Frankfurt: Guitars, Basses, Amps And Effects
One man in search of perfection. Dave Burrluck gives his verdict on the state of the axe
It didn't seem like a year since we were last assembled in Frankfurt to view the vast array of products on show. But it was... As far as guitar orientated products go this year, there were loads of new items and variations being launched although nothing that I'd class as outstanding new product for '86. Of course outstanding product is the category in which the Synth Axe lies, Britain's own answer to 'guitar-based' synth control. The system isn't new but this Frankfurt was the first time that it seemed perfectly sussed and moving into the area of creating sounds that are truly its own. The downer of course is the price — £10,000 for the controller and programming box, £5,000 for the AXE alone.
Ibanez have followed Roland into the world of guitar synths with the MIDI Electronic Guitar system comprising the IMG2010 MIDI guitar, the IMC 1 controller — a standard rack mount item — and the IFC60 foot controller. Features of the system include standard(ish) wooden guitar with glass fibre reinforced neck, 128 programmable pre-sets and full 1-16 MIDI channel operation. A price of £1,200 approx was quoted but unlike the Roland system this doesn't include any synth sound source.
Shadow, renowned for their pickups, have produced a converter system — guitar or bass to MIDI — allowing you to use any guitar to control a synth. The catch is that special Schaller bridge systems have to befitted using a series of piezo pickups to drive the converter. Having said that of course both acoustic and electric instruments can be employed as the controller. Housed in a rack mount unit the GTM 6 (six-string) and the BTM 4 (bass) units offer twin MIDI outputs, a large preset memory for patches plus sequencing and chaining facility. It seems that the system will retail around the £800 mark with another £100 or so for the bridge/pick-up. UK distribution has not been finalised although Charvel are handling the product in the States.
ADM/Europa had a prototype of their MIDI guitar controller on show which is planned to interface directly to a synth, all the necessary controls being on board. Only time will tell if this ambitious project will successfully translate to production although it seems that this direct interface system could be the future for guitar synthesis. An optimistic price of £1000 was mentioned. Aria seem intent on cornering the hi-tech market with the GSB bass range featuring a 6, 5 and 4 string model with Modulus Graphite necks and headless design. More conventional was the SB Integra bass with the fashionable smaller body and active electronics and a retail of £599. The Interceptor range of headless and virtually bodyless guitars and basses looked smart if not a little obvious. The new RS Cat and Straycat guitar looked good value at £169 to £199 while the Jackson inspired Diamond series of guitars and basses answer the need for Strat-style axes of a high quality. The LW acoustics are cheap at £119 and £139 for 6 and 12 string options.
Ibanez are still heavily committed to the non-MIDI guitar and new instruments included the Roadstar 5-string bass with smaller styled body and low B or high C options. Another bass on a diet was the Musician, now with low impedance pickups and active EQ. The Ax-star headless makes sure Ibanez have a slice of that market too. On the six-string side the Roadstar Series have been changed around including a Floyd Rose licensed trem, matt neck finish and various pickup configurations. Just following trends really, and by the way — PINK IS IN!
Westone's Pantera range features a top-of-the-range guitar with Kahler trem, while the bass version looked equally smart featuring hi and low pass active filtering. Yamaha's attempt to rule the world continued at the show with new additions to the SE series plus a five-string version of the headless BX-1 — the BX-5 — plus the more conventional BB5000 5-string bass (to be endorsed by Pino Palladino). Personally, the Motion series of basses looked the neatest with smallish bodies and heads, and fine tuners on the top of the range bridges.
Charvel won't be a name familiar to everyone in the UK but as copies of the American Jackson axes the combined forces of Jackson/Charvel looks set to give the competition a good hiding. Japanese made, American Jackson pickups, spikey Explorer heads and flat cambered boards are their trade marks and if the quality can be kept up these Charvel's should prove popular.
Fernandes have at last found UK distribution with Blue Suede Music, home of Tokai. Apart from the obvious things here an accurate Gibson Melody Maker impersonation looked good. Washburn continue to impress with the new Rebel Series featuring another Floyd Rose licensed trem, Strat styling, and Grover machines — prices start at just under £200. Also here was the Bass Maniac, Japan's biggest selling bass designed by Tune, featuring a small body and Phenolic board. Two new acoustics from £75-£100 also featured Grover heads and nice styling. Steinberger had little new product but continued to upgrade with the "S" trem — a spin off from the Trans-Trem — now in full production and featured on the P Series wood-bodied instruments. Three single-coil options are now available on the X series guitars, with Red and White colour schemes. Lookout for Needs universal looking nut as well as a unique stand for the Steinberger product. Fender have been designing a new matching guitar and bass pair — the Performer — made in Japan at present although American ones will follow. More exciting is the news that the Jaguar and Jazzmaster are available in a limited run, as well as a '57 and '62 Esquire, again made in Japan. The Santa Rosa is Fender's answer to Gibson's Chet Atkins semi-solid acoustic/electric although only a steel string version is available.
Two more American legends Rickenbacker and CF Martin are alive and kicking; Rickenbacker were showing 8 and 5-string bass variations on the 4000 styling while Martin had two new acoustics, the JR-65M jumbo sized maple back and sides, and the J-21 featuring a low profile neck for electric players. Unusual news here is that the Mini bass designed by Alan Jones and featuring 'Plasticised' strings (as shown on 'Tomorrow's World') will be produced and marketed by CF Martin — wonders never cease!
