Just like how 2019 will soon come to an end, we have reached the finale of our three-part roundup series for this year. We’ve looked at the year’s top news stories and interviews, so now it’s time to cast our collective eyes towards the most popular gear reviews of 2019. From the bare-bones acoustic six-stringers to the crème de la crème of electric guitars, check out which reviews caught the most attention.
Sheeran by Lowden W02 & S04
The collaboration between Ed Sheeran and Lowden was perhaps one of the biggest talked-about news at NAMM 2019, so we managed to get our hands on a pair back in April. While the W02 and S04 may not be as fancy as Lowden’s usual offerings, their stripped-down build retains Lowden’s characteristic precision and crispness. For instance, the one-piece mahogany neck construction and stacked heel are far more conventional than Lowden’s usual laminated style.
The most significant departure from a full-fat Lowden is the use of five-ply laminates for the back and sides. The S04 and W02 both feature solid Sitka spruce tops with Lowden A-Frame bracing, and their thinness is exaggerated by the absence of binding and Lowden’s usual double layering around the soundhole. The company certainly hasn’t skimped on the quality of the outer veneers, because the grain impresses. This is particularly true of the S04 model, with its highly figured walnut
Gibson Custom 60th Anniversary 1959 Les Paul Standard
To call this Gibson’s “best and most vintage-accurate Les Paul Standard’ is a bold claim, but the diamond anniversary of the venerated 1959 Les Paul Standard demands an instrument of unimpeachable calibre. When we laid hands on this instrument in May, we knew instantly that what we had was something special.
Billed not just as a tribute, but a ‘clone’, this 2019 model incorporates some of the R&D that went into Gibson Custom’s Collector’s Choice and True Historic lines, saluting the instrument used to such blistering effect by the likes of Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Michael Bloomfield and Jimmy Page. From period-correct hangtags to 3D-scanned top and neck carves and chemically recreated old-school plastics, the idea is to give Les Paul aficionados a guitar that ticks all the right boxes without costing as much as a house.
Fender American Performer Stratocaster and Telecaster
The American Performer series represents Fender’s most affordable USA-made instruments for 2019. Superseding the previous American Special range, American Performer is now the most affordable way to get your hands on a solidbody built in Fender’s Corona facility in Southern California, loaded with pickups designed by Tim Shaw no less.
Experiencing the series’ Stratocaster and Telecaster firsthand at the start of 2019 left us with a favourable impression. Broadly speaking, the Performer designs are mash-ups of various eras of Strat and Tele evolution, so the Tele gets an early-50s-style trio of brass saddles, an alder body and a silver 70s-style logo, while the Strat is similarly 1970s at the end of its oversized headstock, but its alder body and mint ’guard offer more of a 1960s persona.
Gary Richrath’s 1959 Gibson ‘Richrath Burst’ Les Paul Standard
Vintage-accurate reissues are one thing, but handling the real deal in the flesh is a totally different affair. This classic example of a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard sports a lovely faded tiger-striped flametop and belongs to none other than REO Speedwagon’s Gary Richrath, hence the nickname ‘Richrath Burst’.
We were able to use the Richrath on some studio recordings and discovered it had an extraordinary ability to sit in a track. Without excessive brightness or edginess, the subtleties of its tone cut straight through and there’s an evenness to the dynamic response that kept the Richrath right at the front of a mix.
At the same time, an explosive blast of harmonic overtones characterised the attack, along with massively solid single notes and an overall density that made individual chords sound like they’re double-tracked. It didn’t take long to determine that this was an out-and-out rock Burst, with exceptional cutting power, otherworldly sustain and sheer balls.
Fender American Acoustasonic Telecaster
Leo Fender’s firstborn has always been regarded as one of the finest solid body electric guitars to have ever been built, so it definitely pricked more than a few ears when it was announced that the Fender Telecaster was being reintroduced in an acoustic-electric format. But make no mistake: this is anything but a rehash of Fender’s previous Teleacoustic.
