • Online forums with useful advice for the (inevitable) pitfalls of a new user and a wealth of information.
  • Tweakability. There are many useful parameters that can be edited to tailor a profile (assuming the original is near what you're after). 
Cons: 
  • The supplied factory preset profiles of distorted amps are very disappointing (and the Kemper is only as good as its profiles). The way these profiles are created may work for the original user, but may not work for you. See summary for details.
  • Price. Whilst you do get a LOT for your money, the Kemper is only good value if you actually NEED all of its features, and unless you are a studio owner or jobbing session player, you probably don't. Additionally, as far as amp sounds go, the Kemper is a jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none. It's good, but still a compromise - if you're in any way a specialist, you will probably find it good, but not $2200 good.
  • Latency. Whilst the latency is acceptable for hardware monitoring (if you have a high-end sound interface that can do it) or for playing live, should you want to add your own effects in your DAW and monitor it in your mix, the combined latency of even a high-end interface and the Kemper results in a noticeable (and for me, unacceptable - YMMV) lag.
  • Occasional fake-sounding noises. Whilst this may be down to individual profiles, there are things that are fine with a real amp, such as string handling and pick noises, which come through as fake and nasty (think plugging into a hi-fi) in the KPA. It's the same with Line6's Pod series or the old Rockmans. If you adjust your playing technique to avoid it, you can get around it - you have to adapt to it, or learn to accept it.
  • Not easy to quickly get a good (IMO) sound from it. Whilst I like the depth of tweaking available, if this unit is supposed to appeal to traditional amp users, who are used to plugging in their Strat/Les Paul, turning up the volume and instantly knowing if the amp has potential, Kemper REALLY, REALLY need to do make it easier to get good results for guys who actually know what a real distorted Marshall sounds like (both recorded and in the room).
  • No official computer-based editor. For a machine this complex, that is insane. I believe a beta version of a limited 3rd party editor is now available, but only for the PC, which is ludicrous considering how many pro audio guys use Macs.
Sound Quality: 
4
Reliability: 

Seems very solidly built.

Customer Support: 

No personal experience, but Kemper's techs (and even the inventor himself) are known to be quick, courteous and very helpful. If you find glitches or technical difficulties, apparently, they will work with you to fix them.

The official Kemper forums are a very good source of information - I was able to find solutions to several noob problems very quickly be searching the forums. Just be aware that some users have their egos tied to the Kemper - watch out for the bitch-fights with AxeFX users and don't dare tell anybody that your real amp sounds better than the KPA.

Summary: 

I've been putting off checking out the Kemper Profiling Amplifier (KPA) for a couple of years now, but finally decided to give it a serious test since hearing the testimony of Wolf Hoffman - I heard him using the KPA live on Accept's tour of Stalingrad, and discovered that all the guitars on Stalingrad were made using the Kemper itself.

Also, both famous dino producer Michael Wagener and Accept producer Andy Sneap have pretty much raved about the Kemper - although despite bold claims that you can't hear the difference between the real amp and the profiled version, Hoffman, Wagener and Sneap refuse to go as far as saying they'd actually get rid of their real amps for the Kemper.

I had 3 big questions over the KPA:

  1. Does it SOUND like a real amplifier?
  2. Does it FEEL like a real amplifier.
  3. If 1 & 2 are true, can I REALLY get that sound recorded by going direct to my sound interface and DAW?

As far as my expectations go - my requirements were very simple. I'm a dino-rock player with nearly 30 years playing under my belt and very sharp and discerning ears. I've spent a fortune on amps and gear over the years, chasing good tone - both for live use and (with more difficulty) for home studio recording.

I want the sound of a real JCM800 Marshall, well-mic'd and recorded, but I do not have access to the expensive microphones, preamps or studio needed to create it myself. My current best efforts have been to use a loadbox with my real Marshall JCM800, take a line signal from that, then use a speaker cabinet simulator VST in my DAW, using speaker impulse responses. So the KPA has to beat that.

I soon discovered that the factory-supplied profiles were a very mixed bag. The clean sounds were very impressive - although I have little interest in them. Most amp simulators can pull off good clean sounds - the real test is how well they can sound like a cranked, distorted tube amplifier.