The British makers were thin on the ground although all were doing good business. Staccato's Mg basses were virtually all sold and negotiations are underway to mass produce the mag-alloy cast instrument with a Japanese concern. Overwater's C bass and Slap bass were attracting the names, notably Dave Gilmour, and at the show John Entwhistle liked what he played. Manson has a new headless fretted bass design as well as news that Magnetics and Seymour Duncan pickups will be used along side their usual Kent Armstrong's. Pangbourne launched their graphite neck basses, the Standard and Warrior to a good response at the show while Gordy had a couple of updates with active electronics. Irish company Lowden announced the demise of their Japanese manufacturing arrangement in favour of a new factory in Bangor, Co Down.
Numerous German companies were on view but only Warwick have an outlet in the UK through The Bass Centre. The Buzzard bass has been designed by John Entwhistle and looked rather eccentric, in typical style. Israel isn't noted for its guitar construction but that's where the Gittler guitar is made, as used by Andy Summers etc. The fishbone neck, 31 frets and six channel output make the Gittler rather too strange for general consumption.
Amps seem just as diverse as guitars: at one end of the market is the very popular Gallien-Krueger who made their name with the small spot monitor type amp and accessory speaker. They've now brought out the 2100RL head featuring all the usual specification but an output of 200 watts in stereo. At the other end of things Vox deem it necessary to bring out a Marshall stack copy — 100 watts of power, 3-band EQ, and two 4X12 cabs — hardly original. On the subject of mega stacks Hiwatt have totally redesigned their lead amps incorporating PCB modular valve construction which will drastically improve servicing without losing the classic Hiwatt sound. Marshall, the company behind the continuance of HM have some new combos — the Artist 4203 with twin channels, switchable 30 watts output, and the 3203, a head version of the same. The Mosfet 100 reverb combo has 2x12 Celestion speakers fitted and again features dual channels. A reverb combo, again 100 watts, with a single 1x15 completes the picture. A new name to Europe is KMD although it is in fact a British company. Apparently they're the second biggest amps in the States (the first being Marshall) and now they'll be introduced here through Rosetti. Features include Mosfet and valve (Groove Tubes) combo's, Accutronics reverb, dual switchable channels etc. Laney is a more familiar name and they had prototypes of the Linebacker series on show. Available by mid-summer the lead and bass combos feature Fane speakers, various wattages and prices ranging from £112 for a 30 watt bass combo to £254 for the 100 watt bass combo. Session introduced the SG2100/C, a combo version of their 200 watt stereo head, plus the natty little Rockette 30 watt combo and unnamed at present 20 watt baby at a lowly £125.
Engl renowned for their digital amps have gone straight with the Straight — with full valve, dual switchable channels and 50/100 watts power output options. Cheap it isn't (around £600) but good it is.
Peavey seem intent on making a go of the battery power amp (remember the one in the guitar case?) and introduced the Rascal, 10 watts of no-mains power. Conversely the Mega Bass 200 watt stereo head power amp, with chorus and 9-band graphic has an impressive spec, as does the Pro-bass 1000 preamp with 11-band graphic. Combos are still the thing though, with new models from Carlsbro (the 60 watt Rebel), and Washburn, handling the British made Blue Max with a great spec, 65 watts and a retail around £350. Mesa Boogie's new combo is designed to be used for studio use, a 20 watt unit called Studio 22 (how do they think of them) possibly retailing around £600. Dean Markley have two new combos: a 65 watt switchable overdrive with reverb and chorus, plus a 130 watt version of the same. Roland have played safe and chopped the Jazz Chorus down to 80 watt but with all the features of the larger version; the JC-77 includes distortion, 4 way graphic, stereo/mono chorus and reverb. I missed Dynacord's Reference 600 combo due to all those daft buggers playing the Rhythm stick getting in the way!
Effects pedals, at least new ones, were not very evident. DOD's robust range saw some improvements — new pedals being the Overdrive Plus and Super Distortion PLus. Both now have tone controls, while the Noise Gate features FX loop and A/B switching. The Digitech Series has the new PDS 1700 Digital Stereo Chorus/Flange, quality stuff for £199. Ibanez have two new pedals — DML Delay with modulation and the CCL Chorus and Flange retailing around £140 & £80 respectively.
Fender's surprise was a series of Japanese made pedals including Compression, Bi-Level Distortion and Stereo Chorus/Flange. The Digital Delay included in the range featured pad controls for on/off and hold, and is comparable in spec to many higher priced rack mount units.
Not new but updated, Washburn's Accelerators are far more robust overall. The addition of a Digital Delay and Super Distortion completes the range — prices are between £30-£140.
Seymour Duncan's Seymour Duncan is always ready for a chat at Frankfurt, exhausting me with his tales of new and planned products. These include a Telecaster version of the Hot Rails pickup, plus a Hot Rails unit with adjustable pole-pieces. A new module for the SD amp features four band graphic which can be twiddled at will to exactly tailor your sound.
Larry DiMarzio is also carefully refining the guitar world with a new double insulated and screened jack lead, and new strings — a combination of many types of string manufacture — both in very 'Rock'n'Roll' packaging. The Shock Wave system is an update for a Strat featuring a module which screws in place of the jack socket providing active EQ and ±18dBcut/boost. Both of America's best known pickup manufacturers offer custom colour pickups: DiMarzio favours pink at present while Seymour Duncan offers virtually any colour pickup coils of a price. Dean Markley have long been moving away from just string manufacture; of note at the show were their Black Jack Cables, virtually indestructible leads with a 5-year warranty! The 'Pro-mag' has been a high-seller in the acoustic pickup field and is now accompanied by the Zero-Hum humbucking version.
Kahler have widened their horizons to include the Fulcrum Traditional Series tremolo, which is a retro-fit that requires no extra routing for a standard Strat-type trem guitar. A new no-tools locking nut is available, as is a shim for fitting it to the curve on a Strat headstock.
So now you know. Thank you, and goodbye. I'm going to bed, probably until next year. Alright?
Show Report by Dave Burrluck
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