Sporting a solid Sitka spruce top and a mahogany neck, back and sides, the Acoustasonic Telecaster comes loaded with a Fishman Under-Saddle Piezo, an Internal Body Sensor alongside and a Fender N4 noiseless magnetic pickup. Coupled with the five-way pickup selector and Mod knob, the system allows easy access to a huge array of tones. Our findings indicated that the American Acoustasonic Telecaster worked well with either acoustic or electric amplification and its small, shallow body offered very good resistance to feedback.
Fender Vintera 50s Telecaster, 60s Jazzmaster Modified & 70s Stratocaster
As one might infer from the name, Fender’s Vintera series is the American brand’s attempt to offer vintage-inspired instruments at a mid-level price. We were given the opportunity to put three of their Mexican-made electric guitars through their paces back in July, and were pleased to discover a healthy amount of pragmatism despite the series’ vintage connotations.
While the 60s Jazzmaster Modified and 70s Stratocaster were performers in their own right, our preference ultimately went to the 50s Telecaster, thanks to the winning combination of its chunky neck and expressive pickups.
Gibson 2019 Les Paul Studio Tribute & SG Standard Tribute
Gibson’s budget-tier instruments have always been about offering the same tonal experience as its Standard line, but without the fancier accoutrements. With 2019 representing something of a watershed moment for the Nashville-based company, we were curious to see what changes (if any) would feature in their present catalogue.
Our February review of the Gibson 2019 Les Paul Studio Tribute and SG Standard Tribute revealed that the two guitars bring everything you’d expect of their price point. There is a distinct absence of superficial frills, but you do get the classic combination of mahogany and rosewood construction. The twist: both guitars sport maple necks. While vintage purists may balk at this revelation, one could argue that the added brightness does add an interesting aural dimension when combined with Gibson’s trusty 490 series humbuckers.
Marshall Studio Series SV20H & SC20C
Marshall’s Studio line of amps may not possess the same level of presence as its 4×12” beasts, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to deliver the goods. When we reviewed the their Studio Vintage SV20H and Studio Classic SC20C in March, we were pleased to discover how well they were able to recapture the magic of the Plexi and JCM800 amps they were styled after.
The UK-made SV20H and SC20C feature all the aesthetics you would expect of a Marshall amp. Looks aside however, there are plenty of features for the Marshall aficionado to go ga-ga over. The SV20H features the same four-channel input as a Plexi, which means you get to patch channels to experience that classic Plexi grit. Meanwhile, the SC20C surprised us with its absence of fizz – a common complaint with many a JCM800s. Despite its lower power rating, the SC20C was more than capable of dishing saturated tones loaded with harmonics.
Gibson 2019 Les Paul Standard 50s & Les Paul Tribute
One of the more notable changes made to Gibson’s catalogue for 2019 is the segmentation of its production-line instruments into the Original and Modern Collections. The new 2019 Les Paul Standard 50s and Les Paul Tribute represent the next logical step forward from the previous Traditional and Studio Tribute models and while there is room for improvement in both, it is definitely a step int he right direction.
For our July review, both guitars came with a Plek machine set-up and the classic Les Paul combination of a maple-capped mahogany body, set mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard. While the Les Paul Standard 50s came with Burstbucker pickups, the Les Paul Tribute sported a pair of 490 series humbuckers. They perform well enough, just don’t expect Custom Shop-level finesse.
Supro 1812R Blues King 12
Supro Amps have been experiencing something of a renaissance recently. While the brand’s claim to fame has largely been Jimmy Page’s use of their Coronado amp, they’ve been actively trying to cement their place as a legitimate manufacturer of quality guitar amps. However, instead of going all-out in the boutique direction, Supro has sensibly decided to include budget-friendly options like the 1812R Blues King 12 in its line-up as well. Our review of this affordable 15-watt combo showed that its ability to turn heads was a keen reflection of the brand’s burgeoning reputation.
A lone 12AX7 preamp tube and the single 6L6-loaded power amp lie at the heart of the 1812R’s single-ended circuitry. Along with the house-made Supro speaker, the built-in switchable FET-driven boost and cascading FET-driven hi-gain mode make the 1812R more than just your regular ol’ blues amp, despite what its name might have you believe.