Sadly, the factory preset distorted profiles were VERY disappointing. Flat and lifeless and curiously, despite the clear difference in character between Marshall and Mesa Boogie profiles, I discovered that pinched harmonics were first of all quite difficult to get, but more alarmingly, sounded almost identical, regardless of which profile I chose. I also found that string handling noise had a spiky, nasty sound - reminiscent of the Line6 Pod series or VST guitar plugins.

Power chords and riffing were adequate, and the FEEL of playing a real amplifier was definitely there. Dynamics were there and the KPA allows you to adjust pick attack, the compression, the power tube sag. There's a limited window of usability with these parameters though, as adjusting any of them very far gives very unusable results.

This brings me to the core issue I have with the KPA. And it seems obvlous, but it cannot be overstated. The Kemper Profiling Amplifier is only as good as the profiles it uses.

I spoke to my friend (a knowledgeable KPA user) about the problems I was having with the harmonics and he explained to me that the way that a Kemper profile is created is that you set up the original amp and speaker that you intend to profile so it sounds the way you want. You set up your microphone(s) and preamps and whatever else you use in your signal chain, so the sound from the mic(s) is just right and you hook it up to the KPA. The KPA sends various strange sounds through your rig and does its magic - this is the automated process. Then you have to "refine" the process by actually playing your guitar through it.

Now, Kemper doesn't actually specify WHAT you should play here and this step is a bit mysterious. But bearing in mind how differently guitarists play. Almost all the factory distortion profiles seemed incapable of producing a screaming, early Gary Moore/John Sykes-style pinched harmonic. Power chords and riffs were ok, but dig in for a screamer and the KPA sounded like I was plugged into the microphone input of a hi-fi. But if the guys who created those profiles didn't play any screaming harmonics or whatever through their Marshall/Boogie/ENGL, how would the KPA know what it's supposed to sound like? And if you don't make pick noise/string handling noise during that phase of the profile, how could the KPA reproduce that? It's not the KPA that is at fault, it's the person who made the profile.

Herein lies what I believe is the biggest weakness of the KPA (for me at least). If you want to be able to get ALL the nuances of YOUR playing through a particular amp, you're going to need a superbly made profile (of which there are very few) or you're going to have to profile that amp yourself. Which means that aside from procuring the amp you want, you need to be able to mic the speaker so it sounds great.

This is where it starts to fall apart for me. The ENTIRE reason for me trying the KPA, is that I am a guitarist - and NOT an audio engineer. I don't have a soundproof and acoustically treated room, nor do I own a $1200 Royer 121 ribbon mic, or a Neumann or an expensive mic preamp or any of the other industry-standard recording gear that is used to create professional guitar sounds in a proper studio.

When Wolf Hoffman recorded the guitars for Stalingrad with the KPA, he profiled himself playing his own amps. Well - Wolf is not exactly short of cash or gear, and he's close personal friends with (and a lives next-door to) Michael Wagener (producer for Accept, Dokken, Skid Row etc. etc.) - who owns Wireworld studios and knows more about mic'ing amps and dino hard rock sounds than anybody else on the planet.

I ended up purchasing some 3rd party commercial profiles from theampfactory.com. This place has some quite impressive audio samples of their profiles and from what I could hear, the guy doing the demo playing sounds at least partly similar to me - a clean, dynamic hard rock player. And I got MUCH better results than anything from the factory presets.

But all the while I was testing the KPA, I kept going back to compare the sound with my own setup - an attenuated Marshall, comparing both the "in the room" sound and the direct recorded sound (the Marshall going direct and using a VST speaker simulator). Despite the good progress I'd made with the KPA, it still fell short when compared to my own amp. Both in the room and recorded direct.

I did everything I could to give the Kemper a fair shot. At one point, I actually played nothing but the KPA for two days and I actually began to adapt to it. It brought a smile to my face (playing a Blackstar Series One profile). It's funny how these things are relative. Because I was really starting to think I could go for the KPA.  Right up until I plugged my Marshall back in.

I told my KPA-using friend about this, and he urged me to profile my Marshall. He told me that I could profile a line signal from the Marshall's power amp and forget about microphones - then use the speaker sim that I currently use, and it should sound just as good as my own Marshall. I raised an eyebrow. $2200 to sound just like what I already have? AND add another 6ms latency to the chain? He then told me I could also convert the impulse response of the VST speaker simulator to a Kemper compatible format and then monitor it in hardware.

Cool. But that's $2200 to get what I already have, and to maintain the low latency I use, have to reprofile it every time I want to change an effect from my DAW? This is getting silly. Ok. So maybe I'm a specialist. But why shouldn't I be? When Wagener or Sneap say that "you can't tell the difference" between the KPA and the real amp, I DO believe them. But think about what they are actually referring to. These are music engineering experts who have profiled the amps themselves. They have world-class skills and professional studios and gear to create AMAZING profiles. And MOST importantly, they're talking about the same guitarist AND guitar going through the amp and the profile.

Don't get me wrong - the Kemper is good. It can sound good recorded AND it can sound good amped with a solid state power amp and sent to a guitar cab (I got some nice results with that Blackstar profile). But as nice as the results were, they were still a compromise and fell short of what I was already achieving through my own rig.

Your own requirements may be different. Maybe your playing style is more similar to the guy who created the profile you try. The best I can say is to try one out yourself. Perhaps the KPA is the best evidence yet that "tone is in the hands." If the guy who makes the profile doesn't cover all the bases you'll need, there's not much you can do, but make the profiles yourself. Good luck with that... Other players may get better results than I did - it could well be that I missed something very important, but I did my best with it for a week, with the help of an experienced KPA user to guide me, but I still couldn't get it to sound as good as what I currently use, so it went back to the shop.

Overall Rating: 
3

Seymour Duncan PATB-3 Blues Saraceno

Price Paid: 
$89
Condition: 
New
Humbucker/Single Coil/Stacked Single: 
Humbucker
Passive/Active/Not sure: 
Passive
Output: 
Medium
Instrument Installed in: 
Jackson DK2
Sound Quality: 
5 (excellent)
Reliability: 

 

Never had issues with Duncan before, don't expect any now

Customer Support: 

Past dealings with Duncan have been pleasant.

Summary: 

Where has this pickup been? On a suggestion from the tech who does my repairs and setups, I decided to give this pickup a try.

I wanted something in the low medium to medium output range, at 9.5k this pickup fit the bill. We all know by now that these output ratings are pretty meaningless in terms of power and loudness, I mean my Custom 8 is the same output as the Custom Custom it started out as, but a magnet swap from A2 to A8 made it way louder, I think there is a correlation between these ratings and how the pickups behave, in that the output rating generally has influence on clarity, articulation, etc... But anywhooo

I've been interested in the Parallel Axis pickups for a few months, so kinda jumped at the chance to get it. The PATB-3 is Blues Saraceno's signature pickup. It features an Alnico V magnet, and the unique Duncan staple looking Parallel Axis poles. The heart of this pickup is all PAF, tonally that's what this pickup really is. The concept of this pickup was basically a PAF pickup that was more aggressive sounding when you wanted it to be, but still sounded like an old PAF, as well as give superstrats a more "Les Paul" sound, and I think it does that better than most of the other hot rodded PAF pickups I've heard, most of those are high output. The Parallel Axis design is meant to give the highs a smooth sound, and lows to be tight but remain somewhat spongier, as well as increase sustain, again this was accomplished. I don't think I have heard nicer harmonics from a pickup, they're plentiful, and they ring out piano or bell like. The pickup is sensitive to pick attack, this pickup is really dirty if you hit the strings hard, or really clean if you lightly pick the string. The pickup is very clear and articulate. The pickup is somewhat scooped in the middle, 6-5-6 I believe is the listed EQ, but I just turned a few knobs on the amp to get a more midrangey sound with no problem. It's not meant for modern metal, mainly classic rock and metal, blues, country, etc., but with a high gain amp, like my 5150, I have had no issue with getting a nice metal sound from it, I haven't had an instance where I did not like the sound of this pickup. They only make this pickup for the bridge position, and is only a Trembucker, but I have heard great things about it in Les Paul's, which is odd since it's designed to give superstrats more of that sound.

Typically it would be paired with a PATB-1 neck pickup which tonally falls somewhere between a 59 and a Jazz. Presently, I still have the stock 59 in the neck, and think they work well together, especially when used together in the middle position, I tend to never use the 2 humbuckers at once, but love the sound I'm getting, sounds better than the 59 in the neck by itself, IMO. I've already this pickup for another guitar... So yeah, I like this pickup! Hands down my favorite pickup for a superstrat, and for me that's saying something because I like some good ones, such as the Custom Custom, Custom, JB (which it replaced), Custom 8, Alternative 8, and the EVH Wolfgang pickups. Not sure what the wind is on this pickup though, I've heard it's the same wire as a JB, but not wound as hot, and the pole pieces give it a unique sound.

Overall Rating: 
5

Jackson Pro Series DK2M

Price Paid: 
$799
Condition: 
New
Country of origin: 
Other
Body wood(s): 
Alder w/ quilted maple veneer
Neck wood: 
Maple
Fretboard: 
Maple
Fretboard Scale: 
25.5
Number of frets: 
24
Pros: 

 

 

Thin and fast neck, but not TOO thin

Compound radius fingerboard (12"-16")

Contoured heel

Lightweight

Seymour Duncan pickups

Original Floyd Rose

Dunlop strap locks

Cons: 

This was a Sweetwater Sound demo model, so it had a few issues that I won't hold against it, like a chip in the finish on back of the upper cutaway, a groove in one of the frets, and the tone knob was really stiff... The frets and knob are all good now though.

I know these are supposed to be jumbo frets, I don't think they're 6100's though, have 6100 on my Warmoth neck and these Jackson frets feel wider and flatter.

Tired old 59/JB combo... I like the JB, but they should change it up a bit.

Off centered dot inlays... Jackson's should have sharkfin inlays, and sharkfin inlays ONLY

The only REAL con is that you could stick a credit card between the neck and pocket down on the lower cutaway side, not snug at all.

Summary: 

This guitar is a player. Made in Fender's Mexican facrtory.

The neck is thin and fast, not too thin though, it's a Jackson neck. I like the oil finish, and the compound radius, and prefer the wider fingerboard, though I've been told the fingerboard on the DK2 isn't much wider than the Ibanez I recently reviewed, as much so as the compound radius just makes it more comfy to chord on the first several frets. Where the neck loses points with me is the frets themselves... These don't feel like 6100 jumbo's, they feel wider and flatter, I have 6100's on my Warmoth neck and they feel nothing alike, I can't get my fingers under the strings as much as I would like for bends, I wouldn't call it a fretless wonder though. I prefer the frets on the Ibanez Premium (They are not Dunlop though), but overall the Jackson neck wins. I would have also preferred Jackson use the sharkfin inlays, it's a Jackson!!! I also like the addition of a contoured heel. 9 out of 10

Fit and finish, again a point loss. The finish is beautiful, the quilt is stunning, and it doesn't feel cheap. However, the neck pocket is not as snug as it should be, I didn't notice this problem on the store models, but I could probably slide a credit card in between the pocket and heel on the lower cutaway side. In contrast, the Ibanez Premium, roughly the same price (technically I paid less for the Ibanez), is a very snug fit. Personally I don't care about this issue, but it is a flaw. 8 out of 10

The Floyd.... Ahhhh yes, the Floyd. The Floyd Rose was the reason I opted for the Ibanez, as all the models of Jacksons had wobbly Floyd arms, this is my pet peeve, and a big enough issue for me to have passed on the guitar. I suspect that since this Jackson in particular was a Sweetwater demo model, they have tweaked it a bit. I bought this guitar assuming I'd replace the the OEM Floyd with a German made unit which is far superior... No need! In store, and in general, I find/found that the Ibanez Edge tremolo have a fluidity that the OEM Original Floyd Rose doesn't typically have, and I opted for the Ibanez based on that. However, had this particular DK2 been among those I tried in store, I'd have bought this instead of the Ibanez, THAT day, I still love the Ibanez Premium, and would have bought one eventually. The Floyd on this guitar DK2 is flawless, the fine tuners turn easily, the arm isn't the least bit wobbly, and it's a real joy to play with, real springy, trills for days when you want it, and stays in tune, I prefer it over the Edge Zero 2, but unfortunately I know it's a rare gem, in my experience, and can't say I would expect another to play as well, I mean I was 0-10 at Guitar Center trying out the Floyd's on Jackson Pro Series and Charvel San Dimas/So Cal guitars, either too stiff with wobbly arms or just wobbly arms, in contrast the Edge Zero 2's were flawless on the 5 that I played. But since I'm rating MY guitar... 10 out of 10

Pickups... I like the 59/JB combo, but find it a bit tired. Personally, I didn't care for the JB in this guitar, it sounded very compressed, very nasally, it must have been the pickup itself because that is so not a JB characteristic, as it is a very spongy and airy pickup, and sounded as such among the in store DK2's I tried. The 59 is still there, and sounds great, but for aesthetic reasons it may be replaced. The zebra colored pickups work well with the body finish color, for some reason. I like that Jackson went with quality and well known aftermarket pickups, unlike Ibanez, whom had DiMarzio make a special pickup set for the Premiums that were a mix between this and that pickup but not as good as either one alone. Like the Floyd rating, this is based on THIS guitar... 6 out of 10 stock... 10 out of 10 if based on the replacement Duncan PATB-3 pickup.

All in all, this guitar I have to say is a solid 5, when you take into account price, parts, playability, sound, to me it's a lot of bang for the buck, with the only real flaw being the neck pocket.

Overall Rating: 
5

EVH 5150iii 50w

Head/Combo: 
Head
Price Paid: 
$899
Condition: 
New
Country of origin: 
Other
Tube Type: 
6L6/5881
Features: 

 

  • 50 watt head, with 2 6L6 power tubes, and 7 12AX7 preamp tubes.
  • 3-channel: Channels 1 and 2 share EQ, gain, low, mid, high, volume. Channel 3 gain, low, mid, high, volume. Master presence and resonance controls.
  • Selectable impedance (4, 8 or 16 ohms).
  • Dual parallel speaker output jacks, effects loop, headphone jack, line out.
  • Included four-button footswitch has 1/4" input jack; also accommodates MIDI footswitching.
Pros: 
  • Compact size
  • Fairly simple controls layout
  • Lots of gain on tap, but not very fizzy, and sounds great at lower gain setting.
  • Resonance and presence controls

 

Cons: 
  • Rear mounted controls
  • Shared EQ for channels 1 and 2

 

Sound Quality: 
5 (excellent)
Reliability: 

Haven't had it long, but it was Sweetwater's demo amp, and shows no signs of wear.

Customer Support: 

Haven't had to deal with EVH or Fender in the past, always solid gear in my experience.

Summary: 

Like the 5150's before it, the EVH 5150iii 50w is a great sounding amp, the cleans sound ok for a high gain amp, breaks up way too soon and easily, a Fender Twin it's not, but if you're buying this amp, you couldn't care less about cleans anyway. The high gain channel doesn't get fizzy with the gain up, and still sounds great when the gain is rolled back. This makes for a pretty darn good lead boost for the crunch channel, which itself has a good amount of gain on tap.

50 watt heads have a rep of sounding a bit neutered compared to their 100 watt brothers, but this 50 watter maintains the low end balls of 100 watt amps, and just sounds massive, thanks to the resonance control. Out of the box the amp sounded boxy with it off.

I like that the control layout is basic. There are no What the hell does this knob do controls... I think to many players out there today can't be bothered dialing in their amps. But on the other hand, I don't like rear mounted controls, but they are probably the least used controls, if you're reaching back there, it's either because you're just starting, or you're done.

Really don't like the shared EQ for channels 1 and 2, but it's not that big a deal.

I really wish this amp used EL34's, I think there is an overabundance of 6L6 biased amps these day... Truth be told, it's all in my head, I really can't hear much of a difference between tube types.

Should be noted, the model I bought was made in Vietnam, in 2013 production moved to Mexico.

 

Overall Rating: 
5

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